All or nothing. Usually nothing.

Am I lazy?

Or am I really too busy to exercise?

It’s hard to know.

Elyse and I started this blog to jumpstart our fitness routines (Elyse’s running and my … whatever).

Since then, Elyse has made steady progress getting ready for the half-marathon she’s running later this month. In fact, she had just finished a 10-miler when I arrived at her  Washington, D.C., home a few weeks ago for weekend visit.

Meanwhile, ole Margaret is not running, not playing tennis, not going to spin classes, not trying Zumba (whatever the hell that is) … not doing all those other things I pledged to do. Plus I eat cake for breakfast.

My brain tells me I have been legitimately busy – consumed with activities that make my life run more efficiently. This last month saw me accomplish more projects at my house than in the last two years combined. I cleaned the attic, rearranged closets, hauled a dozen boxes to Goodwill, made the aforementioned trip to D.C., and worked my usual 2,000 hours a week.

Last night after work, I vacuumed approximately 2 tons of light gray cat hair off the furniture. Wait, the ottoman is brown?

There’s a lesson here (if only I would listen): Three years ago, I rarely went a day without performing some sort of athletic feat – running, tennis, hiking, weight training. And my life was a wreck. Laundry piled. Dishes sat. Drawers overflowed. Yeah, I burned hundreds of calories, but my life was scattered, disorganized.

I’m not lazy. And I’m not any busier than the next guy. Turns out I’m just not good at leading a balanced life.

So my new challenge is to bring symmetry into the fold. That means redirecting my energy, dividing my time. Housework AND exercise. Tossing old clothes AND meeting the running group on Saturday mornings.

It will not be easy. Training for a marathon would be a breeze by comparison (OK, not really, but you get my point). But if lacking balance is the thing standing between me and fitness, then I’d best get to balancing.

Agenda Item One: No more cake for breakfast.



Margaret and Elyse are blogging again!

I’m soft.

Not just metaphorically, either. My once-tight (well, tight-ish) muscular frame is more of a … let’s just leave it at soft.

Mostly, though, I’m undisciplined. Three years ago, I was in the best shape of my life – no small feat at 42. Running, hiking, playing tennis, even boxing. Whatever it took to find measurable progress in pounds lost, distance covered, calories burned. I knew I was getting somewhere when my boss referred to me as “an athlete.”

Then I got bored. Lazy, more like it.

This time last year, I was training (virtually, since 300 miles separate us) for a half-marathon with Elyse Ashburn, my buddy and the co-author of this blog. Elyse is young, fast and competitive, not one to leave a goal unmet. Her entries on our previous blog – also called Running Scared – were chronicling speedier and speedier times.

Meanwhile, I lacked the will to run 3 miles, much less 13.

She ran the race. I didn’t. Nine months later, my greatest athletic achievement has been bending over to tie my shoes.

I’m almost not exaggerating.

Elyse and I are reviving the blog for different reasons. She’s training for another half, this time with an even more ambitious goal: transforming into a cheetah. (Seriously, read her thoughts on running here).

My goal is less Type A. I want to start moving again, but without the pressure that comes with running a race and worrying about finishing.

This time, I’m setting goals I can meet. 

So here’s the deal: I’m going to explore as many different activities as possible – hiking, kickboxing, cardio tennis, interval training – and rate my experiences here. Many of these activities will involve Liz Lindsay of Janes on the Run, who is part trainer, part psychologist, and all drill sergeant (more about her later).

In between, Elyse and I will bicker like old washer-women, and emote. Oh, the emoting.

Who’s with me as I try to make this old body tight-ish again?


A note: I hope to provide a run-down of the different exercises I try. Here’s the first:

Plyometric workout with Liz Lindsay

Date: Tuesday, Sept. 3

What I did: An outdoor circuit from hell: 30 seconds of jump training; 1 minute of running; 1 minute of leg exercises, such as lunges. We repeated this 7 times. 

Time: 44 minutes

Calories burned: 326 (!)

How I felt: I sucked. Air, actually. I huffed, puffed and wheezed my way through, begging Liz a few times to let me catch my breath. “Tell me if you’re going to puke or pass out,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re moving.” Alrighty, then.

Margaret’s Scale of Horror: 4.6 (out of 5). Seriously. What is the number for 9-1-1?

Final post

Here’s my column that ran in the News & Record today. It seems like a good place to end the blogging. But the running will continue! Thanks, everyone, for reading.

So much for blending in. Nothing says “I’m not a real runner” like running a half-marathon backward.

I can explain.

The race was going well that morning. Clear sky. Warm temperature. Suburb playlist. I was hydrated, properly dressed and brimming with potassium, thanks to the two bananas I ate at 6 a.m.

I had nuzzled into a comfortable spot — in the back, of course — with a dozen other scofflaws, misanthropes and no-counts. And by that I mean atypical runners, i.e., slowpokes.

About five miles in, we came to High Point University. There was a crossroad.

“Half-marathoners to the right,” said a man, probably an unpaid volunteer, as he motioned us forward.

And forward we went. For the next 10 minutes, I was at peace. The Police were in my ear (Sting, not High Point officers), and an easy downhill sprint loomed.

About the time I noticed Mile Marker 11 — Mile Marker 11? — a gaunt-looking heavy-breather sprinted from behind like he was running from a fire. This was no amateur: He kept his cadence even as he blew a snot rocket.

“That dude’s a real runner,” I thought, leaping over his deposit. “What’s he doing in the back of the pack?”

Then another exceptionally scrawny man passed. And another. And another. Suddenly, I was surrounded by runners whose body mass indexes are lower than my shoe size, lean and hungry guys with determined looks on their pain-encrusted faces.

“Only one more mile!” cried a volunteer handing out Gatorade. “You’re almost done!”

One more mile? What happened to miles 6 through 10?

My group of slowpokes formed a circle, our mouths agape. Someone asked: “What should we do?”

“Let’s turn around and run back to where we messed up,” this guy said.

So, imagine, if you will, a group of not-so-swift runners lumbering in the opposite direction of everyone else, looking them square in the eye as they pass. We must have met 600 people — including two of my friends, who probably thought I was delirious.

“What the hell are you doing?” some guy yelled at me.

What the hell were we doing, indeed.

I don’t hold up well under scrutiny. Especially when I run. So, I turned around and headed for the finish line. Friends greeted me with cheers. I greeted them with a snarl. A volunteer draped a medal around my neck. I calmly, yet dramatically handed it back.

I’m not sure how many miles I logged — 10 or 11, based on my normal pace. Certainly not 13.1.

Disappointed? Yeah. I am. I trained with Liz Lindsay and our Janes on the Run group for months leading up to the race. I imagined myself joyfully skipping to the finish line, not looking for the first official who would disqualify my time.

Mad? Nah. The volunteer made a mistake. That’s why we’re people and not robots. The race might not have been perfect, but there were a whole of lot happy people stumbling around at the finish line.

What happened to me — not actually completing my first half-marathon — is a decidedly middle-class problem, something akin to having dishwasher spots on your crystal or discovering that your hotel room at the beach doesn’t face the ocean. It stinks. But there are worse things.

Plus I did the hard part: the training. I ran through snow, ice and walking pneumonia. Some mornings, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. Some nights, I jogged 40 laps around the YMCA’s tenth-mile track.

I’m more fit than I’ve been in 15 years. One directionally challenged volunteer can’t take that away from me.

Besides, I’m going to run another half-marathon in a few weeks. What’s 13.1 miles between friends?

The High Point race taught me one thing: Plodders like me? Runners who finish long after the winners have digested their post-race Grape Nuts?

They don’t blow snot rockets.

Color me slow. Forever.

The Playlist

Queen Bitch, David Bowie
Mississippi Queen, Mountain
Since I’ve Been Loving You, Led Zeppelin
Don’t Get Me Wrong, The Pretenders
The Relay, The Who
The Man In Me, Bob Dylan
Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy
Border Song, Elvis Costello
Autumn Almanac, The Kinks
Lucretia Mac Evil, Blood, Sweat & Tears Blood
Slow Turning, John Hiatt
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?, Derek & The Dominos
Sweet Young Thing, The Monkees
Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown, Neil Young
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Eric Clapton
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, The Clash
So Lonely, The Police
Icky Thump, The White Stripes
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,The Rolling Stones
I Will Survive, Cake
Boom Boom Pow, Black Eyed Peas
Head Over Heels, Go-Go’s
God Save The Queen, The Sex Pistols
Sir Duke, Stevie Wonder
The Devil’s Right Hand, Steve Earle
TV Party, Black Flag
Face The Face, Pete Townshend
You’re My Best Friend, Queen
Black, Pearl Jam
Streets Of Fire, Bruce Springsteen
Mr. Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra
Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A Lot
Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll, Blue Öyster Cult
It’s Raining Men, The Weather Girls
Feeling That Way, Journey
Mama Told Me (Not to Come), Three Dog Night

I’d a took the right road, but I musta took a wrong turn

I’ve figured out where things went wrong. Here’s a link to the map of the half-marathon.

Look at Mile Marker 5, on Montlieu Ave. See how the path turns north, toward High Point University and Mile Marker 6? Well, the volunteer sent us straight instead – toward Mile Marker 11. So we missed that entire loop up College Drive and down Johnson Street.

In the volunteer’s defense: He probably thought we had already gone around loop and were coming through for a second time. The pack I was running with was the slowest of the slow. We were so far behind the others he probably couldn’t imagine that we were JUST THEN starting the loop.

His intentions were certainly well-placed. He was a volunteer, for crying out loud – giving his time away for free. Still, though, it doesn’t change that I’m slightly disappointed.

With no direction home

Thanks to all who have commented on my great time at the half-marathon Saturday.

Unfortunately, it’s a sham.

What happened? A nice volunteer inadvertently sent a group of us in the wrong direction. We missed a 4-5 mile loop through High Point University and surrounding neighborhoods. We realized this when half-emaciated men, running like they were coming from a fire, started passing us at about mile 12.

I had no idea how to handle the situation. The group I was with – strangers, all – huddled quickly to decide a strategy. We decided to turn around and run BACK to HPU. Approximately 797,000 runners saw me running in the wrong direction – a great way not to draw attention to myself, huh? I’d run about two miles when I stopped, turned around and headed for the finish line. I crossed at 2:27-ish – about 30 minutes before I should have. Based on my usual pace, I figure I ran about 11 miles, but I can’t be certain.

Crap. Looks like I have to run another half-marathon. And finish!

Race playlist perfected. Now guess a song.

51 songs on the list.

50 different people/groups (Bob is special and gets 2 songs).

 How it made the list: The song is performed by someone I love, has a killer hook or reminds me of someone special.

One song is “Lucretia MacEvil” by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

One is “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls.

One is “Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown” by Neil Young.

Anyone who guesses a song correctly can have something out of my race goody bag.

Margaret Moffett Banks and the most FAQs

Quite often, I find myself out in public. Like regular folks, I visit the Harris Teeter, the pharmacy, the Krispy Kreme, where I try to convince management to use only whole grains. And when I’m out, people constantly quiz me about my running regime. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Margaret, how in the world can you possibly maintain such a grueling workout schedule and stay so youthful in your physical appearance?” Wish I had an answer.  It’s all in the genes. You either got ’em or you don’t.

Anyway, I thought those of you who have not had the benefit of meeting me in person would like to read answers to some FAQs. If your FAQ is not listed below, please contact the management at

Exactly how long is a half-marathon? 3.8 miles.

Who will you be wearing on race day? Several options have presented themselves … several designers coming forward with ideas. Right now we are leaning toward the gray tank from Target and whichever pair of running tights is clean. There might be some in the dryer right now, actually.

You’ve mentioned recently that you need to stop by the store and buy supplies for the race. What will you be purchasing? Thanks for asking. Bananas (extra unripe), a Kashi bar, peanut M&Ms and something that rhymes with ker-plodium.

Can you confirm the rumor going around that your husband unwittingly scheduled himself to go to a conference during your race? I prefer not to talk about my personal life. I wish him nothing but the best as he drives back from the beach late, late Friday night in anticipation of Saturday’s 8 a.m. starting gun.

Some people, especially those in your head, have said that taking walking breaks makes you “less of a runner.” How do you respond to those critics? Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I couldn’t be less of a runner if I tried.

Will you next train for a full marathon: Well, training to run 7.6 miles is a totally different drawer full of beeswax from 3.8. I’m not sure how my body would adapt to such distances. But who knows. I’m not ruling anything out.

Dear N.C. Marathon people:

You’re going to freak out when you see what I do on Saturday.

I’m going to be the only person who takes a walk break two minutes out of the starting gate. Did I say two? It may just be one minute. I’ll have to see how I feel. In any event, it will be very, very soon after you say “go.” Then it’s going to happen. You’re going to say: “Oh, great.  This one’s here’s not going to make it one-tenth of a mile, much less 13.1 miles. Hey, Jimmy, best have that ambulance ready for her at Mile Marker 4.”

But you will be wrong.

Here’s the thing: It takes me a while to warm up. I like to ease into my runs, to find my groove very slowly. Taking that first quick walk break is part of my elaborate, scientifically-calculated warming-up strategy. It is certainly won’t be the norm at your race, where Boston qualifiers will mingle with first-timers, where full-on marathoners will beat my time in the half. Oh, believe me. I’ll find my stride. But it won’t happen quick.

I’m down with that. You should be down with it, too. Unfortunately, not everyone is as tolerant, as understanding, as fully-actualized as we are. So you might want to tell your volunteers, your medical staff – and especially the other runners – not to fret over the middle-aged brunette with the pigtails who suddenly starts acting like an extra from this movie.

It’s all part of the plan.

We’re now taking requests

So, it’s finally time to start working on the most important preparation for the half-marathon: the race playlist. This list is almost as vital as those 10-mile runs and strength-training classes I’ve been dragging myself to all these months.

Any suggestions? I will entertain all ideas except music involving: Don Henley, Live, Smashing Pumpkins (yeah, yeah … all your rage, rat in a cage … SHUT UP), The Moody Blues and, of course, Creed.

Our lines are open.