Monday, January 16, 2017

Getting Better

Getting Better

The other day, Dad asked me "So, when are you going to start writing again."  Now, I can finally answer "Today Dad.  Today."

April 16th, 2015 marked the end of my 33rd year since I first started running.  Most years, I commemorate each new running anniversary with a run.  But on April 16, 2015, my anniversary passed without a run, or a celebration. Instead, it passed with prohibitive pain in my left foot which made even getting out of bed in the morning a formidable challenge.  The lack of acknowledgement of the day was not such a big disappointment, but the fact that I encountered this injury while rounding into the best shape in several years hurt a lot more than the foot itself.  As a result of this injury, my focus on Big Sur at the end of that month turned to forfeiture of the race for the second year in a row.

At the end of April, 2015, Kelli and I went back to Big Sur, my bucket list race, and I had to watch it from the sidelines for the second year in a row.  We flew out to San Francisco the Wednesday before the race, and started our sightseeing right away.  Day one of the trip was awful.   After flying in early that day, we walked over 9 miles all around the hills of San Francisco, and my feet both swelled up badly, and every step became more and more painful.  I crashed in bed that night wondering how I was going to get through the next day’s Yosemite hike.  But the next morning, something odd happened.  When I got out of bed, my feet did not hurt so badly, the swelling was down, and in fact, my feet felt better than they had in a few days.  Each day after, despite averaging 5 miles of walking a day, my legs and feet felt better.   

In fact, the day before the race, Kelli and I were even talking about “walking” the Big Sur 21-mile race we had registered for the next day, but after a day of debating it in our minds, logic won out.  But we did get up Sunday morning, and I went out and ran 3 miles.  It was my first run in over two weeks, and the foot seemed to do pretty well. All the pain and heaviness was absent for that run.  But it also ended up being the last miles I would run for over a year, as my condition soon after turned south and got progressively worse.

These foot issues had arisen before.  This was the second year in a row, at about the same time both years, where my feet, and sometimes my legs hurt with every step, and just walking created excruciating pain.  In my mind, it felt like a crippling pain, and running again became the furthest thing from my mind.  I saw a podiatrist about this the first year it occurred, and one of his theories was that I was suffering from Psoriatic Arthritis, a condition that affects about 10%-30% of people who suffer from Psoriasis.  But I have never been diagnosed with Psoriasis, so I didn't give it much of a thought.  He was just a foot doctor, anyway.

Even though I was not running, my symptoms got worse.  The pains and swelling that started in one toe  advanced over the next several months from my feet to my shins, to my knee, to my hip, and finally to my neck and shoulders, to the point that I could not even turn my head.  I was having to allow extra time in the morning just to get out of bed and shower before work.

Trips to my Primary Care Physician proved futile, and a referral specialists in Ortho and Neuro did not help.  A trip to an Urgent Care Center when the pain and inflammation in my feet was so bad I could hardly walk resulted in testing, and results of a false positive for Lyme Disease.  This misdiagnosis was accompanied by massive quantities of misappropriated antibiotics over a period of several months with no positive results.  Finally, near the very end of 2015, I saw a Rheumatologist, who confirmed the podiatrist's theory after a full year of battling the affliction, and finally got me on a medication therapy that worked for me, and slowly...very slowly, I started to get better.

This entire past year has been one of caution and distractions.  I did not even attempt a run of any duration until February 2th this past year, when I ran a full mile without stopping for the first time in nearly a year.  Over the next couple of months of sporadic training, I finally ran 3 miles again without stopping, But for the rest of the year, I never really got back in the swing, and only had one month all last year where I ran over 40 miles.  I didn't yet trust my body to hold up.

But now, in the final months to wrapping up my 35h year of running, I have started running a little more regularly, and with a little more confidence again, and though I am much slower than I could ever imagine, it feels as good as it ever has.  In fact, in some ways, it feels better.  To gain back something you though was lost forever adds a new level of appreciation you could not possibly achieve any other way.

In nearly 35 years, there is a lot of history to look back on, including many personal accomplishments which have provided a lifetime of memories. but before I go down memory lane, I have a confession to make for the first time ever.  I am actually not positive that April 16, 1982 was my very first run. But whenever it was, it was only a pathetic mile that beat me up, and it was my final attempt in a series encompassing several years before this time, when running finally stuck.  In previous writings, I have always referred to April 16th as the date I started running, but until I ran a few more times after that and it started weaving its way into my lifestyle, I had no idea that this day would be day one.  But I do believe it was pretty close to, if not the exact day I started running "for good."

I knew running was sticking when I signed up for, and ran, my first road race, which actually wasn’t my first road race.  I had run a 10K race a couple of times previously in the late 70’s, pretty much totally untrained, but it was a race my father’s company sponsored, so I basically jumped in.  But on June 26, 1982, I ran the Shelter Island 10K, and a week later, I ran the Firecracker 5K in Massapequa, and I was becoming a runner.  

Dad and me at the first race we ever ran together.  The Massapequa Firecracker 5K, July 3, 1982.  Note that I am wearing my T-shirt from my previous race, the Shelter Island 10K
One cool thing about running in the early days was that I got better, and I got better fast.  My first 5K was between 25 and 26 minutes, and my first 10K was over 58 minutes, but by the end of the year, my 5K was down to 20:30, and my 10K was under 44 minutes.  PR races were a possibility every time I raced and the memories of these first races are still as vivid as if I had run them yesterday.  And the night before every race, I tossed and turned due to the shear excitement and anticipation of the next morning’s race.  And there was a possibility that every race could be faster than the race before.  I was getting better, and had yet to realize my limits.

A funny thing about a PR is you never really know you have run one at the moment you run it.  All you know for sure is you have run a distance faster than you ever have previously.  The fact that you have run a PR does not really crystalize until years later, when the time still stands as first your performances, then your dreams of accomplishments, decline.  It takes a long time to let go of the dream that maybe you still have a faster time in you.

In September, 2005, Bob Cooper published an article in Runners World on-line called “The 25 Golden Rules of Running."  It had been published in the printed version of magazine several years earlier but even now, it still holds up pretty well.  Embedded right in the middle, standing at number 12 was one called “The Seven-year Rule” which basically states that no matter when you start running, you can expect seven years of improved performance.  This is true whether you start running at 25 or 55.  When I started running, I was 26, which meant I could in theory expect to get better until I was about 33.

Looking back, I think at this point, at age 61, I am confident that all my PRs are well behind me.  But when I look back at my accomplishments, my PR history spans many years.  My very first PR was at 5 miles in early November of 1982.  It was also one of my most unique accomplishments.  In a three week span, I ran 3 different 8K/5 mile races in under 34 minutes.  The fastest was my first, a strong 33:06.  Never since that three week stretch have I run another one in under 34 minutes.  In March of 1983, less than a year after I started running, I set my 5K PR at around 19:52.  It was an early goal of mine to break 20 minutes for a 5K, and in my entire history of running, this was the only time I ever did it.  Later that year, I set my 10K PR with a fairly solid 41:30 and it took many years of trying after to realize that this was as good as it gets for any of those distances.  

So where were my other 6 years of getting better?  They came in longer distances.  My 10 mile PR, perhaps my best race ever, came in 1984, at the Capital Trail 10 miler in Raleigh NC.  I believe I ran the 2nd 5 miles in under 34 minutes, and I felt great at the end. My finish time was 1:08:20.  My half marathon PR came a few years later at Kiawah Island.  My goal that race was a sub 1:34:00, and I made it with about 10 seconds to spare.  

But the marathon was one race that I never achieved a feeling of running the best I could.  I had run about 20 of them between my late 20’s and early mid 40’s, but none of them were quality races because I had never trained properly for one.  I broke 4 hours barely a couple of times, but whenever anyone would ask me what my marathon PR was, my answer was simply “I don’t know.  I haven’t run it yet.”

Finally, a day after my 49th birthday, 23 years after I started running, and with proper training, I ran the marathon I could call a PR, with a 3:53 at Twin Cities.  It was a special day in my running life, because it was the only time I stood at a starting line of a marathon knowing I was going to run a PR.  I regretted that I had not trained properly for a marathon when I was younger, as I probably could have run a 3:20, but I’ll never know.  But after this race, I think I knew that ALL my PRs were not in the past.  There was no longer a change to get better.  I had maxed out at every distance.

Getting better.  All this history leads me to the purpose of this essay and why I am writing it now.  The last few years, I have looked back and know I no longer have a change of getting better at any distance.  For a very long and real stretch of time, I was positive I would never even run again, and was consumed with nothing but thoughts of overall deteriorating health.      

Today, about a year after the initial correct diagnosis and treatment, I can once again run, but it has taken most of this past year to have the confidence that another relapse isn't looming in the near background.  I have dealt with this before, and it never gets easier.  In fact, every time running throws a setback in the form of injury or overall health, it takes longer and longer to trust your body again, and it is all too easy to just give up and find less challenging interests, (like drinking beer.) 

 But I have also come to a truth that I had to go through this journey to clearly see.  Getting better is not just about improving on minutes and seconds.  Getting better is not only for the young or for the healthy.  It does not mean just going faster or going longer.  In fact, getting better is the only thing I care about right now, and it is the only direction I can go.  My running will never be any faster than it has been in years gone by.  But I can get better each time that today represents an improvement over yesterday, and I have had that a lot lately.  I have a feeling that this is how I will be measuring PRs in the future, but in a way it feels just like it did nearly 35 years ago.  In this past year, I went from hardly being able to get out of bed, to a slow deliberate walk, to a slow jog, to a full return to running  In more ways than ever before, every day, in every way, I am getting better.

Me and Dad again, almost 35 years later, after his 90th birthday.  Still walking!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day 2016

Today is the day before Father’s Day, and I wanted to have something special this year to give Dad, who is now 89 years old.  But when you are 89 years old and proclaim that you already have everything you need, then knowing what to give can become a challenge.

This morning, as I did my 3-mile run through the neighborhood, I pondered what I was going to do for Dad to honor his day.  Dad was never especially fond of “things” to begin with, and material goods really hold no value for him anymore.  I think that this comes as a result of a combination of age and wisdom, but it sure does make it hard to come up with the perfect gift.  So my focus of my run was to create an idea for a gift that I could deliver to him tomorrow.  As my body covered three short miles, my mind wandered across the universe.  These are always the best kinds of runs.

Dad only ever had a very small and select group of friends, all acquired over 60 years ago, but they were all very special friends.  At this point, he has outlived almost all of them, and the couple that remain are in very poor health.  He has no interest in acquiring new ones at this point in his life.  But he treasures family more than ever.  Family is about all he outwardly has any more, and they bring him more happiness than anything else in his life.

Dad is still as active as his 89 year old mind and body allow, which is really quite a bit.  His likes his quiet time, enjoys watching sports on TV, and he enjoys reading.  He is also still a very good bridge player, and plays most weeks at least once.  He still spends time at the gym nearly every day, walking a couple of miles three or four times a week, working with weights, and doing exercises in the pool after a nice sauna.  You would not know he is soon to be a nonagenarian if you ever met him.

Two things that Dad gets particular joy from as things relate to me is when I am running, and when I am writing.  I used to do a lot of both.  Dad knows that I am at my absolute best when running and writing are both taking place in my life, so when I am doing both, it gives him great joy.   Over the past couple of years, I have struggled with both my running and writing, either due to physical limitations, or attitude, or in some cases both.

Only very recently, my running has found a weak pulse, and though I am hardly a regular runner again quite yet, I am actively working on that as a long term goal, and am starting to at least think like a runner again.  But the writing has been the even bigger obstacle.  I have not written anything worthwhile in a year or longer, and Dad will still ask occasionally when I am going to start writing again.  When he asks, I just shrug and tell him I don’t know, and then I feel bad because I know how much joy it would bring him to see me writing again.  I have to be moved to write, and nothing moves me like when I am running.  So this morning, since I was running anyway, I concentrated on what I could come up with to write, with the hope of massaging the thoughts into the words that I will have to hand him tomorrow morning. What you are reading is what I will hand him tomorrow.

Although I am seeing Dad tomorrow for Father’s Day, I also saw him today.  Dad is a religious man, and every Saturday morning, almost without fail, he goes to synagogue.  This is another activity that gives him great joy.  I thought it would be a nice way to start the Father’s Day weekend to accompany him this morning. So after my run, I drove over and accompanied him at the morning services, and then Kelli came by after, and we all had lunch with him and Mom.  I also told him I would be over early tomorrow so we could have a nice walk together.  This is something we do far too infrequently these past few years, mainly due to my extremely busy schedule and lack of available time when we can do it.  In both of our younger day, we used to run, and race together, quite often.  It was the one special activity that the two of us had that was ours and ours alone.  Those runs were almost sacred and helped create a bond that nothing since we started running together can break.  It is one of the things in my life I am most thankful for.

In the back of my mind, I always knew that there would be a time that running would evolving into walking.  But that did not happen until dad was in his mid-70’s.  Yes, the running got slower over the years, but the meaningfulness of the runs never changed.  Even as running shifted over to walking, each time doing it together carried the same significance.

So tomorrow morning, after my 3-mile run, I will once again head over to Dad’s, hand what you are reading now to him, and then we will go on a 2-mile walk. Then I will write about that later in the day.  And his Father’s day gift will have been given.
Happy Father’s Day Dad.  I love you.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

When the alarm went off at 4:00AM this morning, I was unaware of the current weather conditions outside. And that’s probably a good thing, for had I known, I likely would have opted for the extra hour of sleep.  But until I went downstairs, I didn’t know it was raining, and until I turned on the TV, I didn’t know it was 37 degrees outside the warmth of my house.  37 and raining.  I assure you that at 37 degrees, it is a cold rain indeed.  Why would anyone in their right mind go out in that?  Especially an old aging runner who struggles to run a mile at a 10 minute pace.

So I dallied and dawdled, hoping the rain would move out before it was time to run, and as I waited with no positive effect,  it got later and later.  And the rain kept on falling.  While I went through by pre-run motions,  I started thinking of all kinds of reasons to retreat back to the bedroom and avoid the discomfort of this cold rainy darkness.  Surely, even running in the snow would be better.  A bone chilling cold without the accompanying wetness would be better.  Crawling back into a nice warm bed with and cuddling up to my wife would be way better.  But this combination of comfort threats was looming as very unattractive.

About 55 minutes after my alarm first went off, the moment of truth arrived.  It was truly either now or not today.  Thanks to my lingering, my maximum run had already been cut to 3 miles, as I need to be back in the house by 5:30 to start my “real” day, the one I live for others.  But the morning run is my sacred time; my moment of real truth, and in reality, that, more than anything, is what drives me to do it.

Yes, I have running-related goals.  My current long term one is the Grand Rapids Marathon, and training is not just an element of success, but a requirement.  At the time I am writing this, the race is still 236 days, 21 hours, 2 minutes, and 33 seconds away (assuming it starts right on time) That’s still a long time away, so how important is a three mile run on a cold wet morning today?  I mean really?

Even as I moved towards the front door, opened it, felt the wet chill in my face, and pulled the door closed behind me, I took three steps out and as many steps back, opened the door and stepped back in for a few seconds, still arguing with myself.  That’s how close I came to nixing the run.  But something pushed me out again, and it was finally “Game On.”   In all honesty, as I started down the street, I was still wondering if I was dedicated, crazy or something else? Why the hell am I out there, doing a relatively insignificant three miles on a day I wouldn’t send a dog out in?

But as I continued the run (at a slightly quicker than usual pace) the doubt slowly melted, and the insignificance of the run changed to clarity, even in a foggy rain.  Running can be inspiring, but not every run is inspired.  Running can get routine, and sometimes, that routine needs a little shaking up. There is not much better than a cold rain in the early morning darkness to do just that.

My mind started to wander as I observed, even literally, that even a dog would not be out in predawn cold rain like this.  Most mornings, there is at least that sign of life.  I’m usually earlier than most other runners in my neighborhood, but this morning’s silence even encompassed the four legged variety.  The dog “regulars” were not being walked, most likely because their two-legged companions did not want to go there with them.  I was definitely on a road not taken by anyone else at this time on this day.  And I was feeling an overwhelming satisfaction in having this road all to myself.

Before I knew it, the run was over, and I realized that the misery that my mind had imagined before I started never developed.  In fact, it ended up being a more enjoyable run than many.  The cold rain had faded into the background, even though it never let up for the 30 minutes I was out playing in it.  But lost in thought, I had forgotten about it all together.  The main evidence that the rain continued during my run was not the perpetual discomfort, because it had been replaced by contentment.  The evidence was contained in my shoes and clothes, heavy and soaked. 

During my run, I was reminded of a poem by one of my more favorite poets growing up, Robert Frost. In his poem The Road Not Taken, he wrote
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I mused back to an hour earlier, facing that fork in the road, the one between closing the front door in front of me and going back to bed, or closing it behind me and taking the road less traveled, at least this day. Will today’s run make me a better runner in the long run?  Not likely.  Was it important for me to not skip today’s run as I prepare for a marathon nearly eight months from now.  I haven’t even started training for it yet, so again, the answer is no.   But the real question is, did this morning’s run contribute to making me a better person today?  To that question, my answer is a resounding yes!  On a gloomy, cold dark morning, I took the road less traveled by, and today, that has made all the difference.   

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Dad Chronicles-Chapter 1

One thing I love about this time of year is that things usually slow down a bit at work, and it presents an opportunity for all of the family to spend time together and celebrate just being a family.  I am very fortunate that my family has somehow mostly settled in the same geographic area, and four generations of us can get together with an hour’s notice.    

Yesterday was such a day.  My daughter Monica offered to host a Chanumas gathering at her house to spread some holiday joy (and we found out a little later, the flu virus, compliments of her middle of her three sons).  My younger brother David was there with his lovely fiancĂ©e Linda.  Monica’s husband Wes arrived a little later with their three children, coming from another family gathering on his side of the family.  Together, that family has made me the proudest father and grandfather in the world.  And my mother and father were there.  They are still the glue that keeps us all as close as we are as a family, and chose to re-retire in Atlanta, just to be near us all.

During the visit, I made plans to see Mom and Dad today. At 83 and 88 years old respectively, they are both still vibrant and alert, look much younger than you might expect, and though there are signs of slowing down with both of them, they both still think about their own future with the assumption they will still be around for a while.  They are both still very active, alternating their time between here and Atlanta, with summers spent in Asheville, NC.  And they still drive back and forth when they go.

There is nothing in this world that I can do to make my father any happier than when I am running and writing.  That is probably because he knows it is a sign of contentment on my part, and a parent wants nothing more for their children than peace and happiness.  Well, I am running regularly again, and I am writing as well, and when we talked about it yesterday, he was almost in tears.  I could see that he could not be any more proud and pleased.

Of course it takes many things for me to arrive at my “place” but is seems to always start with running.  I have been doing it on and off for over 30 years, and writing about it, on and off, for about 20.  I say on and off because, as many things, it has ebbed and flowed.  There have been months I ran close to 300 miles, and there have been years I have not run a step.  There have been times I wrote every day, and there have been years I have not picked up a pen, or had a creative thought. And all around it, there has been the rest of my life, sometimes turbulent, and at some times, seemingly perfect.  But it has always been eventful.

Those of you who have read my writing over the years know that my father and I have had a special bond over the years, created by, and held together by our common passion for running.  When I first started running in early spring of 1982, Dad was already a seasoned veteran, who already had about 15 years of “jogging” under his belt.  But he never really caught the racing bug until I promoted it to him shortly after I started running.  Looking back, it is surprising he didn’t race all along.  I knew that I had a competitive spirit, but only discovered it in my father once we started racing.

I decided earlier this week to go through all my running logs in order to create a spreadsheet of every race I have ever run and documented.  After going through the first couple of years, I can see this is going to be a mammoth undertaking, but it has already brought back a flood of memories, and taken me back to the smells, feels, and emotions of each race.  I am so thankful that I journalized my runs so consistently for so many years.  And I found myself getting emotional mostly about the races I ran with my dad.  Over the next few weeks, I will share our running and racing history as best as I can.  It will be interesting to see if he recalls the races the same way I do.
This is for you dad.  Hope you enjoy!
1982 Races
OK, so we had actually done a couple of races together before this one, but I don’t count them, because I was not yet a “real” runner, and ran them mainly to support my father, whose company sponsored the race.  I also did it for the T-shirt, and was very disappointed when, the second time I did it, T-shirts were not even offered.  The race was called the Riverdale Ramble, and to this day, I  believe it was the most difficult 10K course I have ever run.  It was bad enough to give anyone a bad attitude about running, but was not bad enough to deter me for actually starting to train in the spring of 1982. So, fast forward.

July 3, 1982- Firecracker Run 5K- Massapequa New York

This was a nice hometown race that is still going to this day, but the year we did it was I believe the 2nd annual.  I have very few photos of Dad and me at races, but for some reason, we got one at this race.  I had run my first 10K the week before at Shelter Island (wearing the t-shirt from it here) and had gotten to about the 3 mile mark when I had to start walking.  My only hope was to be able to run the whole 5K without walking.

First "Real" race together, July 3, 1982
This was an evening race, and I believe it was a warm humid dreary drizzly evening and there seemed to be a nice sized crowd of runners doing it. Back then, everyone who ran in races was a “runner”.  I don’t say this to mock or offend regarding today’s race demographics, but things were much different back then.  If you didn’t run an 8-minute mile, you were in the back of the pack.  Runners were mostly young, male, and athletic, and most races stopped handing out awards at the 50 and over age group, because few people over 50 years old raced.

 If I recall correctly, Mom and my brother David were there too as spectators.  I knew I couldn’t beat Dad.  Though I had been training for three months already, it was intermittent training, and with my natural propensity and body type preferring sprinting, it was talking a long time for my abundance of fast twitch muscle fibers to convert over.

When the race started, I remember actually staying with my father for about a quarter of a mile before he started to distance himself from me and pull further and further ahead.  I could still see the back of his head when I passed the mile marker, but he was well out ahead of me and distancing himself further by the minute.  When my mile split was called at 8:05, I gasped.  I had never run a mile in my life in under nine minutes in training.  This was my first ever experience of what Joe Henderson referred to as “race-day magic.”  I liked it, but at the same time, it scared me, because I had never experienced a kjile like this before, and knew I still had two miles and a little more to go.

I don’t remember much of the detail of the next two miles, but I know dad pulled further and further ahead, and ended up beating me by about a minute.  His final time was in the low 24 minute range, and I think mine was in the mid 25’s, so I actually averaged 9 minutes per mile after the first one.  I do remember I ran the whole thing, and was very tired, but felt accomplished at the finish. Racing was now in my blood, as was a desire to beat him in a race.

October 3, 1982- Suburbia 10K- Eisenhower Park, NY

Between July 3 and October 3, 1982, I ran ten races on my own all around Long Island, and experienced a new breakthrough just about every race. My training became consistent, and I was shattering my PR’s just about every race.  I had run a 5K PR of 22:10 in the Long Beach boardwalk in early August and a 10K PR of 43:55 at the end of September in a new defunct race in Cold Spring Harbor of Billy Joel fame.  I knew I had dad’s number, but after all, I had just turned 27 the day before, and Dad was closing in on his 56th birthday the next month.

I’m guessing Dad doesn’t remember much about this race, as it was a low key race in a very popular park for running, Eisenhower Park.  I had only discovered it less than a month earlier, and had eased into a training routine which included regular runs in this park.  At that time, within the park, there were marked loops of 1 mile, 3 miles, 5K, 4 miles and 5 miles, all with the same starting point, and each route was marked with a different color arrow. A couple of the loops actually went outside the park, and when I went back years later after moving away from New York, I learned that the longer routes were no longer marked because they went outside the park, creating a liability issue.

Log entry from the day I first discovered Eisenhower Park

I was starting to recover from my first ever running injury, knee pain which was caused by a terrible choice of running shoes.  It may have not been the model as much as the size, which was about 2 sizes too small.  As a new runner, missing a single day because of an injury was unacceptable, so I started seeing a chiropractor who was also a friend of a friend. Not so smart in retrospect, but I was a new running addict, and would have run through about anything.

I switched from my original misfit pair of shoes to Saucony, I believe it was the Freedom Trainer, a solid, burgundy-colored shoe that probably weighed about 2 pounds, but boy were they cushioned.  The knee pain started to ease.  Runners are a funny breed, especially when it comes to brand loyalty.  From 1982 to this day, I have never worn any brand of running shoe except Saucony,and doubt I ever will.

As mentioned earlier, I had run a wonderful 10K PR of 43:55 a week earlier but the knee was very tender afterwards, so I had only run a couple of 4-milers during the week.  My expectations were not very high for this race, which was much flatter than the Whaling Museum race the week before.  I remember being surprised at my finishing time of 44:10, not far off from the previous week’s time.  Dad ran in the 52’s, so I beat him with ease, but it was a good race for both of us.

Suburbia Challenge 10K journal entry-Oct.3, 1982

These were the only two races Dad and I ran together in 1982, but it laid the foundation for a long history of memorable races in the years that followed, and a special bond that ended up shaping everything in my life, which probably none of which would have been possible without running.

Next chapter- 1983 races and thoughts.  For everyone reading this that is not my father, hope you enjoy the journey.  For Dad, I’m running and writing.  Are you as happy as I am?

Friday, December 19, 2014

2015-Goals Renewed

Goals.  Any runner knows that, to keep one’s interest, goals are a motivational requirement for ultimate success.  Running goals come in all shapes and sizes, and are a varied as the runners who set them.  They could be based on time.  They could be based on physical health.  They could be rooted in mental health and well being.  They could be based on distance or consistency.  But there has to be a reason, and end to the means, or running withers and dies.

December, to a runner, tends to be a time of reflection on these goals.  It is a time to look back at the past year’s successes and failures, and it is a time to look forward to the coming year and set the dangling carrot far enough ahead of us to push us forward.  Sometimes, the backwards glance goes back way further than a simple 12-month time-frame.  And sometimes the future planning goes far beyond the next calendar year.  But December seems to always be a time of reflection and a time of future thought.

This past year has been a year of downs and ups for me, in that order. The year started with a thought that, after 32 years, my running days may be over, and I was mentally preparing myself to live with that fact.  The past two year, about the only exercise I practiced had been an exercise of frustration.  Last December, I was recovering from a stress fracture (or so it was diagnosed) of my left big toe when a pain developed in the inside of my left knee.  Pain from time to time is expected if you are a runner, but when it lingers, and rest seems to not contribute to the healing process, it’s time to take further action.

Early this year, while grounded with the knee, I was working at a running expo with my wife.  Two booths down, a local orthopedic medical group was represented.  I strolled over to their booth, and casually mentioned to the surgeon representing the practice that there what was going on with my knee, and described the symptoms.  Without pause, he shrugged, shook his head, and said “That’s just age, it happens” and offered little, if any hope.  I was not happy with his bedside manners or his lack of concern.  It made me wonder why he was even at a road race representing his group.

Later that week, I made an appointment with a different Orthopedic Surgeon in the same group, since they have a very good reputation locally, and a subsequent MRI revealed a slight medial Meniscus tear of the left knee.  If I was not a runner, I would have been happy to live with it.  It didn’t really keep me from doing anything I wanted to do.  Well, I could do everything I wanted except run, and running was what I wanted to do more than anything.  So I opted for surgery to repair the damaged knee, which was performed in early May of this year.  And with it came the hope that goals could once again become a reality.

The surgery itself was surprisingly easy.  Within ten minutes of the time I woke from anesthesia, I was walking out the door without assistance.  I thought recovery would be a piece of cake.  But the reality was it required patience, which isn’t my strong suit.  I didn’t do the best job of staying compliant to my prescribed physical therapy, which I’m sure hindered my recovery.  I tried to run too much too soon, and then repeated that error on several occasions.  An accidental half-marathon  in Dublin in early August with long runs of 3 miles in training probably didn’t help much either.

But eventually, despite my sabotage-like efforts, the healing process took hold, and within the past month or so, I am starting to feel completely healed and am once again ready for some review and goal-setting.  So here it is, mid-December, and I’m thinking like a runner is supposed to think again.  In fact, yesterday, I pulled out almost 20 years of history in the form of old running logs, the hand-written kind, and over the next few weeks, I’m going to take every race I’ve ever run and documented, and put it in a spreadsheet, race by race, year by year.  Just going through the first four years yesterday, 1982 through 1985, was very enlightening, and brought back an avalanche of memories and an excitement of what I still have to accomplish as a runner.

Next October, I turn 60, and with it come personal goals and of course, running goals.  Every decade represents new opportunities for a runner, and for that reason, runners are probably the only people I know who actually look forward to getting older.  From Masters (40-49) to grand masters (50-59) to senior grand Masters (60+) every decade represents new goals, new opportunities, new PRs  as the tables are reset.  I gulp at the thought that next birthday, my title will be accompanied by the word Senior, but at the same time, I look forward to enjoying all the old person’s discounts I’ll be able to take advantage of.  My point is, I still feel young, and age as a number is not going to stop me from feeling that way.

So now that I’m feeling better, I have decided that for my birthday present to myself, I am going to run another marathon soon after I turn 60.  I honestly don’t know exactly how many I have run, but by the time I finish my spreadsheet, I will have the answer.  In my mind, I think it’s somewhere around 20.  I do, however, know when my last marathon attempt was.  It was on October 18, 2009, when my wife and I traveled to the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon, a beautiful course directed by the very hands on Don Kern.  He and I first developed a kinship through three passions we both share; running, writing, and beer.  Don recently published a book titled “And the Adventure Continues” which documents his world record whirlwind tour while running marathons on all 7 continents in less than a month back in 2011.

Well, I didn’t complete that marathon, as my wife started experiencing stomach distress at around the 20-mile mark of that race, and I made a decision to stay with her while she received medical attention.  She was fine, and I never regretted my decision to stop when she did for a moment, but it did leave me with a feeling of unfinished business.

So, Mr. Kern, I have decided that Grand Rapids will be my marathon of choice to celebrate my 60th birthday, and just like last time, I will contribute my running musings towards that goal race in your monthly newsletter.  And by the way, I will even bring a seven-pack variety of my favorite Atlanta-based micro brews for your enjoyment when I come.  One for each continent you ran a marathon on during your record-breaking accomplishment.

As you like to say…And the adventure continues.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The New Physical Year

The simple definition of a fiscal year is “an accounting period of 12 months.” A fiscal year does not have to align with a calendar year, and it rarely does.  The company I work for just closed the books on their 2014 fiscal year at the end of September and though it was not an awful year, the hope is that the next fiscal year will be a more productive one.  It will certainly be a different one.  All eyes are looking forward.

This also seems to be a good time for me to personally look back at my last “Physical Year.”  Though it is still more than two months shy of the 2015 calendar year, my future running goals fall on the other side, and in order to achieve them, now is the time to start taking stock in what needs to be done to prepare for those goals.  So to simplify things, I declare that my Physical Year also runs from October 1 through September 30 each year.

Looking back on my last physical year makes me want to forget it.  If my running was a business, I would have considered myself on the brink of bankruptcy.  It is almost embarrassing to look back at my annual mileage and to realize that I fell four miles short of averaging a single mile a day.  I logged 361 miles total for the year.  There are various reasons for that dismal number, some of which I had no control over and others due to choices that took me in other directions.  But the bottom line is that other than to capture lessons learned, there is no reason to look back, and every reason to look forward.

The new 2015 Physical year started on October 1, 2014 with a future objective of running the Big Sur 21-miler on April 26 of next year and completing a marathon the weekend after my 60th birthday.  In 2014, Big Sur, my bucket list race, was on the schedule, but my knee rebelled and had other plans for me.  So on race day, I was a spectator while my wife ran the race, and the next week, I went under the knife, and soon after, started my long slow journey back.  It was a necessary evil to revive the hope I could ever run pain-free again.  Running with constant pain is the precursor to becoming a former runner, and I was willing to exhaust all options before ever giving in to that.

Physical year 2015 started with promise, but there are still obstacles to overcome, mostly attitudinal. October started out wonderful, with short runs five of the first six days.  Then, a two week gap without a step occurred.  I could blame it on business travel and a team conference, but those are just excuses for a lack of desire to create a routine in an unfamiliar environment.  I’m back on track now, but next week I travel again and know I’ll be on shaky ground.  By sharing this challenge here, I am hoping to overcome this hurdle and find the will and the place to run while I am away.

New years always represent hope, and my hope is to continue to remain injury free, continue to find consistency, and continue to grow stronger and faster.  Yesterday, I ran a benchmark 10-mile race, totally under trained, just to see how far I still have to go.  I was hoping to average 10:30 miles, and I was ahead of pace until the challenge of Cardiac Hill just as I was running out of steam.  I ended up running a 1:46:08, so I still didn’t miss by much.  Most importantly, today, I feel good with no ill effects from the race.

After the Atlanta Track Club 10 Miler, 10/26/2014

So far this physical year, I have 39 miles in 27 days, but I feel that things will improve from here.  When I think back over my running history, it’s hard to realize where I have been compared to where I am now.  I have had years where I have averaged 30 miles a week, and while that is not a stunning number, it represented the energy and consistency I am currently lacking.  I have had months during “proper” marathon training where I have exceeded 65 miles a week.  Though I know I will never do that again, it’s still a reminder of what my body was once capable of. 

The one thing I do know is that I am still capable of much more than what I am currently achieving, and the next Physical year is expected to be a year of phenomenal growth.  The pain is gone, the desire is returning, and a desire for significant improvement is in the air.  An optimistic outlook for a strong Physical year is in the offering.  I feel I am ready to invest the time now, so I can reap the benefits down the road.  I look forward to sharing this journey.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

365 Days of Happiness

Today is my 59th birthday.  The mere fact that I’m even mentioning that fact is unusual for me.  I usually prefer to sweep birthday under the rug and hope they pass without notice or fanfare.  I can’t really remember the last birthday I actually looked forward to.  But this one is different.

I remember very clearly when I turned 50.  Emotionally, it may have been my most difficult birthday ever.  I actually had very little to do with actual age, but more what it symbolized and where I was in life at the time.  I was not running, more due to apathy and anything else.  I was not taking very good care of myself, I was not in a good career path and my immediate surroundings were not pleasant ones.  I felt old, and I allowed myself to buy into it.  I had very few happy days during that time.
A lot has changed in the last nine years, and it has all ultimately led me to arrive at a much better place. It has included many ups and downs, peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows, but I know that every low point has been necessary in order to experience, and more importantly, to appreciate the high ones. 

Today, I am in a very good place, and at 59, I am looking in a different direction than I did when I was 50.  Instead of lamenting that my best years of my life are behind me and my life is more than half over, I am looking forward and living in the present and for the future.  There is so much I am thankful for every day, and so much to look forward to in the coming years.  I plan to celebrate that thankfulness every day for the next year and beyond.

I’ve seen people do #100happydays posts and have been inspired by this. Thank you for those who have done this exercise and found something to celebrate each day.  I’m sure there were challenging days when it was difficult to come up with something positive, but I am also confident that looking for happiness and finding even a glimmer of it in the midst of the tough days, like finding a needle in a haystack, make the whole exercise worth it.

One thing that age can do to a person manifests on the inside, in the forms of cynicism, skepticism and distrust as life deals blow after blow and saps energy while teaching tough life lessons.  It’s easy to buy into that, and look for the worst in everything, and I have leaned more in that direction in recent years.  But life is too short to feed on a steady diet of negativity, and I certainly don’t like being around it.  As the years go by faster and faster, it make more sense to value, and find the good in each day, each hour, each minute. Time may go by too quickly, but everything we have is dependent on it and must happen within its confines, so it should be spent in a way that touches the most people in the most positive way. 

I have many goals for this coming year, in every aspect of my life.  I want to be a better everything to everyone starting with myself, and it has to come from within.  I want to personally take the hundred day challenge and expand it to 365 days, every day until I turn 60.  Anything, done long enough, becomes habit, and I can’t think of a better pattern to fall in to then one that includes at least a happy thought every day. 

I know doing this for 365 straight days will be an extreme challenge, but hopefully, I am up to it.  I am, by nature, a moody person, and dark clouds show up from time to time, with a feeling they will never leave.  Today, I am enthusiastic about the goal, but today, I feel good, so it will be easy.  But there will be days when the break in the clouds will be hard to find, and those will be the days it will be most critical to find the glimmer of light. 

But I have so much to be happy for which I will elaborate on over the coming year, an item at a time, and a day at a time, but in a nutshell, it all revolves around a few simple things; love, faith, family, friends, health and accomplishments.  Most of my writing has to do with running, and although that is not the focus here, it is certainly still an inspiration.  I started today with an easy 3-mile run, getting up at 4:30 in the morning to do it. I can’t say I was overjoyed to get up that early this morning, but since some of my goals for the next year are running ones, it had to be done.

Running, especially pain-free running has always been the tool to get my creative juices going.  I’m sure over the next year, running will be a central theme of many happy days, and running time will most likely be the inspiration for many other happy thoughts.  And if I can’t run, as has been the case for much of the past year, the challenge with become exponentially harder, but I will be up for it either way.  I just know which way I’d prefer.

So, with that in mind, let the happiness begin.