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Archive for January, 2010

The other day I ran 16.7 miles. Right, so what?

It’s not the 16.7 miles that has me writing this post. It is what the run meant, to me anyway.

I have a friend Mike. I have known him since our college days. I owe him. He took me in after I graduated from college.  At the time I had no idea what I was doing with myself.  He was attending his sophomore summer and had a room in our fraternity all to himself.  Or so he thought.   When I arrived at his door a few weeks into the term, he very happily put me up on his couch for the rest of the summer.   I stayed, rent free, for nearly two months. He never complained – not once.  Over that summer, Mike became one of my dearest friends.

Years later, unbeknownst to me, Mike came dangerously close to losing a battle with a liver condition.  With the help of a team of doctors here in Boston, he fought back, got healthy and is now looking to pay it forward by running with the American Liver Foundation’s Run For Research Team in this year’s Boston Marathon.  This will be his first marathon.

What does this have to do with me?  What does this have to with 16.7 miles?

The Boston Marathon has been a dream of mine for a little over a year now.  The idea of running the same race the Kelly’s, Katherine Switzer, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit, and Alberto Salazar all ran is something that I find absolutely exhilarating, but as many of you know, one cannot just sign up for Boston.  One must either run for a charity team like my good friend Mike or qualify for the race by running another marathon within a certain amount of time.  I have nothing against charities.  In fact, as a family we have worked very hard to raise funds for both big (Autism Speaks, St. Jude’s) and little (the Autism Alliance of Metrowest, Playground funds, Pre-School Programs) organizations.  But very early on, I decided that I wanted to run Boston because I had qualified.  It will require my running a 3:20:59 or better marathon.  I am not there yet, but I hope to within the next year or two.  I digress.

Mike has chosen a different, and in some ways more admirable and selfless path.  His desire to run Boston has put him in a position to help those who helped him.

Mike signed up to run and has been fairly successful in raising funds for his team.  However, he was having some difficulty with the long runs.  When he first started his training, he very happily drove down to where the team was meeting every Saturday with the hopes of spending the next 2 hours or so chatting with other runners.  What he found though is that many of them would plug-in their ear buds and zone out for the bulk of the run.  I can relate to that.  I do it quite frequently when I am running my long runs…alone.  Having limited experience at running for long distances, Mike feared that he would struggle to stay focused on his own.  He doesn’t run with music so I can totally understand why he would be think that.

So when he emailed me a week or so ago and asked if I wanted to join him for a scheduled 14.5 miler, I said I was game.  I hadn’t run more than 13.1 since November, but “what the heck”, it would be nice to get a truly long run in.  We had a great time chatting for two and a half hours.  We even went an extra couple of miles, finishing the day at 16.7.  It was the most pleasant long run I have had to date.  No hurries, just running with a friend, chatting pretty much non-stop for the entire run.

At the end of the run (it was both the longest time – 2:35:00 – and distance he had ever covered) he looked at me and thanked me, saying that he didn’t think he would have made it to the end without the company.  I frowned.  It may have been more of a struggle had he been on his own, but I told him he would have finished just fine.  He thanked me nonetheless.

My point is this: we may not have the time nor the inclination to dedicate ourselves full-time towards a particular charity or what have you, but during these unsure times, the very least we can do is help those who are helping others.  Did I accomplish a huge feat in running those 16.7 miles?  Did I “make the difference” in how Mike has raised money for the liver team? No, absolutely not.  My contribution to his run was three hours out of my weekend.

A drop in the bucket.

But drop by drop, the rain fills the bucket.

You can find Mike here.

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A few days ago I was out for a run when I caught a glimpse of myself in a storefront window. I was still in the warm up miles of my run and it showed. I looked tense – shoulders scrunched up, arms tight and stiff. I thought to myself, “relax!”. It wasn’t happening. I passed another storefront window and stole a glance. I looked even worse. As I continued along I took a deep breath and then another. I took myself back to my kung-fu days.  I could hear Sifu Steve going through the meditation process with us at the beginning of class:

Control your breathing.

Check.

In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Got it.

Find a focal point to concentrate on, but stay aware of everything in the room.

It was kinda working.  I could feel my shoulders lower, my arms loosen up.

Now close your eyes and listen…

I started to close my eyes.

Whoa!  Not while you’re running, you idiot!

Now close your eyes and listen…

I looked around.  Long straight away, no traffic, no other runners, a full 3/4 of a block to the next intersection.  I let my eyelids fall and ran about 10 paces.

Listen to your breathing.

Almost instantly my entire body relaxed.  I opened my eyes and found myself both at ease and fully alert.  Over the next 4 or 5 miles I found myself in an almost meditative state – relaxed yet aware – flying (that’s what it felt like) along at a much faster pace than I had intended when I went out.  My mind was practically empty, almost zen-like, as I floated through the streets of my town.  Obviously I had to stay aware of traffic, but for the most part, I was able to listen solely to my footfalls and breathing, intertwined in their rhythm.  Inevitably I came to an intersection where I had to stop and the spell was broken.

I’m hoping I can find a way to replicate this experience the next time I run.

I’m thinking that I may try to expand this running with my eyes closed thing beyond just running.  Taking a moment to reduce the data input, listen to my breathing and footsteps and then refocus.   Probably not a good idea to try it while driving a vehicle, but maybe during high stress moments in the day.

Close the eyes, control the breathing, relax the shoulders.  Open the eyes and fly.

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For the last week or so I’ve been watching my friends on Facebook put some variation of the following as their status:

MY wish for 2010 is that people will understand that children with disabilities do not have a disease; children with disabilities are not looking for a cure, but ACCEPTANCE……..93% of people won’t copy and paste this, WILL YOU be one of the 7% that does and make this your status for at least an hour! They do not want to be “fixed” they want to participate in the world to the best of THEIR ability!

As the parent of a special needs child I will admit that it bothered me a bit, but as I usually ignore these cut & paste statements, I let it go and didn’t think much more of it.  The wife however had a different, deeper view, and after reading her latest post, I thought, “Wow!  This [her post] can be applied across the board!  To our every day lives in general.  To a country that seems to have lost it’s ability to have a political conversation where we talk TO each other and not AT each other.”  Think before you speak.  Look before you leap. Please take a moment to click over and take a read.  It’s not about running, but there are, believe it or not, other things: diary of a mom

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I’m pretty sure I’ve made this clear: I am NOT a morning person. I do NOT like getting up early. If left to my own devices with no responsibilities, I would sleep until 9 or 10 every morning. It could be my biology or maybe the remnants of my hard drinking college days, but I like to stay up late and wake up late.  Until a few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure I had gone to bed at 4:45 AM more often that I had woken up at that time.

That said, I love the early morning runs.  Actually, check that.  The pre-dawn runs themselves have varied, from the blissful to the “please let me sustain an injury RIGHT NOW”.  I don’t always have the enthusiasm or drive to do them.  I am always glad when I do, no matter how miserable the run itself ends up being.  I love the feeling I get after the early morning runs.  That is because for the rest of the day I feel like I’m playing with house money.

Have you ever gone to a casino and won a few hundred bucks early?  When I do, I tend to put my original bankroll back into my pocket and happily play with the house’s money for the rest of the evening.  That, to me, is what the early morning run is.  It’s winning a bunch of hands early at the blackjack table and putting my original stake away.  I’ve produced a significant caloric deficit AND jolted the metabolism into high gear.  After the early morning runs I can essentially munch on whatever I want for the rest of the day.  There’s a freedom in that, and I think that freedom actually keeps me from eating whatever I want.

Truth is, I eat fairly healthfully anyway, but it’s knowing that I am essentially playing with the house’s money for the rest of the day that is so gratifying.  The coolest thing about the early morning run is that it’s not a gamble like blackjack or roulette.  It’s like knowing what the cards are before they are dealt.  If you run, you win – every time!

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Runners, in general, are a motivated bunch. Whether it’s the early morning, lunch hour or late evening run, one has to be motivated to get out the door. But there are times when I’m either on the road or on the treadmill I feel myself losing steam. It can be emotional, physical or a combination of both. We have all had those moments, not just in running but in our every day lives too. Very often we are inclined to give up, call it a day. Chalk it up as a bad run and put in the extra miles later.

When it happens outside of running, I remember to think about two friends of ours who happen to be soldiers. One is stationed in Iraq, the other has just returned from Afghanistan. I remind myself that because of them and all the other volunteer soldiers that make up our armed services, I am free to do what I do. Brandon and Paul, words cannot convey my gratitude to you and your fellow soldiers.

However, when I am running and I feel myself wanting to give up, I think of my friend Brian. Brian has participated in the Ironman Triathlon in Kona 3 times, most recently in 2008. He is not a super-athlete. He is just a guy like you and me. He does not enter to win. He enters to finish. He’s finished the race all 3 times! I can’t imagine swimming 2.1 miles, riding 112 miles and then, THEN running 26.2 miles.

“Shut up and run!” That’s what I shout at myself when I start to drag. Brian runs 26.2 miles AFTER he’s swum 2.4 and then biked 112. “Shut up and run!” It usually works. Usually it’s the only motivation I need.

Oh, did I mention that Brian has only one leg? Yeah, that’s right, he’s finished Kona three times on one leg!

So the next time you start feeling yourself lag and you start feeling sorry for yourself while your running, think of Brian finishing Kona three times. Think of his determination and will. Then dig down a little and gut it out.

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So after two weeks, two things have become clear.  I still suck at housework and getting up at 4:45AM still sucks.

However, I do have to admit that getting up this morning was just a tad easier than it has been the past two weeks.  Now it may have something to do with the fact that I picked up a new pair of VFF Treks yesterday and was extremely eager to take them out for a spin.

I also think that I am slowly adjusting to the early wake up call.  I actually turned off the television last night at 10:45 anticipating the morning run.

The run?  It was fabulous.  The weather app on my phone said it felt like 27°.  I put on my shorts, slipped into the new Treks and I was off.  My toes stayed toasty warm for the whole run, which does not happen with my regular VFF KSO’s.  7.7 miles in the pre-dawn darkness in just under an hour and I loved every minute of it.  I understand now why Pigtailsflying runs when she runs.

As for the cleaning?  Well, 2 weeks in I still suck at it, but Operation De-Clutter is moving ahead – slooooooowly, but ahead.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have this house in order by Spring.

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A Reminder

So I had today’s post all set to go…in fact, it’s been ready for a few days…it needs a little editing here and there, but for the most part I was happy with what it had to say.  But that post will have to wait until tomorrow, because today I would like to remind everybody who reads this to take a moment, if just for an extended beat or for several minutes – take a moment to hug your loved ones and tell them how much they mean to you.

The catastrophic events in Haiti have reminded me that my life, though sometimes mildly difficult and monotonous, is fragile and precious; that the world can be turned on it’s head, literally, in the blink of an eye.  3 million people have had the opportunity to say, “I love you” to a loved one taken away.

Find a moment today to honor their loss by doing what they cannot.

Mercy Corps

Oxfam America

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