Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lessons in Four Miles

Today, I ran 4 miles for the first time since my last 20 mile workout on October 18.  You may ask, "Why the wait?  Don't runners usually make a point to keep up once they are on a roll?"  And of course, that would usually be correct.  But that twenty miler was run at about the same pace that I had run a marathon one week earlier and I had been paying for it ever since.  Specifically, I pretty much run only one workout any longer than one mile since then.  And that was on Tuesday this past week.  So I drove to the Harford Community College for the 7th Annual Heather Hurd 5K on this beautiful sunny morning with almost no expectations on the run other than one--to do the best that I could.

After arriving with just a half hour to spare (not typical for me when preparing for a race) and greeting the two organizers (whom I have gotten to know after participating in this 5K every year since 2011), I had a chance to take an easy mile of warmup.  That mile felt good.  As I was finishing my mile, I heard the Star Spangled Banner being played.  I stopped before finishing my warmup.  Then, it was less than ten minutes till the race.  

I lined up with everyone else and made my way to near the front.  I heard someone next to me talking about having run 29 minutes in her last 5K.  That sounded like a major accomplishment for her, but I was planning to go a bit faster.  However, I didn't want to push too hard.  In the five years of running this race, I've finished close to the top each time and actually won the race one year when it was much smaller.  This year I figured it would be good to line up near but not in the front as I did not plan to go out too fast.

Nevertheless, when I began I was doing quite nicely.  I felt strong.  I felt nothing in my leg.  And I was not too close to the front.  After we cleared the first couple of turns, I settled in.  And as we approached the hill that is near one of the turn around points on the course, I passed two people.  I think that was the last time I passed anyone (or got passed) on the course.  I was tenth at the turn around.  Easy to count at that point.  My first mile came through in 6:05.  That was not what I had planned, but so far, so good.  

The second mile was a little slower.  I began to feel a little of the tension in the right knee area but now enough to be a major concern.  Mile 2 was out at the main road after a combination of uphills and downhills.  I remember the one hill leading in the direction of the main road that had seemed pretty big when I ran the race last year.  It was nice because I just ran through it this year.  It was the second hill that I had run through more easily than I'd expected.  Mile 2 done in 6:35.  A bit slower but still feeling good.  

Then, in Mile 3, I held pace.  The guy who was one ahead of me started looking back with about a mile left.  He looked over his shoulder multiple times for about the next quarter to half mile.  I didn't have the energy to pull up closer to him, but mile 3 was in 6:28.  That was a good sign that I didn't lose my pace and even gained a little back.  Still not as fast as the first mile, but a good showing.

I finished in 19:50.  Certainly slower than my best on the course.  But by no means a bad showing.  Yes, slower than the 19:16 last year or the 19:10 of the year before.  But I didn't have any issues like this year's knee issues in either of the last two years and I didn't have a nearly two week hiatus before the run either of the last two years.

So, what did I learn?  I ask this because I think there are life lessons in almost every run and certainly in every race.  And a book on leadership that I am reading suggested reflecting every day and thinking about what I have learned from specific experiences. 

Here is what I learned.

First, the human body can do some amazing things.  A coach suggested to me that with four days of complete rest (which I sort of did as I took four out of five days with rest with just the one day at 2.6 miles on the second of those five days).  And, yes, my body is most of the way better.  The key is to have trust.  Trust that there can be improvement.  

Second, I learned that even when I have no expectations, I can get a pretty good result.  And sometimes, it is best to have no expectations.  Then, there is no disappointment.  Rather there is only the joy of living in and experiencing the present.  With whatever it reveals.  And since I was still first in my age group even with the less than perfect performance, I was quite happy.  The only expectation was to do my best.  And if I always do that with integrity, what more could I ask for? 

Third, even when I know there is a risk of overdoing something, I still tend to go without abandon.  I can't remember the last time I ran a 6:04 mile.  I never expected to run a 6:04 mile.  I keep telling myself not to push too hard or too far too soon.  But I ran the 6:04 feeling just fine.   I gave also recently written about being "all in."  Well, today I was certainly all in the race.  I haven't lost that at all.  And, again, sometimes it is easier to be all in when I just let life be rather than coming at something with high levels of expectations all hyped up.

Finally, it was a lesson in finishing.  No, I didn't finish at the same space I started.  but I did finish with a strong effort and I made sure to keep running until the end of the race.  I kept at the task until it was complete.  

Each of these is lessons is key for my running.  And it is also key for my life in general.  Have faith in coming back even after a setback.  Set aside expectations and live in the moment with a commitment just to do my best.  Go all out.  And complete the task.  In running.  In work.  In family life.  In friendship.  In general.

Seeing each event in life in the context of a lesson to learn in a moment is pretty empowering.  Now to just be careful as I continue on my path toward an even bigger goal.  An even longer run.  An even more amazing adventure from which I am sure I will learn quite a bit.  

The bigger the run.  The bigger the lesson.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Freedom's Run Marathon--Part 5

Yesterday I wrote about my bib number and some Bible verses.  Today, I use my race time--3:34:11.  

And I want to go back to Psalms to choose to start from verse 3 in Psalm 34 and going to verse 11.  

Let me put those verses here:
3 My soul will glory in the LORD;let the poor hear and be glad.4 Magnify the LORD with me;
and let us exalt his name together.5 I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.6 Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.7 This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.8 The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and he saves them.
9 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.10 Fear the LORD, you his holy ones;
nothing is lacking to those who fear him.11 The rich grow poor and go hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

This is not only a set of verses that are related to my race time, but Psalm 34 was also part of mass the day after the marathon.  Father Sam, at St. Pius X, mentioned the communion antiphon after the Eucharistic song was done.  He mentioned Psalm 34 and he specifically referred to verse 11.  I knew that there was something that was going to be related to my run.  

I'd like to add verse 2, "I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth."  

While that is not something that is directly related to my time, I saw this verse when I first turned to Psalm 34.  This is part of the way I try to lead my life of faith--with a constant reflection on the glory of God in the way that I lead my life.

Getting back to the verses most closely related to my time, it also makes me think of a running graphic I posed recently.  Here is what it said, "Running removes pretense, which is why those who run beside us become honored friends."  This is attributed to Dave Griffin.

And how does this all fit together?

First, Lauren (and several other training partners) have become honored friends after the many miles of running side by side.  Not often in races but through all the training.  

Second, removing pretense means that a person is vulnerable.  I associate being vulnerable with the type of being "poor" that the psalm is referring to.  The Psalm contrasts the poor and the rich.  That seems to imply that it has to do with money.  And those who are poor in money may also be poor in spirit.  But the interpretation is usually poor in spirit.  What does that mean?

I often think of it as vulnerable.  No pretenses.  Nothing false.  Just me.  

And when I run 26.2 miles, I cannot put forward any pretense.  There is nothing false.  I am just on the course.  And I have to reach the end.  And I can only do so under my own effort.  And if I make it, I make it on my own.  And if something happens to keep me from reaching the end or if I don't reach the end in the time I expect, it is on me.  

I am vulnerable.  I have no pretense.  I am before God.  And I use the gifts that God gives me to praise God and show his glory.   

Friday, October 16, 2015

Freedom's Run Marathon--Part 4

I've already said this in the last five days, but I will say it again. I never would have guessed that the Freedom's Run Marathon would have led me to write so much. The last two parts that I am envisioning go back to my idea of "bib number and Bible verses" that later expanded to include "race times and Bible verses." My bib number was 96. I could have looked at that as the sixth verse of a ninth chapter or the ninth verse of a sixth chapter or he 96th chapter. There are not too many books of the Bible with 96 chapters. In fact, only one comes to mind--Psalms. So, I turned to Psalm 96 and found inspiration.

As always, I draw on the Bible at the U S Conference of Catholic Bishops webpage.

1 "Sing to the LORD a new song; 
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; 
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Tell his glory among the nations; 
among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.
4 For great is the LORD and highly to be praised, 
to be feared above all gods.
5 For the gods of the nations are idols, 
but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Splendor and power go before him; 
power and grandeur are in his holy place.
7 Give to the LORD, you families of nations, 
give to the LORD glory and might;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
8 Bring gifts and enter his courts; 
bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness.
9 Tremble before him, all the earth; 
declare among the nations: The LORD is king.
10 The world will surely stand fast, never to be shaken.
He rules the peoples with fairness.
11 Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; 
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.
12 Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice 
before the LORD who comes,
who comes to govern the earth,
13 To govern the world with justice 
and the peoples with faithfulness."

What does this mean, and how does it relate to the marathon.  Well, this marathon was one of the most beautiful courses I ever ran on.  (Probably the most and at the time of year when the leaves were just beginning to change."  That certainly makes things like "Let the heavens be glad..." that makes me think of song lyrics we have sung for years "Let heaven rejoice and earth be glad, let all creation sing."  It is joy.  And while there were moments during the race when neither Lauren nor I would necessarily have thought of "joy" as the first word to come to mind, the overall course made me think of joy.  And there were many trees lining the course so that fits wit verse 12 as well.  The first three verses are also just plain joyful verses that make me think of the joy that came with this marathon.  Training to run it with someone.  Realizing that goal--for at least 19 of the 26.2 miles.  And enjoying a course that shows the wonder and beauty of the world that God created.

The rest of the Psalm talks a bit about God being fair and just and the fact that the Gods of other nations are idols.  It is the last part that I focus on the most.  (Although I don't ignore the fair and just part and choose to see that above the parts about fear and trembling.)  

In any case, I try not to make running my idol but to use running to experience God.  I recognize the friends that I am blessed to have in my life.  I recognize the beauty of the land over which I am lucky enough to run.  I realize the wonderful neighborhoods that I can see and the people in them.  I realize the health that I am blessed to have and keep (including the ability to train hard but not crazy and run a 3:34).  I realize the way in which this has affected my life.  And I see it in the context of my faith in God.  And the joy that I can share with others.  Not always evangelizing like the street corner preacher's back in my Penn State days, but quietly being willing to speak of my faith and share the joy it brings me.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Freedom's Run Marathon--Part 3

The Freedom's Run marathon is so named because of the fact that it runs through some areas critical to Civil War history.  John Brown.  Harper's Ferry.  Antietam.  As I mentioned in part one of the story of this marathon, the race was preceded by a person singing some of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The war ended with freedom for the slaves.  Part of the discussion around the war was states rights--freedom in a different way.  So there are lots of freedoms right there.

But I can think of other freedoms that went along with this race.

First, the freedom just to be the runner I want to be.  I run at crazy times.  I run a ton of miles.  I enjoy running with friends.  As we were chatting with someone along the river, I mentioned the people I train with.  He commented quickly that I don't train with any guys.  I think the last time I ran with a guy was one weekend last summer.  And occasionally there will be larger groups that include guys.  But I have the freedom to do what I want to--with two constraints.  I have to minimize the interference with my family life and I have to make sure I don't fall behind at work.  And I do both of those.

Second, the freedom to dream.  My last dream was getting below 3:10 in Philly.  This year had begun with no plan to run a marathon.  The marathon plan came in May.  And it feeds into my next dream.  An ultra marathon in South Africa.

Third, the freedom to share that dream.  In sharing that dream, I have the chance to inspire others.  And when I inspire others they share my dream.  And then they can help me with my dream.  My kids think I'm a little crazy but share the excitement of my dream.  My fellow runners all think it is an exciting dream to share.

Fourth, the freedom to run where I want and when I want.  That is also completely key.  I have enjoyed running around the city.  Through many areas.  From Belvedere Square to Patterson Park.  Canton and Federal Hill.  At crazy hours.  And when the freedom was limited, I was mad this spring.  I have learned not to take the freedom for granted.

Fifth, the freedom to run far.  And that freedom was showing on my face when I was running a sub-8 minute mile late in the race.

Sixth, the freedom to enjoy my success and the freedom to enjoy the success of others.  Running is a great sport as it is great to share the runs.  And that brings people close together.  And then on race day, it can be just as exciting (and sometimes more) to see and share the success of another as to succeed oneself.

Seventh, the freedom to recognize when the ties that bind become ties that constrain.  In preparing for the race, I had hoped just for once to run an entire race with a friend.  I'd never done that before.  When we reached mile 17 or 18, Lauren started to tell me I could go ahead.  I waited.  I even mentioned that if we were running the Marine Corps marathon rather than Freedom's Run that I'd feel compelled to stay--after all the idea of leaving no "soldier" behind (or runner behind in this case) is deeply ingrained in the US military.  But Lauren recognized the sixth freedom I mentioned.  She wanted me to succeed as much as she wanted to succeed.  And when she recognized the struggle she was having she wished only one thing--that I would succeed.  At that point, if I had not gone ahead, the ties that bound us as friends would have become the ties that constrained--unnecessarily.  Lauren ultimately could take care of herself.  I had no doubt of that.  And I was set free to run.  To be everything that I could be.  To prepare for the next dream.

Those are the many freedoms I have.  I sometimes take them for granted.  I live them all to the fullest.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

More About the Marathon...

I did not anticipate that the marathon I ran on Saturday was going to be a super moving event in my running life.  However, as with so many things, it took me by surprise.  Tonight, let me mention a few tidbits that I did not put in my first blog entry.

(1) The temperature for the race was awesome.  When we got to the starting area it was the right temperature for a sweatshirt or windbreaker and shorts.  I parted with my sweatshirt before Lauren parted with her windbreaker.  She was "slow to commit" to being just in a singlet.  But less than a mile or two in it was plenty warm enough.  And the temp never went above mid-60's so it was a day where after the race was not shorts and t-shirt weather.  That is about perfect for a marathon.  Maybe 5-10 degrees colder to start.  But I'd take that set of temps just about any day.

(2) We really did spend a lot of time watching people.  Running can be a lot of fun in terms of people watching.  Other runners.  Some ahead of us.  Some we caught.  Some passed again later.  But it was all good.  And people watching gives runners something to talk about.  A way to pass the time on a 3+ hour adventure.

(3) Lauren did say that while she was able to keep up, having me to run with made her faster.  I wasn't too far ahead, although in the picture below it looks like I'm a step or two ahead already.  The bridge was just not made for two across plus walkers, who were there as it is a public trail.

PA Sports Lens: Full Marathon Harpers Ferry Bridge &emdash;

(4) Coming back to watching, one thing that was interesting to watch was people going around some of the puddles on the trail near the river.  There was one big puddle at which everyone in a group of four before us went left.  I went right.  I wasn't sure whether we would split at the puddle or not.  But we both went right.  Decided that people just tend to go with whatever the leader in the group does.  Human nature.

(5) It is fun to think of the series of runs we have shared.  The picture below shows a team trophy with the award that came with this race.  The trophy has a picture from the Father's Day 2015 race behind it.  Lots of miles as a team.  That's what friendship is built on.

So far, I haven't run again yet.  I expect to sit tight for one more day and then run on Wednesday.  Life is good.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marathon Adventure

Sometimes marathons are much more than just running events.  They teach life lessons.   They bring people together.  They add to interesting life experiences.  Yesterday's Freedom's Run marathon did all of that.

So, I'd like to tell the whole story.  I've met a lot of interesting and fun people through my involvement with Back on My Feet.  One of those people's name is Lauren.  I know I met her some time in mid-2011 or earlier.  Probably as early as April, although about all I had at first was that there was another people--who was relatively fast--named Lauren on another team.  Late in 2011 a group of us started running at the Dunbar track in East Baltimore.  At some point she joined that group.  Over time, I ran with Back on My Feet less, while she has stayed more heavily involved in the organization.  But things come up in life.  Still, we found our schedules and running interests compatible and eventually became two of the "for sures" when we are in town for what is still a usual Tuesday morning run (even if not on the now inaccessible Dunbar track) and an occasional long run on the weekend.  

Running plays a different role in Lauren's life than in mine.  She didn't have the long gap of not running after high school.  Her mother is also a runner.  And she has gotten to know a lot more people well through Back on My Feet.  

I've followed her marathon running (through training with her) since at least the Houston Marathon that she ran in 2013.  To date, that stands as her personal best.  After her run in Kentucky in the spring of 2015, one morning at the end of a run she commented that she should bring me along to some marathon to help her get a new PR as she always seemed to be comfortable running a slightly quicker pace with me.  She also has a goal of running one marathon in every state.  So, we looked for a state that she had not run in yet for which we could run a race that wouldn't be too much of a trip to get to.  We found West Virginia.  Great to get her another state--after yesterday's marathon she is up to 11--and great for my first time of having a marathon experience with a friend with whom I traveled and spent the majority of the race.  Not such a good choice for a personal best.

If you want to know why it might not have been such a good choice for a personal best, you can just look at the elevation chart

The chart pretty much says it all.  And the chart doesn't even capture the final hill about a half mile from the finish.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We had run the same race multiple times before.  Several Father's Day races.  Other local 5K's.  And the NCR Marathon relay has year.  

The race began with nerves the day before.  I had no doubt of running a 3:30 if Lauren was ready for it.  But I have a hard enough time making sure that I have everything I am supposed to bring when I go to a race.  In this case, I needed to make sure I had my own stuff plus meet a friend around 4 AM to travel to the race.  That's a lot to think about.

On Friday evening I baked--chocolate chip/pecan scones.  Most for my family.  Four to take on race day.

Race morning, I was up before 3:10.  It took just a little longer than expected to get all my stuff together.  But I ended up forgetting nothing (other than sun screen which wasn't really necessary) and got to Lauren's to meet up between 4:10 and 4:15.  

We got ready to go and were off for the drive.  The trip out got us to Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV, right around 6.  Got got our stuff out of the car and were on the second group of buses headed to Harper's Ferry.  So far, so good.

Arriving in Harper's Ferry, we found packet pickup and got our numbers (96 for me) and respective shirts.  The color for my medium was called (by the race director) eggplant pink.  I think it is kind of cool.  Probably not for everyone.  They didn't give out any sort of bag (trying to minimize environmental impact), but I had extra space in my bag so Lauren threw her shirt and her windbreaker in my bag.  

Last minute trip to rest room or porta-potty.  Runners (fairly small group) called to the start about 5-10 minutes early.  Lots of announcements from the race director.  Young woman sang one verse and one chorus from the Battle Hymn of the Republic--pretty moving.  And at 7:30 we were off.

First mile was very easy (as most first miles are) at 8:04.  Right on target.  That was despite the effort of trying to sort out getting around people at the start.  

Second mile: 8:00.  Still felt very easy.  I think that was the mile that took us out to a farm area where we did a turn around.

Third mile: 7:43.  A little down hill.

Fourth mile: 7:56.  Just hanging around.  Some of our fellow runners took to the trail on the far side of the guard rail.  It was softer.  But if that is not what one is used to running one it is not necessarily the better choice.

During mile 5 we crossed a bridge that was directly next to train tracks.  There were also train tracks some distance over.  Not a minute after we got off the bridge a train went by--on the far tracks.  I could not have imagined a train going by while we were on the bridge.  And the end of the bridge was a spiral staircase down--with wet steps.  A bit crazy.  Glad to be past that (which we had been told about at the start) within the first five miles.  Mile 5 time: 8:33.

Next, we had many miles along the rivers.  8:05, 8:24 (a chatty mile with a gentleman from San Antonio), 8:12, 8:16, 8:21.  It was clear at that point it was not going to be a 3:30 day.  But I had a secondary goal.  I wanted to run better than a 3:40 to make sure that I would be no further back than starting group 3 for the Comrades "Marathon" (actually 56 miles) in May next year.

We did run an 8:11 the next mile as we picked off another runner.  During the many miles of trail without much to see other than the river to our left and the beautiful trees surrounding us, it is easy to get "lost" in thinking about things.  Having people to try to pass is nice.

Mile 12 was 8:22 (still right on for the 3:40), mile 13 was 8:14 (came through the half solidly under 1:38), then an 8;18, and for mile 15 an 8:26.  That reflected the sharp turn and steep hill down as we finally turned away from the rivers.  But that was also the point at which things got a little crazy.   That is where the course becomes hilly and we were out of the shade.  Mile 16 was the first of several miles with steep uphills: 9:08.

The next couple of miles involved a LOT of hills.  Not really rolling hills either.  8:35, 8:57, and 9:23.  At that point we had to make a decision.  Lauren did not want me to miss the 3:40 goal I had.  I really did not want to leave behind someone I'd planned to run the whole race with.  But for her it was clear she was not going to get the 3:40.  So, I went ahead.

Mile 20 was 7:57.  I was passing people left and right.  We had met up with the slowest of the half marathon participants.  And I ended up passing a number of marathon runners we had seen quite often early in the race.  I said, "Good job" or "Great job" or "Looking good" to almost every runner I passed.  Many returned the greeting.  Many made comments indicating their surprise at the speed I had.  They had not idea of why I was where I was.  

The remaining miles were run at 7:39, 7:39, 8:05, 8:03, 8:31, and a 7:21 (not a full mile).  I don't know how my watch was so short, but it is what it is.  The course is certified and a Boston Qualifier.  

I got my goal time with a 3:34:11.  Not to shabby.

I drank all the water in my water belt that I had not drunk so far.  And then tried to make my way back onto the course.  I was able to get as far as the last main road heading to the Bavarian Inn before I really couldn't get any back without getting in athletes' ways or being in traffic.  So, I waited.

I saw many of the runners Lauren and I had passed.  And finally I saw Lauren.  Ran with her most of the way to the finish although bailed before I would have had to cross the finish line again.

She finished about 15 minuted behind me.  The hills had just taken it out of her.  I'm not sure what we together or she specifically really could have done to be fully prepared for what we encountered.

After the race, there was not the usual handout of bottled water (again a sign of being environmentally conscious) but that made the line to get a water bottle and water or Gatorade quite long.  We didn't want to wait.  I grabbed one piece of pizza.  She grabbed an apple.  We began what seemed like a long walk back to the car.  We noted that while there were great signs to get us to the parking on the way in, the signs from the finish line back to parking were not nearly as clear.

The race had an agreement with the college campus on which we finished and the locker rooms were available.  I just changed.  Lauren showered.  And we were ready to head back.

She commented on how few times she'd seen me in anything other than running gear.  On the drive back when we found a convenience store, we stopped to get something to drink.  She ate two of the scones I'd brought while we drove.  I drove because I dropper her off at the DC metro stop so that she could go to meet up with her mother and another friend for another running event today.

After dropping her off, I took her car back to Baltimore, parked it in her neighborhood, and went home.  

I achieved the goal of getting a good qualifying time for Comrades.

I had a great experience of a day trip with someone with whom I've begun good friends over time and it was all about just a relaxing conversation--especially on the way back.  

I learned to be careful about setting expectations.  

And I shared some words of wisdom with Lauren in the form of two haiku linked together after the race:

Dream big.  Play for keeps.
Work hard and lean on others,
So you can soar high.
Learn from your mistakes.
Savor wins with dignity.
In turn, help others.

We made some mistakes.  I had a win.  Each of us helped others with words of encouragement.  I'm sure each of us will continue to help others.  Yesterday was not a day for soaring when it comes to running.  Yesterday was a day to work hard and lean on others.  I expect we will both keep dreaming big.

So, that is the story of a tough marathon in West Virginia.  I suppose that any marathon in the Appalachians would not be for the faint of heart.

I should add--I couldn't do any of this without a supportive family.  And yesterday was a crazy day on which Sherry had to nurse Daniel's swollen eye (from a bee sting).  My family has had one heck of a week when it comes to health issues.  I am blessed to be and remain healthy.  I'm hoping it stays that way and the rest of my family is soon all back to normal.