Running For More

I was at a running event recently when an older, seasoned male runner was describing his favorite marathon to me. He said it was a beautiful race with a smallish field because, “They don’t let any of those charity runners in.”

I winced at his comment and thought, “I’m a charity runner.” Boston aside (good luck to everyone registering this week and next!), I don’t know what runners have against charity runners.

They didn’t have to scramble to get in. No, they had to pay the same entrance fee AND raise thousands of dollars for charity.

They make the field more crowded. The slots and number of runners in the field are designated by the race, not by the charities.

They’re not serious runners. Ahem. I beg to differ.

There’s a great quote (the author of said quote is unclear):

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

In 2006, my then boyfriend (now husband) re-upped with the United States Marine Corps Reserves in order to take a deployment to Iraq. It would be his second and last deployment to Iraq during is eleven years in the USMC.

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Back home in New York, I worked, went to school, sent care packages and letters, and tried to occupy the time between phone calls from him. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to do something, contribute something to the military community.

Since I had run a few marathons, I decided that the perfect way to honor his service was to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I looked for a charity team whose mission was one that benefitted veterans and their families. It was an easy choice and I joined Team Fisher House and began fundraising for the Fisher House Foundation.

TFH

I chose TFH because of the Fisher House Foundation mission. Fisher Houses are large houses built near military hospitals all over the country where the families of injured veterans stay for free while their soldier recovers from injuries. They also fly the family to be by their soldiers’ side upon their return to the US.

It was a no-brainer for me. If ever I needed their services, God forbid, I wanted to have earned my keep.

MarineMarathon_The Face!I raised a lot of money and was very proud to represent TFH at that and four more Marine Corps Marathons and one New Jersey Marathon. My sister, Red, joined me for one of them and that year, together, we raised over $16,000 for TFH.

But that first year when I was running while JB was deployed, it was more of a cathartic experience for me. I cried as I ran. I smiled at the newly minted lieutenants from the Officer Candidate School handing out water. I accepted the high-fives from my teammates and strangers who cheered as I ran by.

I ran for more than just me.

Since then, I have run a dozen or so races of all distances for various charities, all of which held a special significance to me and my family.

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We are a community, a #RunnerArmy. We are a family. Or, at least, that’s how I see the running community. I’m proud to be a runner who sometimes runs for a cause, sometimes my own. The experience of running in honor of someone else was entirely different than running my first race for myself, for my disease.

I fought like hell to get to that start line.

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Next time you’re at a marathon and find yourself judging the charity runners, remember that they’re there running for more. You don’t know. Not all of them joined the charity as a back door into the race. Some of them are like me, running for their Mom, Dad, sister, husband, or even for themselves.

Maybe give them a high-five.

Now go out and run.

Training Outside the Zone

I had one of those glorious long runs last Friday morning that could have gone on forever…maybe why I didn’t get to a Friday Fitness News round-up. Anyway, it was an awesome run and I didn’t want to stop.

I look something like this when I'm in the zone, but without makeup. Happy, bouncy, relaxed Abby.

I look something like this when I’m in the zone, but without makeup. Happy, bouncy, relaxed Abby.
(Image courtesy of MK Photography)

I was totally in the zone. My comfort zone. Running my pace. Running my course. Running my way. And then today I just about died pushing through my hill workout. It was the opposite of Friday in every way.

Two different workouts. Two different days. Because they can’t all feel easy. They can’t all feel effortless. They can’t all be the run that you want to go on forever. That’s not how Personal Records are made.

No, sir. PRs are made outside of the zone.

On the track in the pace group juuuuuuust a little faster than the one you’re used to.

In the speed workout that’s tempting your puke threshold.

On the road with the hills you hate.

Big, big, bigbig hill. You could walk it or you could run it. It's up to you.

Big, big, bigbig hill. You could walk it or you could run it. It’s up to you.

In the gym with a heavier weight than last week.

At the race you’re scared to run.

God, I hate 5Ks. But, here I am at the finish line, clearly not dead. Guess I'll have to do another one.

God, I hate 5Ks. But, here I am at the finish line, clearly not dead. Guess I’ll have to do another one even though I hate them with a fiery passion from Hell.

If you consistently go out and run the same pace, the same distance, the same road, you will be the same runner with the same times.

Long runs should be comfortable. They should feel pretty good. They should remind you of all the reasons you love to run and full of beautiful scenery.

Time to stop and take a picture during a long run? Sure. Why not?

Time to stop and take a picture of the budding Central Park trees during a long run? Sure. Why not?

But your weekly workouts, the majority of your runs–those should be hard. Like, H.A.R.D.

They should challenge you. You should push every single interval, every single hill, every single time. That’s where you change. That’s where you get stronger, faster, tougher.

Ever tried running on the track with Birdie? Yeah, this is approximately what it feels like chasing her wings around that oval.

Ever tried running on the track with Birdie? Yeah, this is approximately what it feels like chasing her wings around that oval. But I do it. Cuz I wanna be fast.

That’s where your PR is made, well outside of your zone.

Get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

How do you get outside the zone and push yourself: run with a faster group, change up your terrain, train against the clock, hire a coach to give you workouts? Do you run the same route/pace/distance every day? Do you go to a group circuit training class to lift? What’s your secret?! Share it here.

Now go out and run.

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Days Like This

I’m not Pollyanna but I’m not Oscar the Grouch either.

I was OBSESSED with Hayley Mills' costumes in Pollyanna. So gorgeous. The bows! (Image courtesy of Disney.com)

I was OBSESSED with Hayley Mills’ costumes in Pollyanna. So gorgeous. The bows!
(Image courtesy of Disney.com)

I’m somewhere in the middle where I don’t let myself wallow in the dumps but I feel my feelings and deal with them. Some days are harder than others, but I try to remind myself that tomorrow is a whole new day and something awesome might happen.

I'm Cookie Monster. He's somewhere in the middle-to-mostly-sunny side of life, isn't he? Plus, I like cookies.

I’m Cookie Monster. He’s somewhere in the middle-to-mostly-sunny side of life, isn’t he? Plus, hello, COOKIES.

Days Like This: when I have a great run.

Days Like This: when a respected friend and colleague asks me to collaborate with them.

Days Like This: when I {finally} don’t feel like I’m going to die in a Refine Method class.

Real life tweets between me and my favorite torturers, er, instructors.

Real life tweets between me and my favorite torturers, er, instructors.

Days Like This: when I have a hard workout one day and I’m not hobbling around for a week.

Days Like This: when I accurately answer a question for one of my classmates or a patient.

Days Like This: when I’m able to coach someone else to the finish line.

Best phone call ever received on vacation: from Sam after she finished the Nashville Half. So proud!

Best phone call ever received on vacation: from Sam after she finished the Nashville Half. So proud!

Days Like This are why we fight through the crappy days. Days like this are we we keep on going when there is no visible light at the end of the tunnel.

One can only hope that Days Like This come along so much more than the ones our mamas told us about. You know, the “Mama said there’d be Days Like This“-days. Then again, many of us have far more of the latter type of Days Like This and for those times, we have our memory and our friends to help us get through it.

I mean, when you've got friends like these...

I mean, when you’ve got friends like these…

We remember when we ran and it felt good and we know that there’ll be Days Like That again.

We remember when we felt normal and could do normal things and we hope for Days Like That.

We remember that life is constantly changing and, although today might not be the same as yesterday, it is a new day and we make of it what we will.

Each race after surgery is even more of a victory than the one before cuz it's one more than before.

Each race after surgery is even more of a victory than the one before cuz it’s one more than before.

Days Like This can lift us up and give us hope but in the end, if we don’t recognize them when they come around, we may never know they were ever there. Enjoy this day, this moment.

Enjoy Days Like This, friends. They are absolutely what make today so much Better Than the Alternative.

Now go out and run.

What are “good” days in your book? Great weather? Good workout? No traffic on the way home from work? I count any day that the train is running on time as a good one. Hooray for public transportation!

Obi-wan: The Emotional Side of Post-Injury Athletes

The following is the third in a series of guest blogs written by my Dad, affectionately nicknamed “Obi-wan” for his sage advice and guidance in using The Force in my life. He is also the inspiration behind Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays and the person who first taught me how to get strong and stay fit.

The classic baseball team photo *awesome*, age7

He also taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat so I could play baseball at age 5. Whattaguy. Note the excellent grip and form on that bat.

Here he is, ladies and gents, Obi-wan.

May The Force be with you. (Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

May The Force be with you. Not my Dad, btw.
(Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

As an avid reader of Abby’s blog I read with great interest April’s “Effects of De-Training” with the supporting study data. The study data on the effects of de-training on highly trained runners or cyclists supported what everyone, regardless of fitness level, has found out when starting back into a training regime after a layoff: your fitness levels have tanked!

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Having never been a highly trained endurance athlete but more of a self trained fitness enthusiast who has had a number of enforced training layoffs due to injury and illness, the data was particularly interesting to me to see the effects of de-training on highly trained athletes.

It also made me wonder about the emotional effects of de-training and re-training on well trained endurance athletes and also the average person working to stay fit in today’s busy world.

Later that day Abby and I had a long discussion about the effects of de-training and how her recent experiences with chronic illness, anesthesia, surgery, and an enforced layoff after her surgeries had affected her. Our conversation ranged into the emotional side of starting to train again after an enforced period of de-training.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

We agreed that retraining our body to once again be able to perform at the pre-layoff levels had both a physical and emotional component that one needed to understand. It’s more than just pushing ones self to get back into the gym, on the bike, or onto the track.

In other words how does one get their mind around starting again after injury, illness, or enforced layoff for any reason?

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

In trying to get a better handle on the emotional side of re-training after an undesired training layoff, I turned to the source of all wisdom in today’s world, the internet.

After trying a number of searches included “re-training”, “emotional effects of de-training”, “starting training again after de-training” and other searches without gaining much insight into the emotional aspect of re-training, I did come upon an article which gave a helpful acronym which they associated with re-training after de-training:

SMART

 S – Set Specific Goals

M – Set Measurable Goals

A – Set Adjustable Goals

R – Set Realistic Goals

T – Set Time Based Goals

Be SMART. You don't want to end up like this poor fellow.

Be SMART. You don’t want to end up like this poor fellow.

This same acronym has been applied in various different disciplines including business, and while the above would seem to be a helpful way to go about getting started again, it doesn’t in my mind address the emotional component of starting to train again.

When one has the fear of re-injuring yourself, the uncertainty of how the surgery you had will affect your ability to participate, or just the self conscious aspect of reentering the gym or workout facility at a different level of performance, having a plan helps but doesn’t address the fears that we all have of lacing the sneaks back up.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

As with anything in life fear of the unknown and tolerance of ambiguity are the greatest fears that we have as humans and the fears around restarting our exercise regime or fitness program is no different.

Upon reflection I don’t know that there is any easy answer or strategy for overcoming our fears. But as with all things in life, they are lessened by facing them head on and getting started with a realistic plan of action which will allow us to once again “go out and run” (or whatever)!

Thanks again to Obi-wan for another great post. Have you ever had to work your way back into shape after a hiatus? How did you do it?

Now go out and run…or whatever ;)

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Hang In

What’s this? Two posts in a row? This could only mean one thing: I am a human being again. No more Tasmanian Devil.

Put my face on this image with a white coat & scrubs & you have me for the past 6 weeks.  (Image courtesy of LooneyTunes.com)

Put my face on this image with a white coat & scrubs & you have me for the past 6 weeks.
(Image courtesy of LooneyTunes.com)

Not that I’ve been mad, just crazy busy going from one event/school thingy/project/race to the next.

And so, welcome back to Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays where we decided that, despite all the crap each of us deals with on a regular basis, it’s still way better than the alternative.

Have you ever had to just Hang In there? Ugh. It’s the worst. Your current situation sucks and there’s absolutely nothing to do about it so you just have to Hang In there and wait for the tide to turn.

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I’ve been there. Lots. And lots.

In school, during races, after surgery, in my rotation, while I was sick, in…LIFE. “Just Hang In There” is basically the title of my autobiography.

Abby Bales: Hang In There

An Autobiography of a Gal Who Spent a Lot of Time On a Ledge.

Waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better.

Waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better.

I’m a do-er. There’s nothing that infuriates me more than to “just Hang In there” or “wait and see”. There is a deep feeling of desperation in those moments that is impossible to articulate to one who has not been there. It’s a very dark place.

You know what has always happened when I actually did Hang In there? I survived. I came out the other side. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and explored a more positive feeling: gratitude.

I did my best to hang in there for my last mile in Chicago. Haven't been this grateful to sport my race medal in a while.

I did my best to Hang In there for my last mile in Chicago. Haven’t been this grateful to sport my race medal in a while.

That feeling of gratitude tends to stick around for quite a while. Gratitude and strength for Hanging In and not giving up, not giving in, not collapsing into myself in a heap on my living room floor.

Well, not every day.

I feel stronger for having endured really tough situations. Not so strong that I go out looking for trouble, but strong enough to know I could do it again (and again) if I have to (and I have).

Surrender? NEVER!

NEVER!
(Image courtesy of Peanuts.com)

I’ll take having to Hang In there for a while knowing that, eventually, it will make me stronger. Eventually.

And that is way Better than the Alternative.

Now go out and run.