Lessons Learned from Running . . . for Life

Life is for participating, not for spectating.” Kathrine Switzer

This is a different blog post from what I intended to write. Over the past few months, I trained for my third annual half-marathon and faced some challenges. My intention was to write an inspiring post about how I overcame the challenges and completed the race. Unfortunately, I did not succeed in even getting to the start line. We had a late-spring snowfall yesterday in the Chicago suburbs. The roads were icy last night, and the temperature was predicted to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the race. I decided not to risk falling on icy patches or slick roads. Years ago, when I was 45, I sprained an ankle. It took many months to recover, and I still don’t have good balance. The risk of falling isn’t worth it to me.

photo from Naperville Women's Half Marathon - winner Katie Paolucci

Photo from Naperville Women’s Half Marathon – winner Katie Paolucci

This would be disheartening if I hadn’t learned from the experience. Mostly I trained alone, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on lessons learned from my running—and how they apply to life. Here is what I learned:

  • My long runs were six, seven, eight, and nine miles. Then I got injured (very tight IT bands, which go from the hip to below the knees.) I couldn’t run at all for 20 days. I tried soaking in Epsom salts, foam rolling, stretching, but still it was painful even to walk. Lesson for life: Know when to stop or take a break.
  • During that time, I decided that a pedicure was a necessity because my feet hurt, so I got one. Also, after recovering from the injury, I decided to do my next long run with a friend, Gladys. That would be the most pleasant way to get in eight miles—and Gladys pushed me to do nine instead. Lesson for Life: Do what you can to succeed.
  • Over the Christmas holidays and beyond, I indulged in sweets and was inactive, partly due to a rough winter in the Chicago area. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as injured if I’d kept in better shape year-round, instead of going from couch-potato to training for a half marathon. Lesson for Life: Take care of your health consistently.
  • I was fine when I ran alone or with Gladys. But I might have pushed too hard when trying to keep up with a faster-paced group without Gladys. Lesson for Life: Go your own pace.
  • On the other hand, we can’t improve if we don’t run faster or farther sometimes. I could have tried to keep up with the faster runners for a shorter distance. Or I could run with someone who is only a little faster than me. Lesson for Life: Push hard sometimes!
  • When running on my own, I listened to music and enjoyed the scenery. That made my running much more enjoyable. Lesson for Life: Enjoy the journey.
photo of daffodils that I took while enjoying a run

Photo of daffodils that I took while enjoying a run

  • Some of my runs were difficult, but I learned that dwelling on the difficulty or my inadequacies didn’t accomplish anything. On the other hand, I know my situation better than anyone. So listen to myself—as long as I am talking to myself in a positive, constructive way. Lesson for Life: Persevere when it gets tough. Coach yourself in a positive way.
  • A couple of weeks ago, I ran a 5K race. I had just recovered from my injury, and I found the run challenging. I thought I was running very slowly. But I came in third place out of the 17 women in my age group. Lesson for Life: You’re doing better than you think.
  • Recently, I heard young people talking about how they’d overdone their workouts. One of them wasn’t able to get out of bed after a strenuous two-hour workout. So it is not my age that makes running difficult. Lesson for Life: Age is not a factor.
  • Yesterday when I was making my decision, I talked to my friend Cindy, who is a meteorologist, about my concerns. She said, “I’m thinking you should follow your gut. Temps will be at or below freezing for the half-marathon.” Isn’t that great advice for life: Follow your gut. Still, I wondered if I was making the right decision. I was at a dinner event last night, and a friend had his arm in a sling due to rotator cuff surgery. He will not have full use of his shoulder for a year, and he got this injury from falling on ice. Lesson for Life: Trust your gut.
  • The training was worthwhile, even though I didn’t do the race. I was in better shape than before I started the training, and wasn’t that the whole point? Lesson for Life: Keep chasing your dreams.
  • I thought about doing the 13.1 miles on my own after the race (when the roads weren’t slippery.) But the truth is I wasn’t in great shape for today’s race. The excitement of running a race and running with Gladys would have carried me through the 13.1 miles. But I’d intended to run faster than in past years and I wasn’t on track for that. Granted, I was injured, but I didn’t lose weight or develop more fitness to help my running. Lesson for Life: Honor your commitments to yourself.
  • I was disappointed, but to put it in perspective, we go through a lot worse experiences than this in life. We just need to keep on putting one foot in front of the other. Lesson for Life: Learn from your disappointments and try again.
  • I went out and did half the distance (6.6 miles) today in the afternoon after the ice melted. It felt inadequate compared to a half-marathon, and it was bittersweet to listen to the theme song from Chariots of Fire, which had inspired me during my training. But I suspect it is possible that someone was watching me and wishing they could run 6.6 miles. I will give myself a day of recovery and do another 6.6 mile run in a couple of days. Lessons for Life: Challenge yourself, but know your limits. Find a way to succeed that works for you.

Will I try again, next year? Yes. I will start training sooner so I’m more fit when the race comes, rather than being “sort of” ready. If the roads are icy, I still won’t run the race. But if that happens, I hope I will be able to run the full 13.1 miles on my own without a lot of discomfort.

So remember, when you have a disappointment, keep the faith. Pick yourself back up, learn from it, and move on.

Have you tried to do something and been disappointed with yourself? What did you learn from that experience?

Posted in Bad days, Challenges, Running, self-improvement | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Developing Good Habits

Just because you’re struggling with self-discipline doesn’t mean you have to raise the white flag and declare your self-improvement efforts a complete failure. Instead, work to increase the chances that you’ll stick to your healthier habits – even when you don’t feel like it.” Amy Morin

If you find it easy to develop new and better habits, that impresses me. Some people can see the value in a new habit and simply start doing it. That is seldom true for me. I find it difficult to overcome resistance.

In December, a friend mentioned that every day, she walks or runs at least one mile. I thought, “That seems doable! It would be so much better than nothing,” which is what I was doing some days. It is so easy to get lethargic around the holidays and in winter. But starting on January 1, I’ve been walking or running at least a mile (often more) every day.


Developing Good Habits – Photo by Tobi from Pexels

Our goals, of course, have to be right for us. My running friends might consider a mile a day to be nothing, whereas sedentary friends might consider it to be a lot. We each have to start with where we’re at. Someone who doesn’t walk at all could start with walking one block a day. That can lead to more walking.

Establishing new habits doesn’t need to be drudgery. Every day, I ask myself what is the most pleasant way to get my walk in? Weather permitting, it is most pleasant to walk or run outside. But winter has been rough this year in the Chicago area. Sometimes I walk with my husband Ken outside, even on snowy sidewalks. If it’s very cold or slick, I do a mall walk with a friend, walk on a treadmill, or walk on an indoor track with Ken. I’ve also run with a friend at a track a few times. Some days have been dangerously cold or slick outside, so I walked inside the house for 20 minutes while listening to a podcast or music.

I started another good habit this year that is consistent with my writing goals. Since January 1, I’ve been working on my mystery novel every day. I add at least 200 words a day, and I also subtract words as I edit and tighten my first draft.

Baby steps are what helped me develop this good habit. I took the following baby steps to get writing on my mystery:

  • I started by journaling daily last year. For me, this was easier and less scary than writing fiction.

  • I joined a group that held me accountable for writing 100 words a day.

  • Next I increased to writing 200 words a day.

  • Then I only counted writing if it was on my novel or a short story. I’ve committed to write 6 days out of 7, but so far, I’m writing daily.

I’ve been wanting to write a mystery novel for at least a decade. The truth is, it has taken a lot more steps than the above to get to this point. But it is so much better to take a baby step towards one’s goals, then to go backwards or do nothing.

In developing new habits, it helps to have a support group, supportive friend, or someone to hold us accountable. I’m a new member of the Sisters in Crime organization and joined their Goals subgroup. I post my writing goals for the week and whether I met last week’s goals. The people are encouraging, and they cheer when I meet my goals. Some women write a huge amount every day, but I am not going to let that bother me. I am starting with where I’m at—a novice mystery writer.


Developing Good Habits – Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

It can help to reward ourselves when trying to establish a new habit. I am still trying to lose weight. I had developed the bad habit of snacking on sweets during the day. There are often baked goods at the church where I work. Every time I pass up a baked good, I pat myself on the back, sometimes literally. At home, I try to grab a cup of herbal tea instead of a sweet. However, I’ve decided to go back to my weight-management workshop. A good friend questioned why I need that support. Why can’t I do it on my own? We are all different, and even though she might not need support, I do.

Do you find it difficult or easy to establish a new habit? How do you do it?

Posted in Discipline, Goals, Healthy living, Inspiration, Motivation, personal leadership | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Joie de Vivre in the New Year

Joie de vivre is an attitude. It’s a decision you make to live a life of joy. It’s an invitation to this dance called life.” – Jamie Cat Callan

The holiday season has drawn to a close, having gone by far too quickly. And here we are in a new year. I took a look back at 2018, deciding to assess my year with self-compassion. My guiding words for the year were “focus” and “courage.” Writing 50,000 words in November required both focus and courage, as did running a half marathon in April. These were big accomplishments for me, but my running habit dropped off after the half marathon, and I gained weight during the holidays. I’d like to have focus and courage year round and also write and run year round. But noticing this doesn’t feel like self-compassion, so I’ll stop listing what I didn’t do.

What resolutions did I meet in 2018 besides the half-marathon and adding to my novel? My husband and I cleared out a fair amount of clutter from our house. We traveled to Israel, and I was fit enough to walk a lot and enjoy it. I nurtured my creativity with morning pages (journaling) and artist dates. I enhanced my spirituality by taking a class in Benedictine spirituality.

sara paretsky - author and founder of sisters in crime

Sara Paretsky – author and founder of Sisters in Crime, photo from Wikimedia

At the end of the year, I joined Sisters in Crime, an organization that offers advice and support to mystery authors. I also signed up for Murder and Mayhem, a mystery conference in March. These are signs that I’m finally taking my mystery writing seriously.

Looking ahead to 2019, I considered many words to guide the year. Serene. Joyful. Confident. Creative. Proactive. Balanced. Living with gusto. Savoring life. Self-respect. So many great choices. I decided on “joie de vivre,” a French phrase that translates loosely as joy of living. The French meaning is a little stronger, more like exhilaration. I loved visiting France a few years ago, and I want to go back someday, so the French phrase appeals to me. Too often, I feel anxious or fearful. This year, I want to be joyful instead.

I want to be proactive in writing and running, but I don’t want to be stressed while working toward goals. This year, I want to enjoy life, savor life, and be nice to myself. I can be joyful while working to be a mystery author. I can be joyful while working to get back in shape. Focusing on joie de vivre should help.

In the new year, my resolutions are, as usual, much like my past resolutions, including fitness and writing goals. And that’s OK. I’m excited about being in Sisters in Crime and learning more about how to write mysteries. I hope to finish writing my mystery novel in 2019. And I will do it with joie de vivre.

I wish you a Happy New Year with joie de vivre in 2019.

Do you have a guiding word for 2019? What is it? Do you live with joie de vivre?

Posted in Goals, Holidays, Inspiration, positive-thinking | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Honoring Our Commitments to Ourselves

Last month, two close friends said they’d be singing in a choir event in a few days. Could I go? No, I could not. It was a difficult decision because the only event on my calendar that afternoon was, “Go to writing meetup and write 2,000 words.” There was no registration for the meetup, so I could have skipped it.

But my decision meant I would be keeping a commitment to myself. November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). To succeed, you need to write 50,000 words in one month—in my case, working on a mystery novel. In past years, I’ve tried to do NaNo four times without success. I’d get a certain number of words, and life would get busy. I’d realize I was too far behind and I’d quit.

This year was different. In October, I cleared my calendar and added writing meetups in November. A local writer’s group sponsors these write-ins, which are fun and inspiring. An example is that they have “Huzzah balls,” which consist of newspaper wadded up with ribbons attached. If you achieve a personal goal, like writing a certain number of words, you throw the ball into the middle of the room and shout, “Huzzah!” Everyone must stop writing for a moment and clap.

People with laptops - photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Honoring Our Commitments to Ourselves – Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

So instead of going to the choir event, I attended the write-in. The camaraderie and lighthearted atmosphere supported me so I could relax and write. This is different from the way I usually approached NaNoWriMo: “I have to get a certain number of words every day this month or I’ve failed.”

To write 50,000 words in a month, you must write an average of 1,667 words a day. My goal was 2,000 words a day, so that Thanksgiving and busy days wouldn’t be an excuse to miss my goal. Keeping this commitment was difficult, but it was a matter of prioritizing my goals. For some of you, this might not be difficult. But I find it easier to honor my commitments to others than to honor my commitments to myself.

Another friend invited me to a fundraiser-luncheon in November that I’ve gone to in the past and much enjoyed. But it would be a four-hour event, plus driving. I decided to instead take part of that time to work on my novel. First I treated myself to a tasty lunch, so I wouldn’t feel I had deprived myself too much. My lunch took little more than an hour, and I had plenty of time to go to the library and write.

I was sorry to miss some enjoyable events last month, but I sure felt good when I reached 50,000 words on November 25. Putting my needs first empowered me to succeed. I felt proud of myself for getting the 50,000 words done. For probably a decade, I’ve said, “I want to write a mystery novel.” Now I can say, “I’m writing a mystery novel.” There is a big difference between those two statements.


As always, I have room for improvement. I let go of some healthy habits in November and haven’t gotten back on track yet in December. I need to get back to running, watching my weight, and drinking enough water. These commitments to myself need to be above my holiday commitments to others. It will not do anyone any good if I am stressed out when attending and hosting holiday events this year.

What commitments do you need to keep to yourself? When do you find it difficult to keep your commitments to yourself?

Posted in Inspiration, Lifestyle, personal leadership | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Motivation for Reaching Goals

Do you ever get in a slump, where your goals seem to go by the wayside? That happened to me recently . . . again. I haven’t been running, I’ve gained a few pounds, and I haven’t been writing except for journal entries. It’s times like this when I need a kick-in-the-butt. I found that kick by reading the book Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be  by Rachel Hollis.

I first heard of this book at a wellness workshop a few weeks ago. A woman said this book had reignited her commitment to lose weight. Other people were enthusiastic about the author’s podcasts. When a book discussion was scheduled, I read the book and went.

The book is not specifically about losing weight—weight is discussed in Chapter 17. There, she reminds us that “we function better mentally, emotionally, and physically when we take care of our bodies with nourishment, water, and exercise.” She notes that we need to replace negative thoughts in our heads with positive talk and suggests ways to do that.

The author talks about how we hold ourselves back from living joyfully and productively because we believe lies we have been told. Each chapter addresses a lie. For example, “No is the Final Answer,” “I Need to Make Myself Smaller,” and “I Will Never Get Past This.” Rachel wrote the book as a Christian wife and mother in her thirties. She is highly ambitious and is CEO of a media company. Not every chapter will fit everyone’s life, but I think everyone can find some chapters that benefit them.

While Rachel is an inspiring person, she shares honestly, not pretending to be perfect. She discusses her most embarrassing moments, trauma she has lived through, and incidents she is ashamed of. She gives ideas for staying motivated. She is young by my standards, but she has dealt with a lot in her life.

At the book discussion, it was interesting to hear other women’s thoughts. One applauded the author’s reminder to celebrate our past successes and to use that as fuel for believing we can reach new goals. That prompted another women to describe how she and her husband got through a financial crisis when they were young. Such success can be empowering. The discussion got me thinking about how I ran my first half marathon near age 60. If I can do that, I can achieve other goals.

I agreed with most of what people said at the meeting, except when two women said they have no goals and thought it was due to their age. Sorry, I can’t agree with that. There are so many goals we can be chasing. What about travel, exercise, reading, staying healthy, improving our spirituality? My goals and your goals may not be the same, nor are our goals the same as Rachel’s. But it’s worth the time to reflect on what we want in life, no matter how old we are and no matter how small or large our goals may be.

After reading the book, I searched for more information on Rachel and found out she is a motivational speaker. That is one reason I decided to review this book. How many motivational speakers do you know of that are women? I know of women who are inspirational speakers, but few who are kick-your-butt motivational speakers. We women need to support each other. As Rachel says, “Ladies, our judging has to stop.” We don’t all want the same goals or lifestyles, but can we agree we each need to choose our own goals and lifestyle and live the way we want to? That is the premise of her book.

I like that Rachel pokes us to be proactive. She says, “You are in charge of your own life, sister, and there’s not one thing in it that you’re not allowing to be there. Think about it.” I appreciate her efforts to talk straight, like one friend talking to another. I don’t actually agree that we choose every single thing in our lives, but much of our life story is up to us. Rachel empathizes with other women, and she shares her mistakes and how she learned from them. The book Girl, Wash Your Face motivated me to work on my goals.

girl wash your face image for blog post

What books by women motivate you? In what areas of your life do you need motivation?

Posted in Empowerment, Inspiration, Motivation, personal leadership, Proactive, Weight, wellness, Women | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

A Place of Comfort

The path of least resistance has a lot going for it. The comfort zone isn’t where you lose yourself. It’s where you find yourself.” ― Meghan Daum

We often talk nowadays about the need to get out of our comfort zones. In July, I wrote a post called Chasing Our Dreams about how we need to overcome fears, make plans, and act on our dreams. Leaving our comfort zones is important for our personal growth. But sometimes we need to put ourselves in a comfort zone and unwind.

Recently, I felt overwhelmed with stressful events. The world seems to be a little crazy, at least here in the United States. Politics have been divisive for a long time. And I was very upset by the recent revelations of past scandals in the Catholic Church, an institution I’ve trusted all my life. Besides all this, I kept seeing things that reminded me of my Mom, who died a few years ago. That jar of Ragu in a grocery store. Mom’s spaghetti sauce started with a jar of Ragu. That elderly women whose hair hadn’t turned gray. My Mom passed away in her 80s and still had thick, reddish-brown hair. Mom was a staunch Catholic, and I’m glad she didn’t know about the latest scandals in the Church.

So I was distressed on Mom’s birthday last week and needed some tranquility. I had a pass for a free tram ride at our local arboretum, and I decided to use it. The day was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze, and birds called as we passed lush, green woods and tall grasses in prairie areas. The driver told us many things I didn’t know and made trees seem exciting. By the time I got off the tram, I felt uplifted. I was less stressed and enjoyed a busy weekend celebrating my nephew’s wedding and my husband’s and daughter’s birthdays.

strength bench at arboretum for Sue's blog on our comfort place

We can draw strength from nature – Strength bench at Morton Arboretum

It is tempting to ignore the news, but “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke.) Still, we need relief and time to regroup. I have talked about my efforts to make my home a place of sanctuary here . But it can be even more healing to get outside. I like to bring a cup of tea and sit on the bench on my front stoop or in the back yard.

But the arboretum is my favorite place of comfort. Many times, I give a sigh of relief as soon as I enter the arboretum grounds. The natural beauty is soothing. I also enjoy everything I do there: running, hiking, driving on the curving roads, or sitting on a bench with a hot chocolate. In the summer, Ken and I listen to bands there on Wednesday evenings with a glass of wine. In the winter, the arboretum puts on a beautiful interactive show of lights and music. I’m fortunate to have this arboretum in my home town, and I find it surprising when I hear of local people who have never been there. What are your favorite outdoor spots in your town? Do you visit them?

troll pic cropped for blog

Troll sculpture by Tomas Dambo at Morton Arboretum, my brother Randy (r.), & his wife Barb

Coincidentally, today is the first International Forest Bathing Day, and Ken and I took a free guided forest therapy walk at the arboretum. Our guide Brenda reminded us that until the Industrial Age, humans spent most of their time outside. Now we spend most of our time inside. This is why we need to seek out time in nature. Brenda invited us to experience the arboretum using our senses—for example, by noticing the smells and feeling the breeze on our skin. It was a relaxing experience, and we finished by drinking tea made from foraged herbs.

Brenda closed with the Apache Blessing, which is my wish for you:

May the sun bring you new energy by day
May the moon softly restore you by night
May the rain wash away your worries
May the breeze blow new strength into your being
May you walk gently through the world
And know its beauty all the days of your life.

How do you soothe yourself when you feel distressed? Do you have a favorite place of comfort?

Posted in Bad days, Comfort, Leading Ourselves, Nature, self-care, Stress, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Lead Your Own Life

I don’t think we realize just how fast we go until you stop for a minute and realise just how loud and how hectic your life is, and how easily distracted you can get.” Meg Ryan

The title of this blog is Women Making Strides: Be a Leader in Your Own Life. But what does that mean? Isn’t everyone the leader in their own life?

I would argue “No.” Some people let life happen to them, never thinking about what they want and what is their purpose in life. We all have free will, but not everyone uses it.

Some people might feel like a victim rather than a leader because they face major challenges in their lives. I don’t pretend to know the best way to handle such situations. We each must decide how to react to the challenges we face. Some might see a counselor or church leader, others might join a support group.

Leeton_Breast_Cancer_Support_Group_in_the_SunRice_Festival_parade_in_Pine_Ave bigger

Leeton Breast Cancer Support Group

In any case, in leading our lives we need to start with the basics, taking care of ourselves. Yesterday, I had a headache all day. In the evening, I sat in the chapel at church unable to be receptive because of the headache. I finally realized what was causing it—dehydration. Earlier in the day, I was preoccupied with my work in the parish library. Then I made dinner at home, then went back to the church for chapel. In my busyness, I forgot to take care of me and drink enough water. Do you see how taking care of ourselves physically can enrich our spirituality?

A person might spend their time watching TV or using social media. But excessive amounts of these and other behaviors can prevent us from leading active lives. We can overcome bad habits and make different choices. I spend too much time on the computer. Recently I signed up for an app to limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook. I will clear out emails this week and then will use the app to also limit the time I spend on emails. I’ve come up with a short list of things to do instead of jumping on Facebook or checking my email. I can take a short walk, sit outside with a cup of tea, garden, etc.

A big part of how our days go is up to us. Recently I had two occasions where I’d be with friends, and our conversations in the past have sometimes been superficial, which felt unsatisfying to me. I thought about what I’d like us to talk about, what I’d like to learn from the other person. At each of these gatherings, I asked what I wanted to know. This was much more satisfying than making small talk.


Philadelphia Folk Festival

Leading one’s own life includes enjoying life as well, and sometimes we need to be proactive to do that. This summer, my husband and I have been going to many outdoor summer concerts. We enjoy being outside in good weather, listening to music. Before summer ends, we intend to eat outside more and go to another festival. What might you do to enjoy the rest of summer?

No one else can run our lives, and why would we want them to? Take time to pause and think about your life, and give God a chance to guide you. Perhaps sit outside in quiet or write your thoughts in a journal, checking in with your body, mind, and spirit. Maybe reflect on what you want to do and how you want to be. That is being a leader in your own life.

Here are some questions to reflect on.

How do you want your life to be? Are you living the life you want to lead? Are there changes you’d like to make?

Posted in Challenges, Intentional Living, Leading Ourselves, personal leadership, Proactive, self-care | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments