Sunday, November 30, 2014

Five Things For December

Here we are, the last month of 2014 has arrived. But before I set out my goals for December, I want to celebrate a couple of goals I achieved this past month.

First, despite a big Thanksgiving weekend, I met my goal of losing seven pounds -- which means I'm down about 15 since the middle of September! That puts me in position to reach a pretty good one by the end of December (more on that later). The other goal I met was to average at least 15 miles per week. Despite having missed several runs over the last couple of weeks, my 7.5-miler today put me at 62 miles for the month.

I'm happy about reaching those two, but let's keep pressing on!

1) Break 30 minutes for the 5K. Still a goal! I was pretty busy and didn't get a chance to race in November, but I'm running in Schaumburg on Dec. 6 and the forecast shows the weather is going to be decent. If not, maybe I'll try again before the end of the year. I'm hoping to convince Matt to run with me on Saturday. I hope so, he could probably run around 17 minutes or something and could have a chance to be up front with the leaders.

2) Lose five pounds. I'm keeping it pretty realistic this month, not just because of Christmas but afterwards we are going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico between Christmas and New Years. Now, while I'm trying to eat better and do more of the right things, when I vacation, I vacation, and don't make any excuses for it! :--) Plus, if I lose five pounds I will get below 240 and will be down 25 pounds since the beginning of 2014.

3) Run in Mexico. This goal is just to keep me a bit motivated when I'm gone. And, I'd like to add Mexico to the places I've run. I'm sort of disappointed in the fact that I've been to Mexico and Italy, not to mention US destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but I never ran in those places. So while getting a new stamp in my passport, I want to add one to my running passport as well!

4) Run 80 miles. I'm happy with the 62 this month but left a lot of miles out there the last couple of weeks by not getting out and running. Time to ramp it up a little.

5) Stretch my long run to 8.5 miles. I ran 7.5 pretty easily today, and if it weren't for my trip at the end of this month I'd try to get to nine. Still, 8.5 will put me in a pretty good position for the start of 2015, and hopefully if I stretch out runs during the week (like to five miles or so) it will be pretty easy to get to 12-13 in training by the middle of the spring. It would be nice to get to 12 or 13 in time to get several of those in before race day.

Last month of 2014, let's go out on a roll!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Three Things Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm a big fan of Thanksgiving and the three F's: family, food and football! What can I say? I'm from the Midwest, this is what we do! Give me turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie (with Cool Whip) and I'm a happy guy.

In honor of this special day I'm going to post a couple of thoughts and tell a funny Thanksgiving story.

*I'm thankful for so many things (in no particular order): my wife and her boys, my kids, our home, my job(s), our cats, our good health, my family and their good health -- especially my mom who at 77 is still active and happy -- my brother and three sisters (RIP Joni), the ability to participate in sports, especially running, my good friends, most of all those who supported me when I was down, my faith and all the other things that I hold near and dear in my life. I am blessed and try to remember that every day, not just the fourth Thursday in November.

*Congrats to everyone who ran a race today! I've raced a few times on Thanksgiving and it's always a lot of fun. Plus, when you drop 700-800 calories before a big dinner that's even better! I used to run a 4-mile race in Batavia, which is a fun event that at the time had a few hundred people and went along a beautiful path along the Fox River. The race organizers changed the course because the number of runners got too big for the trail and now almost 2,000 people run the race!

I'm hoping to run a 5K in Schaumburg on Saturday. It all depends on Kevin's (and mine) basketball schedule. We are playing in a tournament in Kankakee, which is about 90 minutes away, and if we win on Friday night I'll have time to run, if we don't, we play too early on Saturday morning to make it. If I can't make that one, there is another run in Schaumburg next weekend, and I'm hoping to get into that one. We don't play until 4 p.m. next weekend so I can fit it in!

Heck, I may run both of them. I still have my goal of breaking 30 minutes by the end of the year, there's still time!

*I think everybody has a good Thanksgiving story. Here's mine. When I was in high school, my family traveled a lot, and all of our trips were done by car. I spent a lot of time riding (and later driving) all over the Southeast as we traveled with my dad on his work trips and rolled those into vacations. Usually we took my dad's company car -- he was given Buick LeSabres -- and others we went in a black 1975 Ford fan that had wall-to-wall shag carpet and these weird, leather-type walls. My dad had bought the van and installed a couple of chairs and windows, and bingo(!), we had a conversion van!

So in 1984 my parents decided to visit my uncle and his family in Alexandria, Louisiana. So my parents, my little brother (who was six at the time) and I piled into the party van and headed south. After running out of gas in Missouri and spending the night in Senatobia, Mississippi, we finally made it to Louisiana.

We were there for five days total and had a great time. We ate cajun food and played golf with my uncle, who was a retired major in the Air Force and had flown a refueling jet in the Korean War and an attack chopper in Vietnam. He later flew for Air America and at the time of our visit transported via helicopter people to and from the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. My Uncle Bill was an interesting guy.

On Wednesday we piled back into the van and headed for a couple of days in Houston. When we arrived there it was super cold and the hotel he had picked had a pool -- but it was outdoors. That was a problem, because my brother Tim was a pool fanatic at the time, every place we stayed had to have some type of pool. I'm serious, he was crazy about pools. One night we were staying at a hotel and my mom woke up in the middle of the night to see my brother standing at the window of the hotel staring at the pool!

(Disclaimer: Despite our nine-year age difference, my brother has long been one of my best friends, and currently lives in Atlanta with his wife, Jenn, and works as a golf professional at River Pines Golf Course. He also takes full ownership of his pool obsession.)

So on Thanksgiving, my dad and I got up and played nine holes of golf -- in 32-degree weather, it was like hitting rocks -- and then moved to another hotel with an indoor pool that was about an hour outside of Houston. So by the time we golfed, moved and my brother frolicked in the pool, it was late in the evening and we hadn't had Thanksgiving dinner! So we drove back into Houston and the restaurants we tried were out of Thanksgiving food. Eventually we settled on dinner at Denny's, since by then it was one of the few places left open. The only highlight of the Denny's is that it had a Pac Man machine that had a boost button that made Pac Man go super fast. Tim and I pumped a few quarters into that one.

It was certainly memorable and is a funny story, but in the end we were spending time together as a family and we had a lot of blessings in our life to be very thankful for. We took a lot of trips but that one was one that sits atop the list as one of my personal favorites.

Needless to say, in my family we are rarely bored! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bib of the Week -- Chicago Distance Classic, August 13, 2006

I have to say, 2006 was a pretty sweet spot in terms of my running career. From 2005-2007 I was running a lot and ran some good race times. It was also that time where I was heavily involved in the sport from the media side, as I was writing a weekly "Marathon Diary" during the lead-up to the Chicago Marathon for the Aurora Beacon-News.

That was a lot of fun, I did that for a couple of summers and it was a great opportunity to meet some really cool people in the running world, such as Alan Culpepper and Deena Kastor, not to mention former NFL great Roger Craig, who ran Chicago for charity one year and was one of my most interesting interviews ever. I was also contributing marathon content to Chicago Athlete magazine, so I was hitting the marathon experience on all fronts.

So in July, 2006 I came up with the idea to try and get an interview with John "The Penguin" Bingham, who at the time was the race director for the Chicago Distance Classic, which in 2009 became the Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon.

The Penguin's motto
With a little help from the marathon office, which was awesome back then, I was able to connect with The Penguin. Of course, he was a great guy and we had a fun conversation. His story  is one that has become more inspiring to me as time's gone on, and I'm at the point in my life where I relate a lot more to his writing. What's weird to think is that he got started in all of this when he was the same age as I am now. I love to write about running and I definitely love social media, so it would be a dream to even scratch the surface of what John Bingham has done.

At the end of the conversation he said, "So, are you running my race?" Being that this was about a week before the event I told him no because I hadn't been able to sign up in time.

"No problem!" he said, "Give me your fax number and I'll have someone from here send you an entry form!"

So I was in! I was really excited about it because it was a race that had been around a long time and was one of the bigger summer races in Chicago. With it being held about 8-10 weeks before the marathon it was a good place for everyone to see where they were in their training, and lots of big area names usually showed up.

The only bummer about the race is that it was (and still is) a 6:30 a.m. start! With a 45-60 minute drive in it's a little early for me! But at the same time, it's August, and it's Chicago so that's probably the smartest idea ever.

For the first time, the race was incorporating some of the marathon course, including the start and finish areas on Columbus Drive. It also ran on the Lakefront Path (which was no problem since it was late in the race and the event only had 7,400 entrants, compared with 20,000-plus now) and went through the museum campus before going under Lake Shore Drive to Columbus and the finish.

According to Weather Underground (love that site), the high on that day was 84F and the low was 69F, meaning it was in the low 70s when the race started. But with the dewpoint sitting at 66F, the humidity was high and it was pretty sticky.

At least the sun wasn't very high in the sky when the race got underway and we headed north on Columbus. I don't remember specifics of the course layout but I remember there being a hairpin turn at about four or five miles, which I thought was kind of odd in such a big race. I hit the 8K split at 44:38 and shortly thereafter we meandered over the famous Roosevelt Road bridge -- which on marathon day represents the final climb to the finish -- and out to the lakefront.

A nice breeze off the cool water of the lake would've been a nice respite at the time, but the wind was pretty still so that didn't happen! Still, I felt stronger as the race went on despite the heat and was feeling good as we closed in on the finish. Under Lake Shore Drive we went and when we stepped off the sidewalk onto the street, the finish was about 100 meters away. I put my head down and gave what I had left and crossed the line in 1:55:33, for a tidy pace of 8:50 per mile.

Thankfully the race was over because by then it was really starting to warm up. But even though I was done running, my day downtown wasn't quite finished. I put on my media had and had sessions with both Bingham and marathon executive director Carey Pinkowski, as well as Keith and Kevin Hanson, who are the founders of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project.

But the interview I was looking forward to the most was with elite runner Brian Sell, who spent his entire professional career running with the Hansons team and had won the CDC that morning in a time of 1:04:25. After qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Trials at the 2003 Chicago Marathon, Sell boldly took the lead at the Trials race in Birmingham, Alabama and ran by himself until the 22nd mile where he fell back and eventually faded to 13th.

His climb from there was steady, though, as he spent the next five years as a stalwart on the American road racing and marathon scene. By the time his career was over in 2009 -- he is now a biotechnology scientist in eastern Pennsylvania -- he had finished fourth at Boston, sixth at Chicago and 22nd in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and had dropped his PR from 2:19 in his 2003 debut to 2:10:47.

I've always loved B. Sell because he is a true grinder, his success came as the result of relentlessly pounding out 130 to 170-mile weeks for eight straight years. His coaches attributed that to a combination of laser-like focus, an extreme level of durability and an off-the-charts tolerance for pain.

He is an intense guy, and you could tell by talking to him how much he wanted to be great. While he never made it to that upper echelon of elite runners, he had one heck of a career. I got to talk to Brian two or three times after than, and enjoyed his insights.

Oh yeah, I forgot about the big honkin' medal too! That was a stalwart of Bingham races back in the day and paved the way for other races to bring out the bling. It's actually one of the cooler medals I have in my collection.

All and all I have to say that given everything that happened it was one of the cooler race day experiences I've ever had!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mighty Meb Keflezighi

I was really happy with the reception my post about Alex Zanardi got from you guys, so after seeing and hearing a couple of things over the weekend I thought I would put together a post about another guy I really admire, Meb Keflezighi.

Monday, Meb capped a memorable running season when he was honored with the USATF Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year award, which is given to the outstanding male and female US track and field athletes. Jenny Simpson won the women's Jackie Joyner-Kersee Athlete of the Year Award.

Photo:Getty Images
Meb certainly earned it, becoming at age 39 the oldest winner of the Boston Marathon since 1931 while also coming back and finishing fourth at the New York Marathon, a race he won in 2009 and where he has now recorded six top-six finishes. He also won the silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens -- becoming the first American man to medal in that event since Frank Shorter in 1976 --- and finished fourth in London in 2012, just months after winning the national championship at the Olympic Trials.

That in itself is enough to make Meb a winner and a legend in the running community, but his story of how he got there was just as dramatic. One of ten children in his family, Meb was born in the African nation of Eritrea in 1975. His father left the war-torn country ahead of the family to try and find a better place to live, and after a stop in Italy the family reunited together in San Diego in 1987.

Meb's talent for running flourished almost immediately after picking up the sport, and after a successful high school career he attended UCLA, where he was a combined 12-time All-American in both cross country and track, while earning a degree in communications. Since Meb earned his degree, his other nine siblings have all earned theirs while becoming doctors, lawyers and engineers. In fact, Meb's brother Merhawi is an attorney who acts as his brother's business manager.

Success came easy to Meb, but at the same time he has had his share of struggles. Injuries have plagued much of his career, causing him to miss considerable time while he recovered, and some have also put his career in jeopardy. He's had some very low points in his career, and probably sank as far as he could go during the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park in New York, where he suffered a pelvic fracture in the same race that his friend Ryan Shay collapsed and died during the race.

But Meb's greatest strength is his attitude and the fact that he is an absolute grinder, which is a word I use with total respect. He just refuses to quit, and refuses to give up, instead pushing forward to squeeze every last ounce of ability he has, which has paid off as he has three marathon wins and an Olympic experience to show for the last five years.

Meb's also a true racer who understands what he can and cannot do and he trusts his tactics and experience every time he toes the line. His break into the lead and solo run at Boston was a bit of an outlier, as more often than not he sets his own pace and moves up as other runners drop back. At the London Olympics he was in 17th place just after the halfway point and moved up to fourth by the finish.

At New York a couple of weeks ago, he ran a spectacular race all things considered. Despite the wind and iffy weather, his splits were amazing:

5K -- 16:01
10K -- 15:30
15K -- 15:55
20K -- 15:55
25K -- 16:09
30K -- 15:37
35K -- 15:27
40K -- 15:48

Given the conditions and elevation changes, it doesn't get much better than that. He always runs within himself and sticks to his plan, a lesson we can all learn from!

As a person, I appreciate Meb's competitive drive, his personal faith and his desire to give the most to others and to his community. He's constantly speaking and raising money for causes and getting out and supporting other runners. Over the weekend he was a constant presence at the Rock N Roll event in Las Vegas, and even jumped in and led the 1:45 pace group for the half-marathon.

I mean, how cool is that? It is really rare that an elite athlete would not only give as much of their time as he did last weekend, but to also jump in and lead a pace group? That's pretty much unheard of.

Meb's Twitter feed was chock full of great stuff over the weekend, but one tweet really stood out:

"At the end of the day it's all about having fun, run for a reason & get the best out of yourself."

Contrary to what many may think, lots of elite runners think this way, and they also appreciate us for what we do. Plus, if you live the lifestyle they do, it has to be fun, challenging and rewarding in order for them to succeed. As we know, training is a grind, and when your life is centered around that if you don't get enjoyment from it the grind will wear you down!

Meb truly gets it. His career hasn't been easy but I'm glad he has hung in there and persevered, and that we've had the opportunity to enjoy the work of a great champion.


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Week That Was -- 11/10 to 11/16

I don't think this will be a weekly thing for me, but I was pretty proud of the week I had last week so I thought I'd share!

A couple of things that I want to highlight are 1) that I got six runs in over the course of the seven days and 2) I've moved closer to a couple of my goals!

I started the week off with a 6-miler on Monday, which was actually supposed to be my Sunday run. I ended up putting it off because after our trip to New York and our busy day on Saturday (run in Central Park, fly home, attend a wedding, attend a charity event) I was just done on Sunday. No. Motivation. Whatsoever.

I was still in recovery mode on Monday so I didn't even wear my watch on the run, instead opting to go just by feel. I even tried a new route which was kind of interesting because a road I thought went all the way through instead stopped at each end at a railroad track! Fortunately a pretty good path had been worn between the two roads so I just crossed through and continued. Oh well.

Tuesday I had basketball practice so was just going from work to the gym. Our practice wasn't supposed to start until 7 so I had enough time to fit in a 3.5-miler. That one felt at a pretty good pace, I didn't feel like I was working all that hard and even though I didn't wear my watch I think I finished in the 35-36 minute range. I had a similar run on Thursday on the blue track at the rec center, putting in miles in the 10-minute range. That's a nice step up for me, I still hope to break 30 minutes for a 5K by the end of the year and if my training pace is dropping that's a good sign.

Speedwork was next on Friday. Instead of the 200 repeats I had done the previous two sessions I went 4x400 with a 400 jog recovery. Though it was quite chilly on Friday I ran to and from the rec center as my warmup and cooldown then got started. In my mind I was hoping to run them in the two minute range, so I was really happy to clock the first one in 1:59.14.

The next three got progressively more painful :--) but I was able to hold my pace over the next three, going 2:00.75, 1:59.16,. 2:00.95. It wasn't until later when I was putting the times in my log did I realize that the four repeats added up to eight minutes flat! Nice and consistent, that's what it's all about.

That workout did a number on me, as my legs were hurting on Friday night and my run Saturday was kind of sluggish. Sunday I bumped my long run to what I thought was 7 miles (I measured it later to be 7.5), and was still struggling at times. The second half of the run went a lot better than the first as I ended up finishing with a pace of 10:54, which really is fine with me because I was targeting an 11-minute pace.

Both Saturday and Sunday it was chilly outside, with the temperature hanging right around 32F. I bundled up on top but wore shorts both days because the wind was pretty much down and once I got going my legs felt pretty warm. We also got a bit of snow on Saturday night and while it didn't stick to the pavement it did cover the path in Hawk Hollow, which felt good under my feet. It seems like the softer snow helped because I ran a lot better as time went on.

So it was a great week! Six runs and 27 miles in the seven days was a nice step forward -- although officially for the week I was at 20 miles because my weeks go Sunday-Saturday. Still, I can't complain about anything, although I'm still feeling fatigued in my legs and might wait until Tuesday night to run next. What also makes it good is that it was a really busy week this week with four days of basketball, but I tried to make running a priority and get my runs in. I need to keep doing that.

And my goals? Well, my seven-pound goal will probably fall sometime this week as I was down six on the scale as of Sunday morning, and both weeks this month I've run once during my lunch break. I can't necessarily say it was while I was "at work", because they were both on my work from home days, but I think they still count!

This week will be a bit more of a challenge as we could play as many as five basketball games this week and we have practice tonight, but I think I'll be up to it. I'm also excited that my mom is coming to visit for a couple of days, maybe we'll go to the Blue Track of Dreams and she can walk a few laps while I get a run in! Speaking of, weather will be a little tough this week, but like I've always said, if you live in the Midwest and wait for "perfect" weather to run, you might be waiting a really, really long time!

Have an awesome week!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bib of the Week -- Bastille Day 5K, July 12, 2012

Today's bib actually holds a near and dear place in my heart, because it represents my "comeback race". From the time I ran a disastrous Chicago Marathon in 2008, an experience so bad I pretty much quit running, the only races I had over the next four years was a 5K with a friend in late 2008 and the Ragnar Relays in 2009-10, events I barely trained for and for the most part just showed up.

I'll admit that I was in a really bad place in my life over that span, and that contributed a lot to my lack of running. But I met Darcy in August, 2011 and by the early part of 2012 I felt like I was starting to turn the corner in a lot of ways.

Running the race was just something that came from a chance to do something with my friends Scott and Bernie. I owe a huge debt to Scott, as he helped me through some really dark times and one more than one occasion talked me off the ledge as I tried to navigate the demise of my marriage. By 2012 I wasn't seeing him a lot as he was in a new relationship with a great girl named Lori (in fact they got married about three weeks before this race) and had moved from the burbs and settled into Lori's place on the North Side of Chicago. Still, putting into words what he meant to me and continues to mean to me doesn't even come close to touching the impact he had on my life.

I had met Bernie a couple of years before when I did an article on him for Chicago Athlete magazine in 2009. Bernie had been the at-home winner of Season 5 of the show Biggest Loser, and while I was watching that season he was just a guy I felt he could connect with. He started the show weighing 283 pounds and at show's end he had shrunk to 153!

At Darcy's suggestion, I reached out to him in the spring of 2012 and we had started hanging out. In fact, Darcy and I would attend a Sunday morning bootcamp that he and another trainer, Erin, put on in a park in Chicago. It was a hard thing but a lot of fun.

Despite the fact he moved to California last year, I still consider Bernie a good friend, and appreciate all of the support he gives me. He is the kind of person that is always positive and upbeat, and he can motivate anyone. He's also been there before in terms of struggling with weight and understands that it isn't easy, so I'm thankful for his kind words. Bernie always talks about doing little things to add up to one big thing, which are words to live by in whatever we do.

I had been looking for a race to run and in the way past had run the Bastille Day race before, and wanted to do it again. One reason is because it is in Chicago along the Lakefront Path,which is a great place to run. One thing about the path at that time of the day is that with the setting sun the downtown skyline looks absolutely stunning. Then on the other side is Lake Michigan, which at that time of the day is dotted with boats of all kinds. July is really a sweet spot in the year when Chicago is at its best.

The race started in Lincoln Park and after about a mile went out on the path. Man it was hot and humid that night! I had hoped to run the entire distance without stopping, but I walked through a water stop to get some extra fluids and walked for about 10 seconds near the end. Still, I call the day a success. Here's a post-race photo...Bernie is in the gray, I'm in the center (as you can tell I was still working into some semblance of racing shape) and Scott is rocking the orange.

In true Kenyan fashion, both of them took the pace out fast in an attempt to break me, but I did make it through the first mile. Scott dropped Bernie with the finish line in sight and rolled across in 30:25, while Bernie was eight seconds back.

I came home in 33:40, which meant I accomplished my secondary goal of going under 11 minutes per mile.One nice thing about getting old is that you get a better perspective of things. In the past, I would have been pissed about my 33:40 but given where I was at then and the fact I tried my best, I can live with it. Fact is, I did it!

During the time I was dealing with my personal issues, I was told by my counselor that my standards for happiness were too high and that I expected too much out of myself. One thing I've really tried hard to do since then is look at things realistically and not be so hard on myself.

What I was doing then and I'm still doing is the best I can do right now. I've learned to accept the fact that I can get overwhelmed sometimes and that there are times were a few things need to sit in the background for a while so I can focus on other things. And as you get older, things just aren't as easy as they used to be. I think since I've run that race a lot of things have come into better focus for me, and I am just a happier person as a result.

I can for sure thank my wife for all of that. When we met I remember telling her I didn't like running very much and would probably never run another marathon because I thought that no matter what I did I would never be happy with the result. Truthfully, for the longest time I was never really happy with the result of anything, I always thought that I could've done something better.

Well, running the marathon and being VERY happy about doing it shows I've worked past that quite a bit. There is just too much joy in life and if you think about the wrong things all the time it passes you by quickly. For the longest time all I did was grind away with little thought for the future. Now I'm pretty excited about it because there is so much to look forward to.

I was also more than inspired (and continue to be inspired) by my son's running careers, the last couple of years that's been something that has really piqued my love of running even more. It's all just a different time for me, and for that I couldn't be more thankful.

So when I called this a "comeback race" I really mean it! That day was the start (or restart) of a lot of special things for me, not just in running, but in a lot of other things too.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My First Crack at Three Things Thursday

So I've started to see Three Things Thursday popping up in a lot of social media circles, so I thought I would give it a try. I think if I make this a (semi) regular thing on FTF I'll use it as an opportunity to talk a little about things outside of my running world so you can have the opportunity to learn more about me.

Here goes!

* My life got a lot busier earlier this week when Kevin's 8th-grade basketball season got started, and our first game is Saturday. I coached Matt for two years in middle school and this will be my fourth year of coaching Kevin's class. I actually run the B team but that's OK with me because it affords the chance to spend four days a week for the next three months with Kev. When I lived in Aurora I would often take him to school every day, and planned to a day or two a week this year, but now he enjoys riding the bus to school and would rather do that. No big, but I do miss him sometimes.

Kevin is just rounding back into shape after having surgery in August to have a rod inserted in his chest. He had what is called pectus excavatum, a condition where his sternum was sunken into his chest. For the longest time he didn't have a problem with it, but he grew six inches in the last year and it got worse. It was a tough few days for him after the surgery, but he is so happy with the results and feels much better about himself. He's also breathing a little better and the stomach problems he had before the surgery are gone, so we are thankful about that.

The first few practices were a struggle for him, but his conditioning is quickly improving and now he is running up with some of the stronger runners on the team. With his knew confidence I think he will have a great track season in the spring too.

I think he will do well in basketball too, and I have high hopes for our team. We don't win a lot since we spend most of the season playing A teams but our athletic director has us in a couple of B tournaments, and the thing I want most for these kids is a tournament trophy. They have worked hard and really deserve it.

Here's a picture of us taken in July on my wedding day. I'm pretty proud of both of my guys, they are really awesome kids.

*Matt and I meet every other Wednesday for dinner, just an opportunity for us to catch up and for me to give him the occasional motivational speech! Really they aren't necessary because he's doing a great job in school but I give them to him anyway.

His favorite place now is Mongolian BBQ, which is great because it's one of mine too. If you haven't been to one, it's a place where you pick your own ingredients (meat, veggies, etc) and put together a sauce and they cook it in front of you. The food is outstanding and I discovered (by accident) a great sauce that I use for my own stir fry: two parts teriyaki sauce, one part soy sauce, and a dash of both minced garlic and red pepper flakes. It's super spicy but really good!

I enjoy these little get-togethers, it's great to see how he has grown up and really taken to the challenge of college, not only in the classroom but his running, too. He told me yesterday that he had spent "several hours" writing a paper for class today, and that was after having to read a book for said paper, which he dusted off in two days. He sees his future, that's for sure! I'm glad that he didn't go very far away for school, it's nice to give him his space but at the same time be able to get together as often as we do.

*As a new foodie, I had a neat experience last Saturday night. Darcy is on the board for the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township, and they had their fundraiser over the weekend. It's a fun event and it raises a ton of money for the kids in the club.

The event has both a silent and live auction, and one of the live auction items was to have Chef Joe Arvin come to the winner's house and cook for the host and 12 people. If you are unfamiliar with Chef Joe, he appeared on Season 14 of the show Big Brother and has also been on other cooking shows, including Cutthroat Kitchen, which is on this Sunday night. This week he is also competing in the World Food Championships in Las Vegas.

You can check out his Madlove Cooking website or follow him on Twitter @JoeArvin.

Joe and his wife Sarah sat at our table and I discovered in talking to him that he is an extremely passionate guy who loves to create new dishes and dinners. He also assured me that yes, when he is creating something it takes several run throughs to get it right. I find that a frustrating thing sometimes so I'm glad it happens to everyone!

Before bidding began, Joe talked about how a boys club was such an integral part of his life growing up in Kentucky, and how he owes a large debt of gratitude to the people that kept encouraging him to chase his dreams.

Bidding opened at $2,000 (yes you read that right) and when all was said and done his dinner had sold for $4,500! As he went over to the table to congratulate and pose for pictures with the winners, I looked at the table next to us and one of the women looked incredibly disappointed, and I overheard her say, "I really wanted to win that."

So I nudged Darcy and told her an idea...have Joe go over to their table and see if he could swing something with them. He did and they settled on a price of $3, all told Joe helped raise $8,000 for the charity! I was so impressed with Joe and his giving spirit, mind you, he makes nothing for this and will put several hours of time in to come up with each six-course meal. It's just cool to see someone do something like that.

Darcy and I were shut out in both the silent and live auctions, but it was great to meet some new friends and get a few cooking tips!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Need A Little Inspriation Today?

 "Curiosity is all you need in life, and if you are curious enough you will find your passion. When you find your passion, it’s going to be so natural, and even the results you get, whether they are big or small, they are just a logical consequence of how much passion you put into your daily routine.

"You can take every day as a new opportunity to add something to your life. You just go for it whenever it’s possible…and if the opportunity is available, why shouldn’t you try? With this type of attitude is (how) I came back to a fantastic life, where all the things I’m doing these days is more or less related to my condition."

If so, I give you Alex Zanardi.

If I had to list my passions in life, my top five would be (in no certain order): my family, baseball, running, writing...

...and auto racing.

I have been a huge racing fan -- particularly of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 -- for more than 35 years. I have attended the 500 16 times and have followed the sport with lots of enthusiasm for a long, long time.

In that long time of "fandom", there have been few drivers like Zanardi. In the late 1990s he was one of the most dominant drivers in the world, winning 15 races and two championships between 1996-98. And when you see a driver do donuts after winning a race? Alex was the pioneer of the "victory burnout".

He was everything a race driver should be: fast, confident and fearless, with an unquenchable desire to win. I'd easily put him in the Top 10 among the most purely talented drivers I have ever seen.

He was also a good runner, reportedly taking about 35 minutes to complete a 10K training run.

All of that changed on September 15, 2001, while participating in a CART race in Germany. After spinning out his car came to a stop across the track, and he was t-boned by another driver who was unable to get around him. The impact severed both of his legs around his knees, and he eventually lost close to 75 percent of his blood in one of the more gruesome racing accidents in recent memory. If it weren't for incredibly heroic measures on the part of the medial and safety team that day, he would've certainly lost his life.

Many people would've had a difficult time carrying on with their lives after such a traumatic injury, but one thing that Zanardi possesses even more than his driving ability is his spirit. His nature of always being friendly to others and always searching for a positive outlook on life caused him to open another window when a door to his life was closed.

He began by assisting in the design of prosthetic legs that eventually helped him back into a race car several years later, and between 2005-09 he won four races as part of a BMW touring car series. He also still dreams of driving in the Indy 500, which was a race he never got to run.

But looking for yet another challenge, Zanardi took up handcycling in 2007, and after just a month of training finished fourth in his division at the New York Marathon. He now has four marathon wins, including one at New York in 2011.

Even with that success, Alex still reached higher, and in 2012 represented Italy at the Paralympics in London, where he won two gold medals and a silver, and just last month completed the Ironman Kona in a time of nine hours, 47 minutes, 14 seconds, using a handcycle in the bike stage and a wheelchair on the run.

Alex is an inspiration to all of us, as no matter what our situation happens to be, we could (and should) always dream bigger dreams. The most amazing thing about Zanardi is that if you go a Google search of his image, you will find him smiling in almost every single picture. He's always positive, is always moving forward and he never, ever quits. He celebrates life every single day.

I thought about writing about him after watching him on David Letterman last night, and I will post clips of his interview at the bottom. I also pulled a quote from the interview, which is the quote at the top of the page and one that I'm really going to meditate on for the next few days.

Alex Zanardi has found a joy in life that I can't help but to wish I could emulate. He's been an inspiration to me for a long time, and I hope he is now one to you as well.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Run in Central Park

I'm fortunate with my job that I have a massive amount of vacation time -- by massive I mean right now I'm sitting on about seven weeks' worth -- and having that much gives me the chance to travel with Darcy when she goes on trips. She's the Director of Communications for a company that makes restaurant equipment and goes to lots of trade shows.

It's been fun...last year we went to Italy and earlier this year Las Vegas, and Italy is on the calendar for next October, as is Dubai in February. I love to travel and always dreamed of going to far away countries, so I feel very blessed for the chance to do that.

Anyway, we spent the last couple of days in New York, and I have a tangent that I can go off on about something we did yesterday, but I'll save that for later. One of the goals I had for the trip was to go for a run in Central Park. I was last here in 2003 and had an epic run along the West Side Highway (I ran from Midtown to Ground Zero and back) but never made it to the park.

Since this was such a quick trip and we had an early flight out Saturday, my only option was to get up early, so I got out of bed around 6:30. Our hotel was a block away from Rockefeller Center and so I ran to Sixth Avenue and turned north.

The run got off to a great start and it only took me a few minutes to get to the park. As I was waiting to cross the street, another runner came up next to me. I said hello and started to ask him a question about the running routes and he stopped me and said, "This is my first time here, I'm from Italy."

Well, bonjourno! It was fun to cross paths with him. He is from Milan, where we visited last year, and was very nice. The light changed and we went our separate ways.

It was such a glorious morning, while it was a bit chilly at 36 degrees, the sky was crystal clear and the driving winds we had yesterday had settled. Great running weather!

The path was pretty busy for so early on a Saturday. There were actually a lot of serious runners out there who were really hammering a pretty good pace. One of my main goals was to find the finish line of last week's New York City Marathon. I had studied the race map and had a pretty good idea where I was going.

I ran for a little bit and got a pretty obvious sign that I was on the right track!

 What is really interesting is that like most marathons, the finish area looks completely different on the other 364 days of the year than it does on race day. As I was running I tried to picture the scene from when I had watched it on TV last week, thinking about how the road was lined with banners and people.

I ran a little further, looking for more paint on the curb, and .2 later I found what I was looking for!

So there you have it! The finish line to one of the world's biggest and best marathons! It's kind of funny, and the finish line along Columbus Drive in Chicago is marked the same way. Given the race was just last week I wish they had left the finish line on the pavement, which I believe they do in Boston. Race directors, take note!

I ran on a little further and took some more photos, which I'll drop later on my Facebook page. Overall I'm guessing I ran about 3-3 1/2 miles, and I felt pretty good, which I was a bit worried about because I was on my feet a lot the day before and my back and right hip had been sore when I went to bed. It was just a really cool experience, and one I want to do again when we come back and I have a little more time to explore.

So, for the other cool experience: we were in town for an investor conference at the Metropolitan Opera House for Baron Capital, which is a big investor in Darcy's company, Middleby. Her boss (and company CEO) Selim Bassoul is well-known and very popular thanks to the success of the company under his leadership, and he was one of the speakers at the conference.

One of the things the conference is known for is that at the end of the day they bring in a "surprise performer", who plays a concert for the attendees. This year the "surprise" was none other than Paul McCartney! I was stoked because I've been a big fan of his for a long time, especially of the music he made in the 70s with Wings. I'm a lot younger than my sisters and when I hear a Wings song I think about riding around town with my sister Joni and listening to songs like that on the radio or sitting in her room listening to them on 45s. Great memories.

What made it even better was that we were in a box right next to the stage, meaning Sir Paul was about 50 feet from us! He put on a magnificent performance, although I want to see him again because he only played for about 75 minutes, which is typically about half as long as his usual shows. I like live music at clubs, bars and parks but don't really get into bigger shows, but in this case we'll make an exception.

We are actually on the flight home now, so we are leaving New York behind. One thing is for sure, I'm not going to wait 11 years to come back again! :--)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

So...What Are Your PRs?

Before I get started, I want to officially welcome Throwback Thursday! Attached is a picture of Van 2 of team Pour Us Again at the 2009 Ragnar Great River relay. We are posing next to the Mississippi River here, as the sun is starting to go down late Friday evening. I had just finished my 5K leg and my good friend Scott was out on the course.

Believe it or not, the five of us in that photo pretty much met for the first time earlier that morning! In fact Carla, the lady standing next to me, was a complete late addition to the squad, as another person bailed from the race about three hours before our team in Van 1 got started. She is a member of my friend Wally's club and fortunately had a clear schedule that day. Which worked out because she was a great addition to the team.

One thing I can't believe is how skinny I was then! By the way, I'm on the right side of the photo, or the second shortest in the group, depending on how you want to look at it. I hope to look like that someday, but then again, I'm not obsessing about it.

I posted this photo on Twitter a little earlier in the day, and after reading a few blogs over lunch, started thinking about personal bests, or PRs. In the running world, PRs are not only badges of honor, they are great conversation pieces. People like to share their times with others, and like to share memories of the day they sealed the deal. Heck, as you've noticed, I like to blog about mine! :--)

Lots of people also use the lure of a PR in their training, and with good reason, because it feels so good to work towards a goal and break through it during a race. It represents a lot of hard work and dedication, which is always satisfying.

But here's my question for the day...what do you do when your PRs are so far out of reach that it could be months, or years -- or maybe even never -- that you could come close to touching them again? I'm asking for a friend because his PRs are so old and so far above his current talent and fitness level that there is no incentive to beating them because they are so out of reach.

For some people, that's no big deal. Running in itself is enough of a motivator that they can keep going just on that alone. That's wonderful, and I would love to feel that way someday. But for now, I'm still a wee bit too competitive to feel that way.

For the sake of discussion, here are my PRs at several distances, and the year I set them:

5K: 22:26 (2001)
8K: 37:34 (2003)
15K: 1:48:14 (2012 -- only time I've run that distance)
Half: 1:42:35 (2007)
Full: 4:07:42 (2005)

Outside of the 15K, my oldest PR is almost 14 years old and my most recent happened 7 1/2 years ago, which means I was 37 the last time I set a PR. Crazy.

I'm looking for some input here, so please feel free to comment. Is is moral, ethical or any -al otherwise to start a new set of PRs? Like, a set of post-40 PRs? Personally, I don't see a problem with it, because to me it would represent a lot of different things, beginning with accepting the fact that I am 45 and can't do it the way I used to! :--)

Well, I can, maybe someday, but that's a little ways off. Until then, what do I do? I want times to shoot for, but it will be a long time before I can shoot for the times I've listed above.

Don't laugh, this is an actual dilemma! I feel like I should recognize my post-40 times, because as of now they are the best I've done over the last couple of years. Those are the "here and now" PRs of my running career.

Not to mention the fact that I'm a completely different person from then. My life has changed a lot in the last seven years, and I kind of wouldn't mind having some "new" goals to shoot for. If you go back to my Chicago Marathon post from a year ago, finishing that race was the perfect bookend to a chapter of my life that I was more than ready and willing to close. But as kind of a purist, I don't feel all the way right about letting the old ones go.

So what do you think? Does starting over mean I should start over with my PRs? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Throwback Wednesday

I know, I know, it's actually supposed to be Throwback Thursday, but anyone who is a fan of movies from the 1980s knows that this is a very significant day. It was 59 years ago (Nov. 5, 1955) that Dr. Emmett Brown invented the flux capacitor, which began the quest for time travel and has changed our lives in so many ways.

I am a huge fan of the movie Back To The Future. I've probably watched the movie well over 100 times since the first time I saw it in the theater in January, 1986, and much to the chagrin of my kids, I not only watch it every time I see it on TV, I repeat all of the dialogue too!

"Why don't you make like a tree...and get out of here."

What is also exciting is that less than a year from now Marty McFly arrives in the future in October, 2015. What makes that significant is that we will all own flying cars by then and the Cubs will have won the World Series. Hey, one of those could happen!

Oh wait, how did I get off on a tangent about my run today? Oh yeah, it's because today I shook things up and did something I hadn't done in five or six years. I was planning on doing intervals today at the Bartlett Rec Center, but instead of driving there and doing my entire run on the indoor track, I ran to and from the rec center as a warmup and cooldown.

Back when I was running a lot, I used to do that often, as the gym I used to belong to in Aurora and a running track at the Illinois Math and Science Academy were all just a short jaunt (1 1/2 to 2 miles) from my house. I started doing that because I'd much rather run my warmup and cooldown with a bit of scenery instead of just logging laps.

Not to mention the fact that it was above 60 degrees here today, and anyone who lives up north knows, if it's above 60 in November you try to do whatever you can to get outside! Especially when tomorrow's forecast calls for rain, snow flurries, wind and a high of 46.

So here are the stats for my run.

Warmup: 16:28.73
1 -- 56.52
2 -- 54.26
3 -- 56.31
4 -- 55.10
5 -- 55.12
6 -- 56.14
Cooldown: 17:57.96

I'm estimating the warmup and cooldowns to be around 1.25 miles apiece, to give me four miles of total running. At both the beginning and end of the intervals I ran three laps of the track just to get up to at least 1.25 miles each way.

Two things I noticed is that 1) they are all a tick faster than last week and 2) they are really consistent. One thing I've always been able to do is run consistent times and I have a good feel for pace. I don't know if there is such a thing as past lives, but I'd like to think that if there were I was once a rabbit (pacesetter) on the European track circuit in the 1960s.

I also found a little bit of inspiration too. They recently put down a new track surface at the rec center, and the color was changed from something dark (can't remember what for sure) to blue. As I let my mind wander on a couple of my recovery laps, I thought of how the blue track reminded me of the one at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, where they hold the Illinois High School Association state track meet.

Matt was fortunate enough to run there twice, as he was part of his school's 4x800 relay team that ran in the prelims in 2013-14. Ask any boy or girl who has aspirations to run at state and they will tell you that one of the things that drives them is the chance to run on the blue track, and Matt even admits that once he got down there and ran on it, it was just as cool as he'd dreamed it would be.

Here is a photo of Matt and I at the state meet back in May. You can see the blue track in the background. Matt has always been a huge inspiration to me. After his sophomore year in high school he decided he wanted to see how good he could be, and he worked so hard to become one of the top runners on his team. He eventually ran in the state cross country meet with his team in 2012, qualified for XC sectionals as an individual in 2013 and twice went to state in track.

I'm so proud of what he accomplished and what he continues to do as a college runner. I think the best thing about it is that I never pushed him to do it...what Matt accomplished was completely on him. I was there to help and support him, but he decided to do the work and do it for himself, which is awesome! His younger brother Kevin will be entering high school next year, and if he dreams of running on the blue track as well, I'll do whatever I can to support him and help him make it happen.

So from now on, whenever I run on the blue track at the rec center, I'm going to think about my goals and how each step on that track will get me closer to them.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Being Comfortable in My Own Skin

I came across an interesting story today, called What A Real Runner Looks Like? that really piqued my interest. One thing I have noticed over the years about our sport is that there are certain parts of the running community that are starting to take sides.

One one side is the "If you don't run a 5K in under 16 minutes or a marathon in less than three hours you suck", on another is "I'm OK, You're OK, and the running community is awesome" (that's the one I belong to), and another is the division of secure and insecure people who think that runners have to look like runners in order to actually enjoy running. And if you don't look like them, you aren't a real runner. Or something like that. Add the groups that feel the need to fat-shame or thin-shame others, and you have a lot of factions that frankly shouldn't exist, because I'm OK, You're OK and if you are having fun that's perfect because that's what it should be about.

In the story linked above, the author, Hannah McGoldrick, talked about how she posted a video of herself showing off a running outfit. What she didn't bank on was the reaction in the comments section, which ranged from how great she looked to the thought that she was anorexic. Which is even more hurtful because she actually at one time was anorexic but has overcome that and has discovered running and a healthy lifestyle. And if you look through her Twitter account (@byHannahMcG) and blog (read it here) she looks like someone you would very likely see out on a running path in your home town. As in, she is young and fit, and someone who probably a lot of guys smile and wave at when they pass by. So good for her!

The idea of what a runner is supposed to look like has been something I have thought about a lot for a long time. In fact, I remember being in a changing tent after the 2005 Grandma's Marathon and I actually had a guy say to me, "wow, you don't look like a runner!" Well, that might be true, but four months later I dragged my 205-pound body through a 4:07 marathon, so I had something going for me.

Wanna see something funny? Here's me (in the red shirt) with my friend Wally after we finished Grandma's. I actually think I look pretty good!

But it's still been a struggle at times, and one that I'm just starting to come to terms with. Growing up I was quite thin, I was the typical teenage boy in that I could inhale as much food as I wanted and didn't gain a pound. I weighed 155 pounds or so when I graduated high school and 170 when I got married three years later. But other than a stress-induced weight loss that dropped me to about 190 pounds when my marriage broke up six years ago, I've weighed more than 220 pounds ever since then.

And for the record, I got on the scale at 249 this morning.

For a long time, that bothered me. A lot. While most of it was probably my own anxiety and insecurity, I felt like I was judged as a runner by how my body looked. I remember running a relay at about 230 pounds a few years ago, and I could tell some of my teammates weren't happy with me, and I haven't been asked back to run with them since.

I remember a co-worker making a comment after seeing me run at lunch, and so I quit running at lunch, and eventually started running only when it was dark.

It really ruled my life for a long time. Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped caring. I'm sure part of it has to do with a girlfriend-turned-fiancee-turned-wife who loves me for who I am, but a lot of it just comes down to the fact that I run for me, and no matter what I did, no matter how fast I got, there will always be a faction of people that have a problem with me. So why pay attention to the static?

A big tipping point came a couple of summers ago when my friend Bernie invited Darcy and I to participate in a Sunday morning bootcamp at a park in Chicago. Naturally, there were a lot of fit people there, but Bernie (who was a contestant on Biggest Loser) is awesome and so is Erin, his partner, so I knew we were in good hands.

One day, we were doing a circuit training session that included a lap around a dirt path in the park. While the other people were pretty much lapping me on the other exercises, I was killing everyone on the run. On the second or third rep I ran past Erin and she yelled out, "Wow! Running really IS your thing!"

Yep, it is my thing. So why would I let anyone bring me down over it? Once I stopped thinking about what others thought about me as a runner, I started realizing what running did for me.

When I'm running a lot, I feel like an athlete. I walk differently, carry myself differently and have a sense of confidence that I haven't had in a while. This weekend Darcy and I went shopping and while I still had to buy a larger size of clothes, I bought a couple of items that are cut a little tighter, and I actually feel good wearing them. I happily run anywhere, and at any time, and when I show up at races I line up and run instead of comparing myself to others.

I guess I'm just more comfortable with being me, although that took a very long time. Don't get me wrong, I'm working on the weight thing, and I know for sure if I want to be Faster Than Frank in six months I'm going to need to shed a few pounds -- more like 30! I dream of the day that I can get back to running some of the times I did years ago, and I'm really motivated to do that. But at the same time, I'm not obsessing over it.

In the end my a-ha moment came because because I just love running too much. Life is way too short, and as I posted last week, none of us know what it took for someone to get to where they are. It may have been a long, long journey, but they got there and that is all that counts.

I think it's time to quit putting people into categories. What Does a Real Runner look like? A real runner looks like you, or me, or anyone else who laces up the shoes and gets moving. Running isn't a look, it's a feeling, an emotion, a journey and a way of life.

The one thing I like about running is that it can be whatever you want it to be. As I remark to my sons all the time, running is about as pure sport as you can get. A run has a beginning and an end, you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If a race is hard, it's because training was too easy, and if a race is easy it means that training was hard. There is an amazing sense of satisfaction in going out and running a race like a 5K hard, whether you finish that race in 15 minutes or in 31:02, like I did at my last race.

There is beauty in that, a beauty that I haven't found in any other sport in which I've participated. So if the sport is beautiful, then the people who participate in said sport are as well. Which makes all of it a really beautiful thing, and one that we should admire and appreciate, not to mention the people who do it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Five

Crazy to think it's November already, isn't it? The year has gone by so incredibly fast...I guess when you have as many things happen in a year as I have (all good, thankfully) it works that way!

Although I've yet to run in November, it's gotten off to a good start. Matt closed out his first college XC season yesterday at the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference meet, running 29:33 in the 8K race. That was his second best time of the year and while he won't be running in the NCAA Division III regional meet in two weeks -- only the top seven run -- he will still be part of the travel team, which will be a great experience for him.

Here is a photo of Matt with his team. He's the one kneeling with the gray pullover on the front right.

Today I got up early to watch the New York City Marathon. That's a race I want to run someday, and I was particularly interested to watch elite runner Meb Keflezighi, who at 39 years of age finished fourth. He won the Boston Marathon this spring and finished fourth at the Olympic Marathon in 2012. Meb's just a real inspiration to me in a lot of ways.

With a new month on tap, it's time for my November Five, a list of five things I want to work on over the next four weeks. You can read my October five here, and I will reference a couple of them here and there.

Overall it was a decent month, I did well on some things and not so well on others. Still, it's all about moving forward and staying positive, right?

1) Break 30 minutes for a 5K. In October my goal was to break 31 minutes, and I came close when I ran 31:02 at the Hot Cocoa 5K last weekend. (Race report). I've entered a 5K over Thanksgiving weekend, so hopefully a good month of training will get me there.

2) Run 15-18 miles per week. I'm trying to slowly increase my mileage, with hopes of being in the 35-40 MPW range by next May. Moving up to this point is a nice natural progression. I also want to have my long run to nine miles by the end of the month.

3) Lose seven pounds. I fell a little short of this goal last month -- I lost five -- but I'm going to give it a try again. More mileage, more water and some better food choices will make all of the difference.

4) Run at least once per week at work. Back in the day I ran during my lunch hour all of the time, as there was a time where it was the only opportunity I might have. With basketball season starting (I coach Kevin's 8th grade team) and having activities 2-3 nights a week, I need to make it a point to fit a run in during the day. Sometimes when I get home at 9 or 10 p.m. I'm just not motivated to get out, so I need to just get it done.

5) Do one round of strength training every week. Earlier this year I was doing some strength training, especially core work, and I could feel it making a big difference in my running. Even if it's just some work at home, I'll be happy with that.

Have a great November! Let's do this!