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Dealing with the news

The news and updates came in on Sunday and I still couldn't believe it.

My friend and co-worker Tom Borrelli fell at All-High Stadium while covering a high school football game. He was badly injured, taken to the hospital and now is in critical condition facing major life-changing healthy issues.

It was devastating news. The kind that literally knocks you to the ground. The kind that a good run can't really fix.

But I know that working out and training will go on. It has to. It's part of who I am. While running or biking or swimming, my thoughts will be with Tom -- healing thoughts and comforting thoughts. When I  started my journey to the finish line, I received an email from a woman who had lost a sister and decided to train for a triathlon.

We do it, she wrote me, because we can.

It is difficult to live in gratitude every day. We make up stories about our lives, about why they are difficult, why we are stuck or why we can't bring ourselves to make the choices which will make us happy.

Life is too precious, too fragile, to live in stuck. And hopefully the energy of my gratitude, of my movement through my day, will translate over to some healing for Tom. 

Gathering emotinal strength and better stretching

There are times when I need my iPod during my workout. It's not just a distraction thing nor is it just a pace-setting mechanism.

It's an emotional and mental thing.

There are days when I'm feeling beat down -- by training, by work, heck, by life itself. And while I know I can work my way through it, sometimes I need a little help.

Enter my iPod and a choice of songs not so much for their ability to help me get through 60 grueling minutes on the bike trainer but for lyrical meanings.

Lately, I've been drawing strength from Mary J. Blige's "Work That," Mary Chapin Carpenter's version of "Passionate Kisses," Melissa Etheridge's "I Run for Life," "Ordinary Day" by Great Big Sea and even the slightly cliched "Right Now" by Van Halen. Some days, you just need to gather your strength from a good tune.

Speaking of strength, apparently, if you're holding stretches for 20-30 seconds as part of your warm up routine, you may be hindering the strength of your muscles. In the great stretching debate, a recent article in the New York Times says that an active warm up is better than holding static stretches in order to properly prepare the body for a workout or athletic contest. The idea is that your need to get your body warm before exercise. Very light jogging and some "dynamic" stretches (which are described in the article) are seen as the best preparation. Try a few before your next workout.

To deal with sore muscles, many elite athletes rely on therapeutic massage. Before Sunday's New York City Marathon, won by 34-year-old Paula Radcliffe, the Times ran a story about the the age of the elite women in the field which was about 33 and one of the oldest in the marathon's history.

It gives aging athletes, and those of us who came to athletics later in life, a bit of hope.

Gaining confidence bit by bit

I have no trouble admitting that I was scared and intimidated.

In fact, I woke up three times during the night afraid that I would either sleep through my alarm or well, just because I was plain afraid.

Tuesday was my first dip into the Nickel City Splash master's program run at the University at Buffalo pool.

And yeah, did I mention I was scared?

I had no idea what to expect. While I had participated in group swimming last year, it was nothing like this, with lane sharing and a clock that told you how fast to complete each portion of the workout.

But my coach wanted me to go. And I know I need to improve my swimming -- particularly my confidence in the water with other people -- so I dove in. Well, I kinda dipped my toe in. I did the entire workout with my fins on. Call it a safety net, but it made me feel a bit more comfortable.

I swam with the red group -- all people who know what it's like to be a beginner and all of us are rather slow in the water. I shared a lane with another Amy and Patty and they helped guide me through the workout. It was easier to catch on to what was going on than I thought.

The actual workout was, well, challenging. Even with my fins. I worked hard to swim the sets in the alloted time and enjoyed every second of rest that I was able to get in lucky lane No. 4. I pushed myself, which is good. That's one of the benefits of the group workout -- you find yourself pushing just a bit harder to keep up with the structure.

It's not hard-core in my lane, though. If you need a break, you take one. If you need to modify a set, you modify the set. I found myself wondering if there would be a 50 that I might sit out, but I didn't. I completed all 2800 yards in about an hour and 20 minutes.

I'm a bit tired, but happy.

I'm still a little scared, but just a bit more confident than I was before I got to the pool.

And the thing about confidence in the face of fear and risk is that it's cumulative -- each little gain in confidence makes the fear seem not so ominous.

Smiling at the swan

The great thing about running in an unfamiliar place without your iPod is that you actually get to look around.

Visiting my good friend Michele on Saturday I had the chance to run around a small lake in her development. It's not very big -- just under a mile for the loop around -- but it was sufficient for my 30-minute run.

I did three loops of the lake in addition to running up and down the hill to Michele's house. The trees are still holding their colorful leaves and running around 5 p.m. -- just before dusk -- was beautiful. I felt like I should be on some movie set telling some profound tale of life and love and dreams. I was in a rather meditative place when I saw a large swan alone at one end of the lake. How elegant, I thought, as I saw the beautiful and majestic postcard-like image. I glanced away, then looked back at the swan -- which now had its head buried in the shallow water and it's butt straight up in the air.

And so this is life -- from elegant and majestic to having a rear end facing you.

The swan then curved under itself, as if to do a backward roll underwater, and came back up, just as elegant as it was when I first saw it.

I'm sure there's a deeper metaphorical meaning I can derive from the scene. And I'm pretty sure I know it on some unconscious level, otherwise the transformation would not have struck me.

But in staying in the moment, I just smiled. And I kept running. And I kept smiling.

If you're looking for some running inspiration, check out this story on on a 72-year-old man running his ninth marathon. If you think you have to have a be-in-to-win-it mentality to make the race worthwhile, this guy might just change your mind.

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