This Is Not A Love Song

On the heels of what I would consider to be one of my worst days of my working life, I came across – quite by accident – exactly the thing I needed at exactly the time I needed it.

Yesterday had been led up to for over a week: some mumbles, some stirring, then a confirmation.  The ominous news came in dribs and drabs, and slowly put a couple of months of activity into sharp relief.  The policy change here, the meeting there, the strange disparate directions somewhere else. All of those things started to add up.

And then the cinderblock came crashing through the roof. All questions, any ambiguity washed away.  For me, I’m fine. A little rattled, but fine. Rattled in very much the same way I can imagine I’d respond if a cinderblock actually did come crashing through my roof.  Anticipated as a possibility, but honestly not considered as a probability.  And certainly not handled in the way I’d want to be associated with it. In this case, my situation is unaffected. My work life will remain pretty much in tact – perhaps with some additional responsibilities or roles, but sometimes it’s about the way things happen and not what happens that affect you most.

So, my day yesterday ended and my day today began with all kinds of questions and doubts and wonderments regarding what, if any, next steps should be taken.

I often go for a walk in the morning, a little before starting work for the day.  It helps get the blood pumping, the brain active. On these walks I’ll listen to a podcast or two to catch up with the news of the day or to explore an idea or two.  Podcasts are phenomenal things.  When I was traveling a lot, I’d listen to audiobooks – 4 hour stints in the car turned into listening to half a book.  Now that I don’t travel as much, podcasts wind up being a better bet for me: easily digestible chunks of information or ideas dissected in 15, 30, sometimes 45 or 60 minute chunks.

On Tuesdays the NPR Politics Podcast lands in my feed, so I listen to that on my walk for some coffee. That usually runs out on my way back, so I’ll listen to the Up First podcast, which is basically the morning top of the hour news broadcast.  This often leaves me with a little additional time before I’m back at home base with nothing to listen to.  It just so happened that today I happened upon a podcast from December 20, 2016. I’m not entirely sure how, but it looked just interesting enough that I decided to give it a listen.

It was on the “All Songs Considered” podcast and entitled “The Martin Atkins Minute.” Growing up, I was a bit of a pseudo-punk.  Not a hardcore Sex Pistols guy like some of my friends who wore leather jackets and spiked hair, but I enjoyed it and at the mention of the band “Public Image Ltd.” Caught my attention.

This was the story of how Martin Atkins went from being with a successful band, to digging ditches, ultimately to be planting trees on the property of Bon Jovi’s drummer. The culmination of consequences of bad choices, to wind up in one of the more strange and humiliating situations one can imagine, and being reminded of it.  None of this was part of my experience the past week or so – until the last few words. He says something to the effect that he wanted to share his story in case You [the listener] were having a Sh!**y day too.  Things will get better.

That spoke to me.  A message sent some 13 months ago was finally received at the time I needed to hear it.  Things will get better.  For my affected colleague, for me, for my team, and my company. I don’t know how it will, just that it will.  Every day isn’t the past day, or even the past few days.

Here’s the podcast: https://www.npr.org/player/embed/506298934/506298965

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XLVII: Random to Semi Perfect

Image result for number 47The number 47 is something called a “safe prime” number.  Now, being a social science guy myself, I really can’t wrap my mind around the “safe prime” definition, other than to say it has something to do with other prime numbers – 2p+1 – and that its useful for cryptography.  How? I cannot say.  I’m just leaving it at “it’s a thing” and moving on.  In some circles, it’s regarded as the quintessential random number – apparently when asked to pick a number at random, 47 is the most likely one picked.  That’s a concept I can more readily accept, perhaps because it’s decidedly a social science study about people and less about the inherent value of the number itself.

And hence the rationale for the post.  Today is the last day of my 47th year.  It’s been an interesting year, one in which I challenged myself to bigger things. I demonstrated endurance and, to a lesser extent, resilience.  I screwed some things up wildly. I did other things very well.  Much like the “random number” that 47 is, Mo at 47 was a bit of a mixed bag. It definitely wasn’t “safe.”

I took some calculated chances this past year and tried some things I wasn’t sure I could complete.  I completed some, failed at others.  I think I was a better friend this past year than I have been in the past, I hope I have been a better parent and partner.  I try to be the best me I can, but I fail at that sometimes.

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The Flag of New Mexico

New Mexico became the 47th state in January 1912, about 9 months before the Red Sox beat the New York Giants in the World Series. That’s relevant because ’47 brands designs some of my favorite Sox lids; Recently acquired starting pitcher Tyler Thornberg currently wears the typically un-baseball number 47 for the Sox.  Alas, they’re not playing this time of year; The Patriots are, however, and little known rookie Jacob Hollister, a Tight End, wears 47 for the Pats.  Over the last two decades, it has been a not uncommon feature of my birthday to get Patriots gear – 8 times since my birthday in 2002 I’ve gotten AFC Champion or Patriots Super Bowl gear.  It’s mind boggling, and as a fan I love it.  I know it’s not common and I cherish every time it happens because you never know when or if it will happen again.  The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII (47) after having knocked off the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, which was a drag.

We took a trip I never expected to take this past year – a week in Italy.  It was an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful for having had the opportunity.  A week in an ancient mountainside castle in Umbria with amazing views; we spent Easter Sunday in Assisi. We drove the Italian countryside, visited a vineyard and made our own Italian dinner.  You never know when or if that will happen again; if it happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me, it will absolutely be one of my favorite memories.

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Umbria, Italy. As an aside, I also got my only international traffic violation while driving around the Coliseum on this trip.

Apparently, 47 is the new “Middle Age.” Apparently, according to this article, I can be expected to live to about 86.  While, that’s all well and good but that bit of information reminds me that I am on the clock…at least there would seem to be a little more time my clock.  I’ve made it farther than Alexander Hamilton who died at 47 years, 183 days (showing you shouldn’t play with guns), Jack Kerouac at age 47 223 days from complications of cirrhosis (kind of not a shock, really) and Francis Gary Powers at 47 years, 349 days when his U2 spy plane was shot down. The difference between those guys and me, though, is that while I’ve outlived them in terms of how many days on  the calendar I’ve been on the Earth, it’s hard to say I’ve “outlived” them in terms of how they lived.  We still talk about these guys no less than 49 years after the last one passed away. I’m pretty sure no one will be talking about me.  I still have some time to give back, but I am on the clock. Time to step it up.

It’s also harder to keep what you’ve gained.  I started exercising regularly at 45.  I’m not likely to ever be the fastest runner out there, but I have gained speed, I have gained strength. Now, comes the hard part: keeping it.  That’s part of what freaked me out when I was hurt a couple of times this past year – I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back.  I found that it was a lot harder to get back than I expected. This last time I’ve found it’s more difficult than it had previously been to lose some of the excess weight I had packed on.

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I’m also pretty far behind saving for retirement.  I can chalk that up to all kinds of things, but at the end of the day, I made choices.  So there are two choices now: sit around and hand-wring or do something more.  I’ve chosen to do more.

The last time I wrote an entry like this it was for year 38.  It was 9 years ago today to mark the passing of my 38 years, the year my father had passed away.  I can’t believe this July will mark 10-years – almost 20% of my life – that he’s been gone.  I miss that man and his influence more than I can say.   I don’t know that I ever adequately made sure he knew what he meant to me.  A significant regret, but I’ve come to find regret to be a powerful motivator to being a better person.  My hope is that I’ve become a better person in that time, and that the people close to me know what they mean to me.  That’s a regret I never want to have again.

I very clearly have a lot to work on and a lot to look forward to in the coming year.  And perhaps that’s the key: giving yourself the opportunity to be proficient while building additional capacity.  In a sense then its good I’m headlong into middle age, in theory I’ve got some time to figure out that which I haven’t figured out and to learn what I don’t already know.  Who knows where year 48 will take me, but I feel like I’ve given myself the opportunity to make something good and different from it.    48 is what’s called a “semi-perfect” number, a number equal to the sum of all or some of its proper divisors. In way, then, it’s fitting I find myself at this place in life. Not quite perfect, room for improvement, but not wholly imperfect either.

Here’s to what 47 was and to what 48 will be.

2018 Race Recap #5: Blizzard Blast

Blizzard Blast is a winter themed 5k(ish) obstacle course race, “No Offseason.” Winter themed and also happily, winter run.  Obstacles include the Christmas Tree carry and Christmas light crawl.  There’s a heavy emphasis on beer kegs – monkey bars, carries – and the named sponsor is Shock Top beer, so it’s hard to know which came first although I did note that “Anheuser Busch” was stamped on most (if not all) of the barrels.

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No Offseason!

Some obstacles are expected – what would an obstacle course race be without wall climbs, for example – but some were novel: there was a paintball target, and a saucer-sled element.  The course also made use of elements within the park where it was held. Overall, I’m glad I finally did this race, but I’m pretty sure I won’t do it again; it was great to get out and do an OCR this early in the year, but it was a little more low-rent than I would have hoped and not quite as challenging as it could be.  If I do it again, I’d have to do the multi-lap option to increase the challenge.

 

There were plenty of shuttles from the parking to registration and to the course, and I know I’m going to sound like a curmudgeon here, but I just really hated the logistics of parking at the Cawley Stadium, taking a bus a few miles down the road to register/bib-pickup and then get on another bus to head back off in the other direction to the event…and to repeat that at the end.  Fine, I get that there’s no parking at the park and I’m used to shuttles, but four rides is just a bit much.

Now, about the experience of running the race.  Running with my son, we didn’t really push too hard with running but he did challenge himself on the obstacles.  This was more about the time together and much less about the overall competition, but it was really good to see him exert himself.  He grabbed a pretty heavy tree for the tree carry, attempted every obstacle and finished most of them. The only one that I truly had an issue with was the keg kingdom, aka monkey bars with hanging beer kegs.  I got two swings into it and for whatever reason decided that it wasn’t going to happen today; I’m not entirely sure what was in my head there.

Overall we did have fun, and we came across the finish line together.  A very nice bonding time.  We finished 1:22:18 – right about middle of the pack.

1:22:18   A little overcast, about 45-degrees.

2018 Race Recap #4: CMS 52-Week 5k

cms_logo_smallToday stood for the proposition that sleep, good nutrition and perhaps a bit of rest during the week are helpful to running a race, but also that a healthy, positive internal dialog is probably THE most important aspect of good performance.  Hardly news, indeed, but sometimes reminders are helpful.

I got a really good night sleep after an emotionally draining day of work – such a good night that I woke up a little too late to work my planned run to Worcester State to volunteer for the weekly race, and run back. I took my time, ate breakfast, took the dogs out, and then headed over.  I even stopped at Starbucks on the way.

How come when I look in the mirror I don’t look this fat?

Since Clearwater last week, I hadn’t run at all, to my shame.  My plans have been to do 28-miles a week, and to this point I’d been either on point or close and had missed only two days of running this year.  I basically missed all this week and I was feeling guilty about it.  Arriving early today, I took the opportunity to do a quick warm up run of a mile or so and was surprised by the pace I clocked myself doing: a 7:49 pace.  Unusual in that I don’t usually push myself that hard warming up or really outside of a race – and oftentimes not even then.

Then there was the crowd today: a lot of fast looking people showed up.  It’s an informal gathering, so people show up on a whim, and the people who felt the whim today “LOOKED” like the kind of people who run fast.  I know, a total stereotype or so it would appear. More on that in a minute.

A few announcements and what seemed like a quick “GO” we were off.  I ran the first mile at a ridiculous pace – a personal best for a mile.  I knew I had gone off too fast, but I’m working on my internal dialog to keep myself on task, to keep my thoughts positive (“if we can keep this pace…”) instead of the negative (“You’re going to bonk out if you keep this up…”), so I kept reminding myself of the distance I’d come, and that a personal best awaits so just keep going.  I was feeling reasonably strong, but the second mile was considerably slower.  First Mile: 7:09. Second Mile: 7:57.

As soon as the second mile clicked off as completed on my Garmin, I had to slow down.  I was zapped.  Picked it back up and ran…and slowed to a walk again.  I did that a few times, but ultimately sucked it up.  I had lost focus on my inner dialog: it’s not that I was saying “I Can’t,” it’s that I wasn’t having one. As soon as I realized that absence, I was able to control my pace again. I picked up my pace and hit mile 3, finishing with a rather surprising 8:20 pace for the mile.  When I was running I was running strong.

I finished the course in 24:24 or a 7:49 overall pace.  The last 0.1 mile was 7:29 – I’m guessing the last 0.6 mile of the race was actually about that pace.  It was tough carrying my carcass over the line, but it felt good when I did.  My friend Mike had finished perhaps 90-seconds ahead of me and he was waiting at the finish to cheer me in…a fact to which I was apparently oblivious as I came across the line.  It was a bit of a struggle bus ride, but I finished with a personal best for the course and my second fastest 5k.

Now, not to take the shine off my pace today, there may have been something in the air; the top finisher came seconds away from a course record with a time just under 15-minutes, and second came in about 45-seconds later at 15:36.  Perhaps a good rest, decent nutrition and positive internal talk all influence race performance, but sometimes the day just carries itself.

Clockwise (last 5):

January 27, 2018: 24:24. 34 degrees, sunny. Just beautiful.
January 13, 2018: 25:14   53 degrees, cloudy, 22 mph wind, rainy
November 25, 2017: 24:55 Sunny and 28 degrees.
October 28, 2017: 24:53 Sunny and 56 degrees.
September 16, 2017: 25:56  Cloudy, humid, 60’s.

 

2018 Race Recap #3: Clearwater Half

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoorI wasn’t sure how well this race was going to go. I hadn’t run more than 7 miles at one time since December 7 and the last time I ran longer than 10 miles was the Cambridge Half Marathon in November.  Being laid up in an immobilization boot for the better part of December, I went from December 7 to December 31 without running.

Since then, I’ve run every day in 2018 except two – January 4, the day of a blizzard that shut down just about everything, including the gym, and yesterday when I just couldn’t get my stuff together to run the weekly 5k before I headed to the airport.

So, it’s race day.  The thing that saved the day from ignominy is the fact that Florida is as flat as a pancake.  The only elevation gain was from the two bridges and the out and back course.  344′ of gain.  It saved the day, and cursed the day, but more on that later. The race started at 7:05 and about 58-degrees.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the race. My night sleep was sketchy, but my nutrition was on point.  Up and out to packet pick up by 5:30 AM, with a cup of coffee and an ill fated trip to the porta potty set the stage.

About 0.5 mile into the race was the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge.  I wasn’t sure I was going to accomplish this in the time I wanted, yet the next song to come up on my playlist was “Barometer Soup” by Jimmy Buffett.  Feeling the Margaritaville vibe with the view of Clearwater was magnificent.

I wasn’t sure what the race held, but I was happy I was there.

The coffee helped get my metabolism going, but unfortunately caused some other issues for me, which wasn’t immediately a problem but about 4 miles in they began.

Just before the second bridge, there was a breakfast place that had obviously just fired up their offerings with the net result was all I could smell was bacon…for like a mile. THAT would’ve been AWESOME if I weren’t battling the GI ninja.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sunglasses and textIts also the day of the AFC Championship Game – Patriots vs. Jaguars.  So, ever the master of race couture, I wore a TB12 jersey…the whole race. Not one hater on the course, some fist bumps, high fives, hoots.  It was fun and served the purpose I set out to achieve wearing it.

I was fully on pace for a personal record right up to Mile 12, right where the last bridge started inclining and I just couldn’t push any further.  For that half mile, I pretty much walk-ran the bridge.  The second half was down hill, including a ramp down into the park.  I’m pretty sure that mile split was 13:00 m/m for the first half, and 7:00 for the second.

Ultimately, I finished with a 1:56:32 time.  Not my worst by a long shot, and about 3.5 minutes shy of my best.  Much like Cambridge was in November, this was an opportunity to PR – an opportunity lost.  BUT, it was a personal victory; I’d not had a long run in months, I haven’t been running well at all.

A sub-2 hour half marathon is, in my book, a good race.  It didn’t feel like a good ending, but over all it felt like a good race.  I wound up with an 8:56 pace, with the last three miles taking their toll on my pace.  Lessons to build on.

Addendum:

I was disappointed and not a little salty that the Half Marathon finisher medals weren’t available at the finish line, but the communication around that really was top notch.  It was a regrettable situation, and the RD clearly regretted it.  We got a note at the finish, an email to follow up and I received this by week’s end.

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It’s a really slick medal, and truly the reason it wasn’t available (beyond the shipping issues) was that they had a custom medal for each distance; whatever happened behind the scenes, the public face of it was handled well and appreciated.  Not every race does that (I have two “Half Marathon-5k” medals and one “Marathon & Half Marathon”)   So while it was a drag at the time, it’s pretty sweet swag overall.

Results

Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48

 

2018 Race Recap: #2 CMS 52-Week 5k

cms_logo_smallWhat a weird day.  I woke up to 59-degree weather, perhaps a touch overcast, but otherwise a very pleasant January morning.  Now, it was widely reported that today was going to be strange, going from a high of about 59 to a low of 7 – or there about – so I was paying attention to the weather forecast, but my iPhone was telling me it was going to be about 57 and overcast through about 11 AM or so, so I figured I was good to go.  Put on a short sleeve shirt, a pair of shorts and a light fleece.  ‘Ret to go.

At about 8:20, it was still about 58-59 and overcast, to script, when I went into the Worcester State University building to register.  I came out to a noticeably colder day – I’m guessing it must’ve lost 4 degrees in the time I was inside.

I went for a quick warmup run, during which it started to rain on me.  Back at the University building, I took off the fleece after deciding to run in shirt sleeves – after all it was still very much in the mid-50’s.

At about 8:50 we headed out to the starting line, and I quickly decided shirt sleeves was not going to be my thing today – according to Apple, it was now about 47-degrees and it was pouring.  Back on went the fleece, as I regretted having registered for this.

Here’s the start. Note here, I’m comfortably ahead of the pack – this doesn’t stand very long because I’m a terrible runner who knows nothing of pacing.

Running the course clockwise today probably helped as it’s mostly downhill, but there was a strong headwind during mile 2 – there were times I find myself unable to breath the wind was coming in so hard and fast at me, but by mile 3 the sun was out again  and it was probably in the low 40’s.  Just flat out crazy weather.  I’m sure my perception of the temps is off, but the story does play itself out in my splits with mile 2 being the slowest of the 3.

Note the lack of anyone near me at the finish (there’s a 0.1 mile overlap on the course to complete the 5k, which explains the Similar angle). Not really hard to tell the start of race pic from the race finish pic is it?

Official time: 25:14, not my best, not my worst.  It’s another minor victory for being the fastest 3-miles I’ve put down this year after having been laid up in December. I figured I’d  be chasing 26-minutes today, so I felt good that I didn’t.

Clockwise (last 5):

January 13, 2018: 25:14   53 degrees, cloudy, 22 mph wind, rainy
November 25, 2017: 24:55 Sunny and 28 degrees.
October 28, 2017: 24:53 Sunny and 56 degrees.
September 16, 2017: 25:56  Cloudy, humid, 60’s.
February 25, 2017:  24:36 cloudy, warm and 52 degrees.

Beliefs Become Destiny

This was my end of a recent conversation about health, conditioning, and whether to run a particular race:

“I mean I’ve barely run for three weeks and I’ve lost so much conditioning I’m afraid all I can do is the half marathon.”

I’m quite aware that may sound hollow to a good deal of people, I get that.  The race we were discussing is a 50k – 31.1-Miles – considerably longer than a half marathon and one for which one really needs to train.  I’m no where near that level of fitness right now.

My friend did not let me off the hook so easily. I was looking for affirmation, “yes, of course. You’re not your best you for reasons outside of your control. It’s okay. Build up to it.” That’s not what I got.  I was looking for excuses; I got a reality check.

“‘barely,’ ‘lost,’ ‘afraid’ are all I see in what you just said…  Come on man, if it’s a half marathon kick the crap out of it, if its a 50K finish, if it’s a 5K set a course record.”

“I mean I’ve barely run for three weeks and I’ve lost so much conditioning I’m afraid all I can do is the half marathon.”

A lot of negativity in one 23-word sentence.

Then, the kicker, because ever since undergrad I’ve been interested in how language affects us, how we use it to convey meta-messages, how it can be used like Jiu Jitsu to disarm verbal attacks:  “Language can be as bad for your health as drinking beer, and having a heart attack while in the garage on Facebook.” Ouch.  I was letting fear control my thoughts; and in turn I was letting that negative thinking control my words. My actions.  I was letting myself off the hook with excuses; setting the bar low so I could attain a marginal victory.  I was failing to control my inner dialogue and failing to let my positive thoughts control my language.

I was thinking that I could do the Half Marathon and get by. He was challenging me to set a personal best.  He made it okay to run the 5k variation, if I was going to set a course record. He made it okay to simply finish the ultra-marathon. Jiu Jitsu. He took the control the fear had over me, and used it against itself.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne WilliamsonA Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Internal dialogue is a powerful thing.  It controls your definition of success and it determines whether you’ll allow yourself to achieve it.  It is the difference between continuing when you don’t want to and regretting you didn’t continue. It’s the difference between embracing your limits and setting artificial ones.

My motto for 2017 was “goals without fear,” and yet I started 2018 allowing fear to control my thoughts.  Am I in condition for a long race? Probably not, but that’s not what I said. I said I was letting fear control how I was thinking about it, and not, as I believed, making an honest assessment of my current fitness.

The race is 20 days away – longer than I was laid up. If I want it, I can get myself back to my previous condition, whether or not that’s ‘race ready.’ The idea isn’t that I should or shouldn’t run the race, it’s that I should not let fear, loss, and barely control my thoughts.

It’s about the courage to see just where my inner power may be. Its the courage to see that light as power and not fear; to speak from a place of strength, not weakness.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

If you let fear control your thoughts, you allow fear to control your words. If you let fear control your words, it ultimately controls your destiny.  Charting your course is hard enough as it is, why make it more difficult by allowing that inner darkness control your destiny?