Monday, February 14, 2011

I've lost that running feeling

I used to run.

I loved lacing up my sneakers to just the right tightness, grabbing my iPod, putting in my ear buds and blasting upbeat music while I pounded the pavement. I loved feeling the cool air burn my lungs, loved feeling my heart rate increase, and my muscles twinge as they got loose. 

I was always a runner, but in high school I was a sprinter and distance running definitely didn’t come naturally to me. I ran a couple miles to stay in shape or to pass a fitness test, but that was it. But when I got out of college, I knew if I wanted to stay in shape and not gain dreaded pounds, I was going to have to start running.

My first step was signing up with a friend of mine for the Army Ten Miler in 2006. For someone who had never run more than couple of miles at a time, this was quite a daunting task. I started out running a mile without stopping, then two, then three. I was amazed that in a couple of months, I – someone who had never run more than two miles – could run three miles without stopping. 

I trained for the ten miler, and I finished it. I certainly didn’t have one of the top times, but I set out to do something and I reached my goal – and the best part was that I got myself into pretty good shape in the process. To this day I can’t believe I ran ten miles, but every time I think about it, it shows me that I can do just about anything I put my mind to.

And I fell in love with it. I loved that quiet half hour or 45 minutes I had to myself and my thoughts, being outside and just doing something for me. I loved running the fall and watching the leaves change and feeling the first chill creep into the air; I loved running in the winter, putting on layers and seeing my breath as I ran; I loved when spring began to bloom and I could start taking layers off for each jog; I even loved summer, when I would run at dawn – the only time cool enough – and watch as the world awoke around me.

Running is a commitment, to yourself and your body – it’s not something you can do once-in-a-while and just pick up where you left off. Take a week or more off, and you’re back to square one.

That brings us back to the present, and I’ve lost that running feeling. I began with “I used to run” because had a baby in 2009, and haven’t run since. It’s taken me a lot longer than I hoped to get my fitness level back, and the thought of running … well, frankly, it scares me. I know that if I go on a jog, I’m going to be huffing and puffing within five minutes, and I hate – I repeat hate – not doing well at something.

I know it’s a sorry excuse, and I know there’s no way to get my running back unless I start, but it’s just so daunting. I have to think back to 2006, when I could barely run two miles in April, and by October I ran a ten-mile road race. I have to remember that I can do it, because I have done it. I know it will take me longer to get back to where I was because of all of the time and because my body has changed, but I think I owe it to myself. I miss that running feeling.

What are you afraid of? Some of you may think that there are things you can’t do, maybe you have your own “ten miler” that you have always wanted to do, but can’t see the path that takes you there.  

Sometimes you have to start small. So this year, I’ve set myself a new goal: this year I will run in a 5K race, and I will run the entire thing. I know it’s a small goal, maybe it seem easy to some, but we all have to start somewhere. 

I will get back that running feeling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Looming NFL Lockout

(To run 2/10/11)

By the time you are reading this, chances are you’re sick of the Super Bowl talk. Unless, of course, you are from Wisconsin, and in that case you will talking into 2012. But for the majority of us, our team didn’t win; maybe the team we hoped would win did, but we didn’t have any kind of real vested interest in the game, and we haven’t thought about it too much since we turned our TVs off at 10:30 p.m., Sunday night.

Most people see the Super Bowl as an end – the end of the season; and for many women, a chance to get their husband/boyfriend back on Sundays. But for me, I see the Super Bowl as a beginning. My team didn’t win this year, but now we look ahead to next season.

Except … this time, there might not be a next season. Throughout the 2010-2011 season, there has been the proverbial elephant in the room – something we’re all thinking about constantly, but trying to ignore in hopes that it will go away: the looming lockout. 

All throughout “Super Week” and the entire season, the side story was next season’s potential lockout – Who is at fault? Who has to make the first move to prevent a lockout? Whose side should we be on?

The major issue is that the owners have decided that the 2006 labor agreement was too player friendly and wish to re-work it. 

Total league revenues for last season were approximately $9 billion, and there's every reason to believe that cash cow will continue. Players currently receive about 59 percent of total football revenue, but that figure is calculated after taking $1 billion off the top, which goes to owners for operating expenses. Owners are seeking an economic model that better favors their pockets. In addition, they want to tack on two more regular season games to the schedule in which they will make additional millions in revenue, but they don’t want to pay players any additional money for those games. They also want to establish a rookie wage scale that will restrict the amount of money that rookies will make when they enter the NFL, which would allow teams to avoid paying high salaries to new players that don’t live up to the team’s expectations. 

Here are my two cents: we as fans should be on the side of the players. I realize that most people think of NFL players as overpaid machines who should keep their mouths closed and be thankful they get paid to play a game; but if not for the players, then there is no game. 

People tend to forget about the backups or the practice squad players who make league minimum. Most of you are thinking, “League minimum is still more than I’ll ever make in a year.” But you also don’t have to pay an agent, a manager, a financial consultant, etc. Most lower-rung players do in fact live year-to-year and would be in a financial hard place if they don’t get a paycheck next season. 

The players are the ones who will suffer if there is a lockout, and the owners know this. For every $20 million contract, there are 30 players who make league minimum, and the players union has always cracked in the past to ensure that those athletes who need each paycheck aren’t suffering.

The owners and the NFL have negotiated TV deals that will pay them $4.5 billion in 2011 ... even if no games are played. On the other hand, if there are no games the players won’t get paid, their families will lose health coverage and injuries won’t be treated by team doctors and trainers who know the athletes and their health background. 

In a nutshell, owners are demanding that players play two more games each season and take an 18 percent pay cut. If the NFL had fallen on hard times, this might be understandable – but the NFL is as profitable as ever. What the owners want to do is unfair to the players, who are the most important piece of the NFL pie.

The only thing that the two sides agree upon is that former players need to be better taken care of – it is the amount of care that is debated. Players say that they feel that they are paid for their services, but then once they have ruined their bodies and sometimes even their brains with the brutal play of the game, they are tossed aside. Men who play NFL football for five years reportedly cut their lives short by twenty years, and after all of the hits they take to the head throughout their careers, an astonishingly high percentage of players have been diagnosed with depression and Alzheimer’s. Owners and the league owe it to former players to give them quality health care for life.

Even if you don’t care about the impact on players and owners, a lockout will have devastating impacts on NFL cities – each NFL city is expected to lose about $150 million if there is a lockout next year, and an estimated 150,000 people will be out of a job. Can cities like Cleveland or Detroit afford that exorbitant financial loss in this economy? I think not.

In short, it is the owners who are pushing ahead with this lockout – on March 4, if they don’t get their way, they will lock their doors. They want to cut salaries, but won’t give a definitive reason as to why it is necessary. Until they do so, all fans should stand behind the players, the ones who we cheer on each Sunday, and who put their bodies on the line each week for our entertainment and the owners profit.

My Super Dilemma

We are in the midst of “Super Week” and I’m in the midst of a super predicament – I can’t cheer for either team in the Super Bowl.

This has never happened to me before – I’ve always been able to choose one team over the other. In the past, either my team was playing, or I could cheer for a team because there was something innately likeable about one of the teams playing, such as was the case with last year’s Saints, or I could cheer against one of the teams because there was something innately unlikeable about them. And having a team to cheer for – or against – is what makes the Super Bowl so entertaining. But this year, the Steelers and Packers have made my decision an impossible one.

My husband is a Minnesota Vikings fan, and therefore, his enemy is the Green Bay Packers.  Consequently, if I want to stay married, I absolutely cannot cheer for Green Bay under any circumstance whatsoever.

In any other game my choice would be easy – cheer for whoever the Packers are playing against. But how can I cheer for the Steelers, a team of such unlikeable guys?

First and foremost in the unlikeable category – for me – is Ben Roethlisberger, who, for those of you living under a rock, was accused of sexual assault this past offseason. He wasn’t charged in this particular instance, but the league felt there was enough evidence to prove he had at the very least violated the NFL's personal conduct policy. Big Ben is at the worst is a sexual predator, and at the very least an idiot.

Strike number two against Pittsburgh in the unlikeable category is James Harrison, the guy who threatened to retire earlier this season when the league decided to start penalizing and fining players for flagrant hits, specifically to the head. What Harrison implied with that reaction was “I like to play dirty.” Hitting players in the head is cheap, dirty and can lead to nasty injuries. But Harrison chooses – openly – to play this way.

Finally, there is their supposed “nice guy” Hines Ward, who in 2009 was voted by his fellow NFL players as the dirtiest player in the game. Not meanest, not toughest – dirtiest. That means cheap shots, poking eyes in a pile, etc. In 2008, he broke the jaw of Bengals rookie linebacker Keith Rivers with a “surprise” downfield block, which ended Rivers' season. After that hit, another player said about Ward, "That's what he's known for. He's a blind-side guy." Not such a nice guy after all.

Not to mention that the Steelers have won two championships in the past five years, and I really don’t want them to win again – especially again with this loathsome team.

So I look at my options – send my marriage to counseling or cheer for a team of, in my opinion, vile men.
I’m in such internal turmoil over this game that I’ve seriously contemplated not watching at all. But how can I be the only person I know who doesn’t watch the game?

So what can I do? I have to become resigned to the fact that one of the teams I can’t like is going to win, and I will be emphatically unable to bask in the glory of the championship. In the end, all I can do is celebrate is that one of these teams will lose, which I realize makes me a bitter person.

The only way this game could be worse was if the Jets were playing – then my home would be an athletic war zone.