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Archive for December, 2010

Loss

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One of the many things I love about running is that when we race, despite the fact that we are all running against each other, our true opponent is ourselves. Whether we are pushing the envelope on a tempo run or attempting to hit a time in a marathon, in the end, we need only ask ourselves, “did I give it my all?”

I was recently involved in a race, one that had nothing to do with running. Competitive natures as they are, each contestant still wanted to win. My approach to the race was fairly laid back. In the end, it probably came down in part to being a popularity contest. I’ve never been a fan of those because they tend to cloud the issues and prevent the most qualified people from being elected.

It was suggested to me by several people if maybe every candidate could be declared a winner. The parent in me kind of understood this – there were four of us vying for three positions. Why leave one person out in the cold? What are we showing our kids if we’re essentially voting to exclude one person?

As the parent of a daughter with autism, one of, if not the biggest fears I have is her being excluded because she is different. My wife, in fact, is the founder and driving force behind our elementary school’s Inclusion Committee. We are ALL about inclusion.

However,that is not how the real world works.  Even if the wife and I are able to realize the dream of a full inclusion society, that doesn’t mean that everybody gets to be a winner every time (if at all).  In the real world there are those that win and those that lose, and more often than not, in a race of any kind, there are more losers than winners.

If the conversation ended there, that statement could seem a bit harsh.  To me, this is where those on the far right and those on the far left often stop with there one liners, yelling and screaming AT each other, never talking TO each other.  That 15% of America has taken the fun out of competition.

The race doesn’t end at the finish line.  To me, it’s not whether you win or lose (though I am competitive enough to prefer a win), but HOW you win or lose.

To go back to the election I was recently in, several people had approached me about lobbying to allow every one a slot.  Truth be told, the world wasn’t going to end either way.  It was argued to me that we are teaching our kids exclusion by leaving one of the four candidates out.  But something kept nagging at me on the other end.  I could hear the “it is what it is” voice in my head – the one that said the rules are the rules.  But it’s just one more person. Nope! You gotta follow the rules!

But then it hit me.  The greater lesson to our kids would be, how did the person who came in 4th handle their loss?  Would they simply disappear?  Would they get angry? or would they still make sure their voice was heard?

A friend of mine, J-Ro, once said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that we learn much more about ourselves through loss and adversity than through victory.  I believe that to be true.  And I think America as a whole used to believe that too.  However, I’ve helplessly watched our political system go into the toilet because the extremists in our country either a.) don’t want anybody to lose or b.) never learned how to learn from loss (I’ll let you figure out who’s who).

I know that I learned much more about myself over the course of 2010 BECAUSE I failed so miserably at the Manchester Marathon in 2009.  Had I cruised to a BQ on my first marathon attempt, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much as I did when I finally broke through at Smuttynose.

Loss is a good thing.  Failure can ruin us, to be sure, but only if we let it.  Whether you lose by a nose or get your rear end handed to you, it hurts.  It’s what you do with that hurt that matters.

I like to think that failure is there to make us better, stronger, sharper.

I know it’s made me a better runner.

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Service

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On Saturday night, Jess and I decided to forgo our regular date night. Instead, we, along with Katie and Brooke, traveled an hour and a half away to a attend a party for a man we had never met or spoken to.  No, this was not a family obligation.  This party was to celebrate the safe return of the husband of a blogiverse friend of my wife.  He had spent the past year serving in Afghanistan.  Jess’ friend had no idea we were coming.  She had no reason to expect us to come.  In fact, she and Jess hardly know each other (they had never met or spoken to each other), but to a degree, that wasn’t the point.

This family is an ordinary family like yours or mine.  Like mine, they have two children.  Like mine, they have a daughter on the Autism Spectrum.  UNLIKE my family, they made it through this last year with one parent serving our country in Afghanistan.  Sergeant Major William is a proud member of the National Guard.  He is an ordinary guy doing the extraordinary.  I am extremely grateful for what the Sergeant Major does.  I am always floored by the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for me.  Because of Sergeant Major William, and the rest of the members of our armed forces, I get to do what I do.  I get to be a stay-at-home-dad.  I get to run marathons.  I get to write this silly, little blog.  No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, I think it is important to show gratitude and respect for our soldiers.  They are heroes.

But I don’t view Sergeant Major William as the only hero in his family.  His wife Rachel, along with many of our servicemen’s spouses, have spent the last year home, alone, going to bed every night wondering if their soldier is going to be okay.  Add raising a child on the spectrum and the pressure mounts.  I believe Rachel, and spouses like her, deserve recognition for the sacrifices they make so that we can send our soldiers overseas, so that we can do what we do, whether it be running  marathons or vegging on the couch or whatever the heart desires.

For a more in-depth description of the party, please check out Jess’ blog post —>HERE<—.

We have Veterans’ Day every year in November.  I propose we take today, December 8th, to thank the Rachel’s, Jeneil’s, and every other military spouse who hold the hearts of our soldiers – a Veterans’ Spouse’s Day.

What does this have to do with running?  Nothing…and everything.

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Kool-Aid

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Running, and by extension physical activity, is a gift.

As with all great gifts, it is one worth sharing.

Often people don’t want it. They look at those of us who are regularly active and think that it is easy for us to run, that it is easy for us to exercise. To a degree, that is true. Those of us who call ourselves runners (or swimmers or cyclists) wake up with the urge to run, or swim or bike – maybe not as soon as we get up (I’m still trying out this pre-dawn thing), but eventually, at some point during the day, we are driven to get physical.

It’s not like that for everyone, particularly for those that haven’t imbibed in our endorphin-laced kool-aid. Our non-running friends don’t know that there was a time when the desire and drive simply weren’t there for us, but we forced ourselves to push on. Once through that wall, once through that two to three to ten weeks of faithfully getting it done, it all changed. For some of us it was a gradual awakening, for others it was a moment of enlightenment.

If it sounds mildly religious, don’t be surprised. There is definitely a cult-like mentality to dedicated runners, and the endorphin-high one gets from running is very similar to that of a religious experience or an encounter with a huge amount of chocolate. Some might call it an addiction, others might call it a religion. I like to think of it as therapy. But any way you slice it, for the greater majority of us, it is peace. Running is the place where the stresses of the day, month, year, can melt away for a brief moment in time. It is a place where we can work out the strategies of how to deal with our daily issues. Much like a drug, religion or therapy, running can ease the pain in our lives and help keep our personal demons at bay.

Just like drugs, religion or therapy however, running is not for everyone. As a running acolyte, that is something that is hard for me to remember. Just like there is room in this world for religious believers and non-believers, there too, is room for runners and non-runners alike.

Still, like many religious zealots, I have difficulty understanding how one could not enjoy the benefits running. I wish I could bottle up the kool-aid and give it out for the Holidays, just so people could have a taste of that joy that running (or any exercise that produces a lot of sweat) can bring.

I do believe that unlike religion and drug addiction, running doesn’t do harm to others in its name. It’s not like runners are about to start a runner’s war, right?

People will come to it when they’re ready I suppose. I didn’t start running regularly until I was almost 40. I wish I had done it when I was 30 or 20 for that matter, but honestly, I just wasn’t ready.

Who wants Kool-Aid?

Have you always been a runner (or whatever your sport of choice is) or did it come to you later in life?

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30 days until the end of the year.

Maybe it’s a little early to reflect on 2010, I don’t know.

I know I have accomplished a few of my running goals for 2010, and I am closing in on another – a sub-20 5K, a sub-40 10K, a BQ, check, check, and check!  And I’m just 85 miles away from 1,500 for the year.

But there is one goal that I’m afraid I may have to make a run at again in 2011.  Truth be told, it is an annual goal that I hope to accomplish EVERY year.

Back on New Year’s Day of this year, wrote this:

For my running friends:  My goal is to get you to get 10 of your non-running friends to start running regularly in 2010.  If 40 of you get 10 of your friends to start running and they do the same next year, and so on, we can have this whole nation running by 2016.  Healthcare reform?  We won’t need it!  It starts now.

Some of you responded saying you would take up the challenge.  I hope you were successful.  I can think of 3 or 4 that I’ve succeeded with, but I’m afraid that I will fall short of my goal of 10.  Still, I’m pretty sure that I’ve had a positive impact on at least 10 runners and non-runners alike.  Hopefully there are some out there that were inspired by my running and blog to simply get more active in 2010, because honestly, as much as I talk about running, it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s running or swimming or biking or rock climbing.  My hope is that those people who were inspired to do more, turn around and pay it forward.

Whether you are a sub-3:00 hour marathoner or a 6:00-plus marathoner, you inspire someone. Whether you run 10 miles per week or 100 miles per week, you inspire someone.  Whether you have been running forever or you have just started, you inspire someone.  Whether you run at all or find your regular physical activity elsewhere, you inspire someone.  All we need to do is reach out and lend a spark to that inspiration.

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