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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Running toward a new challenge

I started running a few months back, and it’s definitely having an impact.

For one thing, I feel stronger. I’m less winded when I hike and ride my bike, and I’m more relaxed — running seems to clear my mind of all the mental garbage it accumulates during the day.

That said, I’m still very much a novice runner. My longest run has been about 40 minutes, and I remain in awe of anyone who has ever competed in a marathon or a triathlon. But I am gaining confidence, which is why I’ve sometimes found myself thinking, “You know, I could probably run a 5K,” as I run in circles around Lincoln Park or Empire State Plaza.
I dismiss such thoughts immediately, of course.

I remind myself that I’ve never liked running, and that running in an organized event has never appealed to me. Not long ago, my friend Kim suggested that I might enjoy running in the Boilermaker, a 15-kilometer (9.3 miles) road race in Utica. “You like beer,” she said. “And it ends at a brewery.” But I was unconvinced. “I’ll never do that,” I remember thinking.

And who knows?

Maybe I never will.

What I can tell you is that it’s looking increasingly likely that I will run in a 5K.
The other night my landlord suggested I join her and some friends at Albany’s Last Run in mid-December and, rather than scoff at the very idea, I said, “That sounds like fun.” And here’s the crazy thing: It did sound like fun! The idea of a chilly nighttime run through Washington Park was immensely appealing. And it seemed like something I could do. Which probably wouldn’t have been the case three months ago, and probably explains why I wanted to do it. Sometimes it’s good to test yourself.

At the summer camp I attended, a poster hanging on the wall of the dining hall featured a black-and-white photograph of a lone skier at the base of Tuckerman’s Ravine, the steep and rocky bowl on the southeast side of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Written beneath the image was the quote “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do,” from World War I fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

I first saw this quote at the age of 11 or 12, and thought I understood it perfectly.

I took it to mean that I should challenge myself on the ropes course by pushing myself to do things that frightened me, such as walking across a tightrope suspended about 25 feet above the ground or jumping off a platform and grabbing a trapeze. And I learned that when I accomplished the physical challenges I set for myself, I felt pretty good. My fears didn’t necessarily go away — walking on a tightrope will always scare me — but I found that I could rise above them.

As I got older, I began to understand that courage was about more than testing yourself physically.

It meant doing a whole range of things, such as putting on a brave face on the first day of school in a new town, or speaking in public or expressing unpopular opinions. It meant moving away from home and living on my own and accepting adult responsibilities. It meant figuring out when it was time for a change, even if that change was as simple and fleeting as taking a vacation or getting in touch with an old friend.

The Tuckerman’s Ravine poster hangs in my bedroom, and I’ve been looking at it a lot lately.

I’ve been wondering what it means, exactly, to have courage in the year 2013.

What new challenges should I be seeking? What fears should I be confronting? What changes should I be making to my everyday routine? I suspect I’m asking these questions because my birthday is coming up and birthdays are always a good time for self-reflection. All I know is that I’m wary of falling into patterns that last for the rest of my life, that I’m feeling a bit hungry for new experiences. Perhaps I’m just heeding the advice my good friend Dave once gave me: “Never be predictable.”

I’ve tried to remember this advice, and follow it.

Which might explain why sometimes I’ll suddenly decide to do something I never thought I had any interest in. Like join a bowling team, even though I’m terrible at bowling, or start a garden, even though I lack a green thumb, or write a newspaper column. I always swore up and down that I would never do any such thing, and yet here I am, writing a newspaper column. Life is full of surprises.

And so, for whatever reason, I am going to run a 5K. It’s nothing I ever wanted to do, or thought I should do.

Until, suddenly, I did.

Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at

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