Nussdorf, Germany

2pm on a Sunday.

The last race before I turn 40 years old.

It’s cold here in Europe. Road races still happen but they are few and far between this time of year. (Far-between in Europe means I may have to run in Germany or France or Italy. First world problems, I realize. Thankfully France is as far from southern Germany as NYC is from northern New Jersey.)

I have had a chest cold for a solid month so the thought of running far or fast spooked my lethargic lungs. Luckily I found a 5k “nordic walk” which seems like a cop out until you meet the competitors. Get in their way and they will stab you with their poles.

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It was a beautiful winter day. The bright sun made the air feel much warmer then its 35 degrees. The race was in a beautiful sprawling field in a gorgeous nordic-bavarian village miles and miles away from big cities or the horrific traffic I’ve become all to familiar with.

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There was an enormous crowd of both competitors and spectators, multiple teams, age ranges and abilities represented. So I was surprised when, upon registering, I learned the walking portion wasn’t available – the reason for which I couldn’t discern with my limited German – and my only option was to run the very competitive 10k field.

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Crap.

The runners were lined up in their compression pants and competitive weather-wicking shirts. I was in yoga pants, a windbreaker and an old Bruins hat from college.

I did not fit in.

Everyone goes through times when they feel they don’t fit in. For most of us it’s the early years – braces, acne, big plastic glasses, frizzy hair. We experience it again and again when we move to new towns, start new jobs, try new things that take us out of our comfort zones. The important part is to face it and push through. (Just not with fashion. Overalls weren’t a good look back in 1990, either.)

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I’m turning 40 in two weeks. If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me how old I am I’d probably say 28. It’s how I feel. However when I spend any significant time with someone in their twenties I quickly realize I am indeed middle aged.

My body felt good on the run, though by the end of the first few kilometers I felt the aches and pains that come from relentless physical exertion. I feel pretty good overall but be clear – my body knows I’m approaching 40. If I smell pizza, I gain a pants size by dinner. If I stay up past 9pm, I wake up looking like I’ve been at an all-night rave doing jello shots when actually I had just run downstairs realizing the laundry had been in the washer for two straight days.

I used to be the life of the party with my sharp wit and stellar conversation skills. Now my stories lead with, “you know… that guy… from the thing… with the girl…”

People say exercise is the fountain of youth. My lower back didn’t get the memo. Nor did my high-heel induced bunions, cellulite, that one chin hair that won’t die….

I slowed down a bit on the run and allowed the reflection that comes from solitude. To those in my peer group or those looking to us to ease the fear of transition from youth to middle age, grab your wine and settle in.

5 Reflections on 40

#1: Love where your body is now.

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Don’t wish you were 20. You can’t turn back time. Don’t pin hopes on the future “I’ll buy it in a size 4 for motivation…” We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow so be present in your thoughts and actions, even if that means the granny bra when you realize you can belt your boobs. Gravity is not our friend. Embrace it. Love yourself as you are right now. That doesn’t mean we can get lazy. If you listen to the world’s top athletes discuss what drives them, it’s not beating the competition – it’s beating themselves. Be your best for yourself. 

5 Reflections on 40 #2

#2:  The only opinion that ultimately matters is your own.

Not his. Not hers. Not the guy you like, not the girl you admire, not the parent who never said “good job” or your celebrity hero. The only opinion that ultimately matters is the opinion you have of yourself.

Sit with that for a moment while I return to the road race.

I get in the chute and off we go for a six mile run up and down rolling hills – big hills – where the only spectators where the local sheep who came to the edge, cheering on each runner passing by.

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It was a three lap loop up and down hills. I was behind the lead group but in front of the casual joggers – a spot that was lonely but I can’t understand what anyone is saying anyway. Being behind the fast group gave me someone to chase (and the opportunity to see these incredible vistas on my way up the hill.)

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5 Reflections on 40 #3:

#3:  We’re all encouraged to be leaders. Be a leader. But also “practice playing second fiddle.”

 “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” Romans 12:10 the Message

After the second lap, while heading up the hill to begin my third and final, the clouds rolled in, the piercing cold followed, culminating in rain. Then, as punishment for lying to my friend in the 5th grade, the hail came. Even the sheep said screw it and headed for an abandoned train car.

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(Runners are perpetual observers of #NoMakeupSelfie.)

5 Reflections on 40 #4:

#4:  Learn Resilience.

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Like this little band that played along the run route. They packed in their instruments during the most extreme moments of the hail storm but they were resilient in their dedication to cheer us on.

 

The difference between the people I choose to hang out with and those I don’t is their capacity for resilience. Successful people don’t stay down for too long. Happy people don’t dwell on what didn’t work or live a life of regret and remorse. Learn. Grow. Adapt. Evolve. Then we can be friends.

I finished the race, got my cup of carbonated water (the least refreshing post run drink ever) and headed to the farm fields that were now mud fields to dig my car out and head home.

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5 Reflections on 40 #5:

#5:  Find your Joy.

“Awesome things will happen today if you choose not to be a miserable cow.” This is true even on the eve of your 30th or 40th or 80th birthday.

Choose Happiness. It spreads. It’s addictive. It makes people like you. It makes you like yourself.

And didn’t we learn our opinion of ourselves is the most important? 

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There you go. Now go be sparkly unicorns.

And Run to Win.

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My name is Kathy.

It has been three months since my last road race.

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I have a million excuses. Three months of excessive transatlantic travel. Three months of reunions and events and work all with my tiny tot in tow. I’m tired. I’m not motivated. It’s hot in Florida. Blah Blah Blah rough life just do it already!

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Florida. 8am on a Saturday.

The night before a race, I start to wake up every hour after about 3am. I get anxious about little things like missing my alarm, forgetting to pick up the race packet, is my Ipod charged? Will these panties chafe? Is my GOOD sports bra clean? Do my shorts have a pocket for my keys? Where are my keys? How much wine did I really drink last night? Then I do the countdown: “if I wake up at 5am I can have 2 cups of coffee, a glass of water and be able to flush it all out before I get in the car.”  Then an hour later, “if I use the Keurig, bring a travel mug, drive 20mph over the speed limit and tinkle in the bushes, I can sleep until 7:15am….

When I look in the mirror to pull my hair into my very unglamorous pony tail I focus on the giant bags under my eyes and the trail of yesterdays wine err mascara down my face and think,

“this is ridiculous.”

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Today was no exception.

The race itself was at a popular park for road races. I’d completed several there before and was familiar with the out-and-back along a man-made lake. Very pretty. Mostly flat. Paved road. No cars. Chip timed, actual bathrooms and two water stations. All necessary for a very fast, easy and enjoyable race. And it was.

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My time was horrible. I’m not sure what I expected considering my daily runs had turned into thrice weekly jogs, the occasional paddle board and a power walk through the mall. Did I think I was suddenly going to set a state park record?

In the time before the start, I stretched. I don’t do it often or enough but I know as I approach 40 like a Mercedes on the autoban, my body needs more and more prep work. I found a quiet spot away from the crowd on a little hill to bend and twist. I noticed a few ladies make their way down to my grassy knoll and join me. Before I knew it, I was leading some sort of dysfuntional tutu wearing “i run for wine” cheering soccer mom yoga class. Kill me.

A group of very ripped cross fit ladies passed by and looked me up and down like I was loosening up for a 5k hostel takeover. Little did they know I was legitimatly afraid my thighs would cramp up at the sound of the gun and last night’s sushi would make a guest appearance by mile 2.

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Road Race Rule #1:

Don’t judge others. Don’t worry about what people think of you. Don’t do crossfit. (ok, kidding. but really don’t.)

A few hundred people lined up, the gun went off and before I knew it we were at the half way turn around point. I was in the middle of the running pack, a comfortable place for me to be. But then things got interesting. First, as we made the U-turn, we now faced the sun. A blaring hot Florida in August sun. The kind of sun that makes you question your life choices. The kind of sun that will horrify your dermatologist and change your makeup base from “creamy beige” to “Punishment For Past Sins.”

Race Rule #2:

Wear sunscreen. Pack aloe. Lips can burn, too.

Thankfully I was preoccupied with the 9 year old kid that kept passing me like Buzz Lightyear then WALKING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.

Road Race Rule #3:

WALKERS TO THE RIGHT!

None of that ultimately matters. What matters is doing it.

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I need to reestablish my commitment to running road races at least once a month. I need to reestablish my commitment to pushing my body farther, harder, faster. I need to reestablish my commitment to encouraging YOU to join me in our endeavor to be the best versions of ourselves. (That’s way too new-agey-touchy-feely for me but Oprah said it and I can’t get it out of my head.)

I’m out of excuses. I need to get back to running consistently and with conviction. I can’t talk about physical muscle if i’ve gone soft or spiritual muscle if I’m not putting in the time to pray and reflect. We’re running to win! There’s no time to over think it, over analyze it. There are plenty of reasons NOT to do something but when has that made you better, healthier, happier?

I kept the sushi down. So can you.

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Until next week.

Run to win.

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I’m on a mission to run in every European country to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease which has sidelined my super athletic father. In the process, I’ve found my mission isn’t just to support PD sideliners but to encourage everyone to Run to Win – to lace up your sneakers and go for it – whatever that is, whatever the obstacles. And this blog is where I share my adventures along the way.

Czechia – the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia. Ancestral home of Ivana Trump and Madeleine Albright. (Take a moment to process that…)

There are three distinct take-aways from my time in the Czech Republic.

  1. Everyone smokes. The lady bagging her fresh vegetables at the market, the man opening his store front on the street corner, the woman walking her dog. It’s like a giant Marlboro commercial.
  2. Everyone wears fur. The lady bagging her fresh vegetables at the market, the man opening his store front on the street corner, the woman walking her dog. It’s like a giant PETA protest.
  3. It’s cold. It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to light up a Virginia Slim, pour yourself a glass of Bozkov Vodka and surround yourself in the warm embrace of the neighbors golden retriever.

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Prague is a magnificent city. If you haven’t been there yet, put it on your “to do” list.

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The architecture is inspiring, the history harrowing, the beer overflowing. Friends traveling with me went to a “beer spa” where they literally soaked, nude, in a barrel full of beer.

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I left my friends to marinate in their Michelob and I went for a run.

Large cities like Prague, Vegas, NYC, have an active, vibrant nightlife. I enjoy running early in the morning when you see men doing the walk-of-shame from red light districts across town and woman closing up shop for a well deserved rest. The streets are dirty and smelly – a filth you don’t see late at night with the bright overhead lights holding your gaze. The city looked different in the morning, littered with remnants of fireworks, butts of cigarettes and broken bottles from a previous night’s celebration. The tourists hauling cameras with tri pods and massive North Face coats outnumbered those of us running that morning. I was passed by a few men, lean and fast, running over the Charles River Bridge on the way up the massive hill to the iconic castle overlooking all of Prague. The view at the top worth the agony of the climb, as it always is, in life and in sport.

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The Czech people are very unique. I read someone’s list of three ways to be Czech:

  1. To be a Czech you must smoke cigarettes, especially as you walk down the street so all other pedestrians have to keep you in their sights at all times so as to not burn their coats.
  2. To be a true Czech, have “I am Sceptical” as your default facial expression.
  3. To be a true Czech, don’t be too optimistic. It means you haven’t done all of your research.

I found the people of Prague to be kind, though not terribly warm. They did however take pride in themselves. The ladies were always well dressed – though the skirt hems were significantly shorter than a Vegas strip club. The men were stern and confident. I blinked first every time.

In the morning I went for a run. Then I went to the spa.

Baden Baden in Germany hosts my favorite spa – a series of Roman Baths and saunas. Karlovy Vary is a med-spa town in the Czech Republic with a series of these ancient mineral therms as well as clinics and recovery hotels where the world’s rich and famous go for a nip, tuck and recovery. There is something intimidating and liberating about being completely naked with a group of very large, very confident Eastern European men soaking in an ancient mineral bath. First, you’re so glad to be thawing out from the freezing cold, you don’t care that you haven’t shaved in a day, or two, or that last nights make up is sweating down to your knees. Second, as you find yourself mere inches from a gaggle of Russian senior citizens, you start to have a real appreciation for American’s obsession with circumcision.

The bath houses are filled with old Roman statues, tiles and art. Nearby was the location of the oldest ceramic piece in the world, the Venus of Dolni Vestonice.

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Now we know why the Czech’s created a med spa town known for breast implants and tummy tucks. No need to belt your boobs, ladies. There’s a spa for that.

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The first bath house I went to had a series of steps that you had to follow in order. First, the shower. Second, a warm room. Third, a very hot room. Then you had the choice to sit in a steam spa or get a scrub down from a young pool boy named Petr. I chose the scrub down. It’s a mix of insane insecurity, a tad bit of arousal mixed with more insecurity. Nudity + warm steam + warm gentle pools + hot tiled aroma therapy + LARGE, HAIRY RUSSIAN MEN.

I’ve since returned to the mineral baths in various parts of central europe and I am a believer. Europeans know how to relax. My skin is cleaner, my mind is clearer and I care just a little bit less about what people think of me.

Body image is tough. I’ve modeled on and off for years and one thing remains true – everyone is insecure about something. Dimples on the thighs, the roll over your skinny jeans, a receding hair-line, wrinkles that seem to multiply overnight…. everyone has something. It’s a great equalizer, actually.

Like the confident Czechs and the men strutting their stuff in the Roman Bath houses, we all need to stand up straight and own it. Own where we are right now. Embrace the dimples and folds. That doesn’t mean we get complacent. We can’t get lazy. There’s too much at stake. We have to keep pushing – keep working towards something – faster, stronger, fitter, healthier, smarter, better at our craft, better as a partner, parent, friend. But love where you are in this moment.

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Run to win. Fur optional.

 

 

 

 

What does a motivational running blog have to do with an election?

Regardless of what side you fall on, a new era is before us. I, in my 30’s, can not think of another time when we have been so hopeless about our future and each other. Like the last quarter of a 5k or the 22nd mile of a marathon, when our muscles have depleted their resources and our motivation is waning, we have to engage that spiritual muscle of hope in our training and faith in our body to cross the finish line. It’s the muscles we need to reach the end of the race, finish the match, to compete when the game is on the line.

Cliff McCrath, 1978 NSCAA Coach of the Year who retired second on the all time collegiate coaching wins list, talked about the political protesting of the inauguration almost like a game. He said, “But, just as I felt bad about other losses, I buckled down and threw myself into the process…” Imagine if he had let his players walk off the field, game half over. Imagine if the striker or point guard or quarterback decided not to play the game because he didn’t like the opponent. Would we support them?

As for me, I don’t see this election as a game-ender. If you have deleted friends over this or they have deleted you, well, then they weren’t very good friends. The sun will still rise in the morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that. But the world seems pretty pissed off.

Good friends, spouses, roommates, teammates, should always come ready to play, ready to win.

Election Day 2017.

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Screw the stick figures. Be like LaToya and Kathy….

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Two Americans in Europe.

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One of us is a registered Republican, one a Democrat. One of us was active duty, one of us opposed the second gulf war. One of us experienced the raw hatred of racism, one of us has only known the white bubble of privilege. Despite it all we have laughed together, wept together, shared our hopes for the future as our young daughters braided each others hair.

You can decide to disappear when things get tough.

We’ve decided to show up.

Be the change you want in your leaders.

It’s our right to show up and protest. Protest cyber bullies by supporting each other on social media. Protest loneliness by getting to know your neighbors. Protest hatred by practicing empathy. Protest extremism by seeing another’s point of view.

Play fair. Be humble. Practice equality. Above all, be kind! Kindness has a ripple effect that will have more impact on the world than any protest, law or lawmaker.

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Get in the game! It’s not over yet. In fact, it’s not even half time.

Play hard – give it everything you’ve got. Don’t get lazy with your body, mind, spirit. Athletes exercise their bodies to stay fit, stay competitive, stay in top form. It’s how we win the game. We have to exercise our spiritual muscles to be competitive in our every day lives so when the hard times come – and they always come – we’re in top shape! Strengthen the muscles of kindness, empathy, compassion.

You’ve all gone to the inauguration, um, stadium to see the runners race. Everyone runs, one wins. Run to win. They’re after a personal fortune, err, prize that tarnishes and fades. You’re after a gold that’s eternal. 1 Corinthians 9:24 (kind of…)

Exercise the spiritual muscle of HOPE. Run to win.

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