Thursday, December 8, 2011

Personal Flight

“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that provides the difficulties.” -- Douglas Adams, in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

I bought a new car a few weeks ago, and I had an accident on Monday. It was a pretty scary accident, but the car doesn’t have a scratch on it. That’s because I wasn’t in it.

When I was a kid I often dreamed of flying. Not in a plane, mind you, but on my own; like a bird, like an eagle. Effortless and free.

As an adult I embraced the concept of personal flight described above. That’s just the way I wanted to do it. No strings attached; no propellers; no engines. Just me. The trick, Adams says, is to stop thinking about hitting the ground right before you do.

I never really imagined that I would get the chance to try that out, though, so in the middle of one of the best morning jogs I’ve had in a long time my mind was occupied with thoughts of the upcoming holidays, a few worries about aging parents, nursing my injured soccer team back to health, and all kinds of things other than the running itself.

Then it hit me. Literally. And it wasn’t the stuff of dreams unless dreams are sold at the Honda dealership.

As I crossed an innocent neighborhood intersection just at sunrise I remember seeing a pair of headlights about five feet away. I instinctively braced and bent my body away from the oncoming traffic, but I just wasn’t fast enough to avoid it.

Have you ever laced into a pitch where the sound—and the feel—of the hit is perfect? The car was the bat, and I was the ball. You get the picture. It was one of those moments where everything slows down and your senses come alive.

I remember what it felt like while I was in mid-air. Really, I do. I only travelled about fifteen feet because the driver had just turned a corner and had not gained a lot of speed. But I was flying, I knew it was happening, and there was an eerie sense of calm all the while. Thump—then quiet—then thump again, and back on solid ground.

I landed nearly perfectly flat on my back which meant that somehow I twisted either 90 degrees or 270, but I’m not sure which. I think I closed my eyes, and I didn’t hit my head, which I’m very thankful for. I stuck the landing, Bela.

My foot hurts, I have a few bumps and bruises, and I pulled a muscle in my back. But, after all is said and done, I’m okay. The hardest part of the whole thing was that I had to call my wife and start a conversation by saying, “I’m okay, but, well, I just got hit by a car.” That’s probably not what she wanted to hear right then. Actually, when would someone want to hear that?

I already knew many of the things below, but they all came back to me during and after my flight:

  • Neon and reflective gear forever. I’m not 100% certain it would have helped me remain earthbound, but having flown on my own now I am not interested in doing it again.
  • Life is too short.
  • Take nothing for granted.
  • Tell people that you love them. Often. Appreciate everyone who has you in their hearts.
  • There are some things worth worrying about. Most are not.
  • Be at peace.
  • Run. Jump. Laugh. Live a life of abundance.
  • 42.

I’m going running again soon—just as soon as I heal up a little bit more. And I’m going to go back and cross that street, too. I’m done with flying for a while, though.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Paying it Forward

The other day I started mapping out my running plan for the next year. Culminating at the 2012 Chicago Marathon, I strategically placed other, shorter events on the calendar. Some are old friends dating back to when I was a real runner almost thirty years ago.

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile RunOne of those old friends is the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, competed each April in Washington, DC. Framed by the budding trees at their peak, It’s a beautiful setting and one I conquered a few times back in the mid 80’s. Amazingly, I once finished in seventy minutes—a pace I can only dream of now.

To get in the race, you have to enter a December lottery for a coveted spot. On the web site I noticed that you can also get automatic entry if you are a “streaker,” which is defined by completing the course at least ten times in the last forty years and not by the absence of clothing… You might have to be as old as me to get why that’s funny.

Since I couldn’t remember how many times I had actually finished I sent an email to the race “information desk” requesting my times. Expecting to hear back in a few days (or not at all), I was pleasantly surprised by an immediate response from the race director himself. My three repeats didn’t get me an automatic entry, but in thanking him I gave him a little more information about myself.

For several 10-Miler iterations, also in the 80’s, I had volunteered on the pre-race set-up crew—with a bunch of guys I saw exactly once annually—in exchange for a guaranteed entry for the following year. Our job was to secure the start and finish areas so that they were safe for the runners. I probably can no longer lift the bales of storm fence that we carried and then pounded into place for the first and last miles of the course.

Usually, our work was done on Saturday (before the race on Sunday), but the last few times we had to get started in the early spring darkness on Sunday morning. Early—like just after midnight—Sunday morning. It was a tough, physical job, but also satisfying beyond the race entry reward. We felt like we were doing something good for others. Something that most would never realize or acknowledge. And we didn’t need or expect anything more.

About an hour after his first response, I got another email from the race director. He was involved in the race even back then and he did remember our hard work. “Let me know if you don’t get in through the lottery,” he said, “I’ll have a guaranteed entry waiting for you.”

Pretty cool. I guess sometimes, when you least expect it, you get paid back for your good work. Even if I don’t have to take advantage of the offer it was sure nice to get..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Bright Morning Sky

The three months since my San Francisco Marathon have not been the best for my fitness. More calories are going in than are burning off. Maybe a lot more. The bed sheets seem to grip me more tightly as the morning temperatures begin their steady seasonal drop. My brain seems to find every easy excuse for not doing the day’s workout and my heart has gone along.

Instead of a steady diet of five runs per week, I’ve been reduced to 2-3. Seems like Monday kicks off just fine, but by Thursday I’m saying, “I’ll start again on Monday. Really. I will.”

So far this week I’ve actually done pretty well. Monday (slow 3 miles). Tuesday (start slow, go faster, 3 miles). Wednesday (3 miles on the track, every other lap hard). This is the beginning of a good pattern that will help me achieve my goals for 2012.

If I can just stick with it.

So when it came time to get up and run today my mind searched for an excuse. Ah, there it was. The weather guy said it was raining somewhere in the metro area, which meant that anyone trying to run three miles right then risked getting wet. “Don’t go outside this morning unless you’re planning to run less than three miles,” he forecasted, “Better to get in your car and go straight to work.”

Then the alarm went off and I actually turned the TV on…

So what makes me get up and run when it’s cold, dark, and lonely? Most of the time it’s a lofty goal in front of me or the quest to stay fit for life, but sometimes it’s more simple than that.

The first half of my favorite route is to the West and it stays dark throughout that fifteen minutes or so. But when I turn the midway corner everything changes.

Right then there is enough purple to orange light in the sky to help me see, yet the moon remains bright and the stars continue to shine. It’s peaceful and beautiful and serene. There aren’t many people seeing it that way so, just briefly, the world is simple and soft and mine to behold.

Makes me want to see it again. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the Game

At the beginning of August the roster was just the right size. 17

Since you play soccer with eleven at a time, the difference of six gave us a nice, comfortable substitution margin. And, since my team has rarely had many injuries to worry about, I was optimistic about a really good run ahead.

Right before the season started one player unexpectedly quit. 16

In a casual, non-contact, inconsequential, informal, fun, summertime pick-up game one went down with a season-ending knee injury. 15

In our very first match, our keeper was lost with a season-ending knee injury. 14

But, still, fourteen is an okay number, right? Barring any further injuries or illness…

I shouldn’t have said that.

Two nights before our Columbus Day tournament I got a text message from a parent of one of the fourteen that began, “just wanted to give you a heads up…” I’m not sure in what context something good is coming next, but as a coach trying to get a team ready to play against really tough competition that start is usually a bad sign.

It’s an asthma episode. 13

Oh, and one player had already been sick all week. 12

So, I found two “guest” players from a younger team. 14

We played our first game (of three) and hung in there just fine. 14

We lost another girl to a knee injury at the very end of our second game. 13

And one of our strongest players was limping on a bruised thigh at Saturday dinner, but I didn’t even think about it much because she always, always, always bounces back way more quickly than any. other. athlete. I. know.

She didn’t. 12.

And one of our guest players had a previous commitment so she had to go back home before the third match. 11.

At the start of the last match, the referee says to me, “Coach, when you want to substitute a player just make sure you bring her up to the center line.” I humorously replied, “I would love to do that. Do you have any available?”

He said, “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to rub it in.”

We lost all of our games last weekend. We didn’t score any goals and we gave up too many. We used two players extensively who had never played with us before. We played with keepers who had little experience, but sacrificed their preferred positions to do what their team needed. We had other injuries, and headaches, and exhaustion that I didn’t even mention here.

I searched in vain for ways to defend or attack better, but there simply were no options to choose from.

And if you feel sorry for me or for my team I want you to know that I will never forget those two days because we were in every game. We didn’t have the best skills and we were smallish compared to the other teams, but we were in every game. We were dominated for the most part, but we only lost by one, by two, and by one again. We were in every game. The girls never bickered or complained about their plight, they just fought through it. We were in every game.

Except for maintaining a positive attitude, my coaching didn’t have much to do with our outcome. No, the fact that each of those last eleven could walk away from the match with her head held high comes from only one place. It comes from the heart. And if you could measure heart the championship trophy would belong to the girls in light blue.

We will win again soon and the character the team built in this gritty, determined effort will sustain us through this challenging season. We have six matches left. Some are going to be really hard and some we might have a good chance to win. No matter what, though…

We will be in the game.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Man in the Middle

Besides coaching soccer, I now referee a handful or two of youth games each season. My wife doesn't understand why, but I actually enjoy this aspect of the sport. Having played soccer all of my life--and having coached for much of my adult life--being in the center gives me a whole new perspective.

Even with the young ones, it's hard for me to keep up. My endurance is good, but I'm not very fast any more. Actually, even on my best days I never was very fast. Luckily, I can choose to call the small-side games instead of the ones on the full field most of the time. The three-referee system utilized for most games also minimizes the amount of running I have to do since I can rely on assistants to help call the sidelines and offsides.

This isn't actually me...
Today's game was played on a beautiful Bermuda grass field. Softer and flatter than any field I was ever lucky enough to enjoy as a player, the pace of the game was nearly perfect. It was a fairly high-level travel game so many of the players had gifts that I only dreamed of when I was young. I witnessed plays of remarkable dexterity: girls running off the ball with clear intent and their teammates finding them in stride; brilliant first touches; precise positioning; powerful and accurate shooting.

Early on, the ball went out of bounds last touched by the home team resulting in a throw-in for the visitors. A player--clearly not agreeing with my call--picked the ball up and whipped it off the field so it had to be chased down by a coach. Another time, I whistled a foul in front of the home team goal, and the same player loudly called out, "are you ever going to call anything against the other team?"

Both of these things happened in the first fifteen minutes of the match. The out of bounds call had virtually no bearing on the outcome and the foul was one of only two or three calls I had made in the whole game up to that point, so there wasn't much history to back up a claim that I was leaning one way or the other too precipitously.

Oh, and the player was a girl all of eleven years old.

There could be a lot of reasons why she behaved that way. She could just have been having an off day or wasn't feeling well. I don't know. What I worry about, though, is that a player so young has had examples set for her that suggest this is the way athletes and sports men and women act. If I had to bet, I'd say that was true. I wish it wasn't.

On the other hand--and lest you think that I'm just another person lamenting poor athletic behavior in youth sports--here's the really good news: in all of the games I've done this was one of a very few examples of anything less than grace and good behavior that I have witnessed. I believe that many people see outbursts like this one and categorically assume that it is the norm rather than the exception. My experience has repeatedly proven otherwise.

On this day, every other player I interacted with was having a blast, playing hard, testing the limits of the rules yet playing within them, and above all else competing as intensely as they could. They had the physical gifts and passion that make this such a beautiful game to play, to watch, to coach, and, yes, to referee. To be the man in the middle was an honor and a privilege, and I would do it tomorrow if I wasn't so tired...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We Did It, Coach

You can’t really say that this was a rivalry game because the teams had never met before. Between the two rosters are lots of connections from school, from recreational teams, and all stars, and tryouts. To finally meet on the field, though, they had to travel about ninety minutes away and get a lucky draw in a big tournament.

Our opponent was a well-known and respected one from just around the corner. Playing in more competitive leagues than we had for several seasons, their reputation was excellent and deserved. Ours was good, but not as good and certainly not as visible. We hadn’t yet proven we could play at the same level.

Even with the distinct advantage we had in goal, it would take everything the girls had to win this one. Our keeper has played with us for six seasons, and the other team had to use several willing, but less experienced players to fill that role. That could mean a really big opportunity for us.

But, momentum was clearly on the other side in the first half. Our opponent put lots of pressure on our goal while we sent very few tests their way. They controlled the game at midfield while we fought relatively unsuccessfully to push the ball into their end. Their skills and speed were simply better than ours. They scored, and we didn’t. 1-0, at halftime.

At the break I told the girls that they had proven only that they were not yet as good as the other team. That’s what everyone watching probably expected and thought. So no big deal, right?

Then I asked my team if they wanted to try to change that conclusion. I knew they were capable, but they had to believe it themselves and the only time to do that would be when they stepped back on the field.

For the next thirty minutes there was no quit. No won’t. No can’t. No try.

Only do.

And it was a thing of beauty. They won balls they had been losing. They increased pressure everywhere. They were just a half step faster than they were before halftime--which was still a half step slower than some of their speedier opponents. But it was enough, and gradually the tide turned.

Some might look at the final score, 3-1, and say that we won easily. Some might say that this win was not significant because the other team was at a disadvantage. Whatever anyone else wants to say is okay with me because I know something special happened. I know different.

At game end, when I walked on to the field to greet my tired, but satisfied team, I saw Steph’s face and Holly’s face and Anna’s face. The look on each was the same and, well, athletic and mature. No longer a child-like countenance, but a competitor’s stare. Too exhausted to smile, they looked me right in the eye as if to say, “we did it, Coach.” And then we slapped hands and bumped fists. No words exchanged.

That was the winning moment, They didn’t overly celebrate, but they were happy. They didn’t strut or show off, but they walked with confidence and poise. They went through the traditional post-game line and shook hands with each of the opposing players and coaches. “Good game,” they said. And they meant it. All the way around.

“We did it, Coach.” Sounds about right.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still

Among my bucket list items is this one: experience an earthquake. No kidding. Not one that does terrible damage or injures anyone, just one that makes me understand what it feels like for the ground to move under my feet.

I also want to know what I would do in such circumstances. I never really thought this would be me, but George Costanza—yelling “fire” and knocking people down so he could be the first one out of the building—crossed my mind.

[Full Disclosure: At William and Mary, legend had it that you could feel unexplained underground vibrations at the local cemetery if you were there at the right time of night. In the dark we went, and we waited, and we listened, and someone said they felt something, and we all ran away. I never really thought that story was true, nor did I get any sense that something ethereal was afoot, but I ran just like everyone else. Fast.]

virginia-shake-mapAs of two days ago, got earthquake. Been there. Done that. Check.

I live and work on the East Coast, not all all that far from Tuesday’s epicenter in Mineral, Virginia. Sure, I’ve heard locals say that they have felt an earthquake here before, but I don’t think I really believed them because I didn’t experience it myself.

But I felt this one. At first I thought that a truck hit the building. Four stories up, my office overlooks a loading dock. The dumpsters get banged around a lot when they are emptied, but this felt like a big truck banging a big dumpster against the side of the building for what seemed like a big minute. I quickly knew that if it was a truck it would have to be Optimus Prime.

And here is what I did. I went to find my wife. Yes, while the building shook around us all I could only think of one thing to do. I didn’t panic. I didn’t yell, “earthquake!” I didn’t run out of the building. I didn’t station myself in a doorway. I simply found a path to the only thing that matters.

Where was she? Well, the logical and smart side of our marriage wasn’t walking around like I was, but she didn’t appear to be in her office either. And when I called out to see if anyone knew where she was, a familiar voice replied, “I’m under here.” My tall, lanky better half was neatly curled up under her desk and there she stayed until the shuddering stopped. Had there been room for a less-lanky gentleman to join her that’s where I would have been. Instead, I stood in her doorway so I could see her, and waited, too.

I didn’t like the way it felt. If there is anything in the world that you can depend on it seems like the earth as a stable platform is a good candidate. You can count on it. Mostly.

Even after the shaking stopped my legs felt wobbly. Outside in the parking lot where everyone gathered the look of choice was disbelief, not fear. I must have looked that way, too. I would later learn that this earthquake was amazingly widespread. The earth’s plates on the West Coast are more fractured resulting in localized events of greater intensity. Ours was mild, but affected a huge swath of this part of the country. Amazing.

So, if you can’t count on the earth standing still what can you count on?

That’s easy. Look under the desk.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Can Do Better

Me in San Francisco, July 2011In my mind, crossing the finish line of a marathon can never be called a failure. To get to that point, there’s just too much energy and effort invested to say that it was wasted on not achieving a time goal.

Running several hundred miles in four months is no small feat, and as I’ve said before, that kind of dedication is in and of itself a huge accomplishment.

A few weeks hence, though, I’m convinced that I can do better than I did in the San Francisco Marathon. When I finished in under their six-hour time limit, it was with just ten minutes to spare. I hit an early wall at Mile 14, and a big one at Mile 21. Only switching to a run/walk plan for the last five miles enabled me to finish. Had I kept trying to run the whole way I think I would actually have been slower and may have missed the time limit.

As I start planning what to do next I am building a four-pronged plan of attack:

  1. Run faster.
  2. Run shorter.
  3. Run lighter.
  4. Run Stronger.

Although it’s true that as you age you inherently slow down—and I have significant experience to prove it—I don’t believe that I should be THIS slow already. I’m an older guy, but when the *much* older guy running next to me has completed over 100 marathons—and is running faster than me—well, there is clearly room for improvement.

Many years ago (about 1990) I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in 70 minutes, but I’m not going for that pace. I think that I can get to running a 5k or 10k at eight minutes per mile again. I’d be quite satisfied with that, and achieving that goal would give me confidence that I could run a marathon faster—if not quite that fast. I will run faster.

For at least the next 8 months I’m going to concentrate on shorter runs (5k, 10k, 10 miles) up to half marathon distance (13 miles). I jumped right into marathons in 2009 after not having run much for more than fifteen years. By building and solidifying my power and confidence at shorter distances I can achieve more athletically. I will run shorter.

In preparation for San Francisco I didn’t do a good enough job of managing my weight or overall nutrition. I feel into the trap of consuming lots of calories under the assumption that I was burning way more than I was eating. As a result, I will focus on overall fitness for the next fourteen months to see if I can stay strong for more of the marathon than just  the first fourteen miles, which is where I have consistently started to fade. I will run lighter.

My San Francisco plan called for strength training and cross training each of the eighteen weeks, but I largely ignored that after the first third of the program. In hindsight, that was a mistake and cost me dearly during the race. I had the power to climb all of the hills (the first 20 miles), but nothing left when they were done (the last six miles). I will run stronger.

So watch for my progress over the next year as I try to achieve:

  1. 5k in 24:00.
  2. 10k in 50:00.
  3. 10 Miles in 1:30:00
  4. Half Marathon in 2:00:00

After that, I’ll see you at the Chicago Marathon in October 2012.

I can do better. I know it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Growing Up Fast

Last night I held a “speedwork” session for the soccer team I coach. This practice was not about kicking, shooting, passing or heading. Nope, this was about running. Fast.

Since it’s still vacation season I expected a small turnout, and that’s what I got. Just four girls plus one sister.

It was a beautiful, clear, relatively cool and humidity free, spectacular, late summer evening. Perfect for just about anything—including running on a track. The girls are headed into their U16 season in a new (to them), more competitive, league so fitness, speed, and agility are at an even higher premium.

I was able to find a wealth of drills that I could use to help improve speed with repetition. Some of the exercises were kind of goofy, and it wasn’t immediately obvious how they help. You sort of have to trust that they will.

After stretching, I sent the girls off on a few easy laps. This was the first time I could just watch them run. In fact, when I thought about it, I very rarely just get to watch them do anything. At practice and games, my mind is constantly adjusting, thinking, planning, strategizing, and wondering how to get all of the moving parts into a functional whole. Just watching, and enjoying, is one of the last things I get to do.

Their strides, seemingly effortless and free, were beautiful to behold. Not perfect, but pretty close. Okay, I’m biased by love and I sometimes (often) have a hard time seeing their flaws. But, still, they looked awfully good to me. I can remember when they were ten years old and they ran on short little legs that couldn’t get them very far very quickly. Where did these powerfully athletic young women come from?

Perhaps in comparison I was also thinking about my own heavy gait as opposed to their graceful movement. I don’t care. I could have just stopped then and there and called it a good night, but we had work to do.

In front of the setting sun they stayed focused and did every weird thing that I asked them to do. Hopping on one foot then two, marching with stiff legs, skipping low and high. Falling start. Seated start. Lying start. Almost everything as fast as they could. Few complaints. Plenty of smiles. Camaraderie. Too quickly, we were done.

They finished with three more easy laps. And I watched these beautiful, graceful athletes run again. Proud of them. Proud of their effort. Wishing that they wouldn’t grow up so fast.

Oh, wait, this is speedwork. I want them to grow up fast, but not quickly.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day is Done

Today I finished my third marathon. It was the most difficult physical challenge I have ever faced. At Mile 21.5 I had to shift from running (barely) to alternating running and walking the rest of the way. It was a hard decision to make, but it enabled me to complete this test, and I am satisfied that I did the absolute best I could.

Here are some memories I will take home with me:

1. Running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

2. Running on the Golden Gate Bridge with a man who has run a marathon in all 50 states (twice). He said I could join the club when I get ten. I have three (once).

3. Seeing a woman who was running for her husband who was killed in Afghanistan. She ran 26.2 miles starting at midnight last night, and THEN ran the marathon with us. She ran by me on the bridge carrying a full size American flag.

4. Watching an older couple cross the street while weaving through hundreds of runners in the second mile of the race. It was like a game of Frogger. They won.

5. Hearing a kid spectator say, "I could run 26 miles, but that last .2 would kill me."

6. The unrelenting hills in Golden Gate Park. When I asked an SFM veteran at the airport about the park she said, "you won't even notice them." Uh, I noticed them.

7. Being a bit of a celebrity for a few minutes. Finishing a marathon entitles you to wear your medal for 24 hours, which encourages everyone to congratulate you and act really nice to you. I believe that this behavior increases exponentially as you age. That's great because I'm not getting any younger.

8. Having a cable car operator say, "nice job, man," to me. I don't know why I think that's cool, but I do.

9. Talking to a guy who qualified to run the Boston Marathon today on this course. Awesome accomplishment.

10. Lying in bed eating half a pizza just like I thought I would 24 hours ago.

11. Going to sleep knowing that the day is done.

Day is done.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Toeing the Line

I'm not quite there yet, but for all intents and purposes I'm on the starting line for the 2011 San Francisco Marathon. At 35,000 feet of cruising altitude I'm on my way to the west coast.

As I left home this morning, Sally reminded me that my training had gone well. Indeed, it had. I missed only a single run of 3 miles, and that happened very early on. I made a couple schedule changes to work around busy weekends, but those went smoothly, too. In the end it went 99.7% well, from a mileage standpoint.

My 53 year-old body held up okay. As I age I have noticed that no two days feel exactly the same way physically. The first few steps out of bed give me an indication of which muscle, bone or joint is going to bark: hip, toe, back, neck, or shoulder. Yes, all gave me a twinge or two over the last 4.5 months of training, but none stopped me and I have no complaints. I am running, and I know that others cannot.

Remarkably, I can only remember one really rainy day during this time around. It was a hot Wednesday morning as I "commuted" to work. That particular route is hard and virtually shade-free so the drizzle kept me cool and comfortable. But, most of the time my training was done in dry, hot conditions. Dry--being a bit of a relative term during a Northern Virginia summer--only means it's not raining. Humidity, though, was almost always my running partner.

As with any long term activity, I did hit a motivational snag or two. I'm good at setting goals and plans and sticking with them, but I'm human, too. There were days where I wanted to turn around and go back home. There was one 20-miler that tanked at 14. There were more than a few days where my stomach wouldn't cooperate.

Am I confident? Well, I absolutely know I will finish unless something out of my control happens. There are variables, of course, to contend with, and big hills on the San Francisco course. Sometimes, you just have an off day. But I can deal with that because so much of the marathon is done before you ever take a step on race day. I'm planning to bring home a medal, but if I somehow don't, well, I'll be okay with that.

Through it all, I had my vision of what it will be like to step on the finish mat and register my time. It's that last step that matters to me, though, not the clock. I will be thinking of Sally at that moment. She is the reason I have done all of the bike rides and runs over the last eighteen years. Her love motivates me, and I hope that these things I do help in some way to secure a healthy life for her long into the future.

I'll meet you at the finish.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I’m Nervous

The last 2-3 week segment of most marathon training programs is called a “taper.” Essentially, all of the long, hard preparation is over, and it’s time to fully rest up and rejuvenate for the big day by gradually reducing the amount of running you actually do. My goal race is just less than two weeks away, and I’m in the second week of my taper.

Yes, during this time I keep running. My pattern of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will continue right up until the last few days before the race. It sounds kind of funny to say that these 30-mile weeks are “resting,” but, comparatively, they are. The daily rhythm is the same, but the length of the dance is shorter.

Man, is this hard to do.

Saucony Men's ProGrid Kinvara 2You work so hard, and then you kind of suddenly stop working so hard. I ran nearly 600 miles in sixteen weeks and only missed three of the 589 miles on my schedule. Still, I wonder if I did enough. Am I ready enough? I ran 12 “easy” miles last Sunday, and, still, I wonder if I’m ready enough. Can I go more than twice that far? Can I run the Hills of San Francisco?

[Note: Pictured above is my brand new “fast shoe.” I won’t be wearing it in the marathon… But maybe on the plane.]

Lots about marathoning is in your head, and the ease of the taper, ironically, is one of the toughest mental challenges. Everybody says this is the right thing to do, but I can’t help but wonder if one more big push wouldn’t make my confidence more firm. Can I ask my body to get in high gear again in two weeks, and will it respond the way I need it to?

But it has been proven over and over that this is the way to go, and it’s also been shown that people that voided the taper paid for it in the end.

So I’m going to continue to rest. It makes me really nervous, but I’m going to rest. When I start the marathon I’ll know that I followed the plan religiously, and when I finish I can evaluate how well the plan worked. It worked well in 2009 (in New York), but in 2010 (Marine Corps Marathon) life got in the way a bit, I rearranged the plan, and I struggled to finish.

Once I get going on July 31, I have a feeling that I will find that the plan has worked just right. A good feeling. 99% sure. With a semblance of doubt. Mostly positive. Cautiously optimistic. Optimistically cautious.

Okay. I’m just a little bit nervous. Par for the course. Let’s go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


A friend recently asked my wife why I run marathons. She responded by saying that I do it “mostly for the fitness.” Sally’s right, of course, but while Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveledit is true that fitness is important to me—and I don’t think I could keep doing this without the fitness gain—I think that’s only part of the answer.

I have on my iPod a song by Melissa Ethridge entitled, “I Run for Life.” It’s her ode to those who have suffered from breast cancer, and I believe it’s a regular theme of the various Susan Komen charity walks and runs. Her lyrics capture the other part of Why better than I know how to express it myself.

The chorus of the song goes like this:

I run for hope
I run to feel
I run for the truth for all that is real
I run for your mother, your sister, your wife
I run for you and me my friend
I run for life

When faced with the long term challenge of incurable disease in my family I chose to do the only thing that I thought might help. I raised money, and lots of it, for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society—over $100,000 over time thanks to the undying support of my friends and relations. And I have done that by pushing my body close to its limits for sixteen years of endurance cycling and now two years of marathoning.

But those tangible results are not what it’s all about either. There is more to the words and phrasing above. Somehow I feel that exercising my spirit can raise the spirits of others to a higher place if even only in a very small way. Perhaps if I can get the most out of the gifts I have been given I can make a tiny dent in the world for others. Others who maybe can’t run a mile any longer, but look to find hope and strength in what I can do. When there is no cure, maybe there is hope and maybe I can be a beacon.

I don’t really know if I can or will or have made a difference to anyone, but if there is just a remote chance of achieving that goal I want to be able to say that I did the best I could.

So if you ask me why I am still running I will say that I run for us all.

I run for life.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Way to Get from Here to There

A few years ago I was an avid bicycle commuter. Conveniently, the ten miles between home and work are paved by the historic Washington & Old Dominion trail, which traces the path of the old railroad system. It goes much further in either direction, of course, but a segment of the trail is perfectly suited for my needs, and safe, too. Only 4-5 roads to cross the whole time.

As I gradually rounded into shape (a quite precise choice of words) each summer, I reached a point of transition from a guy out getting exercise to one who was traveling to and from work. The difference is this: in the former it’s an accomplishment just to complete the ride; in the latter you don’t even think about the ride itself, you just go.

Unless you habitually run low on gas, you probably never bother to think about whether you will make it to work or not, right? Your car just gets you there, right?. Sort of the same thing.

rainbowI have now run the distance to work 7-8 times. And, until yesterday, doing so was a huge achievement. Before that, I could never quite get the run to feel like a commute. No gears to shift, no power steering, no automatic transmission, no coasting. Just me and my clunky legs.

The path is 70% uphill, which is something you don’t really notice on a bike with multiple gears. So for most of those attempts, it was all I could do just to make it the whole way. Although I can run much further than ten miles, somehow these particular ten miles always seem extra hard and a bit daunting.

Of course, that may have something to do with the destination. On the weekend I know I’m headed to a nice/long rest and I can take the time I need. On the weekday, I’m bound to be behind my desk by a certain time. Not that my work is something I don’t enjoy; it’s just not as good as a shower and a nap...

So yesterday—for the first time ever—my legs became just a way to get there. Maybe I just got in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure, but instead of thinking about the possibility of not making it I was able to reflect on all kinds of other stuff while my legs and feet just kept churning along.

My first steps were directly into the face of a west side rainbow—something I can’t ever remember seeing since most of our rain comes in the afternoon making rainbows appear in the eastern sky. “This must be the sign telling me it is going to be a good run and a good day,” I thought, “and I’ll gladly take it.” After that signal, I quickly decided that whenever I got tired I would straighten up my back, tighten up my stomach, look a little further forward, and think positive.

You know what? It worked. It really did. And for a while I felt like the “me” part—my heart and mind—were just along for the ride.

Pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Angel On the Hill

The day promised to be warm and would get warmer so I was well on my way before the sun had risen Sunday morning. The cloud cover would keep me from overheating, and I started my 20-mile trek with 20 ounces of water, 20 ounces of Gatorade, and three packs of goo-trition.

[ defines “gootrition” as the process of obtaining food necessary for bad health and obesity. Goo-trition is my term for those little packs of gel that provide quick energy for endurance events.]

The first ten miles went great. Felt great. Looked great. Even the four miles after that were solid. My pace dipped a bit, but then picked up again slightly.

As I neared the 15-mile mark my rations were getting low, but I thought I had reserved enough to make it through. My feet were hurting a bit, but not too bad. My attitude was good and not too shaky. I had this one. Almost.

The last quarter of this route—and there’s no getting around it—are steadily uphill and into the sun. Neither thing is too bad by itself, but together they are completely draining. As I came out of that last bit of shade the sun was bright and hot and four miles left felt like forty miles to go. And by the last mile, I had nothing left. No energy, no water, no nothing.

I’ve learned many times over that one foot down, one foot up gets the job done. Next foot down, next foot up. Drink a little here, drink a little there, and arrive home safe and sound. I knew I would—and I did—but something special happened in the last mile.

As I turned the corner to the home stretch, my pace had slowed to a shuffle, and I was hot, tired, dry and thirsty. To make matters seem worse, I had to pass right by a 7-Eleven where there was ice, Slurpees, gulps, water, juice, soda, refrigerators, cold cuts, kool-aid, squirt guns, water balloons, popsicles, freeze pops, ice cream, fudgesicles, well, anything that was or sounded cold or wet (or both). I dreamed of climbing into the icebox and sleeping on the icebag mountain, and that didn’t make my mental state any less fragile.

Angel%20with%20ButterfliesRight in front of the store there is a little grassy hill, not more than 4-5 feet above street level. Normally I just run on by, but there, on the very top, was a beautiful golden angel smiling and waving at me. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell who it was or even if she was real. I stared at her, and she wouldn’t look away. I thought the stare-down might work if she had mistaken me for someone else, but she kept right on smiling at me as the sun made her blonde hair glow from behind. Was this angel there for me?

Turns out she was.

My angel was one of my soccer girls whose family had seen me on the road and had stopped to wave me on. If you’ve ever run a long race and you’ve seen a friendly face in the crowd then you know sort of what this felt like. But in the race you’re looking for that face, and you know it should be there. This time I found one quite by happenstance. Or, rather, she found me.

And she carried me home. Not literally, of course, but spiritually. I honestly don’t remember my feet touching the ground over that last half mile.

Thank you, Holly. You made my day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Try not to look up

To get through my longer runs, I have developed the habit of focusing on the space about three yards in front of me. Then I just kind of zone out and plod along, step-by-step. It’s not flashy or exciting, and I know it’s not really very good form, but it gets the job done. And it’s safe as long as I’m not going against traffic.

This is clearly not me...Quite frequently I’m tempted to look up to see where I am. There are 1/2 mile markers on the bike trail I use so if and when I raise my head I try to find the next one. Lately, for some unknown reason, I’m right at a marker almost every time.

Emerging from the relatively boring world of distance training, I let myself get excited about that trend. The miles aren’t any shorter, that’s for sure, but perhaps I’m getting faster. Perhaps I’m getting more fit. Maybe more confident, calm, and patient.

Nah! That trend ended two days ago.

At this point in my preparation for San Francisco, my mid-week runs are getting longer. The ten-miler on the schedule for Wednesday was exactly the distance from my house to work. Convenient? Yes! Easy? No way. 70% of that route is uphill. Maybe not Bay Area uphill, but almost non-stop. It’s 10 miles, but it felt like 20. It was 75, but it felt like 100. Hot. Muggy. Degrees.

Some time after the eight-mile mark I was slowing down and feeling exhausted in the hot, thick air. I was ready for this run to end and ready to step into a bracing cold shower. Dare I look up? Sure. I should be right at the… Where is it? Oh my gosh, it’s that little tiny dark spot at the far end of my range of vision. And, it’s moving away from me.

[Well, it wasn’t really moving away from me, but that was a nice dramatic effect don’t you think?]

And that’s why I try not to do it. When I’m guessing right it’s a great feeling. When I’m wrong—and I’m tired—it kind of stinks. I’ll try to be more patient, and if you come within ten feet of me, I’ll see you there.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Good Run With a Good Friend

I ran nine miles with my friend, Michelle, on Sunday morning. She's several years younger than me and not currently training for a marathon. She also can glide along at a much better pace than I can, but still she agreed to go on a run with me and I was glad to have the company.

The eighteen-week marathon training plan I use totals about 640 miles. Times three over the past two years comes to just about two thousand miles. And that doesn't count the distance I do when I'm not training for a specific event so let's add another thousand or so to the total.

In all of that time and distance I think I have been alone for all of the miles but.... nine.

Okay, maybe that's a tiny stretch. I actually ran with Michelle for a few miles when we happened to meet each other on the local trail once by accident. I also ran with another friend in a group training run, but she quickly outpaced me to catch a faster group. And once I fell in with a guy in that training group who had a pace similar to mine, but he dropped out after that one run never to return.

And so, with little exaggeration, about 99.7% of the time I run alone. I actually don't mind doing so. There has been a lot to think about: some of it complicated, some of it exciting, some of it sad. And I listen to music or books most of the time so I'm not totally absorbed in the sound of my feet slapping the pavement. I also like the mental challenge that running alone and testing my limits brings.

But, man was it nice to have someone to talk to. And, man, did the miles go by a lot faster. Years ago, when I was cycling for fitness, I rode with my good friend, Tom, who was perfectly compatible with me. Our hours in the saddle just flew by whether we were talking or had nothing to say. I forgot how much I enjoyed that rhythm and I realize how hard it is to find someone that  you feel that connected to.

For a few miles I was that connected again. Thanks, Michelle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It’s Back

I wondered why my marathon training was going so well and so easily.

The humidity hadn’t hit yet.

It has now.

As is typical of the seasonal change in the Washington, DC, area, our winters are long and cold (not freezing) and our summers are hot and humid. We get a few brief weeks of beautiful spring weather and then, wham, right into summer. Pretty much, that’s the way it goes.

So, I’m about halfway through my 18-week San Francisco Marathon training program. The mornings have been cool, which makes for excellent runs. I would also say that those mornings have been “misty,” which also makes for excellent runs. In fact, I wish for both when I toe the starting line with 26 miles ahead of me.

planet_mercuryEven as recently as ten days ago I had the best long run (16 miles) I have ever experienced. No kidding. But on Sunday I went just one mile further, and I felt like I was on a different planet. I think it was Mercury. My trademark shuffle—which had been absent since last fall-—returned with a vengeance as I slogged through the last couple of miles. My growing confidence shattered as I realized that the cool weather had given me a false perception of just how ready and fit I am at this point. Pretty fit, but not ready.

And, today when I ran my four hill repeats at 6:30am—and was dripping wet at the base of the first hill—I started to wonder whether I actually should be doing this marathon thing again.

But perhaps this weather has been the reality check I needed but didn’t know I needed. The worst thing to do is start a marathon overconfident. Confident, yes, Slightly under-confident, okay. Overconfident, not a good idea.

I didn’t run that 17-miler well, but I did finish. I cursed those hills today, but they did not defeat me. I will forego my normal rest day tomorrow—due to a busy weekend schedule—and I will run twelve more hot miles. Despite the humidity, I am confident of that.

Thank you, accu-weather. Bring it on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It’s better to feel good than to look good

Contrary to Billy Crystal in the old Saturday Night Live skit, “Fernando’s Hideaway,” I’m convinced that looking “mah-velous” is not that important.

uglyI have evidence to prove it. This picture was taken of me near the START of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon. Now, granted, most of the blame for this disturbing image must go to the photographer, and I am positive that I didn’t really look that bad. Bad, yes, but not that bad. This imposter has no neck or chin and a cone-shaped head, apparently… [Note: I’ll never know who took this shot since it came from the race photography company.]

Anyway, most of the time when I’m running I have a feeling I look pretty darn nasty. Especially toward the end of a long training run—like the 16-miler I did last weekend—well, you get the picture. Or, maybe you don’t so here are some key features of me at my running best and my photographic worst:

  • A fuel-belt wrapped around my waist carrying four bottles of water and the remnants of sticky calories in goo form. An emergency napkin or paper towel sticks out randomly, too.
  • Shirt and shorts soaked to the skin due to 2+ hours of profuse, but oddly soothing sweat. Even on a cool day, I sweat.
  • Shirt tucked in on one side to keep the itchy part of the fuel belt away from my delicate skin.
  • Shirt un-tucked on the other side so that I look partially stylish. I’m not kidding about this. No one tucks their shirt in anymore. No one.
  • A ball cap on my head--to protect my scalp from the sun--which soaks up sweat and then drains drip-by-annoying-drip about four inches in front of my eyes. Like mosquitos I can’t swat away.
  • A drooping lower lip that makes me look like I’m beaten, but actually indicates the complete opposite. When my lip falls I know I’m in a good zone (or at the dentist).
  • Lower legs built like tree trunks due to poor circulation and sporting a few choice bulging veins. Wouldn’t it be nice if those bulging veins were muscular and not varicose?

And having revealed this reality to you, I have one more.

I. Don’t. Feel. Bad. At. All.

I can do this. I’ll do it as long as I can, and I don’t really care how I look. I feel just fine, thank you.

And it’s better this way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

3-4 Thursday .2

Don’t look too closely. This 3-4T was actually written on a Friday morning. Okay, but I thought about all this yesterday.

1: It Can’t Be, But It Is

My nephew graduates from high school in a few weeks. This is not possible. He is still two and wearing a denim blue hat, matching jeans, a white turtleneck, and a red Christmas sweater (on Easter Sunday). I’m sure of it. When he walks across the stage to get his diploma I know I’m going to see him reaching for Tata-Head.

2: Last Dance

Almost exactly a year ago I sent my brothers an email describing a day I had spent at the hospital with my parents. The day had been difficult, but as Mom and I readied to leave late in the evening Dad rallied, rose from the bed amidst a tangle of wires and lines, and offered his embrace to his wife who quietly accepted. Without moving, they stood together as if in a private and forever dance. No words were spoken. It was the sweetest thing I have ever seen.

3: The Second Time Is the Hardest

hill_runningYesterday, I ran up a 1/2 mile hill four times. This is what I do once a week to get ready for the hills of San Francisco in July. I will work up to five repeats in a couple of weeks and then stay at that level the for the rest of my training.

That’s not me in the picture, but it is a cool picture, don’t you think?

I can tell I’m getting stronger because when I’m not running on hills I feel better. Great. But, here’s the thing. The first time up the hill is fine, the second time kind of sucks bad, and the third and fourth times are okay. Why is that?

Seems to me that the last one should be the worst, but it never is. Wait, I kind of get that because the last one is THE LAST ONE, but why isn’t the third one harder than the second one. I know there is a simple answer somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. I have an idea, though. I’m going to run them in reverse order next time to see what happens….

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Plastic Potato and a Purple Pony

My nephew, Grant, will graduate from high school in a few weeks. When he was a toddler we used our fancy new 8mm video camera to capture some of the key moments of his childhood. A Christmas; some birthdays; an Easter visit at our house.

After a few years of watching (and taping) as all seven of our nieces and nephews grew up, we stopped using that camera. It either broke or we gave it away so we still have the tapes, but no mechanism to watch them. And that technology has long since come and gone.

But, then, there’s eBay. A week ago, I “won” an old camera that will not only play the 8mm tapes, but lets me import them to my computer and convert them to a digital format.

mr-potato-headAnyway, two nights ago (and sixteen years later) there on our Mac was two-year old Grant carefully opening packages, singing “Rudolph,” and gleefully enjoying Christmas Day, 1995. The big moment, though, came when he opened one of the gifts that Sally and I had for him. “Tata-head,” he shouted, “Tata-head, Tata-heeeaaad! Tata-head, Dad. Tata-head, Annie!” He stood on the couch on his tip-toes and with all his heart, “Tata-heeeaaaadddd!”

It’s a plastic potato, after all.

And that episode reminded me of the time a few years prior when we gave Bridget, our oldest niece, a miniature (also plastic) “My Little Pony” of an unnatural, bold, dark purple shade, a shiny light purple mane, eyes two big for its head, and stars and sequins on its back. That gift, quite literally, forced the breath to escape from Bridget’s little body. She was speechless (unlike Grant) and momentarily unable to breathe as she held her precious friend tight to her chest.

Would that we could carry that unabashed joy throughout our lives. It’s hard to celebrate so easily and so simply when combined with our happiness we face challenges, and sickness, and sadness, and pain. My sweet young loved ones had not yet witnessed those things so their pleasure was uncomplicated by anything other than the moment itself. It’s a shame that they have and will experience times of sorrow, but such is life for all of us.

I’m pretty good at seeing light through darkness, but today (thanks to Grant and Bridget) I am going to try a new mantra when the clouds roll in. It goes like this:


Thursday, April 28, 2011

3-4 Thursday

Okay, I admit it, I got this idea from another blog. But it might just work for me, too. Instead of having a fully formed idea--which doesn’t happen often enough--on some Thursdays I’ll just share three things on my mind. Or, maybe I’ll just try it this once…

#1: Tornado > Run

The first thing I do when I wake up is listen to the weather. I don’t mind running in most conditions. In fact, I really like running in rain and snow. But when I heard that there was a tornado sighted in Lansdowne, which is not very far from where I live, well, I didn’t run today.

Normally, Fridays are a day of rest. Tornado on Thursday > Rest on Friday.

Texaco#2: $5 Worth, Please

To the attendant my dad would say, “$5 worth, please,” and he’d get most of a tank-full of gas, the oil checked, and the windshield wiped. Yesterday, I put $72 worth into my car. Pumped it myself. Couldn’t find the squeegee to do the windshield. Not sure how to check the oil… Oh, I guess one upside was that while I was filling the tank I could watch highlights from last night’s installment of “Entertainment Tonight” on the pump.

#3: Time Flies

I made a joke yesterday based on the film, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” that no one really responded to favorably. You see there was this maintenance guy on his hands and knees diligently scraping the dirt and grime out of a floor panel in our building. I said, “he must have done something bad.” Does anyone get that immediately? No? Free boonies for the duration. Nothing? I want your DOR. Get it? You can kick me out, but I ain’t quittin’?

I guess that movie came out 30 years ago. I got nowhere else to go.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It’s Official.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun my training for my next BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Look for me at the starting line of the San Francisco Marathon on July 31, 2011.

sfmWhy San Francisco? Well, for lots of reasons not the least of which is a chance to combine a great adventure and a visit with my brother, John, who has lived in the Bay Area for many years.

I also fell in love with the city when I did business there back in the 1980’s. Oh, and of course there is the incredible attraction of running across the Golden Gate Bridge (twice). It’s a demanding/hilly course, but I think I’m up for that or at least I will be three months from now.

Note: The cool weather in San Francisco makes it one of the few spots in the United States where you can run a “big city” marathon comfortably in mid-summer.

Typically, I tie my endurance challenges to raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research. But this time I decided to give all of my wonderful and constant supporters a break from that annual request. Maybe later this year—or even next year—I will find another way to do that. But, for now, peace on that front. And, of course, thank you again and again to all of those who have sponsored me over the years.

This doesn’t mean I will be running without purpose. Far from it. The good will of my family and friends who have supported me in my fundraising efforts over the last 18 years will again be a sustaining force. Making the most of this gift called life, in my father’s memory, a second driver. And, ultimately, I run because I know that others who suffer from illnesses like MS cannot. I do it for them.

I’ll post regularly here, among other topics, but you can follow my marathon preparation daily on Twitter, too, @chasruns2stopms.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It’s There. You Just Can’t See It.

Ashley, Allyson, Jenny, and HaileyI love soccer, but I coach for the relationships. The spring season brings longer days, warm weather (eventually), and more chances to bring the team together. That typically means 3-4 times per week for “fun and friendship” on the pitch. I think this is what heaven will be like for me.

But the springtime changes when your team enters high school. Most of the girls get a chance to play for their schools and they dive into that with everything they have. And that means their priorities have to shift, rightfully. They get to practice five days a week—which is awesome—but other things in their life have to get moved out to make room for that intensity.

So what role does their Avalanche team have for them? Well, it’s simply their home. Some will have good experiences on their new teams and some will have less than good experiences. But all know that they have a place they can go to that will be consistent and free and safe. Avalanche soccer is good, yes, but the bonds they share are even better.

The other day, I watched Heritage (Jenny and Hailey) play against Stone Bridge (Allyson). Allyson scored the only and winning goal in a 1-0 match. Both of the Heritage girls said, though, that if they had to lose they were glad it was to their Avalanche teammate. After the match they all hugged each other with no thoughts of winning or losing, just one of friendship. Ashley, who did not make her high school team, was there, too, and she was equally happy for her teammates and friends.

I believe that the thirteen other girls in light blue would have acted exactly the same way because the Avalanche has an important place in their hearts and will, forever. You can’t see it; you can’t touch it. But you know it’s there.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The First Few Weeks

I coach a girls travel soccer team. They are high school freshmen, and many of them now play for their school teams (yay!). Unfortunately, a few that tried out did not make it.

After their initial disappointment we collaborated and came up with a plan to get them more ready for next year’s opportunity. The plan includes running for fitness five times per week (among other soccer-specific activities).

Fifteen-year old people, typically, do not do that. In fact, when I first suggested the idea to Ash, Dana, and Jenny the concept was met without much excitement or any belief that it was a good idea. But, to their credit, they are mostly sticking with the plan, and they are finding out what I already knew.

1. The first few weeks are the toughest.

Whether you’re training for your first 10k or marathon or just trying to get more fit, the first first two weeks of your running program kind of, well, suck. You don’t feel the gains, but you feel the pain. The miles seem long and tedious—even when you only have one or two to do. You feel like you’ve accomplished something when you finish each run, but when you start the next one you still dread it. You have to trust that they payoff will be there, but you aren’t quite sure.

2. But it will pay off (I promise).

Unprompted, all three girls have come to me recently and said they are starting to feel a real difference now. Their stamina is increasing; their confidence is growing. Their bodies have adjusted to the new demands, and are beginning to thrive.

And, in our first game of the spring season, all three had excellent showings. One of their goals was to keep up with their teammates who are playing and practicing five days per week at school, and in some ways the three were even better than I had envisioned.

3. Once you get through this part, you want to keep going.

Yesterday was one of the first beautiful/warm evenings of the season. I texted the girls and said, “what a great night to get out for a run.” Since they have many competing priorities, the girls can easily be distracted from the plan so a little motivation/reminder from me doesn’t hurt. Within seconds of my text, here’s what I got back from Ash:

“Dana and I are already done.”

We have transitioned from the coach saying this is a good idea to the girls knowing that it is.

The first few weeks are over.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Best of Times

When I’m considering the next big event to run (read marathon) I look for “race reports” written by previous participants to help me make my decision. These first-hand accounts give excellent insight into the course, the golden-gatehills, the weather, and all other things related.

Honest retellings are, frankly, much more reliable than the promotional materials you find on the event web sites, although that stuff also has good value.

Yesterday, as I was reading a blog of the San Francisco marathon, it struck me that most race reports have a decidedly negative feeling to them. The most memorable, and most reported, aspects of the races are the moments of suffering or bad weather or tough hills. Having run two marathons myself, I remember those moments quite clearly, and they do tend to resonate. But that doesn’t discount the times of joy and beauty or the elation that came from crossing the finish line on my own two feet.

When I mentioned this thinking to Sally, my wife, she rightly pointed out that most people, when they relate stories about their lives, have a tendency to focus on the most difficult parts of their journey. Perhaps our minds and hearts lean toward the “80-20” rule where 80% of what we remember is kind of bad and 20% is kind of good.

I’d argue, though, that our lives aren’t really that way. I think that 80% (or more) of what we experience is good and even great. Perhaps the other 20% is marked with overwhelming pain and sadness on occasion, and maybe that’s why it takes a bigger portion of our consciousness. And I don’t disagree that the challenges we face are often interesting and stirring, but it’s what we do to overcome the challenges that truly inspires.

Maybe the simple realization that life just comes with joy and sorrow can help us keep a more balanced perspective. “Accept the bad with the good” seems trite, yes. On the other hand, accentuating the negative seems counterproductive to a life of abundance well-lived. We can choose to hurt every day or we can choose to celebrate each day while coping with the hurt. I choose the latter.

And so, after I finish my next marathon, I’m going to write a race report that never mentions how hard it was. No, wait, I’m going to use the “20-80” rule where 20% of the story focuses on the hard parts and the other 80% tells you what a thrill it was to run across the Golden Gate Bridge twice. I may not have run my best time, but the run will be among my best of times.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Small and Needed Breakthrough

For the past few weeks running has been a chore. After almost two full years of jumping out of bed early each day, the bed started winning. The pull of those warm covers became just too great to resist, and I gave in.

On some days I was still able to get a workout done by going in late to work or running afterwards. But, on other days, well, I just didn't go at all. This failure worked on my conscience every day. As I've said before, my life always goes better with exercise. The reverse also seems to be true.

I was starting to think that I was just getting too old for this, but when I went to bed last night I made a resolution for this morning. Run 6 miles. No matter what.

When the time to go came around, of course, it was cold and foggy. Perfect. Not. The same covers were tugging at me, the same stiff joints were calling out. The Today Show looked interesting.

I had to be somewhere at 9:30. The time I had to get it done was ticking away. It was now or maybe later or maybe not.

Tights. Two layers of warmth up top. Shoes tied. iPod on. Gloves on. Garage door up. Garage door down. No turning back. Watch starts. I'm off.

For the first three miles I felt old and tired and slow, but then things started to change. I started to feel loose and fast. Okay, maybe not fast, but certainly loose. Not young, but not terribly old either. I got lost in the fresh air and the cool mist and some favorite music. And the next three miles went by in no time at all.

I made it. One step at a time. It has been a good day since then, too.

This afternoon I let the sheets pull me back in for some nap time together. We're on good terms again. This may be a nice compromise.

Location:Ashburn, VA

Thursday, February 10, 2011

127 Hours

I’m always looking for a good, inspirational story, but I’m not sure I was ready for this one. After sampling the first couple of chapters—thank you Kindle for the nice feature of “sample ebooks before you buy”—of Aron Ralston’s, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” I took the plunge into an amazing tale of life and death and survival.

For those of you who don’t know, Ralston is a young man who became trapped in one of Aron_Ralston_Utah’s “slot canyons,” and had to make the decision to amputate his own arm in order to save his life.

Slot canyons are other-worldly and beautiful places to hike and climb. They can also be very narrow, and that explains how Ralston became trapped by a huge boulder. Accidentally dislodged, the rock crashed onto Ralston’s arm, pinning it against the canyon wall, and isolating him in a place where no one knew he was or could be.

After five days of gradually starving and dehydrating—and exhausting all other possibilities to extricate his arm—Ralston freed himself using only his body weight, materials from his climbing gear and backpack, and a somewhat worn down utility knife (think LeatherMan).

To say Ralston exhausted all possibilities is a bit of an understatement because he has immense experience in both climbing and rescue climbing. The ingenuity he demonstrated to craft a pulley system to potentially move the boulder is not something most of us would be prepared to do in the same situation. For virtually the entire time he was trapped he pounded away at the boulder hoping to break enough off to allow him to pull himself free.

Yes, I was inspired, but not by the central story. Ralston is a man who sets lofty goals and then pursues them relentlessly—even after his accident. At the time he became trapped he was most of the way through his plan to climb all of the 53 Colorado mountain peaks that are over 14,000 feet in elevation. Yes, lots of people have done that. I’ve even climbed one of the easier ones (Pikes Peak). What made Ralston different? He went after all of them during the winter. Alone. He is the only one.

As Ralston videotaped (he always carries video and still cameras with him) his goodbyes to his friends and families there was sadness, but very few regrets. That’s because he has lived his life to the fullest extent possible. A life of abundant living, fully lived, fully experienced. That’s what I hope for.

The movie, “127 Hours,” is in theaters now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How much is a championship worth?

MiracleOnIce_TeamLast night, while I was running on my treadmill during a snowstorm, I watched “Miracle” for the unknown-th time. It’s the story of the 1980 USA hockey team and their spectacular and unexpected Olympic gold medal. Their run to the podium included a, literally, miraculous victory over the then-unparalleled team from the Soviet Union.

I can’t help it. I cry every time I watch it. With all of the changes in the world since then I cannot help wondering if we will ever witness anything like that again. But then I remembered that I just did have a similar feeling.

On a much smaller scale, but also unexpectedly, my soccer girls won their first tournament championship.

Granted, the games were played in the middle of the night—when everyone should have been asleep. Granted, the competition was nowhere near the same level. Okay, sure, it’s not the really the same at all. In my heart, though, the joy was as good as it gets.

You see the girls had been close to winning before, but never quite made it over the hump. They have more “finalist” medals than they know what to do with, and they are proud of their second-place finishes. But it’s not the same—not nearly the same—as the feeling that champions get.

And, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t really even sure how much they cared. They are a pretty even-keeled bunch. They enjoy their sport, they are proud of their accomplishments, they don’t worry too much about losing, and they laugh a lot and have fun together. When the tournament began I told them that they were playing against older teams and that I would be happy as long as they never quit.

So, with no time remaining on the clock in the final—and after a last second penalty on one of our defenders—an opposing player lined up to take a penalty kick. That’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper for those of you who don’t know. If she makes it, we get second place. Again.

Our keeper, Kaitlyn, stood there nervous but ready and she blocked it. Championship! But, wait, the referee decided that something (I’m not sure what) had been done wrong—and a re-kick was awarded.

Kaitlyn blocked the second kick, too. And out of the team box raced her mates, jumping up and down, hugging each other, not letting go, screaming, laughing, celebrating.