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Running on Gratitude

Today was an incredibly special day.  I didn’t run in some beautiful place, nor did I set a PR or complete a bucket list event.  I ran in my own neighborhood on roads I’ve run a hundred times.  It was the same unseasonable weather we had been having for weeks.  It was your standard, run of the mill, everyday run. Yet nothing seemed the same.

These days COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind and in every conversation.  Races are cancelled, schools are closed, and grocery store shelves are empty.  People are scared.  There is uncertainty, anger and negativity all around us.  Will we stay socially isolated for weeks or even months?  How many of us will lose jobs or miss out on once in a lifetime events like graduations or weddings?  Our collective head whirls with the unknown.

It would be so easy to slip into the “why bother?” mindset and just sit on the sofa and devour bag after bag of Cadbury mini eggs.    If races are going to be cancelled anyway, what’s the point of training?  I can feel the questions bubbling up in my athletes.  I can hear the unhappiness in their voices and see the flagging of their motivation.  I will admit, I’ve had my “fuck it” moments over the past couple of weeks.

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So today when I set out on my run, I decided to make a change.  A change in my attitude.  A change in my perception.  A change in how I viewed the world and the experiences that came my way.  I decided, at least for today, to stop being angry about things I couldn’t control.

The skies were blue, and the sun was shining, and for that I felt truly blessed.  How many other little traces of gratitude were waiting for me to discover them?

Instead of focusing on my footsteps, I paid attention to my breath.  How amazing it was to feel the air moving in and out of my lungs.  Lungs that until today, I had taken for granted.  I took in huge breaths of fresh air and was grateful that I have never known what it was like to struggle to breathe, and I prayed that I never would.

Here in New England, robins are a sign of Spring.  About a half mile into my run I spotted a flock of robins off to my right.  My first thought was “it’s Spring, big deal.  Going to be stuck in social isolation for who knows how long, so who cares?”  Yikes!!!  I quickly spun that around by smiling at the robins and watched them watching me, as I tried to quietly run past them so as not to disturb their search for food.

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Usually when I run these roads, I’m so engrossed in my own mission that I don’t pay much attention to cars going by or people in their yard.  Today, I made it a point to wave at each person I saw.  Didn’t matter that I didn’t know them.  I pictured each of them smiling a little to themselves as this crazy runner waved to them from at least 6 feet away, and hoped their day was just a little bit brighter.

The most profound experience happened about a half mile from home.  The smell of smoke, presumably from someone’s chimney, caught the breeze and filled my nose.  Normally this smell hits my PTSD response, as I have been the victim of not one but two housefires.  This time, however, something magical happened.  When I whiffed the smoke, I was immediately transported back 45 years to when my dad had built campfires in the backyard for evening get-togethers with my best friend.  I lost my dad several years ago, so these memories are precious.  I took a moment to have a private chat with daddy, thanking him for those campfires and wishing he were still here.  I shed a few tears, took a deep breath, and finished my run.  I have no doubt that from now on, the smell of smoke will no longer evoke feelings of panic and fear, but of love and comfort.

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We all feel defeated, stressed, and negative at times.  Training doesn’t always go as planned, and we might feel inadequate when we have a bad run.  Or a rogue virus may cancel our dream race and we get angry and want to scream at the circumstances.  All of this is normal and its ok!!  But dwelling on those emotions causes us to miss the beauty in life and in our sport.  I challenge you all to make your next run a run of gratitude.  Notice as much as you can about the world around you.  Smile at everyone you see.  Breathe deep.  Be thankful.  And remember that this too shall pass.

(The day after this run, I took a hard fall on a familiar trail and fractured my humerus.  Oh, the sweet irony of life.)

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