Saturday, December 31, 2011

Recap of 2011 Resolutions and Looking Ahead to 2012

2012 Resolutions
At the close of another year, I find myself exploring what I wrote for resolutions last year and what I need to resolve to do this year. Here is a recap of my 2011 resolutions and whether I have made much progress:

(10) Have a plan for well-being rather than just a plan for career success and a plan for running in the future. This will include yoga, sleep, my spiritual self, and other aspects of self-maintenance.
Update: did pretty well on just about all things other than yoga. That came and went and really should come back again. We’ll see.

(9) Improve my times for the 5K, half-marathon, and full-marathon.
Update: Yes, yes, and yes. Two wonderful marathons. One tough half marathon for competition. My times at each distance came down. Got a couple of age group awards and one overall second.

(8) Raise money for cancer through running the Maryland Half Marathon and the Baltimore Marathon again.
Update: Success. The book I completed for #7 also helped.

(7) Finish and continue writing projects.
Update: Continued blogging. Finished short novel #1. Didn’t sell that many but it did help with fundraising for #8.

(6) Better choices at work.
Update: some but more improvement still needed.

(5) Spend more time with friends in person rather than just online.
Update: if my running friends count, I did this quite a bit this year. And why shouldn’t they? One improvement would be a group of friends that are mutual with Sherry. That may come over time.

(4) Improved parenting.
Update: All I can say is, some days, I’m not so sure.

(3) Face issues at home and at work head on.
Update: Some things have remained on hold far too long.

(2) Share my cooking with more people in person rather than just in online pictures.
Update: Some improvement but there are still a lot of pictures and not so many live and in person sharing events.

(1) Spend even more time with Sherry--sooner or later the kids won't be there and we'll need to be there for each other forever. Whether it is movies, coffee, lunch, or dinner there are so many ways for us to spend time together.
Update: We managed two short vacations just us this year and have one longer one coming up for our 20th anniversary. So, not necessarily having time for just us as often as the previous year but there is an interesting set of tradeoffs here.

New Resolutions for 2012
(10) Continue to implement a plan for well-being that includes financial well-being. For no part of my well-being should I assume that things will always “just work out”. Not matter how long that my have been the case, it is not likely to last forever.

(9) Run a sub-20 minute 5K and qualify for the Boston marathon. As my running has improved, so has the specificity of my goals.

(8) Continue my involvement with Back on My Feet. This is a fundamental change in where I am placing my efforts to use running for something beyond running. I loved all that I did with and all that I got from involvement in fundraising for two cancer-related charities. But I have turned all my running attention to Back on My Feet.

(7) While this could go under the well-being heading of #10, I want to integrate pieces of “the arts” into what I do including more reading (because one way to write better is to read more), continue blogging, continue other writing, and perhaps even get back to writing a bit of music.

(6) Better balance of responsibilities at work. This isn’t even so much a “work-life” balance but just making sure that my work itself is balanced.

(5) Hang out with friends more in situations other than running. I love making friends through running but running is not always the best time for socializing. Multi-tasking by trying to combine fitness and friendship works but not entirely.

(4) Help my children become all that they can be. This, of course, involves parenting. But it also importantly involves looking at what skills and talents my kids have and trying to bring these to fruition. As my kids get older it is more about them and less about me and my parenting.

(3) Take the serenity prayer ever more seriously. We say this at every Back on My Feet run and most other events. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Some add, “God’s will, not ours, be done.” I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing what I can’t change. I have to improve a little at taking opportunities to change the things I can.

(2) Continue to share my cooking. Enough said.

(1) Enjoy the second half of my 20th year of marriage and the first half of year 21. It has been an incredible nearly 20 years. I hope we share 20 more.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Best Mile in a Long Time

At this morning's Back on My Feet Team Christopher's Place workout I ran just one mile. That is unusual for me, but as I balance my physical and spiritual well-being it was exactly the right thing to run. I am still recovering from yesterday's double red cell blood donation. My arm is fine. I am plenty awake. I am just a bit run down.

But that run down feeling did not dampen my spirits as I went for my short run. I joined the four newcomers to Team Christopher's Place for their welcome mile. It had been a while since I had been out on a morning for a welcome run. The four new guys struggled, but they made it through. That alone was uplifting. Seeing the guys reach goal #1 of their participation in the running activities of Back on My Feet. I didn't say this straight out--but it really doesn't matter how strong the first mile is. What matters is that you come back for a second!

And it was also uplifting to see another teammate who had struggled through his welcome mile just three or four months ago be there to encourage them. He stayed with them the whole time. He encouraged them the whole way. His big voice. His warm heart. It was great.

And also we had a new non-resident member this morning. He had been a photographer at the recent Back on My Feet Baltimore Bash. Another statement of how the organization touches so many people's lives and is something that many people who like to run at all and who are exposed to it even once are interested in finding out more about and joining.

So, a great way to start of a chilly and windy late December day on which we will celebrate the seventh birthday of my youngest son! It was the best one mile run in a long, long time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Loving and GIving

Even after blogging about spiritual (as well as physical) well-being for a long time, I am still amazed by the way that things are juxtaposed in life some days. Yesterday was the last time that I am likely ever to see Fr. Hank Hilton say mass. He used the midnight readings rather than the Christmas Eve readings (at last for the first reading). The first reading was from Isaiah--talking about how a child will be born who will be known as wonder counselor, etc. The priest had us listen for reference to the day of Midian, and then reminded us of how this tied back to Judges 6 & 7. He reminded us also of how Gideon loved his fellow Israelites and wondered how God could still care given all that had been done wrong. Fr. Hank described it as "God loving how we love each other". That is a powerful idea--that God loves the way we show love for each other--especially when it is a selfless love that requires nothing in return.

I feel like this year has been a year of learning (and being reminded) how to give such love--within my family and to others (through things like Back on My Feet).

What is amazing is that my six year old was very focused on gifts he received today with a couple exceptions. First, he took one of the five pieces of candy that he had bought to give as gifts and gave it to our next door neighbor. Second, when he decided on the last book to read before he went to bed, he chose The Quiltmaker's Gift. This is a story about the joy that is found in giving.

Giving and loving go hand in hand. Certainly love does not come when one only expects to receive. The lessons one can learn from a child's insights--whether implicit or explicit--never cease to amaze.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Black Eyed Susan

So, why does a blog about physical and spiritual well-being have the title, "Black Eyed Susan"? Well, the day after I wrote about focus, I found myself first doing exercise of a sort that I hadn't done in a long time (swimming) rather than my usual running (so not focused at all) and then much of the remainder of my day was spent with stuff related to church. Sunday school--the Christmas program came off really well. Mass. Even had burritos with tortillas that were made from neither only flour nor only corn but a recipe spelled out in Ezekiel 4:9 including millet, spelt, wheat and other grains. So, now, my faih is even tied to my food...

But the reference to Black Eyed Susans came from mass. Our church just got new statues of Mary and Joseph. Our priest told us that Mary usually holds a bouquet of lillies. The lillies apparently represent virginity. The black eyed susans remind us that we have to bring the ideals of Christianity--what Jesus taught us and what Mary exemplified into todays worth. Faith is not just something we read about. Faith is not just theory. My faith--and the focus int should bring--should be a present reality for me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I have not written about physical and spiritual and health in a while. Does that mean that mine has been suffering? Not really. Just that I have been so busy—with work and with things to promote my physical health that I just haven’t had the time to stop and think and write.

However, two things got me thinking today and really wanting to write. First, a friend commented that she ran with joy. That was something that I had suggested long ago. Second, while I was out on a 15 mile run by myself this morning, I was thinking a lot about the past year of running and what might be ahead for me. Lessons learned. Great experiences. Great friends. New friends. And that made me want to write.

So, my run this morning was completed in 1:55:33.22. I haven’t tried to find a Bible verse that I could link to that combination but the double numbers for everything other than the hours (down to the hundredths of a second) is pretty cool. I needed to be done early, so I ran by myself starting at about 6:20.

The run went down York/Greenmount and over to Lake Montebello. It was as I was rounding Lake Montebello that I really started pondering some spiritual aspects again. By that time it was approaching seven. The horizon had started to light up. There were thick looking gray clouds directly above me and to the west. To the east there was a semi-circular area that opened to allow the light from the sun coming up on the eastern horizon. That cast just a little light on the lake which was slightly choppy and rather gray but just starting to catch some of the light. It was an awesome sight.

The semi-circular area that was just in one place made me think of possibilities. It was like an opening. But it was a focused opening. It was not the entire sky bright and blue. There was one spot. It made me think about how I had just spoken with a colleague this week about students wanting to learn everything about everything and commented that that is not so different from JHU faculty who want to do everything—in the professional and persona lives—and I’m one like that in too many ways.

So, I thought about focus. It is not the first time I have thought about focus recently. But one reason I run is to clear my mind and try to focus. So, it is interesting to have some insight on focusing.

Part of the focus came from attending the Back on My Feet holiday dinner the previous evening. I’ve crammed in so much in the past year—back to teaching Sunday school, back to playing music at mass, running for two charitable organizations, and running as a volunteer in a third. It is all good. Each individually would be great. But the combination is mind-boggling. And that is all just part of my non-work life!

What I need is focus. If I am going to run—fine. But go with one organization. If I am going to play music—fine. But no matter how much I like both my bluegrass playing colleagues and playing at church I should probably focus on just one. I love to teach Sunday school—I can stick with that. I love cooking/baking, but I should probably choose a “specialization” and stick with that. And, at work, I can always narrow what I am doing.

The key from focusing is that I will probably be able to do the more limited number of things better and make more of a difference by focusing my efforts rather than sampling everything. I’ve spent plenty of time sampling. Now its time to see what happens when I focus a bit more. Perhaps sometime around the solstice next year, I’ll look back and see what I have done and conclude that focus is a good (or bad) thing for me. Or maybe it will just be another year with different experiences that are just that—different—without necessarily being better or worse. I’m sure that focusing brings its own challenges…

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Wisdom of Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers once sang in The Gambler "You gotta know when to hold 'em/Know when to fold 'em". In light of everything I've been writing about wisdom and patience and running recently, I am now at a post-race stage where wisdom is JUST AS IMPORTANT. In the days since my most wonderful marathon, I have rested, run, and rested. Today is another day of rest. Tomorrow may also be.

My legs have still felt sore off and on through yesterday. And they are clearly not back to 100% quite yet today. Monday when I did go out for a three mile run with Back on My Feet, I felt a little tweak in my knee that I continued to feel throughout the day Monday and yesterday. This morning, so far, I'm not feeling it. That is a very hopeful sign.

However, I need to make sure not to rush back out to run 5 or 10 miles and not to rush back out onto the track. The wisdom and patience now is to get back to running at all. Sometimes running smart means knowing when NOT to run as knowing how to run wisely.

I really want to run. My body thrives on running. And I hope that this winter, I can also do other exercises that will be just as exciting and just as fulfilling. But the key is to understand the importance of balance. Just like a work-life balance. Just like a balance between my spiritual needs and other needs. Just like a balance between family-oriented and self-oriented non-work activities.

Balance in my running. Balance in my life. The balance promoted by Kenny Rogers's sung wisdom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seeking Different Parts of the Truth

As many readers of my blogs now know, I have taken to trying to link my bib numbers and race times to bible verses. I have sought to bring together my physical well being and goal setting with my spiritual well-being. It has been an interesting process.

I don't know that I have actually changed what I have been writing over the year and some since I first got the idea to link the number 1313 to a Bible verse, but I do know that the type of verses I have been looking for--to meditate over along with my runs to increase my complete well-being--have switched from verses more about the strength of God and how it is a blessing to us to verses about wisdom--the wisdom of God or the value of wisdom for people.

Why do I find this interesting? I find it interesting because a friend from high school once told me when I started preparing for my first marathon that each running experience like a marathon would lead to different lessons. And, interestingly enough, they have, so far.

This past weekend, when I wrote afterwards, I wrote about some elements of relying on God--I am and vine and you are the branches--and I also reflected on wisdom (alone and combined with speed in the scene of approaching Jesus's tomb).

As I look ahead and think about what I will meditate on over the many miles until my next marathon, I am thinking that both strength and wisdom will continue to be important. I am also thinking, in light of a book I expect to borrow from a previous coach, that I will focus on aspects of spiritual teaching that focus on making sure I have the "package deal". In running that would be the right combination of running workouts and cross training workouts along with the right amount of cut-back weeks and rest as I go along. In my spiritual life it would be things like a reminder that there are Ten Commandments and they are all important. Yes, Jesus gave a greatest one (the parallel to my running being that I have to run more than anything else) but he didn't say to forget about the rest. Jesus once answered to love God with all your heart and mind and soul (perhaps not in that order). That is a package deal. The Beatitudes--there wasn't just "Blessed are the poor in spirit", there were others as well. In addition, I have commented recently on the importance in music ministry of playing and singing--another package deal--for feeling like I put my whole self into the ministry in ways that were not apparent before.

As I move forward in my physical and spiritual development, I anticipate that issues of "the package deal" will be important in many ways. I look forward to the challenge!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Post-Race Story

As I consider my post-race story, it was a lot different than my pre-race story. The first couple of miles were run in the low 7:20's. Then a bunch in the 7:teens. A few in the upper 7:20's leading to the half way mark. 7:20 and below out to 20 miles (with even a few sub 7:10's). Those sub-7:10's were using the slight downhill for all it was worth and really trying to put myself in a position to finish with a sub-3:15. However, banking time never really works. Miles 21-24 were between 7:26 and 7:42. Then the last two miles at 8:24 and 8:48. I'm not quite sure that I ran that last 0.2 in, but it wasn't much prettier. In the end, I had improved my personal best by more than six minutes over a race just six weeks earlier. In the end, I had not qualified for Boston, but for that, there will be another day.

What lesson did I learn this time? I can wonder all day whether or not a slower time in a mile here and a mile there earlier in the race would have let me come through stronger at the end. However, I'm not beating myself up over it as I will absolutely never know. I can't experience the counterfactual. I can only imagine it.

However, I can relate it to a lesson in spiritual life. This time, it is not tied to a bib number or a race time. It is just about the experience.

When talking with a runner whom I greatly respect after the race, he said he would have to learn to be more patient. When he made that comment, I added "When you figure it out, you should share what you have learned with _______." I'll leave the other name out, but I was thinking of another runner or two. I was not thinking of myself when I made the statement.

However, to look at a non-Biblical cross-over before getting to the spiritual, we can think about something that Michael Jackson sang and that is a common theme in literature and songs. Michael sang, "If you want to make the world a better place, just look at yourself and make a change." For runners, we could adapt that to, "If you want to run a better race, just look at yourself and make a change." In other words, I could apply my statement to myself as well as to any other runner whom I might name.

That leads me to my spiritual lesson. This, I take from John 20:3-8. The entire story of the resurrection takes a bit more than that in John and different accounts are found in each of the other Gospels. John's Gospel is the only one in which both Peter and "the one Jesus loved" (whomever this may have been) both ran to Jesus's tomb.

Yesterday, my approach was more like Peter's.

In the end, I would hope that my approach to marathon running becomes more like "the Beloved Disciple's".

Meaning what?

Well, in the story, the one Jesus loved got to the tomb first, but then paused before going in, and ultimately was described as combing to believe first.

Peter on the other hand, ran ahead once he got to the entrance and just went in and saw everything without every being described as comprehending it. And, in the gospel of Luke, he was described as amazed rather than believing.

Finishing the marathon should be measured and approached after a full assessment like the one Jesus loved. Finishing is not jut barreling in at all costs.

I feel like what I achieved up to mile 20 was more like Peter. He raced to the tomb but was unsure what to make of it or what to do once he arrived. That's like me up to mile 20--arriving but then not sure of what to do once I got there.

The one Jesus loved, on the other hand, gathered in his strength and determination, proceeded with care, and comprehended. Exactly what I needed at mile 20.

For Peter and the other disciple in John's gospel, there was only one chance. For me, there will be more than one marathon. At some point, I hope that my marathon running will evolve to include the wisdom to comprehend and believe exactly what to do once I reach mile 20 and the patience to reach it with the strength needed to implement what wisdom tells me. And, if I stick with it, I'll also have the speed that the disciple other than Peter had to reach the tomb first. That combination, speed, patience, and wisdom will take me to my ultimate running goal.

I've got a while before I put that combination to the test again for a race that long, but John 20:3-8 will be at the top of my reading and meditating list before that. And, in a twist of fate, if I want to tie it to the race time from my most recent 5K, we could extend the reading to John 20:2-9 and take in another sentence about running as well as a concluding sentence about the disciples still not understanding scripture about Jesus needing to rise from the dead. That extra sentence about running is just cute in the current context. The sentence about disciples not understanding scripture could be like my still not fully comprehending what is likely to happen to the body in a marathon. I have lots of "book knowledge" about what I should be doing to keep things by the book. But I still don't fully understand exactly what I should be anticipating every step along the way. That may never come. But, if anything, it is still a few races away.

And, whether I ever learn the lessons for racing or not, I hope that my spiritual evolution will proceed in the same direction--quick to reach a conclusion that is founded on faith and wisdom and that shows a deep understanding rather than just being first to reach some type of finish line. A deep understanding will serve me at least as well spiritually as in my physical, racing life.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Pre-Race Story

Just a couple weeks ago, I gave a short address to a crowd that included alumni, current students, and current and past staff from my high school. I talked about story telling and mentioned that I have a story each time before a race.

Today is my second marathon of 2011--and likely my last one until next fall. The story would not have started with waking up to find my 6 year old's eye swollen before he had to leave on his first pre-dawn trip for an ice hockey tournament. The story may have included getting up at 3:45 to check on the six year old and then getting a nap until 4:30. Then I made bagels for Daniel and Sherry to take in their lunches with cream cheese, salmon, apples, and Pirate Booty.

Now, they are on their way and all I left to do is prepare myself. Garmin--check. Gu Chomps--check. Race bib & chip--check.

Soon I'll be out the door and on my way. I have so many people sharing so much positive energy about this with me. It's great.

Ideal race-7:25-7:30 each of the first 13.1 miles. Then at least as fast on the way back. Aiming for 3:15 which will require an average 7:25. I should be able to speed up a little for most of the way back as it is downhill.

We'll see if the post-race story is anything like the pre-race story. Onward!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cross-blog post

Readers of this blog might find my other site interesting. It is an entry about a race and the feeling of focus that the run has helped me to seek.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Upper Darby High School Wall of Fame Comments

I want to begin with a huge thank you for this incredible honor just 24 years after I left these walls and halls as a student--and there are some new walls and halls now. I want to thank Upper Darby not only for the honor now, but also for laying the foundation for the accomplishments that led to this honor. There was a book published while I was studying at Penn State called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I’m not quite sure I’d attribute everything I needed to know to kindergarten in the old Highland Park Elementary School building. However, my thirteen years in the Upper Darby School District contributed to what I know, to how I learn, and to the content of my character in ways that have been critical to my professional, personal, and community activities in the time since. I was lucky enough to interact with incredible teachers, coaches and other education professionals who cared and gave of their time and effort. My classmates and family also made an incredible difference in many teachable moments along the way.

Now, let me tell you a story—a story about storytelling. Storytelling is not just for when you sit around campfires or want to exaggerate about the size of the fish you caught. Storytelling has been an important part of my personal and professional life and even an important part of my fitness. In fact, if someone asked me to come up with just one word—one word that would summarize the common theme throughout all the success (and even some of the failures) I’ve had since graduating from UDHS—one word that would summarize the key ingredient to the rest of what I hope to accomplish—that word would be storytelling. For someone with my bio it may not be obvious why that is the case. So, let me tell the rest of my story today and pay tribute to the one teacher who I think was the best storyteller of them all—Richard Maxwell.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Maxwell as my 10th grade honors physics teacher. He had a story for everything. His stories helped us understand why we should care about physics. His stories helped make clear to us why we should care about the world in which we lived. While he was charged with teaching us physics, he did more—he taught us about a basic inquisitive philosophy of life. That was magical. Today, whenever I speak with a potential student or potential faculty member about why they should come to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I tell them that one reason is that everyone on the campus is genuinely intellectually curious. Many people contributed to the development of my curiosity—Mr. Maxwell was among the best. So, how do curiosity and storytelling enter what I do?

When I conduct research—it begins with curiosity; then to attract resources for the project I need to tell a story about why it should be of interest; and when I’m done I share my results and complete the task with storytelling.

When I participate in committees, particularly in leadership positions, I am driven by a curiosity about how committee members can work for change and improvement and use stories to share my vision with fellow committee members.

When I evaluate others’ work—their storytelling—I am willing because of curiosity about their work and my task is critiquing their ability to communicate their ideas through stories.

When I teach—I tell stories to transfer the joy and excitement of my curiosity about a subject to my students.

When I participate in music ministry at my church—I am driven by my curiosity about my faith and about music in general and use the music to make the stories easier to remember.

When I run, I am always curious about how far I can go, how fast I can go, whether I can maintain a particular pace, or what’s new on a familiar trail. Much like in my research, I have a story to guide what I expect the run to be like and I come away with a story of how the run actually went. I use these stories to share ideas with others in a blog after I run.

Storytelling and my passion for it have made incredible opportunities available for me. Some I dreamt of when I graduated in 1987 and quoted from a dark Emily Dicksinson poem (someone else’s story) in my graduation speech. Others, I would have never anticipated. When I graduated, Mr. Maxwell signed my yearbook and wished me “rewarding and purposeful” years ahead. As you move forward, may your stories and storytelling bring you as much of what Mr. Maxwell wished me as I’ve been blessed to experience.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unchangeable, unshakeable, unstoppable

Last night at church, for the first time in a while, I was given a microphone to sing in addition to having my bass to play. Afterwards, I commented that I suppose I should practice singing most of the songs we practice because I never know when I might be called on to sing. It was, just like the last time I was asked to do both, a good feeling.

One of the songs we sang described God as "unchangeable, unshakeable, unstoppable". Those are three characteristics I would love to be able to claim to have.

Unchangeable--in other words, others always know what they are getting. Is this true of me? Not perfectly. Thought, I think for the most part it is. Someone who is pretty intense. Someone who will give my all. Someone who often gets caught with one or two too many commitments so has trouble completing them all. Someone who wants the most out of life. Someone who may be talented in one thing but likes to try to show that there is something else in life as well. And the last of those (with my career as the main focus and running and cooking as things I try to show I am good at--and perhaps even music should be added to that list) is nothing new. Both what I am good at (things academic) and what I try to prove myself at (at least in terms of running and music) has not changed in years. Where do I fall short--in changing opinions in ways that are not anticipated and that sometimes make little sense and in changing my focus without warning sometimes. Perhaps that just shows adaptability. I am sure it drives some of my friends, family, and colleagues a bit nuts.

Unshakeable--in other words, no matter how hard anyone tries God remain unchangeable. My vulnerability to being shaken showed with a running race earlier this year. When I mistakenly hit the stop button rather than the lap button during a half marathon, I ran distracted the rest of the way. There are many potential distractions in life. Sometimes I am pretty good at shaking them off, but not always. One goal for myself to live more in the image of God as God made me is to find a way to identify what is most important and remain unshakeable in my pursuit of that--always.

Unstoppable--in other words, nothing can overcome God. There are plenty of temptations, distractions, and things that are not 100% following the rules and the path set down by God that lead me from following what is best at all times. While having to stop and reset is just plain human, it is still something to aspire to something better.

My running has helped me to achieve all of these three things--being someone with a clear focus where you know what you are getting from me, and I won't be distracted, and I will reach my goal. What a difference a couple years of running and the thought process that comes along with it makes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Give and take

Short entry today--life is all about give and take. I have focused a lot on what I can give. I teach. I share. I lead. I encourage. In Back on My Feet, I will soon be sharing a coaching role. In the Charm City Run training group, even the coach commented (not specifically to me but to the group in general) that we provided wonderful support to each other.

I haven't talked so much directly about what I take. However, I realize fully that I often take while I give. The feeling that comes from giving is great, and I have really gained from giving.

The key question now is the right balance (in my running) moving forward. And the distinction between wants and needs. Do I need to get faster? No, of course not. What reason does a person have for running faster than 7:43 average for 26.2 miles? My wife would ask--what reason does a person have for even running 26.2 miles? I don't need to be faster? But I have a goal I want to achieve--running the Boston marathon by qualifying. To achieve that goal, I do need to run faster. In identifying what I need to run, I also have to identify how to achieve the goal--as I have identified how to achieve so many other goals in life. And, along the way, I will be doing a bit more taking--from running friends who willingly give of their own time and efforts and who run faster than me so that I have to chase them down to keep up with them and to reach my goals. I just have to hope that I can give to them in the same way that so many whom I've helped to pull along have given to me.

That will help to keep things balanced. As a fellow here from Ireland said when introducing himself to a group earlier this week--he ran the marathon in a time to qualify for Boston. He felt even better about raising $1000 for Back on My Feet. It's all about give and take.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Continued soul searching

Last night we had the end of training season party sponsored by Charm City Run. I spent much longer there than I'd expected. The degree to which I've turned running into a social activity and one that I gain strength from in an extrovert-related way, is quite amazing to me.

As each of my running buddies asked what comes next, I answered I'm not sure. Honestly, I'm not. One thing is clear--I have a strong focus on achieving the 3:15 or better. I made clear that I needed something a little more than what I had been getting. It was difficult to say that as I have gotten so much from participating in Charm City Run groups for the past two years. And, I did not want to sound arrogant.

Perhaps it is not arrogance. Perhaps it is wisdom. I can hope to pull myself along as needed, but I recognize the need to ask for help in achieving this goal.

I don't want to sound arrogant. Other people are just trying to eventually reach a 4 hour marathon. Other people are just trying to extend up to a marathon. Does my really high goal sound arrogant?

I hope not. It is just my reality. My reality is different from my friends' realities. And we each have our own needs for improvement and what will help us achieve that improvement. The key for me is that having identified what I think I need to reach my goal, I now need to determine how to implement it. And, when friends ask, I'll share with them what I think I need. And, I'll try to find a way to find what I need to reach my goal while not leaving my friends behind.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Soul Searching

Three days ago I ran my second marathon. I improved my time from last year by over 17 1/2 minutes. My 3:22:05 was an incredible experience.

Now, I am at a point at which I have really only one more running goal for myself--a Boston qualifying time. That goal will require more improvement.

What I struggle with is the best (and most efficient) way to achieve that.

Of course, I will need ability.

But more than ability, I will need to work hard. Working hard is a combination of attitude and goal. I made more or less my goal for the year. I have met nearly every goal I have set. Fell a bit short of a few, but the marathon was very close.

I was talking with my one student about a time during the race on Saturday when I said, "Well, even a 3:26 would be 1/2 minute per mile better than last year. Wouldn't that be 'good enough'?" And after a few more strides, I was able to banish that thought from my mind by saying, "No, that's not good enough. I trained for more than that."

At this point, I need to have a "can do" attitude.
At this point, I need to avoid self-doubt.
At this point, I need to set one reasonable goal at a time.

The key is figure out with whom to set down a plan, with whom to run, and with whom to commiserate as I move forward.

I have been coached by three incredible people in the past sixteen months. I have met many amazing, wonderful, beautiful, caring, sharing people in the past sixteen months. I want to continue to be a part of their lives.

But now I'm looking for someone (or some-ones) to pull me along. Not to the exclusion of my doing some of the pulling, of course. But to have someone to chase after to force me to raise the bar yet again.

I'm blessed to be faced with this struggle. I look forward to being pulled and continuing to pull others along in so many ways for the next running adventure.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Comments for DetermiNation

This is a long entry. It is the comments I'll make next Friday night at the dinner before the marathon. Hope you find them inspiring.

"It is an honor to have been asked to speak at the 2011 Baltimore Running Festival DetermiNation team dinner. This is my second year of participating in the DetermiNation program with the Baltimore Running Festival and the second year that I will be running a marathon (I ran the half in 2009). There are many people who have been integral parts of my experience in DetermiNation. I will focus on five as examples of the roles played by the people who helped me get here.

First, there is Gerry. Gerry’s passing brought me to run for DetermiNation last year. He was a father and fellow parent at my kids’ school. Prostate cancer took him from us earlier than anyone had expected in the summer of 2010. I had been planning to run the 2010 Baltimore Marathon anyway but I had been running by myself. In fact, ever since I finished running high school track—in 1987 before many of the tools I’ve used for fundraising the past two years existed—I was running alone except for one spring semester in my undergraduate days when I trained for and ran a 5K with a former roommate. Gerry’s passing got me to DO something. Gerry’s passing got me to take initiative with respect to my running. Gerry’s passing got me to use my running to focus on a cause—and since last year I have picked up a second cause as well—homelessness and running, but that is a topic for another evening. Gerry’s passing got me to use my running to interact with others—and I will return to the ways in which I have gone from being a strong introvert to a moderate extrovert later. Gerry’s passing got me to fit my running together with a piece of my professional life, as I also do research on cancer costs and cancer survivorship. Gerry’s passing also got my to think about him as a person and what I could do to honor him. The main thing that I have done since Gerry’s passing to honor him is to try to follow a dream that I had (in addition to running) as Gerry had done and to focus on doing whatever I do as best I can—also as Gerry had done. In the time since last year’s marathon I have written my first short novel, entitled The Radical Transformation of Runner 1313. I’d tried forever to complete a novel and this finally helped me reach my goal. This is a fictionalized version of my personal story from last year. Some parts are taken directly from my life, like the bib number. I didn’t like the idea of double bad luck, but a cousin suggested I look for a book of the Bible with verse 13 in chapter 13 that was meaningful. I found it—1 Corinthians 13:13 that talks about faith, hope, and love with the greatest being love. That was so consistent with what I had been writing about last year in my blog it was amazing. Since then, I have since started a website called Athletes’ Verses which focuses on linking bib numbers or race times to Bible verses to tprovide meaning to athletes who look to God and inspirational writing for meaning. Gerry is one person I know who has passed while fighting cancer. The link from Gerry to me to DetermiNation is key because it has forced me to focus on making myself a better person. Rising to the challenge of the race. Rising to the challenge of so many things in life.

Second, there is my mother to whom this year’s run is especially dedicated. She is a cancer survivor. Thirteen years now, so for that we are blessed. Since we live 90 miles away and I am busy with my own family (three boys ages 6 to 15), I really don’t know that much about the details of my mother’s day to day experience when she was going through her primary treatment for cancer. My mother’s struggle with cancer and her entire adult life is an inspiration to me. (Of course, my father’s life is too, but my father has not had to be a patient with cancer.) I run to honor my mother as well as to honor Gerry. My mother’s inspiration is particularly important for me, as there was a time when I could not understand why anyone would want to be a teacher. Now, in my role as a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I not only do research, as I mentioned earlier, but I also teach, and it has become my passion. I have been fortunate to be honored by students with awards. I also teach Sunday school. I just love to teach. My mother’s inspiration is not just because she taught, but because she stuck with it. She trained to be a teacher. Then she had me. Then she was a bank teller while my father went to college after he left the Air Force. Then she stayed home with my sister. Then she was a bookkeeper before returning to teaching. She never gave up on her dream, and she had a full career as a teacher until she retired. She stuck with it. She endured. And she did not give in once she started. All of these are also excellent characteristics for running a marathon. For the example she set for how to lead a life with an enduring dream and how to fight a disease that takes a huge toll on so many, I thank my mother.

The teaching also fits into another aspect of what I do. I view one of the biggest elements of teaching as the sharing of stories. I already mentioned the short novel I wrote and the Athletes’ Verses website. I also have kept two blogs. The blogs, in some ways, are just a public diary. The blogs, in other ways, are a chance for me to share my observations about life and the lessons I learn about life and hard work. DetermiNation has led me to befriend several runners who started out only as people I saw at the Charm City Run sponsored workouts. Then we friended each other on Facebook. Several have taken to reading my blogs rather consistently and have shared their views on what I have written and shared how nice it is for me to share, through stories, what I have learned about myself and what I have learned about life and struggles. The learning about life and struggles emphasizes to me just how lucky I am and the value of the struggle against cancer for one and for all. Last year, I struggled because I had an injury just four weeks before the marathon as a result of which I lost about two weeks of running. Still, when I got downhearted about my experience, I simply thought to myself how the patients for whom I was fundraising would love to have what I was concerned about as their biggest problem. Of all my fellow runners who are blog readers, I want to thank Kathleen in particular for reading the blog entries and having something to say about most of them and encouraging me to continue to write and to continue to share.

The fourth person I would like to mention is my running friend Joselyn—also a DetermiNation alumna and supporter. I met her in the summer of 2010 although she usually ran the long slow runs faster than I did, she had a harder time making it to the track workouts than I did, and she ran more than 10 minutes faster than I did on the Saturday of the actual marathon last year. While we knew each other through the training program last summer, our friendship really began with a comment after the race last year—that we would both hope to run with the 3:20 pace group this year. There have been times in the last year when I wondered whether I would be able to follow through on that notion that began while I was sitting at the table eating snacks in the DetermiNation tent after last year’s race. The friendship and camaraderie with Joselyn have made a big difference in the hope that I can reach this goal. We have run stride for stride through almost every workout we both attended. We have listened and we have encouraged. We have said prayers for each other and stuck with it together. The bonds of people who run together are strong. The bonds of people work together for a cause like DetermiNation are strong. And for me, Joselyn is a great example of a larger theme—loving to run with others in a way that I could never have imagined recapturing from high school sports. It is why I think I am much more extroverted now than when I first signed up to run with DetermiNation. It is not just being outgoing but enjoying the strength that comes from being with other people. I have learned, once again, about the energy that can come from being with people. The energy that I use in my efforts to make myself a better person. The energy that I imagine every cancer patient uses to help themselves in their fight against cancer.

Finally, I have to comment on everyone at home, but especially my wife, Sherry. She and I have many interests in common. We both like exercise, but she is not a runner so it is sometimes hard for her to understand why anyone would ever want to run 26.2 miles. Despite that, she, and our three boys, have put up with the many hours of training. The many hours of writing. The many hurts and strains. The physical therapy. The massage therapy. The chiropractic visits. The early mornings. The late nights. The long slow runs. The track workouts. They have put up with and stuck with me through it all. I can’t thank them enough for their willingness to accept my dedication and my DetermiNation to see all the aspects of my running, my fundraising, my struggles, my attempting to help others through their struggles, and my attempts to make the best of myself through to the end.

So, as you can see, DetermiNation has made a huge difference in my life. It has helped me to set and achieve running goals. It has helped me to meet all kinds of interesting people. Runners are an interesting bunch in general. People who are willing to go out and raise money on behalf of others are an interesting bunch in general. When you combine those two traits you get some incredibly interesting people. It has helped me appreciate how my struggles are just a tiny fraction of the struggles faced every day by people with cancer. It has helped me to raise money for the American Cancer Society, inspired me to participate in one other running related fundraising event, and inspired me to participate as a volunteer in one other running organization that helps those in need. And most of all, it has given me so many reasons to raise the bar in my own life and to become a truly better person.

Thank you all for listening. Thank you, DetermiNation, for providing these opportunities. Thanks to all the individuals who have donated on my behalf—family, friends from right now who have been affected by cancer, friends from many years ago with whom I am in touch now only because of Facebook, colleagues, and former students. You have helped to raise money and awareness for such an important cause. Thank you."


Yesterday was the first time in this summer's training that at a track workout I was not one of the first one or two people to the end of each interval run. Last night, in contrast, I was near the front but not in the front. For once, I had the patience to run the target time to really try to get the feel for the pace I'm supposed to run next Saturday.

At the end, my running buddy and sometimes coach asked if I was hitting the times right on. I commented that I was, and he admitted that, in contrast, he and the others in the very front last night were impatient. What can impatience lead to?

Well, it can lead to being imprecise, inconsistent, or incomplete among other things. Reaching a goal in a marathon is not always going to result from my going as fast as I can from the start. Sometimes, reaching a goal in a marathon (or any extended activity in life) requires a slow start while building up and waiting for the appropriate time to accelerate and maintain a high level rather than trying to start at a high level.

I learned that lesson a few weeks ago on the track. I seem to re-learn the lesson every Saturday on the long slow runs. The key question now is whether in 10 days I can apply that lesson to a race situation.

We shall see!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

You Put Your Whole Self In

Why quote the Hokey Pokey song when thinking about physical and spiritual well-being? And why stop with just putting my “whole self in” and “not taking my whole self out”?

Well, let me share a non-running story—for once, in recent times. This story is about the worship band at our church. This fall, I was given a chance to reconsider a decision I’d made at the start of 2010—after several years of playing bass and singing with the worship band at our church, I decided to pull back for a while because I was struggling spiritually and I had too much going on. The person who took my place as the regular bass play for 20 months is a better bass player than I am, but recently he was finding that other commitments were becoming a big deal for him. So, I am now the regular player again and enjoying the opportunity.

On most Sundays there are enough singers that I can just play bass and concentrate more on my bass playing—which leads to improved bass playing. However, this week, the worship band was a mixed group of some core members, one alumna, and a couple substitutes. It went well. As a result of the lack of singers, I was able to have a microphone and just play on a few songs while choosing to sing and play on a few others. It was a nice mix and I was able to concentrate my efforts where they were needed most.

The key for me was that the feeling was different. In addition to just playing for the joy of playing—not because I had been the bass player almost from the start and wondered who else would play (which was why I felt like I was playing at the end of 2009) and not just because I was asked to sub (between the start of 2010 and the start of September this year)—the opportunity to put my “whole self” into the music was amazing. It felt so empowering. It helped me feel the joy. Sometimes just playing bass doesn’t feel quite like putting my whole self into the music. And, of course, I would not ever want to take my whole self back out.

So, I’ve written about doing things that bring me joy. I wrote, sometime in the past twelve months, about feeling God’s joy when I run. Now, I am reminded about the joy that I feel and that I can tell God feels when I put my whole self into something. Taking it a bit further, just the other day I commented on the importance of focusing on one thing at a time in some cases. It is interesting to consider all the good that might come and all that I might accomplish from putting my whole self into something that brings me and God joy.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Life Lesson in Seven Hours Sleep

The title suggests I may have had a "vision" of some sort in my dream. Not quite.

Instead, my entry this morning could be as simple as—"Past three nights’ sleep totals: 4 hours, 4 hours, 7 hours. Feeling better after the seven hours."

That is important but it does not capture the lesson learned because I think that the lesson learned in this case is more than simply “get more sleep”.

Get more sleep implies a better balance. I won’t deny that that is something I need.

Get more sleep in this case, however, implies, in my mind, something a little more. It is not just balance. I try to get in “a little of this and a little of that.” I try to do “a little of this and a little of that.” And, I can sometimes achieve, “a little of this and a little of that” but the key here is “little.” Little time. Little attention. Sometimes that implies little quality.

I have heard and read that there is increasing evidence that humans don’t multi-task very well. In this case, multi-tasking implying trying to do more than one thing at the SAME time. I’d go further to say that it is not clear that this human can even do more than one thing at a time in rapid succession very well. Sometimes I may be forced (by a combination of pressures put on me and choices I have made) to try to do that. But it doesn’t usually work out as well as planned.

The seven hours sleep last night indicate that I needed to give more attention to one thing. It worked. The key for balance may be more to know which thing in my life needs the most attention right away rather than trying to distribute my attention each day. The challenge is working within the constraints that I face based on previous choices. And, for that, I have no easy answer other than to press on while giving more attention to the choices I need to make wisely and with guidance and serenity granted to me by God.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It had Nothing--or Everything--to do with Running

My social networking friends and followers may be tired of hearing about my tempo runs on Thursdays (a constant when I am running with a Charm City Run group) ut at least they are used to seeing the posts. Today, I did not post. Why?

Well, today's run was functional rather than excellent. The last two weeks were excellent runs--when I hit average paces of 7:01 and 7:02 over seven miles of fast paced runs.

This week was functional. All miles were below the average pace I hope to keep for the marathon. All but the first mile was below the pace I hope to keep for any 10K during the marathon--unless I have a whole lot left for the last 10K. The second three miles in total were faster than the first three--so, I ran negative splits. The last two miles were the fastest. None of that is bad. It is just functional.

First lesson learned--humility. When I get 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row it is hard to run an excellent tempo runs. I have to understand my limits.

Second lesson learned--humility (yes, again). When the twelve preceding days included an 18 mile run during which I ran one of the fastest 13.1 mile segments I'd ever run, Yasso 800's, an excellent tempo workout, a twenty mile run around the city, and a track workout of 3/4 mile repeats that I ended with a 4:39, there is a limit to what I can do. That is why we taper.

Third lesson learned--humility (still, again). I could say it has nothing to do with running. I didn't have a strain, a sprain, an ache, or a pain like I had at this time last year when I could barely run and spent most of my time resting. On the other hand, I have to admit that it has almost everything to do with running--the reason I have been up so late the past two nights is the commitment I've made to running. It is why I am so looking forward to the marathon. Due to the commitment I am ready to run. Due to the commitment I need time to move on to other things for a while.

Through and through--this is a time for humility to remember that there is only so much I can do in so many ways. To thank those who give me the chance. To thank those who run with me. And to thank God for the blessings I have received.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What a Difference a Year Makes

Yesterday, I ran the course preview in preparation for the 2011 Baltimore Marathon. It was so different from last year’s course preview run that I thought it would be worth reflecting on why things are so different. Of course, I am sure that I will have some reflections to share after this year’s marathon in three weeks. But, since I have not been writing nearly as much this year during the training, I think it is worth pausing to make an assessment of how different things were and why that was the case.

Let me begin with a statement that a friend sent me in an email the day before the course preview. She suggested that I run with joy. One year ago, for many reasons, there was little joy in the course preview run—other than finishing at all. This year, the entire experience was different and so much more positive. I could run with joy. And it amazes me how much I can accomplish when I run with joy—or do just about anything with joy. Bringing joy as a primary motivator to my work, my family, or any other activity makes a big difference.

So, why so much difference in the ability to run with joy?

Let me begin with something as simple as the weather. Last year, I don’t have the exact temp written down but it was hot. Probably 80 degrees before 8 AM. It was like a late summer day rather than an early fall day. And trying to run 20 miles without much shade in such temperatures was just crazy. Yesterday was humid, which was still not fun, but not nearly as hot.

The second thing was my own physical status. Last year, I was a first time marathon runner. I’d run two races in September—a 20 mile run at the beginning of the month and a half marathon the week before the course preview. The latter was a very good half marathon for me (personal best on time up to that point) but I made the mistake of scheduling to run a half marathon immediately before getting on a plane for a trip to South Africa. My already sore muscles (last year was the first time I pushed myself to achieve this level of fitness) tightened up more than I ever would have thought possible. When I returned, I spent much of the remaining three weeks in physical therapy. This year, my muscles are a bit sore but it is nothing like last year. One reason—my body has had the experience before. Second reason—my training has been consistent for nearly the past nine months. Third reason—I have taken the consistent training very seriously.

Third thing that was different was some lessons learned since last year—try to get some calories in my body in the morning before I run, hydrate well (even on practice runs), and bring something for calories while I run. Last year, despite the heat, I did not hydrate as much as I should have AND I did not bring anything with me to get more calories in me while I ran. This year, I have had such a different approach before I run, while I run, and even after I run (lots of protein as soon as possible), that it has made a big difference.

The fourth difference is that the course no longer feels like a nemesis to be conquered but more like an old friend. I know that must sound crazy, but here is the thought. Last year, I didn’t know much about the part of the course around the Inner Harbor and I didn’t like the part of the course through either Druid Hill Park or coming away from Lake Montebello. This year, I have run a race and several practice runs around Druid Hill Park. Lake Montebello and 33rd Street are areas that I am more familiar with, and I have had the opportunity to do several practice runs near the Harbor area. So, yesterday’s run was about getting in miles, having a solid (rather than necessarily a very fast) performance, and visiting the places that I know well and that I know I will revisit one more time three weeks from now. Last year, especially on the practice run day, I just felt like I had to overcome. Yesterday was just like checking in. And I think of it as checking in with an old friend as I have friends that will sit across the table from me in discussion and challenge me. Challenge me to change my thinking—which the course has done with respect to my running and from running to how I manage my life in general. Challenge me to change my health behaviors—and, again, I have taken my running to a different level. Challenge me just to live a better life and be a better person.

Now, you may ask how a marathon course has done that. Well, last year I blogged a LOT more often. This year, I have been writing about other things (for work), although I miss blogging. I actually think that it helped me to structure my life better as I took not only a designate time for running but also a designated time for writing almost every day. Structure is good. And, in the end, I turned last year’s experience into a short novel. This year, where did the overall improvement in the rest of my life come from?

The overall improvement came from realizing that, after doing this once, I have something to offer. In a question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art, the story that I wrote had the main character eventually speaking to the group of runners for the charity for which he was raising funds. For me, that will come true in three weeks. In the story I wrote, the main character became a leader within his community. Last year, I was a member of the community. This year, I’m not sure I’d say I’m a leader, but I am definitely a member in a MUCH different way. My running has become a source of being extroverted—gaining strength from a group—rather than being introverted—spending endless hours on my own and enjoying it. I have reached a point at which I encourage others and they encourage me. There are some where we don’t run anywhere near the same times, but my encouragement to them is just to keep getting better—till they are as good as they can get. Their encouragement to me is pretty much the same. And, at the end of the day that is what matters.

Running can make me not only the most fit person and fastest person I can be, but running—in the right proportion with everything else in my life and taken with all the meticulous seriousness that I put into writing a grant or paper at work—can help me to be a better person.

Have I forgotten all the spiritual and life lessons I learned last year, after Gerry Paradiso passed and I raised money for the American Cancer Society? Certainly not. Has the focus shifted a bit from last year? Yes. But I just see it as part of an ongoing evolution that began with my response to Gerry’s passing. And the challenge that I bet most people at his memorial service came away with—to be the best we can be in all that we do.

As a final thought--yesterday I finished the course running north on Linwood back to Patterson park with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. The year before I had to drag myself to the finish. I just hope now that the year in between has brought enough so that I am feeling just as much difference at the end of the marathon as I did at the of the training run.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Catholic Church readings from 8/7 and running's gifts to me

The readings the other day really hit the spot for my thinking about my relationship with God and my running. This time I needed to bib numbers and no race times. Those are sometimes important ways to help me focus on discovering something to which I would not have been exposed otherwise or realizing a relationship that I had seen a long time ago but just happened to be reminded of. I will continue to use my race times and bib numbers as a reason to study Bible verses and explore relationships.

However, as I said, this time I needed no prompting. I'll mention the three readings in the order in which the priest spoke about them in the homily: Rom 9:1-5, 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a, and Mt 14:22-33. The priest's interpretation at the 8 AM mass that I attended was not necessarily a particularly inspired interpretation and could have been predicted from reading the synopsis in the bulletin, but it never hurts to think about what is being said and how it relates to me.

The reading from the letter to the Roman's was a reminder to the Israelites of how much God cared for them and all the gifts God had given to them. I look at the gifts that God has given to me and am reminded to thank God every day. In fact, I should thank him more than once a day for all the gifts I have for God has given me an abundance. One of those gifts is my running.

The reading from the first book of Kings was the reading in which Elijah recognized that the Lord was not in the earthquake or the fire but in a tiny whispering sound. In other words, God is found in the ordinary things and doesn't always require a big event to be part of. God is always there. God will be there when I run the marathon. But God is also there with me on every stride of every run that I do. God, in fact, is with me for me to welcome into my life at every moment of every day. Remembering just how much God not only gives me but is there for me is critical.

The final reading from Matthew is the story of Peter being invited to walk on the water to get to Jesus. Interestingly, in his homily, the priest mentioned the reservoir by which I'll be running this Saturday on a long run. A long run which would be a big deal for a first time marathon runner, but which has become part of the ordinary for me as a second timer. Most importantly, the reading with Peter was about a person believing (even if just for a moment) that they could do something that God has asked them to do and just going for it. Has God asked me to run marathons? Perhaps not directly, but when I think of all the spiritual good that has come from my running, I do like to think that there is a connection between my running and my belief and that what I do is a meaningful part of my relationship with God. Jesus offered Peter his hand when Peter did not believe that he could do what Jesus had asked him to do and grew fearful. Whenever I think that something may be beyond my grasp, I must remember that God is there as a guide--and again, not only on the day of the marathon, but in every stride I take in every workout and in every step I take in life in general.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Enlightening Back on My Feet Moment

One of the resident runners from Christopher’s place made my day this morning. How? He simply said “thank you”. After a three mile run during which he commented on the hills, and commented on not catching red lights (so he could rest), and commented on how just to look at directions we should stop a moment (to rest), he did manage to run the entire distance without stopping. I ran with him the whole way. It was a heartfelt thank you. It reminded me of the many times I’ve thanked others for helping me with my running.

It was a sign of a bond that continues to develop between me and the resident runners. A sign of the truth that I find in so many situations in life—to be cliché, the more you put in the more you get back.

It also reminded me of a Bible verse. This time, it does not come from any bib number of mine. This time, I could (in a stretch) add together two of my two mile time trials to get 25:40. What is 25:40? Well, if we look to Matthew 25:40, we find:

“And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

The resident member from Christopher’s place is not the least of anything. Although if I did not know him from Back on My Feet and saw someone like him on a street corner before he started on the road to recovery, I might have thought of him as the least of my brothers. I still have that built in bias—but I’m learning to shed it.

When all was said and done, he was tired, I helped, he appreciated it and that was that. He showed an attitude of gratitude to me like I have shown a similar attitude to so many others before—brothers and sisters. I hope that others felt as blessed when they helped me as I felt blessed to help Chris.

And, I’ll add one final afterthought. I’ve written before that when all is said and done I think that all social capital is about bonding rather than bridging. Bonding between people regardless of how far the outside world suggests the gap between them might be. It had not occurred to me before that there is an obvious link from scripture to this notion. As Jesus told us that when we do something for the least of our brothers we do it for him,,that, to me, emphasizes that we are all equal. There are no levels. What we have is a need for a mutual sense of reciprocity and we should do for all others exactly what we would hope they would do for us. From helping through a run to saying thank you to any other action small or large.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Get-to's rather than have-to's

Today, I was at Metta Wellness for a post-20in24 massage. This is my third time there and every moment has been worth it. Next month, Sherry gets to go. I hope she enjoys the result of her massage as much as I have felt better after mine.

While I was in the waiting area, I picked up a yoga magazine and there was a lot about gratitude in the first few pages. One person wrote about how much more gratitude she felt and how much better she felt if she thought of her "have-to's" as "get-to's".

I had a moment like that earlier this week. Rarely do I feel that a running workout is a "have to". I enjoy them too much to think of them that way. However, yesterday's hill workout in the heat could have been described as a have to (I still enjoyed it) and even Monday's one mile could have been thought of as a "have to" when I left home. I had run 25.28 miles in three 8.46 mile loops around Fairmount Park in Philadelphia from Saturday mid-morning to Sunday's pre-dawn hours. Drove home Sunday and should have rested more than I did, but really wanted to get back to my Back on My Feet team at Christopher's Place. I sort of felt an obligation after missing three weeks, and I wanted to share stories about the weekend.

When we started, I chose to do one mile. Rarely do I choose to do the minimum. However, my legs were still a bit stiff from the weekend. So, I ran the uphill part of the mile and then went down Cathedral St with a small group. When we were still going down Cathedral, I saw someone leave one of the resident runners and take off with one of the longer-running groups. The resident runner kept going because he wanted to run a mile without stopping. Since I feel that no one in Back on My Feet should ever run alone, even with my stiff legs, I made it a point to catch up to Kani. When all was said and done, he thanked me for coming to run with him and was so happy that he had run the whole thing without stopping.

My "have to" (of meeting up with my team) really had become a "get to" (how often does our running truly help and inspire someone else?). It's too bad every day isn't as easy to see that way. In fact, just about about every day is. Just not as easy to see.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another Freedom

Today, for the first time in a while, I felt the joy of just playing music at church. It feel so freeing it was amazing.

What do I mean by this? Well, in the five (?) years that the worship band at my church has been playing, I was the regular bass payer for all but the last year and a half. I was overwhelmed in a number of ways just before I got my final promotion early in 2010, and decided to cut back on activities for a while. Being the regular bass player was one of the things I cut back on.

For a while, I didn't do anything with the group--other than make sure that my son, the keyboard player, showed up. Then, slowly, I realized how much I missed playing music.

I tried joining an adult pick-up band at the music store where my son takes piano. That worked for a few months and then I realized I couldn't make a commitment to do that every week.

I have occasionally played bluegrass with a few other faculty. That is fun when we do it, but it does not occur often enough to really satisfy my music interests.

Then, I got asked to play as the substitute bass player on occasion. And, I run the sound board on occasion. For a while, it was enough to satisfy my desire to play. But it wasn't often enough to get me to be very comfortable with playing again.

Recently, I have substituted frequently. Today, I had a great time. I felt like I have not felt in more than a year of playing. I felt at ease. I felt like I knew what I was doing (at least as well as I ever did). I didn't have to look at the music all the time. I just knew what to do.

I have not been asked to sing so much since coming back as a substitute, so I have been able to focus on just playing the bass, and that also helps me to feel better about playing bass. However, the other thing that I did today was to sing--without a microphone. It was okay. It didn't matter whether any of the other members of the worship band or anyone else in the congregation could hear me. My singing and playing worked together to give glory to God. And, when I am free to do that, in any aspect of my life, all the rest tends to work itself out.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Freedom while Running

Running with a watch on but not looking at it--that is freedom.
Running with a friend stride for stride and not caring who is leading--that is freedom
Running at a pace that just "feels right"--that is freedom
Just running for joy--that is freedom.
Yes, I looked at how fast we ran when we were done.
Yes, I am definitely still in training mode.
Yes, I care about how I run and whether I will hit a very specific time in October.
But, sometimes it is nice to to run without a care or fear and to celebrate the gift of life that God has given me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bib numbers and Bible verses for a friend

OK. My interpretation of my bib number though God's word began last year when my number for the marathon came up as 1313 and I was looking for something other than a double unlucky interpretation.

Since then, I have posted interpretations of several bib numbers and even a 2-mile time based on God's word. It is mostly an exercise in reading the Bible with a purpose and thinking of applying the Bible to my day-to-day life--which is how we should be able to apply it anyway. This just makes it a bit more fyn.

Tonight, a friend asked how to interpret her bib number: 2162. A friend already posted on my Facebook page one interpretation. A good one at that--2 John 1:6,2.

However, I'll offer something a little different. If my knowledge of Baltimore's running culture serves me well, my friend is running the Baltimore Women's Classic. So, I will offer an interpretation that reflects on the power of women of faith.

I don't know my friend's denomination. I'll quote from the King James Version that you can find online. My wanderings through the Word and pondering of the Word led me to quote from Genesis starting at 21:6 and reading for 2 verses.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

This celebrates life. This celebrates bringing life into the world. This celebrates doing amazing things as we age. This celebrates the amazing things that we can do when we place our faith in God. This celebrates how our lives can have an amazing impact on others as we live our lives in faith. This celebrates celebrating with others.

Many of these themes would be just right for any race or even any training. Starting with the last item--celebrating a celebrating with others. Every team practice does this. We all enjoy being together and we all gain strength from each other.

Second, amazing things that we can do as we place our faith in God despite our aging bodies. This illustrates the difference between aging and growing old. It illustrates how we can do things we never thought when we place our faith in God. And just finishing a race is an amazing thing.

Third, our lives having impact on others. When we run we relate to and challenge others in all sorts of ways. I am blessed to challenge others by setting a pace. Every teammate can challenge another to do his or her best. To be all that he or she is meant to be. To show a happy face. To cheer teammates on.

Fourth, the celebration of life. Running is live giving. Running is life enhancing. Running makes those who do it feel SO alive!

Finally, and an incredible tie in for the Baltimore Women's Classic, this celebrates bringing life into the world. What an appropriate verse for a race that celebrates women's health and women's accomplishments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Inspiration

So, I now have a series of entries about bib numbers and Bible verses. Tonight we had our first time trial in preparation for the rest of the marathon training season. I ran a 12:31. Just one second of the time I had suggested to a fellow runner as we stood at the start. It was another four seconds faster than the last one I ran. There was no one right on my tail. And I occasionally had to yell track or run around a person. Hopefully next time I'll break 12:30.

With the blessing of my fastest time yet (on a hot and humid evening), I decided to look for more inspiration in a Bible verse or two. Tonight, I turned to Romans 12: 3 and 1. Here are the two verses:

12:3 For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.

12:1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Why did these two strike me as interesting for this evening.

First, 12:3--it is a reminder that I ran the fastest time tonight but that that doesn't make me any better than anyone else in any other way. I am just another person trying to do my best. All my fellow runners in the Charm City Run training group are trying to do their best. What each of us can achieve varies with our natural talent, years of training, motivation, and so many other things. All my faster time shows is that I'm faster. That is an important thing to remember.

Second, 12:1--I am not urging my bothers. I am being urged by Paul. My body is a living sacrifice. Hopefully pleasing to God. Being used in a way that God approves of and that God appreciates. That God sees as a way to inspire others. To get others to take themselves, their capacities, their abilities, and their faith seriously so that they can move ahead. I've never really thought of myself as inspiring others, but when you happen to be the first one around, you suddenly become the person to whom others look as a benchmark and as someone to try to catch. I simply hope that others see what I do and see their opportunity to do the same.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More Bible Verses and Bib Numbers

So, today I ran my second race of the weekend. I call this weekend the "Split Half Marathon"--the 10 miler yesterday and a 5K (or an additional 3.1 miles) today. Today's run was 21:22--making the combination of runs (1:13:09 plus 21:22) 1:34:31. I wish I could run that in an actual race. Perhaps someday.

In any case, the past two days emphasize the lesson discussed in my last Bib Number and Bible Verses Entry: physical isn't everything and following Jesus's teachings is important. Today, my race number was 201. For this, I turn to John 20:1, "On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb."

Why is this relevant, particularly after the run rather than before? Well, Mary was taking care of details and was extremely surprised and wondered at what she had found. Running is very much about taking care of details. Taking care of making sure that everything gets done. Taking care of careful exercises. Taking care of stretching. Taking care of cross training. Taking care of all the details to make sure I run a healthy race. And, I do sometimes get surprised and wonder at the results I get. Life is full of wonder.

The wonder of this weekend came from the just running and feeling God's presence. God's presence with me as I was on the courses. God's presence in my efforts to set an example. God's presence in my efforts to share with others. Running is still a goal driven activity for me. But running is also a joyful activity. And I hope to continue to be able to describe it that way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Again and again

I have talked about consistency before. Once I find something that works I tend to stick with it. This applies all throughout my life. I occasionally will make a decision about mixing things up a little that surprises friends and family but it does not happen all that often. And, more often than not, even if give consideration to a big change, I tend to stick with what I know when all is said and done.

Consistency in running is about benefitting from doing the same thing over and over again to get a feel for what it means. For many training for a marathon mile repeats are either the most hated or most loved workout. This can even change from day to day for a given runner. THey are a tough track workout. But they give a person a feel for running a consistency pace.

Yesterday, I did my best mile repeat workout ever. Five 1 mile runs, alone, on the Towson high track. When rounded to the nearest second and taking the times to go around four laps (sometimes avoiding other runners) the times were


That is what I call consistency. It brought me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and the feeling that I can do what I set my mind to and keep doing it. Tee later ones felt a little harder, but they all added up. I hope to continue to achieve consistency and use it to build mental toughness. Sometimes just knowing that you have proven your ability to do something repeatedly is more than half the battle to actually doing it--again, and again, and again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bib numbers and Bible verses

Everything in life is linked to a lesson from God--even the bib numbers I get in the races I run. The main example I have of that is 1313 from last year's Baltimore marathon. For races that I have run since then, I have not necessarily gone to the Bible to look for some inspiration. However, today I received my race number for the Baltimore 10 Miler this Saturday--1486. This one was actually a bit of a challenge to interpret as a Bible verse. There are a number of books that don't have 14 chapters. There are very few that have 148 chapters--just Psalms. I could actually have taken Psalms 148 and 6--happy and a powerful lamentation. I could have taken Psalm 148 and then Chapter 6 from the Gospel of St. Luke--that includes the Beatitudes and some other stuff that I could relate to. However, I ended up with an interesting interpretation:

1 Tim 4: 8 and 6

OK. So the two verses are backwards, but I don't see that as a big problem. What do these two verses say in the New American Bible, Revised Edition (leave it to those witty American Bishops to think of something like Love your NABRE...):

8: for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future.

6: If you will give these instructions to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching you have followed

So, what lessons do I take from these. Verse 8 seems particularly appropriate to take with me in preparation for a race--I actually think that physical training helps me to focus my spiritual training and devotion, but I'll be the first to admit that it doesn't matter how fast I run if I don't use my running as a gift from God to share with others. I've talked about that before, but it is a pretty cool thing to find as related to my bib number.

What do I take from verse 6? Well, I don't necessarily plan to evangelize my fellow runners (although I do share my view on running, sharing, and service with anyone who will read my blog) but it is a reminder that I have to read the words, have faith, and then follow the teaching. Actions speak way louder than words.

So, to have two key messages--focus on devotion and let my actions speak for themselves--provide me with a great guide to take into my final training for a race in which I will celebrate several running friendships and running with Back on My Feet.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A sense of overall well-being

Two weekends in a row, I've run two ten mile runs. Both weekends I ran with someone (or someones) else on Saturday and alone on Sunday. The Saturday runs were at 7:54 and 8:02. The Sunday runs were in 7:56 and 7:52. All the runs were important. This weekend's runs brought me more of a sense of overall well-being than last weekend's.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy or gain from the runs last week. Running with a friend on Saturday and to see how I could do in ten by myself on Sunday was great. This weekend was even better as I previewed the race course for next weekend on Saturday with two friends (each of whom will play an important role in my summer training) and then ran another hilly north Baltimore course on Sunday. The latter was most excellent as I felt comfortable and ran it in the fastest pace of the four runs.

What does that get me besides a fast time? Well, first it gets me some of the mental readiness that I need. Part of the mental readiness is dealing with hills, and I feel one step closer to being ready for that after taking all the hills pretty strongly this morning--and following through after each one. Second, it lets me know that I can run a pretty good pace with my adjusted stride. Still working on perfecting the new stride but I am getting there. Third, it gives me the hope that I can do pretty well without making any small injuries and worse--that goes along with the new stride, too. Fourth, and finally, I have gotten better at determining what I need to eat after a run to get myself back to normal.

It is all good. I look forward to continuing to use my running to bring myself to a sense of overall well-being. I hope that others who exercise can also find that point at which this is what they feel.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bringing Pieces of My Life Together

This morning, for the first time, I connected last year's marathon training (my friend Joselyn who ran a sub 3:30 last year and who had not trained with the Charm City Run group in the winter) with this year's winter/spring training (my friend Erik with whom I've now run twice between training seasons), with my love for baking (I made homemade bagels before going to Druid Hill Park to meet up with Joselyn and Erik) all in one. That was pretty cool.

My two running friends helped to tie together all my training over the past 12 months. My goal for the next four months is to be able to keep up with Joselyn (and bring along a couple other runners along the way). I would not say that Erik's goal is to keep up with me, but I think he has the potential and just has to get used to (a) pushing himself a little harder and (b) the heat and humidity. Joselyn and I made a pact on how to help each other improve this year. Our last pact was right after the marathon last year to both aim for 3:20 this year. I think she has it in her; it is still a bit of a longshot for me but I have my eye on it. Our new pact--she will push me on hills and I will push her on the track. Each of us has something mental that we have to overcome to improve on a part of our running. In the meantime, I just try to encourage Erik and be there to push him as much as he wants to be pushed. I get some and I give some. It all comes around.

The baking is something that is just a part of what I do. I simply hope to find time to bake before more Saturday runs, so that I can share bagels, salty soft pretzels, or other stuff with my fellow runners on other Saturday mornings.

It is a great way to be able to pull together parts of my life. Hope to continue doing that for a long time to come.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Semper Fi--Always Faithful and the Importance of Team

I have never had a vision of serving in the military. Although, I must say that When I was a youngster, I liked the army commercial, "We do more than 8 AM than most people do all day." I thought that would be a cool way to lead my life. Now, I borrow a different military motto--Semper Fi--always faithful. I could also borrow and adapt "Never leave a fallen soldier/comrade behind" and turn it into "Never leave someone from your running team behind." How do these military expressions fit into my daily running experience?

Today, I happened to be with a lead group of five in the larger group with which I run on many mornings. At one point, two went ahead leaving three of us, and one was a bit fatigued from a workout less than 12 hours earlier. I said we (i.e., the one other on-fatigued person left and I) could run with her. She encouraged us to go ahead. I told her that I really didn't like to leave any runners behind. Me and the other guy didn't get very far ahead and we all ended up running the last mile and some together after all. My fellow runner thanked me on Facebook later in the morning.

I hope that my fellow runners would have done the same for me if I were hurting or fatigued. It is not that I feel unsafe on the streets of Baltimore City for an early morning run. It is simply that I am keenly aware of why I run with a group many mornings rather than running on my own. It is to be part of a group, and , more than than, part of a "team".

When I first joined with Back on My Feet, the local program director at the orientation told everyone that the morning runs are not about "coming back first". She told everyone that each runner--either the men in transition from homelessness or the community runner volunteers has a reason for being out there--as part of the team in general and on any given day. She pointed out that everyone there--from whatever background and with whatever brings them there--is part of a team. That emphasis from day one has stuck with me. And being part of a team means doing things for each other that sometimes put the needs of others ahead of your own. Particularly on a day that is somewhere between races when we are all just out there for a good time and a good run. My own need (sometimes to run fast) can be set aside to run with someone instead.

The other group I run with is not described as "team" in the same way on day one. It is a training group. However, after a while, my affinity for certain runners has certainly led to a feeling of "team" with some of the runners in the training group. However, I've said it before and I will probably say it again--there is a big difference between a training group and a team. For my team, I say "always faithful" and "never leave a fellow runner behind" unless they want to be left behind. For a training group, until that feeling of team fully evolves, it was much more about helping myself.

To a certain degree it is all a matter of what is initially presented to participants and what evolves over time. Certainly, I credit Charm City Run with developing a team spirit over time. But it just is not emphasized at first in the same way. This morning, I witnessed in my own behavior, the importance of the initial and continuing emphasis on team.

Recent thoughts on running

The other day I wrote about return on investment in mentoring. I am making an investment in many people. Especially my sons. Sunday just passed, my 11 year old and I ran a 5K to benefit the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training. This was his sixth 5K. A lot of people were asking him if it was his first. He did well. I thought it was pretty cool that he ran part of the Baltimore Running Festival Marathon course. I hope that someday while I can still run that distance he will choose to run that distance with me. It would be a great accomplishment to have a father and son (and perhaps two sons as I also hope that Daniel will join me some day) run the marathon.

Then, on Monday, I ran 7 miles by myself (nothing unusual there) when it was already pretty warm at 6:30 AM. I was drenched in sweat when I was done, but described it as exhilarating--having run it at an average pace of 8:16. I have rarely described running in very high temperatures as exhilarating and have since gotten a haircut so that I will sweat less. However, when all is said and done, I think that it is, in part, due to my overall comfort with running at this point. Having been back into this for over 5 years with three half marathon races, one marathon, and a variety of other raes under my belt, I find the joy that I feel (and the pleasure I feel God takes in my running) to be truly exhilarating. It is a wonderful feeling that I would not trade for anything. Yes, the heat is exhausting in some cases. Yes, I feel incredibly sweaty. But it is awesome!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Return on Investment in Mentoring

My most recent Haiku was composed while attending the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health convocation yesterday, May 25. I needed something to do while hundreds of names were read, and it allowed me to keep my mind active.

I go to convocation most years. I like to support the students who are graduating in general. Most years there are students I have worked with either directly or indirectly. This year, I had approved five capstone projects for MPH students and sat on several dissertation final defense committees. After the ceremony, I had the chance to get a picture with two of the students who graduated this year (one MPH I advised and one PhD I worked with over time). That was a lot of fun.

The convocation came after having had breakfast with a former student for the second straight day. There was a conference in town that both were attending. They thanked me for making time for them. I should really be thanking them for making time for me in their busy schedules. They are just as successful professionals as I am these days and their willingness to share stories of their success in life and in work is a real honor for me.

That points to the value I have placed on my students and the value they have placed on me over time. That, in turn, leads directly to the other reason that I was at the convocation. I was honored with two teaching awards. Students tell me it is the first time one faculty member has been selected for two Golden Apple categories in one year. That is an amazing honor. In two days, I was recognized twice. The president of the student assembly read two different pieces of testimonial for me. What the students wrote about me was truly amazing.

I try very hard to make a positive impression on students. Although after years of concentrating on trying, I now just pretty much do what I think is best for students and let my actions speak much louder than words ever could. I use this expression all the time, but it is so true--it is all about paying forward what so many teacher/mentor figures did for me over time. The words that were read that someone had written about me almost brought tears of joy to my eyes to know that I had made such an impression on a student. Today, I had the opportunity to read over several of the testimonials. I was full of awe.

Some of my mentors in life I have thanked directly. Others, I have only been able to pay forward and will never be able to tell them. I would simply hope (and truly do believe) that if any of my mentors could read what my students had said about me, they would find their time invested in me to have yielded a very favorable return. I also truly believe, that every moment I invest with students, will yield a return on my investment some day when each of them has a chance to mentor others in their career.

Running Carefully--A Haiku

Deliberate strides
Run one after another--
IT band behaves!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Perfect (Almost) Run

This was a wonderful morning for a run. The temp was not "cool" but it wasn't too warm either. Low humidity. I didn't get out until 6:30 so the sun was up but it wasn't a scorching sun. And, I had it in my head to run 12.3.

Well, I did, and I kept my average pace under 8, although that my pace was all over the place.

I actually didn't look at my watch all that often. Perhaps after last week, the key is that as long as I can have a feel for a sub-8 pace, I should try not to look at my watch so often.

It just felt so right.

But, I am starting to feel aches and pains of heavier training. And it is only the start of the marathon training season.

So, what did I learn last year that can help me now?

(1) Stretch more. It takes a while, but I have to be meticulous about it.
(2) Strengthen more. It has been a long while since I have been at the gym. I really need to get back to abduction/adduction stretching.
(3) Take it easier on long runs for a while--have to remind myself the long runs are for the miles and not so much for the speed, yet.
(4) Cross train. There are so many ways to cross train, but I have not taken them for a while. I definitely have to do either exercise biking, rowing, or elliptical at least once a week.

With the right combination of smart training, I'll be fine. I just have to be pro-active about the entire thing. Then, I'll be able to feel as wonderful as I felt this morning for most of the marathon when the time comes.

I should add that today was a great run that didn't require me to go to the NCR trail, the area near Charm City Run, or Loch Raven Reservoir. All those places are great and running with others is great. But today it was just me (with God at my side) running a course I know inside and out in the city and the part fo the county closes to home and just feeling good.