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“Looking good!”

We often hear that expression in the gym and read variations of it in fitness magazines. It’s meant as a compliment, as positive reinforcement for our hours of hard work. But let’s be honest. It’s kind of a lie, right?  I mean, who looks good when they’re pit-stained and oxygen-deprived and viscid and smelly? Okay, Venus Williams and David Beckham. But that’s it. Two people. The rest of us look like we’ve been doing speed drills through one of Dante’s circles of hell.

I don’t like to think about my appearance when I’m working out. I need to concentrate on form, especially with my recurring hamstring issue. I don’t need to be fretting about ‘chicken wing arms’, ‘muffin tops’, ‘thunder thighs’ or ‘badonkadonk’.  What makes those lousy descriptions even worse is that I’ve heard them all used by women — women talking about their own bodies.

Why are we so obsessed with appearance?  And why are we so incredibly mean to each other — to ourselves, for crying out loud! — when it comes to our looks?  Is there only one ideal mark of beauty? Who gets to decide it?  Back in Botticelli’s time, I’d be a waif. Fifteenth-century skinny equaled starving equaled impoverished. Ironically, in our oh-so-advanced modern civilization, it’s the other way around.

If I were queen for a day, I’d put a gag order on appearance-related commentary, in the gym or anywhere else, for that matter. Imagine if we stopped commenting on each other’s body shape and started acknowledging the things that really matter. Watch what happens when you tell someone how much you admire the way they show grace under pressure; or that you love how they persevere toward a goal; or that their positive attitude makes the whole world brighter. That kind of feedback resonates far deeper than a nod to tight abs. Not that I’m knocking tight abs; I just don’t think they’re a true measure of success.  Besides, they’re fleeting: yesterday’s washboard becomes today’s baby bulge becomes tomorrow’s middle-aged spread.

I admit, I’m a bit sensitive about this issue. Someone I love dearly has an eating disorder.  I have watched her fight valiantly against a disease that wants her dead. In the midst of her struggle, she has endured comments like these, from both friends and strangers:

  • “You’re so skinny! I hate you!”
  • “You’re lucky! I wish I could skip meals.”
  • “We need to fatten you up!”
  • “If I had your body, I’d show it off.”
  • “You’re tiny / a stick / as thin as a rail / barely there!”

Listening to the radio as we drove from a recent doctor’s appointment, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta (a.k.a. Sandy and Danny) declared their undying love in the Grease hit, “You’re the One that I Want.” Suddenly, I’m 16.  And just as suddenly, I hate my body. That’s right, Olivia; those skin-tight leather pants, that off-the-shoulder crop top — after 35 years, your slinky getup still makes me feel self-conscious and ashamed of my inferior exterior.  No one had to tell me that I didn’t measure up. Before I could recover from the flashback, the song faded and the late Karen Carpenter began her classic,  “Only Yesterday.”  Remember Karen? She died at age 32 from heart failure due to anorexia.  “In my own time, nobody knew the pain I was going through…”  It was a surreal, poignant moment of clarity.  I cried for my beloved, for myself and for every woman who felt that our worth was measured by our waistline.

Words have terrific, irrevocable power, and images can linger forever in our memories. How we talk to ourselves and to each other matters.  So let’s compliment each other’s strength and admire our tenacity, but look past the outside packaging to see the gifts inside.

Namaste, friends.

 

Greece native Teresa Keyes lives in Bloomfield NY. Follow her at https://teresakeyes.wordpress.com/.

 

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One thousand things. Between Thanksgiving 2014 and January 4, 2015, I will be giving away one thousand things. It’s not so much a resolution as it is a private revolution. I’m making room in my life for, well, life.

It began with one of those silly little First World Problems: I couldn’t fit my new yoga tunic into my sportswear drawer.  To make room for my unnecessary but oh-so-fashionable find, I began to sort through my running gear. What should go? My black Turkey Trot cotton tee from 2010? The “It’s a Wonderful Run” long-sleeve tech shirt my friend Dottie picked up for me when bronchitis benched me in 2012? How about that “Muddy Sneakers Trail Run” jersey? I never actually ran that 20k and I’m not sure how I acquired the shirt, but it was one of the 16 — yes, 16 — shirts in that drawer.

I was suddenly slapped by a memory that stopped me cold.  In 2008, I went on a mission trip to Telica, Nicaragua. Our team spent two weeks building homes for some of the poorest families in the village. (The average salary in that country is $1,790 PER YEAR.) Toward the end of our stay, a pair of teen girls stopped me in the street.  Despite my failure to retain anything Senora Piccone taught us in 11th grade Spanish, I understood their heartfelt request: “Tenis?” They were begging for my running shoes, my stinky, ripped, mud-n-sweat stained Asics that I couldn’t wait to toss in the trash when I landed stateside. These girls needed shoes in order to attend school, and they were willing to relinquish their dignity in order to have a chance at an education. Of course, I gave them my shoes, but sadly, I forgot that lesson. Until the dresser incident.

Third-world problem, meet my overflowing swag drawer. I realized at that moment that I just had too much stuff.  I didn’t dispute the fact that I needed decent workout clothes; it was the quantity that I questioned.  And the irony that it was due to an abundance of YOGA gear couldn’t be ignored.

I began to cull the spandex herd.  My base layer stuff was non-negotiable, given this lovely upstate New York climate and the fact that I can’t feel my toes from November to March.  I decided that the only time I will need all seven sports bras is if I abruptly spout a six-pack of breasts, so I tossed out the gnarly ones.  I kept a few favorite tech shirts, a couple long-sleeved jerseys and my favorite warmup jacket.  The fluorescent green and pink shorts (evidently purchased during an endorphin high) didn’t make the cut, either.  Bandanas, socks, sweat bands … everything was fair game.

I didn’t stop with the running swag, though. I kept going. I weeded that dresser like a pig hunting truffles.  I moved to the closet and plucked out tired dresses, worn suits, pilled sweaters and the dreaded mom jeans.  Before I sealed the goodwill boxes, I counted: 56 clothing items in less than two hours. That’s just scratching the surface. I can’t wait to get to the linen closet, garage and basement storage area during the Christmas break.

My initial anxiety about purging shifted into giddy excitement as I realized how liberating it is to free up space, both in my closet and in my head. Possessions can quickly possess us. We spend our time earning, collecting, storing, cleaning and protecting stuff. But it’s rarely the stuff that makes us happy. The Turkey Trot shirt? It’s ugly, but I kept it because it was my first run with my dear friend Kristin. Most of my stuff is wrapped in memories, but it’s the memories that make me rich.

I’ll keep track of my de-acquisitions. Counting old books, coffee mugs and other household paraphernalia, I have no doubt I’ll reach 1,000 things. I won’t count things that I’m throwing out, though. This is to be an intentional redistribution of my wealth. I’m sure I’ll be richer for it.  Who’s with me? Drop me a line and let’s compare experiences.

Greece native Teresa Keyes lives and works in Bloomfield, NY.  Find her on Facebook and at http://teresakeyes.wordpress.com/

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Hanging out at Long Ridge Mall with my sister Anna (R), circa 1973

Flashback to Greece, NY, 1973: The wind tunnel between St. John the Evangelist Parochial School and the creepy, abandoned church to the west is lifting up my hunter-green plaid uniform jumper. It is very unladylike, I am told by Sister Mary Voldemort. I wisely refrain from commenting that the hunter-green plaid uniform jumper isn’t very ladylike to begin with, and quietly tug down the hem. I need to conserve my energy to make the footslog all the way from this desolate parking lot to my home many miles away.

The journey is fraught with danger. I must first traverse Ridge Road West (all four lanes) and then dodge the Dodge Darts in the parking lot before making it to the main doors (and shoe department) of McCurdy’s. Mile after mile I walk, passing such fine retail establishments as Fanny Farmer, Piercing Pagoda and Hanover Shirts. I avoid the stoners hanging around the Contemplation Area and Electric Ball Circus and instead gravitate toward the Foam Block Obstacle Course, where June Cleaver and Carol Brady gossip while their moppets alternate between bouncing and chewing on Doberman-sized sponges. I finally make it to Sears (“Where America Shops”), weave my way through a labyrinth of La-Z-Boy recliners and Amana Radaranges to reach the southern tip of the mall … the last vestige of civilization before the horse latitudes of Long Pond Road.

There are maybe only six houses on this stretch between Red Rock and Straub roads. I march quickly and purposefully on the gravel shoulder to the right, diverting my mind by singing pop classics featured on the latest K-Tel Presents album (“But Wait … There’s More!”) I feel vulnerable — a young girl, alone, walking five miles on such a rural road! I’m a latch-key kid; my parents have the audacity to work full-time jobs, leaving me to endure this journey several days a week. It’s cruel. Years from now, I muse, this will be considered child endangerment.

Eventually, I reach my destination — our house on Straub Road. The door’s unlocked, of course. I greet the dog, toss my bookbag on the Naugahyde sofa, and I spend the next hour watching Dark Shadows, gorging on Twinkees and Pringles, and washing them down with an Orange Crush. The arduous journey of twenty miles has exhausted me. I won’t complain to my parents, however. The last time I did, they told some bogus story about having to walk even further when they were kids and … wait for it … carried baked potatoes in their coat pockets to keep their hands warm. (This, from the same people who took me to Charlotte Beach and said I could catch a seagull if I sprinkled salt on its tail. I ran with that salt shaker until I dropped from exhaustion.)

Present Day 2014: I used Mapmyrun to calculate the mileage from the former St. John the Evangelist elementary school to my childhood home. It’s 1.2 miles. Not 20, not 10, not even 2. How funny is it that now, on days when I don’t get two or three miles in, I feel deprived? Ahh, perspective.

Time changes things. Our perceptions adjust as our lives evolve. What once seemed impossible now seems manageable. And I guess, as time goes on, what now seems manageable will become impossible once again. I know it’s absurd, but if I could dial back the clock for just one day, I’d visit the mall, maybe play Space Invaders at Timeout and order a Fribble at Friendly’s. Or maybe I’d just hang out with my sister in the center pit, stare at the giant kaleidoscope ball and giggle as the hunter-green plaid uniform jumpers rush by.

Teresa Benoit Keyes lives and runs in West Bloomfield, NY. She’s going to run with baked potatoes in her pockets when the weather turns colder; she’ll let you know how that turns out. Find her on Facebook.

T Keyes picI finally reached an adult right of passage last week: I bought a brand new car. The vehicle it replaced had seen better days. True, I will miss the way my passengers would paw helplessly for the nonexistent window button until I’d explain the concept of a Precambrian crank handle. I won’t be there the next time someone plows into it while it’s parked in a deserted lot. (This happened not once, but twice, to the tune of $4,000.) I’ll even worry just a bit about the indigent mice who occasionally take up residence in its cozy air filter. But there is something I truly regret leaving behind … my race bling.

 

On that (slightly dented) back bumper remain two white, oval stickers: 13.1 and 26.2.  I earned them back in 2012, at the height of my distance running days. They were public displays of affection I held for the sport, silent testaments to my dedication and/or insanity. I couldn’t conceal my pride when someone asked about them, although I swear I once had this conversation with a (presumably) well-educated adult:

 

Adult: What are those stickers for? I see them everywhere!

Me: Those were races I completed. I’m a runner!

Adult: What does 13.1 mean?

Me: That’s 13.1 miles –  the distance of a half marathon.

Adult: What’s the 26.2 for?

Me: ……………………

 

Every runner has a collection of race swag. There’s the rainbow of cotton tees and tech shirts featuring an abstract logo on the front and a bevy of benevolent donors listed on back. Race medals hanging from the dresser mirror tinkle like wind chimes as we fumble with our running clothes in the dim morning light. Some of the more artistic runners have compiled the bibs, maps, brochures and results into themed scrapbooks.  Call it muscle memory – we want to preserve the moments when our bodies and minds operated in sync to go the distance.

 

The split of champagne I earned when I crossed the Wineglass Marathon finish line still sits, unopened, on my dressing table. I don’t drink alcohol, but even if I did, I will never twist that cap. Perhaps I’m afraid that, like Pandora’s box or the genie in the lamp, the magic of the moment will dissipate and I’ll forget the profound sense of accomplishment I felt that cool September day.

 

A friend suggested I buy replacement stickers for my new car, but that doesn’t feel right. I earned those when I was at a different place in my running career. There are no 1.5 or 2.3 or From My House To Kristin’s Apartment And Back stickers to reflect my current reality.  Driving home last night, through the new Bluetooth and iPhone, John Mayer reminded me:

 

So scared of getting older.

I’m only good at being young.

So I play the numbers game to find a way

to say that life has just begun.

– Mayer 2006

As I write this, three of the people most dear to me are not well. My 91-year-old dad’s heart is refusing to sync up with his young, life-loving spirit. My father-in-law anxiously waits medical test results while my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s continues its terrorist takeover of her few remaining synapses. At the same time, my two young-adult children are discovering the intense satisfaction that comes with running races, riding horses, lifting weights, counting crunches.

We can’t stop this train, as Mayer says. But we can appreciate where we are on the journey.  I am older, slower and less agile than my race-sticker days, but I can still go today’s distance. And that is something to celebrate.

Teresa Benoit Keyes lives, works and occasionally runs in Bloomfield, NY. Find her on Facebook.

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by Chris Compson

If you are like me and had your formative years span the late 1980’s and early 90’s, then the phrase “sweep the leg” is likely to arouse your happiest childhood memories. Unlike my older brother whose definition of heroism was enshrined in the image of Luke Skywalker, or my younger sister who had to search through a litany of doe-eyed Disney damsels with anthropomorphic animal companions for inspiration, I had a clear role model to emulate in the pint-sized champion of Daniel Larusso…The Karate Kid!

The 1984 classic The Karate Kid is largely responsible for the thousands of hours adolescent boys spent in YMCA karate classes and practicing the “crane-kick” in their backyards. However, the impact of The Karate Kid is not limited to nostalgic reminiscence. Lessons from the classic form the backbone of any successful running program. If you have never seen the film (shame on you), and I highly recommend viewing it immediately before continuing this column.

Lesson one: It’s not about the belt.

Desperate to avoid the onslaught of the Neanderthals from the Cobra Kai dojo, Daniel enlists the sage wisdom and training of Mr. Miyagi (my generation’s Yoda), but not before vetting his “karate-credentials” with an inquiry into his “belt.” Mr. Miyagi’s response might be the greatest line in this cinematic opus, “In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.” While Daniel-san may not have taken comfort in Miyagi’s sarcasm, we should. In not so many words, Miyagi reminds us that our success and value is not measured in the number of medals we win or how many top-ten age group finishes we have. Ultimately, the medals are even less useful than a belt.

Lesson two: Indecision equals “squish.”

The crane-kick – Mr. Miyagi’s invincible, ancient, family weapon. It requires complete concentration and a general lack of understanding of physics, but hey, it was the 80’s. When learning the crane-kick, Daniel’s moment of indecision results in Miyagi’s famous “road” analogy. “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [Squish] get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no. You karate do ‘guess so,’ [Squish].” Miyagi demands complete commitment, just as running does. If we approach running with a “guess so” attitude, we will inevitably find reasons and excuses to “guess not.” Without complete devotion to the crane-kick, Daniel could never win the Tri-Valley Championships (in one of film’s greatest moments). Likewise, without similar devotion, we do not stand a chance of reaching our running potential.

Lesson three: “Better learn balance.”

Daniel, as the quintessential teenager, is constantly looking for a shortcut to victory while Mr. Miyagi instructs his pupil through a series of house chores more suitable to maid training than karate instruction. This tension comes to a head when Daniel demands to learn how to punch while Miyagi has him balancing on a boat. Miyagi’s response, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home.” As Daniel continues his inquisition, Miyagi dumps him in the lake…classic. But Miyagi had a point, as usual. While devotion and commitment are essential to success, they must be balanced. When running becomes our sole focus, when running dominates our lives and ceases to be a joy, our running suffers. Like Miyagi taught us, a day fishing on the lake is just as important as a day in the dojo. So make sure your flip-flops see as much action as your running shoes, and you will be surprised how your training flourishes.

Chris Compson has run at the state, national and international level and now coaches high school runners. You can follow his posts about running and other pursuits at soulitarypursuits.blogspot.com and twitter @clcruns, or contact him via email at clcruns@gmail.com

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Disclaimer: This column will only make sense if you are a runner or an LOTR fan. If you are neither, I suggest you flip the page and check the Sports Briefs section (Spoiler Alert: The Chicago Cubs will be at Wrigley Field to sign autographs for their fan.)

As children of a librarian, my kids were blessed/cursed with my edict that we would watch no movie until we read the book first. (Except Les Misérables, the Greek yogurt of literature — critically acclaimed, yet too dense for most palates.)

At least once a year, my family and I revisit Middle Earth via the film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings Trilogy. After 13 years, I can shamelessly recite the script in its entirety.  And as a runner, I find direct correlations between the sport and the story. See if you can identify yourself in these iconic characters.

Aragorn (“For Rohan! For Gondor! For Frodo!”)  — You’re a tough warrior, ready to take on the most daunting courses and run for charity causes. Inexplicably, you are much sexier as a sweaty hot mess than a coiffed king. (Seriously, that coronation ‘doo?  No.)

Legolas (“A red sun rises. Blood has been spilled this night.”) — Also known as Captain Obvious, you put the running in commentary. You keep workout partners informed of the climate (“It’s raining!”), course conditions (“This pavement’s hard!”) and bodily functions (“I’m sweaty!”)  On the plus side, you elves never get lost on trail runs.

Gimli (“We dwarves are natural sprinters.”) — Sure, you’re slow. Your body may not be built for running, but you have a good heart and you never give up.  Still, you find something to complain about every quarter mile and most of us tune you out.

Gandolf (“You shall not pass!”) — You’re in the Masters Division, but that means nothing because you are still the most intimidating runner on the course. Others intuitively clear a path for you. Water station volunteers vie for your attention. Crowds adore you. Keep your shirt on, though.

Arwen (“If you want him, come and claim him!”) — Elf with attitude. You can break away from a pack of Black Riders and the Witch-King himself, yet never produce a bead of sweat or muss your hair. Your workout wardrobe makes a fashion statement, too. Other she-elves secretly hate you.

Eowyn (“I am no man!”) — Gutsy and determined, you are the consummate athlete. No hill is too steep, no trail is too rocky. You handily keep pace with the big boys. In fact, you don’t even bother checking the gender division results. Score one for the shieldmaidens.

Boromir (“One does not simply walk into Mordor.”) — If you are Boromir, you’re running with shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome and an arrow sticking out of your chest.  You refuse to quit, even when your injuries are serious. You might want to talk to a counselor about your Daddy issues.

Merry (“That, my friend, is a pint.”)  and Pippin (“They come in pints? I’m getting one!”) — Be honest: It’s not about the run, it’s about the afterparty, isn’t it?  You’ll wade through mud, get coated in neon paint, don a tutu, anything, as long as there’s a wild finish-line celebration. Party on, Shirefolk.

Frodo (“I cannot do this alone.”) — You’re strong and focused, but you need a running partner, someone who will keep up the chatter, offer encouragement and occasionally slay a few orcs on the trail.  Choose carefully. Some partners have hidden agendas. And split personalities.

Gollum (“My precious!”) — Forget other runners, you have one thing in mind when it comes to a race: Swag.  You want it all — every tech shirt, granola bar, gel pack, carabiner, flashlight and glow-in-the-dark zombie stress ball (yeah, I got one of those).  You won’t share them, either. Because they’re yours. All yours. Your precious.

Sam (“We’re going all the way there and back again.”) — You’re the trusted friend and training partner every runner needs. You know when to offer encouragement and when to chill. And you know how to fight off giant spiders. You can run with me anytime.


Greece native Teresa Benoit Keyes loves quiet, spider-free runs through the Bloomfield hills. She can be reached via Facebook. 

 

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by Chris Compson

Recently, while gathered with some friends, the “what would we do if money was no object” hypothetical was proposed while I worked feverishly to keep the small fire in our chiminea from erupting into a five alarm blaze. I casually responded, “I don’t know, probably what I am doing already.” The guffaw from my wife was almost instantaneous, “You’d be running or fly fishing, and I would see you for about half an hour a day.”

We all laughed, but she was right. These activities are my passions, and if I had my druthers I’d spend even more time than I do (which is considerable) engaged in each. Both of these activities are often the subject of metaphors about life, and each has taught me invaluable lessons that have helped me grow as a person, professional, father, and husband. But they have also taught me innumerable lessons about each other. Like the Russian nesting dolls my mother loves to display on her knick-knack shelf, these pursuits have become layered on top of each other. Each lesson adding to the collective strength of the whole.

Perhaps more so than any other relationship, my time on the water fly fishing has taught meg and reminded me of several lessons essential to running. I am an amateur fly fisherman on my good days. If I spend more time mending a natural drift than I do untangling line or pulling flies from overhanging branches, I consider it a success. For even the most accomplished fly fishermen, you will spend more time casting and coming up empty than you will imitating Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. While the goal is certainly to feel the sharp tug of a rising trout, that cannot be the only goal, or your time on the water will be an exercise in frustration. So it is with running.

Our principle goal will always be to run faster, or run farther, or both. We will constantly cast our line into the riffles with the expectation of a record strike, but we will frequently come up short. Every run will not be a personal best. Every run will not be filled with the excitement of “landing a whopper.” So, as with fly fishing, we must make the pursuit the goal. We must learn to take joy in the action, rather than the consequence. We need to find satisfaction in the beauty of a run through an Aspen stand, or find appreciation in the exertion of maximum effort in an interval session. The quest becomes the reward.

As all good fishermen will tell you, it is in these moments, when we are lost in appreciation of the fading sunlight, or immersed in the slow movement of a perfect drift, that the “big strike” most often occurs. When all our attention is on the end result, whether it be the feeding rainbow lurking just below the surface or the 5k PR that seems just out of reach, we lose sight of what we are doing in the moment to create the opportunity for success. Fly fishing reminds me to make the current action as near to perfect as possible, and the results will come. When your focus shifts from the task at hand, the once graceful fly slaps to the water sending every trout in a half-mile radius scattering.

In running, we need to focus on what we are doing today, at this moment, during this run. Often in talking with runners, the first thing they want to discuss is how they can achieve a personal best in three months. My fist question is always, “What did you do today?” Did you run today’s run as best you could? Did you focus on stretching and strengthening? Did you consider your diet and hydration? Success in three months does not happen by just slapping a fly out on the water. It happens when we focus on making each action of our endeavor as perfect as possible.

Whether it is waist-deep in a trout stream or at the finishing tape of a road race, success is a relative and amorphous prize. It is found in the knowledge that you pursued beauty and excellence with ferocious precision, and that whether or not you felt a tug at the end of your line, you were out there. That is often prize enough.

Chris Compson has run at the state, national and international level and spent several years coaching high school runners. You can follow his posts about running and other pursuits at soulitarypursuits.blogspot.com and twitter @clcruns, or contact him via email at clcruns@gmail.com

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