Puzzles and Time Travel: 3 Minutes with the Class of 2021.

I’ve not only been honored to be elected to my community’s school committee, I’ve been honored to have been elected by that committee to be it’s vice-chair.  By the time they were my age, both John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton were President of the United States, and I’m pretty sure Barack Obama was running for said office when he was my age if not already President.  In other words, I’m not putting on airs that School Committee is the be all end off of public life or of  honors.

I can’t imagine running for nor serving in another capacity than this.

As part of my role as Vice Chair, it’s my responsibility to act as counter balance to the chair.  Where he delivers the School Committee address to our graduating seniors, the Vice Chair addresses the 8th Graders moving up to High School.

As such, I’ve struggled with what I’m to say for several (read here, approximately 48) weeks, but I’ve finally put together the message I’m delivering our 8th graders…the purpose of this post is to share it with you.

It begins thus:

A few weeks ago, the class of 2017 graduated high school.  The class president’s speech drew an allusion to the class members as puzzle pieces, having spent their school career coming together as one, all held tightly together by each other, ultimately now to come apart to discover how they could now join other puzzles

Graduation is a time of reflection back on the previous four years with gratitude, with fondness   perhaps and with accomplishment:  “You’ve done it!” “A job well done.”  “Onward and upward to better things.”

Today, you’re taking the first step toward that day. Four years from now, you’ll be looking back at this day and all the days between.

You have before you the opportunity to build great things, achieve great things, learn great things, and most importantly become the full expression of your potential.

THIS  is the day you start that narrative, THIS is the day you start the work you will be celebrating on a June evening four years from now.

As Vice Chair of our School Committee, my job here today is to welcome you to  High School, and that I do.   There will be opportunity here that you have only thought about.

  • If you see the opportunity to fill need, be a leader and fill it.
  • If you see the opportunity to participate, be a community member and join it.
  • If you see the opportunity to learn and experience new things, be the student you can be and learn it.

In the next four years, you will become adults.  You will emerge from this place different people than who you are now.  High School is an amazing, transformative experience where you will learn just how you fit together with others.

A puzzle is a great metaphor for the next four years – it’s not an easy or clear cut path finding out how the pieces come together, but eventually through trial and error, they do.  There will be fits and starts, missteps and times where the pieces just do not fit.  It can be messy.

But keep working at it.

It takes work to complete, and when it’s done   it’s truly a job well done.

Congratulations on the completion of your elementary and Middle school experiences.  Onward and upward to better things.  Take the opportunity in front of you – This is the day the puzzle begins to come together for the class of 2021.

Races vs. Miles

In 2016, I ran 66 races.  It started as a stretch goal, and built as I went along.  I built a plan of 46 races for my 46 years, but I hit race 46 in August, and went from there.

For the first half of the year, the majority of races were 5ks.  Twice, I ran three races in a weekend.  It seemed pretty badass at the time.

My real mission there was to keep reinforcing my newfound interest in fitness.  Have a race/fitness plan, and work it.  In response to a friend asking me why, I said I was the youngest I was ever going to be.  And thus I did it.

I took few chances.  The Ragnar Relay in May 2016 was a bit of a chance in that I was saying I’ll run 16 miles in 24 hours, something I’d never done, but other than that it wasn’t a stretch goal  The real goal was getting the number in.  That would require being injury free.  And I was.

In October, I ran my first half marathon after an entire week of preparation.

I lost exactly no races to injury.  None.

In 2017 I decided to change up.  Last year I found myself focused on the NUMBER of races, and I got those in.  Hell, I destroyed the goal by 150%.  This year I decided on miles.  Training miles.  Racing miles.  Whatever.  I promised myself I would try things I could fail at.  In January, I DNF’d for the very first time, but it was gratifying.

I COULD have finished, but there was a Nor’Easter blowing in.  It took me twice as long to drive home as it did to drive there.  The trail was covered in ice and snow.  The better part of valor, though, was to say, I’m out.

Sure, this year I’ve run 5ks.  Did pretty good at them too!  But this was the year I was doing distance.  On January 1, I ran a 5-Mile Race.  Then 15k, a combination 13.1, , 10 miler…a 50k…that this time I did finish.  A Ragnar Ultra team.  It’s been amazing.

Last weekend I ran the hardest race I’ve ever run.  It was truly a race that I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish (One of my goals for the year was to do things I wasn’t sure I’d finish).  6000′ of elevation gain over 31+ miles.  4/5 stars difficulty, technical, and the like.  It was no joke.

I completed it.  My second ultramarathon this year…my second ultramarathon ever.  It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t competitive, it wasn’t pretty.  But I finished.

But I broke my foot.

This past week has been tough.  I’ve been largely sedentary, my toe hurts like a mother.  I mean, bad.  I’ve been to the E/R, I’ve been to the hospital, I’ve had no less than 7 X-rays on it, I’m scheduled for a CT scan and surgery next week.  It’s FUBAR and bad.  That race will cost me no less than 3 more races.  I insist it was 100% the right decision to push through and complete the race, but I’m disappointed that I can’t work my plan.

My friends all had wonderful and kind things to say to me about my race total goal last year.  By the end, I was dismissing their kind words with disclaimers such as “they’re mostly 5k’s…” or “my time wasn’t that good…”

Boy was I wrong, and here’s why.  You have to maintain health and physical ability to be able to run a race total goal.  My 2017 goal was miles – I’m likely to hit that goal, even though I’m likely to wind up out of commission for a month.  If I had taken a month out of my running schedule last year, I may not have hit my goal – July 2016 represented no less than 11 races alone.

66 races in a calendar year – more than 70 if I was holding to my February-January year – was a feat not because of the difficulty of the race, but because of the difficulty of staying healthy over that period of time.

As I now nurse my foot, and pinkie toe the size of my thumb that’s preventing me from participating my favorite races – a Spartan race and a fundraising triathlon – I have to remind myself that yeah, 66 races is pretty badass.

With my one race last Saturday, I equalled 10 of my 2016 races – One 50k vs. 10-5k’s, but they’re different races with different skill sets.  My goal this year is mileage, but the importance of acknowledging what’s been accomplished remains huge.  I’m racking up miles this year – and I’ll be hitting hit more than ever once I’m recovered –  but one can rack up a lot of miles pretty quickly.  To hit X number of races over a year requires stamina, but also staying power.

Lesson learned.  Staying power, doing those weekly 5k every Saturday is important.  It means you’ve made it through another week.  That you’ve outlasted everyone else sleeping in.

The number, then, is just as important as the mileage.  Don’t belittle your accomplishments, no matter how small.  There’s a lot that goes into every single one.  Take none of it for granted.

The Power of Friendship and Loyalty

Some of the most important people in my life are people with whom I went to high school.  I’ve been out of high school for 30 years, I’ve earned 3 college degrees, but it’s the men I went to high school with that hold these special places in my life.

My kids are 10 years apart and both of their Godfathers are men with whom I went to high school.  They’re the people I associate with the most.  And they’re not necessarily the same people I associated with in school, it’s a continuing evolution driven by the community engendered by the school and executed by these guys.  We’re a tight bunch.

In 2013, one of these men suggested I run something called a “Spartan race” after I mentioned how I was interested in the “Warrior Dash” that had been recently held.  I took him up on it, and my daughter and I did it together.  It was a transformational experience; it gave me a basis on which to build at another point.  More on that in a minute.

That was the first organized race I’d ever run.  And my muscles turned to absolute stone.  Completely out of shape – my training included a walk down the street to the mechanics shop down the street.  Rather than use that as motivation to get in shape, I let the inertia ride.  Over the next two years, I gained probably 35 pounds.

I was out of shape to the point that my sciatic nerve was giving me trouble.  I had a feeling in my foot like I had been wearing a shoe with kraft paper stuffed in the toe.  My doc basically told me that he’d prescribe physical therapy and if that didn’t work, we’d have to consider surgery.

That was NOT going to happen.

And thus began my journey.  I wasn’t about to have surgery on my back, and after having gone through several sessions of PT (and realizing that I really was pretty sedentary), I started back to the gym.  Walking the treadmill.  Slowly progressing toward increasing inclines…speed…time…distance.

Then…another Spartan race.  I knew what that would take, and that one race two years previous gave me a goal.  Next, A Warrior Dash.  Rugged Maniac.  In the meantime, another high school classmate offered me some fitness DVDs.  How important was it that he share?  He overnighted them to me.  Truthfully, it was that one thing that hit home how serious fitness is and how serious he was taking my fitness – even if I wasn’t that serious.  He ran the Warrior Dash with me and we talked on the shuttle bus;  Just how important high school was to us, the community.  How it was unlike any other. From there, he built a group of these same men with an interest in fitness and health.  We were no longer young.  We have to work at it.  And so, relationships started better than 30 years previous began to evolve again.

So, here we are.  Two years later.  We’ve run wo Ragnar Relays, a couple of mud runs, more than a few workout runs together.  I went from “No, no, no, never” to running anything more than a half marathon, to taking my first DNF with him, and eventually completing my first ultra marathon.

This past weekend, we attempted the North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50k together.  31+ miles. 6000′ of elevation gain.  Though a winding path, it’s this occurrence that brings me to the main point of the post.

We ran this race together, but he’s far more advanced than am I.  Without question, I was holding him back.  If he stayed with me, I’d have compromised his time – and while I know he’s all about the team, I also know he’s at least as competitive as I am and  I know I’d feel a little regret about not running my own race.  I encouraged him to run his own race.

Teammates and friends do not hold each other back.  They support each other so they reach their greatest results. Even if that means that they don’t stick together.

At mile 10, I ate it.  On a trail heading down, I lost it, slid down on my arm, banged my foot; ripping open my forearm and breaking my toe.  Meanwhile, not long after, he hit the wall, hit heat exhaustion.  Bonked. He had taken the mountain head on, took it directly on, and as a result he didn’t complete the race. But he gave that mountain everything he had.

He felt guilty that he had left me, because I slid down the trail, ripped open my arm, broke my foot.  Perhaps I should feel guilty that I didn’t hold him back.

THere’s the crux of the issue.  He’s more physically prepared than am I.  I could have used his support, but frankly having him by my side wouldn’t have stopped me from losing my footing and sliding down hill.  He would likely have finished the race, but he likely would have questioned whether he could have finished in faster time. There was nothing he could have done to keep me upright and we never would have known what he could accomplish if left to his own devices.  On balance, it was the right decision for him to run his race…even if it wasn’t finished.

Teammates, friends don’t hold each other back.  We empower each other. Remaining loyal to ones friends makes all the difference.  Running your own race doesn’t mean you’re being untrue or disloyal to your friends.  It means you’re being true to yourself, and your team, your friends are behind you.  It’s how and why you got where you are.  They’re there to support you.  At the end of the day, the only way you can be loyal to your team, is by giving it your all.  You trust your team will not hold you back; your team trusts you’re giving it everything you have. These principles are not in the least at odds.

The reason you run races you know you’re not going to win, is to test yourself.  Teammates and friends are there for you to be able to test yourself, to keep you testing yourself.

On this last Saturday, the better athlete did not complete the course, but a 30-year truth played itself out yet again.  It showed one more time that the men I went to High School with are some of the most important people in my life and some of the most inspirational.

So far this week, I’ve had to reschedule lunch with one high school friend, reaffirmed plans to remember another’s mother who passed away earlier this year, am trying to figure out if I can live up to my commitments by running a triathlon with a third to raise money for a terrible disease.   My Facebook timeline is full of pictures of me with these guys, to the exclusion of almost everyone else.

Life is funny and it moves in funny ways.  Long story short? The people who knew you when you were young are the most likely to stay with you when you’re not young.  Even if they don’t think so.  Even if they think they’ve let you down when they’ve run their own race.