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Running on Resilience

Running a marathon is magical.  But it also presents many challenges.  They say the hardest part of a marathon is actually getting to the start line, as the likelihood of getting injured while training is high.

My last marathon I re-injured my foot.  Because I was turning 30, I had a lot to prove (to myself), so I refused to stop training.  I replaced runs with spin classes and three hour elliptical machine ‘long runs.’  Yes, runners are a little different.

For those that are healthy enough to race, what may be in store during the 26.2 miles is unknown.
A sock slightly misplaced, causing a rapidly growing blister.  Crippling side ache.  A new shirt that causes your nipples to bleed.  Digestion issues sending you to every other port-a-potie.  Stinging leg cramp.  Searing heart burn.
The list goes on and on.
That doesn’t even factor in the weather.  My last marathon, LA experience its closest version of a hurricane.  As I wrote about in a previous post called ‘Why do we Run,’ I did somehow finish.  Being a marathoner is a badge of honor.
The most common shared issue during the race is a documented incident called ‘the wall.’  Active.com defines the wall as

“that period in a marathon when things transition from being pretty hard to being really, really hard.  It is the point where your body and mind are simultaneously tested. It’s the perfect intersection of fatigue and diminished mental faculties. Or as you most likely remember it, it’s the exact point where all your pre-race plans went out the window.”

Successful runners are those that develop techniques to prepare for and push through the wall.
Equating this to life, overcoming hard, no really, really hard times is called resilience.
Wikipedia defines resilience as,

an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity.[1] This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning.

Another definition from Psychology Today noted it as,

Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.

Weeks like this have tested and strengthen our resilience.  Just like the marathon wall, we have been physically and mentally tested and are bouncing back.
There have been others weeks like this: Columbine High School.  9/11 Attacks.  Denver Movie Theater Shooting.
Each of these incidents seared into my mind.  I am sure you have a list of your own.  For me, each of this horrors I found myself glued to the television.
I do not typically watch the news.  Especially in Los Angeles, every news segment drives more fear into my mind for what I attempt to call home.  So, why and how did I happen to turn to a news channel for each of these situations?

  • Columbine high school shooting. I was a senior in high school in Wyoming.  Usually I had lunch with friends, but that day choose to grab something at home.  I turned on the TV to see students my same age running from their school.  One dangled helplessly from a second floor window.
  • 9/11 Attacks.  I missed my morning college class.  Wanting a little background noise while getting ready, I turned on the TV to see the first tower ablaze.  I ran to wake up my roommate, to return and watch the second tower hit.
  • Aurora, Colorado Movie Theater Shooting.  I had a hard time sleeping.  Usually I would read or even take a bath, but I rolled out of bed to find something mindless on the TV.  There it was.  My brother lived less than 30 minutes away.
  • Boston Marathon bombing.  I woke up early to prepare for a research interview I would be conducting online.  The topic was around social media, so after the Skype interview was over I hopped onto Twitter.  The very first post, describing a scene from a few minutes earlier that two bombs had gone off.  CNN was on the rest of the day, in addition to my tweeter feed.

Following these incidents through TV or social media does not come close to the trauma someone closer, or worse in the scene goes through.  But you can not deny that a week like the one we had last week was hard.  Whether you live in Los Angeles, Boston or Minnesota you were affected.  Weeks come and go, usually flowing rhythmically.  That was not last week.
I connected to Amy Poehler’s video response to the Boston Marathon bombing and the media images in general.  How we are affected by ongoing negative images, videos and content online and on TV.  She suggested that we give our eyes a break.  That it is okay if we ‘hit the wall.’

In my house, there came a point the TV was turned off.  Twitter checking slowed.  I felt guilty about this, but my heart hurt.
Plus, even in my little world there were curve balls.  My bike was stolen.  The doctors found more cancer in my sister-in-law.  We got a call from an LA Police Lieutenant, notifying us that someone stole our craigslist ad for an apartment rental, reposting it and trying to scam potential renters for thousands of dollars.
So what did I do?
A breath.  A prayer.  And a run.
Competitive running has been in my life for over fifteen years.  Runners are some of the most supportive and quirky people you will meet.  Put them all together, races are magical experiences.  That is part of the ‘runners high.’  While crossing the finish line is completely on you, the energy gained from runners around you throughout the race is clutch. The finish-line is especially emotional.
My high school cross-country coach called your finishing sprint a ‘waddle.’  Maybe because it was because that is what you looked like.  But, I also have come to learn it means to take every square inch of your being and ability to go faster, give more, more than you thought possible.
Each marathon and half marathon that I have completed, I have been near tears at the finish. That’s what waddling does to you.  Receiving my finishers metal instantly duplicates my tear factory.  At the same time you are exhausted; out of breath and disoriented as you work your way through the finisher tent.  And then I fathom to think of the last mile of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
I am a runner.  I am angry.  And I want a group hug.
The Colbert report acknowledge one shouldn’t mess with runners or Bostonians.

I close this blog post on a positive note.  As I stated earlier, marathons are a magical.  They are because of the people.
A couple of stories of how through the act of running, resilience was shown.
A number of articles have been written about a man named Bill Iffring.  Nearly 80 years old, who up until the blast had been clocking nine minute miles.  This is commendable even for a young marathon runner.  If you are familiar with the images/videos, he was the man throw down at the first blast.
CNN reported in an interview with him, he initially thought, ‘this is the end for me.’  Moments later after police assisted him up, he realized he was ok.  More than ok, as he refused a wheelchair and finished the race second in his age group.  He said, “after you’ve run 26 miles, you’re not going to stop there.”  Resilience.
twitterAnd then there were runners, who after finishing or being routed off the marathon course, kept running to give blood.  Resilience.
USA Today released a story with a number of other overwhelming acts of kindness, such as residents taking runners into their homes. Resilience.
Have you hit the wall?  The trials of life and last week events affecting your faith in humanity?
I encourage you to run, literally and figuratively.  Do not let the darkness diminish your light.  ‘Lace up your shoes’ or in other words, bouncing back will aid you in coming back stronger than ever.

I do not claim to know what it felt like to be at the Boston Marathon, Ground Zero, Columbine or any another horrific ordeal that has occurred in my lifetime.  But I do know that I have been changed by them.

I am inspired.  I know we will take care of each other.  I believe if and when I am placed in a tragedy, I will be equipped with resilience.  Not only to run, but waddle, with all my being, to help.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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