What to Choose

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I need a new pair of sneakers. Does anyone even use the word sneakers anymore? I mean, I’m looking for a pair of shoes that will serve for walking and running, something sporty. I tend to like bright colors, perhaps turquoise or purple. But I’m not able to find a pair in my size, with a proper arch, that’s good for city streets. They usually don’t have enough support, or they’re too cushy or too heavy. Or the hue or color combination is wrong. It’s easy to eliminate the choices. I don’t like the style. I don’t support the manufacturer. Today it’s running shoes, but on any given day I can easily find something I don’t want.

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Running shoes are particularly tricky. When I was very young, my father owned a shoe store. He would bring me home a pair of Keds with a rubber tip. Red was my color of choice, but I usually got whatever he had left in my size. I was reminded often of my wide feet. At seven I no longer wanted the childish sneakers with the rubber tip. They were for babies. But I couldn’t complain, that was a house rule. I had to ask reasonably. Diplomacy was fostered at a young age.

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By the time I was eleven I preferred P.F. Flyers. I liked the name.   And all the cool kids had them. I was not cool, but I imagined that with the right sneakers on PE day, I would be welcomed into the club. Even saying PE instead of Phys. Ed. was cool. Bu that was not to be. I would wear my P.F. Flyers privately gleeful as I looked down at my feet.

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As my feet grew I became the lucky recipient of the expensive Tretorns my mother wore for tennis. Once the tread wore down, she needed another pair for the slow clay courts of the Cherry Hill Tennis Club. The Tretorns were soft and comfortable. With their inner cushioning, and the white canvas exterior accented with a wave of blue leather, my feet were happy. My hand-me-down tennis shoes became the one piece of clothing with a recognizable label. I didn’t have to play tennis, I just had to wear Tretorns to feel a little bit more like a belonged in Cherry Hill.

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Even after I moved away to college I received my mom’s old shoes when I came to visit. That was fairly often since I lived in Philadelphia, the closest city. My mom switched out her shoes every three to six months. I wore the sneakers for a year or so. By that time my sister ,Susan, could also wear my mom’s old sneaks.

Once I moved to New York things changed. It was my therapist’s comment about wearing my mother’s used, tennis shoes that had me start looking for my own sneakers. By then cross trainers were popular with the rise of Jane Fonda workout tapes. I hated to spend my hard earned money on sneakers, but I was trying to be a grown up, and that’s what grown ups do. So I purchased whatever wide-width was on sale. More often than not they didn’t reflect my aesthetic. New Balance changed all that in the ‘90s. Finally, I could choose good athletic wear that lasted a good amount of time.

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I’ve since moved beyond New Balance. Yet, now I have the entire Internet to peruse. Plus, I’ve been given conflicting advice. One professional tells me to get extra support because I’m walking on concrete sidewalks. Another person says mimicking bare feet is best for the spine. And, on and on. This morning I settled on a pair of Rykas. They discontinued my bright turquoise design, but I can count on their soft bounce to my hard steps. I didn’t wear out this pair as quickly as my last pair of running shoes. I injured myself so I missed a few runs this year. It’s a minor injury, and PT is working, but my running shoes are more about the slow walk these days. I feel fortunate that I get to choose a new pair of shoes. I feel lucky to have choices in life. It didn’t always feel that way. So if I now have a hard time choosing what’s good for me, then I’ll choose that option every time.

 

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The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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To Run or Not to Run

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I don’t like when I get sick. Nor do I know anybody who does. For the last few days I was well enough to do a few things but sick enough to sleep a lot and eat very little, feeling weak and dizzy. Next weekend is the NYC Marathon. I’m scheduled to run, well, mostly walk. And, this weekend was slated as a pivotal training weekend. All my plans were opportunities to run miles to my destinations. That didn’t happen. I cancelled plans.

I’ll gage the week to see how I feel. I plan on entering the marathon and completing it with my slow jog. It will be dark and late, but that’s my plan. I was scheduled to run last year but an injury prevented me from running. I rescheduled for 2015.

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It’s hard to know whether my body is informing me that it will be compromised if I attempt 26.2 miles. Or, is it a reaction to my fear, challenging me to overcome obstacles? It’s hard to know what lesson is in front of us.

There have been many times I misread the signs. I would have a funny feeling about making a plan. I would then think I’m just not open and accepting enough, so I’d go, trying to be okay about it. But in the end it was a lesson on setting limits not on expanding them.

When it comes to fitness I’ve learned a lot about myself. I don’t like boot camp classes, or instructors or trainers who yell and push. I like gentler, kinder trainers who encourage and gently prod me to try more. I want to enjoy my workout. I don’t expect to enjoy the entire marathon, but I’m going to do my best. Larry, my husband, created an awesome playlist. I’m writing my name on my shirt so I can take in the encouragement. I trained throughout the year, learning new stretches, and exercises to strengthen me physically.

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If I don’t do the marathon, I gained a great deal this past year. I love to run, something I dreaded most of my life. I know that after next week 4 to 5 miles is my sweet spot, and I will maintain that, choosing not to run longer runs, unless something changes. I got comfortable doing something just for me. So, it was a year well spent.

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In this next week I’ll do my best to listen closely to how I feel. I will respect my body whether that means a marathon, or it means starting it and not finishing, or, even if it means opting out. Even though my age (56) may be a contributing factor of my lack of speed, my age also gives me the advantage of making a choice that’s right for me. No matter what, I’ll do my best.

A Six-Year Old State of Mind

When I entered the first grade at Stafford Elementary there were too many students for the two classrooms. I was assigned to an extra class, which was temporarily located in the southeast corner of the all-purpose auditorium, the exact location where they display the book sale in the Spring. The teacher, a mean spirited woman, whose name escapes me, derived her sense of power by placing me in the corner.

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I would laugh uncontrollably with Robin Reed, a beautiful, tall girl with large green eyes. We would just look at each other and start laughing. However, my laugh, for reasons unknown to me would set off the teacher. And, I alone would have to sit in the corner, having been shamed in front of my classmates. I thought this completely unfair. As a six-year-old fairness meant a great deal to me. Why was I sent to the corner, and Robin could stay at her desk learning how Dick and Jane were getting on? My back was to the class so I’d miss the lessons and get behind. One unfairness on top of another. Perhaps it was this experience that wed me to proper rules. This fabricated black & white idealism.

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Today I was in Central Park on a run. I was going the way of traffic, far on my right on the Bridle Path. I like the soft earth under my New Balance even though I always end up with small stones and sand that has to be emptied. It was late morning, and with the heat there weren’t many runners out. And, yet, from time to time a runner would come at me on my lone path, on their wrong side of the path. I get mad at them. I hold my ground running along, certain of my right to be where I am. But I am filled with righteousness, and a touch of malice.

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Since I run because it gives me pleasure, my holier-than-thou attitude does not lend itself to enjoyment. In fact, I allow those unwitting runners to get in the way of my satisfaction. So, I started to ask myself where these thoughts may have originated. And first grade came to mind. My idea of what’s correct and fair was compromised. I held onto my notion of right and wrong as a defense. It’s time to let it go. I needn’t think mean thoughts for runners who are going where they want to go. There is room enough for all of us. Well, I’m not quite there yet. But I’ll work on it with each subsequent run.

Addendum:

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After a month of torture from that First grade teacher, the class got moved to the old art room, and Mrs. Schlosberg became our teacher for the rest of the school year. She was kind, and thoroughly supportive. I even won a poster of Cambell’s Soup as an outstanding student award. It was a great redemptive prize. I will always be grateful to her. And in the end, first grade worked out. I made it to second, and so on.

Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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Something Different

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I can be a solitary person. I like my alone time. I like to figure things out on my own and I like doing things by myself. But I learned something new about myself today while running my first race in awhile. I resist change. In the past I was happy to be a solo runner. I am a very slow runner, mindful of my age and the wear and tear my body has endured. I was pleased to be running at all, and it took me a couple of years to run even one race.   Then I ran one run, uncertain of the shouts and cheers the volunteers provided. They meant well, but I liked going at my own pace, listening to a book or a podcast, enjoying beautiful Central Park.

Today for the first time I ran with a partner. Zena, my husband Larry’s cousin, asked if I would meet her to run, and I said I would. She has been a wonderfully encouraging supporter of my running. She runs in Chicago, as well as around the world when she’s traveling for work. So today I ran alongside her. We talked, and she asked how I felt about run/walking. My friend Jeannette, another supporter and avid runner suggested it last week, but I said I wasn’t sure. Clearly they both knew something I didn’t.

The four-mile run today was set to Zena’s clock so we could run nine minutes and walk one minute. I was afraid that if I stopped running I wouldn’t want to start again. But it was a great way to pace the run and feel rejuvenated and motivated. I have always thought myself someone who is open to change, but today seemed more of an exception than the rule. I really enjoyed having a running partner, and I liked the walk run process. I’ll be doing it again. Plus, I may need a good running trainer. As much as I like to do things myself, getting proper support is invaluable. Or so I recognized today.

So, between Zena & Jeannette, my running support, and Larry, as well as our friend, Justine, my cheering squad, along with our dogs, Lucy & Nyah, this run was truly delightful.

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NYC Marathon

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Watching the NYC Marathon runners down First Avenue was simply inspiring. Seeing each person with their own reasons for running push through to continue their relentless course communicates discipline and tenacity. For a few hours this windy, Autumn day I screamed on the sidelines to strangers. I was able to see someone I knew, which was amazing.

The marathon is meaningful to those who run their race. They set a goal and mostly achieved it. And, if they fell short, they can be proud of making the effort to complete it. The marathon is very real, but it’s also a metaphor for life. In my work as a psychotherapist, I witness my clients face challenges in their lives. They work hard to overcome the limitations in their lives, like those who choose to do a marathon. And, mostly, they succeed. Then they face another obstacle and move through the pain and constraints to get to the other side of that challenge. And, so on and so forth.

Most personal processes are private. The individuals who go the extra mile to accomplish their goals have no one on the side-lines cheering them on. The courage they experience is known to only them. It is a solitary path. Depending on the achievements there may be bragging rights. But perhaps not. My good fortune is being able to witness my clients’ triumphs. I may not be yelling, “You Can Do It!” behind the barricades, but I am inspired all the same. I feel so fortunate to respectfully observe the marathons that change lives, both on and off First Avenue.