2018 Race Recap #26: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

No automatic alt text available.If the The Great Inflatable Race was a lark, and the Newport 10-Miler was all business, this…this was pure [expletive deleted] hell.  No, seriously. I hate this race. I’m never doing this [expletive deleted] race again. Which is exactly what I said last year when I finished it: I fell down at mile ten, broke my toe and took a bunch of stitches in my arm.  And maxed out my insurance deductible.

This year the course was changed a bit: they added an extra hour to the cut off, but according to my GPX data they added about 500′ of gain to the course. Whats really interesting is that last year AND this year, they said GPS watches were inaccurate, etc., but I have to say, while my watch did not align with the watch as a whole, it was off by literally 0.1 mile from last years.  If the course actually IS 31 miles, then my watch is consistently inaccurate, so at least I have that going for me. I get that consumer GPS is going to be less accurate than government data, but don’t gaslight me thinking that I somehow screwed up.  Ya know?

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Honestly, this was the best I was going to look all day, at the first summit

The course was incredibly humbling: a couple of friends from my running club – these women are incredible runners – bagged out at mile 15. Trails aren’t for everyone. The elevation gain is front loaded at the first 10-miles: of the 6000’+, a good 3300′ are up front, leaving about half over the remaining 20-miles or so. Gets those legs all good a rubbery for the rest of the course.

The course takes you to the summit of Wachusett Mountain twice, then down and into the state park. Were I actually conditioned for this, it wouldn’t be that bad – there are stretches where the course is downhill fireroads – which should make for a good pace. The problem is that by the time I got to them, I was so drained I literally could not move any faster than I was: I tried to pick up the pace a few times, only to be met with muscles telling me they would cramp if I did.  I spent more than a few minutes along the course stopped, stretching out my back or pulling my legs out of a cramp.  I really thought I had properly prepared myself with nutrition and fuel but clearly that was not the case.

Relive ‘North Face Endurance Challenge 50k’

One take away I have from this is just how beautiful the area is.  I took the time to stop and take a few pictures along the way – by clicking the “Relive” link above you can see the course and the pictures are geolocated on the map.  You really just don’t appreciate how steep these trails can be without actually seeing them.

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Probably not the steepest, nor the least accessible, but then again if it were less accessible I probably couldn’t have taken a picture.

In the end analysis, the distance was pretty much on point from last year, the elevation increased with some modifications to the course. I give the organizers a lot of credit: organizing a 50-miler, 50k, marathon, marathon relay, 10k and 5k and doing it really efficiently. Course markings were good – color coded ribbons matched to your race – and aid stations generously positioned on the course.

I did what I came to do – redeemed by performance, or mishaps, of last year.  While I had not forgotten the theme – redemption – I did forget the course takes you by “Redemption Rock” and had I my wits about me, I’d have taken a selfie there as a reminder. It wasn’t a fast race and all of the same things (sans falling down the mountain) that plagued me last year got me this year – something about training or something sounds vaguely familiar.  BUT I accomplished it, I finished, and unhurt.  That’s a win.

Results

2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

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Strength of Mind: Self Immolation

Malcolm Brown photograph of the self immolation.

Thích Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk who on June 10, 1963 led a procession of monks to an intersection a few blocks from the South Vietnamese presidential palace, assumed the lotus position where an associate poured gasoline over his head. He recited a homage to Buddha and subsequently lit himself on fire in protest.

I never fully comprehended why a man of faith would willingly take his life. Indeed, in Buddhism, life is precious and its destruction is to be avoided.  But then again, my own world view is that of a Western Christian, and Christianity’s view on suicide is very clear. Buddhism doesn’t work with absolutes.  According to one author, Buddhism sees human birth “as incredibly precious, an opportunity not to be wasted. That the human predicament includes stress and suffering is the First Noble Truth; the Second, Third and Fourth Noble Truths guide our relationship to that suffering.”

But I see here, Quảng Đức was not escaping from suffering or stress.  He was drawing the worlds’ attention to the ignoble condition of the Buddhist population in South Vietnam – a country that was then 90% Buddhist and ruled by a Catholic minority, intolerant of the Buddhist world view. “Not to be wasted” is not the same as “having ended.” It makes sense in a way: Catholics are very black and white about life and death, about subservience to authority and hierarchy; Buddhists tend to be more complacent, willing to accept their lot. Where Christianity is very much ordered around the ten commandments – concrete rules not to be violated – Buddhism is ordered around four noble truths, guides without much in the way or explanation.  In Christianity we’re taught “right from wrong;” In Buddhism the meaning of Right includes an ethical, and a balanced, or middle way.

So, why would the practitioner of a religion teaching life as incredibly precious and the destruction of which is to be avoided, self immolate in protest? The middle way.

The idea that he wasn’t escaping suffering, but rather he was embracing suffering in hopes of bettering the lot of those of his countrymen.

What was shocking to the rest of the world – his ability to remain in lotus.  In The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam wrote “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him…” He had accepted his suffering, embraced it.

The Four Noble Truths liberate people from suffering.  Here they are from Lionsroar.com

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

3. The End of Suffering

The good news is that our obscurations are temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take exactly the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas do. We too can wake up.

So, by immolating himself, he was actually freeing himself and his countrymen from suffering.  Reread that passage from David Halberstam: “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound…”  Suffering people do not sit still. He had let go of the samsara, that belief that he was separate from others.  He gave up this existence and its suffering: to be sure, he believed in reincarnation – that he would return to the earth in another form, and not to be sent to an afterlife to sit before judgement.

The Catholics in charge of the country could not comprehend why he had done what he did because they believed in an absolute prohibition on suicide, and in the certainty of sitting before God’s judgement.  When Quảng Đức’s action did not yield immediate results, several other monks self-immolated as well.  Interestingly enough it was not the leadership of South Vietnam who came to understand, but rather the rest of the world, horrified by what was now happening, pushed the government to action.

Now that I’ve described my understanding of what happened on that day, I want to share a video taken of the event.

At a time where public protest was not the norm, at a time video recording was a novelty – if not luxury – there is a video recording of it.  Think of what a video recorder in 1963 would have looked like – as the first 75 seconds of the movie show, it must’ve been large and bulky, and judging from the angle, frowned upon by the authorities.  We see the thousand or so protesters encircling the monk, jostling perhaps for a better view, and the authorities pushing them back.

I can’t help but to think how this man was about to light himself on fire for these people, people who clearly had not reached the level of enlightenment he had – likely people with less strength of belief as his, or less commitment.  The protest was allowed to continue, even as the police would have seen the gasoline being poured over his head; perhaps it wasn’t immediately obvious to them that was, in fact, gasoline.

The most powerful moment of that recording occurs at about 2:07 – the moment he lights the match.  It’s as if everything else STOPS. The jostling stops. The police turn away from the throngs of people to face him, to a man their arms and hands by their sides: Respect? Awe? Disbelief?

By 2:25 or so you can see clearly how accurately Halberstam reported his lack of movement: it’s not for another 30-seconds of the video before his now charred remains fall over. Halberstam notes just how quickly a human body will burn, so bearing in mind the footage has been slowed down, in real time some the gathered crowd would have begun immediately bowing on hands and knees and this would have been over in a matter of seconds.

As with any telling of story, I’m quite sure there is so much nuance and fact missing from the account.  That’s not really what this post is about though. It’s about the strength of mind and purpose,  of self control and selflessness, of belief to be able to make a decision you believe to be the middle way – one coming from a place of enlightenment – even if it means putting yourself in harms way, giving yourself up for the good of the majority.

I will remember this lesson just how much the mind controls our perception of the world, how it controls our sensations. How it can allow a man literally burn to death without so much as flinching. I will remember this the next time I am faced with a challenge I don’t believe I can complete.

2018 Race Recap #25: BankNewport 10 Miler

If yesterday’s race was a lark, today’s was really all business. I’ve been struggling with injury issues for a couple of months now – and haven’t been running as much or as well as I’d like, with the end result being my conditioning has really suffered. So it was important to me to get out there today and push hard, get it done, do well.  My one goal on the day was not to PR (after my last couple of months, that is going to take some time to get my conditioning back), but to do better than last year.

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I must’ve signed up early. The bibs weren’t in any apparent order, so I have to believe they were assigned in order of registration. Some 2500 runners and I was assigned 124.

I pushed hard – According to Garmin, my average heart rate was 89% of max with the highest being 94%. My Garmin data tells me the “Training Effect” of my run today was a “5.0,” classified as “Overreaching,” the description for which was:

“This activity was very demanding. While it can significantly improve your cardio-respiratory fitness, it can become harmful without enough recovery time and should be done sparingly.”

So, that’s a thing. I know I was huffing, and as I look through my pace data I can see where my heart rate was up there and where took a bit to walk it off: the two line up quite nicely. I also took a quick potty break somewhere in there as well that gave me a little bit of recovery time as well.

It was quite unpleasant, but it was exactly what I was striving for. I’d never run a pace under these circumstances alone, and its for that reason I love races – I push myself harder, beyond that which I would normally do with a casual group run or alone.  And while I know my conditioning won’t just come back to where I was before the chrome started falling off the fenders, its efforts like this that will help me get there sooner than otherwise.

It wasn’t a great pace – although I did beat last year which pleased me. I recall thinking at the time last year how good a race I had run, and to now be able to best it (after having taken a 66-second porta-potty pit stop no less!) was a bit a redemption. I didn’t best it by much (about a minute) but the fact I did means a lot to me, especially after Horseneck where I was still dealing with a shin-splint caused by me working too hard to get through the piriformis strain.

So, it wasn’t the race I anticipated when I registered, but it was the race I wanted to have when I woke up today.

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Finisher’s medal this year was also an upgrade. Last years’ was good, but this one is really nice.

The course itself is beautiful. Stunning actually. The race organizers have done a really nice job of showcasing Newport’s scenery, and not just it’s natural scenery but also its real estate.  I wanted to remember just one address so I could go back and look it up for giggles – which I did (despite my cardiac induced haze). According to Zillow the property value for this almost 46-acre, 7700 square foot home is roughly $20-Million more than my house, and when I say “roughly” its because it exceeds $20-Million. The “similar properties” section displays several homes for sale in Newport, none of which are less than $4.5-Million. So, it’s a nice neighborhood and a beautiful course.

Running really isn’t this much fun. I assure you.

While I won’t link the specific home I’m talking about, I will share a link to an animated recreation of my run on the course so you can get a really good idea of what the course was like.

Relive ‘Newport 10 Miler’

As for results, this was my second fastest 10-mile race of eight. I just can’t help feeling like I was in much better condition and I let it slide BUT I will say it feels pretty good to know that even after having backslid, I’m historically in pretty decent shape.

This is much more representative of the level of “fun” I’m having.

Newport 10 Miler

2018: 1:25:32
2017: 1:26:27

Other 10 Mile Races
Tough Ten Mile Turkey Trot, Marlboro MA 2016: 1:30:26
Old Fashioned 10 Miler, Foxborough MA 2017: 1:36:10.20
Black Cat, Salem MA 2017: 1:25:40.6
Mattapoisett (MA) 10 Miler 2017: 1:22:08
Tough Ten Mile Turkey Trot, Marlboro MA 2017: 1:28:56
Old Fashioned 10 Miler, Foxborough MA 2018: 1:26:17.85

2018 Race Recap #24: The Great Inflatable Race

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The battle weary warriors set about yet another challenge side-by-side.

I’m just going to say it: it’s a stretch to call this a race at all.  It’s the least competitive “race” you’ll see recapped here. Arguably it’s not truly a race at all: “a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.” Early on when I started keeping track of such things I decided I would define a race as more than one person was running and that it met at least two of the following criteria: 1) the event has a given course; 2) the effort was timed; 3) there was a bib or that there was some formal means by which runners are kept track of.  THIS “race” barely qualifies this criteria. Basically, it had a course (Kinda. It was loosely cordoned off by cones on one side – Stay to the right of the cones!) and we got finishers medals.  They do check you in, but that was more to account for the event T-shirts (of which they were out of my size) and to distribute wave bracelets.

So, the obvious question is: if you’re going to goof on the thing, why did you sign up for it? A solid question indeed.  A high-school classmate mentioned he had signed up with his daughters and it looked like a fun time. I recruited my boy, found a Groupon, bought in. Look, worst case scenario was that we’d have a fun time. I’m here to say that mission was accomplished. It was fun.

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Exhibit 1 in support of the idea that this wasn’t the most competitive race out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This was low rent. $27 on Groupon, $27 at the official registration page, but that excluded the registration “fee” tacked on as a percentage of the cost of a ticket – buying a Groupon essentially tells the registration site to “comp” the registration so there’s no fee.  It took place on an auto race track site; they hold flea markets and other such things on the grounds. The race itself used the track’s overflow parking area. The inflatables were basically elements from shopping mall parking lot carnivals: not quite fully inflated, perhaps a little suspect. The biggest threat of injury was friction burn from the vinyl inflatables.

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It was a super casual time, but generally organized. They did a pretty good job of keeping the starting wave organized – what could have been a crushing disaster was kept organized and safe. The inflatable obstacles were placed at reasonable distances – there weren’t an over-abundance of them but there were enough. Lines weren’t bunched up and things moved quickly.

It wasn’t quite 2-miles – again, the competitive thing – which was probably a good thing: the temperature was in the mid-to high-70’s with humidity around 85%.  The air was pretty thick and saturated with pollen. They could have done a lot more with the festival area – they had an Italian Ice truck.

So, I haven’t described the most appealing event, have I? Here’s the thing: I had a good time with my boy with the added benefit of seeing my old friend. I went in expecting a low-rent, casual, mostly-fun event. It met those expectations.

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And there it is – finishers of some of the most bad-ass 2-miles of inflatable fury going.

I don’t have results information, because…well, because.  That whole time thing.  My watch had it done in about 34 minutes.

I Spent Zero Time Editing This.

At various points, I’ve fancied myself a bit of a writer. Really, just a whim, a passing interest that occasionally loops around again – more the way a curiosity catches one’s attention every so often, more than any real interest. Perhaps a means to an end when the spirit moves me to communicate an idea or information more than any particular interest. I don’t even know what the point of this post is.

I deal in quantity, volume. I’m a purveyor of words. Words are tools. My main goal is getting the idea out, push it to words, organize it in some manner, shape or form, get it done, move along. I’ll sometimes have a draft sit for a bit, but its a rarity that it ever sees the light of day.  Just to show my commitment to the process, I’ll sometimes even go back and re-read a post once – perhaps even twice – after I’ve posted it. Sometimes. Generally speaking once it’s fully out of my head, I hit “Publish…” and away we go, usually not to revisit it again.

Then there are people like my friend David.  He’s considered, often poetic. He says what he means, deliberates over every comma, every phrase. Endlessly revises. Words are beautiful and exquisite materials with which to build stories.  By the time he pushes that friendly blue “Publish…” button, his work is as exacting as one would expect of a trained writer – one who doesn’t just fancy himself a writer, but one who is actually a writer, an expert wordsmith. Because, well, because he is a trained writer. He gives the impression of a person who not only speaks in well-thought out paragraphs, but thinks in paragraphs. The difference between my work and his is the difference between a framing carpenter and a finish carpenter.

In light of my previous post, I’d like to be clear that I’m not complimenting him at my own expense. His blog is something different from this one, his style is different from mine, his purpose is vastly different. I use words to communicate some ideas; he uses words to tell stories and paint pictures. He paints a picture of his father; I talk about the lessons my dad taught me. Just really different vibes. I read or listen to (audio books are ahh-maaaay-zing things) no less than 30 books a year, but since I left high school, I can count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read; I’m willing to bet his ratio is more a reciprocal of that than not.

It’s a good thing there are more than 300,000 books published every year in the United States – something for everyone.  By the time I press that friendly blue “Publish…” button on this post, the number of blog posts published today will be more than 2.7-Million and counting. A good number are rubbish, but I have to believe a plurality are posted by well-meaning folks with solid things to say. I also have to believe most are purveyors in words – more like me than like David. “Just get it out.” There are the hucksters, building blogs to convey topics and information designed to get you to subscribe so they can make money, unlike either this one or “willwriteforfood,” but I’m also quite sure most of the people who press that friendly blue button are legitimately seeking to express themselves.

Here’s what I’ve come to find: the people who stick with it, the folks who keep coming back – no matter the interval in which they come back – to bang on their keyboard and hit that friendly blue button are the people that actually have things to say, like another friend of mine. Some ten years and 2000 posts later, he still cranks it out.

There is just so many options out there, that if you’re pushing these things out for a reason other than the sheer enjoyment of writing, the need to read your thoughts written out, the desire to convey thoughts, you’re just setting yourself up and wasting your time. The odds of making money on a blog are remote. You’re not going to get famous. Not even for a minute. Just do what you do without expectation. You’ll be happier for it. If its not a labor of love, then you’re just wasting your and (perhaps more importantly) your readers’ time.

This fulfills my need for a place to dump my thoughts and words; for David his blog fulfills a need to paint pictures with his words.   Thanks for being here and indulging my words. There are millions of other posts dated just today to which you could give your attention and a fraction of those 300,000 books published yearly you could tackle. I don’t know why you’re reading this, only that you are, and I appreciate that. If you’re an aspiring writer, perhaps you’ve got some inspiration. If you’re someone who just surfs blogs, fantastic. I hope you come back. There are so many options and choices and directions to go that I hope I’ve provided something of what you came here to find.

2018 Race Recap #23: Horseneck Half

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I really like running with these guys. Besides the fact they’re both much better runners than am I, they’re really good people.

Up until yesterday, we thought this race was going to be one rainy, wet mess. Then a hint of promise: Weather Underground forecast rain to stop right about race time and pick up again just after my anticipated finish time with some percent chance of rain during.  Come this morning, the forecast was clouds and fog, and about 60-degrees. Essentially perfect running weather.

Which was good, because I was going to need something close to perfect conditions: I’m pretty much fully recovered from my piriformis strain, but (damn, there’s always a ‘but’) since I’m an idiot and kept trying to push through, I developed a bit of a shin splint, which is painful and has pretty much kept me from running very much at any competitive pace – and yes, I know, I wrote about a 5k I recently ran and won my age group…but take a look at that pace: not exactly world beating – and not pairing up with my previous paces. My conditioning has suffered over the past several (6?) weeks, but I have been mindful to avoid blowing up like a tick weight wise like I did in December when I was last injured. I’ve been going to fitness bootcamp (although, I do have to admit to feeling kind of low and letting that keep me from going more) and being mindful of my calories. I’ve actually lost weight over the last 6 weeks or so, topping out at under 180 for the first time in quite some time. That mindfulness paid off today, to be sure.

Then there was the pre-race issues. I just couldn’t put myself together. The car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t get into the trunk to get the jumper cables because…the car was dead so the fob nor the button inside would release.  Because I took so much time messing around with that stuff, I didn’t get anything to eat. Just a potential disaster looming.  NOTHING was going my way.

The Horseneck course is pretty flat and under the conditions today presented I would normally have looked at it as an opportunity to crush my New Bedford Half time. My buddy Duke, about whom I’ve written previously,  on top of being a captain of industry also happens to be a certified personal trainer (who knew?) and he taped me up pretty good. That bought me more than a few pain-free/reduced miles – without which this would likely have been an ugly crying hot mess. My goal today was really to be competitive with my Clearwater Half time from January – my first distance race after December – but definitely under 2-hours. The layoffs were similar in scope and I wasn’t feeling optimistic.

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Look at these guys pretending they don’t know me.

About 2 miles in, I was questioning whether I’d be able to pull this off – whether it was a lack of proper stretching, or conditioning or what – I was letting doubt get to me. My internal dialogue was becoming poisonous to my race, so I had to shut it off and focus on other things: the scenery, the pace, distance to go, my music.

I could feel the tightness in my quads – damn conditioning – and knew I couldn’t stop so I had to keep running. It was about half way through that I was becoming quite ornery about it, and that was manifesting itself in fighting with the motorists trying to squeeze by runners along the ancient roads of Westport: by and large there was plenty of room for motorists to pull to the side of the road and/or stop to allow cars in the opposite direction to pass by, and yet these morons kept squeezing runners over and the like. One guy actually got into the race course, and started honking at a woman who was probably 100-feet ahead of me. I burned quite a bit of fuel trying to catch up to let this guy know exactly what I thought about that – he was literally so close to her that had she stopped he would have hit her. Sadly, however, the cluster broke up and he continued on his way: I was pleased that she either hadn’t heard him (doubtful) or she ignored him and kept running her race.  I was secretly hoping someone would try that nonsense with me.  My middle finger did get a bit of a workout – I’m not sure I’m proud of that, but sometimes keeping fueled means keeping fueled by anger.

Between mile 8 and 9 I was busy trying to figure out what I had to do to finish sub-2 hours; this is a sure sign that I was allowing that toxic self talk back into my head – giving myself an out: “…okay, so if I average a 10:00/min pace…” Allowing myself wiggle room for failing to perform. I had done well enough to that point that I had some cushioning to meet my goal, but it would be close, and this time that toxicity was outweighed by stubbornness.

As my watch clicked over to 12-miles, I knew I had enough time to beat 2-hours, but then the question was by how much, and would I get my Clearwater time? I kept pushing and actually had my best pace since that second mile. Those last few miles were difficult for me as well because of the headwind, so as we made the turn into the State Reservation, with a little less than a half mile to go it was a god send. Flat, generally wind free, just enough to push myself over the finish in a little less than 1:58:00.  Didn’t beat Clearwater, which was a bit of a personal defeat because I wasn’t happy with that time in January and after the voyage this year I am certainly disappointed, but it was a personal victory in keeping it under that 2:00 mark.

In my very first half – the Black Goose Half Marathon in October 2016 – I finished in 2:00:48 and I’ve been pissed at myself since that I couldn’t find 48-seconds somewhere over 13.1-miles.  From that low to my most recent half where I hit a personal best, I had really hoped when I registered that I’d come close to 1:50:00 or even better my New Bedford Half time.  It turns out I most closely approximated my Cambridge Half Time.  Disappointing, but not heart breaking.

I may have an opportunity to run a half in London next week  (or perhaps some shorter derivation), but unless that happens I’ll have another shot at an improved time next month – hopefully without the issues that plagued me today.  Onward and upward.

The course had a total gain of maybe 30′ (my watch says 358′ gain, 322′ loss…pretty significantly because it’s essentially a loop and I’m pretty sure there’s not 30′ of elevation between the finish and start). Remarkably I had a 176 spm cadence, so it would appear it was mostly in my head. My stride was shorter than usual, so I know I could have been faster, basically “remembering” what an 8:20 m/m pace feels like – I could feel myself moving easily between say 9:15/20 and 8:40, but I was letting my head too much control.  I’ll be working on that one.

Previous Results

Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
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

 

 

Quite the Compliment

A friend of mine ran a Boston Qualifying time of just about 3:17:00 at the Providence Marathon on Sunday.  On Monday before our group run my buddy Duke and I had done a bit of a warm up, and when we arrived back to catch up with the larger group, Bill was there, ready to run. To highlight his stellar achievement, I mentioned that he had just the previous day run a marathon in the time it took us to do our warm-up run. Let’s not pay attention to the fact that here was a guy who had just run a 7:30 min/mile marathon the day before and he was out for a 5-mile run the next day. This guy is pure animal.

On our way home, my boy – he’s 12, mind you – asked me why I always seem to denigrate myself in complimenting others. Obviously, I protested – c’mon, boy, what are you talking about?  I suggested that he was fast running the marathon, not that we were slow running our 5k, but he came right back with the devastating question, “why couldn’t you have just said he was fast?”

And that just kind of hung out there for a while.

What am I going to do? Deny he was right? My 12-year old is a sophisticated enough speaker of English that he recognizes that linguistic habit. He gets the idea that the net effect of doing that is lowering my own standing with other people. In some cultures, that’s not necessarily the case, but in Twenty-first Century America, it certainly is.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that its been pointed out to me I can think back as far as high school and see that pattern. To show people how good they are, I have to be less.

That’s not normal.

I think it is a competitive thing for me. I strive to be better, I want to be better, and somehow someone performing at a higher level diminishes my performance. Its a ranking. While most 12-year olds don’t understand linguistics quite to the same level – or perhaps they do, they just don’t articulate themselves that way…or perhaps we just have a relationship that allows him to speak honestly to me – he nailed it. In taking control of the conversation in the way he did by just making an observation, he demonstrated a skill I didn’t know he had and demonstrated an aspect of our relationship I am proud of.

Either way, he not only went straight for the unvarnished truth, he reframed my experience, just. like. that. He listens. He processes.  He knows. We all know kids are sophisticated processors of information – as a parent, I’ve wondered and worried for years just what my kids would say about me to each other many years hence. What they’d each remember of their childhoods with me. What sort of counseling they’d need because of me, or perhaps more specifically what maladaptions would they take with them that work to a certain point and then doesn’t?

I feel a lot better knowing that, while he has definite expressions of a strong personality that will both be a great attribute for him and will also get in his way, he knows enough to be able to process these traits. I listen to him and wonder where he picks certain things up…only to hear myself utter similar things hours or even minutes later, so I know I have to show him the same skill he’s shown me. I also know that I should expect a similar response, “c’mon Dad, that’s not what I’m doing…”

He demonstrated he trusted me to listen to him and respect his point.  We have some tough conversations and yet at the end of the day, he always wants to check in with me and at the start of the day, he always wants me to walk with him to the school bus. He knows me pretty well and he’s comfortable asking me questions like “why do you denigrate yourself?”

So, it was important that I follow up with him, and thus I did. I told him that I thought about what he said, and despite my protestations I thought he was right and would seek to change my linguistic habits. “Great job” is a lot more positive than “That’s so much better than what I could do.” Positive for the recipient, and without denigrating anyone.  Lifting someone up without cutting anyone down. My boy has helped me be a better friend and person.  And, I hope, a better father.