Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Annual Review and Look Ahead

Here were my goals for 2014…

(10) Run.  Do it a lot.  But keep it in its place.  Use it as a focal point.  Use it for goal setting.  Use it for friendship building.  Use it to seek meaning.  I’d say I handled this one quite well getting in 2222.2 miles PR’ing at 3 outdoor race distances, and ending my running year with a sub-19 5K on the treadmill. 

(9) Keep teaching Sunday School.  I did this for the spring semester.  But then it ran up against numbers (3) and (1).  I am still involved in ministry at my parish.  Just in a different way. 

(8) Keep writing.  Did it and look forward to continuing to do it.  All good.

(7) Find a place for music.  I have been listening to a lot of music—between my oldest son graduating from the School for the Arts with his horn and piano foci and his now being a student at a conservatory and then my 15 year old continuing to sing in the Maryland State Boychoir.  I have listened to a wider variety of music on Spotify and elsewhere—including a lot of country for the first time in my life (my apologies to anyone whose country interests I ever criticized before).  And I have begun to define better how music relates to my worship experience—I need to sing rather than to listen to really make my worship experience as powerful as it can be.    

(6) Bake more.  I am not sure that I managed this one.  This also came up against (3).  But I have certainly kept baking and worked on a few new things (like fancy pumpkin and banana breads).  And continued to work with my sons, especially my now ten year old, to teach them as well.

(5) Take more pictures.  I did some of this.  I am trying to make sure that I carry my cell when I run and then use it to tell stories better.  And I have also used pictures of some of the things that I have had shared with me (like five stones from my last MPH advisee) and gotten pictures of me with other runners that have helped to highlight my year. 

(4) While I have access to all types of electronic technologies, put them down more. I am not sure how well I did on this one.  I still use my devices a lot.   

(3) Recognize my limitations more.  Definitely recognizing that I have to say no to some things and I have to think about my limits more.  This has affected numerous other goals. 

(2) Structure my time better.  Certainly did this to some degree to achieve my running goals.  Certainly did this with family to achieve the goals of getting the kids to all their activities.  Got some more sleep too. 

(1)      Remember that family comes first.  Done. Must continue.  Have run fewer races.  Have gotten more sleep to try harder to stay awake through events.  Have traveled less so that I could help with kids getting places.  Have made this my number one priority.

Now to look ahead.  But I am going to make this year’s a little more objective and a little more measurable and I will review them once a quarter rather than just once a year. 

(10) Run at least four days a week.  I’m not going to try to run more miles than I did this year (2222.2).  I’m not even going to shoot for 2000 miles in 2015.  There will be years in the future for other mileage goals.  This year I’m mostly going to aim to keep up my three quality workouts a week and one with Back on My Feet.  I hope to use running as all that it was last year for friendship and writing.  No other goals—right now.  Then, I will plan to do some cross training and/or weight training as well to keep up my overall health.

(9) Bake at least one pizza/stromboli and one other bread or cranberry sauce each week.  (In addition to general meal prep that I do most of in our household.)  This will hone and continue to develop my skills in the kitchen.  It is something I love. 

(8) Do something with art at least once a week.  This could be as simple as a pencil sketch.  It could be a photograph that I somehow process.  It could be an artistically posed photograph.  It could be appreciating art more in the same way that I will work on appreciating music more. It could be thinking about art that I’d like others to work on.  I’ve got ideas for a second tattoo, but that might be a marriage-ending incident if I do that.  Although with the passing of Mark Pacione and the focus on living a little more in the moment because you never know when the end will come (Mark was a healthy 60), I’d settle for a simple tattoo at this point.  Of all the things that I have though about for my second (cornucopia, golden apples, loaves of bread, cassowary, and red egg) the red egg (associated with Mary Magdalene who is the patron saint of a contemplative life) really speaks to me most.  

(7) Continue to work on appreciating music more in my life.  This might mean finding time to play an instrument I’ve learned before.  Working more with my mandolin (Bleak Midwinter would be an excellent song to play on the mandolin—or learning the chord progressions for old Hooters songs).  Or just appreciating the performances more from a critical listening point of view.  Many ways I can achieve this.  Goal—once a week of some time spent with music more than just having it on in the background.

(6) Blog once a week in my personal blog and once a week in my professional blog.  Of course, if I can fit in more, all the better. 

(5) Finish Decoding Spirituality—a series of essays I have written and am stringing together as a book—about  the ways in which I have worked to find meaning in the numbers around me throughout my life and the insights this has given me about how others might find meaning.  (Don’t worry—the conclusion wont’ be that everyone should be as numbers centered as I am.) 

(4) Sleep at least six hours each night.  Of course, all the experts say 7 or 8.  I would love to get 7 or 8 every night but I don’t know how I can possibly do all the other things I want to do his year (while continuing to recognize limitations).  But I don’t want to have an abundance of 4-hour or 5-hour nights sleep nights.  The best thing I can do for this—track and have an accountability buddy for my sleep in the same way that I have found that have accountability buddies for exercise makes such a difference. 

(3) Tell people “thank you” not just at the big times (like thanking Jackie after my PR in Philly and Lauren after my two person marathon relay) but for little things.  After the passing of Mark Pacione and several others who have been lost in recent years starting with Gerry Paradiso back in 2010, I have realized just how important it is to communicate appreciation to people as often as possible.  It doesn’t have to be a big production every time.  Sometimes a hand-written thank you note.  Sometimes a hand-written and hand-designed thank you note.  Other times just a high-five or hug with a thank you at the end of a run.  Sometimes a quick “thanks for taking the kids on a day I couldn’t” at home in the evening.  But always living a life full of gratitude to the amazing people around me.

(2) Stay in touch with friends.  In the past year I had reason to reach out to many friends from elementary school as I remembered the importance of people who had known me for a long time after my son and the young woman he had been dating for more than 3 years left for college as “just friends.” That led me to think about the importance of people with whom I spent a lot of time early in my life.  People who have know me forever. I have also realized how important accountability friends (last year for running) are.  They help me focus and keep it real.

(1) Family must stay #1.  No matter how much I run.  No matter how hard I work.  No matter how much I write.  Family is always first.  If ever there comes a year when that is obviously not true, I must reassess.

Happy 2015!

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Yesterday was the third consecutive Friday that I structured my life to run with Team Christopher's Place with the Back on My Feet Baltimore program.  There was a time when that would not have been a big deal.  I consistently made three workouts a week with Back on My Feet.  But since my job change in April 2013, I had gone less and less.  And with my training for the Philadelphia Marathon, I went even less.  But after I achieved the marathon on my life and a half marathon personal best a week later, I decided it was time to refocus my running a bit.  And, so, the journey to other running goals began.  One of them was weekly participation in Back on My Feet.  I had continued to run with many non-residential members of the group (i.e., volunteers from the community who run with the members of the residential facilities who participate) but in workouts outside official Back on My Feet activities.  The goal was to get back to feeling like I was part of the team.  And, I have started to achieve that goal.

What was fascinating about yesterday was that it was not just "any run".  On Christmas Evening after we returned to Baltimore from Philadelphia (another city with Back on My Feet), I was surfing the Internet for just a bit before going to bed relatively early.  The current Team Leadership posted on social median that neither would be able to attend the next morning and asked if anyone wanted to lead the circle.  I volunteered and also asked about routes.  Our coach was supposed to be there but just in case, I wanted some suggestions.  So, armed with all the information I needed, I went to bed early and felt comfortable with the idea.

Friday morning came along, and I took care of some work emails and prepared myself to run.  It was a bit chillier than it had been recently, so I had my running tights, a pair of shorts over top (to provide pockets), a long sleeve tight shirt, a short sleeve lightweight shirt, and a windbreaker.  Plus the little belt to carry my phone.  I drove to Christopher's place and did a quick half mile before the official start because I wanted to get 4.8 miles total yesterday.

Then, I went inside at Christopher's Place to see who was there.  One other non-residential member and seven residents.  I must say, in all the time I have run with Christopher's place the number of times the residents have outnumbered the non-residents has been small.  But we went with it.

We waited just a moment or two to see if a third non-resident member (the current coach) showed up.  He did not, so we just went with it.  Circle involves announcements (in this case, only one, that the long run for the weekend would start at 7 AM at the same location the next day).  Then, a quick look around to ask for any others.  Then, the question, "So, who woke us up this morning?"  The "So..." at the start of a sentence is not a necessity.  It is just a mannerism of mine.  In almost four years with Back on My Feet I have been a member and I shared coaching for a little less than a year.  But I had never started circle.  The "Who woke us up this morning?" is followed by the serenity prayer.  I have written abut the serenity prayer on multiple occasions.  I find the prayer comforting.  I find the prayer a call to action.  But I had never given the invitation to the prayer before.  There is something quite moving about calling people together to utter the words asking for serenity, courage, and wisdom.  The presence that members share in that moment is amazing.  The act of everyone saying it together is amazing as well.  (As readers can tell from my past few entries, having multiple voices together does tend to make a big impression on me.)

While running, we had only give go with us rather than seven.  The other non-resident went two miles with two of the residents.  I ran ahead with three others.  Two went four miles (yesterday's maximum).  I ran three miles with a gentleman who goes by Junior.  We talked about Christmas Day and our kids and our families and the food we ate.  Then we got to talking about how long I'd been with Back on My Feet and how I was trying to come back more often.  Junior told me that I was always part of the team and always welcome.  I had not realized how much just running with one person even one time would be appreciated.  When I finished the 3.1 with Junior, I circled back to help to get the distance I had set as my goal and ran in with one of the two gentlemen who had gone to run 4.  Again, the appreciation of the company was clear.

Sometimes, it is easy for someone who has run more than 4000 miles in the past two years to remember how much the presence of another can help when running even just 3 or 4 miles.  And how much keeping that presence can be worth to others who are looking for direction in their running and in their lives.  And while I had posted that starting circle was part of my #PayItForwardFriday by helping my Back on My Feet Team, it turns out that (as so often happens in life) by giving I received in ways that I had not anticipated at all.  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

What Speaks to Me

As a Catholic for nearly 45 years now, I have been to a lot of masses.  Yesterday, as with every Christmas or Christmas Eve during my lifetime, I went to mass to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Nothing unusual there.  The twist this year was that my 15 year old was invited to sing at the Church of the Resurrection (and Episcopalian church in Lutherville) at 4 before my family attended the Catholic mass at St Pius X at 6.  So, I attended two closely related celebrations one right after the other and had a chance to compare, among other things, music.  And what I am going to say is not a comment about the quality of the music and is not meant to imply how others should view the world.  It is simply a statement of what I find works (or doesn't work) for me in my own worship experience.

Let me set the context.  I grew up attending 8 AM mass at St Laurence's in Upper Darby with no music.  So, when I got to Penn State and found guitar players and flute players and singers at many masses, I was ecstatic.  (And on the third Sunday of Advent for at least one year they even had drums.)  The music ministry at St. Mary's in Ann Arbor also spoke to me, and I was a part of the music ministry at St. Pius X where we have now gone for over 18 years for more than 5 years.  I a not now as there are only so many hours in the day and I still love my running (which I had a chance to do this morning in shorts on Christmas Day in Baltimore!) and my writing and my work and my family most of all.  And the music ministry at St. Pius X has included guitars and pianos and electric keyboards and flutes and drums and electric basses.  All good.  But when I was part of the ministry, I didn't sing much.  (It was all I could do to play bass properly.)  And I really do love singing--even if I'm not all that good.  And I love the parts of the Nine Lessons and Carols that Maryland State Boychoir does where the congregation sings.  My father is a cantor at his church.  Clearly, singing is in the blood.

So, the service at Church of the Ressurection included two boys (my son being one of them) singing Once in Royal David's City, my son soloing O Holy Night, and multiple songs sungs by the congregation including four during Communion.  Three Carols and one modern song called "Here I Am to Worship".  The final carol was Silent Night--sung by flicker-light.  They tried candles last year but realized that was dangerous at a family mass.  During Silent Night the last verse was acapella.  And everyone in the small church (it seated maybe 150) sang.  And it was beaitful.  I was touched emotionally.  I got a little choked up.  And I nearly shed a tear.  This was worship.  This was ministry.  This was people who clearly cared singing about something in which they all believed.

I contrast that with the music at St. Pius X.  The musicians did a wonderful job.  They used modern interprations of some carols and the response between readings was an easy to follow and easy to sing song.  The modern interpretations are interesting to listen to but sometimes challenging to sing when all that is provided are lyrics and not music.  And O Holy Night was sung as a meditation after communion with no opportunity to sing along.  So people listened.  I listened.  It was a very good performance.

But the key is the difference between the two descriptions of what I experienced back to back.  Worship or performance?  Can there be performance that facilitates worship?  Can there be worship without participation?  Is active listening a form of participation?

These are the questions I ponder about my appreciation of music ministry.  St. Pius X now has a "tagline" of invite, transform, act.  So, rather than complaining about the music, I am just making an observation.  And I am challenging myself.  If I like how other church's music ministries feel because they involve more singing by the congregation, whom do I have to invite to make this happen at St Pius X?  (It is not my job only of course.)  Do I have to invite other parishioners to sing out?  Do I have to invite the music ministers to think about the many different ways people are reached?  Do I have to invite myself to being more open to thinking abou how music affects me?

What needs to be transformed?  The music ministry?  My appreciation?  The culture of the parish?  If participation is the key there are many different ways to get there.  And I have to remember that in the same way that running means different things to many different people I know, maybe participation does too.  I am not the only person with a stake in this.  I am not the most knowledgable.  I am not even an authority.  I am just one voice.  And a voice who would like to be heard--singing in worship.

And finally, to act.  I'm not sure what action needs to be taken other than that I will continue to sing at every opportunity I get and encourage others who share my faith and who share my worship experience to do the same.

May all be inspired to sing with joy on this day. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Running Through Streams but Avoiding Puddles

This morning, I had a wonderful Christmas Eve run.  I was out at just about 5:30 and back at just about 7:15 after a half marathon distance run.  You can see the results.  I ran at just over an 8 minute mile pace.  I am glad that I am in good enough shape to continue to go out on any given day and run a pace that is faster than the one at which I ran my 2009 half marathon--my first race.  And my ability to race at that pace should last well into the future.  I just enjoy being able to workout at a pace I once raced at.  

The course this morning was a winding one that I made up as I went along.  That seems to be the order of the day for me most of the time at this point.  I ran down my street and over to Northwood, out to Northern, up the Alameda, across Regester, on Loch Raven to Meridene, around the Mars and Post Office, back on Northern Parkway to Loch Raven, all the way down to the Alameda again, over to 33rd, back to Loch Raven, down to 25th, up to Cold Spring, across to Charles, up to Gittings, back to Bellona, across Cedarcroft, and then wound around my neighborhood to get the 13.1  It was a very enjoyable run.  Temps in the low to mid-40's from start to finish and ran off and on and of varying intensities.

I had decided to run in shorts (you can see how wet the hair on my leg was after the run).  But I also had on a cap and a pair of gloves and a light weight and loose fitting long sleeve shirt.  You can see the picture of my outfit, too.  That is not my happiest post-run look ever, but I was very satisfied with the outcome.  And I was happy to sport my Heather Hurd 5K shirt--a run that have done for four years now to support the cause of trying to end distracted driving and how it destroys dreams.

While I was running I got to thinking.  (Nothing new there.)  I am someone who on courses that are supposed to involve water crossing, particularly with streams, love to run through streams.  I am not much of a trail runner, but when the opportunity arises, I do enjoy stream crossing.  Particularly when the stream is shallow.

But this is at least the second morning this week I have run with lots of rain and many puddles of standing water.  The interesting thing is this--yesterday I hit a few "foot drenching" but not ankle twisting puddles.  This morning for the first six miles, I continued to try to avoid puddles for the first six miles.

But then it hit me!  If I run through streams, why avoid puddles.  The streams are bigger.  The streams are wider.  The streams are often deeper.  So why avoid a puddle that will cause a splash but I'll be past in one--or at most two--steps when in the bigger scheme of things the puddle is fairly small.

I think there are several reasons.  Often when I am running through streams I expect it.  That, of course, is easily solved for puddles by realizing that nearly any day when it is raining consistently there are going to be puddles of standing water.  I can expect them.

Second, I often run through streams when it is warmer.  That argument only goes so far on a morning like this one because the temperature was warmer than during most of the Philadelphia Marathon.  Granted, I was running a 7:15 average rather than an 8:01 average, but it wasn't that cold.

Third, I think is the number.  Usually when there is a stream crossing there is just one.  Or at most two.  There are lots of puddles of standing water in north Baltimore.  So perhaps it is a matter of just not wanting to splash and get wet a lot of times.

Finally, maybe it is the unknown.  I generally run through streams when it it light.  Today it was pre-dawn with sometimes poor street lighting.  And there are definitely times when at the bottom of a puddle there might be an opportunity twist an ankle.  Maybe it is the uncertainty of how deep the puddle is.  Will it be a little splash or a huge splash making the water go half way or more up my calf to Irene's head?  

What is most interesting to me is the question of whether this is a representation of something larger in life.  The streams are like big issues.  The puddles are like smaller ones.  I anticipate and tend to deal with big issues.  I sometimes avoid smaller ones or hope that they will just go away.  And sometimes they do.

But as I approached the end of mile 7, I switched from doing everything possible to avoid puddles to just going through.  And it made the run simpler.  And it made life easier.  So maybe there is a lesson to be learned--just take things on.  And see what happens.  Things will probably be easier.  The problems will be dealt with.  And I can move on.  

P.S. Those 13.1 miles bring me to 2192.3 for the year.  I am 29.9 miles away from my final goal.  It has been quite a year with seven mornings left. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Tonight's creativity is a little poem about partners.  See if you can figure out what kind of partners.  Altough frequent readers won't be surprised.  It was just fun to play with an idea.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Being Recognized, Taking Credit, and the Meaning of Gray Hairs

This was a very interesting week for a whole lot of reasons.  I think that one of the most interest set of reasons was a set of comments about me. 

First, I went to a meeting back at School of Public Health where I used to work and several people at the table commented that if they had not known it was me they would not have recognized me.  That is an interesting thing to hear from people I have known for quite some time.  But it has been almost two year so I thought about what had changed.  I used to have my hair a good bit longer.  So that is one difference.  I’ve grayed a bit over the past two years.  So that is a second difference.  And I could probably county of one hand the number of times that I wore a really sharp looking suit when I worked a the School of Public Health.  So, there were a lot of differences.  I tend to think of myself as the “same old Kevin” but I suppose I’m not.  The picture shows it.  And it is a reminder that clothes sometimes matter. 

The picture was actually “post meeting” rather than “pre-meeting.’  The picture was taken after I got what I think of as my pre-holiday haircut.  No, I’m not in elementary school needing my haircut before the Christmas picture with Santa.  But I usually find it useful to get a hair cut at this time of year. 

I have been going to the same person for a haircut for a while now and my family knew her before we started getting our hair cut by her.  So, we know her pretty well and she knows us pretty well.  She heard the story about the trials and tribulations of presenting myself well for work.  Obviously, one doesn’t make it to full professor at Johns Hopkins without being able to present oneself.  However, I was told six months ago that to continue to progress I needed to dress better and it has made a difference in how I am perceived.  The person who cuts my hair has commented very favorably on the new suit I got, on the shorts that I got with it, and on both pairs of shows and how sharp they look.

In any case, we were discussing a variety of things including my marathon run in Philadelphia.  What was interesting about that part of the conversation was her reminder to me that while it is important to acknowledge those around us who help us to get through things, we shouldn’t hesitate to give ourselves credit where credit is due.  Specifically, she pointed out that it was my decision to prepare for the race.  My decision to stick with it.  My decision to do all the workouts that were planned for me.  My decision to keep up with the paces and the mileage day after day and week after week.  And while my friend could say, “you’ve trained for just this moment,” I still had to make the choice and find the way to finish it. 

This is a reminder to me of the importance of stories.  Telling stories.  Listening to stories.  Framing stories. Relating to stories so that two people can relate to each other.

And stories did come directly into our conversation one other way.  I noticed how much grey hair fell on the floor as my hair was being cut.  I commented that I hadn’t noticed that there was so much gray.  Rachael commented back (although I can’t quote her verbatim).  Don’t worry about it.  Each gray hair is part of you.  Each gray hair is part of your story.  And you don’t notice because it doesn’t matter. 

What a healthy outlook on life. 

Experience my story.  Tell my story.  Accept my story.  And live.  

Quick PS: Up to 2160.2 miles.  Saw an interesting site on Loch Raven Boulevard this morning.  A group of crows sharing the spoils of someone's leftovers in a takeout container left on the ground in the middle of the road.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Changing Patterns

This morning, for the very first time that I can remember, I ran with the dog we have had for 2½ years.  We ran for two miles (total of 2138.1) in 17:19—excluding the time for the three times she stopped for various bathroom breaks.  She ran negative splits with me—meaning that the second mile was faster than the first.  It was a very nice experience as I had to both get the dog walked and run just a little bit—and for me two miles is definitely just a little bit.

Other than the ct that I had not done this before, what did it make me ponder this morning? It made my ponder running as an art form.  I realize that some people may find the proposition that running is an art form to be unusual or completely wrong.  But I see it as art.  Why?

Well, there are actually several reasons.  First of all, it inspires me to express myself.  It inspires me to write.  And that is a very important thing to me.  The writing is not always particularly artistic.  But it is my form of creating something new.  Something that no one else has created before.  And while some “paint” with a brush.  And others may “paint” with their music.  I “paint” with my words.

What is even more interesting to me is to think that I, in some ways, paint with my steps on the road.  In fact, I have drawn a course for one person when I sent a card wishing good luck for the Boston marathon.  And I sometimes sketch out the course that I have run just to see what it looks like.  And I have thought about what colors to make the course.  Should I vary the color by speed?  Should I vary the color by how I am feeling?  Should I vary the color by any other characteristic or criterion?  Or should I just draw it out in pencil or pen to show the shape of what I ran rather than trying to make it art.

And, on top of that, the other key question is how to show the steps, if at all?  Obviously, I can draw the course just as a line.  Or, if I wanted to show a course I had run solo, I could show the course with two feet making footprints.  When I run with a partner there would be two sets of footsteps.  On a run like yesterday morning there would be four sets of footprints.  But this morning there would have been on set of human footprints and one set of canine footprints.

Thus, my title—changing patterns.

Changing patterns sometimes is challenging.  It is easy to stick with what I know as habit.  Changing patterns can take a lot of effort.  There is a certain inertia to just doing what I have been doing for some time.  Changing patters requires more thought than just stick with the same old.  Changing patterns requires different thinking.  Changing patterns often requires planning.  And changing patterns requires commitment.

All of this thinking from running with a dog rather than on my own?  Indeed.  Inspired by thinking about how the painting would look if I drew shoes and dogs feet in a pattern around the shape of the course I ran.  And, how would it change my art?  And how would it change the meaning?  And how would it change the experience?  All of these are questions I ask as I run with another—in this case another completely dependent on me—to make us both happy.  Shared happiness is definitely a changed pattern on a morning that otherwise would have been a solo run.  It is a better pattern that I hope to carry into the future on days of very short runs.  And shared happiness is better than alone happiness any time.

For someone who was once seen as quite the introvert that is perhaps the biggest changed pattern.  Relishing shared happiness—even in running.