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.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

One smile from a fellow runner at a time

When you put a PR race result on Facebook, many people reply or click like. After I posted my time from Sunday, many (some, but not all, being fellow runners) offered congratulations. One runner in particular, was someone who trained in the same group I did last year but finished a solid nearly 12 minutes faster than I did. We both ran for the American Cancer Society. We joked, at the end of training, that we should both be ready to run a 3:20 this year. For her, that is a mere 7+ minutes improvement. For me, that would be 19+ minutes. Could I? Maybe. She’s still encouraging me.

More importantly, with encouragement from her and a few others to at least go for 3:30 and possibly go for 3:20 this year, I am quite happy going into summer training in a few weeks.

I shared the following comment back after she encouraged me to still shoot for a 3:20—“At this point, I'm just trying to take it one day, one run, and one smile from a fellow runner at a time.” Many may be puzzled by the last part of that. Everyone knows that runners share miles. Particularly marathon runners. Many people don’t run 26.2 miles in a week (or a month). We run that in one day with weeks of running 30+ miles to get there. So, it is obvious that runners share miles. But runners also share smiles. If we didn’t, we would probably give up on running. What can a smile from a fellow runner mean?

A smile when you come back from a workout dripping with sweat and your fellow runner is already cooled down with his third contained or water can mean—you look like you need a pick-me-up. I’ve been there. It’ll be okay.

A smile when you walk up to a group stretching to prepare for a long run can mean—isn’t this morning a great day for a run?

A smile when you are out on the road together can mean—thank you.

A smile when you are out on the road together can also mean—this is just the right pace. Or, would you like to pick up it?

A smile when you are hurt can mean—I’m here to listen if you want to talk about how disappointing it is to be injured.

A smile when you cross the finish line can mean—you’ve done well.

A smile can mean so many things. The smiles shared by those who have trained hard and who respect each other’s training and each other’s running and each other’s amazing will power to go 3.1, 6.2, 10, 13.1, 20, or 26.2 (or any other distance for that matter) are just signs of being part of a group where there is something that only people in that group have fully experienced and where non-verbal communication can go a long way to making everyone in the group happy and new people in the group feel welcome to come into a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Few Thoughts on a Week with Time Off

After running the half marathon on Sunday, I came out for a workout on Monday morning. It was a nice morning for a workout. And I really wanted to hear how my fellow runners in Back on My Feet Baltimore--Christopher's Place had done on their runs over the weekend. Everyone had done great on Sunday and there was much joy to be shared among the members of the group. Just about everyone went for a three mile run. I was fine for a bit over two miles; then we had to run uphill. For anyone who has ever been to Baltimore and driven on Charles St from the Inner Harbor area to Mount Vernon, you know how much of a hill this becomes. My muscles finally said, "There is a reason we wanted to rest on the massage table as soon as you were done yesterday." So, I slowed down and completed the run at a slightly easier pace and promised myself no more running until Friday. It is only Wednesday and my legs are wanting to move, but I am going to hold to my idea to wait until Friday. I feel God's pleasure when I run, but I also believe that God wants me to become the best person I can become and finds pleasure in that. For that to happen, I need to balance rest and running.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Thoughts on My Best Half Marathon to Date

Yesterday, it was grey and somewhat misty/foggy on my drive from northern Baltimore City to the Maple Lawn Community in Southern Howard County where I ran the Maryland Half Marathon. I had raised over $1500 for the Maryland Cancer Center. I had done all the preparation by the book (except for an occasional run faster than called for on the track or at a long distance and an occasional run a bit slower than called for when it came to longer tempo runs). I had enjoyed working with the Charm City Run coach. I had enjoyed the company of many other runners—while stretching, while preparing for long runs on Saturdays, while jogging to and from the track on Tuesdays, and while being cheered on or cheering them on during the track runs. I had gotten more sleep in two nights than in any other two nights in a long time. I had tried to eat well but not overeat. Everything was good to go.

I started the race just a few rows in front of the 1:40 pace group. I had made a fundamental decision to go it on my own. There were about 10 minutes of pre-race activities; then the race began at around 8:07.

My first mile was run in just about 7:20. The Garmin beeped at 7:05 but the official mile marker came at 7:20. I hit the lap button again there just to get a clear time. I could not have asked for any better timing—although apparently I could have asked for a bit straighter running.

My second mile was a speedier 7:08. There were some good downhills that I tried to use but not take too fast. There was only a slight distance between where my Garmin beeped and where I passed the two-mile marker. It was there that I made a mistake that rattled me a bit as I went along. I tried to hit the lap button again but I hit the start/stop button instead. I knew I had run the first two miles in just about 14:30 (it was at 14:28 or so when I hit the stop button inadvertently and it was a few more strides to the mile 2 marker). I was trying not to look at my watch much and when I did at the end of mile 3, I realized it had stopped. So, I had no idea what I ran mile 3 in and, I then decided to wait until the end of mile 4 to restart it. So, for two miles, I really had no idea what time I ran. I can figure it out now thanks to the precision of the Garmin’s telling me when it started and stopped. It turns out that I ran those two miles in 15:01. I’m not sure if I would have kept up any better if I’d had the chance to stare at my time every second, but it did throw me for a bit of a loop. It was near the end of mile 4 that I left a couple of runners I’d been leapfrogging with behind for good.

Restarting my watch at the end of mile 4, I ran the mile that everyone talked about before the race as it had the steepest hill on the elevation chart in about a 7:30 pace. Not too shabby there. The next mile I ran at a 7:43 pace. Apparently keeping up the pace going up the hill, I didn’t recover right away. Getting my legs back a little, mile 7 came and went in 7:22ish. I was feeling stronger again at that point. Mile 8 came and went in 7:20—right on schedule. So, I was done my first 8 in under an hour even though I was worried about overall pacing at that point. I knew that I’d see my group coach somewhere in the next mile or two. I had one question in my mind at that point—what was my total time? Much to my surprise as I evaluate yesterday’s run, for at least a couple miles I was what my coach had called “the pacing machine” as mile 9 also was run in 7:20.

Mile 10, I really started feeling it. I had taken my Gu both before the race and between mile 8 and mile 9. I had taken water and/or Gatorade at each stop. In the end, I’m wondering if I should have slowed down a bit more to actually ingest more water each time. That might have helped me at the end. Who knows? In any case, I saw the coach as I was near the finish of mile 10. I started pointing at my watch. He couldn’t understand why I was doing that so I eventually yelled out “What’s the cull time”. I was running a 1:13 something. Not too far off track for my hoped for 1:36, and I could have had my 1:36:something if I had been able to keep it up at that point. John told me to keep it up. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. The doubt (that had sort of begun when my watch issue came up) began to creep in a little more. As I left my coach behind, I finished mile 10 in 7:26 (still not bad) and at a total of 1:14:07. It looks like I might want to consider adjusting my projected finish time for the Baltimore 10 Miler in mid-June (I listed 1:15).

As I passed my coach and he ran back to encourage others from the Charm City Run training group, I ran even with the last person I passed for the entire race. As I went up the hill closing out mile 10 and starting mile 11, I left her behind. For the entire rest of the race, one person passed me. He ended up being more than a minute ahead of me, and the nearest person behind me was a good 20 seconds or more back. I never would have guessed that in a race with 1600+ finishers, I’d be alone for most of the last 5K. I hope that doesn’t happen again.

Miles 11 through 13.1 were not pretty. Mile 11 was run in 7:33. I tried visualizing my teammate who had challenged me time and again for the second half of the training season. That didn’t help much. I remembered hearing a gospel song about making the journey with you on the way to the race. I knew God was there by my side, but that didn’t help my tired legs.

Mile 12 took 7:42. Mile 13 took 7:46. I didn’t even find it in me to sprint out the end and I forgot to hit my stop button when I crossed the finish line. As far as I can tell from the full output of my Garmin, I probably crossed the line in 1:38. My unofficial time posted on the website is 1:38:02. I only wonder about my time because the gun time and the chip time are the same and I did not start in the front. Will I quibble over 2 seconds? Of course not. Would I love to have gotten under 1:38? Of course. Still, with a PR by three and a half minutes on a much tougher course than my previous PR was and no miles at 8+, I can’t complain.

But I have learned a few lessons:

First, unless I am absolutely sure I am going to hit the right buttons on my watch, I should stay away from trying to use the lap button. Alternatively, I could get away from relying on my watch so much. One way or the other—letting myself get rattled was not a good thing. There are much more important things to get rattled about on the course.

Second, I have to learn to deal with being alone. It is funny because for years, I just loved running alone. However, I now really draw on the energy of running with others. Apparently when I am nearer the front (which I am lucky enough to be for right now and was 50th of 1600+ overall and 13th of 222 in the male 40-49 age group), I may be more alone than not in some races. I’m really going to have to figure out whether picturing a teammate running along with me, picturing my old high school coach encouraging me, or drawing on God’s pleasure with my running to make myself a better person is going to help. But I need something to help keep myself going when other runners are not there.

Third, drink more. I took something at each water stop. But taking something and getting more down are two different things. Next time, I will make it a point to slow down a couple seconds. If, by keeping better hydrated, I could have hit those last two miles in 7:30’s rather than 7:40+ that would have more than made up for the slow downs.

Fourth, I still need some humility at these distances. I have to discuss with my spring coach and the fall coach what time I should aim for in Baltimore this fall. I’m thinking 3:30 rather than 3:20. Even 3:20 would only have been enough to qualify me for Boston under the old rules and not the new ones, but that was what I hoped for at the end of last year. I think that 3:30 would be achievable. And, on the bright side, it would be nearly 10 minutes better in one year, and that would be a joy to achieve. Marathon running is not all about Boston qualifying times. Marathon running is about using running to better myself and give to others.

There will always be another race and for the time being, I am lucky enough to be at a point in my life where my family tolerates my running, it fits with the schedule, and my fitness is not on the decline. That bodes well for a few more good half marathons and full marathons.

A little better record keeping may also help me find some patterns to the days of better runs that will help me to improve even more—is it what I eat, how much I sleep, or something else?

And finally, I loved meeting and greeting my fellow runners. Sharing stories and sharing times. As I commented to one—once the race has begun, some are faster than others but we all have to get from the start to the finish on our own. Anyone who does is an inspiration to me. Just seeing the efforts it takes and so many people’s willingness to do it. As I commented to all my fellow Charm City Run trainees—remember the motto of the store—“live. give. run.”

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Very Short Thought on "Precision" Running

I never had a good sense of pace when I ran in high school. It is one of the reasons that my best mile ever was in the qualifying heat for the 1987 county finals rather than the finals!

So, Thursday morning, I had a great run as my last “hard” run before the half marathon on Sunday. It was a slow half-mile at the start and the conclusion with three “tempo miles” in between. I ran all three tempo miles under 7:20 with the first at 7:18 and all three feeling wonderfully strong. I think I may have finally reached a point at which I don’t have to look at the watch as much each mile but I can feel that I am running about what I planned to run.

Now, the key is to take all the preparation and all the effort and make sure that I run the pace I plan to run or all 13.1 miles on Sunday.

There’s a lot to do this weekend. This is just one component. I hope to enjoy the entire weekend and all the events and put them all in perspective as I enjoy my own running, my family’s activities, and experience at church.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Makes Running Great

My past four runs illustrate so well why running is so enjoyable.

On Saturday, a guy named David showed up out of nowhere and I had the opportunity to run with someone who is a lot faster than me. Runs like that have always served to help me get better. I suppose at age 41 I may not not much "getting better" ahead of me but at least "staying as good as I'm going to get". God giving me just who I need just when I need them in my running development.

Sunday was a day off--no run--just rest and fun with family on Mother's Day.

Monday was a Back on My Feet morning. We did three easy miles and I took off a bit at the end. It was a nice way to blow off steam and a great way to share the process of the taper with the Back on My Feet resident and non-resident participants who are going to run in Delaware on Sunday. It was a great feeling of togetherness, particularly as the whole group stayed together most of the time.

Tuesday was a wonderful track workout. One last time, the coach, John, showed why he is such a good coach. Throughout the 12 or 13 weeks of training he has run with me some of the time. He went with the group with which I ran on all three of our runs around the track--one lap, two laps, and three laps. He helped me to be what he referred to as an "on pace machine". I have never been good at pacing in the past, but I think I may finally have a better handle on it. And the coach has helped amazingly. It was a great way to share a last track group run with friends I've made and gain from the coach's wisdom and experience. Another phrase he used is "doing it by the book".

Today was a day on which I could have run with Back on My Feet. They were tapering a little more quickly than I am. That is logical as they have prepared for a marathon and worked their bodies very hard while I have only prepared for a half marathon. So, today, I ran alone for five easy miles and the last two were very comfortable and at sub-race pace.

Running with one person. Running with a group. Running with a great coach. Running alone. Each has its own beauty and wonder.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Faith...My Running

I suspect that nearly every mortal runner has questioned his or her faith at some point in time. It might be questioning one's faith in general. Or it might be questions about the relationship between one's running and one's faith.

I know that some don't believe in God. Some believe in God but believe that God is rather hands off in the world today. Others believe that God takes an active role and answers prayers. I am in the last category.

Those prayers are sometimes big--help a person get back his faith; bring a person back to her health; etc. Sometimes they are mundane. Some may say that prayers about running are mundane. Certainly, if I were to pray, "God, please grant me a winning time," I'd consider that mundane. However, as I reflect back on my adaptation of Eric Liddell's comment that I blogged about on March 29, "God made me somewhat fast and very persistent.  And when I start and complete a long hard run and sincerely share the joy of the experience with others in word or in deed, I feel His pleasure." I don't consider prayers about running mundane. Instead, I consider my prayer, "God, please help me to be nearer to you and more in touch with needs of other and how I can act in a way to show your love to them" to be a powerful prayer. Still not, "Please cure someone close to death" but powerful in its own important way.

Why do I comment on this now? The latest Charm City Run half marathon training group is either one huge set of coincidences or an answer to a prayer. I have a friend with whom I may not always agree on matters of faith, but we do both agree that there are no coincidences. God brings us together with others for a reason. Sometimes a reason it seems only God really understands, but a reason nonetheless.

There are several things about the training group that is about to conclude that could be viewed as coincidences. But for those of us with a faith in a God who answers prayers, I see them as an answer to my prayers and a demonstration that God does take some pleasure in my "starting and completing a long hard run and sincerely sharing the joy of the experience with others in word or in deed."

The latest in the series of what others might interpret as coincidences came just two days ago. I was hoping for a good, last long slow distance run before the half marathon that is coming on Sunday. I got a good run--but it did not end up being slow. I ran 4 of 8 miles at sub 7:15. That was not what I'd intended for the workout, but it felt incredible.

How did all of this occur? A guy name David just showed up. I honestly thought that the group coach had invited him. But, he really did just show up and after a friend named Erik and I started the run together, David caught up and pushed on ahead. I went with him. I didn't realize at the time that he is likely to run 1:18 in the half marathon. That is probably about 18 minutes faster than I'll run.

But running with him just continued to give me a sense of confidence. It continued to be a nice way to get to know someone else. Running with someone who is so much faster than me just gave me that sense of wanting to continue running as long as I can and as fast as I can. And as long as I run, I can continue to help others. Of course, there are other ways to help people, but this is just a very cool way to do so.

David even asked why I run--particularly long distances. He talked about the good feeling. I share that. I also know that I look to prove things to myself in terms of what I can achieve. But most of all, it is because I really feel called to it. I hope to continue to feel called to it and continue to find a way to use it to improve my life and to help to reach out to others (whether it is just encouraging fellow runners or through shared runs with Back on My Feet) to make their lives better as well.