Saying thank you for Starbucks


This is not, needless to say, the sign you want to see when, for the last two miles of your run, you’ve had to go to the bathroom. But you’ve consoled yourself by focusing on what’s ahead; namely, the sturdy concrete toilet-containing building in the park that’s on your route.

And then you see the park, and the building and — WHAT?! Yes, the sign. Of course you try the door anyway because, though you could sort of see your breath when you started out, you can’t any more. So the temperature really isn’t freezing…is it?

But 32 degrees or not, the door was locked on my run this morning. Fortunately, a desperate glance across the street yielded this vision:

starbucksAh, it might as well have been a neon sign pointing to Atlantis, or to a castle in the sky, or to the end of a rainbow. I slipped in the back door; blessedly, the restroom was open. Moments later, I resumed my run.

So for unlocked bathrooms, for not being irritated at myself for needing to stop, and, above all, for Starbucks...The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for knowing when to stop

Lassie & Timmy (AP photo)

Lassie & Timmy (AP photo)

I was having a really, really nice run Sunday morning. The air was crisp, the sky that deep blue which the Crayola folks are no doubt still working on copyrighting. I was running faster than I had intended, which is always a good thing.

Then, as I rounded a corner on a block I haven’t run down in eons, I saw a familiar twosome. Actually, it used to be a threesome, which made me slow down. The man I used to see walking two collies was only walking one. On previous encounters — last one was months ago — he had told me that one of them, the older one, had hip and a variety of other problems. Sometimes I’d see the man walking just one, and he’d tell me that the other pooch was home sleeping.

But this morning, I just kind of knew. I looked both ways, crossed the street, and stopped to pet his collie and to talk.

“I haven’t seen you in ages!” I said. He told me I’m usually moving too fast (but seriously, I know I haven’t seen him!). I took a deep breath and said, “You usually have two, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “We had to put the other one down this summer.”

I said that stupid thing I’m now second-guessing: “I’m sure he had such a wonderful life.” I meant to add, “but it’s never long enough.” Before I could get that part out, the man stopped me.

“He had so many health issues,” he said. “He finally just let us know it was time.”

“Yes,” I said. “They do know.”

“She misses him,” he said, gesturing toward the female at my feet. “Maybe we’ll get another one after Christmas.”

“Meanwhile,” I said, “I bet she’s getting lots of hugs.”

He smiled and I stood up to leave.

“It was so good seeing you,” I told him.

“Thank you for stopping,” he said.

So for skies so achingly beautiful you think you just might start to cry; for the love of a dog; and for knowing when to stop, The Grateful Runner says thank you.




Saying thank you for lane-sharers

How nice it is when someone offers to share a lane before you even ask.

How nice it is when someone offers to share a lane before you even ask.

I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself when I say this: Those of us who swim tend to favor having our own lane. Most of the time, this works out, at least the times and places I go.

When you run, you don’t need to think about that. You see someone approaching on the sidewalk, and just move a little to the right till you’ve passed each other. It doesn’t take much thought, and probably only happens once or twice a week.

This morning, when I peered through the window at the pool on my way to the dressing room, each lane looked taken. Two lanes though, were occupied by two women who were getting in a across-the-rope visit before their water-aerobics class began at 9. I thought maybe if I asked, one would move over so I could swim my laps.

By the time I put on my swim suit and made it to the pool, the women were indeed in one lane. A lap swimmer was in each of the other three lanes. I recognized a man in the far lane and even remembered his name. Jim’s a nice fellow, and though he’d have to rein in his arms a bit so as not to bop me in the face, I decided to ask if he’d share.

I hesitated though. You just don’t want to interrupt someone’s swim to ask something that can be sort of irritating. So while I stood there, the woman next to the water-aerobics classmates stopped.

“Do you want to share?” she asked.

“Sure!” I said. “Thank you!”

She had a really pretty stroke, plus she was so easy to swim with. We each stayed on our side of the black line dividing the lane, and we never came close to colliding. I finished feeling good, without that stresed-out, playing-defense sensation that can come with lane-sharing.

We ended up walking out together. I told her I had noticed her walking into the gym because of her bright orange flip-flops, which I love. She said, “Dollar Store!” and we both laughed.

Turns out she’s a Spanish teacher on her first week of summer break. The last couple of weeks have been so busy, she said, that she’s had no time to work out. Plus, her students were bringing in junk food (which they were more than happy to share) to sustain them during final exams. So she’s planning to use the next couple of weeks to get back in shape before doing some traveling.

We parted ways, each expressing hope we’ll see each other again.

Meanwhile, for chance encounters…for people who share…for a reminder to move over and offer half a lane when I see a fellow swimmer waiting…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for sunshine

Blue sky, sunshine, February in Texas

Blue sky, sunshine, February in Texas

See enough of it, and sunshine becomes almost a given — one of those offerings of nature we come to expect: Walk onto the sidewalk, look up, squint a little. It’s up there, we’re down here, voila. And life goes on.

But we haven’t seen nearly enough of it lately. The sky’s stayed cloudy, the wind beyond brisk, and the air oh-so-cold. So this morning, finally feeling the sun — almost even before it ascended the sky — was a gift, one of those fling-your-arms-around-the-giver gifts.

My run today was, quite honestly, not particularly great. But I didn’t need gloves, and I wore short sleeves, and when I gazed at the sky, the sun — the sun!! — was pushing aside the moon.

While I can’t exactly wrap my arms around Mother Nature, when she treats me to such splendor, I can take her gift and let it fill me; I can let it guide my day. If only in my mind, I’m flinging my arms outward to take it all in — these sweet and dreamy and golden drops of a butterscotch morning.

So for sunshine and all it evokes; for days that beg to be embraced and mornings to be held close, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for randomly crossed paths

tomato can

If I hadn’t bought tomatoes, would my Central Market visit have been the same?

I am, first and foremost, thankful today that I didn’t lose my fingerprints to frostbite. My run was ever so Antarctic, but, thank heavens, windless and still. I layered up,  including two caps and two pairs of gloves. But good heavens, it took eons (translation: OK, maybe 10 minutes, tops) for my fingertips to defrost.

Brr. Enough about that. My day continued and my fingers thawed enough for me to type and to work. Late afternoon, after my haircut, I went to Central Market. Today was payday and thus my bigger shopping day.

The young woman who checked me out saw my canned tomatoes and asked if I’d ever tried the kind with olive oil and basil, I think. I said I’d almost picked that can up, but instead opted for the fire-roasted.

“I make the best soup, and so easy, with those tomatoes,” she told me. She heats a can of tomato sauce, two cans of the tomatoes she’d mentioned, then adds spinach and oregano. Sometimes she adds bell pepper; other times, she doesn’t.

“My mother told me how to do it,” she says. “It takes about 15 minutes and costs just about $5 for everything. Plus, it lasts about a week.”

It sounds delicious, I told her. My cart was still half-full, so we kept talking. I asked if she was in school and she said yes, that she’s studying early childhood education. For some reason, we began talking about music. She told me, kind of shyly, that she was thinking of minoring in music.

“Do you sing or do you play an instrument?” I asked.

“I sing,” she said. So do her brothers, she told me. But from what she said, I got the feeling she was the one with the more natural talent.

“You should go for that minor,” I said. “What’s keeping you?”

“I don’t like to fail,” she said. “If I started and didn’t do well, I’d be so mad at myself.”

“If it’s something you really love, and I can tell it is,” I said, “maybe you owe it to yourself to at least look into it a little.”

Thinking of our encounter now, I kind of think I should have said more. Not just about singing, but about failure. That when you’re young with that whole yellow-brick road in front of you, go ahead and take a few chances. Everyone fails; usually, way more than once. Although you may not believe it at the time, those disappointments will make what you deem to be a success — and there will be plenty in the category, too — all the more sweet.

And if you end up doing something you love AND that pays the bills, you are one very lucky person.

Not like I am a font of wisdom; not in the slightest. But talking to her made me realize that not only the young need take chances; I have a few I need to take, too.

So for that serendipitous encounter, and for an unexpected recipe; for the inhale-deeply promise of youth, and the exhaled reminder of still having choices to make, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for time


Meg Menzies of Virginia was killed by a drunk driver during a morning run on January 13. Today, January 18, runners around the world dedicated their miles to her. Rest in peace, dear Meg. Photo is from Facebook

Today, runners — probably not just runners, but everyone who could muster a few steps — were asked to dedicate their miles to Meg. Meg is Meg Menzies, a Virginia avid runner and mother of three who was killed by a drunk driver on a morning run last week. At her memorial service on Saturday, a letter her husband had written to her was read out loud:

“Every time I lace up my running shoes,” he wrote, “it will be for you.”

Today, more than 70,000 people from all over the world had pledged to do the same, joining the Meg’s Miles page on Facebook.

Some, no doubt, were marathoners and serious, always-training-for-something runners. Others, I’ll take a guess, read about her, saw sidewalks outside and shoes in their closet, and felt compelled to combine the two.

I like to think something happened while we ran or walked or cycled or hopscotched in Meg’s memory.

Something small, maybe. Or something big. Just something that reminded us of life and its blessings — of how lucky, how blessed, how privileged we are to simply be able to move and to breathe. To have one more day, one more mile, one more minute, one more moment.

Mine happened at the spot I try to run by every day, the one on the north side of a park that signals the moment I knew my father had died.

When I reach it on my runs, I look to the sky and tell him that I love him and I miss him. I blow him a kiss, and wonder — sometimes out loud, sometimes in my heart — how I must look to Dad as he looks down at me from a totally different viewpoint, and guides my way. This morning, the sky was clear; the sky the same blue — well, to be quite honest — of his eyes. My dad’s eyes (this is true) changed colors (as my sister Jeanne’s do). They could look blue and then, even a split second or a day later, green.

I’m getting off track; my apologies. Today, against that clear, Dad-blue sky was one pale white streak — a cloud perhaps, or the visible swoosh from a plane I hadn’t seen. It didn’t mar the clearness of the sky; not at all. Instead, it was a divider, mysterious and mesmerizing, between what we think we know…and that about which we have no clue.

For for that line we straddle, for the steps we take, for whatever & every bit of time we have…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for colors


I have a much easier time buying running shoes than I do other-parts-of-my-life shoes. My past few rounds of workout purchases, I’ve leaned toward shoes of the colorful variety. Such is where I started my running attire this morning — with those yellow Mizunos you see on the left.

I intended to snap a photo of what I wore because it was just so — colorful. Not matching colorful, mind you; just a rainbow melange of this shade and that shade and maybe a variety of another one. But of course by the time I thought about the photo again, my clothes were already swirling around in the washing machine and I had showered and needed to dry my hair.

But I’ll try to remember because it was such a jolly combo:

– The Mizuno yellow shoes

– Blue Feetures socks

– Black tights with a pink stripe

– A teal green Brooks top with a half zipper

– A fluorescent yellow ear band (or whatever it’s called)

Oh, and a pair of black and white striped gloves I bought at Target for a dollar a few years ago.

I glanced at my mirror reflection, rolled my eyes, smiled to myself and took off. What a(nother) glorious morning.

This time of year isn’t known for color. I ran through crunchy brown leaves that had been on a section of a certain sidewalk for at least a month. Most of the trees were bare; even though the temperature’s been holding steady in the 50s, no buds have pushed through the bark yet. I’m not complaining; not at all. This is earth’s cycle, and I’m just happy to be part of it.

The colors I wore, though, did lift my spirits — which, truth to tell, were more high than low to begin with. Still, they seemed to make more more cognizant of construction workers’ yellow vests, more appreciative of pots of purple pansies on walkways leading to sleepy houses.

And tonight, when my son picked my mom up to take her to dinner with us, she greeted first him — and later me — by exclaiming about the sunset.

“Honey,” she said (and if I added an exclamation point, believe me, it would be well placed), “did you see the clouds? They were stripes in the sky as the sun went down, colored stripes in the sky.”

I knew exactly what she meant. For that, for the colors she shared and the palette that paints this beautiful world, The Grateful Runner says thank you.


Saying thank you for passions shared

Sept '13 running

My son Charlie and I don’t often get a chance to exercise together. For one reason, he’s in college five hours away. For another, our sports don’t really coincide. Yes, he’s on the track team, but as a jumper, not a runner — though periodically we do run together.

(Here’s what I wrote last September, after the race during Parents’ Weekend when we took this photo. I wrote this post when we ran Race for the Cure the following month).

All this to say is that I love we share a passion for working out. He’s majoring in kinesiology and has hardly missed a day at the gym since he’s been home for Christmas break. I’m there at the same time periodically, but I’m swimming laps while he’s lifting weights and often going for AN HOUR ON THE ELLIPTICAL (which blows me away, but I digress).

Since he’s been home though, we have gone to yoga together — four? five? — maybe a half-dozen times. My wonderful instructor, Jill Murawski, offered a 30-day pass for kids home from college, and I happily bought one for Charlie.

We went last Wednesday to a foam-roll yoga class with his friend Lee, which was ever so much fun. Then last night, when I asked Charlie if he’d go with me this morning, he said yes.

We unrolled our mats, positioning them, our blocks and our blankets next to each other. And while Jill stresses the importance of being mindful only of ourselves and not our neighbor, I admit to stealing a glance or two (no more, really!) at that kid — young man; excuse me — a flung arm away; he with his mother’s flexibility (sorry, Charlie) and, most importantly, his own poise and determination.

For that, for those sideways glances, for who I saw, and for what we share, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for a sleeveless run — in January!

sleevelessI did a double take when I looked at the temperature this morning. FIFTY-SIX DEGREES? Seriously? Well, no; by time I started out 20 minutes or so later, it was 60. Yes, 60 — and only a few days ago I had run in place inside because the wind chill was four degrees.

So for the first time in weeks, I wore capris and not tights. But because it was also drizzling (according to my phone), I put on my Brooks windbreaker. I ran for oh, three miles or so…sans drizzle. I was feeling kinda warm, so I took my jacket off, zipped it into a pouch and carried it for the rest of my run.

I had on my Nike tank top (which you can see above) and was ever so comfortable.

Going sleeveless! In January! And for that, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you just because

Many — most, really — mornings I run, I’m overwhelmed by something. Maybe it’s the sunrise, or silence, or striped and colorful clouds. Maybe it’s the constant of a beating heart, or a surprise burst of energy that takes me farther than i’d planned when I really hadn’t felt like running more than a mile.

Maybe a song on my iPod sounds particularly beautiful on this particular day, or maybe the voice of David Greene on NPR makes me feel thankful for starting my day off this way.

Today, when the temperature was a comparatively balmy 41 degrees and my pace a little faster than I’d anticipated, it was all of those. I came home smiling, feeling fulfilled and just downright lucky.

And for all of that, The Grateful Runner says thank you. Yes, just because.

when I’ve overwhelmed by something — clouds, sunset, energy, heartbeats. And others, like today, when I’m simply