Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Junior High memories

Funny how writing and running parallel each other for me. There's a certain rhythm to each and keeping on top and finding that sweet spot is both easy and challenging at different times. Right now my writing suffers from a lack of motivation while my running continues to become easier and easier.

After taking pause from a busy day of a conference call with the Independent Running Retail Association board, squeezing in a run, selling shoes and hosting a team night for junior high tracksters I managed to catch up on Keith Kelly's blog. Keith is supremely disciplined with his blogging which I'm sure has helped his layoff from running due to injury. Seeing Keith continue to pound away at the keyboard tells me I need to step up too.

I had the privilege of helping a few kids tonight with their first pair of track spikes. Those skimpy light shoes with little pins for traction that really haven't changed much since I got my first pair in 7th grade. I still remember those first real racing shoes. Blue Puma's with the traditional white stripe tapering to the back. Four spike plate with about 1/2 -3/4" spikes which were far too long for the tracks we ran on. They were spiked for the old dirt/cinder tracks while we had the "modern" black rubberized asphalt surfaces.

Back in the "day" it was hard enough to find spikes as there were no Foot Lockers or Skinny Raven's in Anchorage. It was harder to find the little elements to replace the ultra-long spikes my Puma's had. Fortunately, my dad was a aircraft mechanic and decided he could take them into work and grind each spike down to the proper length. I was able to use them for the championship meet without fear of tripping or stabbing one of my competitors who ran too close behind me.

The first 7th grader I helped decided to go with a pair of Puma's tonight. Fortunately, he had the right spike length straight off so that part was easy. They were gold with a black stripe and looked like the pair Usain Bolt wore in Beijing. Very cool shoes. Of course, I let him know my first spikes were Puma too which I'm sure made him feel even better about his selection. I hope he'll remember getting those shoes 30 years from now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just a little out of reach

Today was supposed to be the day I was going to be in Mexico celebrating one of the biggest events of my life. As I write I see old photos of me kayaking by the Arch at the end of the Baja Peninsula and me standing bare chested in the foothills above the Sea of Cortez during a run.

The plan was to have a wedding on the beach today and I hoped to add that photo to the collection above my desk as a reminder of special events. Unfortunately, the wedding is off and as I try to put things in perspective and deal with the immense disappointment, I try to find strength in those places that I have been able to rely upon in the past.

I've used the analogy about how running is a microcosm of life when I wrote college recommendations for my high school athletes. I'd write that the lessons they dealt with while running prepared them for the bigger challenges of college and life. The discipline of training and working through good and bad days. Coping with fear of competition and the doubts that you cannot meet goals or expectations. Humility in victory and defeat knowing that neither was a constant and you could be on the other side just as quickly as you achieved the former.

How many times have I put myself out for a race and set high goals and trained hard to only see the result not reflect the effort I had put forth? How many young athletes had I seen crushed by their disappointment of goals unfulfilled? I told them they should be disappointed. In fact, the level of disappointment should reflect the commitment they put into the goal. If you aren't disappointed it meant it wasn't that important to begin with and that you truly weren't committed. I've shed a few tears after particularly crushing efforts (Boston '02) when in the moment you feel like the efforts were wasted, especially when the race goes so, so badly.

Of course, the effort is only wasted if the end result is all that matters. When you are young it is what matters, but when you step back and appreciate the process and the journey you see that no effort is wasted. With a deeper perspective you can see many victories along the journey.

Being on the beach today wasn't a race or an end result, but I had hoped an important landmark to even greater possibilities. I've been looking at the calendar this week and been fighting the disappointment of the might-have-been's. I'm glad I'm bummed out because I really know how much it meant to me and that I was committed. I expect to be disappointed for a quite awhile but I also know that thanks to running I have found the ability to deal with disappointment while finding the victories I achieved during the process.

I think about all the injuries I've had while trying to run. The bad luck of weather or circumstances that I had no control over. Starting all over again and thinking "can I go through this again?". Most of the time I've been able to find the strength and motivation to challenge myself again. I have realized that I'm happier laying it on the line and trying to do the best I'm capable of. Fortunately, in running there is always another race down the road you can plan for. Those are far easier to see and prepare for. In this case I can't just spot another person as special and as amazing. I seriously doubt that it is even possible.

You never lose by loving.
You always lose by holding back.
Barbara DeAngelis

Within the emotions of today I can see that I achieved a level of joy that I wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't been completely invested. Even the melancholy of hearing songs we shared forces me to be pensive as I wistfully think about special times and moments. That will never disappear and that's okay. I don't mind the tough training days or bad races either. There were a lot of special things that came along during those journeys as well.

A year ago I was in Cabo on vacation and running and trading emails with my eventual fiancee. I also fell in love with the song Satellite by Guster and I associated the lyrics with her. I guess today's title lifted from one of the final lines turned out to be more true than I had hoped.

In two weeks I'll be in Cabo again. I'll be by myself running mile after mile in the foothills trying to prepare for the Boston Marathon again. I'll rest my legs on the beach during the day trying to rest up from the morning run and get ready for the evening run. Certainly the thoughts of what might have been will be there and how full circle I'll have come in one year.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Certainty of death, small chance of success...

Like last year at this time I'm training for Boston. Though I hope to run the marathon in April, I'm actually focused on a indoor mile race next month at the Boston Indoor Games.

After neglecting my "real" speed over the last few years its been a challenge trying to turn the muscles from plastic back to rubber. At my age I've found that the muscles fuse together much faster than they stretch back - that is if they ever do.

Pushing back against the ravages of time is a constant battle. Whether it's a runner trying to fight
against a reduced VO2 and hardening muscles or an old man trying to drive down the road without backing up the traffic behind him. Although I sometimes find the turn signal flashing while I'm driving a straight line, hopefully I can keep producing good running results as well as hang onto my drivers license until I reach 100.

The pressure of racing a mile at a big meet has been good for forcing me into going back to basics. Left to my own devices I'd much rather do tempo and long runs while prepping for the next marathon. Running fast at my age hurts! Risk is high, payoff low for runners nearing 50 who try to run the races young runners are better attuned to. Right now its been a tight rope of stressing my system enough to progress, while at the same time not getting injured. Gimli, in Lord of the Rings, probably put it best in describing an aging runners dilemma of training fast.

"Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?"

So far so good although copious amounts of massage therapy has been crucial in keeping my muscles from imploding. Little by little the drills have become smoother, my knees are rising higher and I can actually tell that I'm running smoother instead of looking like I'm flailing against a 50 mph headwind.

Two weeks to go and a few more speed sessions left. According to Schopenhauer I should be really be moving by then.

"Just remember, once you're over the hill you begin to pick up speed."
Arthur Schopenhauer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Memories contained in a shoe

Its been almost one year since I last posted here. With the passing of Laird and the emotion of writing and trying to squeeze into words the feelings and memories I had of him I had lost the energy and enthusiasm for writing.

Today is the first anniversary of Laird's passing. I have wanted to return to writing again and have had encouragement from many but I haven't felt ready. I figure that today would be a good day to return and to pay honor again to a great friend who has shown himself to me several times in the past year in memories and dreams.

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are,
the things you never want to lose.

Three days ago I was at the Dome doing a speed workout for a upcoming mile race in Boston. While my days of speed are long gone (something I'm reminded of each time I step on the track lately) I have been trying to reclaim some semblance of quickness to avoid completely embarassing myself. I decided to bring a pair of spikes I had just located in a box as I am considering wearing spikes for the race and figure I better get my calves prepared.

As I prepared to put the spikes on I looked at a bit of dirt still clinging to them from their last race. As I tried to figure where they had last performed I realized that it was in 2000 at a Open/Coaches race after the high school invite our team had run. It was two days after I had turned 40 and my first competition as a Masters runner. This was no small event as the university squad had come and several of us post collegians had put together a squad to compete against them.

I have run this race many times and it was always tough to coach all day and then perform in front of your team knowing they were going to yell all the things you had been saying to them each day in practice and each race. I had run well on this course, but had never come close to breaking 16 minutes for the 5K and this day I would be lucky to make the top-ten with all the excellent runners.

Laird had been coaching with me that day and we quickly began our warm up as soon as our last team had finished. I remember how nice it was to have someone to warm up with and that we were preparing as "teammates". I usually end up warming up by myself, but today was different.

The race started off very fast and it was all I could do to stay close while Laird sped off near the lead. Little by little I worked my way past the college runners and eventually got up to 5th place nearing the finish. As I went through the gate to the finish with 250 meters left I could see Laird on his way to victory with two more teammates a few seconds behind. That gave me a little more energy and as I saw the stadium clock ticking I realized I could break 16 if I pushed it a bit more. Closing my eyes for a few strides I managed to hit a 15:58 and beat all but one of the college lads.

I remember ripping off those spikes immediately after the race as my feet were on fire. The warm down with Laird was such a joy as we felt so good about our efforts and we shared our reflections of the race. It was a special day - the kids ran well, the coaches ran well and I got a birthday cake and song from the team after Laird and I finished the warm down.

Its funny how 4-5 ounces of spikes can hold so many memories but those spikes will be special not because I ran fast in them but rather because of who I was with while I was wearing them.

Laird, you are missed and remembered daily. Thanks for making those shoes and that day special.

We do not remember days; we remember moments. - Cesare Pavese

Laird cruising to victory in that race. I'm about 20 seconds behind well out of view