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.