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Archive for March, 2010

Providence:
Pronunciation: \ˈprä-və-dən(t)s, -ˌden(t)s\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin providentia, from provident-, providens
Date: 14th century
1 a often capitalized : divine guidance or care

Several weeks ago I signed up for the Providence Marathon.

Had I run a perfect race back in November, I would have been racing two weeks earlier in the Boston Marathon, but that was not to be. I crashed and burned in Manchester, literally limping in at just under 4 hours.  I immediately began looking for another marathon to run in hopes of qualifying for this year.   Unfortunately, I soon found out that Boston 2010 had closed 2 months earlier than the record close for 2009.  Initially demoralized, I soon shook off the blues and convinced myself that 2010 would be the year of the qualifier and that I would be on that starting line in Hopkinton in 2011 come Hell or high water. I started looking for a Spring marathon to gauge where I was so that I could be ready for Bay State come October.

As 2010 began to unfold, I hit the treadmill…a lot.  Something new was driving me.  The miles started adding up quickly.  A friend suggested that I run the Eastern States 20 (ran it yesterday – race report to follow) as my spring race.  I paused when I saw that it was advertised as the perfect tune-up race for Boston.   I sighed as I clicked the register button.  I then found that a few dailymile and twitter friends were running the Providence Marathon on May 2nd.  I did a little research and found the description very inviting.  It didn’t look like a particularly difficult course.  Though I hadn’t been “training” for a marathon, I had been putting in some pretty hefty miles.  I thought that this could be my “gauge” marathon.

Starting at the end of February and over the following four weeks, I put in 50+ miles a week – 40 more than I ever had in that amount of time.  Again, this push was coming from somewhere in the ether.  Suddenly I began to think that maybe, just maybe, Providence could be an opportunity to qualify for Boston.  I eagerly signed on.  After my race at the Super Sunday 10K I was amazed to find that my vdot indicated that I could run a BQ with ease.  Since it was based on a 10K, I took it with a grain of salt, but the thought continued to nag me.  I began to do various math acrobatics in my head – if I run 8:00 miles for the first 10 and then 7:30’s for the next 10 that leaves me with…

On and on I went with the various combinations, planning, scheming, trying to figure out what would be the best strategy to get me within striking distance of a 3:20 marathon.

I could see Boston in the horizon. I was sure Providence would shine on me.

In fact, Providence DID shine on me.

I can see you tilting your head.  How did Providence shine on you if it hasn’t happened yet?

Last Thursday, a teacher at my daughter’s school, one who was supposed to be my daughter’s teacher last year before having to take an unexpected leave of absence, tracked me down at afternoon pick up. She said she had heard I was looking for a number for this year’s marathon. I explained to her what my situation was. She obviously knew little about running so she cut right to the chase: her brother’s company created a version of the chip timer – the one being used in this year’s marathon. The BAA had given them a number of bibs to distribute at their discretion. After a fortunate recipient had sustained an unfortunate training ending injury, he called his sister and asked if she knew anyone who would be interested in taking the bib.

Wait a minute! You’re offering a Boston number to me?

Yes!

Unbelievably I hemmed and hawed and said I would have to take a day to think it over. Yeah, I know. What the Frak! You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Luau!

But here’s the thing – after my meltdown of a race in November, I was even more convinced that I had the ability to qualify in me. I wanted my first Boston to be one that I had qualified for.  I kept flashing to the moment in Spirit of a Marathon where one of the runners in the movie says, “there are runners, there are marathoners, and then the are Boston Qualifiers.”.  It still gives me chills.

As far as I knew, there were 2 ways to get to Boston: you either ran a qualifying time in another marathon or you raised a lot of money for a charity. Charity would have been difficult this year, considering the downturn in the economy and the fact that as a family we had just done a large amount of fund raising for Autism Speaks.  I just felt I could not tap into my friends again so soon.

It never crossed my mind that a number could just be handed to me, out of nowhere, unexpectedly – heaven sent.

Needless to say I came to my senses within 30 minutes (thanks to the wife whacking me upside the head) and very gratefully, very humbly accepted the number.

A gift from the running gods?  I am not particularly a religious man, but I do know that I have spent the last year and a half preaching the wonders of running to whomever will listen.  Perhaps the running gods have been listening too.

Providence, indeed.

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Reform

Let me start by saying that I am a member of the Left side of the aisle. When I turned 18, I went to my grandmother for advice on which party to register under. She paused and looked at me with a very thoughtful look and said, “You are going to go home tonight and think very carefully about what matters to you, and then tomorrow morning you are going to register yourself as a democrat.” That was it, and it has been that way ever since. I do have beliefs that lean Right, but for the most part I have been, and still am, a member of the Left.

That said, this whole Health Care Reform debate is driving me nuts. Not simply because of the knee jerk reactions of the right (which inevitably lead to equally strong knee jerk reactions from the left), but because it doesn’t have to be this way. And, no, I don’t mean that politics don’t have to be nasty and mean (although that is true too). The way I see it, if we managed to get ourselves healthy as a nation, we wouldn’t have to pay so much into the system and this whole debate would be rendered somewhat moot.  We are a country that has grown somewhat fat and for lack of a better word, lazy.

The MTV generation and those that followed have come to expect immediate gratification.  That means if “being in great shape” doesn’t come after one hard workout and one healthful meal, they give it up and go back to the high fructose corn syrup and processed meats.  The statistics are out there.   Yes, the actual numbers vary from study to study, but there’s no arguing that as a people, we have gained weight (not just physically either, but that’s a topic for another post). Use the eyeball test.

Who’s to blame?

Restaurants serve over-sized portions and because of that, I believe we have started to do the same at home.  The Cheesecake Factory’s of the world are partially to blame, but so are we.  If we didn’t eat it all up, they wouldn’t serve it to us.  How about the food industry itself, with its low-fat this and no-fat that?  Diet soda is not the answer.  In fact, it has been shown to be part of the problem.  We’ve also seen a de-emphasis on physical education in this country over the last 30 years or so.  I seem to remember as a kid participating in PE more than just twice a week.  But by the time I got to college, the only physical activity I was participating was either playing beer pong in the fraternity basement (the original beer pong, not that watered down paddle-less crap the kids are playing today) or in the back of the bus on the way to a sorority formal.  I also remember seeing the news clips of Japanese company men starting their day, every day, with calisthenics.  Why aren’t we doing the same here?  Post-college I worked in a law firm where we were required to arrive early, leave late and there was no concern for our physical well-being.  I understand that getting to the business of the day is important, but imagine what a company could save on health care and sick day costs if their workforce was required to exercise on a daily basis.  The national mentality needs to change.

I hear the Right complain that they’re paying for the medical procedures of their deadbeat neighbors. I hear the Left cry about the poor, unfortunate folks without health benefits. I’ll admit here that I lean left on this one. I believe that no one should be denied medical attention if they need it, whether they can afford it or not, but I also believe that because of the shape we are in, we are incurring unnecessary costs that get spread to the community at large.

Bottom line is that whether you are on the Left or the Right or drinking Tea, this health care issue can be solved for most of us with two things – your left foot and your right foot.

If you love this country, be a patriot and start running. Make the insurance companies lower their premiums because we are all healthy and don’t need them as much. Get your neighbor to start walking.  If you’re still sitting on the couch, munching on that bag of processed foodstuff, ask yourself if you want your son or daughter to NOT have you there at their wedding? or at the birth of their child? or if you’d like to see your child see their child’s wedding?

You set the example for them whether you like it or not.

Like it.  Embrace it.  Show them how it’s done.   If you don’t have kids, do it for your friends, siblings, partner or parents.

It’s even more fun when you do it together. If you don’t know how, don’t be afraid to ask a runner to run with you. 9 times out of 10, they will gladly, no, enthusiastically go at whatever pace you can for as long as you want to go. That is the awesomeness of runners (most of us, anyway…and yes, I did say awesomeness). We don’t care what level you’re at, just as long as you want to do it. My natural pace seems to fall in the 7:45 – 8:30/mile range for runs up to about 18 miles, but I will gladly, GLADLY run at a 16:00 – 20:00/mile pace for as long as it takes if it means any of you want to come along. And believe me, I don’t care if it’s 1 mile, 10 miles or anything in between. We runners just want to spread the word.

Now I am not so naive as to think that getting everybody running in 2010 will solve all of our problems.  Bureaucracy is a slow-moving ship.  However, the long-term effects of a healthy population can only help to alleviate the burdensome costs of health care.  If we don’t need to treat the various diseases associated with obesity, alcoholism and smoking, then we don’t need to be paying for them either.

You want reform?  How about we truly tackle health care and reform our thinking as a nation – exercise is something everybody can do, no, should do.  Businesses should encourage their employees to get fit by providing an hour a day dedicated solely to exercise.  Schools should go back to the days when we let our kids run and play and run some more.  I am a self-proclaimed nerd and a firm believer in book education, but what’s the point of all that learning if we drop dead at 50 because our bodies give out?

Believe me, we can lick this Health Care issue simply by getting healthy. Don’t we (and our wallets) deserve that?

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Inspiration

“I can’t believe just a year ago I couldn’t run a mile. And I certainly had no clue what the hell gu and sports beans were.”
-Tweet by Jenn_If_Er

I read this tweet by my friend Jenn on Saturday and I was inspired. A year ago she couldn’t run a mile. A little over a week ago she ran the Dallas Rock N Roll Half Marathon, and despite a nagging hamstring, she finished strong.  She and a few friends decided to get a little nutty and wore tutu’s for the race.

That's Jenn second from the right

This past Saturday, she ran a 10K in her hometown and won her age division. This is a woman who couldn’t run a mile a year ago.

I have not always been a runner, but I have always been able to run. If a friend randomly asked me to go for a jog, I could hang for 3 miles, maybe even 4 or 5 if I had to. I didn’t like it, but I could do it.

Jenn couldn’t run a mile a year ago. This last weekend she won her division in a 10K race.

I am inspired to work harder, get better and most importantly continue to enjoy this obsession we call running.

Jenn – You are Inspiration.

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You can fine Jenn at www.jenn-journey.blogspot.com

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Just do it.

That’s the phrase that has made Nike millions of dollars, and though I am not a particular fan of their products, I am a believer in the phrase.

Just do it.

I hear the complaints, the excuses, the reasoning. I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

The first five pounds? The middle five pounds? The last five pounds? 13.1 miles? 26.2 miles? They’re not as hard to tackle as many think. The biggest, highest hurdle is between the ears.

In the end, it comes down to one question: How badly do you want it?*

Yes, there are certain achievements I will never accomplish in running, no matter how badly I want them. I will not win a gold medal at the Olympics; I will not win Boston (not on this world anyway); and I will not become the pitchman for Brooks or Vibrams (probably).

However, there are running achievemenst, currently out of reach that I will someday accomplish.

I WILL qualify for Boston. I will run a half marathon with a 1:30 handle. I will run an ultra someday. I will push my body…hard. It’s a matter of commitment. I truly believe that. I HAVE to believe that. THAT is partly what gets me on the street or treadmill.

Those things that you believe are out of reach? You’re not in shape for? You’re not built for? Bullshit! You can.

You can.

Commit.

Just do it.

It’s your body. If you want it, commit and just do it. Once you do, the goal is yours.

How badly do you want it?

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*And there’s nothing wrong with not wanting it…it’s not for everyone. But don’t complain about it if you don’t want to do something about it. It’s like complaining about who won your local election when you couldn’t care enough to vote.

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Soft.

Over the last 2 1/2 months I’ve put close to 300 miles in on the treadmill and because of that I am getting soft. The treadmill has made me a weaker runner this winter. The steel and iron have given way to fluff and dough. I no longer can honestly look in the mirror and see that hardened runner that looked back at me last fall. Running on the treadmill over the winter has taken that all away.

What’s that? How is it that I’ve managed to run close to 600 miles in 4 months and gone soft? How has my body responded in such an unexpected way?

…Oh, did you just ask about my body?

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about my will.

Yes, it is not my body that has turned to fluff and dough – it is my will. And if I’m going to be completely honest, will is probably the wrong word. When I get into a race I will buckle down and fight. I will push my body as hard as it will go. I will walk away from a race knowing I ran hard. So it’s not that part of my will that has gone soft.

I’m having some trouble putting my finger on it. For the last few days, the weather here in Boston has been miserable – cold, wet and rainy. In fact, I don’t know if it has stopped raining since Friday. It didn’t really bother me on Friday. I was still high from my Thursday Lunch Half Marathon. But on Saturday I really started to get an itch to run. You runners know the feeling – the legs get restless, the horses want to be let out of the barn. I looked out my window and saw some kid running by. Normally, my first thought would be, Oh man! I wish I were that kid right now! But no. You wanna know what my first thought was? It was, Jesus that kid is nuts! It’s 32°, windy and raining cats and dogs out there!

I jumped back from the window.

What the frak was that? I asked myself. But it was true. It was 32°, windy and raining cats and dogs. It looked miserable. I was so confused. My legs and body wanted to run, but my brain was telling me, Not out there buddy. I did end up putting in 10 miles – in the comfort of my basement, on the treadmill, while watching 2 old episodes of Star Trek (yeah, I’m not afraid to admit it – I’m a total sci-fi geek). I broke a sweat, my legs were happy – as was the rest of me in the pleasant 68°.

I told myself not to worry too much about my earlier reaction and in fact told a friend that I might run 7 1/2 miles on Sunday to her first 5K to root her on and then run home. I knew it wasn’t going to be warm, but what the heck, it’d be an easy way to get 15 – 18 miles in with a nice little break in the middle. She mentioned that it looked like it was going to rain but I shrugged it off. I shrugged it off, that is, until I got up the next morning and realized that in was only in the high 30’s and the rain was even stronger than the day before. I wished her well on Facebook.

As the rainy day progressed, I found myself on dailymile and twitter, cheering on friends like Michelle and Pigtailsflying for the rain soaked long runs they were taking.  I’ll be joining you guys soon I would write, silently adding in my head in my basement, on my treadmill, in front of the TV, where it’s dry and 68°.

The final straw came last night as I was picking up pizza for the family for dinner. Both on the way to and from the pizza place I saw runners – true, hardcore runners – out there, putting in their miles. They were braving the cold wind and rain while I sat in the comfort of my car. I caught myself thinking, Man, those are some crazy runners!

And that’s when I realized that my treadmill had made me soft.

There was a time when I would have laughed at the weather and then run like it wasn’t there. That time is no more. Maybe I’ve gotten old. Maybe I’ve become wiser. But there is part of me that is very much afraid that perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve become soft.

I will run in the rain again.

I love running in the rain.

Just when it’s about 35° warmer.

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Wings

Floating in a sea of strangers past and present

No one notices as I wander by

A jolt, a sudden sound

All eyes upon me as I open my own

***

I shuffle off to rinse away the residue of night

Break my fast with bread

I slip into my wings

And through the door

***

The night is fighting the dawn

Vainly resisting the inevitable

As the sun’s rays brush my skin

My wings are energized

***

I lose a mile and then some

Lost in the symphony of daybreak

Alone but happy

Free but wanting to share

***

The limbs burn

But this is easy

The burdens of the day await

For now, I am free

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Next week on HBO, the new series Band of Runners

Let me preface this by saying that I am a lover not a fighter. 10 years of kung-fu (3 spent as a youth instructor) under my belt and I still prefer to end confrontations with my words and not my fists. I’m not going down without taking one or two bodies with me, but let’s face it, I would never survive in a war zone. The soldiers I know, directly like Uncle Paul and Brandon, or through friends, like Jeremy, are the true warriors. They have the true Band of Brothers.

That said, the recent response to my Sanity post got me thinking. I had written it while slowly emerging from a place that had me down. The post itself was about using running to mentally pick oneself up by the bootstraps and get going. 4 days later, I still believe that all to be true – running is something of a miracle drug to me, but I am compelled to add something. This running community that I am a part of through Daily Mile and Twitter, has also had an immense impact on how well I feel going through the day. The words of encouragement and hope are energizing and uplifting. But it’s not just them. It’s all the runners out there that are pounding out the miles.

Whether I see you outside my window running by before dawn or from the car as I drive around town taking care of the groceries and dry cleaning, I see you, I am encouraged by you and I am thankful.

For those of my friends who are still unsure about these social networks, I would direct you to my friend Kathy over at RTR. Kathy put it in terms that explain without preaching. Simply put, Daily Mile is Facebook for runners, bikers, swimmers, and athletes, but I use all of those terms loosely. We are a group that range in skill from the very competitive to the “let’s just put down the pint and get my butt off the couch, shall we?”. We’re all just looking for a connection through our chosen athletic endeavor and a bit of encouragement.

My point…

Essentially, I want to thank you, my fellow runners, for your support in recent weeks…directly or indirectly, knowingly and unknowingly you have all lifted my spirits and helped my feet fly.

You are my Band of Runners, and to you I am grateful.

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