Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hyannis Half 2013 - The Road and Redemption

            A wise man once said, “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can be hit, how many times you can be knocked down, and keep getting up and getting back into the ring.”
            That man was Rocky Balboa, and although he was fictional, the lesson in those words is very real. In preparing for my first marathon last fall I had been hit, hard.  During September I had developed Achilles tendonitis which later worsened into plantar fasciitis as well. I was so deep into my training that I kept it quiet, lessened my training, and did my best to simply survive the marathon.  I had come too far to quit.
            In the weeks following that race I tried in vain to heal myself by continuing to run and stretch, the way that people try to speed recovery in pulled muscles by continuing to work them, albeit at a lower weight.  This tactic only worsened my state.  It came to a head during my work’s Christmas party where I found it nearly impossible to stand without searing pain in my left foot.  I asked myself what I was doing and what I was trying to prove.  After that night I gave up running.
            4 weeks later I got a sort of shot of inspiration from someone very close to me, also a runner.  It was a simple question of whether I was running the Hyannis Half Marathon Feb. 24th.  I told her that I would give it my best shot.  She has always been more than my friend; she’s a motivator, a partner, a coach, and yes an inspiration. I have my reasons why, but let’s just say if she was going to run I was damn well going to try. 
            So I did my best to train in 6 weeks.  I had been developing a new stride which was necessary to stop my heel striking and end any future Achilles trouble.  I had not tested that stride out in race conditions yet but felt fairly confident that I could successfully navigate 13.1 miles.
            Race day came with rain, wind, and temperatures hovering around 40.  The race was not a certainty until the evening before, the weather was thought to be that bad.  I had trained in the cold, the rain, and snow, and even trained on the very course the race was held on; to me there was never a doubt I’d run if the race was on. 
            Another wise man once said: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”  That man was legendary UCLA Bruins Men’s College Basketball coach John Wooden. 
            I realized that as long as I had trained properly, and was dressed accordingly for the weather than I would be able to do my best no matter what.  The starting line of the race was luckily so close to my gym that I was able to go early and warm up on the treadmill and stretch inside and put off facing the elements a little longer.  This also gave me time to be alone and think.  I thought back to how I had felt when the marathon was over in October.  I remembered feeling torn.  I felt like a success because I had finished 26.2 standing up, and after only 18 months of running.  However I also felt like a failure because it took every ounce of strength left in my body to drag myself across the finish line.  I had trained so hard and that was what I had to show for it?
            It had been a recurring theme, in my previous Halfs as well as the Full marathon I had either limped across the finish line injured, or not been able to finish at all.  I kept it to myself, but my main goal with the ’13 Hyannis Half was simply to finish at 100% and know I gave my all.
            The rain would never let up during the entire time I was outside.  I walked to the starting line and immediately sought shelter under an overhang with about 150 other runners.  There were rivers rushing along the streets and puddles taking up entire roads, but I was prepared.  Of course once you have run through a few puddles no amount of preparation short of wearing knee-high waders can stop your feet from getting wet.  I dealt with that though, that discomfort, along with being packed like sardines among 3,500 runners, was only temporary.  The experience and the accomplishment would be forever. 
I remembered that when I got a terrible side stitch at Mile 4.  I used the nose of my water bottle to jab at the pain which caused it to subside, until the next morning but that didn’t matter.  I also remembered the accomplishment would be forever when I was bumped by one runner and elbowed by another, definitely accidental but in the heat of a race I had to bite my tongue.
I did slow down some as the race wore on.  It was partly due to my feet being tired thanks to my new stride, and partly because I had a fear of slipping as my feet got tired and heavy.  I played it up for the cameras as I approached the finish line, waving my hat in the air as I crossed.  This time there were no injuries, no cramps, no ‘what ifs.’  This time there was just me and something called redemption. 
As Bill Rodgers and Greg Meyer told me the night before at the Running Expo, everyone has a different path, a different time frame to reaching their peak as a runner.  It took Greg Meyer 7-years of running 100 miles per week for him to reach his peak of winning the Boston Marathon.  I was not winning Boston; I was not crossing the finish line at Boston, but as I crossed the finish line in Hyannis I knew that I still was far from my peak as a runner.  This was only another step in the journey.

In between running legends Greg Meyer and Bill Rodgers.

Hiding from the cold rain before race time.
Posing with my medal after finishing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chasing Sunsets

            I never grow tired of a good sunset, even in the dead of winter.  I am sure that I am not the only one who feels the same.  The colors can turn a terrible day around.  I often use the sunset, and the time leading up to and immediately afterward, as a sort of meditation.  It is quite easy to get lost in thought when watching a sunset.  Whether from the warmth of a car during winter, or perched on a breakwater during summer, as long as there’s a sunset it doesn’t matter how you view it.  You can enjoy it with the sounds of surrounding nature, or with a favorite song playing in headphones, I do both quite often.  I even have made a Sunset Mix of music on my IPod for those times.
            I try to take at least one day each week in winter, and several during summer, to take the time to enjoy a sunset. It is a natural stress reliever.  Being from Cape Cod I have been privileged to see thousands of sunsets backdropped against the ocean.  I have several favorite spots from Bound Brook Island in Wellfleet to Monk’s Park in Monument Beach, yet any beach will do as long as there’s a sunset to be witnessed.  You really don’t even need a beach; just a few free moments to look toward the horizon.  The colors created as dusk approaches makes anything and everything take on a greater beauty.  If you are a photographer this is a prime time to break the camera out; you can even use a smart phone now. 
These are not complicated thoughts here obviously; I am not trying to make some profound statement here.  I think enjoying a beautiful sunset is about as simple a pleasure as there is in the world.  I think that this was just an excuse to share some sunset photos and perhaps influence a few of you to take a drive to a favorite spot, or even just stick your head out the window to enjoy a moment of meditation watching the next sunset. Cheers!
Where are your favorite sunset spots?  What about favorite sunset driving songs? 

Railroad Bridge on Cape Cod Canal

Monks Park, Monument Beach, MA

Summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

Delray Beach, FL


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

As Simple As Believing In Yourself

             If you believe you can do something you have a great chance of doing it. If you believe that you can’t do something, most likely you will fail.  It’s a really simple statement and was one I lived by in my training for the 2013 Hyannis Half Marathon February 24th.  The belief was in the fact that I could train for such a race in only 6 weeks.
            After completing the Cape Cod Marathon in October I had gone into a bit of hibernation with my running.  My Achilles tendonitis had made it difficult to walk let alone run.  It was mid-December when I hit my low point.  I had kept trying to run, like continually driving a car that was just flat out broken.  The pain was always excruciating during and after.  With each run the pain in my heel was unbearable to the point that I was spending longer icing and heating my foot than actually running.   
            At my work’s Christmas party I had to dress nicely, not a big deal by any means.  However, wearing the dress shoes caused me great pain walking and even standing.  I spent a good amount of the night sitting at my table wondering what I was doing to myself.  I needed to stop before something really bad happened. So I did.  I quit running and went back to my old elliptical and stationary bike routines at the gym. 
            Weeks went by and my desire to run waned.  I began to enjoy my old routines, it was like I had never been a runner at all.  This was fine until the New Year and resolution time.  I resolved to not only return to running and racing but to do it smarter and eventually better than before.  I would fix hitches in my stride to lessen heel striking and therefore Achilles pain.  Now, on January 1st I had no plans to race again anytime soon. A week later that changed.  I signed up for the Hyannis Half Marathon and therefore forced myself to start running or else I’d be wasting money.
            I sat at home and plotted out a 6-week training schedule run by run; something I had never done.  On paper it looked feasible.  The only problem was actually running.  This is where believing in myself came into play. I set the bar low as far as pace during my runs, the idea was just to finish it standing up and uninjured.  Time would be the last thing on my agenda. 
            The first few runs were slow and plodding but got the job done of re-breaking the running ice.  Then I decided to venture outside in the cold for a few miles. The race was outside after all, so why not experience the elements?  I did about 4 miles but more than that I felt the exhilaration that came when I initially had begun running at the start.  I loved that feeling and had missed it for so long.  Training for the marathon had become a job, and at times a tedious one.  I had lost why I began running in the first place.  It was that feeling of just me and the road. 
            Rediscovering my actual love of running made the 6 week training schedule seem not only feasible, but easy.  I believed that no matter what aches and pains I got after long runs that as long as I kept working on my stride and giving proper rest time I could make this work.  I also started enjoying running outside in the cold, rain, and snow.  I felt like a real runner.
            However, the main change in myself as a runner now as opposed to a few months ago is appreciation.  I appreciate the privilege of being able to run and treat each run, especially the outdoor ones, as though it might be my last.  It’s sort of the same thing that is said about appreciating people in your life.  If you treat it as if it might be the last time you ever see them than you will never take them for granted.  I lost my ability to run for a while and now appreciate the fact that I can do it again.
            The Hyannis Half is still a few days away, and the forecast is for rain and snow which makes me feel so much better about being ‘crazy’ and training outside.  I will of course save the actual race day for another day, but just the fact that I am ready for it after where I was in mid-December already makes this a victory.  If I can steal a phrase: Believe to Achieve.  That is all you need to do whether it’s something small like running a race, or something larger in life.  I have learned it and am now living by it.  
I truly appreciate scenes like this now.