Friday, August 15, 2014

Still seeking...

...elusive balance...

I find myself with a growing aversion to Facebook.  This world is fraught with negativity, contention, and intolerance (among a billion other things that serve to tear down our spirits) so why come to a place that essentially has become a negativity-freebaser's dream.  People hide behind the "anonymity" of the keyboard, the distance of the wireless connection, and the faux confidence that swells in us all when we feel we can share from our own personal pedestal - social media.  Nope, I am not an innocent party to this, rather I am striving to learn how weigh others against he same scale upon which I find myself.  Perhaps that is the difference.  "Cast ye the first stone..." and I used to walk around with an armful.  Still I catch myself gathering, on occasion, but to what end?  None.  We must learn to gaze upon our own reflection from a position that others may see us.  Not to the loss of our own morals, identities, and uniqueness.  No, truly, it takes all kinds.  I do feel, however, if people stepped outside themselves with more frequency we could identify those things that make us so similar...starting with baseline humanity. We very likely will have the living crap scared right out of us in what we find in some people.  No one says we have to embrace it, either.  However, we will be far more prepared to respond and handle those things that truly are intolerable. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Living deliberately...

I'd sure like to say that I've made great progress since my last post.  Such is not the case.  I've lost complete traction.  Well, that is how it started but to say that now might suggest there has been an active effort to change.  To suggest that would be a blatant lie.  Outside of the frequent "I need to do something" thought there has been no effort.  However, over the last couple of days a though process has begun in my head as I search to once again find my footing.  This process was further solidified last night as I watched a documentary entitled "Tiny:  A story about living small."  As of this writing it is available on Neflix or via purchase at the website home of the movie:  Tiny: A story about living small - A documentary   It quoted one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite writings...  


"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner..."

Henry David Thoreau  from "Walden"

With regard to my running, fitness, and nutrition, I have been essentially mindless, lacking deliberation and deliberateness.  For that matter, my life frequently transects this same concept.  The following is the thought process that has grown out of Mr. Thoreau's quote.  While it doesn't apply directly to running and fitness, as written, it is no stretch to find clear application.  I must move forward with deliberateness or I shall continue to swell into poor health.  

I've put a lot of thought into this quote since first reading it some years ago. Last night, watching a documentary called "Tiny: A story about living small" brought forth this concept again. Living deliberately has been lost. We (meaning Americans) have so much we can live mindlessly. We can have so much stuff it gets piled into closets, packed into boxes and stored, perhaps to never be seen in our living years. We can drive to the nearest convenience store and pick from shelves of sweets and boxed foods that have more calories (and lacks most essential nutrients) than many "disadvantaged" humans consume annually. Some of us fret over which shirt to wear when there are people walking this earth rummaging over garbage dumps hoping to find the essentials of survival. We complain about so many things despite having so much. Many accept, even demand, handouts, sin gratas, and gladly wear a label of disabled, disadvantaged, or worse. We do not have to live deliberately as we wallow in plenty. I can't help but wonder if it is this lack of deliberation and deliberateness that has lead to some of the awfulness we see on the news or, in the case of our public safety workers (etc) witness in person.
This is not to say we all should abandoned all that we have... living deliberately is an active process and if a person is content with where he stands then good for him. What I suggest is we explore the idea of living deliberately. For me this will bear disparate consequences than for the next guy. The picture of such will be painted in far different colors, brush to brush.
Nope, I'm not stoned. These are the thoughts that rattle through my head sometimes. LOL It is the evolution of thought that will bring us forward. If you walk away and at least consider what "living deliberately" means, even if the result is diametrically opposed to my statements above, then you've already moved forward from where you woke up this morning.
Have a rockin' day...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Starting over at ground zero is not a bad thing...

     I find it rather poetic that my last post, dated April 24th, 2013, was about ownership.  I need to go back and re-read it but I have a feeling I, unwittingly, was writing to myself.  The first half of 2013 was a great running year for me, completing two half marathons and a 25k all within about 60 days of each other.  I was feeling great.  I had even registered for a fall marathon; it was to be my first ever full marathon.  Then I took a hard fall in mid-way through July and the wheels came flying off the wagon.  I knew I was hurt but it wasn't one of those injuries that is so obvious you immediately know it is time for an extended break.  The fall came at mile 7 of a 15 miler and I landed hard on my right hip almost falling into traffic.  I seldom run that close to traffic, it was just the route of the day.  It scared me and I walked about 5 miles of the return trip to my vehicle.  After a couple week break I ran again and all seemed well except for an odd, nagging pain in my right buttocks.  It wouldn't prevent me from running but the discomfort became a weird tingling and eventual numbness that spread down my leg into the top of my right foot.  Again, I could run through it and managed just fine.  I consulted fellow runners and read several sources of information and everything pointed to piriformis syndrome.  I was owning it alright.  NOTHING was going to stop me from running.

     Yeah, wrong I was. I decided going back to school to finish my bachelor's degree, online.  I didn't properly account for the additional time demands it would bring to the equation.  While I immediately realized the marathon was no longer a reasonable goal I still had enough time to train for a 10k and possibly a half marathon.  As a matter of fact I was fairing rather well despite the pain and numbness that infiltrated my entire right leg, waist to foot.  Summer became fall, fall into winter.  I was getting up at 0400 to run before work, working a full day, then coming home to do homework, be a husband, and be a father.  The problem was, I had forgotten to be human.  "I'm only taking 7 credits," was the reoccurring thought that accompanied "I'm only running 6 miles at a stretch."  Something was bound to give, right?

     Give it did. I managed through the winter OK... even making sure I got an outside run in January 1st.  It was nothing heroic but I rang in the year with a run just the same.  The winter of 2013-14 was unusually cold and a protracted cold at that.  For the record, as I began typing this on the morning of May 16, 2014, it was lightly snowing outside.  (that alone makes a guy want to step outside and scream at the clouds)  I was running 4-5 times a week, most of those days started at the stated 0400.  I'd reached my distance limit without getting up even earlier but by this time I had come to realize fatigue was winning that battle.  In late February I began having heart palpitations, often random, throughout the day.  They'd come and go for no particular reason.  Given my background I had enough medical training to do a quick check - no associated weakness, chest pain, nausea, sweating, nor faintness.  It was rather uncomfortable and caused me to catch my breath on occasion but I wasn't breathless, if that makes any sense.  Yes, I will admit, there was a sprinkle of denial there also.  I never noticed it while running and it usually started while at rest - which, most of my job is sitting at a desk where I can pay particular attention to the discomforting sensation.  I gave up coffee, diet soda, and energy drinks - all within the repertoire of keeping me upright through any given day. Eventually it was occurring so frequently I decided to see a doctor.  A running friend had told me I wasn't getting enough sleep and that was the likely cause.  Lack of sleep?  C'mon.

     Doctor visits don't bother me.  Sure, I might be mildly uncomfortable as I anticipate the mini-lecture about loosing weight, that I am long overdue for a physical, and the general mild chastisement any doctor gives his patients.  However, I can normally visit the doctor with relative ease.  Not on this occasion.  I could not relax.  Despite giving up the caffeine I was still experiencing the symptoms and I didn't want to hear the possibilities.  The nurse took my pulse and blood pressure, both of which were markedly elevated.  Also up was my weight, by about 15 pounds since my last visit to the office some months before.  This clearly was not shaping up to be a happy, "keep up the great work," visit.  "Ok, take off your shirt..." was the last instruction she gave me before exiting the room for a moment.  God in heaven WHY?  I don't like looking in the mirror let alone getting my hulk undressed at the demands of a woman with whom my only relationship was checking my vital signs and a polite smile.  Go ahead and think "she's only a nurse."  You're right and I know.  An overdeveloped self consciousness has always been an issue for me.  None the less, I followed her demands and disrobed from the waist up.  She returned to the room and performed an EKG with hardly a word except to instruct me to go ahead and get dressed again.  I'd be a liar if I didn't admit the snarky thought, "Is it really that bad" entered my mind.

After about 20 minutes the doctor came into the room and did the usual once over.  He sat down as we chatted and reviewed the results of the EKG.  I told him I'd given up coffee, diet soda, and energy drinks and he was sincere despite sounding incredulous when he congratulated me in taking that big step. He then sat back with a sigh and I prepared myself for the news.  What he was about to say could change the way I approached many things, including running, forever.  Something so simple as being hooked up to a machine that reads the electrical impulses could provide a window into my heart, truly.  Imagine my relief when he said it was completely normal.  I even gave a nervous chuckle of relief at his disclosure that my heart was not at about to explode right out of my chest.  I wasn't exactly happy about what he said next, though.  "Get more rest and keep running."  Well, isn't that the million dollar equation.  Happy that death was not imminent but discouraged that yet another reliable source told me that I needed more sleep I left the doctor's office in search of a new plan.  Ultimately that plan was give up getting up at 0400 to run and getting more sleep.

I'd sure like to be able to share some success story, on how I was able to manipulate my schedule, adjust y running, and it all worked out.  It didn't.  I was discouraged.  I was busting my arse at work, home, and getting my online classes done.  I let discouragement steal an opportunity to overcome a challenge.  I was spent and just gave in and quit running after brief and sparse effort to simply get up later.  I suppose my mindset was "if I can't run the mileage I want then I'm not running at all."  Super healthy, I know.  My last logged run as March 15th, 5 miles on the treadmill.  What it did allow was more sleep.  Instead of getting up at 0400 I was getting up at 0530 to get ready for work.  Over the course of about three weeks the occasional heart palpitations nearly completely disappeared.  My caffeine intake is still 90% less than what it used to be despite allowing myself to drink a cup of 50/50 caf/decaf coffee periodically.  I was still pretty exhausted most days as I tended to my other responsibilities.  Running was just going to have to wait.

Fast forward 8 weeks later.  In those two months I've not given up on the thought of running but my attitude was not good.  I ate and drank whatever I wanted and in whatever quantity I wanted.  Sort of a masochistic approach of feeding one desire while punishing one's self for neglecting another.  I ate well, drank good beer, and did so often.  I won't pretend to be some psychological expert but I know enough that it is all to easy to trade off one hobby for another and eating good food and drinking good beer is a hobby that is not difficult to learn.  As a result, my weight is back to where it was in 2006, when I first started running.  It was already up before taking the break despite my running but I'd hazard a guess I'm up 10-15 lbs over the last 8 weeks.  Surprisingly enough my pulse and blood pressure have returned to normal and acceptable levels now that school is over.  I'd expect them to stay elevated for sake of failing to run.  At the same time it is also a testament to the lasting benefits of running even when it isn't possible.  Whatever the case may be it was going to turn into something very ugly unless I owned and fixed the problem.

So, in the spirit of ownership, I will own that I need to be done with excuses of why I cannot run.  School is over and I am rested.  I weighed in at 244.8 lbs which is not my heaviest but is within ounces of the my 2006 decision to run weight.  I am a firm believer that if you own it you are already ahead of the game in this world.  It is my problem and only I can fix it.  My intent here is to log my progress and struggles.  This will require a new level of commitment that I had not taken on before.  I've kicked around the idea often but have never truly committed to detailing my path.  What better time than when I'm starting  back over almost completely.  The advantages I have before is a better understanding of who I am, my physiology, and some remnant fitness.  The disadvantages are I am not in my mid-40's instead of my mid-30's.  10 years makes a huge difference.  Still, I'm on board.  I kicked it off today by jumping on my treadmill (remember, it snowed today) and followed the Couch to 5K (C25k) week one-day one plan.  According to the treadmill I covered just over 2 miles in about 32 minutes.  Disgustingly slow compared to what I was once capable of but far better than wallowing in self pity and shoving cheese burgers and fried into my face.

I look forward to sharing this with you and hope you see, except for a minority, running for the layperson is no different a struggle than everyday life.  It has it ups and downs.  It comes with frustrations, enlightenment, challenges, and elation.  I've been down this path similarly before and am ready to take it on again, with ownership.   If you have stumbled across this blog and wish to share you own story or feedback I'd love to hear it.  Email me at vancewillrun @gmail.com

'Til the next mile...

Vance

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ownership - when something doesn't go the way you want it to, look first at yourself.

I recently applied secure interviews for two leadership positions within the same organization.  The first time around was back in January of this year and it was for the position of Director.  I've been readying myself for this sort of position since 1996.  I've put my time in on the floor and have been in a supervisory roll for the last 9 years.  I had some misgivings about a few aspects of the job but if there was one thing I know about myself its that I can pick things up pretty quick.  I walked in and OWNED the interview panel.  Owned them, I did.  However, I didn't sell them my leadership abilities.  I didn't even get a second interview.  This sent me into a momentary tailspin of self doubt and, frankly, a little depression.  The sort of inconsolable place that the kind words of friends and family made the feeling worse.  I was deflated, truly feeling deflated.  Thankfully, I was able to move past that point which I equate to screaming into a pillow.  That sort of action; the kind that lets out hurt and frustration but does little more to help better the the situation in the long term.  Figuratively I picked myself up and formed a plan.  I emailed one of the members of the interview board and asked for, and received, feedback.  The one point that keeps coming back to me was I did not "illustrate my leadership experience."  Sure, I can tell them all day and tomorrow that I am a good leader, but I have to show them, through solid examples.  I did not do that part.  I looked back at my answer, playing them over on the big movie screen in my head.  He was right, I didn't.  Lesson learned.  Focus gain.  Moving on.  

The upside of not getting that position of Director was a friend did - as a matter of fact, I had stepped into his office following my own interview and told him "...if I don't get it, I hope you do." That was sincere; not a simple courtesy gesture.  I'd worked in the field with him for over a decade and knew he has what it takes to make a good leader.  When it was eventually announced he had been given the position I was excited for him.  Ray, you will do very well at the head of that organization.  

Now, March of this year.  Ray had decided to not fill his old position of Systems Administrator and convinced his Board to allow him to create the position of Operations Manager.   A friend that works for his organization asked if I would apply for the position.  I'd like to say it was an immediate "YES!", but it wasn't that simply.  I'd been passed over once before, why would they consider me again - this was the primary argument my brain settle upon.  However, reason won out,  I still had the focus from being passed over for Director, and if the worst thing I had to face was fear of rejection then there was nothing to fear at all.  I reworked my cover letter, adjusted my resume, and boldly sent out the application package well before the deadline.  It was done.  All I had to do was wait for a call if they wanted to interview me.  It came, in the form of a text message from Ray, but it came.  I had an interview.  

The theme of the next week and a half was INSOMNIA.  I slept worse in those 10 days than I had in the two weeks leading up to the interview for Director.  I read, and reread the job description and the same conclusion kept coming to my mind - this job was mine as long as I followed the advice provided by the Board member.  I knew that part of the job was going to be somewhat IT related and "techy" but I knew enough to get a good start and learn the rest as it came along.  I struggled not to be overconfident, to not picture myself moving down to the area and working for this organization.  I believe in positive thinking but I also fearing the possibility of rejection all over again.  That was a long 10 days.

The day of the interview I was up early and on the road for the 2 hour drive.  "Illustrate your answers" kept playing over in my mind.  I'd been preparing myself for this interview, reminding myself to slow down, speak clearly and purposefully, to sound like a leader, etc.  Arriving about 20 minutes early I studied my notes; I was as ready as I'd ever be. 

I was the first to be interviewed.  Instead of the Board it was Ray and another, former member, of the local public safety field.  The interview lasted 35 minutes and consisted of a number of specific question related to leadership, interpersonal communication abilities, and of course IT.  If I walked out feeling like I owned the interview for Director, I knew I had actually owned this interview except for the chink in the armor, the IT questions.  I walked out feeling very good about the interview, even with the weak answers surrounding the IT portion.  The job description played back in my mind.  It discussed IT but made it sound the primary focus would be personnel management and interpersonal communication with the agencies served and the public.  This was my strong suit.  I knew if those things weighed at least equally heavy as the IT then the job was mine.  I am still sure of that even as I type this.  Sad to say, it wasn't.  Ray called me that evening to let me know he had selected another person based on his need for an individual with strong IT qualifications.  As he spoke I felt the wind escaping from beneath my wings.  Even his words "If we were looking for a traditional Operations Manager, you'd be at the top of the list" were of little consolation.   Ouch, that strangely hurt.  I parted our brief phone conversation with a sincere offer, "If you ever need anything, call me and I am there."     

This all took place less than a week ago now, last Friday as a matter of fact.  That evening was spent in deep retrospect.  Was there anything else I could have done to demonstrate my abilities?  Was I really not good enough?  Did I talk so fast I didn't give myself time to think and, thus, illustrate my abilities?  I'm not above admitting there was even a brief pity party.  The difference was, however, I quickly decided that that will be the last time, ever, that I am passed over because I don't have the knowledge base to demonstrate what I truly know.  I know whom Ray selected and, while I don't know him, I have little doubt he has significantly stronger abilities and experiences in the IT world.  Even if I was able to talk the talk to the level of my abilities I still may not have been selected for the position.  Again I revisited the official job description and I was tempted to feel offended by what I read; it simply did not put as much weight on the IT portion of the job as the job was really going to demand.  

It was right there I made the conscious choice to own the steamy pile of disappointment and take matters into my own hands.  Let it be know I truly trust Ray and know he made the right choice based on his true needs.  So, instead of blaming things outside my control I now take ownership over that which I must control.  I have scheduled a phone conference with Ray this coming Friday to pique his brain and gain a better focus, to find a launching point, to fill in the knowledge I don't presently have.  This is a "me" problem.  I am not the victim of a weak job description.  I have not lived completely in a box for the last 19 years of my career.  I know the technological changes facing my field are numerous and on going.  If I don't take full ownership of this situation then I will get nowhere and I will likely never gain the position my heart so deeply desires.  

For my running friends you may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with running."  Running to me is my most successful example of ownership.  This young blog has detailed something that is central to my existence - realizing no one could save me from an early death, except me.  As people, as runners, parents, students, whatever title you bear, you have to own those things which you can control.  Yes, most certainly yes, there will be things that come up in life that are beyond your control and very likely rob you of periods of joy and success.  Through a process you can come to see that it is ok to feel bad about those moments but there also comes a time when you need to pick up the pieces and move on.  "Pissing against the wall" is the phrase that comes to mind when I envision how much energy I wasted, as a younger person, being angry and resentful at things beyond my control.  Instead of taking my life by the reins and heading in a different direction I let myself be the tiny metal ball in a game of Pachinko, getting bounced every which way, having no control over my own destiny, hoping I'd end up scoring high and being disappointed when I didn't.  Enough is enough, yeah?  Own it, baby, own it.  We strap on our running shoes when it's cold and wet outside and our minds tell us we don't want to get out there.  We hit the weight machines when we'd rather just take a break.  We pick up the pieces, we move forward, and when in control, a better direction.

I look outside right now and see the freshly fallen snow on this late April day.  Frankly, it disgusts me.  (laughing at the ridiculousness)  I want 60+ degrees and sun to run in.  It has been a long winter and it simply won't die.  However, what can I do to change it?  Well, moving south is not an invalid possibility, right?  I'd just have to own the idea, quit my job, sell my house, and move south.  It would be very complicated process but as long as I were willing to take on all that was necessary to make it possible, it is possible, no?  It isn't an option that I'm truly considering but it makes the illustration that we often let things own us and, thus, dictate where we end up.  I could have allowed myself to wallow in self pity and disappointment of missing this job opportunity.  Instead, I will own the fact there are things I can learn that will prevent this from happening again under similar circumstances.  Plain and simple.  Life sucks at times, that is a fact.  It's how we handle ourselves after those moments that demonstrate if you truly grasp the concept of ownership.  If more people truly understood it, we'd be in a much better place.

Thank you, that is my two cents on this one.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life - it will truly run by you if you don't run with it!

"L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs"   Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

I do not speak French.  However, the proverb "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" was the first thing that came to mind now that I have finally taken just a few moments to sit and write. After a very brief internet search I found the proverb is attributed to the quote by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as above.  Translated his quote is, "hell is full of good wishes and desires."  Isn't that the truth...

I've intended on blogging and doing a podcast for a long time now... as in at least 3 years.  I've had countless ideas, great ideas, and even prepared things to say and what have you.  However, I always seemed to have found a reason to not sit down and just do it.  It may have been the kids had some sort of function; my wife had something planned;  I was too exhausted; etc etc.  The reasons are countless.  However, I love to write and share my experiences.  Like my running, this can be the "one" thing I do for me, about me, and take whatever path it leads.  

Life will pass me by if I let it.  As a matter of fact, until I was in my 30's that is exactly what I did.  I missed innumerable opportunities to better myself physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually.  

I was a timid kid all in all; one of those that struggled on the inside but had no issues putting on a slapstick-happy go lucky front when painted into a social corner, which was often.  I was the kind of kid that would do something just because it wasn't the norm - like track.  The cool thing to do for spring sports at the tiny high school I went to was play baseball.  When I say tiny I am not exaggerating very much - my graduating class was 49 people.  So, at least in baseball they could put together enough skill to actually win some games.  Personally, I LOVED playing baseball and came from some strong baseball genes.  I was pretty freakin' good if I don't mind saying so myself. As a runner, I was a relatively portly adolescent fraught with freckles, pale (albeit clear) skin, and a listless view on where my future would lead.  Note, the best characteristic there was being a ginger!  I was relatively fast - for the first 40 yards, after which I quickly gassed.  However, given the right motivation I could be pretty darn quick - my fastest 1/4 mile was 58 seconds.  I'll tell that story another time.  My point is, I wasn't aspiring to be a runner;  I wasn't aspiring to be a shotputter;  I was simply aspiring to define myself as something different than the norm and, by God, I was going to in my own way and throwing normalcy back in the face of those that looked at me as odd was just the way I was going to do it!  For the record, I was elected "Must Unusual Personality" in the mock elections my senior year - a title I still wear proud today.  

My senior year of high school was relatively uneventful except for my attempts to enter the United States Navy.  Ever see "Full Metal Jacket?"  Remember the line, "You're a disgusting fatbody, Pyle!"  That most certainly would have been me if I had actually made it through to boot camp.  However, my portly physique, of which I carried all of my juvenile and adolescent life, caught up to me and prevented my from ever being able to join the Navy.  This only served to further tear down what little self esteem I already had.

As I entered adulthood that defeated, "probably won't amount to much more than this" attitude nipped at my heels.  Nipped at my heals?  Oh hell no, I hugged it like a baby, carried it around like a security blanket.  It was all I knew.  It was me.  If I had let it go I would have been faced with another identity crisis!  God forbid I let it go and reach higher - that would mean more failure and we simply cannot have that!  So, for the next 18 years, after graduation, I did just that.  Don't get me wrong, I had some fantastic personal accomplishments, but that chubby redheaded kid never was far behind, wishing he was better off, richer, better looking, and most certainly thinner.  Runner?  Laughable, even.

In 2005 I was a 911 dispatcher, paramedic, and fire fighter.  Sound heroic?  I won't take away from the service to the community but I was burying myself in work.  264 lbs of hero if you so choose.  At smidgen over half way between 5 and 6 ft 264 lbs is not pretty - especially since it was more blubber than muscle, like 75-25 ratio.  My favorite off duty past time was staying up late watching TV eating sandwiches, yes, that really was pretty much my life.  I had a family but I was not active outside of work.  My fitness and health simply continued the life long spiral toward an early death.

One day while in duty as a medic we were dispatched to a 38 year old man, not breathing/CPR in progress.  38? Seriously!  That was only three years old than myself.  When we arrived on scene I was not prepared for what I saw.  It was nothing gruesome nor macabre.  However, what I saw sent my mind reeling; it still startles me today.  The patient,  truly at 38 year old man, looked so much like me one of the fire fighters already on scene later mentioned at first he thought it WAS me.  We were there, on scene, for nearly 3 hours waiting for the various things that must happen once someone dies.  I had a lot of time to think and reflect.  The conclusion, I was going to end up like this fellow if I didn't change something.  Dead at a touch under 40 years of age, never to hear this children's laughter nor feel his wife's touch.  I knew, that day, I had to change or I'd end up like this man.

Over the course of the next several months I managed to loose 19#.  Spring 2006 had arrived and that call was still haunting me.  No, not true.  It was a stark reality I was headed down the same path, to an early death, that was haunting me.  Come April.  I had periodically gone for walks and on this particular day my son, then 6, and I were walking some trails nearby.  At one section of the trail is steep, though not especially long, hill.  In his vigor and youth he sprinted to the top.  "C'mon dad!"  I remember it distinctly.  His love of live and enthusiasm carried him to the top without breaking a sweat and wasn't about to let his dad hold him back!  So, I huffed it up the hill.  Half way up I was sweating, out of breath, and my heart was pounding in my chest.  No, I wasn't close to having a coronary; but, it did make it even more obvious to me that changes needed to happen and needed to happen ASAP.  

Over the next six weeks I walked each day at least 6 times a week.  I had no fancy gear - usually a pair of everyday denim shorts, a cotton tshirt (even sometimes a polo - I was just walking after all), and an pair of regular sneakers.  I was out there, doing it and nothing was going to stop me.  I had turned that corner, flipped that switch, whatever you want to call it.  I had moved beyond that horizon of knowing what I wanted to do but having not yet made the commitment to start.  That first week I walked I likely never completed a full mile any given day.  I was just out there, getting my body used to moving again.  I felt it, too. Who'd thought just walking would make you feel stiff and mildly sore.  However, that certainly is a testament to how out of shape I truly was.  

I never set out to be a runner.  Truly.  However, as the weeks passed my walking became faster, my breathing and pulse slower, and I was feeling good.  I was doing it!  Exercising!  The thought occurred to me, maybe I should try jogging?  At first I laughed it off.  I hadn't run since high school and I was still quite heavy.  The thought wouldn't go away; it persisted.  Starting at week 4 of my new experience, and until week 6, I went back and forth.  Finally, at the end of a mile, mile and a half walk, I made the decision, "Tomorrow I run." 

The day arrived and my goal was simply to run 5 minutes and walk the rest.  By this point I was pretty excited at the thought of trying it.  Running?  Could it be possible?  My spirits were high and I was going for it.  I pulled the truck into the parking lot at the trail head I'd become very familiar with over the last month and a half.  I wasn't dressed like a runner - still denim shorts, cotton shirt, cotton socks, and the same sneakers.  I stepped out of the truck, walked the 20 yards to the trail, and took off running!  Truly, the experience was spiritual.  The sound of the wind rushing past my ears, the feeling of my body moving at a speed it hadn't realized, under its own power, in decades.  It was the most amazing sensation I'd experienced in decades.  

5 minutes proved impossible that day.  At 2 minutes I was breathing rather hard.  By 2 and a half minutes my pulse was slamming in my chest and neck.  By 3 minutes it was clear I would be physically unable to maintain that pace and I slowed to a walk.  Exhausted, yes, but beaming.  I'd done it.  I had actually ran!  I was a bit disappointed I didn't make the goal but that was so far in the back of my mind compared to the accomplishment of moving faster than the speed of sloth!  I was freakin' PUMPED!

I finished up the rest of the workout as a fast walk.  I was still aglow when I made it back to my truck.  Motivation, yes, I was suddenly the poster child for motivation.  I quickly learned to walk for about 5 minutes before taking off running.  It took about two weeks for me to find a pace that I could maintain for any length of time.  Within a week I made my goal of 5 minutes.  I walked the rest of the route.  Slowly 5 minutes worked into 10 minutes, 10 into 15.  ETC. I was doing it.  The weight started coming down even faster.  The sneakers?  They fell apart.

What a feeling.  Truly, what a feeling.  I was evolving out of the old, defeated, self into something new.  Someone whom was relearning self worth, the benefits of investing in oneself.  If this is being selfish, it is the best form of selfishness anyone can embrace.  I have no doubts more people need to learn to love and appreciate themselves, just as I did.

That isn't the end of the story, but its a story that will only cease to be written when I take my last breath.  Frankly, I'm in no hurry to find the end.  Matter of fact, I'd just as soon make it epic.  There are still struggles interspersed amongst the highlights.  However, I am far more equipped to handle the everyday challenges and even the life changing events.  

Why do I run?  To keep writing, rewriting, and reshaping.  I promise you, come along on this journey, and you'll understand completely what I mean.


For reference - I mention struggles?  Me on the left was June 2012 at around 240 lbs. I'd mentioned weight control has always been an issue.  The picture of my on the right, 194 lbs, April, 2013.  I still have some work to do but I'm on my way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Tragedy - 2013

With all the posts that are already out there and no doubt to follow, I shall keep is short.  My heart goes out to everyone harmed by these events.  Let us not forget the 911 telecommunicators and dispatchers, police, fire, and EMS personnel, and first responders.  Though they each willingly do the job they do, they don't leave these types of events behind and remain unchanged themselves.  May justice find those that brought about these events and may blessings of healing befall everyone else.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Traverse City Trail Festival 25k... or a tad longer

Who says all the drama has to take place during the race?!

Locally, Mother Nature has been a bit fickle this spring.  She has started the spring thaw, took it back, dumped more ice/sleet/snow, thaw, snow, thaw, etc.  She knows exactly what she's doing - messing with we runners' minds.  However, we had seen a promising stretch of warmer weather were much of the snow cover in the area had gone away.  It was looking like the 2013 Traverse City Trail Festival series would be fun spring run down muddy but mostly snow free trails.  The Festival's agenda had a 10k relay Friday the 12 and an 11k, a 25k, and a 50k for the morning of Saturday the 13th.  


Mother Nature deemed otherwise.  Almost as if on queue to my having I received the email laying out the race course, she flipped on the ice/snow machine once again.  Maybe she did it because the week before the race I had the audacity to train on the very same snow covered trails that would host the 25k loop; who's to say?  Many of use watched the Festival's Facebook page like stranded airline passengers - knowing what might happen, hoping it wouldn't, fretting.  She'd have her way despite the best hopes.  One morning I awoke to 2" solid inches of super heavy, wet snow forced all the area schools to close due to a school bus driving off the road into a ditch.  That would later be followed by two full days of rain.  The Thursday before the race and ice/sleet storm that closed schools for Friday.  Despite all this, the most determined of we runners knew, deep down, we'd run almost as if in the face of whatever Mother Nature threw at us.  We are, afterall, runners!

Then, it came, the next update from the organizers.  Anyone running the 25k and 50k we'd already received word that the courses had to be modified due to the conditions; as a matter of fact, they'd been modified twice before.  However, this one caused hearts to sink.  "With deepest regret we must announce that, due to the trail conditions and impassable roads, we must cancel the 25 and 50k races."  I was deeply disappointed, not overly surprised, but disappointed.  They'd offered to let those registered runners join the 11k race that morning.  I resolved myself to this fact and even posted something to my timeline to that effect.  Stopping around in frustration and disappointment wouldn't solve anything.  Following the race's Facebook feed they received a number of retorts, people saying they'd be willing to run loops, etc.  

I was disappointed.  25k would be a new distance for me.  I knew I could do it but also know there is something different about running the distance in training versus during a race.  What is that difference exactly?  Frankly, its difficult to pin point except to say, it feels different or simply reaches a different part of a person's psyche.  11k?  Yeah, I'd do it.  I paid for it.  The start/finish line was 1/2 mile from my house.  There'd be a local brewery serving beer at the end of the race.  I'd be there.  

I was driving the 3 hours back home from a professional conference I had been attending for the last two days when I received an email notification from my phone. I didn't even check it right away, I was driving after all.  However, when I did, I was excited to see the subject line, "25 and 50k races back on!"  You're kidding me, right?!  I'd already given in to run the 11k.  This shifting of the mental gears is not easy on a guy whom was prepared to run nearly 16 miles, then less than half that distance; now, back to nearly 16 miles?!  The organizers listened to their registrants, checked the course and decided to offer anyone interested in running a long 5k loop the options of running laps to meet their distance.  Well, I was back in.  I'd trained for it, I was going to do it.

Saturday morning I got up and had my ritual bagel and single cup of coffee.  I'd tossed and turned all night thinking about the race and a professional opportunity that has come up.  4 hours sleep is not conducive to a good feeling about putting in a long run.  However, I was excited and eager; I was about to do it - 25-freakin'-k, man!  For me, a monster of a distance.  My longest previous run was nearly that but remember, there is something different about doing it in a race.  I let my wife know I was leaving and stepped out the door.  I walked a few hundred yards then ran the rest of the way to the starting area.  10 minutes to spare.  The usual doubts began to creep in.  Did I warm up too early?  Should I have done a loosen up run the night before?  Have I prehydrated and prefueled properly?  This an other random things.  If it wasn't for the announcer calling all remaining runners to the starting I'd probably sapped myself mentally standing right there.  I was ready, willing, and present.  Let's get the show going.

The race announcements consisted of the usual, and admission that the 5k loop was more like 3.3 - 3.4 miles, and the night before conditions were best described as sloppy.  This worried me.  I had taken my recently retired running shoes and turned them into screw-shoes but that doesn't help with wet and sloppy snow.  Oh well, I was at the starting line and I was rolling with it.  I had already decided this one was for fun, not speed.  It was with the announcers, "is this everyone," that I looked around.  23 runners total - 10 men, 13 women.  That is all.   Only 9 people had shown up for the start of the 50k and they were 30 minutes into their first lap.  This would not be a crowded race.  We shuffled to the start line for the anticlimactic, "Ready, set, GO" from the announcer.  No bullhorn, not starting gun, just that simple, "Go!"

The group moved together across the starting line and I was immediately struck how fast they all seemed to be going!  After about a quarter mile I checked my Garmin and saw that there was no way possible I'd keep up that pace, somewhere between 9 and 9:30 for those at the back of the pack.  I decided to settle back and just let them go.  This was a race against myself, after all.  I was just going to have fun.  

The pack quickly left three of us behind and we settled into an 11 minute pace pretty quickly.  The two ladies I ran with were comfortable, chatting back and forth.  I, too, was comfortable and offered a chatter when appropriate.  I was more focused on just learning the course as I would have four more laps after this first one.  The first thing I noted was how the "slop" had apparently refroze from the night before.  The organizers had a trail groomer out and made good work of any ruts  that may have resulted from previous foot traffic.  There simply weren't any.  Just fairly level, crunchy snow.  I could handle this!  The course was gorgeous, enhanced by a still falling snow.  It was around 31 degrees and overcast at the start of the race, not bad for a mid-January day.  Yes, this was taking place on April 13th but if it were mid-January, it'd been nice.  The trail wound through the woods with some smallish hills for the first kilometer then crossed under some rather angry sounding high tension power lines.  They buzzed steadily in a rather unsettling manner as we ran under them.  I'd quickly learn these were important landmarks as the loop passed under them twice, the second time marking the approximate half way point.  Just beyond the first passing of the power lines the trail re-entered the woods and dumped us out in another opening and along a treeline.  This would be the longest and biggest hill of the course, yet very manageable with its gradual slope.  Eventually another right turn and we entered the woods yet again, snow still crunchy underfoot.  A few wet spots but the previous runners' foot prints made it clear where the solid ground was, and at least in once humorously obvious incident, wasn't.  


The trail wound back and forth through snow covered pine trees.  Big snowflakes feel, strangely soothing and comforting, as another band of lake effect snow moved through the area.  The cardinals and chickadees were singing.  Occasionally we'd startle a blue jay into crying out a warning.  It was a beautiful place to run.  The trail eventually led us back under the high tension lines again where the biggest and wettest pitfall was to be found.  Even at that it was not difficult to navigate around.  We'd seen a few other runners go by, fast 50 k'ers but the three of us had long since lost the main group.  I was ok with it.  I was out here beating those demons that live inside us formerly unhealthy and unfit people.  I was doing it.  

Eventually the first lap drew to it's end as we re-entered the campground area that was hosting the event.   Very few spectators were there to cheer anyone one.  Here was the only aid station and I choose to bypass it this lap, I was doing great, and I kept pace with my two running mates whom I didn't actually know.  I was feeling strong and had found that comfortable pace.

Lap two was pretty much a repeat of the first.  Those sometimes awkward moments when running, somewhat uninvited, at the same pace of two other runners you don't know; but, they are polite and equally excited to be out there so sharing those moments giving you all a connection that is unique to these events.  I wasn't quite fast enough to feel comfortable giving it some more gas this early yet not wanting to kick it back at all yet either.  The occasional, "don't let us hold you back" comment tempting me to just go ahead and put some distance between us.  However, I just kept pace and made a point to not try to run shoulder to shoulder on the fairly narrow path.  It was at the end of this second lap and quick stop at the aid station for water that I left them behind.  They simply took more time to breath and get water.  However, my motivation now as to not be the last human body in the 25k race to cross the finish line.  I didn't see the pair again until after the race where they smiled and said "Good job!" and commented on how they'd "lost me."

Lap 3 was ran a bit overly ambitious on my part.  My heart rate monitor had been averaging about 150 for the first two laps, higher than I'd liked but not unmanageable.  In this lap I was averaging closer to 160 to 165 as the miles ticked away at sub-11 minute miles.  I knew, once I came back around to the aid station I needed to slow down or it was going to be a long run to the finish in two more laps.

Lap 4 was spent mainly encouraging other runners as we crossed paths.  I caught and passed two other runners, 50k'ers I assume.  They didn't look good but assured me they were ok.  Two more spectators turned up along the path and engaged in encouraging words saying "we expect to see you throw the hammer down on the next lap!"  It was encouraging and I had to fight to not pick up the speed too much.  Shortly after I turned mile 10 and decided I should pull out a gel.  I managed to somehow drop the gel just in front of my next foot fall, whereupon my foot stepped squarely onto the package and split the side.  I laughed it off sarcastically, I would not be defeated!  I stopped, picked it up noting the stiffness that was setting in, and proceeded to down the remainder of the gel.  And a special note to my running friends - Hammer Gel is STICKY on running gloves and all the fuzzies from inside will thus find your hand, and cling there, after you remove your glove.  Just saying.  When the camp ground came into sight, I was thankful to know I was almost there.  I was beating this distance.  

Lap 5, that final lap, was a demon unto itself.   I knew I'd be entering new mileage territory for my body.  I knew I should be tired, and was but wasn't feeling it much yet.  I knew I should lay it all out there for that last 5k but I was still worried about finishing.  I shouldn't be but knowing it was a new distance for me was odd.  I grabbed a quick drink from the aid station and took off on my last lap.  I allowed myself to pick up the pace a bit as I covered the now very familiar ground.  I looked forward to crossing under the angry power lines, through the woods, and around the snow covered pines.  The runners were thinned to very infrequent sightings at this point and my motivation was drawn out of knowing the majority of the 25k runners were already done and I didn't want to get caught by any stragglers despite, myself, being a bit of a straggler.    I ran under the second passing of the high tension lines and quickened my pace a bit more.  The discomfort was running that distance was clearly making headway in my legs and mind.  Passing the two spectators whom made a point to come out and encourage us all said but one thing to me, "Don't leave anything on the trails!"  She was saying, give it your all, don't leave anything in the tank when you finish.  This encouraged me more than I'd thought it would and I quickened the pace to a terminal point.  Any faster, I'd gas.

What a feeling to see the campground ahead and know I was only a couple of minutes from the finish line. I finished strong, to no fanfare whatsoever.  The lone voice of encouragement coming from my beautiful wife.  There were no more than 6 people at the finish line.  Two organizers keeping time, two 50k runners refueling, and myself and my wife.  Sure, I would have loved hearing the yells and excitement of a crowd, but, this is now what this race was about for me.  The finish couldn't have been more perfect really.  I sprinted the last eighth of a mile as fast as my now spent legs could carry me.  Of course, the finish line was at the time of a gentle hill but at this point there were no gentle hills in my mind.  It was a non-chipped finish so as I stopped I hit the timer button on my Garmin, 3:05:02 and 16.74 miles!  I'd done it!  I'd beat another demon, kicked over another wall, I'd won the race against myself.  My wife gave me a hug and a kiss then I hobbled over to grab some water.  "Let's go get a beer, it's noon somewhere."

As it turns out I finished first in my age group, men 40-44 years old.  I'll take that EVEN if I was the only male in that group of 25k'ers.  Fact of the matter was I got up that morning for myself.  There are things I needed to face that day despite the self doubts and uncertainties.  I stopped up at the starting line and persisted to the end.  I had won the race I set out to run that day.  It was fun despite the mid-January like weather.  It was nice to have that strange camaraderie we find with other runners despite having not known them minutes before.  It was a gorgeous day, a great race, and I'd do it all over again just like it was that cold April Saturday.  

I'll hang my wooden finishers "medal" with pride.  A winner's medal, it is.