Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Thoughts and Hand Gestures of a Long Distance Runner

For the past few months, I have been training to run the Chicago Marathon.  I spend hours and miles running alone, almost everyday.  It is therapeutic and agonizing all at the same time.  Two weeks ago, my training schedule required that I run 20 miles.  It was a beautiful fall day and I chose to run around some of my favorite lakes in Minneapolis.  After the run, I posted photos on Facebook and a friend wondered why I had done this run alone.

Eight years ago, I ran the Des Moines Marathon with my friend Melanie Omar.  7 years ago, we ran the Twin Cities Marathon.  Without Melanie, I would not have been able to finish either marathon.  We had been running together on a daily basis for years.  I always ran half a stride behind/beside her.  Her on the left, me on the right.  We would run and run and run and talk and talk and talk.  Our runs were similar to when you are with friends and end up solving the world's problems over a bottle or two of wine. We just happen to solve many problems while running...or at least talking about solutions.  We called it "breaking it down and building it back up".  We ran together so much that we didn't even train for the Des Moines Marathon.  We just signed up two weeks out, went on a few longer runs to prepare and we ran the thing.
Des Moines Marathon
Twin Cities Marathon


The Chicago Marathon will be the first time I will run a marathon on my own.  As much as I wanted to call friends to run with me to help me get through that 20 mile training run, I knew I needed to finish that one on my own. 

So, as I run alone most of the time, I have quite a bit of time to notice things and think about stuff.

Hand Gestures
It is odd running by someone, whether they are running or walking or mowing a lawn or whatever.  You are running past them, feet, if not inches from one another.  You are so exposed to that other person and them to you.  People handle this situation in quite a few different ways.

A very small portion of that population doesn't make eye contact and/or wave.  These are usually the hardcore runners that breeze past me, almost floating along.  Maybe they are concentrating on their form or completely lost in thought.  Sometimes they might throw a slight head nod my way.

I am not so much in that category.  I ramble along, changing form several times in my run, trying to figure out what feels most comfortable.  I have a terrible poker face, so I am not good at not making eye contact or waving.  Many times, I look similar to Forest Gump when he sees Lieutenant Dan for the first time in years (and he ends up jumping off his boat to swim to him because he is so excited).  I think I get it from my Mom.  Last year, my Mom and I were in Germany visiting my brother and we got lost walking around.  My brother knew where we were because his friend happened to ride his bike past us.  He noticed these two women (us) that he just knew had to be Craig's American relatives because we were smiling and waving and saying hello to him and everyone else that walked by us.

The Point
I have noticed that the most popular wave is actually not a wave at all, but the point of one or two fingers.  Very casual, maybe no smile at all, but just a point or a possible peace sign.  This is a challenge for me.  I have to sort of hold back on this one.

The Salute
A few weeks ago, I crossed paths with a man two different times during my run.  Both times he casually saluted me...sort of a top of the morning type gesture.  I was honored and I am sure smiling ear to ear, since the salute was above and beyond the normal point.

The High Five
Another time, I was running toward a fella and he held his hand held straight up.  He held it up for a good half block and had a gigantic smile on his face.  At first, I thought he knew me, but nope...just a really happy guy.  I am sure I had the same huge smile on my face back at him.  How can you not when someone is smiling that big, running right at you.  As he got closer with his hand still up in the air, I was sure he wanted to high five.  I was mentally preparing to high five him, when at the last minute he dropped his hand and ran on by.  Just saying hello.  In retrospect, I wish I would have high fived that guy.  He seemed like he would have been just fine with the high five.  I have a neighbor that recently had surgery and he has jumped back on the horse and is running again.  Whenever I see him coming, I always give him a high five.  I high five him because I think it is awesome that he fought back and is out there again, loving up his run.  The first time it caught him off guard.  Now, when he sees me coming, he knows to be ready for the high five.  His wife recently ran by my house and she high fived ME.  I really think that is fantastic.

The Becky
I have a friend named Becky that I see out running every once in a while.  She is more in my camp, where she can't not wave or say hi.  We usually end up taking a selfie or jumping up and down or doing some sort of a quick dance and then we are on our way again.

Over the past few months, I love hearing a honk and look up to my friends driving by and giving me a smile and a wave.  That always adds an extra spring in my step and big smile on my face.  I am terrible at identifying cars, so I don't always see them first.  Sometimes the honk scares the crap out of me, but that also kicks up my pace a bit.

You are Crazy
One day my friend Andy Lee was at stoplight, quite a few miles from my home.  Andy saw me and smiled and rolled down the window.  I thought he was going to say hello, but instead yelled "you are crazy!"  That one made me smile as I ran down the road.


I think about my friends, like Melanie and Becky that have shared in this love for running with me.  I think of conversations that I have had with my friends when we have been on runs together.  Sometimes I text people if I see them drive by.  Sometimes I answer the phone if someone calls.  I think about my nieces and nephews.  I balance my checkbook and budget in my head.  I usually have really good ideas...some lost, some remembered.  I think about vacations or dinner ideas (some lost, some remembered).  I make up to do lists, almost always forgotten, but somehow motivating to have the time to think up a to do list. I think about old times.  I think about my family.  I organize.  I think about my kids and panic that we are raising them the right way.  Sometimes I think about something funny and start laughing.  Just like crying, it is hard to laugh and run at the same time.  I can get quite a bit sorted out on a good run.

When my beautiful friend Katie McLenaghan reached out and invited me to run the Chicago Marathon as a member of Team Bear , I agreed to run and support the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation.  I am so proud to be apart of this wonderful organization.  Katie and I share so much in common, such as roots in Granger, Iowa, Dowling High School, Loras College and a beautiful angel that lost her life to cancer, but will be running with us and watching over us on October 12th.  It just made sense to work with Katie in an effort to help these children and their families battling cancer.

My family has had heartbreak after heartbreak with cancer.  I helplessly watch my friends as their loved ones have battled and continue to battle cancer.  I have really only known cancer among adults and can't ever imagine children dealing with such a thing.  So, as I run this marathon, I will be thinking of these children fighting the battle of their lives.  This will help me finish the marathon.  I will think of their families and how hard it must be to be strong for their children. I will think of my friend Barb, who I have recently gotten to know and how she was one of those parents.  I will think of her beautiful daughter and what a strong, kind and inspiring young woman she has grown up to be. I will think of my friend Mark that just sent me a note letting me know that he is now cancer free.  I will think of my friends Jen, Kathy and Fleming that are getting up everyday and being strong and being positive in the face of cancer.  That will help me cross the finish line.  I will think of my friends that have run alongside me throughout the years and they will be in my heart and on my mind and our past running conversations will keep me going when I want to stop. I will think of Andy Lee and his "you are crazy" and I think that he is right, but compared to those kids and their parents, my job in all of this is easy.

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for honking, waving, high fiving, saluting, smiling...all of it.  Let's go fight cancer.

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