Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Can Kick My Butt Now, But That Wasn't Always The Case.

 "Everything you do in life will be insignificant...but it's very important that you do it" - Ghandi

One of the 'opportunities' of growing older is the ability to accept that what you once did fast and often you are now lucky to do at all. One morning this week, my alarm went off to get me out of bed for my usual pre-dawn, before-work run, and I no more wanted to get out bed than the man in the moon. I knew it was cold (ok, it was only 43 degrees, but anything cooler than bath water is cold to me!), and I grumbled about putting on a long sleeve and whether it was cold enough for gloves (of course it was). I struggled to brush my teeth, get dressed and lace up my shoes. Each physical movement to get ready was an effort accompanied by an appropriate grunt or blow.  At each pause along the way to the front door out of the house, I ALMOST convinced myself to just set my watch alarm, put my head back, and wake up in 45 minutes. But, being the hard core runner that I am, I just kept aiming to the door, stepped outside, waited while Mister Nike+ Watch acquired the needed satellites so I would know how far my 4.06 mile loop was today, and eventually I got going down the road. Now, this tale should tell about what a pleasure it was to run in the morning coolness (cold) as the day transformed from dark to light, and how glad I was that I had defeated my morning gremlins to hit the roads. Sorry! My legs felt like crap cement pillars and each step felt worse than the one before. Sometimes I say "I dragged through this run", but friends, "I really dragged through this run!". No warning. It just just came upon me when I woke up! Even though I put in the expected mileage, the effort was just not there. Hey, it happens. Not too often, but more often than I'd like. It's days like this that I think you really have to try to fight those demons, because they lurk inside and can just as easily show up during a long run or race and if you don't have practice at meeting it head on, it becomes easier to give in.

This morning, Moha and I ventured out to Oak Mountain to put in some miles getting ready for a trail 50K we're doing next week. We did the same "race" last year and we call it "The Sissy Trail 50k" because it's 10 loops of a 3+ mile trail that has gentle, but constant rolling terrain. Well, this week, I get an email from David Tosch, the Race Director, about the details of the race and while cursively reading the course description, I notice we're on a different trail this year! Now, I don't consider myself a creature of habit, but dagnabit, don't change the course on me a week out. It's really no big deal as we quickly dubbed this trail "Sissy Trail #2", but after 4 loops (13+ miles) I was questioning how another 6 loops would go. Guess we'll find out next week. But, although the course is relatively the same terrain, I had all these voices going through my head about "hillier, more turns, more rocks, more roots"... all fabricated and I'm sure things will go least if it doesn't go fine, it won't be because of the course.

I have been an ultra-runner for over 30 years and have certainly have had to confront those little voices to just "shut it down" many, many times. Back in the old days, in many races I could finish in the top 10% of the field. Sure, there would be bad days but they were few and far between. Segue a couple of decades ahead... Very few of my former peers are still running, let alone running ultras. We get slower, stiffer, crankier, and hopefully, I guess just more accepting of the way things are. Somedays, I think maybe I don't need to run for 3 hours on a Saturday morning, or I don't need to set my sites on an ultramarathon a couple of months ahead. But, you know what? I really enjoy doing this kind of stuff. I've written on this site several times about how long distance running is part of me. It is not what defines me, but it is part of the fabric that holds me together. I still shoot to finish for that 10% finish, but it's the bottom 10% instead of the top. But, that's more than ok with me. I like the fact that I can go the distance, even if that distance seems to be MUCH longer than it used to be when it's actually shorter. I try to replace these "Shut it down" voices with my own "Shut the hell up" voice and keep trotting down the trail. 

The new crop of runners are where I was in 1980, only they are faster, better equipped, and but, as I did, know they are indestructible and I am now on the trail behind them. But, there is nothing wrong with that...just give me enough time and I'll be there. They'll stop running when they get to the finish line and I'll catch up. Then we'll hoist a beer together and times will be irrelevant. We're both doing what we want to do, and hopefully, keep doing it.

Wait for me and I'l see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Closing Thoughts on Boston '13

“When I'm about overwhelmed by all this, I take this loneliness out on the roads … to know that there is an answer even though I may never find it." - George Sheehan

It amazes me that in less than one week's time, the agents who know what they're doing can take an area filled with unspeakable horror and thousands of pieces of evidence no bigger than a potato chip, and hunt these guys down to where we have one alive who hopefully will crack and give us some useful information. Promise him the world, let him spill his guts out, then say "just kidding" and lock him up with murderers like him, except murderers that love Boston and don't like their city desecrated. 

I posted a blog the week before the marathon about how the community comes together for this annual celebration. Then, this week, I posted another blog a day after the marathon about what a shock this all was, and how impossible it is to internalize what has happened. Now that the good guys have seemed to have captured the lowlife that did this, I will post one more blog and then try to let this find it's corner, as it will in all of us, somewhere deep, but never to be forgotten. Like 9/11 and Oklahoma City, it's with us everyday. Our lives have been forced to change and will never return to the way it was. 9/11 changed the way we travel, Oklahoma City changed the way work, and this will change the way we play. Sure, we'll come back strong and say we won't let the bad guys win or change the way we live, but it's just words. Our races will have more police, and more bomb-sniffing dogs. Our backpacks and bags will be searched more carefully. Our conversations have one more "Where were you when...?" entry into a much too long list of moments that sear a memory we don't want to revisit. 

Yes, there's still much healing that has to be done, both physically and mentally. Many questions are left to be answered, but hopefully, in time these will be answered in a way that will help to prevent this from ever happening again. Maybe wishful thinking, but what can you do but think wishfully? I'm glad they caught the hell-bound villain so that there is not this uncertain cloud hanging over us, but we all know the answers to the questions we are asking will not be answered quickly. So, now we must heal ourselves. If, like me, you don't live in Boston, we won't have the daily reminders of this week, and the utter horribleness will fade. Communities like Birmingham, where I live, had a "Memorial Run For Boston" this week, and I'm sure all runs and sporting events held this weekend had a deserved moment of silence, as we should. We will wear ribbons and mementos and Boston Marathon gear to show we will never forget, but the heavy sharpness of Boston Marathon Finish Line will become a dull pit inside us.  

In the reading the many, many words written and told this week, I realized something about the magic of the Boston marathon. If you come in once a year from out of state to run this marathon, it is truly magical as is the City of Boston itself for the runner. It is always springtime and the Red Sox fever is running high as they begin their season. Everyone is in a good mood, and come raceday, of course, it's a one goes to work or school. Instead they all come out  to run or cheer you on. They don't know you, but from Hopkinton all the way to Boston, you're a star. In this Boston, you run from town to town, up the infamous Heartbreak Hill towards the magical Bolyston Street Finish. "Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston" becomes your mantra.  But now Boylston Street will be still be a scene of celebration, but it will be a solemn celebration. Whooping and hollering at the finish line will also be done with solemn rememberence. This act didn’t just occur in Boston, it invaded the magical Boston of marathon day for all of us who have ever done it, have a realistic chance of one day qualifying, or mostly for those who close their eyes and just dream BOSTON. The theme of these days is "Boston Strong". I like the sign I saw that said "Wicked Strong".

I'll see you all on the roads. Stay Wicked Strong - AL   

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world" 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts on Boston '13

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mothers’ words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world".- Fred Rogers

This took too long to write, and in part it’s because there really are no words to describe how I feel right now. As a marathon runner who has run the Boston Marathon 5 times and has strong familial ties to Boston, I feel I have to respond. But where are the words? Perhaps there are no words because I can't even describe to myself how I feel.

I wasn't in Boston this Patriot's Day, but I was the week before. I didn't cross the Finish Line painted on Bolyston Street on Monday, but I did the week before. I wasn't in Marathon Sports during Marathon Weekend, but I was the previous Sunday.

It's 2004, (or any one of 4 other years I ran Boston), I am struggling as is the usual Al-mode at 25+ miles. I make the right turn onto Hereford and two blocks later, make a left onto the fabled Bolyston Street. The noise echoing off the buildings is  positively deafening. Spectators are packed 8-10 deep on both sides of Bolyston and yet, above the maddening crowd I can hear "Dad, dad". I look to the right and jumping up above the first three rows of people as if on a pogo stick, is my son, Michael. All is much better with my immediate world as I head to the finish line. He is jumping in front of the Mandarin Hotel. The Mandarin Hotel is very close to where the 2nd bomb went off Monday. That extremely happy memory of a decade ago hits me in the gut today. What if...?

Why do horrible things keep tarnishing and hurting people, places and experiences we love? 

We all know what the finish line of a race symbolizes -  pride, achievement, gratitude, fortune, happiness, relief, and hard work. The finish line is where we reunite with those that care about us, and where we share our hard sought accomplishments with perfect strangers who just happen to finish in the same general time we did.  That line means so much. And now for that line to become a place of horror and carnage is surreal, disgusting, saddening, maddening. To watch that older gentleman, just feet from the finish line, get blown off his feet and to the ground was devastating.

Watch the video from the finish line again. Or like me, just replay it in your mind. Now, at the moment just before things changed, pause it. Whisper to yourself, “There’s a bomb somewhere in this picture". It's almost mesmerizing as you look into the cheering crowds waving their arms, look at the runners at their glorious moment of triumph, and well deserved relief, and look at the police and volunteers with little to do but share in all the physical happiness of the finish line. Whisper again, "There's a bomb somewhere in this picture". Then hit PLAY one frame at a time. It is so damned scary! 

Last Sunday, I was running with my friend, Larry and we both agreed that one of the things that makes running so enjoyable is that the running community is filled with genuinely good people. While running is very much an individual sport in many respects, we all strive to celebrate and triumph together, united by a common pursuit. Whether celebrating a first 5k, a PR, or a lifelong pursuit of crossing the finish line on Boylston Street, we all train, race, and celebrate together. They say bad things happen to good people. It appears more and more that bad things happen to all people. At least that's how I feel today. Part of what we celebrate inside us has been taken away.

I had many friends doing Boston this year. I thank God they are all safe. I pray for the ones who weren't as fortunate. Like I said...I have no words. I'll see you all on the roads - AL   

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world" 

Friday, April 12, 2013

It Takes a Village to Make the Boston Marathon What It Is

"No one gets to their heaven without a fight" - Neil Peart

This past weekend, my wife & I made our somewhat bi-monthly trip up to Boston to visit my son, Michael, and his wife, Joanie. And of course, we were also visiting our very rapidly growing grandchildren, 3 1/2 year old Adam and 1 1/2 year old Emma. Holy cow, talk about energy. Ol' grandpa was pretty pooped almost every day. A game of tag in the park can turn into quite an intensive aerobic workout, although Adam didn't seemed too phased after 20 minutes straight of "you're it!". 

Usually, when our visit comes around this time of year, we'll usually finagle the schedule so it coincides with the Boston Marathon, but this year, we were just too anxious to get up there and play grandparents. I did however, get in my mandatory run on the BM course, which always includes crossing the finish line, which is painted across Bolyston Street year-round. I've done Boston 5 times, but those days are behind me and now I run on the roads full of not just my memories, but also the memories of thousands of some very special runners. As I ran down Beacon Street this year, over "Mt Kenmore", past Fenway and the famous Citgo Sign, up Hereford and down Bolyston, I had plenty of time to think about what makes Boston so special.

First of all, it's the community - it contagiously seems so involved. I’ve attended races in other large cities, such as Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego and even Disney World, but nothing comes close to the crowd and community support shown during the Boston. For example, a marathon is 26.2 miles, and in most races, it’s common for runners to come across sections of the course with no spectators, just peace and quiet (or boredom). However, during the Boston, the entire course is lined with people...I've read at least 500,000! The seven cities along the point-to-point course each will pack the course, but as you get closer to Boston, the crowd gets thicker and thicker and louder and louder. Everyone in Boston and all the towns along the race route feel as though they have some kind of ownership of the race; this is a time for them to shine on one of the world’s brightest running gems. Of course, there is that giant bulge of excitement at roughly the
 halfway point when you enter The Scream Tunnel - Wellesley College. There are few bigger thrills in marathon running then hearing the absolute billion decibel shrill from coeds holding signs begging to be kissed. The Boston Marathon starts at 10 a.m., and by the time you reach downtown, the crowds can be 10 deep. What’s especially interesting is that most of the spectators are from the local area. (Participants in the Boston Marathon must qualify within a certain time for their age group. It’s pretty competitive, so most runners are not from the surrounding areas). This race isn’t just a race; it’s a community event.   

The most amazing experiences for me at Boston always begin at the point in time when I land at Logan International Airport in Boston. As soon as I step off of the plane, I see a sudden shift in the morphology of the general population around me. First, signs greet the runners as soon as you hit the concourse. There are large billboards, banners, and motivation signs everywhere...the airport, the subways, the streets, painted on buildings, on top of taxis. Athletic folks abound all over, carrying water bottles and wearing t-shirts espousing the various running clubs or races that they have been affiliated with. To your right and left are small groups of folks chatting quietly and confidently while chewing on a Clif Bar. In truth, even before this if you are flying into Boston, you only need to look around the plane you are flying on to see hints of this already. It's exciting to be flying into a hub from anywhere USA (in my case, Birmingham, Al) to catch
 your connection to Boston. In this hub there will be hundreds, and on your plane there will be dozens of folks going to the Holy Grail of marathoning. These people need no medals swung loosely around their necks for us to understand just how talented these runners are. It isn’t the running shoes on their feet or the small duffel bag on their shoulder that gives them away.  In fact it’s in their confidence and the special stare in their eyes. What makes Boston different than any other marathon is that everyone that has qualified for this race has already done the work to get here. There is nothing left to worry about or be concerned about aside from any demons that we all continue to carry around with us in search of our next good race, and if it should be at Boston, so much the better. Boston is about celebrating your accomplishments. 

Unlike other marathons, where people wander aimlessly around the expo, the huge Boston Marathon Expo is very much business as usual, with runners getting in, and getting out as efficiently as possible. When you go to the Boston Expo, most runners know how this works because they've done this so many times before. Everyone there knows what they are capable of accomplishing. All the vendors seem to be so much more attuned to the seasoned runner and not needing to slowly guide a new runner through the maze of their wares and products. We know what they're selling and hawking. We know what we want. We want to know what's new, or where's the booth that has what we want (not necessarily need). 

The charity entries have definitely changed this atmosphere, and although I was a Team-in-Training coach for 15 years, I actually discourage folks from running Boston under a charity entry. I simply think that there’s nothing wrong with one marathon to be held aside for those age-groupers who purely by genetic gift or gut-out training have risen to this level of performance. All marathons have their personalities and Boston is no exception. The course is no joke, but it is after all, just another course, 26.2 miles long. To me what is really special about Boston is that from the moment you get off the plane till the moment you get back to the airport to go home you have a community that is singularly committed to celebrate all of the sacrifices that you made to get there and all the joy you have in your personal feat. In short, The Boston Marathon is the slam dunk of running. Not everyone can do it, but when you do, the immediate world the whole
 Boston-Metro area takes notice and you can’t help but feel that it was all worth it. 

Congratulations to all who will be participating in Boston on Monday. As always, I am humbled by your achievement. Congratulations on your journey.

Here, there, or anywhere, I'll see you all on the roads.

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"