Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Gunter enjoys the moment on a recent run.


I turned 50 the other day. Really…? Really!

Nothing different at first, going through my usual morning routine, brewing coffee and getting ready for a morning run. I am blessed to live in the country. My commute to work takes me 25 miles down Lake Mary Road until I hit town. Easy to remember, even for a 50-year-old. I occasionally stop where the Arizona Trail crosses Lake Mary Road and go for a little run before work, if time allows for it. (In case you didn’t know it, it is just south of the turn-off to Ashhurst Lake.)

Just one decision to make this morning: north or south?  I opt to go south and slowly ease into a run toward Mormon Mountain. On this special morning my thoughts drift back to the time when I ran through these woods for the first time, with my fellow German Long Distance Running Team buddies. Some of them ended up winning medals at international events, even the Olympics, others didn’t (including me). Some are still running (including me) and others are not. One good friend of mine lost the toughest race of his life last year, the battle with cancer.

What I have learned in the last couple of years leading up to the big 50 is that all that matters is the very moment you are in right now, and then the next one, and the next…

To enjoy putting on your running shoes in the morning, that you allow time to run a few miles before your busy life takes over, that you are out on the trail in the woods you like so much, the street leading through your neighborhood.

Getting older helped me to arrive at this conclusion, I guess. What also helped me, however, is the wonderful people I have met, and continue to meet in our very special running club, Team Run Flagstaff, at the Tuesday night workouts, while volunteering for Step Into Running, or just bumping into some folks here and there in town or at events we have put on. What I have learned from these folks is that it does not matter what your age is, your level of fitness, your goals, your running achievements in the past, nothing of that matters at all.

All that matters is you are enjoying the very moment in your life right now. The run that you are doing right now.


Gunter Ziwey is a member of the Team Run Flagstaff board of directors.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Sum of Many Steps


“I’m really interested in your Step Into Running program but I have a few questions. First, I’ve never really run before. I know you say it’s for beginners but is it REALLY for beginners? I mean zero running. Also, I’m about 40 pounds overweight. I’m not even sure I can run. I don’t want to be the slowest one. Is this for me?”

Hands down, the eight weeks each spring and fall that Team Run Flagstaff holds its beginner running program, Step Into Running, are some of my favorite weeks of the year. This is a snippet from a real email we received from a current participant this spring. Before she hit send, I imagine her thinking she had to be the only one with concerns like these. I smile knowing we get dozens of emails like this before the start of each session—the exact email, each one claiming to be the slowest, oldest, the least experienced, the most overweight. Each one wanting to find out if they should even bother showing up, each one asking, “What if I can’t?”

“You can.”

Participants arrive at a program like Step Into Running from every possible route. Surprisingly, some actually have plenty of experience, having finished even marathons before. These participants usually have been away from running for months or years, and want to use Step Into Running as a way to ease back into a regular routine. Some participants have been active in everything besides running. These folks transition pretty easily through the eight weeks, their bodies accustomed to the stress of physical activity through skiing, cycling, rock climbing, river guiding, firefighting, or any of the multitude of activities that spark Flagstaff locals’ interest or profession. There are these participants and every gray area in between.

Then there are your true beginners, folks who have never seen themselves as runners, many have never seen themselves as athletes of any kind. Running is for someone else. And while no one has it easy, I see this group as those with the greatest challenge. Bodies will scream, “stop.” Minds will spell out i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e. I know we’ll lose many in this group.

The spring Step into Running group receives instructions from Coach Mike.

It’s hard to start something new—such a lifestyle change, inserting this new activity into an already habitual life and then asking it to stick. The fact that this new activity happens to be running at 7,000 feet makes it even more apparent that anyone who just shows up is nothing short of courageous. Show up, and then keep coming back. Our time together is often a flurry.  People everywhere, corralling volunteers and workout groups, announcements, and it always seems like we’re off and it’s over so fast. But in my jokes and high fives and reading splits I am always watching, constantly stirred that they keep coming back. Always particularly aware of those who come alone, not with coworkers or friends, no one at work or home to drag them out to Buffalo Park on a windy Thursday. If they didn’t come back, who could blame them, what could they possibly say?

We’re talking about running, but we could be talking about any journey to a different version of yourself. If you talk to anyone who has ever quit smoking they tell you the story starts with imagining a destination, a place to arrive, a picture in their mind to get to. It’s starts there, but quitting smoking becomes about each day, each cigarette, even down to the seconds of finger tapping through urges. And that’s only one day, it’s on to the next, then the next, then the next—months of asking, “Will it ever get easier?” The sum of countless days might find you arriving at that picture in your mind.

Starting to run is no different.

Our coaches and volunteers may give this group encouragement, but guts? The participants have that covered. Last fall we had just begun Step Into Running and one night on the track I was alone in the far corner at the 200, reading splits and cheering them on. Our Step Into Runners are pushing through the laps, the first few come by, then one pack, then a second, followed by a few hanging on toward the back, which I estimated to be the last to come through. In the half light of fall evening it was getting dark and I almost missed her if not for her breathing—one more still coming through, gasping, pushing a heavy body that was clearly resisting. I tried to think of the right words, what to say as she passed that might give her that little push, something that doesn’t sound stupid. Positivity is like medicine. She’s getting closer, so I am readying the encouragement that I’ll give her. Everyone has passed so it’s just us two, I stepped across the lanes and leaned in. Before I could speak she looked right at me and through the breathing said, “I’m not going to give up.”  I couldn’t say anything. I stepped back. Goosebumps.

That is my motor. Constantly, unfailingly inspired, each and every time. Later, it was me gasping, running up a mountain in Colorado alone, jaw clenched, grinding through an unforgiving altitude. The brain flashed a patchwork collage of sensory data, images and words, more and more muted as discomfort increased. One of my thoughts was that moment, days before on the track, the certainty of those words “I’m not going to give up.” And right then I knew I wouldn’t either.

We define resistance as a refusal to accept or comply. To resist your age, your extra weight, your gasping lungs, aching feet. To resist all your insecurities, the places and people in your life that don’t make you feel good. To resist the thousand reasons not to run, or exercise, or love yourself. To turn off the thousand voices that say “no,” to block out each and every one, except the one that says “yes.” This is courage to me.

Our coaches and volunteers believe in Step Into Running and believe in each participant. Thank you to all who help by volunteering with this program and making Step Into Runner’s experience meaningful. Your words and smiles as you run or walk alongside them might be the reason they come back. And if they keep coming back they might just find themselves arriving at that far-off destination, that sum of steps, and running is in their lives.

Mike Smith is the founder, executive director, and head coach of Team Run Flagstaff.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Running on Water

Patti Quigley hanging out with Bart Yasso, of Runner's World.


Imagine the camaraderie of Team Run Flagstaff rolled up into 300 runners/walkers on an "ultimate runner's vacation."  Group runs, races, guest speakers, cocktail parties, shore excursions, onboard activities, and a “Runners Give Back” program made this a vacation to remember. I should also mention new friendships made, which continue on repeat Cruise to Run vacations!

I happened upon an ad in Runner's World magazine for Cruise to Run (CTR) Caribbean.  This running cruise was the brainchild of Canadian’s Jerry and Jody Friesen, who envisioned sharing the passion of running with a group of like-minded people while vacationing in a warm climate. While my friends and family could not fathom how cruising and running would go together, I found out soon how well the two meshed together.  The races and runs take participants to areas tourists would not ordinarily see—running to a lighthouse, an old fort, down a beach, through the rain forest (with parrots flying overhead), and through quaint towns with the residents and school kids in their uniforms waving and cheering us on.

The premise of this vacation is stopping at five different islands, with two timed races (Prediction 5K and Barbados 5K), with the remaining three being organized runs ranging from a 4K to a 13K. At each island, the Runners Give Back program encourages the participants to donate specific items: monetary donations to a local running club, school supplies, books, sporting goods, and running shoes.  I think one of the most rewarding was the donation of running shoes for the young people in Barbados. The kids got so excited to pick out a pair of the donated shoes to run the upcoming 5K race. I felt the locals at each island were so appreciative of any help given to them.

While mornings were devoted to runs/races, afternoons were a time to relax on ship, walk around town, or sign up for shore excursions. Being in the Caribbean, there was a lot to do! I got to snorkel with the stingrays and sea turtles, go sailing, sea kayaking, hiking, and zip lining.  There was also an optional hash in Antigua, advertised for "drinkers with a running problem!"  The hash run took runners to the top of the island with magnificent views of the sea.

Another morning on the runner's vacation.

Evenings on board included cocktail parties, group dinners, and guest speakers. This past January and again next year, the speakers were Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runner's World, inventor of Yasso 800's workout, who has completed races on all seven continents, as well as raced at Badwater and Comrades; and Sarah Reinertsen, the first female leg amputee to finish the Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, and who also competed on the television show “Amazing Race.” Both were highly inspirational and fun to be around. 

I have gone on this running vacation the past two year and have already registered for 2012--it is one vacation not to be missed!

Patti Quigley is a member of Team Run Flagstaff.