Monday, December 26, 2011

"How Do You Measure A Year In A Life"

"Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes
 Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Moments So Dear
 Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes
 How Do You Measure - Measure A Year?
 In Daylights - In Sunsets
 In Midnights - In Cups Of Coffee
 In Inches - In Miles
 In Laughter - In Strife

 In - Five Hundred Twenty-Five ThousandSix Hundred Minutes
 How Do You Measure, A Year In The Life

 How About Love?"       --Seasons of Love,  RENT,

And if you know the song, I hope you sung along in your head.  Great song, inspiring and touching message. How do you measure a year in a life?
Well, how about, "Runs...?"

Yes, I would say that is a major component I use to measure a year, and holiday runs are the greatest. Not sure why, but it's impossible not to be infused with a new spirit on Christmas. This Christmas eve, I took a run in a 32 degree sunny day, light snow on the ground, and knocked out 8 miles with an exhilirating run through heritage park.

Trails with light snow, when they aren't icy, are incredible.  Light snow glistens on the evergreens, no sound anywhere and little evidence of humans. Its' just you, the earth, and some facsimile of the Garden of Eden to be traversed through, bounding up and down winding paths, where the air just seems fresher and my legs respond in kind.

Heritage in the summer.

It's not a holiday if I haven't taken my run, maybe that makes me an addict still, but a 'positive addiciton,' as William Glasser would say.

In measuring my year, it has been a good one. I now have two daughters in grade school, which means the growing and the learning and socializing has been lit all ablaze and is shining bright.  I have a new job, which is much more condusive to my family life and has opened up a whole new realm of challenges and oppurtunities for growth, and I finally released The Jade Rabbit after years of work,  and STRAY continues to be received very well.

But, I'm way more about planning ahead for the next year, as if plotting a battle, then I am in looking back. This means a long vacation or two, a couple of marathons (to make up for zero in 2011), more writing, re-examining my bucket list, and trying to sharpen all the other things that can get dull if not tended to.

(In other news, the map for the 2012 Ann Arbor Marathon is posted Ann Arbor Marathon Course Information  I think I took the same exact route 23 years ago during a drunken walk back to my dorm. I look forward to taking the same route in a different state of being.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

If You're Not Chasing After Miracles, What's The Point?

Going Big

Make your marathon BIG.

It's not just a run.  It’s not just an event, it’s the battle of your life.  It’s you proving yourself,

You are a fugitive trying to make it to Mexico.

You are Jean Val Jean being chased by Javert, with the life of a young Cosette’s well-being in the balance if you don’t get away.

You are Pee Wee Herman, looking for your bike cross country, dashing to the Alamo to claim what is rightfully yours.

You are running for your life, for your worthiness, for all that is sacred and to prove yourself strong enough, fighting back at the history of the voices in your brain, (some your own voice,) but all of them saying you are less than, you are average, you are weak, just a tiny fleck of dandruff on the great scalp of this huge planet…

No,  it’s not just an event, the marathon is a passage, a ritual, it is a spiritual quest taking you to face yourself, asking you to look into yourself, see if you are strong enough, brave enough, and do you have the guts to jump through the ring of fire, fling yourself down the volcano pit and trust that you’ll survive the blast.

At least these things hold true for me, by the way, a marathon is all these things besides just a running event.

 Yes, I'm a sentimental Jack-ass, and all  of this to say why I love the movie Saint Ralph

Michael McGowan, the writer/director of the film, is actually a former Detroit Marathon winner. The story follows angst-ridden fourteen year old Ralph who is seeking a miracle to save his mother from a coma. As Ralph struggles to understand Christianity as taught at the catholic school he attends, he concludes that if he performs an impossible running feat that it might be the miracle needed to save his mother’s life. A priest, cross-country coach, and former marathoner recognizes his running talent and invests in training him. Ralph’s plan is to win the Boston marathon.

Yes, the movie actually address some training issues including pacing, preserving energy, running hills, doing repeats, putting in the miles and fueling yourself afterwards, but it is the spiritual nature of running that guides Ralph and the movie.  Ralph has a naive idealism that drives him which you can’t help but admire both for the insane task of winning Boston as well as saving his mother.
The Director of 'Saint Ralph', winning the 1995 Detroit Marathon

The whole Easter theme of harrowing hell and then ascending to the heavens is played up perfectly with the Boston setting taking place on Easter weekend (which it does again in 2014).  And if you don’t decide to include the song “hallelujah” in your running track after watching the movie, then you probably didn’t connect with the film.

No spoilers, but the placement of Ralph’s Boston finisher medal is a triumph unlike any other. 

I was shooting for a similar demonstration of the miraculous effects of training for and running a marathon in "The Jade Rabbit" which also has a marathon ending that may seem incredulous to some, but to those who have run them and truly tapped in, can’t help but be seen as a veritable truth.

I think when we make the marathons “BIG” like this, when we go BIG or don’t go at all, we get the best out of ourselves. And I’m not talking the ‘beat yourself up if you don’t reach your goal’ BIG, that takes the fun out of it and is a deficit-based approach, I’m talking about all the self-talk you have when the pain and fears and exhaustion hits, and you talk back from deep within yourself saying “I can handle this! I got this”  and then leaving it all on the course. There is no tomorrow.  This has little to do with time goals.

All this, and now I find that I’m looking for some ‘themes’ for my running at this point. Some kind of a narrative to drive me. All my best training periods and marathon runs had narratives, they always parallel some other issue being addressed in my life.

 Some folks have suggested running for a charity, but for right now that doesn’t seem to drive me.   (I should throw in a disclaimer that I have worked in non-profits most of my life, have served the disenfranchised and made less money than the guy who painted the walls of my Masters degree classroom -- and I have done a cancer run, and am planning on a run for a homeless shelter end of 2012)   But I ‘m thinking more of some inner – psyche issue that needs to be battled, I’m thinking Micro and not macro.  I need little demon in my brain to fight, instead of big social demon like access to cancer treatment or fighting leukemia and such.  Maybe that means I run better when I'm angry, or maybe it means I’m just too damn happy right now. It won't be hard, though, since something will  find me and cling to me and I will use my marathon to climb to some incredible heights, or if not, it won’t be for lack of trying.

As Father Hibbert says in St. Ralph: "If you're not chasing after miracles, what's the point?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Things I Learned Or Relearned This Weekend, And A Review and Giveaway

A blogger, adoptive mother, and runner of many miles has posted a review and giveaway of The Jade Rabbit

Check it out here:  See Mom Run Far: The Jade Rabbit Review and Giveaway:
I have been incredibly appreciative of bloggers who have been willing to take a look at the novel and give a review (and their feedback has been incorporated into a recent edit of the novel) but this blogger was sorta extra special as she is an adoptive mother as well as a runner.  It's a bit tacky to say, but she is an angel and perhaps that's why she can run so many miles in her Brooks minimalist shoes, and is doing the Goofy challenge at Disney this year.

I, on the other hand, did a 13 mile run 2 days ago which wiped me out. I tried to run today and had to slog back in after just 4 miles. Even though I have done a dozen marathons and have plenty of confidence, no matter how many times you run the 26.2 it still takes hard work to get there. The discipline, endurance, and persistence doesn't just happen by itself.  I also believe you need to be inspired by something to keep your drive and energy, and I'm working on tapping into the deeper meaning of my upcoming spring marathon. I tend to attach deeper meaning to all events, and this one is still taking shape.

Other things I learned, or relearned this weekend:

--Rich people who say  "wanna bet?" mean Ten Thousand dollars same way I would say "bet you 10 bucks the Lions lose?"  or  "50 bucks says the Smail's kid picks his nose"

If you haven't seen Caddyshack, the 'Smails' reference will mean little to you.
--Watching my kids look at our Christmas tree makes me realize how I will always remember my own tree at their age and what it felt like to see the lights and imagine the presents.  And here we are, making permanent memories in their little heads. Oh, the pressure.

--If you eat enough peppermint bark, you have candy-coated/red striped BM's.

This big bin is empty.

--And Finally: People love 'Free'.  
Readers on Amazon downloaded The Jade Rabbit 800 times for free on kindle this weekend as part of Amazon's Prime Member Lending promotion. I had to give my agreement, which I did, so have 800 new readers who 'one-clicked' there way to a free ebook.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

They Have Age Groups For A Reason

Trying to qualify for Boston and coming close, one strategy is to just keep running the same time and let the qualifying times catch up to you. After all, they jump five to ten minutes every five years, and surely you won’t slow as much as the BQ times.
BQ chart - Old School Times - Changing for 2013

Well, being 40 + means you realize that may not be the case.

They have Age Groups For A Reason.
101 years old and a closet full of age-group awards

Age groups are not just to boost the egos of those who are aging, (well, maybe partly for that) but to let you know you are not alone with declining bodies and increasing finish times.  I ran a marathon in 3 hours and 16 minutes once, (but I was young and foolish and I am certain I was in 3:10 minute shape)  three years ago it was 3 hours and 20 minutes,  and now as I plan a spring marathon I am hoping to keep a 3 hours and 25 minute pace.  If I keep running into my fifties, I am sure it may be 3 hours and 80 minutes.

For all of these runs, it’s not that I’m not trying as hard. My perceived effort does not change, but the results do.   

When I run a 7:30 mile, it feels what a 7:10 did years ago.  I haven’t done the math, but my guess is it’s about 2 seconds every year that your time slows down, per mile, with the same effort.  Over a marathon, this means about a minute slower each year, and thus fits in with the general 5 minutes slower BQ times every 5 years (especially with the new standards)

Running fast is a joy.  I really believe it gets out more frustration and ‘deeper tissue’ angst than a regular run does, and it’s the only way to shock your muscle and lungs to a higher plateau if you’ve been putting in all your miles at the same pace.  But a fast run, as good as it feels, takes me twice as long to recover from.  If I put in some speed, or do some hill work, I used to be able to do a hard workout again in 2 days. Now it’s doubled to four or five, and I have to put in a slogging recovery run in between.

The other noteworthy thing: as your body starts to change, the long runs are even more difficult to fit in to your schedule since a 20 miler now takes an additional 15-20 minutes due to slower mile times.)

For this reason, btw, I think PR’s should also reset every few years. Maybe not every five, but perhaps every 7 to 10 years.

17 year old 2:48 marathoner.

I used to not buy into the whole age thing.

My "off the cuff" list of “Used To’s”
-I used to think older people were wimps and lazy when they complained of their old bones.

-I used to be able to do a ten mile run and the next day do quarter mile intervals under 70 seconds and then bounce back with six miles the next day.

-I used to be able to run 5 days a week, and cross train with a 15 mile mountain bike ride or a game of roller hockey in between.

-I used to only be held back by the ability of my lungs, just the scolding of their anaerobic attack rather than sore, non responsive legs was the barrier to running faster. 

-I used to be able to see a menu at a restaurant without holding it far away, at arm’s length and then concentrating with all my might.  Same with expiration dates.  I used to not need reading glasses.

And the used to list goes on and on….

And then the age hits, and you realize that old people aren’t wimps, they are just playing with old equipment with some wounds that are permanent.  And it’s not even the years, it’s often the mileage.  But what you lack in fresh material, the wisdom that comes with age is the only bonus.

I realize there are some who are less impacted by age. Some of this, I believe, is due to stretching, cross-training, and genetics. The rest is discipline.  I can have the discipline to run, but my genetics are fair at best, my stretching is terrible and intermittent, and my genetics I can blame on somebody else.

Now the Same perceived effort of a 7:30 mile is what an 8 minute mile feels like.  My mile intervals, when done, are at the pace at barely below what my regular “putting in the miles” pace used to be.

But the biggest factor, I believe, is that it takes probably triple the recovery time that it used to.  A rage filled

So, I was thinking, that of course they have Age Groups for a reason, but how about other factors.

-"I have an infant at home who does not sleep through the night" group

-"I have two children under 5" group

-"I had a house fire in the middle of training" group

-  "I had to loose 80 pounds over a year," 
   "I had to endure people laughing at my goals of running a marathon,"
   "I spent years battling substance abuse,"
   "my legs are multiple inches shorter than this gifted person next to me" or
   "I ran two marathons in six months"  group

Obviously, some minor, some major

Then again, we all carry our baggage.  So, hopefully in our heads we give ourselves an award for our own specific struggles we have overcome, which are uniquely ours.  There is a spiritual law that says we purposely put certain barriers in our own way in order to target specific areas where our soul needs to grow. So think of your barriers as gifts.

I remember one half-marathon I did where the days before the event I had a major gastro-intestinal problem.  I made frequent trips to the bathroom that upped my weekly mileage and I was so fluid empty.  All night long before the race I was awake, back and forth to the john, and fully planned to skip the event entirely.  Only problem was, I needed a half-marathon time to put myself into a corral for the Chicago Marathon or else I would have started in the back, so in the morning I kept down a couple of bananas and changed my mind.

The event was so difficult to run with a rumbling, very dynamic digestive track, a pair of clenched cheeks, and trying not to stop at each plastic portapotty pod to take a sit down. I finished slowly but triumphantly and did get into corral C, one lesser corral than I would have been placed in had I been healthy,  but when I did finish,  I wanted a “diarrhea-induced dehydration” group medal.    Funny, never got one. But I should have. That day, I was iron man, a beast, a force, not due to my time, but what I had to overcome.

The mascot of the "Hungry Duck" half-marathon. I was definitely making some quacking noises.

So, take it easy on yourself, and repeat it as many times as you need to.

They have age groups for a reason…
They have age groups for a reason…

Interviewed by Blogger: "Dads Who Run" - Check it out

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Walking Dead, Unscrupulous Maids, Zombie Marathoners, and Book Reviews

This is my first Sunday in a while without an episode of The Walking Dead.  Oh, the withdrawal.

Weeks ago, I posted on the two Horror driven shows; The Walking Dead and American Horror story. (Read it here: The Real Horror of "American Horror Story")

 My point was largely that the horror in these shows was just a metaphor for the interpersonal dynamics. In the case of AHS (what hip people call American Horror Story) the real horror is a couple dealing with  infidelity, trust, anger, ( perpetual anger) and all the shattered lifes caused by the ripples of hurt.  The horror of all this inner-psyche drama sticks around like ghosts in your basement in a house you can never leave.

Well, if AHS and The Walking Dead were in a race to win my favorite current show, The Walking Dead just flew by AHS in a rapid sprint, and gave it a little elbow to the gut, just to make a point.

AHS has slipped into soap opera-ish moments.  Sure there is plenty of character angst, plenty of ongoing drama,some creepy sweet surprises, but much of it is 'drama for drama' sake, and worse, ‘horror for horror’ sake, with scenes that seem cheap based on standards set by the first episodes. (for example, the basement scene where the maid lures someone to the basement and helps ‘make him vulnerable; was less than impressive.)

The Walking dead, on the other hand, was laying the groundwork for some great moral ambiguities and dilemmas. The show does a great job blurring the lines between right and wrong, and there are characters who are stuck in some grey areas trying to battle for a moral compass. Secrets, love triangles, and the dilemmas of bringing a child into a desolate wasteland.  Is the life of one worth risking the life of all?  Can you ‘euthanize’ your own family member when they have ‘turned’?  Is it okay to keep secrets if you feel lifes are at risk?

All these unclear decision are in contrast to the zombies, who follow just one drive and that is to eat..  Yet who is more humane?  the humans who kill for no reason, or the zombies who can’t think about it and just kill for food?.  Having to make these choices is what makes us human. If you don’t’ have to make them, and are just trying to survive and only survive, then you are a zombie.  Shane is starting to turn, without having been bitten.

(If you follow the show,  the moment Sophia walked out of that shed was done so well after all the build up, the searching, the group turmoil and debating, and then the moment where you waited for the reactions of the group - Who would step up and do what had to be done? Good and fun stuff.)

In light of the largely running theme of this blog, can’t there be an analogy to surviving in the post-apocalyptic world  to running a marathon?. Like running a marathon, you have to be thoughtful and plan ahead, have skills and strengths and smarts, but ultimately there will be those visceral moments where it's just your whole body and soul being tested to see what’s inside and what you are made of.  Are you tough enough in mind, body and spirit to survive?

So, here it is Sunday night and I’m missings Zombie, so searched for what would be a great Zombie Read.  I read the kindle sample of “Feed” as well as “The Reapers are The Angels,” and chose the latter.   So far, I love it!  And there’s something so special about being in a book where I can’t wait for time to read and inevitably stay up later than I intended. “Just another five minutes” turns into an hour real easy.

In this light, I’m going to make it a point to always include a book review on my blog along the right side, taken directly from my goodreads account.  I have just posted Throwaway daughter, one of the few pieces of fiction concerning Chinese adoption and an instrumental piece in me writing The Jade Rabbit . But I’ll be posting more soon.

Stray, the novel on Amazon
Stray addicts and stray dogs, wandering the streets looking for salvation.
The Jade Rabbit on Amazon
A Chinese adoptee and her miraculous marathon run.


Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror IS ALIVE!! $4.99 for Kindle $12.99 for paperback  (buy the paperback, and you can get t...