Running with Ruth

Stories that Inspire & Motivate...Not for New Runners Only! By Ruth Gursky


So Many Sports, So Little Time


Article 2:
“So Many Sports, So Little Time”

Is it a NY “thing” or are we more scheduled, with less spare time, than ever? It sure seems to me as if we’re chasing our tails 8+ hours a day, squeezing in our mandatory post-work “networking” at bars, gyms or professional associations and somehow, trying to do juggle a somewhat “normal” home life, to boot! So, given the scarcity of time, why did I choose running marathons, an activity that requires mega hours of training, as my sport of choice?

Like many 40-something Baby Boomers, I spent the better part of the late ’90’s seeking a leisure time activity that would bring me the spiritual, emotional and physical satisfaction that I wasn’t getting from my day job as an attorney. I gave the ol’ college try to many of the “sports du jour” - climbing, scuba diving and kayaking - but in the end, I returned to running. And as luck would have it, I discovered Jeff Galloway’s run/walk program and by the time the new millennium rolled in, I was proudly calling myself an athlete and marathoner!

“You tried climbing?” Yes - and it was love at first sight! While I had the “normal” fear of heights, when I first laid eyes on the multi-colored climbing wall in The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, I knew I HAD to check it out! And within a week, I qualified for my climbing certificate and began a weekly climbing ritual. While I didn’t advance much beyond novice/intermediate, it wasn’t long before I headed out to the Shawangunk Mountains (affectionately called “The ’Gunks” by locals), located outside of New Paltz, where a female guide introduced me to the great outdoors. Saying that I was “scared” doesn’t begin to address the fear and trepidation that coursed through my body when I looked up to see just what she expected me to climb! But slowly and carefully, I inched my way up to the top and then, just as carefully, rappelled down …begging to do it again! Some time later, I tested my mettle on other climbs in the ’Gunks and during a spa vacation in southern Utah, I spent a perfectly clear and sunny morning climbing the red rocks with another professional guide. I guess you could say that “bagging” a 160 ft. peak (which is akin to scaling a 16-story building) was my climbing P.R. (personal record)! After cranking it up another notch by competing in a 2-day climbing competition in Amsterdam, I hung up my climbing shoes and chalk bag, as I felt it unfair to ask my legs to climb and train for marathons at the same time. And while I found great “spirituality” in the mountains and enjoyed the challenge and focused concentration required in this sport, the “fear factor” sounded the death knell to my climbing career.

After conquering my fear of heights, I decided it was time to rid myself of my fear of open water swimming that surfaced during my first sprint triathlon. A week after that race, while trying to figure out why I freaked out during the ½ mile lake swim, I had a memory breakthrough: I vividly recalled nearly drowning in a lake in upstate NY when I was about 8 years old – a memory I successfully blocked for over 30 years! To overcome my fear, I enrolled in a scuba diving class at a local pool in Manhattan. Once again, the phrase “scared to death” minimizes the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I tried each new skill, culminating in the ultimate test of my emotional and physical fortitude: passing the required certification dives during my week in Curacao at a triathlon training camp. With a patient diving instructor, I succeeded in all the deep-water tests and became scuba certified. Afterwards, we swam together in the crystal-clear Caribbean waters, where I discovered Jacques Cousteau’s wonderful world of natural beauty. I marveled at the variety and colors of the fish and the ingenious way coral reefs were created on the hulls of ships, cars and other large objects that sunk into this under-world. I swam past schools of fabulous neon-colored fish and scary-looking moray eels, barracudas and stingrays. And when I returned home, I fantasized about opening a diving school for “nervous” women like myself and even bought the advanced scuba certification book to prepare for my next diving adventure - but for one reason or another (mostly related to time and money), I never made another dive. Looking back on that experience, with pride, I view my scuba certification as proof that one can conquer even deep-rooted fears!

Finally, through The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, I was introduced to kayaking. While this is not usually considered an “extreme” sport, in my mind, I feel that any activity performed in the Hudson River belongs in that category! The initial training session was held in the club’s pool, where we were taught how to survive if our kayak flipped over – not an auspicious introduction to a new sport, in my opinion! In our first open water lesson, we paddled between the piers, where the water was calm (although a golf ball landed in my kayak, inches from my little toe…a sign from heaven? You tell me!). The following week, while the sun was about to set and most people were returning home for an evening in front of the TV, I was part of a covey of kayakers quietly paddling down the Hudson. Scared to death of tipping into what was once NY’s dirtiest waterway, I sat up stiffly, eyes bolted straight ahead, while I followed the kayak immediately in front of mine, praying that I wouldn’t catch a wave or current that was beyond my limited ability. Truth-be-told, all I wanted to do was paddle down to the World Trade Center (our destination) and return to dock in dry clothes! My instructor, meanwhile, exhorted me time and again to relax and enjoy the moment! He tried to de-bunk my fear of tipping over by dipping his hand in the water and taking a sip of the Hudson. After a little more cajoling, I risked a glance toward the horizon – and lo and behold, I discovered a “new” New Jersey; one that never looked so beautiful, with its new glass and steel buildings glistening like gemstones as the tangerine sun set behind them. After 2 beautiful but uneventful hours of paddling, I returned to the pier, with achy shoulders and the knowledge that I’ll never think of the Hudson in quite the same way again.

So, after purchasing the requisite climbing and scuba gear – and almost buying a purple kayak (don’t’ ask!) - I ventured out my front door and re-discovered running…a simple sport, which doesn’t require extravagant accessories or distant venues - just some sneakers, shorts, shirt and socks; a city sidewalk or park; and perhaps, a buddy (when and if you want one). Running. It’s something I can do just about anytime or anywhere the mood strikes and for me, it provides all the physical and metaphysical “things” that I was seeking:

(a) Gravity! After trying other sports (I also went parasailing once in Key West – though it took a few pina coladas to get me airborne!), I finally figured out what it is that I crave: terra firma! Hey! If G-d wanted me to climb, I’d be a monkey; if I was supposed to swim underwater, I’d have been born a fish – you get the picture!

(b) Courage! While running doesn’t pack the same vein-popping punch as climbing or deep-sea diving, there’s definitely a “fear factor” involved in running marathons: Can I really do the distance? Will I hit the wall? Was my last run long enough? Yadda, yadda, yadda. Marathoners…. We drive ourselves crazy with fears and doubts. But somehow, from deep within, we find the courage within ourselves to persevere. We run through aches and pain, we conquer fears and self-doubts. And after crossing the finish line, when we get that shiny medal and we’re wrapped in a logo-embossed aluminum space blanket, we return home, like conquering heroes, with a new sense of who we are! We’re marathoners; athletes with the courage to train for and complete a 26.2 mile adventure…a boast that fewer than one percent of the world’s population can make!

(c) Individuality! While I excelled as a kid in team sports, as an adult, I find that I no longer crave competition and dislike depending on others to catch, kick, pass, spike or throw the ball. I like a sport where my only competition is “me”: how did I do on this run compared to my last, in terms of distance, speed or aches and pains?

(d) Creativity! Most other sports require so much concentrated effort to avoid injury (or a worse fate), that there’s little time to think, dream, feel and create. Some of my best writing has its genesis in a long run. “The loneliness of a long distance runner”? Nah! While running, you’ve got all the time in the world to get to know your “best friend:” YOU!

(e) Destiny! For some reason, running has put me at the “right place at the right time” – or, maybe, I’m just “open” to what, or who, is put in my path. During my 5 marathons and scores of shorter distance races, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to help struggling runners reach and cross the finish line. My favorite story took place in Central Park, about halfway through a 4-mile race. I was running, half-heartedly, wishing that I had bagged the race and stayed in bed, when I came upon a young African-American girl, maybe 10 years old. When I first saw her, she was crying and hyperventilating. So, I started to walk with her and listened to her tale of woe. It seems she started out too fast and lost steam. And to make matters worse, her friends continued on, leaving her alone. We walked together till her breathing returned to normal, then I showed her the Galloway method of incorporating walking intervals into your running. As we passed the Bethesda Fountain, a short distance from the finish line, she beamed as her friends called out her name and cheered her on. By the time I crossed the finish line, moments later, I realized that my face muscles hurt from 2 miles of smiling.

Running has brought me to new heights, physically and emotionally, and as an added bonus, this sport has given me the opportunity to become a Galloway group leader. As coach and mentor, I do my best to inspire and motivate my beginner and veteran runners to perform their personal best. For me, I need to look no further. I’ve found the sport and the role I was seeking!