Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I'll Give You The Shirt Off My Back...

...if you give the shirt off yours!

File this post under: I can't believe no one has thought of this before, and if they have, why aren't we all doing it?

As I've mentioned before, Darcy and I are heading to Dubai next Thursday, and I've contacted the local running clubs to get more info on places to go and if they have group runs, workouts, etc. On Monday I got an e-mail from a guy named Marek with the Dubai Creek Striders, and he gave me info on their workouts and invited me to join them! The nice thing is one of their workouts is in a park just blocks from our hotel, it has a 1-mile loop where I think I will also do my long run on Sunday.

I replied with a thank you for the info and then let him know that I am a member of the Chicago Area Runners Association, and would he be interested in swapping one of his club's shirts for one of mine? I haven't heard back from him, but I'm taking a couple of shirts with me in case anyone is interested.

Swapping jersies is common in other sports, where competitors often exchange their shirts after a game. Heck, in auto racing they even swap helmets! I see it as a sign of respect and a chance to add something cool to a memorabilia collection, which is kind of awesome.
Here's the helmet collection of Tony Kanaan, one of my favorite drivers. The only helmets that are his are the ones on the bottom shelf, the rest were given to him from other drivers...pretty cool!

Anyway, it got me to thinking, why don't runners do the same thing? I'm not necessarily talking about pulling your sweaty, nasty shirt off after a race -- but if you want to do that it's fine by me -- I'm talking about shirts that sit in your drawer or your closet, a shirt that maybe you have gotten over but someone else might think is pretty cool.

It would be kind of awesome if at meetups, races or whatever people could bring a shirt from their collection and exchange it with someone else. It could be a race shirt, a club shirt, or even one supporting your kids' track and cross country program (my son Matt probably has a couple of Benedictine University XC shirts he'd give up!). If you don't wear it any more, someone else might!

I think it would be neat to run in a shirt from a club in California, or one from Dubai, or wear a race shirt from somewhere I'd love to run a race. Or it could be an inspiration of sorts, if a shirt has a great story, you can wear it on a run when you need a little pick me up. Heck, just getting the shirt from someone would be a great story, a fun memory of a get-together that might spark a conversation down the road that leads to you making another running friend.

Or, you could even do it surprise style -- exchange addresses and just send one to each other. The possibilities are endless.

If that is something you are interested in, hit me up on social media and let's start a conversation. I think it would be a great way to get to know people and make the running community even stronger!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Here's How My Week Went

Well, it's Sunday night once again. After what seemed like an endless 4-day work week, the weekend just seemed to fly by!

Still, overall it's been one of my best weeks, running-wise, in quite some time. I ran five days out of the seven and finished the week with right around 24 miles. A nice place to be with 12 weeks go to before my half (more on that later).

Monday was 3.8 miles on the Hawk Hollow trail that I like so much. It had been before Christmas since I had run there since it was covered over with snow for the most part. But with the little thaw we have had it was in pretty good shape. There were some crappy parts and the path was a bit mushy, but I'm sure not complaining!

Tuesday I went five miles, with a bit of a twist. It was damp and many of the roads were icing over a little bit so I ran the mile to the gym, put in three on the blue track and then ran the mile home. The three indoor miles were great, I think at my best I was down to about a 9:40 pace. It helped that there some high school kids there who were running and I got some pacing help from them. That pace felt really easy when I was working with other people.

After two days of doing next to nothing, Friday and Saturday I ran 3.8 miles on Friday night and 3.2 on Saturday. The Saturday run was a bit tough, but it was only about 14 hours or so after Friday's run, which might have had something to do with it. I mean, when you run 12 hours apart it's kind of like doing a double, so I kept that in perspective.

Today I headed to the Prairie Path again for an eight miler. I chose the PP more because of the weather, because it was cold and windy -- 28 degrees and with about a 25 mph wind it felt more like the low teens -- and the path is well protected by trees. Which ended up being a good decision because the couple of times I got exposed to the wind it was brutal!

I was hoping that the path would be in good shape, with just a light coating of snow, but under the snow was some leftover ice, so it was a bit uneven. I guess it was a bit like a trail run, but that was OK because it made me focus more on my running and it kept me from racing the workout.

I also started working on getting back into fueling and stuff, bringing along my fuel belt and stashing some Powerade along the course. I also brought two packages of Gu -- Tri Berry flavor, my favorite -- and took it at about 2.5 and 5 miles. It really helped, while my quads were pretty sore from trying to keep steady, overall I felt a lot better than my 8-miler a few weeks ago when I didn't bring anything.

And as an added bonus, I saw a beautiful white tailed deer that ran across the path a couple hundred yards in front of me, and that came after I saw a big hawk on Saturday. Just a great run.

I also entered two races this week, a 5K in Geneva on Super Bowl Sunday and as a virtual participant in the #Run3rd 5K on April 11th. That race will actually be in Mesa, Ariz. but I'll run mine on the Hawk Hollow trail.

With 12 weeks to go to the Indy Mini, I am starting an actual training program tomorrow. I chose the Hal Higdon Advanced program, which has some speedwork and longer weekend runs. It will be a bit of a challenge because it's six days a week, but I may combine lighter 3-4 mile days into a double run on one day, so it would be six runs on five days. I start with a 3-miler tomorrow.

Have a great week everybody!

Getting Off The Grid Every So Often

Ok, don't get freaked out on the title, I'm not talking about shutting off all of your electrical devices and going out into the woods! This is a running blog for crying out loud!

It's just that in my quest to be more running social I've been spending some more time reading blogs and Facebook posts while following more people on Twitter. I'm loving it! It's been a lot of fun "getting to know" people and feeling like I'm part of something.

Still, one thing I've noticed, and have for a long time, is that there are a lot of people that seem to complicate the sport more than it should be. Instead of trusting the process -- which to me is one of the joys of running -- many seem to have paralysis by analysis, and I think it gets in the way of enjoying the sport.

I can't believe that I'm writing these words (because I'm normally not that deep of a thinker), but the true way to get the best out of your running is to treat it as an organic, living, breathing thing. It's not a skill, like, say, swinging a golf club or shooting baskets. It's more something that moves and evolves over time.

Don't get me wrong, I love gadgets and stuff as much as anyone, and I am a believer in the more information, the better. I'm not trying to be negative about that stuff. AT. ALL. Actually that and I am just hoping you don't have a vision of me standing on my front porch and shaking my fist in the air screaming "get off my lawn!" It's just that sometimes it should be about just going off the grid and taking it back to where it's just about pure running.

I guess that is why I love cross country so much. The course doesn't have to be accurate -- and most aren't -- and at least up through the high school level you aren't allowed to wear a watch on the course. And it probably doesn't help you much anyway because most courses aren't even marked properly. It's just about going out and running. My son Matt ran dozens of cross country races in high school and college, and rarely came off the course knowing what his mile splits were. If he ever found out it was well after the race.

I'm a firm believer that if you want to become a proficient runner, it's important to jump off the wheel every so often. I'm pretty old school, I didn't get my first running watch until I'd been running for about two years, and even now I rarely have one on when I run. Most of that is to avoid racing workouts (which is usually what happens) but it's also so I'm not dependent on a time or get encouraged or discouraged by what a watch says.

I'll put one on for a daily run to see how much progress I've made on a certain loop over a period of time, but usually I save it for speedwork and long runs. Sometimes I won't even wear it for a long run, either. Or, I wear it and never look at it until I'm done. Funny thing with that is, I might go into a run with the intention of running, say, four miles in 40 minutes, and without looking at my watch I get done within 20-30 seconds either way of that time.

To be a good racer, you have to develop a feel for running. I'm fortunate that I have a knack and a feel for pace in that I can go out and run a time or a pace without the benefit of a watch. It's kind of uncanny, to the point where friends of mine call me the "pace monster", but that was also something that developed over time. When you are in a race, especially a long one, one of the most important things you do is manage yourself. You maximize your performance when you can listen to your body and do what it tells you.

It's like being part of a pace group. If you are running a marathon with a pace group, you don't think about what your watch says, do you? You might look at it but you trust that the experienced pace group leaders know what they are doing and will get you to your goal.

Gaining experience and having a feel for your running is like being your own group leader. Part of running well is staying relaxed, and if you can hit numbers just based on feel you will be more relaxed, it will become a matter of looking at your watch, shrugging and filing away that number. It's about running with confidence.

That's why I try and encourage people to leave everything at home every so often and just go out and run. I think that in order to do well at running, you have to love it, you have to love how it works and feels, and love the process. Getting back to pure running helps that, I believe. Getting off that grid and just running for the sake of running not only helps you get a better feel for pace, I think it helps you get in touch with that living, breathing part of you that makes you run in the first place.

Take the blinders off, stop for a minute and take the time enjoy what you are doing. We're so used to moving through life at the speed of light, focused on the task at hand, that as a result we miss out on the little things that make this life so great. Running is no different. No doubt it's a sport, or a hobby, or even a way of life, but at the same time, it's an experience, too. An experience that needs to be celebrated every so often.

Give it a try this week, I guarantee you will like it!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Things Thursday

You know how we are only three weeks into the new year but yet movie trailers are coming out where critics are calling them "The Best Movie of the Year"? This post is kind of like that, but not quite as irritating. Today I'm writing about three people that I've become a fan of already this year.

* Bill Rodgers. I've already posted a couple of times in this space, and on Twitter and Facebook, the impact reading Bill's book "Marathon Man" has had on me. I knew a little about his story, and his greatness as a marathoner (according to his Wikipedia page he has 20 total career wins), but I didn't know the whole story, about his rebirth as a runner in his mid-20s and the love and passion he still has for the sport all of these years later. It's all cool stuff, and I have added his name to the list of people I'd like to meet someday.

* My virtual running peeps. As I've mentioned in past posts, I'm trying hard to become more social and get more involved with others in the running community. So, in the last few weeks I've tried to become more active on Twitter and have joined a few groups on Facebook, including one for people looking to run a sub-30 5K. While I've already done that (by all of nine seconds) I want to do it again, and smash it this time! Hopefully being a part of that group gets me there.

I've also started my own group, Running With ADHD which is for those of us runners who have ADHD. While it's a frustrating thing to deal with at times, I'm actually become grateful for the gifts that having ADHD has given me, most importantly my creativity, imagination and ability to write. I feel like at this point in my life it has done more for my life then it has hindered it. I created the group for people to come together and support each other, so check it out and join if you'd like.

* Sean Astin. I know most people recognize Sean from his Lord of the Rings Trilogy roles and the massive amounts of voice over work, but I prefer his earlier work, like in Goonies, Encino Man and Rudy. What I just learned about him, though, is that he is a big time runner who has several marathon credits to his finish while also completing the Dopey Challenge at Disney couple of weeks ago. 

In the past he's raised money for charity and his Facebook page and Twitter feed are full of his running stories while offering encouragement to others. I've also discovered that he is incredibly fan-friendly at races and has no problems posing for photos and talking to people. He seems like an awesome, super-cool dude.

He also started the Twitter project #Run3rd, which has turned into something pretty big. He explains the concept on his website and it's really cool. First you run for yourself, second you run for your family (or other people you love) and third you run in dedication to someone else. Awesome.

I'm definitely going to spend some more time learning about his cause and will be running with him and others (virtually) on April 11 for the Run3rd 5K. You can read about that here.

And while I'm at it, how about a Throwback Thursday too! I'm not going too far back, just back to my wedding last July 26th. Monday will be our six-month anniversary! My wife is a rock star -- she's a brain tumor survivor, a marathoner, is incredible at her job, and most of all is my best friend, confidant and fellow adventure seeker. I can't think of anyone else I would want to spend the rest of my life with. Love you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Time For Some Attitude Adjustments!

Lately I've been reading a lot of running-related articles that have really boosted my self-esteem as a runner. As I've mentioned in the past, at one point I was very, very hard on myself, and the result was that I didn't enjoy running as much as I maybe should have.

Over the last couple of years I've come to grips with that kind of stuff, maybe it's getting older, but it's also a realization that if it's not possible to enjoy something, I shouldn't waste my time doing it. You know?

Make no mistake, I want to get better, and given my goals over the next few years, I'm planning on it, but in the here and now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with who I am as a runner. Today I read a great story on called If You Run Slow, Who Cares?. In it, the author, Jeff Gaudette, talks about how it seems like so many people he encounters say the same thing: "I'm a runner...but I'm really slow".

I find it kind of weird -- and maddening, because I do it myself -- that we put in all this work and build something we should be proud of, but then end up tearing it down because we have some sort of fear as to what people think. It's so self-defeating, and it so affects our running, not only in how we view ourselves and our accomplishments but in our performance as well. And, it seems like running is one of the few areas of our lives in which we do it.

It's like when someone asks you what you do for a just tell them, right? When I tell people what I do I don't add something like "...but I'm not very good at it", to the end of the sentence. It sounds silly when you think of it that way, doesn't it? It's just a blanket statement: this is who I am and this is what I do. Running shouldn't be any different.

But yet it is. I was reminded of that recently when I was thinking about maybe finding a coach to work with. You know, someone I could discuss my goals with, tell him or her where I would like to get to mileage-wise and work towards that. I feel like after 15 years I have a lot of knowledge about the sport and how to get better and faster, but coaching myself is definitely a challenge. I do better with structure and accountability -- whether to a coach or other runners -- than I do just arbitrarily trying to plan myself.

Without fail, though, as soon as the word "coach" hit my thought process, the second thought was, "I should probably wait until I'm faster before I get a coach". Crazy, right? But that's how we think as runners, isn't it?

I found it crazy to think that way because I just finished coaching my son Kevin's 8th-grade basketball team. We were a B team that played a mostly A team-type schedule and finished the season 1-19. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite our struggles, we still practiced 3-4 hours a week, I still taught them plays and defenses, and we still prepared for every single game, even games against good A teams that we knew we weren't going to win. I coached my team exactly the same way and with the same expectations that the A team coach did, and his team has won 20 games!

Using the theory above, just because we weren't as good as other teams I should've said to people when they asked about the basketball team, "...we aren't any good". It was quite the opposite, in fact. I told people that we played a tough schedule but we had a few good players and that we often received compliments as to how hard we played and how well we represented our school by the way we conducted ourselves.

I tried focusing on the positives, like the fact that we were sixth in an 11-team league in points allowed, then looking at our record and just tossing us away because of what the numbers said. If we do that with our running, how much better would it be! The fact is, as the story above referenced, no matter how fast you are, someone is probably faster.

If you put a person who runs a 16-minute 5K into a 5,000-meter race with elite runners, that person would be more than three laps down when the winner finished. It's all relative, we should all just learn to be happy with ourselves. In the world of marathoning, my main man Meb Keflezighi is, well, "slow". His PR is almost five minutes slower than the world record, and when he toes the line as the defending champion at the Boston Marathon in April, his best time will be 14th fastest among the men. Yet somehow when the race ends he always is somewhere up front ahead of those guys.

That's because Meb isn't hung up on it, and we shouldn't be either. We need to learn to toss our negativity aside. I'm going to try to do that, from now on I'm just going to tell people, "I'm a runner". If I do find a coach I'm just going to say "I want to accomplish 'X' and I want you to help me get there", instead of, "I don't know if you want to work with me because I'm slow".

You know why, because of course they want to work with us! That's what coaches do! And as a coach myself, I should know that more than anyone! But strangely enough, until an a-ha moment a day or so ago, it had never crossed my mind that way.

In fact, most coaches love working with athletes who are enthusiastic and show a positive attitude, regardless of talent level. I had one boy on my team, Sean, who two years ago could barely dribble and was too weak to even make a layup. This year he became one of the best on-ball defenders in the school, scored in most of our games and in our last tournament was named to the All-Tournament team. Sean just wanted to learn and he did everything I told him, which was why he was a pleasure to coach.

I realized if that's what I look for in a coach, that's probably what someone who would be coaching me is looking for too. They are looking out for my best interests, and they will try to guide me to where I want to go.

The rest is up to me. If I want to get the most out of my running and my experiences, I (well, we all) need to stop with the negative self-talk. I need to focus more on why I run and why it makes me happy, and promise myself there won't be any asterisks, no "yeah, but's", you know, like "yeah, I'm a runner, but I'm the slowest runner in my group".

So repeat after me: "I'm a runner." And stop there! Keep repeating that mantra until after you say the word runner you have a smile on your face, that you feel proud of who you are and what you do, and how hard you have worked to get where you are. If I can do that -- and we can all do that -- there is no telling what I can do!

I'm ready! Are you?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bib of the Week -- Quad City Times Bix 7, July 30, 2005

The Bix 7, run in late July in Davenport, Iowa, is one of those races that was born out of the running boom in the mid 1970s and still has that kind of feel to it. It's not super corporate-driven and has a more "pure running" aspect to it, not just in the way the race is organized but the fact the course is an absolute beast.

Since the beginning, it's also had an international flavor, as runners from all over the world have come to run in the race. It's been won by such greats as Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Khalid Khannouchi and Meb Keflezighi -- among others. Last year's race was won by Sean Quigley and Molly Huddle, who are both excellent, national class runners.

Although I've only run the race one time, I guess you could call it a sort of "hometown" race for me, as my family history in Eastern Iowa goes back well over 125 years. I was born there, in the same hospital as my dad, in fact, and lived there for five years before we moved away when I was in kindergarten. Lots of family and friends still live in the area and the Bix is a tradition a lot of them.

In fact, the year I ran, there were a half dozen family members that were in the race as well: my two cousins, Guy and Bill Heller, Guy's wife Julie, as well as my mom and sister Karen. When I arrived in town the night before the race, Guy picked me up at my hotel and gave me a tour of the course.

Which was a very good thing! The Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side, Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side) sits in an area where the Mississippi River cut a huge swath through and left a deep valley on both sides. While there are several "flat" parts of all the communities, the areas within shouting distance of the river are pretty hilly.

I'm glad I saw the course first because it changed how I approached the whole race. If it had been a flat run I would've gone hard from the start, but I definitely changed my tactics once I saw it.

Here's a good course description from the Quad City Times website.

The next morning, I went outside the hotel to wait for Guy to pick me up, and there were two Kenyans sitting outside waiting for the shuttle downtown. I wished them luck, but couldn't figure out why they were wearing sweatsuits in this kind of heat!

One thing the race is known for is its weather. It's usually very steamy, and 2005 was no exception, it was pushing 75 by race time and the dew point was in the mid-60s. Crazy sticky.

Due to a snafu with race numbers (mine and Julie's were switched) we had to make a couple of stops before we arrived downtown for the race. We still got there in plenty of time, I just didn't have as much time for a warmup as I wanted. That summer I was working with a coach and we were using the race as the middle section of my long run. I was supposed to run 2-3 miles before the race, but only had time to get a mile in. Oh well.

When you line up for the race, the start is super imposing because it starts on Brady Street and goes straight uphill. The first turn is about a half-mile up, but in the meantime the elevation change is 115 feet. While it's nice to know that you get that coming back to the finish, you also know that's about six miles away and your legs are already burning!

Once at the top of the hill, I tried to just settle into a nice pace and let everything shake out of my legs. Fortunately the second mile is a nice, easy downhill, so that helped. This part of the race is run on a street
that is separated by a grass parkway, and as we approached the third mile I could see the elite runners already on their way back (the course is an out and back with a turnaround, if I haven't mentioned that already). That was a real treat because it's so rare that you get to see elites at the same time you are running! Soon the lead women came by and I recognized Catherine Nderba, who once held the world record  in the marathon (2:18:47) and won two Olympic medals in the marathon.

I always enjoyed watching Catherine run because she had this smooth, elegant looking stride. She didn't have a lot of leg drive, instead she more glided along the pavement. It was beautiful to watch.

With the course being an out-and-back, miles three to five have their share of uphills and downhills, and all of them are challenging. With the faster runners on their way back, I kept looking for Guy and Bill, and suddenly Guy appeared in the masses just a few yards in front of me. Guy is pretty close to my age and is a very good athlete, especially as a runner and swimmer. He's also a pretty intense guy, and his dark sunglasses, bald head and goatee gave him a pretty badass look, I must admit. I tried to call out to him, but he was in his own special place by then and didn't hear me.

By the time I hit the turnaround, the heat was really beginning to get going, but I was in pretty good shape so I just charged on and tried to stay consistent. No doubt, though, it was pretty awesome to take the left turn back onto Brady and take the big downhill home. I really let loose down the hill, passing a lot of people and just trying to go as fast as I can. I think I ran a sub-7 last mile, it was great fun!

Guy took home family bragging rights with a finish in 51:31, while Bill was just behind at 51:52, which, given their competitive natures (albeit friendly ones), Bill didn't hear the end of that for a while. My official finish time was 1:09, but since the race was not a chip race I believe by my watch I finished in the 1:04:30 range. Not a bad effort, all things considered.

After the race we gathered for some beers in the finish area, which sits near the statue of Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson. Both won the race on multiple occasions and helped build the race to the stature it enjoys today. Very cool.

Someday I plan on running the race again, I'm thinking this year as it fits well into my running plan, but we'll see how it works out. If you are within driving distance of the Quad Cities, I encourage you to check this race out. You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Three Things Thursday

Welcome to my first triple T of 2015! The year is off to a great start, I'm so excited for all the great adventures that lie ahead in the next few months.

Here are three things I've got on my mind this week:

* After a seriously cold last 10 days I'm looking forward to the weather breaking this weekend. By "breaking" I mean getting above freezing (it's almost there today) and hopefully melting some snow. I hope to resume my long run schedule with eight miles on Sunday. If the snow does melt some I'd like to go back to Wheaton and run the flat path there. I have to admit I'm still in a bit of "vacation mode", even though we've been back for two weeks. I haven't eaten well and only have a handful of runs in. But with the weather getting better and basketball season ending next week (hence, more free time), it's time to get back on the wagon.

* Matt, my oldest, just finished his first semester at Benedictine University and posted a 3.0 GPA! I'm so happy for his own admission he didn't apply himself in high school (and it showed as he graduated 99th in a class of 125 and finished with a 2.55 GPA) but he worked really hard in the fall and gained a lot of confidence. Pretty good semester given he was also running cross country.

I am a little bummed, though, because Matt told me he isn't going to run for the track team this spring. He's been struggling with his love of running for a while and we urged him to give it a try during XC season. Overall he did well and did have fun but just wants to give it up for now. If it makes him happy I will support it, although I'll miss watching him run and compete, that was a lot of fun. In the end I just hope he rediscovers his passion for it, whether he competes for his team or not, and starts running again, even if it's just for his own enjoyment.

* If you read my post about the 2004 Indy Mini Marathon, you saw that I made mention of my sister Karen and the inspiration she was to me that weekend having gone through open heart surgery just a few days before the race. I picked that particular race to focus on last weekend because she was going through some issues with her heart and the post was just a note of encouragement to her to hang in there. All of her tests didn't show any damage to her valve and it looks like everything is going to be OK. I told her that's a reason to celebrate by going out and buying some new shoes and training for her comeback 5K. I hope she takes me up on my offer that I'll come down and run with her. That will be a great day.

Tomorrow my Bib of the Week will be a recap of the 2005 Bix 7, one of the best and most historic road races in the country.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bib of the Week -- Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini Marathon, May 8, 2004

This trip in the wayback machine takes us to 2004 and the Indy Mini Marathon. Overall, that year was a pretty tumultuous one for me as I went through more than a few low points, especially when my dad passed away on Aug. 31, and when my sister Karen had open heart surgery just days before the Mini (more on that later).

Still, I had been running well all year and was feeling pretty well leading up to the race, but the week before my family went through a bit of adversity that really affected how I ran, in both a good and bad way.

That year was the fourth Mini I had run in a row, a string that had started when Karen suggested in 2000 that I come down and run the Mini the next May. I signed up and brought my friend Noah with me (he's one of many friends joining me this year), and that 2001 race was a good one for both of us, as we set our half PRs, including a time of 1:48:50 for me.

Two years later, I experienced really bad back pain during the race and finished in a very humbling 2:20:12. It was the same problem I'd had at the Los Angeles Marathon two months before, and eventually I spent the summer in physical therapy to fix it.

So by the time 2004 rolled around, I wanted to do better. While I wasn't putting in large volumes of miles, I felt really comfortable on my long runs -- especially because I was pain-free -- and was looking forward to a much improved experience.

Karen was planning on running as well. By that time, we'd developed a little bit of a ritual, I would make the drive downtown and meet her for the expo, then we would get lunch and stop at a running shoe store in the Broad Ripple neighborhood -- I would by Gu and Karen would usually buy some socks.

We never ran the race together, but every so often we would go out for training runs, and that was fun. Karen was always so concerned because she was running so slowly compared to my training paces, and I kept reassuring her that it was absolutely no problem. Since I trained alone all the time, it was just nice to have some company.

I really admired Karen's spirit and her determination, too. At the time, she was training for the marathon while raising (and homeschooling) five kids, who at the time ranged in age from 18 to five. Bill, my-brother-in law, worked for Congressman Mike Pence -- who is now the Governor of Indiana -- so they were going back and forth to Washington several times a year for Bill's job commitments.

Karen would just grind along, and would usually finish the race in three hours or so, which is a great effort concerning all she had going on in her life and the fact that, by her own admission, she isn't the most athletic person in our family. Nothing wrong with that, because despite my own athletic accomplishments I'm not even the best, that would go to my late sister Joni, who was a great sprinter and softball player.

Karen's talent lies in music and the theater, as she knows how to play several instruments, especially the piano, and is still involved in plays and musicals. She also has a beautiful singing voice, so she certainly has something on the rest of us!

While I was having a good 2004 early on, Karen wasn't. As the months went on she was having problems with fatigue and just rarely felt well. Despite many visits to doctors, and several rounds of tests, no one could figure out what was wrong. Near the end of March, she called and told me she wouldn't be able to run the race.

Until early May, where we got some jolting news -- her problem was that an infection had settled into one of the valves of her heart, and the only way to fix it is to have the valve replaced. So just a few days before the race, she went through an open heart surgery that lasted more that six hours. Needless to say, it was a very difficult day, I ended up going for about a 10-mile run during lunch just to deal with the stress.

Thankfully, all went well and I was able to see Karen in the hospital the day before the race. Driving home from the hospital I felt really determined to run hard and run for her as well. The next morning, I was up at 4:30 for the race and I could tell that it was already warm and very humid.

Eventually the temperature topped out at 84 that day, so with the heat I tried to run even splits. I ran 44:54 (8:59 pace) for the first five miles and hit the 10-mile mark in 1:31:01 (9:06 pace). As always, the 2 1/2 miles around the track were tough. As much as I love running around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it's also one of the toughest parts of the course.

Obviously, it's wide-open, and the aluminum bleachers and black racing surface just suck in the heat. Thankfully it's a pretty big adrenaline boost to run on the track, and they always have at least two water stops, so the trick is to keep a decent pace into the track and then start picking up the pace back up when you leave the track for the four-mile run back downtown.

I ended up running the last 5K in 27:47 (8:56 pace) and ran as hard as I could to the finish, crossing the line in 1:58:49. That was the best race I had in me that day, and when I finished I remembered feeling this rush of something come over me, the best was I can describe it is that it was a combination of fatigue, emotion and adrenaline. It was this numb-type feeling that hit me, and my legs felt a little wobbly. I kept walking and a few steps later felt a lot better.

I headed back to the hospital to see Karen, and through the haze of pain and medication seemed really happy for me and the day I had. I was just glad that I could honor her through my running.

Karen eventually recovered and the next summer she and my mom walked the Bix 7, and in 2006 came back to walk the Mini, which I consider an amazing accomplishment. I nominated her for a Celebrating Life award, which the sponsor, Indianapolis Life, gave to three people who had overcome monumental roadblocks in their life to return to the race. Though she didn't win we were invited to a nice dinner and her name was announced by emcee Bob Jenkins. It was a great night.

I chose this post because Karen is going through some health challenges now, and I wanted to remind her of what she has gone through before and the courage and heart she showed to push through it and came out even better on the other side. She celebrated her 53rd birthday back on Dec. 19, which is way too young to have retired from running. I hope that someday Karen finds a way to get back on the road, and I'm telling her right now that whenever, wherever that happens, I'll be there to run with you. I'll even pay the entry fee and buy you some socks.

Maybe the 2016 Mini? Just a suggestion.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thinking Big

One thing about me is that I have a very creative imagination, so I'm constantly thinking of new and interesting ideas of things that I could try or do. Some of them involve work stuff, sometimes I come up with an idea for a story I'd like to write or even just something I'd like to venture out an do. Eventually, most of them come and go, like a lot of thoughts do -- and there are only 24 hours in a day to accomplish things -- but often they are pretty large in stature.

Yes, I dream big. My only problem is while I dream big, I have trouble having the courage to bring things to fruition. I'm not all that fond of stepping away from myself and taking on a task that involves risk, though I admire the heck out of people who can do that.

Small things, sure. In the last couple of years I've tried a lot of new foods, I've gone to professional dance performances and musicals (and loved them) and maybe even worn some clothes that maybe I wouldn't have in the past. All of my small things have turned out great, kind of because I expected them to, I guess.

Bigger things, I'm not so eager to tackle. Those involve risk, and they involve failure. That's scary to me.

But then again, that desire for going after a big challenge seems closer than ever, mostly because I have different definitions to "success" and "failure". I used to be pretty black and white about that, especially in my running. If I ran a training run or race and it met my expectations (mostly in terms of time) it was a success...and if it didn't, then I failed that day. Needless to say, running didn't make me super happy.

Thankfully, that's changed for me over the last couple of years. One reason is that I have a good support system around me, and the other is that, well, I've grown up a bit. I remember a couple of years ago I was having this discussion with my friend, Wally, who didn't start running until 2004 but has had some amazing experiences, including finishing marathons on all seven continents.

Wally is a competitive guy and ran some pretty good marathons early on, but he told me that he's much more happier having fun with running, not worrying about time, and using it as a tool to meet people and have great experiences. I thought about what he said for a couple of days and realized that he was right.

It's about the journey, and if you complete the journey, therein lies the success.

Lately the idea of big things began popping back into my head because I was reading the Bill Rodgers book "Marathon Man", which is a great read and I might try to review for you this weekend. His passion for running just flows from the pages, and his desire to use running as a way to connect with the world around him resonated with me.

I got a lot out of his personal story too...after finishing running in college he dropped out of the scene, working second shift as an orderly at a hospital and doing a lot of partying with his friends. He went more than three years without running, but something sparked inside him and just a couple of years later he was one of the best in the world.

Here's a passage I liked (among many):

"Back in college, when I followed Amby along the trails around campus, I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would race marathons on five continents or that there would be a Bill Rodgers Running Center or that I would get invited to the White House . But that’s life. That’s the marathon. At first, it’s this unimaginable thing. Like climbing Everest. The journey is hard, and riddled with setbacks, but it can be conquered . The unimaginable becomes the imaginable. The impossible dream becomes just the dream. The important thing to remember is that the quest to win a marathon, or even to finish a marathon , starts where all great quests are born— within the heart. That’s where it started for me. 

The heart is always the true starting line."

I'm starting to realize that I want to have an "Everest"-type goal or dream. Fifteen years ago when I set out to run the marathon, the goal was that large. I don't think I've set another one like that in the time since.

I just feel like, when it comes to my running, that I need to do that again. So where do I go? I've given it a lot of thought over the last few days, and it comes down to one, simple goal.

I want to be fast.

Not just fast, but Boston Marathon fast. For the longest time, the Boston Marathon has been something I've said would be "nice" to do someday, but now it's something I feel like I have to do. Have you ever seen the movie Vision Quest? Yeah, it's kind of like that.

I feel like I have some running talent. After all, when I was a kid I blew people away in conditioning runs at school, and in gym class my freshman year, with no training at all, I came 100 meters away from running two miles in 12 minutes. People wanted me to run, but I didn't like it at the time, so I played golf.

But the thought has always been...what if I could get up to 50 or 60 miles per week in training, where could I go? I'm now ready to try it.

My goal is official: I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Don't get me wrong, I still want to be Faster Than Frank, and I hope to be in four months. This goal might take a while, and that is why it is so special.

Now, looking at me at I type this you might scoff a little. You aren't alone, I'm kind of doing the same...I weigh 245 pounds and have run six times in the last three weeks. Then again, when Bill Rodgers was partying and pushing dead people to the morgue in a hospital no one pegged him as an 18-time marathon winner either. But when the love came back, he started running miles, and days turned into weeks turned into months, and he was winning the Boston Marathon.

As he mentioned in his book, one of the things that stirred his contemporaries like Alberto Salazar and Greg Meyer on is because Bill was just a regular guy from New England, and if he could do it, so can they. And so can I

I just need to do this, and this is why I'm sharing it with you. This is going to take a while, and will be a lot of hard work, but I feel deep, deep down this is the next great quest of my life. Either that or it's a second mid-life crisis! :--)

I'm also sharing this in a forum like this because the people who read this get it. You all know why I want to do this and I will always appreciate the support I have always received from my running friends.

I'm gonna do it. You read it here first.