Monday, September 30, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 29

Today, I ran only 2.3 miles.  A very short recovery run.  As I noted on Facebook this morning with only an 8 mile run at only an 8 minute pace, I really didn't have much to recover from.  In any case, the run felt very good and I am ready for a great (hopefully) track workout tomorrow morning.

Today, a friend posted on Facebook a picture of a piece of paper ripped around the edges with the following words written on it: "One of the hardest decisions you'll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder."

This is an interesting thing to consider.  Specifically, there are a lot of times when just walking away might be easier.  A test of character is when there is a choice.

When a person could walk away.  When a person could throw in the towel.  There may be many temptations to leave something behind.  When it would be simpler and less time consuming just to give up.

It can be a lot harder to carry on.  To try harder.  To work to make things work.

It is a challenge.

It takes guts.

It takes a lot of effort.

It takes caring.

It takes consideration.

I am not perfect.

But I try.

And I continue to try harder. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 28

On day 28, I feel like I am entering into the home stretch of this 40 day period that I have designated as 40 Days on the Road to Better. This morning was another very pleasant morning for an 8 mile run.  During the run I saw the clouds colored pink on the underside on the eastern horizon at one point and the horizon itself colored a brilliant yellow-orange a bit later.  It was a wonderful and relaxing run that allowed me to get my stresses out and come home feeling that things are right in the world.

Thinking about the warm feelings associated with the pink and orange colors I saw in the sky this morning, I want to combine two themes.  One is being thankful--or more precisely showing gratitude.  The other is my Dean's favorite expression, "More, better, faster" (what he always wants his management team to focus on) or the Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" or "Faster, Higher, Stronger." 

For gratitude, there is a video on Upworthy that I saw someone post. I have not gone to the source of the original article, but the video describes an experiment that was done.  I will summarize.  The experiment involved administering an instrument to measure happiness (however that might be done).  Then, people were asked to think of someone to whom they were grateful.  Then they were asked to write about it.  Then they were asked to call the person to tell them.  Then the instrument to measure happiness was readministered, although with the questions and order changed just enough to not be recognized as the same instrument.  The gist of the findings.  People who did not complete the call were a little happier.  People who did complete the call were a lot happier  The people who gained the most happiness were the least happy to begin with.  Pretty amazing stuff.

It is a great feeling to validate my efforts over time to tell people how grateful I am for what they have done for me.  A guidance counselor.  A teacher.  A parent.  A professor.  A mentor.  A colleague.  A coach.  My wife.  And the biggest difference it seems to make is when I am feeling down.

So where do "more, better, faster" and "citius, altius, fortius" come in?  Well, it is part of being on the road to better.  There is always room for improvement.  Always room to get better.  Always room for more.  Always room to make sure I tell people about my gratitude sooner to the time they actually do the thing for which I am grateful.

Gratefulness doesn't have to be "stored up" and then poured out all at once.  It can make a big impact when I do something like that.  And I may still do something like that even if I express gratitude as I go along.  But it is also important to express gratitude on a daily basis.  For me to thank people for the little things.  For me to share the joy of thanking people  Because ultimately, saying thank you brings me joy.

I don't know whether other people find the same joy in saying thank you.  Perhaps this scientific study suggests that many other people actually do.  I sure hope so.  And I hope that I can follow my own advice to raise the bar on my thankfulness and bring that joy to myself and to others. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 27

Yesterday when I was running, I thought about the gray skies I was running under.  And yesterday, I wrote about making sure that I don't end up bringing what might be gray in one part of my life to other parts of my life.

Today, I continue with that theme a bit.  That is a bit more of a direct tie between two days of writing than I usually have.  However, I see it as logical since I ran another 4 miles (just backwards on the same course as yesterday) under clouds.

Specifically, today I am thinking about being on the road to better for a lot of different things at once.  When I began the 40 days to better there were 40 days between a day on Labor Day weekend (when I had not run for four days) and the Baltimore Running Festival.  So, I was mostly thinking of 40 days to better running.  But I also wanted to think about 40 days to being better at a whole bunch of things.

Each day when I write, I have written about running and marriage and work and friendship and parenting and a whole bunch of other things that maybe get mentioned once or twice.

But can I really hope to make myself better at everything? The answer to that may be no.

Of course, there are some general principles that I can follow.  More follow through.  More reliability.  More listening.  More being done on time.  All good.  All help all aspects of my life.

But maybe, thinking like the economist that I am, I have to make tradeoffs.  I hope not.  Thinking about having to make tradeoffs in what I become better at is not a fun idea.

But if I don't, I may have to ask, "What does getting better in one area cost in terms of changes in another area?"

If I focus on improving at work will I lose in family life?

If I focus on improving on family life, will I lose on fitness?

If I focus on improving on fitness, will my Sunday school teaching go down hill?

I could pose tradeoffs between any combination of two things that I want to improve.

The key is to find the right combination.  Recognizing that more is better for each one.  My boss likes to say "More, better, faster."  Can I do all three of those or will choosing any one or two meant that I can't do the other or others?  Trying to improve each one.  Trying to avoid having to give up too much of one to get another.

I can think of what it means to be a better person.  Does that have to mean being better at everything?  In an ideal world, yes.  However, that may simply not be possible.

So, I have to carefully (and sometimes prayerfully or at least with spiritualism in mind) consider what the tradeoffs mean.

Friday, September 27, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 26

Today I ran 4 miles at just over an 8 minute per mile pace. After getting up and still having to wash some dishes, it was just nice to be able to go out and get in a little bit of time on the road.  And I always enjoy just getting out to clear my mind before a day at work.

As I ran this morning, I looked up and noticed that there were clouds in the sky.  We have had not many cloudy mornings recently so the clouds caught my attention.  And while it is only very early fall, I mentioned to my boys when we road in the car this morning (17 year old driving his two younger brothers to school and me to work so that the 17 year old could keep the car for the day) the old Mamas and Papas song California Dreaming.  "All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray..."  When I mentioned the line from the song, my 17 year old commented on how depressing that sounded.

He was right.  I think it was intended to be a reminder of not so happy things.

And that brings me to my thought for the day.  This is not so much a real insight or something that I need to do on the road to better.  Instead, this is something that I realize I have to watch out for and avoid on the road to better.

Will there be gray days?  Sure.  Not just in the clouds in the sky but also in life.

Gray days in marriage.  But plenty of bright sunny days too.

Gray days at work.

Gray days in teaching classes. 

Gray days in friendships.

Gray days in parenting.

Some gray days of running--although I have been blessed to be in top form lately.

What do I need to avoid?  Every gray day?  No, certainly not.  Impossible to do in any case.

What I need to avoid is bringing the gray from one facet of my life into other areas.

A gray run should not lead to a gray day at work.

A gray day at work should not lead to a gray family evening.

A gray day in a friendship should not make the rest of my activities for the day gray.

Will there be some carry over?  Almost certainly.  Life works that way.  It is hard to shield any one area from all others.

What is possible is to make sure to shield as much as possible.

What is possible is to recognize when one area of my life is "gray" and needs to be kept under control.

What is possible is to do everything in my capacity to avoid bringing the problems of the day home with me.

We will see how good I can be at that as I move ahead on the road to better. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 25

Today's run was my first on a treadmill in a while.  Despite the fact that many of my running friends don't like treadmill runs, I got a great workout this morning. I had a half mile warmup and then ran 10K at a 6:40 pace to finish in 41:20.  I believe that is my best ever.  It is a full minute faster than my best track.  And I did run with a slight up incline the whole time.  So, now a bad showing.  

Why did I take the treadmill option?  Well, it was a day when despite my surprising consistency on track runs lately (and my main alternative to the treadmill was a track 10K), I still felt the need for a very controlled experience.  And today that is exactly what I had.  I stayed at the 6:40 pace the whole time, except for a brief time when I sped it up one notch higher (to a 6:35 pace) to make the time even out to an average of 6:40. The treadmill provides the guidance for me and I can focus on my form, on how my legs were feeling, on my breathing, and on my cardio.  And, on how controlled I felt.  

So, it is using a mechanical device to provide guidance so I can focus on any number of other things that will also help me to improve.

So, thinking about how this related to the rest of life on my road to better, I come to another meeting I had with my leadership coach today at which she provided exactly that--guidance.  While this issues are specifically work related, it was a reminder to me that even with six months of leadership at the business school under my belt, I still have plenty of opportunities to learn more about the nuances of leadership.

An interesting side note is that my coach described me as "strangely excited" about the transition to administration when she first met me.  But she also chalked that up to my general optimism toward life.  While she was wondering all along, "Does he know what he is getting himself into?"  Well, I have come a long way.  I am making decisions that are much different and more informed and better than what I would have made six months ago.  I have benefitted from guidance from others.

And, now I am starting to provide the guidance.  Guiding decision making.  Guiding a new direct report who arrived yesterday and is beginning to feel her way around (who had to look in my office to determine where the "personality" is as she thinks of me as having a lot of personality--it turned out that she simply had not looked in the right place to see where all my personal "stuff" was to really understand the interesting things I bring).

And, of course, I have had lots of opportunity to receive guidance about running, guidance about marriage, guidance about education, guidance about parenting, and guidance about any number of others things in life recently and in the past.  So, I take my lesson in understanding the need for guidance in my running this morning, and think of it as a reminder to examine my actions and my needs and to determine where I need guidance and when to seek it in the rest of my life as well.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 24

Today was not a day for running.  Did I plan for it to start that way?  Not really.  I had only thought about running 4, 5, or 6 miles but in the end there were too many other things to do.  And along the way through today, I had the opportunity to make an impression on people.  Is that necessarily a good thing?  Maybe--as long as I get people's attention for the right reason and when I need to.

I started the day preparing two loaves of pumpkin bread using an online recipe.  The recipe was one that I had made several times last fall but had not made since then.  The kids enjoyed the recipe and I took one loaf to work.  A colleague told me it was the talk of the staff this morning.  Perhaps it was just to flatter someone with a high level administrative position.  But she did ask for the recipe, too.  That was a nice way to make an impression on colleagues.

Second, the pizza dough that I made this morning.  It was half whole wheat.  It has a chance to rise for more than an hour before I went to work and rather than refrigerating it, I left it out all day.  So, thanks to some help from my seventeen year old, we had a pizza with sour dough like crust that was a bit more flavorful than normal topped with a combination of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella.  It was really yummy.  And even Sherry said that it was exceptionally good--especially the cheese.  I make pizza all the time, but it was nice to get a compliment about the quality of the white pizza.

Finally, after an issue at work today, I sent an email to a colleague using a subject line that was stronger than I usually use.  This was one way to get the attention of a colleague whose attention I needed in a relatively immediate way.  She even commented that my choice of subject lines was certainly enough to get someone's attention.  I commented back that after six months at my new job, I had learned how to communicate with people in a way to get their attention when needed.  The subject was one for which I wish I did not have to draw my colleague's attention.  But I knew how to get it effectively.

So, in one day I had three specific mentions of getting people's attention.  Two were very positive and just by good fortune.  One was negative but necessary and effective.  Using the skill of getting people's attention is valuable.  It is important in the workplace.  It is important with students.  It is important in family life.  It is important when I teach Sunday school.  So many situations.  So many needs for people's attention.  So many ways to get people's attention.  And a skill that I can usefully continue to improve.     

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 23

Today, my run was 6x1600 at 6:30 pace.  Me and my buddy Brian ran then all between 6:28 and 6:32.  And most of our laps varied little from the 97-99 second pace that we were trying to hold.  A little fast every here and there and maybe one or two lagged behind to 100 seconds, but we made it up to run the six at that pace.  A friend said I was training like a beast.  I mostly think I am following my buddy's plan for a full marathon at 2:55 when it comes to track workouts.  Next week the challenge will be 4x2400 instead of 6x1600.  We'll see what we can do.

In any case, over the last eight days, I have run 3x1600 fast and with consistency, a slow 7, a fast 10K, a fast 10 miles, a very slow 4 miles (for me), and a 6x1600 that was solid and consistent.  What is the lesson.  Contrasts.

I was pondering this as I ran yesterday.  Yes, I wrote about something else for yesterday's entry.  But I was pondering the concept of contrasts.  In our culture what do contrasts make me think of?  Very traditional weddings--for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.  A couple getting married proclaims their willingness to stay together through contrasting times.  And it can be challenging to do so.

My running training these days also has contrasts.  I suppose the phrasing would be "in faster runs and in slower runs."  In my "long term relationship" with running there will be faster and slower.  Injuries and perfect health.  Days when I'm tired and days when I feel great!  And everything in between.

This is really true of all things with which I have a long-term relationship when I think about it.  my running.  My marriage.  Many of my friendships.  My work.  My cooking (hotter and colder, better and worse, etc.)  Even something as simple as my relationship with my pets--although at least when it comes to my dog that is one with almost constant affection.  Still, even she is "hyper and calm" at different times.

Contrasts can be good.  Contrasts can be instructive.  Contrasts are an important part of the expectations in any long-term relationship.  Knowing that going in can make for much better outcomes.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 22

This morning I woke up to a request from my 17 year old son's girlfriend of more than two years. She had a fitness class assignment and was looking for five people (of whom, Sherry and I ended up being two) to answer a series of questions. I answered the five questions before 4 AM (I was up early after an exhausting week and weekend and having gone to sleep very early on Sunday night). When I told her I hoped the answers were not too long but that fitness is something I care a lot about she answered that she knew I care a lot about fitness.  

While Kelsey knows that I care about fitness, I'm not sure if she has any appreciation for how fast I run.  She simply knows that fitness matters to me.   Parenthetically, on this day when I ran four miles, after my ten fastest miles by myself on Saturday, I found that I was running four of the slowest by myself in a long time.  

Leaving the time behind, having a teen thinking of me for being really into fitness brings me to today's thought or lesson or whatever I might call it on the road to better.  That is to appreciate the gifts I have for a while. Build them up?  Yes. But for a while just take the gifts and don't try to build or learn new ones.

Am I saying the proverbial, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks?"  No.  In fact I think there is still a lot for me to learn in a wide variety of areas. 

What I am saying is that I am known for some things. I am known because I have proven that I am good at them.  I have proven that I can stick with them. And I know I can continue to improve and get better at them. But it is good just to stick with them. Deepen rather than widen my talents. Grow what I have rather than diversify. So many different ways of expressing what I am thinking. 

So what am I known for?  Breads. Administration. Running. Teaching. Those initials could be read as BART.  (Although I'm not sure I want to think of the Simpsons when it comes to considering what I am known for) Or BRAT, I suppose, although that term would be even less something I would want to have associated with me. 

I suppose you could add marriage and parenting. Not that I am perfect at either of those (or any of the first four). Or even close on any.  Just known.  

For example, being married at age 22 and staying married for 21 years so far and having three successful boys (each in his own way) are things that make a positive impression on people. Running the Boston marathon makes an impression. Success with bread and my job make an impression. 

So moving ahead, I look forward to strengthening and deepening. Growing--but controlled growth. My road to better is a planned and deliberate road to better making use of the assets I already have when I take the time to think about it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 21

Today is another non-running day as are most Sundays now.  That is fine.  A day of rest after a hard run and a therapeutic massage is not a bad thing.

As for today's lesson it will be brief, as there is a lot to do today.

Today's lesson at St. Pius X for third graders will include the completion of last week's lesson.  In last week's lesson we talked about how God speaks to people.  One example is the story of the road to Emmaus.  On that, God, as part of the Holy Trinity, was in the form of the risen Jesus.  

I have always loved the story.  

There are certain aspects of the story that I find particularly appealing--especially how the disciples eventually identify Jesus through the breaking of the bread.  Bread is a constant theme in my life, and if I ever get a second tattoo (and I am not sure that I will) bread will be an important feature.

In any case, this is the first wedding anniversary for two friends of mine who had a wonderful wedding ceremony last year on Saturday September 22.  

The gospel story of the Road to Emmaus was the gospel reading at their Catholic wedding.

It is a wonderful story but I never really thought of it as something for a wedding.  I had always presumed that the two disciples on the road were men.  My one friend pointed out that there are some interpretations suggesting it was a man and woman.  What a wonderful story then for thinking about recognizing Christ together as part of a couple's spiritual life.

This is just one example of looking for second meanings and then thinking of how a second interpretation can be translated into a new insight, a new meaning, a new lesson, and something new to help me act.

I am sure that lesson can be carried over to other parts of my life to help me on my road to better.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 20

Today, we reach the half way point.  On this day, I have again seen the value of only training for a half marathon (I know that only sounds odd to my non-running friends).  I was able to leave the house at about 5:30, drive to the NCR trail, have a great workout, and be home by 7:45.  I then got a shower and had a child on the ice by 8:30, stopped at the grocery store to get oil to top off my car, dropped another child off at garden club. circled back to hockey, then back to garden club, then home, quite bit to eat (thank goodness for leftovers), picked up child from another family, took my middle and other child to boychoir, returned home, and then took my oldest to orchestra.  (Actually he drove and I drove back).  So, here I sit and it is only 1:15 in the afternoon.  Still a lot to do today.

So, for all that what did I start the day off running.  About a half mile warm up (and it is still pretty dark at 6 AM these days--especially on a wooded trail) to the 1 mile marker on the NCR trail.  Reset the watch.  And then ran to just past the 6 mile marker and back to the 1 mile marker.  Along the way out, I startled (perhaps scared) two groups.  They are training groups that use a run/walk combination and go in groups that are big enough to span the entire trail.  They often do.  So when they are having a grand old conversation and I come up behind them running my sub-7 mile and doing it quietly sometimes they move.  But when they don't I just go around or between and they get surprised.  I have little sympathy.  I don't tend to say hello going by them--which I do for everyone else. Most weeks I'd rather lecture them than say hello, but I hold my tongue and keep running.  In any case, by the trail mile markers I went just a tiny bit more than 10 and I did it in 1:08:51.  I have never even done that in a race before.  And that is faster than the first ten of my fastest 13.1 ever (also a non-race situation).

Lesson for the day...Why do I run so well in non-race situations?  I put less pressure on myself and I trust myself. 

When I did my 1:30:39 with a friend back on March 9, I really did need someone running with me.  Pacing with me.  Keeping me going.  And helping me to have confidence that I could do what I set out to do--run the half marathon (even relatively flat) at a sub-7:00 pace.

Six months later I ran a bit shorter distance, but the workout was just as significant as I did it myself.  And I did it just two days after my fastest road or trail 10K.

So, I have needed mentoring.  But now I am showing what I can do.

Does that mean I don't continue to need mentoring?  Of course not.  I can always improve.  There is always more to learn.

And this does not just apply to running.

It applies to my spiritual life.

It applies to my style of leadership and management.

It certainly applied to my music playing although I don't do that so much at the moment.

And it even applies to interpersonal relationships.  

So, I have learned a lesson from running--that I can take what I have learned from some great friends and competitors and make something great from it--and apply it to many other areas of life as I continue on my road to better.  It is always nice to be satisfied with a run--and this morning was definitely satisfying. But being satisfied does not imply that I can't (and should) continue to seek improvement.   

Friday, September 20, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 19

An originally unplanned day off from running.  Although after running four days in a row that included my best track workout in a long time and my best 10K on the roads possibly ever, I'm not worried.  Tomorrow I will do either 10 or 13.1 in my continuing quest to run a great half marathon on October 12.  We will see what the new day brings when it gets here.

In the meantime, I have a thought from yesterday.  I have mentioned before that I had a very insightful leadership coach.  This type of person can go by different titles.  She works in an organization within the University called talent management and organizational development.  The key is that when I took the position she helped me to assess the situation and to consider ways to improve the probability of success though my leadership around or through certain complexities in the organization and in interpersonal issues.

Along the way she has also recommended a number of books including The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block.  (I don't have any particular reason the support Amazon, but the link I have provided was just the easiest way to get to the book.)  The book has brought up a lot of issues for me.  The basic premise is that a person should focus on what really matters rather than on just getting everything done that is forced on them by the outside world.  We have the opportunity to play a role in constructing our own reality.  The concepts of intimacy (presence and reality), idealism, and depth are important.  The author realized intimacy (as defined above) dealing with his own body through returning to a sport.

The fact that the author writes about what matter and dealt with this through (at least in part) sport make it seem like the coach chose this just to help and challenge me.

The section I am in at present is even more challenging.  The author describes instrumentalism.  What he calls acting as part of the system designed to maximize the production of stuff.  (I'm paraphrasing.)  He strongly contrasts economics (about maximization and productivity) with art (generally capturing the idea of seeking meaning).  The author writes about these as if they are mutually exclusive.

Perhaps he only means to suggest that in their archetypes they are mutually exclusive.  Perhaps I would agree with that.  Where I struggle with this part of the book is that I was trained for five years in graduate school as an economist.  But I (and many others who study economics) love the arts.  In fact, I see seeking meaning (e.g., this blog itself) as valuable.  In fact, economists around the world have been trying to figure out how to place a dollar value on ideas.  (Perhaps that is the quintessential example of what Peter Block is trying to get us to avoid--why does an idea need a dollar value other than for the sake of calling it productivity?)

I don't think that people who seek to do things efficiently are necessarily any less likely to seek meaning.  I don't think that people who do things to maximize their wealth and well being necessarily are any less likely to be able to set their personal ambitions aside and to think about the well being of the whole.

Is there a tension?  Of course.  But at least for me that tension is healthy.

That tension guides me to make sure that what I am doing in all parts of my life is consistent with a higher purpose.  Consistent with some sense of spirituality.  Consistent with being better than just being "all about me".  Consistent with being the best I can be for all of those for whom I choose to be present and intimate (in Peter Block's sense of the word).

Recognition of that tension can then help to continue to guide me to being better.  I have to manage that tension.  Even within doing "what matters" there are competing goals.  There are competing interests.  There are competing ways of realizing what I feel in my heart I have been called to do.  There will always be tradeoffs (says the economist in me) while I find ways to realize what matters most.  On my lon term road to better the "most" part (beyond the well being of my wife and children) evolves over time and my capacity to realize it in a variety of ways changes as I gain experience and as my body ages.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 18

If every morning were 48 degrees, no humidity, and no wind, I could really learn to enjoy doing tempo runs.  But not every morning is.  And I still have to figure out how to at least make the best of tempo runs if I want to continue serious training for races.

Whether I enjoy or just get a good bit out of tempo runs, the key for me is that I learned yet another lesson this morning--expect the unexpected.

As I was preparing for my first serious tempo run off the track in a long time (I ended up with 10K at 42:24 on my watch) I made one big mistake.  At the half mile point I meant to hit the lap button to restart the mile counter so that I could get a time for just the tempo portion of my run.

However, I hit the stop button instead.

I did not realize that (having hit the stop button at Lake and Henderson) until I was out on Northern Parkway a bit west of Spring Lake Way.  My watch beeped once--I thought it was a car with squeaky brakes. Then it beeped again.  Then a third time.  It was good that I looked down as my watch was about to shut the GPS timer off.  I set it going again and kept running.

Based on the MapMyRun website, my full distance for today was 7.6.  That would make the tempo portion 7.1. And my overall time (with a few calculations thrown in) suggests a 6:48 pace over the 7.1.  That is solid despite the hills of north Baltimore and Towson.

That was a great run despite the distraction.

Last time I made a mistake like that was the Maryland Half Marathon in May 2011 and I let it rattle me.  

I am glad that 2 years and many successful workouts and races later I no longer let something like that rattle me so much.

I don't anticipate odd things happening, but when they do I just roll with it.

That is much better than I used to do.

Sometimes, the unexpected will happen when I run.

Other time, the unexpected will happen in the workplace, with a friend, with a colleague, or at home.

The more I learn to just roll with it and figure out what to do next rather than dwelling on the distraction the better off I will be.

Good lesson for running.

Good lesson for life--as always during my 40 days on the road to better.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 17

This morning's run was 7.2 miles.  Mostly pretty easy.  Across to Spring Lake, then south as far as Homeland, west to Charles, north to Stevenson, east to Sherwood along Regester and home.  Not particularly fast. Just getting the miles in.

And what was my lesson learned on my rode to better?  To put it simply: sometimes in life I just depend on a little luck and I should just count my blessings.

Where did that insight come from?  As I was running up Charle St and approaching Northern Parkway, the light at Northern and Charles was green for those on Charles and stayed green just long enough for me to reach the corner and sprint across Northern Parkway safely to continue my run without having to break stride. Unlike my 15 mile run on Saturday when I had to break stride 4 or 5 times, this morning's run was great for many reasons--including the fact that I did not have to break stride.  (As well as the temp and how I was running.)

As I think about the rest of my life, there are many ways in which I have just been lucky over time.

I am lucky to be married to such a wonderful woman.  I am reminded of how lucky I am each morning when I awaken and she is still asleep and I just enjoy her presence.

I am lucky to have landed a job at Johns Hopkins back in 1996.  I am lucky to have met so many great professional colleagues.  I am lucky to have been in the right place at the right time for my transition to my current job.

I am lucky to have been blessed to run relatively fast.  I am lucky to have found such good runners to hang with and train with.

I am lucky to have wonderful children in whom Sherry and I have been able to nurture interesting talents including music playing, recording, visual art, singing, gardening, leadership, lacrosse, and ice hockey.  

I am lucky to have had such incredible professional mentors and leadership coaches.  I am lucky to have a great boss.  

I am lucky to have great friends who support me.

I am just plain lucky to be who I am where I am when I am.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 16

This morning's run was another great track workout.  The temperatures were really nice--even cold for this time of year with the breeze that was present in addition to the cool temperatures.  I ran a 3x1600 with the same guy I've been running track workouts with for the better part of the past couple of months.  We had a 600 intervals rest in between each pair. We ran 5:59, then 5:58, and 6:00 with each lap being between 88 seconds and 91 seconds.  That is even better than the last time I wrote about even times when 15 of my 20 miles were all within 5 seconds on either side of the average I ran.  This time, I ran all 12 laps of the 3x1600 within three seconds variation total.  And the interesting thing is that I left my house so quickly I did not even have a watch.  My running partner called out times for for some of the splits (sometimes at 200 meter intervals) for some of the miles but it got a little lax at the end.  

The fact that I did not have my watch on at all is what makes this particular morning's lesson a bit different than my 20 mile long run lesson.  That was about running smart, running consistently, and pacing correctly.  

This morning is about all of that, but it is even more about doing it without a watch.  And why is that important on the road to better?

It reflects the fact that sometimes I can just rely on intuition and what feels right.  Of course, sometimes I need the watch. Or whatever other crutch I may find in whatever aspect of my life is relevant to help me to plan.  To help me to pace.  To help me to understand.

But there is a time to just run by feel.  Just manage by what seems right.  To set aside the books.  To set aside the theory.  To just let myself be.  And to trust that I know a lot more than I think I know and the trust that what I know and do will be right.

This could apply to running--as I found out this morning.  And I am even pondering whether I should leave the watch behind (or promise myself not to look at it) for the Baltimore Running Festival.

This could apply to my management position in the job I have had since April.  Yes, I have had excellent coaching.  Yes, I have been advised to read a number of very interesting books.  But when all is said and done, if I trust myself to know what is pretty much the right thing to do, I'll be successful--I hope.

The same can be said for pacing.  My boss--the Dean--like to talk about more, better, faster.  It sort of reminds me of the Olympic motto of faster, higher, stronger.  The key is to always extend myself.  but when all is said and done, objective measures may be nice.  But ultimately, I can sense whether I am operating at capacity or I have more to give.

This could apply to marriage.  Sometimes people need help from a counselor or therapist or whatever you might want to call someone who provides that type of help.  But perhaps, if the couple just works together and focuses together, they will find their way together just by intuition.

All of these are challenges.  Running by intuition.  Managing by intuition.  Assessing my capacity to do more by intuition.  And, finally, marriage by intuition.  But all are reasonable things for trying to do by intuition rather than expecting to find answers in a book.  Maybe answers from friend--using their own intuition--to help my intuition.  But leaving it to discussions with real epeople rathe rthan reading books or anythign else seems like a great way to go.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 15

Today I ran an easy 5K just to keep the legs loose.  Although they really didn't seem all that loose as I ran.  So it goes.

In any case, I will get to the lesson of the day on the road to better quickly.  I had lunch with someone who is involved in starting a charter school for boys in Baltimore City.  He calls the non-profit that is sponsoring the activity the Five Smooth Stones Foundation and a link to the site for the school that is planned is here.

When I met up with him today, I commented that I knew of only one cultural reference to five smooth stones--David and Goliath.

He said that was exactly what he had intended.  He also mentioned, if I might paraphrase, that he considers each boy (particularly for boys in Baltimore City) is like a David in society.  Trying to make it against all odds.

Why is this an important lesson for me?  Well, it is not really directly.  While I had never thought of it that way and I have not chosen to invest my life in elementary, middle, and high school education, the idea of education appropriate for boys is interesting to me.

This is an important lesson because it reminds me that there is still a lot of dot connecting for me to do in my own life.  It reminds me that my personal blogging began with a story of five smooth stones when a fellow parent at my kids' school passed away and I hear a story about him asking for five smooth stones while he was struggling.  If I return to my first 59 personal blog entries, I am reminded that I had meaning for each of the five smooth stones I picked up from a company that sold nice polished stones at the Renaissance Festival.  One said Love.  The other four each had only one letter standing for ambition, focus, perseverance, and strength.  Good for running.  Good for life.

It is amazing how life cycles around.  The same story being told over and over with a different meaning and often a deeper meaning each time.   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 14

Today is Sunday.  Historically held up by Christians as a day of rest.  And I have chosen to rest from running most Sunday's recently.  So, no run today.

I was awakened by animals clamoring for breakfast.  I'll have to walk the dog before leaving to teach Sunday school.

With teaching Sunday school, attending mass, grocery shopping, and some other things around the house, it won't be a complete day of rest by any means.  But it rarely is.

So, what is the lesson today for the road to better?  I'll take up something that Fr. Sam often mentions to parents in the pews at St . Pius X church where we attend.  He tells parents not to worry so much about the kids fussing some.  Without kids who are fussing in the pews now, we won't have older kids who can sit through mass, who then become teenagers who are actively involved, and adults who stay in the parish.  In other words, without children in the pews, we have no future.

Fr. Sam also talks about the "fire in the belly" in terms of excitement about what is going on at church.  Fr. Sam's frequent comments make me think of a recent gathering for catechists across the archdioceses that I was lucky enough to attend, Fr. James Martin talked about the lack of joy and humor in the Catholic church.

Why is that important?  Think of the best science or math teacher you ever had.  What did they do that made them the best?  They probably did something to make you see how exciting the subject was.  We could call that joy.

Father Martin mentioned how little excitement or joy we show in how we conduct mass as Catholics, how we attend mass as Catholics, and how we teach to our children.  Obviously, not every teacher or every parishioner or every priest lacks joy in the way they present what we do.  But many do.

So, as I enter this year, I will focus on bringing joy to my classroom.  First, my joy.  Maybe that will be contagious.

I know that when I talk about my running, I show joy.

When I tell the story behind my tattoo--which actually relates to my faith--I show joy.

When I talk about my marriage--I show joy.

Even when I talk about my job--most of the time--I show joy.

That joy is essential to my life.  I am an optimist. I am usually a happy optimist.  I get joy from a lot of things.

That joy, as we were reminded in a recent catechist preparation class at St Pius, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  A gift from God (as the Holy Spirit is part of the Holy Trinity.)  That joy is something that I am called on to share--through running, story-telling in general, work, and teaching about God, as well as any other positive pursuit I may have in life.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 13

This morning I surprised myself with 15.6 miles at a 7:38 pace.  A bit shorter than last week (when I ran 20) but a bit faster than last week—averaging 10 second per mile faster. 

While the run was faster, it was not necessarily better.  And certainly not smarter.  Today, I began with an 8:04, then ran 7:29, 7:37, 7:46, 8:13, 7:45, 7:42, 7:35, 7:41, 7:22, 7:28, 7:41, 7:43, 7:10, 7:26, and the final 0.6 in 7:20.  All the stability I showed last week just went by the wayside.  Started slowly.  Sped up more than I thought.  Slowed down a little running up University Parkway to get to the JHU lacrosse field area. Slowed down even more as I continued along University where there were no streetlights (much to my surprise) and with the steep uphill to Roland, faster on Roland, okay across Northern and up Charles, okay on Stevenson (including the hills—that was the 7:41), faster down Osler and around onto Towsontown (it helped that another runner showed up and I aimed to pass), okay headed to Bosley, okay on Bosley headed around to York, okay as I made my by up Fairmount and across Joppa, faster headed back down York, then okay in the neighborhood.  Times all over the place.

So, as I said, even with a faster pace, not as good a run.  Combining this less smart run with yesterday’s slow run, I could certainly add a comment after yesterday…not every run can be the best run—no matter how hard I try. 

My past two days demonstrate this clearly for workouts.  It is also clear for races.  Both back in high school and with my grown up running since 2009, I have found the same thing.  As I got started, I did get faster each race for a while.  Then, once I approached my capacity, not every race was a personal best. 

And, of course, the idea that not every activity can be the best one is true in other areas of life as well.  There is no way that every day at work can be better than the last.  Some days are up and some days are down.  The key is overall growth—a general upward trajectory. 

There is no way that every day in marriage will be better than the last.  Some days are up and some days are down.  The key is a general strengthening of the relationship overall over time.

When I play a musical instrument, there is no way that every song will be better than the last. 

It is not the case that every blog entry is better than the last.

If I were a visual artist, not every piece of art work would be better than the last.

In a friendship, not every interaction is necessarily better than the last.

And even in parts of life that focus on improvement or departure from something in the past not every day is necessarily better than the last.

The key for me in all cases is to remember what a friend said to me recently about a process she is going through.  She compared it with a marathon.  Some good miles. Some bad miles.  But you keep pushing toward the finish line.  And that is what I do in all parts of my life.  Realize there will be some good times and some bad times.  But always push for the goal. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 12

As I write this blog entry on a Friday evening, I realize that tomorrow will be exactly four weeks until the Baltimore Running Festival and my main distance race of the fall.  I hope that I am not feeling like I did this morning in 28 days and 12 hours.  If I do, then it will not be a fun race.  It would not be a bad race in the bigger scheme of things.  I did, after all, average 8:18 this morning over eight miles.  However, that was only because I ran a good last half and two sub-8:00's for my last miles.  Without those I would have been well over 8:30 after cruising through 20 at 7:48 last Saturday.  I felt horrible.  Especially during the first 3 miles.  Not injury.  Not pain.  Not even cramping.  Just that the legs would not "go" as I know they could.

So, I asked myself why?  Why did I continue?  Because I know it is good for me.  

I also asked myself why I felt the way I did.  I came up with a number of things.

Too little sleep for several days.

Too much stress at work in this particular week.

Ate dinner too late last night.

Ate two microwaved pot pies for dinner last night.

Not enough fluids yesterday.

Still a bit warm this morning.

The list goes on.

Too many variables.

Anything could be slightly off.

It is also a reminder as I look at this list of how I am probably trying to cram in too much.  That leads to too little fluid, too little sleep, eating at odd hours, and eating odd food.

The lesson for the day on the road to better--sometimes there are limits.  I should respect those limits.  If I do not, I may risk it all.  Good, bad, and otherwise.  And I would choose not to do so, if given a choice.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 11

Today, I have not run yet.  However, I have been in a writing groove, and, I wanted to write before I run.  Plus, despite being almost mid-September, it is still pretty warm outside and I am not looking forward to today's run very much.  I will probably end up just doing about 5 relatively easy miles.  So it goes.

In any case, I want to write a brief post today.  Yesterday, I talked about surrounding myself with people who are committed to my pursuits.  And I finished with an explanation that the people who have been committed to helping me think about my personal life and the main issues in it are those who clearly have a sense of their own value, who are valued by others, and who place a value on others.  

The (to me) interesting follow-up question is how on earth does any of us show that sense of value?

I think that one clear way is by paying attention.

Even better is giving undivided attention.

That attention can be in big things like going for dinner with Sherry and without the boys.

That attention can be in little and mundane things like walking the dog together in the evening.

That attention can be listening while making dinner or doing any number of other chores to keep the household running.

That attention can be when I get home from work and have something about dinner started and may need to continue, but I take some time to listen to Sherry or one of my kids rather than just pushing onward.

That attention can be to a friend while running.

That attention in the workplace can be welcoming someone new.

That attention can take so many forms.  But the key is to make it clear to the one to whom the attention is being given.

I need to pay attention and I need to let the person know I am paying attention.

Then, the relationship can grow.  

Marriage continues to grow.

Friendships and collegiality grow.  

Attention in a relationship is like water and light for a garden.  And my road to better will be paved not with (as in the proverbial expression on the road to hell) good intentions, but with good attention to those to whom I want to show value as I continue my own personal and professional development.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

40 Days to Better: Day 10

On Monday, when I wrote about distractions, I wrote the following:
"Avoid being distracted from my focus on my marriage.  Nothing--not my running, not my best friends, nothing should distract me from that."
As part of my "road to better," sometimes what I need to do is think harder about past statements and work to clarify when necessary.

The statement that I made after my run on Monday could be taken as a statement against the importance of friendship.  But that would be about as correct as reading last Sunday's Catholic church gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33) where it talks about hating your father and mother (and many other family relations) to be a disciple.  That Gospel reading is never interpreted literally in my experience.  It is about putting discipleship first--and then making sure that the rest of life fits in.

That, putting marriage first and avoiding distractions, was what that part of my blog entry Monday was about after my rant about distracted driving.

What is also interesting to me is showing how this fits with a friend's recent comment (I always like connecting dots in my life--thus the name of the blog site).  My friend commented that in the most recent part of her life she has made sure to surround herself with friends who value her opinion.

I think that avoiding distraction (particularly to things like marriage, fitness, and work) is about surrounding myself with individuals who support my pursuits.  So, my comment on Monday should not be taken to say "ignore friends" but instead should be taken to say "surround myself with friends who support the importance of my marriage."  That, I have done.  In fact, I can honestly say that it would be a challenge at this point to describe just how important being surrounded by friends who support my marriage is--as I was able to turn to many when my life was chaotic after I first moved into my new job in April and my life and marriage were stressed.  With the support of many friends, the patience of my wonderful wife, and effort from me and Sherry, we are moving forward in a very positive way.

While this would be an acceptable place to finish the thought on this blog entry, this brings me to the first of several pieces of wisdom from Fr. Sam Lupico from a catechist workshop that happened on Sunday.  His piece of wisdom was from an old Latin phrase that he used to teach but I don't recall the Latin.  The gist was "you can't give what you don't have."  My friend's comment was about one way that someone showed that her opinion was valued.  For me, the question is how do people show their commitment to my pursuits.  It doesn't mean that I only surround myself with individuals who are married and whose marriages are perfect to lend me support in keeping my marriage strong.  Rather, it means that the people with whom I surround myself are people who are valued in their relationships and people who want to share that value (and their insights on that value) with others.  

I will write more about Fr. Sam's wisdom (both this point and others) over the coming days on my continuing "road to better."