Posted by: Sue Doherty Gelber | September 20, 2013

Getting Higher in Colorado or Things I’ve Seen While Running Here (Part 1)

People (i.e., my mother) keep asking me if I’ve signed up for any races out here in Colorado, because my M.O. is to see an event announcement, say “oh, that sounds fun,” and sign up without stopping to think if it really will be fun or if it will be a miserable experience that leaves my vomiting and/or crying. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my signupaholism in check since I arrived. And I have a very good reason: I can’t breathe here.

People warned me about the elevation, telling me it will take time to get used to it, that it will make me tired at first, that it takes three months for the body to acclimatize. “Whatever,” I said. (Well, I didn’t say that, because I’m much too polite, but I thought it and added an imaginary eye-roll.) After all, I have experience in the mountains. Granted, I moved here from pancake-flat Chicago, elevation 0, but in Montana we live at about 2900 feet. Here we’re at about 5600. What’s a measly 2700 feet going to do, kill me?

Yes, quite possibly.

Any kind of exertion now leaves me gasping for breath. This is what I sound like when I run here in Colorado

No wonder it has been hard for me to make friends. Every time I encounter people, they are probably alarmed by my panting and worried that I might die right in front of them. As it turns out, though, wheezing like an injured walrus has it’s benefits.

On my regular running route, there is what the locals might terms a slight incline. Since I come from Chicago, I call it the Sears Tower. The elevation gain is 60 feet total over about a quarter-mile. I know the trail runners out there will call that a mere mound, but to me, that’s double the Eden’s overpass, which is about as hilly as I can handle. Fortunately, I’m slowly getting used to running up said hill/mountain. I approach it with small steps, a loose upper body, and an inspiring manta: “KILL ME NOW.”

One day I was running (ok, walking) up, and I made it about halfway before I stopped to catch my breath. Apparently, my grunting and groaning attracted some attention. I must have sounded like this

because as I stood panting/gasping/wheezing/whining, I saw a little brown head pop up over the ridge next to the path.

A cow elk. And she was looking at me with love in her eyes. She came over the ridge to get closer and check me out.

I could see her assessing me, giving me the once over to see if I’d do, like it was inching toward closing time and the bartender had announced last call. We made eye contact across the grassy hillside. I swear I heard music swelling in the background. Was that Kenny G?

She took stock of my white baseball hat – not particularly antler-like. She sniffed the air, taking in the odor of sweat mixed with Secret Solid Lavender Scent (which at that point had clearly diminished in effectiveness; note to self, try the Secret Sports Formula). Then she finally lowered her gaze to my pink Kinvaras, at which point I think she realized she’d been duped, because what kind of bull elk has pink hooves? She took off down the trail.

“Wait!” I called after her. “Can’t you at least give me a ride to the top of the hill?”

Three months to reach acclimatization. One down, two to go.

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Pretty sure this is the elk equivalent of twerking.

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“Come back! We can make it work!”

Posted by: Sue Doherty Gelber | July 18, 2013

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Forgive me, Hippocrates, for I have sinned. I have lied to my physician.

That’s so wrong, isn’t it? I can just see Marcus Welby, MD, looking at me with a scowl. “Now Sue, you should never lie to a doctor.”

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Imagine all the doctors I’ve disappointed. Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Zhivago. Dr. Eckleburg. Dr. Fu Manchu. Dr. Doolittle. A phalanx of frowning physicians.

Of course, I like to think that I didn’t lie per se. I prefer to think of it as being vaguely misleading because I was wrapped in my own cloak of denial.

You see, it took me a little while to get around to seeing a doctor about the Little Something in my foot. Basically, I procrastinated until I was unable to walk without limping and muttering “ouch, ouch, ouch” with every step.

I was rather vague on the phone when the receptionist asked what the problem was – just some foot pain, needed to see the doctor, etc. I didn’t want to commit to any particular narrative. Then, as I sat in the exam room, the paper cover crinkling under me as I shifted uncomfortably on the exam table, it was time to tell the doctor exactly what was going on.

I have some foot pain.

The ball of the foot.

In the middle. Yes – ouch! – right there.

No, there was no sudden trauma.

No, no bruising that I saw.

Well, it’s been going on for a while.

Yes, at least several days.

Um, yes, I guess it’s been going on for over a week.

How long exactly? Probably more like a couple of weeks.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s been several weeks.

I suppose you could say a couple of months.

(Truth be told, it started last October. But don’t tell the doctor that.)

Yes, I know, I’m an idiot. But I kept thinking my foot issue would get better. I hoped it might miraculously go away. After all, it just showed up one day out of the blue, so why not think it might just disappear too? Things like that happen. Sometimes.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “denial” as sticking one’s big fat head in the sand and ignoring reality until sand starts to go up one’s nose and into one’s lungs, causing one to black out. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

Fortunately, when I finally succumbed to the pain and went to the doctor, I discovered that my foot was neither broken nor permanently damaged. I just had a neuroma. Not such a big deal. No boot, no crutches required. Certainly not something that justified living in pain for the better part of a year.

You would think as a result of this experience that I’d learn my lesson and ditch my denial/avoidance habits. But no. You see, I’ve been in denial about other things. Big things. Like the fact that we are moving to Colorado. Yes, it’s time to close the Chicago chapter and move to another time zone, making it even more difficult to figure out when it’s a good time to call my family on the East Coast.

The denier in me thinks “Moving will be fun! We’ll get to try new restaurants and new museums and do all sorts of sightseeing touristy things and go hiking and biking and do all kinds of fun activities. It will be just like going on vacation!”

Sadly, I know the reality is that moving is nothing like going on vacation. In fact, moving is a lot of work. It’s organizing and packing and cleaning, followed by cleaning and unpacking and organizing. It involves crying and saying goodbye to friends and sobbing over the fact that I’ll never again be able to get my favorite roasted veggie sandwich at my favorite local lunch spot. It means finding a new doctor, a new dentist, a new place I can get a pedicure where they won’t wrinkle their noses at my ugly, calloused runner’s feet. It means finding a new book group, a new writers’ group, a new running partner, and someone with whom I can go to the movies and drink wine (not necessarily at the same time, although that’s not a bad idea). I have to find new friends, create a new community, find a new favorite sandwich place.

So, I’ve been limping along, denying the inevitable upheaval.

But now here it is. The move is upon us. After several weeks of organizing and packing and cleaning and saying sad, tearful goodbyes, our stuff is in Colorado and it’s time for me to clean and unpack and organize and figure out how to get to the grocery store without getting lost. I’m nervous. Will people like me? Will I fit in? How do I adapt to life in Colorado? How do I blend with the locals? And then it hit me – the solution to make me fit right in. So, please excuse me while I rush off to my John Denver Appreciation Class. Everybody, sing it with me!

Posted by: Sue Doherty Gelber | May 31, 2013

Don’t Look, Ethel!

It’s been 46 days, and it’s still alive.

Yes, I’m talking about The Streak.

The RunStreak, that is.

Granted, 46 days is nothing compared to my previous streak of 425 days. But this time around, I’m running at least three miles every day. Last time, my minimum was one mile. And those two extra miles make quite a bit of difference.

When I was doing one-mile “rest day” runs, I barely broke a sweat, warming up just in time to finish. Three miles, however, is a legit run, requiring appropriate planning and time management. And a three-mile run generates a full outfit’s worth of laundry. Is it a coincidence that my washing machine died a few weeks into this streak? I think not.

There’s no question that motivating myself to run three miles is WAY harder. “I’m tired,” or “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’ll go later.” I’ve found myself procrastinating, pushing my runs later and later in the day.

However, I’m usually happy by mile 1.5 or so. Still, every now and then I struggle through the whole thing.

Fortunately, I like streaking. Forcing myself to run outside every day reminds me that the weather is never really as bad as it seems. After all, once you’re already wet, more rain isn’t a big deal.

So the streak is doing well. There is, however, one problem. I’ve got A Little Something going on in my foot. Now, before all you crabbypants out there start saying “See! I told you! Streaking is BAD,” let me clarify that the Little Something in the foot pre-dates the streak. In fact, I developed foot pain a few weeks after my last streak ended. And while I agree with those who say that rest is important, I also believe in consistency – not to the point of overuse, but I believe the body adapts to whatever it routinely encounters. It was when my running became more sporadic that the Little Something in my foot arrived.

So the streak didn’t cause the issue. And I don’t think it has made it worse. So why is it flaring up now? Because of these

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and these

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and these

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Spring has arrived, and the strappy sandals have been dragged out and dusted off. But whatever is going on in my foot doesn’t seem to like the fancy footwear. My feet prefer Kinvaras, and last I checked, Saucony doesn’t make dressy heels. So what’s a gal with foot pain to do?

I think the solution is for me to start wearing my running shoes all the time, regardless of the occasion. Fortunately, I have running shoes in an array of colors, so I can coordinate with just about any outfit.

For example, see how nicely these Saucony Triumphs match the floral pattern in this sundress.

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This purple cocktail dress works well with my Saucony FastTwitch.

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Even for a somber occasion like a funeral, I have my trail runners, which are a nice shade of gray.

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I know there will be critics: “Don’t look Ethel! That lady is wearing sneakers to a formal wedding!” But maybe I can start a new trend. After all, with so many great color choices these days, running shoes shouldn’t be just for running anymore. Now I just need to pick out the right socks.

Posted by: Sue Doherty Gelber | April 19, 2013

RunStreak for Boston

Confession: I once was a streaker.

A RunStreaker, that is. I ran every day for 425 days in 2011-2012.

I started the RunStreak because at the time, running had started to feel like a chore. I’d lost the joy of it. Oddly, by forcing myself to run every day, I fell in love with running again. The routine, the consistency made running what it should be: a non-negotiable part of life, like breathing or eating.

However, my RunStreak came to an abrupt end on October 8th, the day after the 2012 Chicago Marathon. I could barely get out of bed. Walking was challenging enough. Running was out of the question. The RunStreak was dead, but I had hope that it would get resurrected.

After missing qualifying for Boston at Chicago, I decided to do the California International Marathon in December, to try again for my BQ time. Alas, my plans were blown off course by the weather on race day: monsoon-like rain and winds. After two marathons in eight weeks, I needed a break from running, both physically and mentally. The RunStreak was gone for good.

Until now.

On Monday, April 15, I spent Patriots Day as I always do, watching coverage of the Boston Marathon. It was a bit sad for me, since I’d come so close to being there myself, but it was also inspirational, as watching a marathon always is.

Boston means more to me than any other marathon. I lived on or near the course for many years. In fact, the route goes right past my old house, where I used to stand every year, cheering.

Once we moved to Chicago, watching the marathon online was my yearly way to reconnect with home. I love watching the coverage of the lead pack as they go by my old haunts. “Hey, there’s the grocery store! And the library!” I get a thrill seeing the mundane yet familiar places. I used to stand on those streets and cheer alongside the masses, but now I stand alone in my kitchen and watch a small screen on my computer.

Marathon Monday is the one day each year when I am guaranteed to be homesick.

But the sadness soon gives way to excitement as I watch the elites race towards the finish. This year I was screaming for local gal (local in Boston, that is; she’s from Marblehead) Shalane Flanagan who ran to a very impressive fourth place finish. “Go Shalane!” I yelled. “Run wicked fast!”

After the elites finished on Monday, I was inspired to go for a run. When I got back, I sat down at the computer to check runner tracking and locate friends running the marathon. One of them had just finished. Another was still out on the course.

But he wouldn’t get a chance to finish, stopped by race officials a half-mile from the finish line following the explosions.

The next day was full of questions: Who did this? Why? What do we do now? In the running community, the answer to that last question was clear: go for a run and wear a race shirt in support of those in Boston. I donned my 2012 Chicago Marathon shirt and went out to join the world in the virtual run of support.

Then on Wednesday, it seemed wrong not to run. After all, these were my people who had been attacked – my fellow runners and their friends and family. It somehow felt important to run, to show solidarity.

That’s when I realized the RunStreak had been reborn.

On Thursday I went for a run, but the weather in Chicago was stormy, so I did my bare minimum of one mile. After I got home, I had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. That’s when I realized that for this RunStreak, the minimum needs to be three miles, in honor of the three victims. I put on dry clothes and went back out to tack on two more miles.

And so this is my Boston RunStreak. Three miles. Every day.

Don’t worry, I’m not asking for money, although it you’d like to make donations to One Fund Boston, go for it. Personally, I plan to donate a dollar for every mile covered on the RunStreak. The last time I did a streak, it lasted for well over 1000 miles. Of course, I have no idea how long this one will last. Ideally, 175 days, one day for each of the people injured on Monday. Then again, a RunStreak is a delicate thing. I could end up with an injury and a broken streak tomorrow.

But for now, this is my pledge. I will run three miles every day for Boston. Want to join me?

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Posted by: Sue Doherty Gelber | April 16, 2013

Making It All About Me. And You, Too.

I was hesitant to write about the Boston Marathon bombings, because I didn’t want to make the tragedy All About Me. But there’s a movement today in the running community to wear a race shirt in support of the bombing victims, so I’m wearing my 2012 Chicago Marathon shirt. That’s the race where I missed qualifying for Boston by three minutes. Had I managed to run each mile eight seconds faster, I would have been at the start line yesterday.

And yet, I didn’t make it.

I’ve been carrying around those three minutes for the past six months, thinking of them as an albatross around my neck, letting them punish me.

Three minutes of “I should have tried harder.” Three minutes of “I should have been stronger.” Three minutes of disappointment. Three minutes of failure. Three minutes of “What if?”

Three minutes of “There but for the grace of God go I.” Three minutes of shelter. Three minutes of protection. Three minutes of thankfulness. Three minutes of a different kind of “What if?”

What if I had qualified? My running pal Chanthana, who is speedier than I am, finished the race several minutes before the blast. Had I been running yesterday, she may very well have been walking back towards the finish, ready to cheer me in from the sidelines. My parents would have been standing on Boylston Street, craning their necks to find me. My husband and kids, my brother and sister-in-law, my friends, where would they have been? On Boylston, because it’s closer to the finish area? Or on Hereford because it’s easier to spot runners? It could have been them. It could have been me.

So, yes, it is All About Me. And it’s All About You, too. It’s All About Us.

It’s about any person who has run a race or anyone who has stood on the sidelines cheering.

It’s about anyone who has gone to a public event or celebration without pausing to worry that it might be a terrorist target.

The dyeing of the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Esplanade in Boston on Fourth of July.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

A concert in the park.

A summer street festival.

These are the celebrations that unite us, but now they threaten to divide us, to drive us away, to make us recoil in fear.

So I’m wearing my 2012 Chicago Marathon shirt, and I’m accepting those three minutes that kept me from Boston yesterday. I’m going to train harder and race faster and eventually I will run down Boylston Street past the blast site and towards the finish. It will be All About Me, and All About You and All About Us, and we won’t let the What Ifs scare us away.

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