Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reflections on 2017 and looking ahead

This snowman was outside the building where I ran four of the last eight workouts of the year.  That was almost as many times on the treadmill in one week as the entire rest of the year.

In the rest of my last week of running in 2017, I could see  snow being blown onto the ski slopes near where my family was staying, I ran in a light and pretty snow on my last run with a running partner back in Baltimore (who had also done the beginning of the year 5K with me), and very cold temps on my longest run of the year with my pup which was my very last run.  That last run was 4.2 miles--my dog's longest run of the entire year so that I could end the year with 2350 miles.  The most I've ever run.  Possibly the most I ever will run in one revolution around the sun.  The third time I've gone over 2000 miles.  Each time the distance has been further.  I think next year if I just make it to 2000 that will be plenty.

With my dog, I did a lot of walking rather than running this year.  That was a blessing as I took many pictures of sunflowers and other beautiful flowers in my neighbors' yards. That led to a run project combining photos and words with the title of the short story I wrote being Lessons in Sunflower Whispers.

I continued to have great training partners this year.  With one, I shared over 60 runs.  With others I shared one or two here or there.  It was a year of fewer runs alone than ever before.  I expect to help someone do tempo runs for Boston in early 2018 and can't wait to see what else running with partners brings in the coming year.

The year brought another attempt to pace someone in a marathon.  This year the lesson was "stick by your partner's side."  The run did not meet the time goal.  But both my partner and I learned some great lessons.

As I told someone recently, I am so glad that I returned to this activity in 2006.  It really did seem like just a fitness activity at the time.  Now it is a way of life.  And I expect it to continue to be as long as I can put one foot in front of the other taking strides toward the next mile of exercise, the next mile in life.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Giving Thanks

Today is the end of Thanksgiving weekend in the United States.  During this weekend, I have run with a friend on my longest run since the JFK50, visited extended family in the Philadelphia area, played two-hand touch football with Back on My Feet, gone to the last Penn State regular season football game of the year with Sherry, and hosted 13 to visit and 9 for a lovely meal at our temporary home in Baltimore.

I am not thankful for the event that led to our being in temporary housing--a kitchen fire on September 21.  I am thankful that the fire was contained, that my four family members were all safe, that our three pets were all safe, and that I have such wonderful family and friends who have been supportive in the time since.

This is a much more fundamental thankfulness than most years.  Many years I could write about all sorts of things for which I have been truly thankful.  But this is different.  Having been through an event that could have taken my life, I appreciate the things I am thankful for more than ever.

The meal we hosted was a chance to take a break from the fact that we are in temporary housing and welcome people into our lives for an afternoon.  (Although inevitably, those visiting wanted to know how soon till we get back in our permanent home.)  I had all five of my immediate family members in the same place for a meal the second time in one week.  We had a visit family from my youngest son's school who were not able to stay for the meal but enjoyed chatting.  My godmother came down from Pennsylvania.  We enjoyed having our next store neighbor at our permanent home visit and stay for the meal because  we miss having her around all the time.  And two members of my running family came to share conversation and the meal in a non-running setting after we had traveled to and from a 50 mile foot race together eight days ago.  Everyone came together to eat a meal that included turkey, stuffing cooked in the turkey, dressing (stuffing cooked in a pan), sweet potato puff made by my 18 year old, pumpkin biscuits made by my 12 year old, homemade cranberry sauce (which I made and, in the spirit of my grandmother with jello salad for many gatherings at her house in my childhood, left in the fridge through most of the meal), green bean casserole made by my godmother, and apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

The time spent with friends and family in conversation was wonderful.

This year, I am most thankful to be able to do that at all.

Looking ahead, I look forward to the work on our home being done and to returning to our permanent home.  I will be thankful when that occurs as our we have a house right now, but it is not home.

This afternoon was nice as it made our temporary house feel more like home with so many people brought together for food, family, and fellowship.

And, when all is said and done, no matter what place and no matter what things, the powerful connecting power of having food with family and friends and the conversation it inspires and the support it represents is what life is about to me.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Painting a Picture of Running with Words

A Running Sonnet
Moving and breathing to keep myself well
Gathering so many stories to tell, 
Along the side of the harbor I run.
Sometimes alone, others paired with someone.
Whether running alone, or with a friend
Along the promenade from end to end
The beauty I see in the morning sky
As pink and rhubarb colors catch my eye.
And reflect off glass buildings on the shore
Adding to nature’s beauty even more,
Reminds me of why I run all year long
Whether or not on each day I feel strong
With blossoms in May or the winter chill

My senses always get more than their fill.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Testify to Love

The passing of Della Reese who starred as Tess in Touched by an Angel from 1994-2003 brought me to think about the song Testify to Love.  I was first exposed to the song on the television program, although it had been part of the Christian rock playlist for some time already.  I revisited the song as part of the worship band at my Catholic church.  And, since yesterday, I have been reminded of how much I like this song's message.

While there are a lot of lyrics and they have a Christian-oriented focus, I believe that the following lines really capture the song's meaning for me and require no Christian beliefs:
For as long as I shall live, I will testify to love
I'll be a witness in the silences where words are not enough
How do I interpret these lines?  The first question is what does it mean to "testify to love"?  Simply put--live it out!  Act from love in all that I do.  Am I perfect in that?  Of course, I am not.  But I can strive for this goal.

That seems simple enough.  But the interpretation of the second line is just as important.  If I am going to live it out, I can't just live it out when it is easy.  I can't just live it out by talking about love.  I must act from a base of love at all times.  Even when there are no words or all the words are meaningless (and not enough).

This is a real challenge--to make acting from love primary in my life and to be able to show action from love under even the most challenging circumstances.  It means being there for people.  It means showing up for people.  It means acting from love when it takes all of one's effort to not lash out in response to what feels like an injustice.  It means just doing the work of good even when the times are bad.

To have the woman who played the "mentoring angel" on a show in which the characters lived out the message of acting from love even when that could have been furthest from the mind just caused me to reflect on the message a little more than usual.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The JFK50 Experience

Yesterday, I carpooled to Boonsboro, Maryland, to run the JFK50 with three friends.  This race is not quite as long as the Comrades Marathon in South Africa that I ran in May 2016.  However, it is the oldest 50 mile footrace in the United States. 

Historically, it comes from a challenge President Kennedy put to the military.  From the race’s website (  “Although open to the public, the JFK 50 Mile is in spirit a military race.  It always has been and always will be.  In 1963, the initial inspiration behind the event came from then President John F. Kennedy challenging his military officers to meet the requirements that Teddy Roosevelt had set for his own military officers at the dawn of the 20th Century.  That Roosevelt requirement was for all military officers to be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to maintain their commissions. 

And when all was said and done, I had my t-shirt, my medal, a lot of interesting conversation with my three car pool mates traveling to and from, some good food after (including pizza, M&Ms, donuts and chicken soup), and some sore muscles.  No blisters.  And no chafing.  (Success on those two!)  Here are some of the lessons I learned yesterday:

(1)           I now have completed two events that were 50 miles or longer.  The Comrades Marathon in South Africa and this one.  I actually ran a faster pace in South Africa.  A few things were different:
a.    I had someone coaching me for South Africa.  I not only trained to go 90 km, I trained to go 90 km specific to the race.  All roads.  Lots of hills.  Real hills began after mile 40.  For this case, I decided to try to mimic my old training plan.  It wasn’t race specific.  There is a reason my coach tells people not to recycle training plans.  Life had become a lot more complicated.  So, while I trained with as many miles, they were less intense miles.  Lowered the probability or injury.  Meant it was still feasible to fit training in my life.  But the lack of hills, progressions, and track workouts really did impact how I felt day of race.
b.    Week of the race in South Africa, I traveled there and worked with colleagues.  So, while the travel was challenging and the work in the week before the race was intense, each night it was just me.  And the night before the race I was able to get more sleep before the race in South Africa. 
c.    The race in South Africa was something I dreamy of and something that I wanted.  I used money from the tiny bit of inheritance I got from my grandmother’s passing.  Yesterday’s race was originally inspired by someone else who had turned 50 this year wanting a running accomplish having to do with 50 in the year she is 50.  I was interested enough to want to do it.  But it was not “my idea first.”
d.    When you travel around the world, it is really hard to justify not giving 110%.  In contrast, when the trip to Boonsboro was only 75 minutes, if I had a not so good day, that wasn’t the end of the world.
(2)           Races on trails can be more challenging.  I generally watched the feet of the person ahead of me.  Occasionally, I looked further ahead.  I quickly realized that was a bad idea as I would almost slip.  I also am often tempted to look at my watch when it signals a mile completed.  Another no-no on the trails.  My first marathon coach from Charm City Run had given me one piece of advice—get out on trails. Her quote the first time I told her I’d be doing this was that she had no doubt I could train myself to run that far.  But that running on trails was very different.   I was only on real “trails” (and not just NCR) once all summer.  I had put in less than 50 miles with my trail running shoes.  Yesterday, I more than doubled the number of miles my trail shoes had and it was only the second time this year I was on real “trails.”  My body was not used to the muscles being used.  It makes a difference.
(3)           There are a lot of rocks on the section of the Appalachian trail we were on.  I was fortunate to get only one bruise.  Not even a scrape.  Failed to lift a leg high enough to clear a large flat rock.  Knee just brushed the large flat rock.
(4)           There are some amazing switchbacks when you get off the AT and start of the C&O canal trail.  Going down was intense.  Amazing to experience.  I slowed down people behind me.  One passed.  It was easier to follow her. 
(5)           Between 1000+ feet of gain and then coming down almost all of that again in the first 17 miles (with much of the gain being in the first six), that is another reason the legs take a beating.  Once again—not really ready.
(6)           Stopping to take water cups and drink them all makes a difference in taking in fluids.  My “pee test” at mile 48 (yes, I had to stop to pee at mile 48 but it had been about five hours of activity since my alst stop) showed light yellow urine.  Just where it should be.  No dehydration.
(7)           Stopping to eat, I stayed ahead on calories.  They did not have potatoes like Comrades did.  But they did have bananas, orange slices, lots of M&Ms, and chips.  I did not take any pretzels after learning at the Baltimore Running Festival how dry they make my mouth.  I did take two small pieces of red velvet cake at one of the later stops.  That was yummy.
(8)           The C&O canal has some memorable spots.  While my running partner from the Freedoms Run marathon in 2015, was one of the three with whom I carpooled yesterday and she did not notice the staircase from the train bridge to the C&O trail, I did.  It brought back memories of running down the metal, wet, spiral staircase. 
(9)           When there is a train track between the end of the section of the AT we ran on and the start of the section of the C&O canal trail we ran on, one risks having to wait for a train.  And I did.  Probably cost me three minutes.  Reflected on the 2015 incident at the Lehigh marathon where people trying to qualify for Boston were slowed by a passing train.
(10)       When the organizers warn you about how long it will take to walk from the staging area to the start—make sure to add even a few minutes more.  The gun went off before we were there.  The starting line was one of the most underwhelming I’ve ever seen.  And there was no mat—so everyone just had a gun time despite the number of mats elsewhere on the course.  Since the time was not all that important, we did
(11)       Many people liked the shirt I wore.  It was the jungle green/camouflage shirt I’d gotten when I purchased two to consider using in Comrades.  It goes multiple comments including one from a pair of women who struck up a conversation when they caught up to me as they were just glad to see anyone other than themselves.  I also wore a long sleeve tech shirt under the one that got comments. It went on and off multiple times during the race as I tried to stay warm but not hot. 
(12)       Chicken broth at aid stations is also a GREAT thing.
(13)       When driving to a point-to-point race, if parking at the finish line is an option—do it.  We ended up wasting nearly an hour (and maybe more) in returning because of an accident on the road that did not involve but distinctly delayed the shuttle bus.
(14)       Conversations on the run can be fun—about everything from other races to technique at the end—like throwing a walked minute into one’s running.  Favorite conversation was about Zola Budd.  Apparently, she lives in Myrtle Beach and was talking to the local running club about her Comrades experience.  She talked about seeing her uncle on the course.  Everyone thought that must have been fun.  She, in turn, pointed out that he had been dead for 15 years.
(15)        Sometimes running is a completely mental game.  I walked out mile 32 and mile 40.  My motivation was low.  It is ironic that just four weeks ago, I was encouraging someone else not to stop trying even if she had to go slower.  But that is why it is good to remember that #NoOneRunsAlone. 
(16)       The fact that I slowed down so much was humbling.  It kept telling myself that only finishing really matter.  I wondered if Dee and Lauren would come up on my side and greet me.  They did not, but I could have imagined it.    The lack of focus comes back to this, from the start, not being entirely “my race” and just not feeling like there was quite as much at stake.
(17)       The humbling experience brings me to my bib number: 538.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5 verses 3-8 are much of the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are largely about the spiritual rewards for those who are humble.  I can’t always be perfect.  I won’t always be 100% focused.  I will lose sight of why I run on occasion.  Not every race will be all that I want it to be.  But if am remember that it is good to be poor in spirit and not haughty in spirit or presumptive (which is how the Beatitudes begin in Matthew), then I realize that the most important thing is to finish, to learn, and to take those life lessons into the future.

So what are the major lessons?  Be prepared—especially, to make things easier when finishing.  Eat red velvet cake—it makes everything better.  And avoid mental distractions.  They can cause you to fall when trail running and result in a lack of motivation and running under potential.  At the Baltimore Running Festival, I had one focus—help my friend.  Even at Comrades where I drifted some I still did a relatively good job maintaining focus on doing it in memory of my grandmother.  Yesterday, I had little to focus me.  And it showed.  But I have learned.  And regardless of whether I ever run another ultra, I will be sure to be prepared, be focused, and know what makes things “all better.”