Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 15, 2016

Inspiration Friday: Marathon Edition

Well, well, well. Another Boston Marathon is on the horizon. And as usual, I’m devastated that I’m not there to see it. The snow-capped Rockies are lovely, but there’s nothing more majestic than the view of that finish line on Boylston Street.

I spent much of my life in the Hub of the Universe, and as a result, the Boston Marathon is woven deep into my soul. Even before I became a runner, I was fascinated with the event, thanks in no small part to Joan Benoit, a gal from Maine sporting a Red Sox cap who won Boston – and set a course record – the first time she ran it. She then set a new world record at Boston a few years later. She was the stuff of local legend.

For me, Joan Benoit Samuelson became more closely associated with the marathon thanks to her years of providing commentary during the race day broadcasts. She had intelligent insight, but more importantly, she seemed like a nice person. During my first years living in Chicago, homesick and glued to whatever random cable channel was carrying the WBZ broadcast, she was my tether. At the time, I didn’t know anyone in Chicago who cared about the Boston Marathon, but it was ok because I had Joan. I’d bet we’d be friends, Joanie and I. We’d hang out, go for a run (she’d have to wait for me to catch up, but she wouldn’t mind), then grab a cup of coffee afterwards. Joanie and I would have lots to chat about. I could call her Joanie, right?

Fortunately, Joan Benoit Samuelson is known for much more than being my imaginary friend. In fact, she is probably best known not for her stunning Boston performances, but from the ’84 Olympics.

It’s a story you’ve heard before: a small town gal finds fame and fortune on the streets of LA. It’s a story that’s been told a million times. But not like this:

I hope everyone has a happy Marathon Monday. And if you need a runner to support, cheer on my good friend (and former running partner!) Patti Quigley, who’s conquering her first marathon as a fundraiser for Razia’s Ray of Hope. You can read about her here: Razia’s Ray of Hope. Go, Patti, go!




Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | March 23, 2016

Starting Over. Again.

Running, I can’t quit you. Oh, I try. I take breaks, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for months. But inevitably there comes that morning when I drink too much (coffee) and all my inhibitions drop away. I see my running shoes sitting there in my closet and I hear them murmuring to me in a sultry voice: “Hey, Babe, wanna run away with me?” And before I can stop myself, my Kinvaras are laced up and I’m heading out the door.

Sure, some might say it’s a dysfunctional relationship, but I know this time it will be different. Things have changed. We’ve been to (physical) therapy. So, here I am. Starting over, once again.

Just like last time.

I particularly like the 18-second mark of this video where you can see the bloodstains from the California International Marathon Monsoon on my pretty pink shoes. I finally got rid of those shoes a few weeks ago. I’m still mourning the loss of them. But who wants old worn out blood-stained shoes? Me, apparently.

I’ll post my running progress here. If there is any. But no photos of bloody shoes, I promise.

Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | February 11, 2016

How Twitter Made Me A Better Runner

(Originally wrote this back in August of 2009 for Running Hoosier magazine, which unfortunately has since folded. Everyone in the world is on Twitter now – but not everyone is a runner. Yet.)

I have been running for most of my life, and yet I’m a novice runner.

My first memory of myself as a runner is from the local 4th of July kids’ races at our small town in Massachusetts. I was about five and all I can remember is falling. Who knows what really happened, but when I tell that story today, I make it sound as if I was trampled like a fan at a Who concert. In reality, I think I just got muddy and cried. In any case, my early running career was off to a rocky start.

Several years later, after the psychological scars had healed, I once again ventured out to the local 4th of July races to run my first 5K. Calling it a “run,” however, would be inaccurate, as I walked for a large portion of the race. I believe I finished last. After that, I stopped running for its own sake and stuck to running as a means to an end.

I played sports in high school, and running was something I did because the coach made me. Nothing changed in college: running was still a punishment meted out by authority figures. After I graduated, I ran to lose all the weight I gained from eating too much pizza during the previous four years. Later in life, I ran to get back in shape after I had my kids. Sometimes I ran to deal with stress. Sometimes I ran to get away from things. And sometimes I ran simply because bathing suit season was coming.

But I never ran just to run. It wasn’t until I finally had a clear mind, and a clear schedule, that I was truly able to run for fun. Still, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just went to my local running store, bought some nice shoes, laced up and went. At its very core, running is as simple as that. However, being a runner involves a lot more. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Then I got on Twitter. For the uninitiated, Twitter is a social networking site that allows you to “follow,” or see the posts of, people you may or may not know. It is a bit like walking into a very large cocktail party where there are thousands of individual conversations taking place. By “following” people you can eavesdrop on their conversations. It differs from other social networking sites like Facebook because you do not need to already have a relationship with someone in order to receive his or her updates. Rather, you just click “follow” for anyone you find interesting, including complete strangers and celebrities. It’s a bit like socially acceptable stalking.

So how, you might you ask, did a site like Twitter help make me a better runner? Well, quite simply, I followed the runners.

I’m not even sure which runners I found first. I merely searched for “running,” identified a few people and began following them. Then I saw who they were “talking to” and followed those people as well. The next thing I know, I was following dozens and dozens of runners, some casual runners, some marathoners and ultramarathoners, and a bunch in between.

I was amazed at what these people were communicating about. There were debates about training programs, nutrition, and recovery periods. There was talk about split times, Marys, Half Marys, heel strikers and mid-foot strikers. There was discussion about speed work, track repeats, intervals and Fartleks. Suddenly I was hearing all kinds of lingo I knew nothing about. Often these runners would post links to articles and blogs. I read them all. A few were over my head, but most of them were informative and eye-opening. Some of these were articles I might have stumbled upon on my own, but most were items I never would have been able to find out there in cyberspace by myself.

In addition to links, people also shared their personal experiences, from the big decisions about marathon training programs to more mundane concerns. Do you run with a hydration belt? What sports/recovery drink do you use? What do you eat to prepare for a long run? What is your favorite music to listen to while working out? Running skirts: cute or goofy? All of these opinions were being shared openly and honestly.

However, even more importantly than all of the information and resources, Twitter kept me motivated. Seeing others post their daily runs was a great reminder to stick to my own running schedule. Twitter helped me get my butt out the door on the mornings I wanted to stay in bed. “I really don’t feel like running today,” I would whine on Twitter. Then out of the Twitterverse would come many messages of encouragement in reply: “Just go, you’ll feel better when you are done.” After that, of course, I had to run. I was being held accountable by dozens of people.

Twitter enabled me to become part of a community of runners, something I simply didn’t have before. I had some “real-life” friends who are runners, but most were casual runners. My local running store had a runners group, but the run times weren’t convenient for me. Twitter allowed me to run when it worked for my schedule and still share my experiences with others. Now, when I have suffered through a challenging run, I know I can turn to Twitter for positive reinforcement and encouragement. If I have questions, I know I can find answers. If I have problems, there are people who understand.

It may only be a virtual community, but it’s a genuine community. On Twitter, we share stories of getting lost while running, being chased by barking dogs, getting scared by cars coming just a little too close. We tell each other about the funny, strange, frightening and inspiring things we see on our runs. We commiserate about not hydrating enough or hydrating too much and having to quickly find a port-o-potty en route.

I seem to always get chased by very small but very persistent dogs, and the experience makes for good Twitter-material. Sure enough, there are others out there who have been tormented by micro-dogs as well. We can laugh about it together. What’s more, we can share solutions. Someone suggested running with dog treats to toss towards a chasing dog, hopefully serving as a distraction. Hey, if it works for the UPS guy, it might work for me. While it is an obvious trick, I don’t think I would have come up with it on my own. Thanks Twitter.

Twitter has also helped me discover a range of other online tools to help make me a better runner. These sites help me organize my training, find appropriate races, and stay motivated. The links I have found thanks to Twitter have given me a wealth of information that I could not have mined on my own in my day-to-day “real” life.

Twitter connects me with the running community, a vital component I need to help make me a better runner. I still consider myself a novice runner, but now I’m lucky enough to have hundreds of mentors, even if I’ve never even met them in person.

Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | December 24, 2015

In Need of Christmas Eve Humor?

Growing up in the 70s, men dominated popular culture, but there were a few women whose names figured prominently. Gloria Steinem. Barbara Walters. Sally Hansen. Jean Nate. Ok, maybe I was a little unclear on exactly who these women were and what contributions they made to society, but at least I recognized the names. And one of the biggest names in suburbia was surely Erma Bombeck. Her book “The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank” was a coffee table anchor at our house. I remember sitting on the “good” couch in our living room reading snippets of the book. Although I didn’t always understand the humor, I knew that her writing rang true. The grass actually was greener over the septic tank. Like the comic strip Family Circus, Erma took things from my mundane life and made them funny – or at least funny to the grown ups. But Erma existed far beyond our coffee table. Her column was in the newspaper ALL THE TIME and she was even on TV. Real TV! Granted, Jean Nate was on TV too, but those were commercials, not actual programs, so they didn’t count (and who was Jean, anyway?). Of course, I had no idea that Erma was pioneering new humor ground for women. I just knew that she wrote about things I could understand. Kids, dogs, and grocery stores. Church services, family dinners, and long car rides. It was like she was our neighbor, our funny neighbor whose picture was in the newspaper every week. She wasn’t as fashionable or exciting as Charlie’s Angels, but she was cool in her own way.

Which is a long way of saying that I was thrilled when the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop decided to publish a holiday piece of mine: Christmas Eve in Boca Palms. And I’d like to think that if Erma were alive today, she’d shop online, too. So surf on over and have a read.

Merry Christmas to all, wherever you happen to be this year.



Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | November 6, 2015

I Don’t Feel Like a Princess. More Like the Queen Mother.

It was bound to happen. My kids went off to college and I turned into an old lady overnight. I’ve taken to eating dinner at 5:30 and going to bed by 9. (In my defense, thanks to the return of standard time, the sun sets around 4pm, so 9 feels like midnight). But the clearest sign that I’m turning into a senior citizen is that I’m going on a cruise. Yes, like the kind with AARP discounts.

For the record, it was not my idea. One of my old college roommates talked me into it. And it feels just like it did in college all those years ago – her talking me into doing something I’m not sure I want to do.

Why don’t I want to go on a cruise? Fires, engine failures, norovirus! All those people and their germs! Being treated like a bovine getting loaded onto a cattle car! Hundreds of elderly people with their walkers pushing me out of the way when it’s time to get in the lifeboats!

Granted, cruise lines have been targeting a younger demographic, marketing cruise vacations as cool and edgy. We’ve all seen the commercials with Iggy Pop wailing about a lust for life. Minor detail that Iggy is as old as the hills.

And my interactions with Princess suggested that they still assume their customers are elderly retirees.

Case in point: I was trying to do something really simple, namely arrange for my friend Stacey and I to eat dinner together at night. But in order for us to dine together on board, Stacey and I each had to contact Princess to make a request. She called Princess and got a “secret code” which I would then have to give in order to complete the request. Secret Code? Is this some kind of Mission Impossible movie?

So I went to the Princess website, figuring I’d do it through their online helpdesk. Which is when I discovered that there was no online help desk. Hmmm, and no email address either. I must be missing something. So I did what anyone would do in 2015 – I tweeted them.

After a slow response time (The next day? Do they not understand how Twitter works?), I was informed that there was no email address for customer service. And no online help desk. I’d have to call. You mean dial a phone? Like we did back in 1993? I wasn’t sure my new iPhone had calling capability. Is there an app for that?

Good lord, Princess, get with the program. Even the cable company has online help, and if ANYONE wants to pretend it’s the early 90s, it’s the cable company. It was almost as if Princess assumed all its customers were 70-year-olds with landlines. Oh…wait….

Fortunately, I found an icon on my iPhone that allowed me to make a call (it’s the one that looks like an old-fashioned handset, in case you’re wondering) and I dialed the number for Princess. After navigating the generic phone menu – “press 2, press 1, please hold” – I got the classic refrain. “All representatives are busy. Due to unexpected call volume, we expect your wait time to be at least several minutes.” So I did what any spoiled Internet addict does when placed on hold. I hung up.

But I knew I’d have to try again, or else I’d be dining with some couple named Cecil and Naomi celebrating their golden anniversary. So I called back and got the same message: “unexpected call volume.” Again and again. EVERY time I called. Day after day, there was “unexpected call volume.” So here’s my question: if the call volume is high every day, can it really be classified as “unexpected?” To borrow from another princess, The Princess Bride, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

But if I wanted to get in touch with customer service at Princess, sacrifices would have to be made. I’d have to suffer on hold. So I cleared my schedule, made sure my phone was fully charged, poured a cup of coffee, dialed the number and settled in. I got the usual “unexpected call volume” spiel and waited. And waited.

I called at 1:30 in the afternoon. By 1:45, I’d finished my coffee and was wishing I’d stockpiled some snacks.

“Please continue to hold.”

I started to wonder if anyone had ever died of boredom while on hold with Princess, or would I be the first?

“Due to unexpected call volume, all representatives are busy.”

Gee, you know what might cut down the call volume, Princess? An online help desk.

I finally got someone around 1:50. I explained why I was calling – the dinner request and the secret code and please just let me dine with my friend because I DO NOT want to sit with anyone who thinks it’s normal to stay on hold for 20 minutes to TALK to someone.

The very perky woman on the other end of the line said she wasn’t sure how to process the request. She’d have to check with someone.

So she put me on hold.

To her credit, she came back shortly to say that it was all set. Of course, by that point I’d spent a half hour on the phone for something that would have taken seconds to do online. But hey, Princess, who wants to save that kind of time, right? Us retirees have nothing better to do.

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