Thursday, September 30, 2010

Inspired Again

In 1980, I was inspired by the incredible cross-Canada "marathon of hope," a personal crusade by a 22-year old Canadian name Terry Fox. He was raising money for cancer research after losing one of his legs to the disease. Yes, he ran nearly 4,000 miles on one leg and a crude (by today's standards) prosthetic. His gait was more of a hop-skip-and-jump because his artificial leg was inflexible and acted more as a balancing platform rather than a second leg.

Two days ago, ESPN ran an episode of the "30 for 30" series and Terry Fox was the central figure. I was struck by many things including the raw aspects of his trek. He labored mile after mile with only a single friend following in the van they shared  most of the way. He was not supported by Nike (not really even in existence then) or any other major sponsor. He was not in it for the personal wealth. He was not trying to become a hero. He was just a young man who was doing something quietly spectacular, quietly awesome.

I remember a brief mention in Runner's World about Terry Fox back then, and maybe a little bit on the national news. I was impressed by him, but never imagined doing anything like that. I still can't fathom the pain he must have been in, but I know this: Terry Fox convinced me that you can do anything you put your mind and heart into.

Terry Fox, you have  inspired me again. Rest in peace.


Last Sunday it was just supposed to be light rain, but it fell pretty hard. This time it was supposed to be heavy so I figured it would be light. But when the 6:00 alarm went off I was wrong, and it was pouring. Thirty minutes later, I was soaked at the end of the driveway. Man, was it fun. And not just for me, but for this one other guy.

The trail I run on was formerly a railroad bed that was paved over and made into a 40-mile long and skinny park. Paralleling the trail is a "horse path" that is more rugged, less flat, rutted, rocky and overgrown. It's a good change of pace when your legs are tired from the hard pavement, but it's more stressful because you have to watch every step carefully. And, on a day like this one it was guaranteed to be a river connected by soggy grass and puddles of uncertain depth. With my marathon just four weeks away, I really didn't want to risk a twisted ankle.

Weather conditions like these scare off all but a few fervent exercisers. In about an hour I had seen only a few bicycle commuters and just one other runner. He passed me going the opposite direction as I went out and in the reverse on the way back. I was safely on the hardpack and he was giddily on the soft. He bounded through the deepest puddles without cracking a smile, but I could tell he was absolutely enjoying it. Every step created a huge splash. He just pounded away as if it was the only sensible thing to do on a day like this. His shoes might have been ruined, his socks muddy and sopping. But he just kept going right on down the road. Cool.

I hope he didn't fall later on, but maybe that would have been okay with him, too, because maybe he would have made a bigger splash.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Running in the Rain, Mostly Fun

I wanted to be on the road at 6:00am yesterday to do 20 miles of training. For some reason, I was especially anxious to get this one done. In other words, I wasn't getting ready with my usual zeal--not to mention that the weather man reported a slight chance of light rain for the next couple of hours.

It rained for the first ten miles. Non-stop.

Honestly, I enjoy running in the rain. Always have. Since I have the pleasure of living near a 40-mile bike trail, often under a canopy of beautiful trees, running in the rain means a reduction of athletic traffic and a calming, quiet run. The moment I left the house the first raindrop hit my forehead, and it didn't let up until I turned around to come back.

But it shouldn't have been that cold this time and I was underdressed in a lightweight shirt and shorts. I just never really felt as comfortable as I would have liked and found myself fussing with all of my gear, checking shoelaces too often, adjusting the tuck of my shirt, trying to get water bottles in and out of my fuel belt. I think dri-fit means that the sweat comes off your body quickly, but the rain comes back through with full force. Bleah. No fun. One of my soccer girls says that I run "slow as a turtle," and I felt that way a good bit of the time. Monotonous. Slow. Cold. Wet.

You know what, though? I finished that run, and I did okay on pace, too. And today I feel like that kind of session--the ones that aren't that fun--end up meaning the most when I look back on my training days leading up to a marathon. I could have quit altogether; I could have taken some breaks. But I didn't. I just kept going.

Side note: I saw a turtle on the trail, Anna, and I was definitely going faster. Really.

Friday, September 24, 2010

1 of 100,000 Steps

I have a very cool watch that accurately tracks my running mileage and route via GPS. An associated "footpod" tells my watch how many steps I take each time I run. I average about 160 steps per minute--counting right and left--when I'm at my normal pace.

So last week I ran about 100,000 steps. That number equates to a lot of running. Each 1 of that 100,000 gets me closer to my training plan's daily goal and to my long term fitness strategy. Each 1 breaks the all-time steps record in the Chas division of life. Every day I set a new lifetime achievement record for the number of steps taken as living and breathing me.

Someday I'm going to take my last step, and I don't know when that will happen so I'm going to keep taking them--and relishing them--until I can't any more.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Right Impression

I have coached two soccer teams in the last 15 years: a boys team, the Vipers, and a girls team, the Avalanche. The teams are approximately ten years apart in age. Recently, the boys--now out of college--have come out to help me coach the girls--now freshmen in high school. The guys have been around the girls enough to be seen as big brothers, but I need to them to be seen as coaches.

After practice today, I talked to Chris, Tim, and Anthony about how they have to switch gears from someone that is there for fun to someone that is there to teach. "You have to realize," I said, "that they hear everything you say and listen to the way you say it." Although the girls are all growing up rapidly, you still have to pay attention to the impression you make. Arrive on time, work hard, set examples. Be serious when seriousness is called for. Be fun and funny when that makes sense, too.

Next to parents and teachers, coaches have greater opportunity to influence children than many coaches realize. Creating a successful team environment--regardless of winning percentage--sets them up for success in life. How many organizations today profess to be team-based or team-builders? In my company, we call our alliances with other businesses "teaming agreements" and  we evaluate individual performance based, in part, on how well a person works within a team.

On the athletic field our children find ways to grow, to communicate, and to play together. Their ability to do that, molded here, will serve them well throughout their lives. We, as coaches, need to be committed to that concept and do everything we can to make their time at practice and in games worthwhile for the long run.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Inspiration

The other day I finished my first 20-miler of this training season. Over the next month, I'll do it two more times before beginning my taper to the Marine Corps Marathon on October 31.

I felt great through the first 18 miles, and then I faded kind of badly for the last two. Encouraged by finishing, I was a bit discouraged by my slow pace at the end. Run finished, I stiffly crossed the parking lot to my car. I watched two men work themselves into their sports wheelchairs. One had no legs, and the other had them, but could not use them.

The pain I was feeling disappeared. No complaints.

The Only Way Out is Through

My friend, Linda, has been dealing with ongoing foot pain (and associated surgery) for many months now. She perseveres, though, and she says "the only way out is through." I like that way of saying it.

Running 5, 10, even 13 miles is something that I did many times during the running boom of the 1980's. I could do that. Even without much thought or preparation, I could do that. Well, actually, when I was young I could do that. But, at 51, getting much beyond a few miles (and running the whole time) was a challenge. In fact, my initial plan for my first marathon was to walk about 1/3 of the time and run the other 2/3. And that was a BIG jump from where I started.

I kept going, though, and gradually I could run 3, 5, 6, even 10 miles without walking at all. Diligitently following a training plan for newbies was going to get me where I wanted to go. I started to believe I could do it. I was slow, mind you, but never still.

The first time I went beyond 13 miles was "no mans land." I had run that distance once before. Quite literally, once before, and that was in 1981--nearly 30 years ago. As I worked my way up to twenty miles, each greater distance brought a breakthrough physically and mentally. I found my mind settling into a new kind of consciousness that was calm, deliberate, and steady. Focused on only the next few yards, I simply put one foot after the other and I made it through. It was never without pain, and it was always with reward.

Tell me when you're ready to run (or walk) your first 5k, Linda. I'll go with you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soccer Girls Growing Up

I coach soccer girls who are now high school freshmen. It's a little tough for me to realize that their once highly important weekend soccer match is now lower down their lists of priorities. It's tough just because I like them so much, and I enjoy the times we spend together. I remember the same feeling with the boys team I coached for ten years when they started to become strong and independent young people.

Today we lost a game--a really close one--but that's not really important. What I liked about itwas the way the girls are making decisions for themselves. I still do "coach" from the sidelines, but I would say they hear very little of what I'm saying. Sure, there are times when I wish they would hear me more because I can see some things that they can't. But, the highest compliment a coach can receive comes in the form of the success his players have on the field and in their lives. The fact that they don't really hear me now means they have grown confident enough to create and think on their own, for their team, and for each other.

You can read more about the Avalanche on their web site.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

MCM 44 - It's Cold Out There

Although the last several mornings have been cool-er, this morning was the first one that I would call "cool." The summer was brutally hot so early morning runs would produce high volumes of sweat even in darkness. Now it's dark at 6am and the first steps out the door are always the toughest.

I leave home through the garage. When I use the keypad to close the door behind me I become an official part of the pre-dawn morning. There is light from the street, but everyone is still asleep. When I put my headphones on I'm back in the middle of, "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," the novel that inspired the popular TV show. I check my watch, and off I run. Absorbed in the story of a serial killer who only kills "bad people," I have six miles to do.

There is a short time period at the beginning of every cold-day run during which you debate turning back. That's what makes staying on a consistent plan--and having a longer term goal--so important. Without the focus of an upcoming marathon I am certain that I would choose to remain next to Sally for the extra hour. On other hand, I believe that I'll be able to stay healthy longer and have many more days and nights next to her because I got up today.

Even on the coldest days, the chill goes away after a few minutes. You just have to get your heart, your mind, and your body beyond that point of no return.

Here We Go

So, I'm going to attempt to maintain a blog for a while--at least until I have finished the Marine Corps Marathon on October 31, 2010. That is not to say that I only have one thing to discuss or one thing to do. In fact, I have many passions I hope to express here.

In my daily life I work to enhance the lives of the people who work for FGM, Inc., a small federal government contractor. I'm the SVP of Human Resources there so I make my living by working for my customer, the people of this company. It's a fascinating role to play ranging from satisfying to difficult and everywhere in between.

I don't really know if the things I think about and do will matter to anyone, but maybe.