Monday, February 21, 2011

What Risks Do We Accept When We Go Running?

What are the risks of running? What types of risks do we knowingly acknowledge, accept, and consent to when we venture out the door to run (or ride, or walk, or get the newspaper) each day? When I run, I recognize that I am leaving myself open to certain dangers - ice/damaged/rugged trails and streets, changeable/hazardous weather conditions, and wild animals (where I live coyotes, mountain lions, and snakes, including rattlers, are common), cars, and bikes. I could keel over with a heart attack. My muscles could seize up and leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. I could, and have, gotten very lost. I accept and acknowledge these dangers. The risks are worth it to me, and as a mature, reasonable and reasoning human being, I have a right to take these risks. However, there are certain threats/risks that I do not accept nor consent to when I tie my shoes and head out into the world.

Last week I was out on a Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) trail I've run regularly for many many years. This is a trail I use to access most of my running routes. It's a trail I depend on and treasure. It also boarders a neighborhood, and so it is popular with walkers (with and without dogs), cyclists, families out to enjoy a sunny day, kids learning how to ride bikes, kite fliers - you get the picture. We all seem to coexist nicely. But on this particular morning, something went horribly wrong.

As I ran along, another runner ran toward me, waving away a large dog. As he approached me he told me that the dog had just jumped over its fence, and it was acting pretty aggressive. I said 'thanks' as the dog turned her attention to me. During my 25+ years of running I've had many interactions with growlly dogs, and my experience has always been that if you stay calm and move along slowly they usually leave you alone. I also worked for a time at the local Humane Society, and we were trained on how to spot the signs of aggression and how to deal with it when we saw it. However, this dog was not deterred. She began circling me preventing me from moving along the trail in either direction. She moved in barking and jumping at me. I quietly walked backwards saying "go home" calmly, trying all the while not to make eye contact with her. From there things just escalated. She came at me continuously, barking and biting at the air while backing me into a field. At this point I began yelling for help, hoping that someone would come out of one of the nearby houses. A neighbor came around the side of her house but did nothing other than watch what was happening. I pleaded with her to please help, to call someone. She did nothing. Meanwhile the dog continued jumping at me. I blocked her attacks with my foot, trying desperately to keep some distance between her and my body. Another walker came down the trail, having heard my calls for help. She called back to me that she was calling 911. Twice the dog grabbed my foot in her mouth, once pulling me off balance. I was afraid that if she pulled me down, I would be in a very bad way. The dog was an Tibetan Mastiff and weighed around 130lbs. I weigh in at around 115lbs. I kicked her in the head, hard, several times trying to keep her off of me. This went on for about 7 minutes according to my watch which was running the whole time.

There have been few times that I've really feared for my life, but at some point I realized that I was in serious trouble. All I could do was keep fighting her off, and I was getting tired! At the point when I was feeling that perhaps it was a losing battle, another neighbor came out, opened her gate and stepped out a few feet from her yard. The dog ran over to her, barking furiously, and the woman quickly slipped back into her yard. That gave me enough time to run, fast, down the trail. Fight had happened. It was time for flight, and I moved!

When I got home I called the necessary authorities (they were waiting to hear from me since 3 other witnesses had already contacted them) and I was told that there really wasn't much I could do. The owners would be issued a ticket, but that's all that could be done since this was a first offense.

So here's the thing: This experience: 1)wiped me out for several days (I was exhausted and unable to sleep), and 2) has left me with tweaked calfs/hamstrings/glutes (in the leg I used to hold myself up and the leg I used to defend myself). An injury due to a dog attack will basically trash my race/training plans for the foreseeable future (and many dollars of registration fees down the drain). Then there's the possible cost of physical therapy, and of course, not being able to run! I want to scream to the world "THIS IS JUST NOT FAIR. I DID'T ASK FOR THIS. THIS IS NOT PART OF THE DEAL!!!". If I fall and break my leg on black ice, okay, that's a risk I accept and acknowledge. But vicious dogs, vicious people, road rage drivers? NO! The city gets the $$$$ for the fine - what the hell do I get? I'm angry as hell.

This type of question/issue also comes up when a woman is attacked/raped (running or not). Many say: Well, she was out there. Why was she out there? She shouldn't have been out there. What does she expect? etc. But, while a woman out running must accept certain risks (like the ones listed above) being attacked or raped is not something I accept as a possible and reasonable risk of running. Nor do I accept the risk of being attacked by a dog that is improperly supervised, restrained, or trained. The attitude I seem to be hearing from many is that it's terrible that this happened, but that's just too bad for me. In my view someone is responsible, and it sure as hell ain't me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Runners are Crazy People

Most mornings I dress myself for my run, and my daughter for preschool. We walk three blocks to school in all weather (we are the only ones who walk!). My daughter searches for treasure along the way. I settle her into school, give her a kiss, and press the "start" button on my Garmin - and I'm off. The other moms look at me as though I am just a little odd. Perhaps I am. After all, I so treasure and guard my time out on the run. Running allows me to be a patient mother and wife and teacher - when I can't run, I'm a bit of a beast to be around. I've been doing this for so long, I am not right without it.

Those of us who call ourselves "runners" are a crazy lot. We run in the middle of the night if our schedules demand that. We get up at 3 a.m. to run marathons. We run through winter blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, and the baking heat of summer. We run in the pouring rain, and love it. We voluntarily run races and long training runs on our days "off". When injured, we subject ourselves to various forms of torture for the sake of healing and freedom. Most of my non-running friends think I'm crazy. They find my running exploits entertaining, inspiring, and unfathomable. The question is: Does running attract those prone to craziness, or does running create craziness?

I think that it is the former rather than the latter. Some people start to run, but it never really becomes something that they love and must do. For those individuals, running never feeds their mind and soul. It's just "exercise" or a "workout". I must admit that I have never referred to my daily runs as a "workout" and the term, when applied to running, grates on my nerves. A workout is something you do in a gym, not on the roads or the trails, outside with the meadowlarks and coyotes. When I run, I'm going for a run. Period. For those who are not "runners", running is often a means to an end - they get through their run - and hope that it will give them a slimmer waistline, a quicker metabolism, a stronger heart - now they can have that bowl of guilt-free ice cream. If they could accomplish the desired end through some other, more enjoyable means (say, watching football on TV), they would do so. But, true runners run as an end in itself - Okay, perhaps there are those days I just don't feel like running, and must force myself to get out and just do it - but most days I enjoy the simple act of running. I savor my time alone in the world with myself and my thoughts, and the birds, and the dirt, and the clouds... This is something that many non-runners just don't get. Those who stay with running, and perhaps get just a bit obsessed about it are essentially different from other folks. Sometimes we don't know we're runners until we begin to run, and zap, we come to know something new about our nature.

But then, what's so crazy about running 20 miles on a beautiful cool, sunny February morning? I am never more with myself than at these times. This time, moving body, mind, and soul gives me the energy to embrace my life. To my mind, it's the folks who sit around watching football games all day, or who spend beautiful days shopping at the mall, who are crazy.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Charity Spots - Yay or Nay

I'm planning to run the Colorado Marathon on May 1st, 2011. It's a small, but popular race in a state packed with runners. It's also attractive because it's a downhill Boston Qualifier (However, those who come from sea level quickly realize that this is no giveaway race.) The 2011 race sold out in early December 2010, but charity spots remained available. This is a common story in the marathoning world. Boston fills in several hours. New York resorts to a lottery. Many many others sell out in days. Usually you must commit to running a marathon six or more months before the race. Given the hefty price tag for all but the most bare-bones races, that is a serious consideration for those of us who have to work for a living and pay our own way.

The charity option is always tempting for difficult-to-get-into races like New York - and if you wait for the lottery in April, you will most likely miss out on the charity spots, as most will already be filled. It does not seem that marathon participation is going to decline significantly any time soon - so the question is: Are reserved charity spots fair?

Now, I have run many races to raise money for different charities. In 2009 I ran the Boulder Marathon to raise money for Camfed (Campaign for Female Education - an organization that works to provide an education for sub-Saharan African girls and women). However, this was not an organized charity event, sanctioned by the race organizers. Rather, I raised money on my own because this is an organization and a cause I believe in and want to support. Given my own experience, I know how difficult it is to raise money - I managed to raise about $700.00 - it wasn't easy!

I understand and appreciate that marathon charity programs raise much needed money for very worthwhile causes. Moreover, I believe that most of us should be giving more then we are to organizations doing important work. But I'm wondering whether this is the best means for raising these funds.

Most marathon charity spots require a substantial pledge. I did a quick survey of different marathon charity programs (NYC, Boston, Marine Corp, Chicago) and most require the applicant to donate $2,500 (all of the Boston Charity spots require a donation of at least $3,250). So here's the rub: If I have lots of money I can just donate that money and run Boston (or NYC, or any other high profile/popular event). The fact that many other runners have raced and qualified and have been unable to secure a spot shouldn't concern me because I've got the cash. It's the American way after all! Who says life is fair? What requires the playing field to be even? While the aims of these charity programs are laudable, I believe that the question of fairness should motivate us to reevaluate these programs.

The situation for Boston is unique - it seems that even if there are charity spots, those spots should only be available (or available first) to those with qualifying times. That is not currently the case. Anyone who can pay the price can sign up to run Boston through its charity program. Here's what the 2011 Boston Marathon Charity site says:
"If you didn’t qualify or didn’t get a chance to register for the 2011 Boston Marathon, don’t hang up those new running shoes just yet. Boston Marathon charity teams are still accepting applications for runners."
This just doesn't make sense to me. Plenty of those who qualify for Boston are not able to register before the race is full. So, to run Boston you must be either: a) fairly fast, or b) fairly rich.

Granted, many will argue that anyone can go out and raise $2,500 (or more). But, remember, you are required to pay up (sometimes when you register!) regardless of your fundraising success. That makes me a little nervous. I'm sure many will say that when it comes to other charity programs (other than Boston, perhaps), it's all good - if you really want to run NY then just do what you have to do. But the question really is: Why should some be allowed to bypass the whole system and pay their way into any race just because they have the financial means? It just seems to be an matter of fairness.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

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