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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Welcome to the Autumnal Equinox

To a runner, seasons are not dictated by a calendar.  I understand that in the truest definition, seasons result from the annual orbit of the Earth around the Sun and the tilt of the Earth's rotational axis relative to the plane of the orbit. An even firmer definition explains the equinox as that moment at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, when day and night are of equal length. So there is an exact moment in time when each season begins, and the previous one ends.  By that standard, the fall equinox occurred last night at 10:29 PM.  I say hogwash to that.

Despite what the calendar and science say, my seasons can change almost daily, depending on what’s happening on the other side of my window.  In the last two weeks, I have experienced all four seasons, and I refuse to call it summer when external indicators say something completely the opposite.  When I flew to Calgary on September 9th, I was snapping photos of snow-covered landscape only several hours after leaving behind a balmy Atlanta.  And just this weekend, local temperatures climbed into the upper 80’s.

Flying into Calgary on Sept 9, 2014.  Officially still summer!

In between, there has been a wide range of temperatures, from highs in the mid 80’s to lows in the upper 50’s.  Even within a single day, different temperatures mean different things to different runners.  I don’t particularly and personally care about daily highs, especially during the week, when I’m usually locked in a room during the sunniest and warmest hours of the day.  All I care about is the bottom line, the daily low, as that is when I will be out there, reflective vest and headlamp on, running my miles.

We had spotty samples of Autumn weather even in July and August this year, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Each month, there were a couple of days when overnight lows dipped into the upper 50’s, a rarity, but after a day, it was back to the summer heat and humidity we have grown to despise.  It’s frustrating to still be sweating 20 minutes after a post-run shower, but that was what most of early September was like for me.  I had to sit around waiting to stop sweating before I could get dressed for work.

But now, it is late September, and there is more of a temporary permanency associated with a real change of seasons.  The last couple of mornings have hovered in the lower 60’s, and this morning, a clear star-filled sky and cooler drier air, with temperatures in the upper 50’s greeted me at the door.  The toll of the seemingly endless heat and humidity is lifting, and being replaced with a Canadian influence of more arid, more comfortable air.  How much nicer it is to wonder halfway through a run when the next one is going to be, instead of when this one is going to end.    

 This is the front door to my favorite time of year, possibly magnified because it leaves behind my least favorite season.  Soon, the air will get even crisper and the wind will have additional bite to it.  The leaves will start turning, that first run in long sleeves will take place, and full-fledged autumn will engulf us.  The memories of past wonderful autumn runs will flood my mind, dreams of future autumn runs will fill my imagination, and I will love every moment of it.  If I could box any season and make it last all year, this would be the one.  

Last Autumn at The Biltmore Estate-Asheville, NC
If you’ve been on the fence and looking for motivation to start running or even more importantly, to return to it, let this be your call to action.  Get, up, met moving, get out. 

Good luck.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Will Never Again Claim to Be Back (But at Least I Am Here)

If you’ve followed my writing over the years, you’ll know three things about me
1)      I am a passionate runner
2)      I am a passionate writer
3)      In both running and writing, I have had high points and low points; times when I have been prolific, and times I have been dormant; times when the passion ran over the cup, and times when the cup dried up.

When one has a passion, it is genuine, but not always consistent.  It is a profound truth that passion cannot be faked.  Trying to exhibit passion when it has waned is a futile battle, and not worth the effort.  People see right through it.

After having genuinely felt the passion of both running and writing for years, and after reaching what I felt to be maximum heights in both, the energy that both created left me.  I think that, to some extent, it speaks to my overall personality.  I am the type of person who is very goal oriented, but upon achieving the goal, I move on to something else rather than trying to extend the accomplishment beyond what it already was. I will never run as fast as I did in my 20s, 30s, or 40s.  I will never even come close again.  I have earned all the writing awards I set out to achieve, and have been published in all the magazines I targeted, so I have no other writing goals. But in the back of my mind, I know I will always be a runner and I will always be a writer.

During my dry spells and through my mental blocks, I tried several times to try to conjure up passion when none existed, hoping that proclaiming its triumphant return would somehow box it in a corner and make it happen.  But as quickly as my “return to running and writing” was announced, it disappeared faster than a one hit wonder.  You can’t box passion into a corner and claim it as yours.

It’s funny how research bares out the truth.  In my mind, I say I have been a runner for a solid 30 plus years, until I go through the piles of running logs, and computerized spreadsheets that reveal a slightly contrasting story, one that has many blank pages paralleling the weeks, or months, or even years I didn’t run within the walls of those 30 plus years.  Although it is true that once you are a runner, you will a runner forever be, it does not mean you are always running.  So in reality, though I say I have been running for over 30 years, it includes several years where I either ran very sporadically or not at all.

A page from week two of my very first running log, 1982.  I still had everything to learn.  For the most part, I still do.

During my years of running, though, I have seen some consistencies as well, as enthusiasm waxed and waned within each decade.  I ran PR’s at various distances in my 20’s, 30’s and most recently, a day after by 49th birthday, when a well-trained me ran a marathon PR.  Granted, the marathon was never my distance of choice or highest success.  Until that race, whenever anyone asked me what my marathon PR was, my answer would be “I don’t know.  I haven’t run it yet.”  But that race was still a shining moment, knowing at the starting line I had done my work, and I was ready to do something special.  And now, I know that it will always be my marathon PR.

But that was 10 years ago, and since then, I have been a runner of extremes, with years where I ran very little, years where I ran more than 50 races, and everything in between.  The running years have been dictated by various outside influences, some of a personal nature, some due to professional influences, and some where my body rebelled.

The last two years in particular, has been very difficult for running.  A career change made it difficult to find the time to run, and various injuries have stopped me in my tracks.  It was last September I was diagnosed with a stress fracture and quickly upon my return, I developed a torn Meniscus, which was a relatively minor injury, but it kept me from running and ultimately needed surgical repair, which was done in April of this year.
During that period of time, there was often a very real feeling at times that perhaps I would never be able to run again, and I’d either have to find something compatible to replace it, or find nothing and grow fat and old and miserable.  This was a very real feeling, and sometimes still is.  But I am gaining renewed hope as the healing process continues, a healing that seems to be about much more than just a knee. 

The first thing I am learning during recovery is that walking is not so bad, and in fact, can be just about as enjoyable as running.  At least now, I know I have a viable back-up if running truly does fail.  The second thing I am learning is that running an 11-minute mile can feel as good a running a 6-minute mile once did, because there is an appreciation that running is a gift, and the gift is not defined by pace alone.  As long as running keeps on giving, I will keep on living.  And the third thing I am learning is to never again be so hard on myself when it comes to running, to just let it happen, without fanfare, and without disappointment that I didn’t squeeze a few extra seconds out of a 5K race.  I’m not saying I won’t have future goals.  I already do.  But the true joy is not in the accomplishment of a goal.  It is in attempting to achieve it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another Top Ten Run

This morning, I ran three miles in a little over 29 minutes, and at this moment, I’m thinking it may just be one of my top ten runs of all time.  I realize that’s saying a lot.  I’ve been running since the early spring of 1982, and I’ve run hundreds of races, more than a handful of marathons, and of course, at some point, I’ve PR’ed at every distance I’ve run.  Plus, I’ve run this course many times before, and often, much faster than today.  So what made today’s run so special?

As I was thinking about the subject of top ten runs of all time, I found it very difficult to limit my list to ten mere runs out of the thousands I’ve done over the past 32 years. Many runs quickly came to mind., far more than the ten that compete for the top of the pile.  Some runs were races where I exceeded my expectations, and in some way, exceeded my abilities for a brief moment in time.  These were not always the best races in my life, but sometimes, they were the races that built the confidence that I could rise to the next level.  Other runs were runs that were overshadowed by the story surrounding them, like jumping a fence and suddenly finding myself on the front lawn of the Biltmore Estates, or running around a place called Goat Island and unexpectedly being face to face with Niagara Falls.  Yet other memorable runs were punctuated by  something simple, like catching a shooting star, or a bright rainbow, or a fox crossing right in front of me. 

Yet other runs were memorable because of the people I did them with.  My first marathon with Kelli was almost an hour from my fastest, but will always be remembered as a most memorable one.  Helping my father to PR times thirty years ago still burn brightly in my mind.  My thrill for his accomplishments are equal to or greater than for my own, and I still smile when he glowing recalls a specific 5K race in under 24 minutes all these years later.  Then there was the Reach the Beach 200 mile relay race in New Hampshire, with a team if Internet friends who all pulled together and had a real bonding experience in the process.

So in reality, my top ten list is probably comprised of at least 25 runs. Once a run achieves top ten status, it can’t be pushed out by another run, so the list grows.  But before this morning, it’s been years since a single run achieved such status.  So what made this morning’s innocent-looking, seemingly uneventful run so special?  More than anything else, it is the history behind it.

The last year and a half has been a painful period of time for this runner.  A new job slowly knocked me off of my running routine, so much so that it switched from a lifestyle to a sporadic occurrence.  The passion left me, and what remained was a lack of desire to do what had become a habit over the years.  There had been times in my life when I didn’t know how not to run.  It was a main fiber of who I was.  But now, every time was an effort, and felt more like a chore than a desire.

Then, my running body started to fail me.  First was a stress fracture of my big toe that disabled me for about two months, followed by a torn meniscus in my left knee, which was finally surgically repaired in late April.  I felt like I was never going to run again.  My feet and legs hurt almost all the time, and even walking and standing were painful. But I did not give up.

After the surgery, I started walking, and found I liked it more than I had expected. It provided a lot of the same benefits as running, such as a sense of well-being and accomplishment, and I found I had the same desire to walk farther and faster each walk, just like I had experienced with running three decades earlier.  Slowly, I gained confidence to start mixing running back in with my walking, first a minute at a time, then extending from there.  I won’t say it was nothing but forward progress, because there were minor setbacks along the way, but I stayed with it.

About three weeks ago, I decided to start getting up early again to run before work, something I had not done since I started this job a year ago January.  Getting up at 5:00 just to beat Atlanta traffic to get to work was daunting enough, but I decided to get up at 4:40, run three miles, and sit in traffic due to my later start to work.  I had ultimate goals in mind when I started, but the runs started very slow, and sometimes involved walking.  Runs of 32 minutes or longer were not uncommon for my 3-mile runs.  My three immediate to short term goals were to find the passion again in running, to break 30 minutes for three miles, to drop my weight from 180 pounds to 170 pounds by the end of September and to run a 5K in under 28 minutes by the first weekend of October.

This morning, I woke up thinking that today might be the day to run under 30 minutes for three miles.  The temperature was a little cooler and drier than it has been, and I was rested from taking yesterday off.  My normal 3-mile route is mostly downhill for the first mile, and mostly uphill for the second mile, with the third mile relatively flat.  I usually know by my 1-mile split how the rest of the run is going to go.  When I hit the 1-mile mark in 9:52, I was actually doubtful I was going to make my goal.  My recent experience has been that if I run my first mile under 10, I’m already tired and slow badly the second, uphill mile.   But I felt better today than I have been, so tried to keep the pace on the uphill and see what I had left for the last mile.  I ran the 2nd mile in 9:50, a very nice surprise, and still felt strong, so I knew I had my goal.  I picked it up the last mile, finishing with a 9:26, and still felt good at the finish.  I felt like old times.

So, top ten run of all time?  OK, maybe not, but it did get me thinking about the past and the future, the elements passion is made of.  I still have two goals to go.  My weight is now 174, so I’m 60% of the way there with a month to go. And on October 4th, I’m going to make my attempt at a sub 28 5K, a time I would have been embarrassed to have publicized for most of my running life, but now, could very well be my next top ten run.  I’m looking forward to September training in cooler weather, and hoping my knee, which feels pretty good right now, will stay that way.

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Looking ahead to 60

This weekend, Kelli and I are visiting Mom and Dad in Asheville, NC.  While we’re there, we’ll be running the Maggie Valley Moonlight Run.  It’s a fitting combination.  I can’t avoid but to think about dad and running in the same entwined thought.  Our history dovetails with running, or at least it has  for the last 32 years. As for the race, I can’t say I’m ready for it.  Far from it.  The furthest run I’ve done since my surgery is three miles.  I’ve gone longer, but not without walking.  But I’ll be at the starting line, and I’ll cross the finish line, and somewhere within, I’ll navigate the five up and down miles in between.  And this race will represent a starting point in my running rejuvenation.

I have found that establishing running goals have become more challenging as I have gotten older.  I’ll never run as fast as I once did, and I’ll probably never run as far either.  Every year sees me slipping further and further back in the pack, and the reasons are two-fold.  It is partly because my priorities have changed, but it is at least partially due to the fact that I’m just not as willing invest the hard work as I did when new goals were fresh, and PR’s were still in front of me.

But a couple of days ago, I became newly inspired by something that happened close to 30 years ago.
My father turned 60.

Why is that inspiring to me?  Because a year from October, I’ll be turning 60, and when I do, I want to be just like him.  Let me explain.

Dad and I first started racing together when he was in his mid 50s and I was in my mid 20s.  We were both still in New York then, and Dad and I used to meet in Central Park to race once or twice a month.  I used to pace him often, and pulled him to some very impressive age group times.  I never appreciated quite how good his times were until years later, when I started to slow down, and realized I couldn’t run the times he ran in his 50s when I was the age he used to be.  But back then, I was young and ignorant, and still thought I was the one who was going to beat this age thing and never slow down.  In my mid 20s, I could run run 7-minute miles without much effort, so I thought dad’s 8-minute miles were rather pedestrian.  I was sure I’d still be running 7-minute miles in my 50s.   

Boy, was I wrong!

The other day, I was playing around with the web site and came across some interesting data regarding my father.  Fortunately, the New York Road Runners Club was ahead of its time when it came to computerization, and was spitting out electronic results long before most races.  And some of these results make it to the database.  My jaw dropped when I saw some of dad’s race results from when he was 60.  They were impressive, to say the least. 

NYRRC Computer Run-5 mile- 40:27
Perrier 10K- 49:43
Staten Island Half Marathon- 1:50:52

In comparison, I have not run a 10K as fast as that since I was 54, and I have not run a half marathon faster than that since I was 49.  I was 48 the last time I was close to dad’s 5 mile time at age 60.   And my times in all distances have only gotten slower since then.  I have not broken two hours for a half marathon in several years, and I’d be hard pressed to break an hour in a 10K at the moment. 

But as I studied his times from when he was 60, and thought about it, I found myself getting excited at the thought of making my goals when I’m 60 match his achievements when he was there.  Could I possibly still whip myself into shape to run a 50 minute 10K or a 1:50 half marathon when I turn 60?  It would take a dedicated effort, and probably the help of a good coach.  When I used a coach 10 years ago, I ended up running my marathon PR a day after my 49th birthday.  It seems like a lifetime ago now since I was in the shape I was then.  It was 30 pounds ago, and my resting heart rate
was under 40. 

Can I do it?  I have a year to find out, and it’s going to be a fun one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top 5 reasons to Run in the Rain

Every day now, I seem to be taking additional steps to shake the softness that has crept into my running life the past few years.   It started far before the surgery, and every day seemed to pull me further and further from the athlete I used to be.  For what seems like a long time now, I had been finding every excuse to NOT run, and I was settling into a life of comfort and leisure.

But the last few weeks, a spark has been ignited, and I am working my way out of this comfort zone and back into the life of a runner. The knee surgery was a success, and I've worked my way back to being the runner of passion that I used to be.  It was very hard at first, a quarter mile peppered into my walks, then, as I tested the waters more, the running started to come back slowly.   I've been answering the 4:50 AM call to hit the roads about every day, and though I have a long way to go, I am now going to bed every night expecting to start the next day with a run.

This morning, I added a new level to the discomfort, doing something I once never thought twice about, and in fact, looked forward to.  This morning, for the first time in forever, I did a run in the rain.  It took me by surprise.  I didn't even know it was raining until I opened the front door to go for my run.  I didn't even reconsider for a fraction of a second.  I was out, playing in it right away.

I have written about the virtues of running in the rain in the past.  I love doing it, once I'm out in it.  It's invigorating, refreshing, and it always leaves a warm memory once completed.  SO while I was running and thinking, I came up with the top five reasons for running in the rain.

5) You don't have to carry water

4) You don't need to take a shower when you're done.

3) Your running route is suddenly your triathlon route

2) No worries about getting a Farmer's Tan

And the Number 1 reason to enjoy a run in the rain.

1) You don't have to hold your pee until you finish.  Who will know?

Think about that the next time you try to talk yourself out of a run in the rain!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

First Steps Back

As I slowly opened my eyes, I could feel the tube being removed from my mouth, and it was done. 

The last thing I remembered before this was a mask being placed over my nose, and about five breaths in and five breaths out.  Then this.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, an aching and slightly torn left meniscus had been repaired, and my left leg had been wrapped in gauze and tight bandaging from my upper thigh to my foot.  And an opportunity to return to my old self was created.  Even an old self was a better prospect than no self.  A simple arthroscopic surgery in less than an hour returned the hope that I will again run like the wind, or at my age, at least like an old fart.  Any kind of wind would be an improvement from the dark side of surgery.

I was stunned when, about 10 minutes later, I was told “get up and walk to your car.”  I was expecting at the very least a wheelchair, which I had incorrectly assumed was standard procedure for any surgery.  I’ve never seen anyone released from a hospital who exited any other way, but this was an outpatient clinic, and I guess they have a different set of rules.  But being ordered to walk out of knee surgery, even before standing up?  That was surprising.

I lifted myself from the bed, and though I walked gingerly to the awaiting car, nothing hurt, and I could immediately put full weight on the left knee.  It felt weak, but it felt great.  Those steps to the car were my first steps in a recovery process I plan to document regularly, for two reasons.  First, I want to praise the wonders of modern medicine as it applies to me.  I see it every day in my career from a third person point of view.  Second, I want to hold myself accountable to what I am promising to myself, and that is to do everything in my power to make all the right choices in my road to recovery.

I am a non-clinician who is constantly in a clinical environment, spending all my traveling time in outpatient clinics, acute hospital settings, and in emergency departments.  I see the miracles that providers and clinicians perform on other patients every day, but this time, I have been the recipient.  
Ironically, Orthopedic Surgeons have always been my favorite group to work with, and that’s not about to change any time soon.

I am a runner, and have been for over 30 years.  At times, it has defined me; at times it has abandoned me; at times, it has thrilled me, and at times it has killed me.  But every step of the way, it has somehow led me to where I am at this moment.  Running has taken me many, many places I would have never have otherwise been, and I am not just speaking geographically.  It has helped define my circle of friends, it has defined several vertebrae of my backbone as a person, and it has defined a spiritually that I would have never found any other way.  It has helped me to build a great rapport with many other likeminded people, and it has found me love.

Yesterday, leg still wrapped, I walked about a half a mile, to the end of my street, and back home.  It was a start.  It left much opportunity for improvement.  It left a positive and hopeful feeling.  The whole way, I just shook my head and thought “One day removed from knee surgery, and I can do this.”  This morning, the bandage came off, and I laughed to see the initials of the performing surgeon still written on my calf.  Everything looked great.  Just a couple of stitches on either side of my knee, where I am assuming pinhole-sized incisions were made.  Just puncture wounds.  Amazing.  I am looking forward to the shower I’ll be taking after I finish writing this.  It won’t erase the marks of the incisions, but it was erase the mark of the artist.

My wife Kelli has been missing me on the roads.  We have always trained together, but in recent months, she has trained alone.  This past weekend, my forever bucket list race, Big Sur, went on without me.  I was there, but did not participate. Kelli had to run it without me, but I strongly feel, she also ran it for me.  She took wonderful pictures the whole way, and made it to the finish line in great shape.  Head’s up Sally Smith, we will be back next year, and will BOTH bring home finisher’s medals.

Kelli has also been a wonderful support for me, partly because she misses me running with her, partially because she is tired of my complaining about not running, but mostly because she wants me to once again be whole, and for me, wholeness requires running.  We woke this morning to a beautiful Atlanta spring sunrise.  Kelli decided to take her long ignored bike for an hour ride.  And I decided to walk some of the route I have been running for the past 11 years, since my current residence became home.  I chose this house in large part because it afforded the opportunity to walk out the front door and do a 24 mile training run.  That’s how important running has always been to be.  Most key decisions of my adult life have at least considered running.

The walk started cautiously, but by a mile, it became cautiously optimistic, as I gained confidence and stared favoring my left knee a little less as I warmed up.  By the time I finished my second mile, I was flooded with feelings and satisfaction similar to a 5K PR.  Two miles gave me 50 minutes to flood my head with positive thoughts, which I hope to share as I begin my journey back to running.  Just the feeling that, at 58 years old, I have the same sense of unlimited opportunity for improvement from where I am today as I did as a rookie runner, just learning my full potential over 30 years ago, is comforting.

So for now, I have no performance goals except to improve and get stronger.  I can’t yet lay down the gauntlet and declare a future distant marathon goal, or when or even if I will run my next 5K.  But I can control the things I can, such as diet, cross-training, commitment to improve, commitment to stay positive, and commitment to do everything I can to angle the odds in my favor that other goals will soon be out there.  So I hold myself accountable to that and that alone for now.  I am already excited about the prospect of my next walk.  It’s a great feeling, and one I have been dearly missing.  As in all things, everything will happen a day at a time.

Thank you for joining me in this journey.