1000 Miles: I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself

HEY! I WANNA GET BETTER.” Last January 1, I decided I needed to do something different – if nothing changes, nothing changes – and so on January 2, 2016 I proceeded to walk 18 miles or so.  It doesn’t seem like a lot in retrospect, but at the time it was the longest such trip I had done in as long as I can remember.

This January 2, I find myself in a different place.  Before this past year, I could count the number of races I had actually run on one hand.  By days’ end December 31, I had completed 66 races; the majority of which were 5k, but as the year progressed they increased in their distance: 10k, Ragnar relay, Spartan trifecta, marathon relay, half-marathon.

On January 1, I started the year with a 5-Mile race.  Today, I ran a half-marathon distance.  I wanna get better.  My goal last year was number of races; my goal this year is distance.  1000.  I finished the race yesterday at position 100 of 254.  I can do better.  I finished 71/132 of Men.  Should definitely do better.  I finished 22/28 in my age group.  I HAVE to do better.  I’ve been working at this over 66 races and 328 miles over the past year.   If I had finished 254/254, or 132/132. or 28/28 and I felt like that was all I was capable of, I think I could be okay with that.  But its not.  I KNOW it’s not.

Last February 13, I ran my very first race of the year.  As I was leaving my then ten-year old son left me with these parting words: “I hope you do great, and that this is your worst race of the year.”  I did.  And it was.  It took me over 29-minutes to finish that 5k, but it was the best I could do at that point.  For the rest of the year, I didn’t come close to that time for a 5k street race.

I ran that 13.1 miles today.  My knees started giving me the business at mile 10 and for the next 2 miles my pace slowed to almost 11-minute miles.  I bargained one more mile with myself and pushed through a more reasonable pace, but the damage was done to my time and my proverbial heart.  I got the half-marathon, but the rest was not to be had today.

This is where it would be easy to stop.  Get discouraged.  Give up the goal.  But alas, enter the support system.

It’s not about the mileage. It’s about your inner-dialogue.  You’re done with the 5K stuff. You are on a whole level and you don’t know it. You went for 18 because there is a part of you that knows it’s possible. Trust it and again do it for someone for which failure is not an option; Dedicate your next run to your father.

I know what my plan is.  I know what I have to do to get to my plan.  I know what I have to do to punch that plan in the face and go beyond.  I cannot allow myself the option of failure.  Today was as much a failure of the will as it was of the body, and I know that.  I was given good advice and direction from one of my biggest supporters: think about your dad,

Near the end of the year, I wished that I had chronicled my races.  How they went.  Commit those feelings to writing.  I’m going to do better this year.

Here is how I plan to get better:

  1. 1000 Miles (20 Miles/week):
    As of 1/2/17 – Week 1:18.1/1000
  2. #Kill22 Challenge: Add a push up a day to the challenge.
    1. Day 2: Check
  3. 2 Rounds (4 months) of Beachbody “Insanity”
  4. Spartan Trifecta
    1. Scheduled
    2. Additional Sprint Scheduled (x2 Trifecta?)
  5. 2 Half Marathons – one of which will be less than 2 hours
  6. I will attempt at least 5 things that I’m not convinced I can complete
    1. To succeed, you cannot fear failure.
    2. Fear is a liar, desperate to convince you that you cannot succeed.

I KNOW I can accomplish most of the goals on this list, which is why #6 is so important.  It is the least quantifiable – I either run 2 halfs, one in less than -hours or I don’t – but what does “I’m not convinced” mean?  It means that it will be something I haven’t done, but it also means that I have to be honest with myself.  It can’t be an ex-post-facto excuse for failing something at which I thought I should succeed.  As such, I’ll do my level best to be honest and accountable.

January 1 – 5 Miles; 5 Miles Total

January 2 – 13.1 Miles; 18.1 Miles Total.

2017 is getting punched in the mouth.

2016 The Year In The Rearview

Be sure to be thankful for the past year.

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Lemmy From Billboard.com

One of my all time music idols passed away last December 28 – Lemmy Kilmister passed away from an aggressive form of cancer days after having been diagnosed.  2016 was not  to be an auspicious year on that front: David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake.  Just a tough year for the classics…and some of the names of my childhood.

The most bizarre Presidential election cycle of my lifetime came to a close in November…in the most unlikely ways.  I’m still letting the phrase “President-elect Trump” sink in.  He may well be President before I can swallow that phrase.

The mother of one of my oldest and dearest friends succumbed to the cancer that she had willed at bay.

As we close the year, I’m anticipating the flood of “So long 2016…” and “may 2017 suck less than 2016” posts all over social media.  With all of this, by and large, 2016 has been an amazing year for me. I learned some things about the power of goals and endurance.  I learned some things about humility and being willing to step out of my comfort zone and try something different.

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2016, a year of goals

On January 2, I set out amongst the snow and slush, making my way on an 18-mile round trip walk to a nearby dam. It took me a little more than 4-hours to make the trip.  Tired and exhausted, it was awesome. It also helped set the stage for more than a few workouts this year – up and down the stairs, along the trails came to be known as the “Pain Cave” in my strange little circle of compatriots.

I began with a goal of 50 Obstacle Course races by age 50 – something I may still strive toward, as that’s my real passion and interest – but my short list of a handful of races, eventually became a goal of 46 races for my 46 years.  I honestly had no idea how low I had set my target and why would I?

On February 13, I ran the first race of the year; a 5k in 17-degree weather.  A couple of weeks later, I jumped into a pool of ice water to raise money for a kids’ camp.

It wasn’t until May that I dared try anything longer than a 5k – although the day before I ran 2 5k races – and it was kind of important that I do that because somewhere along the line I had joined a Ragnar Relay team and I had never run more than a 5k at one time.  I guessed at a 10k pace time for Ragnar, and tried to match it a couple of weeks before hand.  I did well enough – not great, but well enough – that I agreed to take on a longer set of legs for the relay, and I’m glad I did.

328 racing miles on the year.  I did so much more than I ever could have imagined.  Ragnar.  Ragnar Trail. Killington Spartan Beast.  A half-marathon.  11-races in July.  An overnight marathon relay so far into the New Hampshire darkness I saw the International Space Station traverse the sky.  I met some really cool folks.  I made stronger connections with old friends.  I ran 4 races with my daughter.  I either lost 20 pounds and gained 5 or lost 15 – I prefer to think of it as having lost 15.

Completed the #22Kill Challenge, did “The Murph,” a round of T25 and of “Insanity.” Lots of stuff going on for a pudgy, middle aged guy.

Interestingly enough, that icewater fundraiser I mentioned earlier, set the stage for another key aspect of the year for me: we gave more to charity this year than we ever have, and over a wide breadth of causes.  We had international guests for 2-months this summer; what an amazing experience. We welcomed yet another dog into our home – but this time we swear, no more.

So, 2016 didn’t see us get suddenly wealthy or even progressively so.  BUT it sees us through together, healthy.  Our bills are paid.  My daughter has completed her college studies a semester early and will be going to Europe for a couple of months in celebration.

Before complaining about how crummy 2016 was to you, maybe take some time and think about all the ways 2016 was pretty good to you.  365.25 days can’t all be bad.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 has waiting; I’m ready to go.  Happy New Year my friends.

Some Stats:

9 Pairs of sneakers

  1. Reebok (3)
  2. New Balance (3)
  3. North Face (1)
  4. Asics (1)
  5. Saucony (1)

66 Races (9 Obstacle Courses)
64:33:24 Hours:Minutes:Seconds Racing
Raced in 5 States (MA, NH, CT, RI, VT); Ran in  9 (NY, NJ, NC, FL)

 

2016: Celebrity Serial Killer

2016 has been a wild ride.  It seems like every day there’s news of yet another celebrity death. Every time I see someone who shares my age, mortality becomes just a little more real to me.

I read a list of celebrity deaths for the year – as of today, there were 91 listed on the Legacy.com list and it hadn’t yet been updated to include the passing of Carrie Fisher.

I was struck, though, by who was on the list. A lot of folks whom I’d heard of in passing or in reference, but really knew little about.  There was the 1950’s television actress who portrayed Lois Lane, Noel Neill; Sonny Corleone’s wife, Julie Gregg; actor Michael Massee – whose most notable role still eludes me.  A lot of people who may have been famous or celebrities at some point, but really hard to argue that they are (were) currently.  More to the point, I’m pretty sure (which is my disclaimer that I have no evidence to back this up) there are more people alive today that could be considered “celebrity” or “famous” than at any other point in our history by the standards that would have Noel Neill occupying a spot on a list of “celebrities.”  Consider that for a moment.

No wonder it seems like there’s a celebrity passing everyday – there’s just so damn many of them.  With the proliferation of so much media, it becomes possible for everyone to have their 15-minutes of fame.

Consider  Christina  Grimmie, a young singer who had performed on “The Voice” and whom made a bit of a name for herself on YouTube before that.  She died in a shooting attack in June.  Talented to be sure, but a talent discovered through the wonders of the internet, accessible and high quality digital recording devices. It makes one wonder if everyone who has appeared on “The Voice” could be considered a “celebrity?”

For that matter, is this “celebritifiction” is the consequence of a proliferation of media channels (YouTube, SnapChat, Twitter, The Voice…) or of the media’s belief that we just can’t get enough news so we get it 24-hours a day?  On our phones, televisions, everywhere.  You need 24-hours of news to broadcast if you’re going to broadcast 24-hours a day, so we create it.  We create celebrities because we need SOMETHING to fill 24-hours of news.   TMZ is a media company based entirely on the business of creating celebrity, then reporting on celebrity.

You’d think we’d hit a saturation point with ‘celebrities’ – how many people can you possibly “know,” but yet the plate keeps getting bigger and more names keep getting piled on it.

To be sure, this year has seen bona fide celebrities pass on: Muhammad Ali, Prince, Gordie Howe, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher.  It doesn’t follow, though, that every athlete or singer or actor has a presence that could be considered “celebrity.”   Prince was a singer and famous and was a celebrity, so therefore Christina Grimmie is a celebrity too?

I think we need higher standards of what “celebrity” means.  Anytime a 22-year old is killed it is a tragedy, and perhaps even notable, but it’s really hard for me to consider Grimmie a celebrity when George Michael – who also recently passed – had sold millions of records by the time he was 22.  Just totally different stratospheres.

As I was reading through lists of names, I had to remind myself that there was a person behind each one of them.  No more, no less valuable than any other.  It’s just that they touch different numbers of people.  It’s like the difference between local news and national news: what’s important in one localized area may not be in a larger area.  The car crash along the Jamaica Way in Jamaica Plain is worthy of some note in the Boston media, but chances are Matt Lauer wouldn’t find it interesting.  There’s a place for some additional attention for folks within the public eye, but it just seems we tend to overstate.

I appreciate the Wikipedia approach: “Notable” deaths as opposed to “Celebrity.”  Notable is a more appropriate place to conflate a list containing Muhammad Ali, Vera Rubin, and  Antonin Scalia with one containing Jacky Lee, Tobias de Boer, and Sarah Grant.  Christina Grimmie more appropriately belongs with those considered “Notable” than those considered “Celebrity.”

And so it is then, we allow ourselves the somewhat guilty pleasure of deciding there’s been a rash of celebrity passings this year, by virtue of changing the definition of “celebrity.”

To The American People

“To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world. ”

Calvin Coolidge, Presidential message, December 25, 1927

 

The Good You Wish To See

It began with a Facebook post and a text message.

A woman had taken to filling backpacks with daily essentials and would leave them in her car.  When she happened upon someone in need panhandling or sleeping on the street, she would give them a backpack.  There may be a blanket, perhaps some lip balm, whatever.  Just something to let the other person know that someone was thinking of them and wanted to help.

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Rich O’Connell of the O’Connell Valor Fund, Keith Howard Executive Director of Liberty House, and the Mo’s.

My daughter thought this was a good idea, and wondered about ways to do this in bulk.  She took the time to build a shopping list: doing research to find where she could get certain items she could distribute and for how much for how many.  After compiling her list and deciding she had a workable idea, the text came.  She wanted to demonstrate good citizenship to her younger brother and to make a difference in the world.

How to do this? The list she had put together, a relatively bargain priced list at that, still priced the project at about $25 per backpack (including the pack) or about $600.  Then the issue of distribution: how to distribute the packs?  After all, it’s not the safest thing in the world to approach random people on the street and offer things.

This is where some things clicked together.  The O’Connell Valor Fund – one of the subjects of the Morrisseyweb 28 Days of Inspiration – has a ready made network of entities seeking just this kind of support for needy and homeless veterans.  By leveraging the OVF network, we would have a prescreened means by which we could distribute the packs, meaning no potentially unsafe encounters, and a disadvantaged group to support: the Veterans community.

According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (or HUD)  estimates 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night and the Veterans Administration estimates veterans comprise about 11% of the homeless population.  Their top priority for homeless vets?  Secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.

16431588_1481156662-2162Concurrent with the coordination work with the OVF, we began a fundraising campaign to raise money to help offset the cost of building these backpacks: it was clear that the price tag was going to be a little more than we could pull off in short order.  Before the fundraiser was 8 hours old, we had raised enough to know that we could pull this off and began ordering the packs and buying supplies.

On November 30 the idea was hatched.  On December 1 the connection to the OVF had been set in motion to identify the appropriate place(s) to deliver the packs and the fundraising page had gone up, by December 6 most of the supplies had been purchased and the packs had arrived and on the evening of December 9, we set about packing the 24 packs with goods. And on December 10, we arrived at the Liberty House door to deliver them.

We had raised far more than our initial goal, and that allowed us some flexibility with the contents.  To our original list, we added higher quality blankets (this was the big plus!), wash cloths, candy, tooth brush holders, handwritten notes and made 4-female bags with feminine hygiene products: Women comprise 11% of the homeless veteran population, although oftentimes their particular needs go overlooked.

Chic 2 Chic Consignments of Foxborough, MA donated brand new hats, gloves and scarves to each backpack.

The average value of each pack grew from an estimated $25 each, to easily more than $50 with our additional supplies and Chic 2 Chic’s generous donations.

The OVF referred our donation to a small Veterans organization called Liberty House, of Manchester NH. They do terrific work with the homeless Veteran population of Manchester, but more than that they work with the community at large.  What’s more is that they do this in the context of drug and alcohol free housing – just what the Coalition of Homeless Veterans says is the top concern.  They have refused federal funding – and the requisite regulations – because doing so would compromise their mission and purpose: they would have been required to allow drug and alcohol use if a resident came in using.

In the time we were there, several homeless folks came to their door – knowing that if it can be avoided, no one gets turned away.  This was exactly the partner we were looking for – we didn’t want to turn anyone away.  And these packs were exactly what was needed: they can’t give everyone a place to stay, but they can try to help everyone.  There wasn’t anything in our packs that they program didn’t already have – we had perhaps nicer and new supplies, maybe, but the program had toothbrushes, and toothpaste, and spare clothes. What they didn’t have was the packs, already made, that they could offer to others in need.

In addition, we were able to write a $300 check to the O’Connell Valor Fund to help financially support other Veterans in need – not everyone in need is homeless, and not everyone needs a backpack of supplies.

We took some time with Keith Howard, the Executive Director of Liberty House when we dropped off the packs.  He was genuinely touched that these two kids had conceived and built the program themselves.  “How did you come up with this idea,” he asked.  “I saw a post on Facebook” came the answer.  Keith was not satisfied, “How many others saw that post and while they thought it was interesting did nothing?”  In that moment of having her modesty rebuffed, it became clear just how important this project was.  They did something where others did not, and in so doing they affected the change they wanted to see in the world, AND encouraged others to do so as well.

It warms my heart, this holiday season, to know my kids have been raised to be good, caring people.  It warms my heart that so many people thought enough of their idea to help fund it – it never would have become as awesome as quickly without the support from our community.  It warms my heart that people I’ve known better than 30 years thought enough of the idea to join the effort to see it to fruition.  And more than anything it warms my heart that there are 24 people who are likely to be in much better shape than they may have been otherwise.  In short, the world is just a little better because of my kids.

MORE INFORMATION:

For Information on the O’Connell Valor Fund: https://twitter.com/ocvalor
For Information on Liberty House: http://libertyhousenh.org/
Visit Chic-2-Chic on the web at http://www.chic2chic.com/

Godspeed

Eternal rest grant unto them , O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them .
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

It isn’t often you’ll find me reaching back into the faith of my childhood to find the words to convey meaning at life’s most difficult times, but tonight these words seem appropriate and right.

Tonight, a beautiful and wonderful human being has become one with time and with the universe, has left this earth and gone forth to the great unknown.  If I could let her know anything, it’s that I love her son like he is my brother and that brother of mine loved her as much as any person could love another.

Throughout her illness, she demonstrated rock solid resiliency.  When it became clear treatment was no longer effective, she demonstrated the strength of character I’ve come to know over the last 30+ years.  When one is at peace with herself, she can make those around her stronger.  And she did just that.

She exemplified feminine strength with rock solid conviction and understanding of who she was in this world.  I can think of few people I have ever known more impressive, more confident, more tough or strong.  More loving or sure.  Tonight, I am sad to know she has left us, but proud to say I knew her.  She leaves the world just a little bit better for her having been here, and far better than most.

Godspeed.

On Being Uncomfortable

Two recent news stories caught my attention in that they highlight a major dysfunction in our society.

At Hampshire College, in the small Western Massachusetts college town of Amherst, someone burned the American flag on campus in the days after the Presidential election, so the school then put up a new flag.  This was lowered it to half-staff, in solidarity with those fearing a Donald Trump presidency (by some accounts) and in mourning for racial violence victims…which sparked backlash from others, and thus they removed the flag from campus entirely.

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“Two Minute Warning” Spider Martin, March 1965

Meanwhile, in Pearl, Mississippi a billboard showed up bearing Spider Martin‘s iconic “Two Minute Warning” (The photo was taken moments before troopers tear gassed and beat protesters) with the label “Make America Great Again.”  This has caused consternation and perhaps even outrage: the headline is Mississippi residents unsure of controversial billboard’s intent, the mayor wants it removed, the governor calls it “divisive.”

So, at the highest academic levels we either don’t know how to or simply refuse to have a conversation about politics, and at the highest government levels we apparently don’t understand the first amendment protections around freedom of speech.  As a populace, we’re not sure we know what to think: we engage more with “fake news” than with “real news.”  Perhaps that’s more of an indictment of our “Info-tainment news than it is an indictment of Facebook algorithms.  

At some point in life you have to take a stand and engage that which is uncomfortable. Life isn’t all about “safe places” and avoiding difficult conversations. The school was wrong for lowering the flag to half staff – that’s not a way to protest the results of an election, it’s a means by which one honors disasters or deaths. Just that act was an affront for which the school would appropriately be chastised. Among their students are veterans or members of military families, but one doesn’t have to be a veteran to be offended by such a violation of flag protocol or by removing the flag altogether.

“Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Finley Dunne

The way one would properly fly a flag signalling distress (in extreme danger to life or property) is upside down, but even that isn’t an appropriate expression here. I’m sure they could argue that there’s an extreme danger to life of minorities or other dispossessed folk (I’m not entirely sure that would have intellectual validity) but they’ve not even chosen that expression.

In response for having their hand slapped, the school took their ball and went home.  Their chosen means of expression was the removal of expression, to deny any solidarity with the country.

This is a school in the business of educating future leaders and they decide to take the flag down because they can’t control vandals, don’t wish to heed those who have appropriately identified their breach of flag protocol/etiquette and last don’t wish to have a dialogue about constructive means by which opposition can be expressed. They can’t separate the president-elect of the United States from the office of the President from the symbol of the United States. It was more important to avoid the conversation than it was to have the conversation.

They could have taken the stand that our nation was larger than any disagreement among us, flown the flag at full staff – protecting it if they deemed necessary – and engaged the campus in a campus-wide discussion about the campaign, what it means, and what needs to happen going forward in a way that the school could support.  I would argue this conversation should have been going on well before November 8 if they were truly interested in a diversity of thought.

From the schools’ president: “we have decided that we will not fly the U.S. flag or any other flags at Hampshire for the time being. We hope this will enable us to instead focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors.”  The rationale equating the flag – and the country – with those things is extremely dangerous, and yet the Hampshire College board fails to see it that way.  Symbols are extremely powerful, but so are symbolic actions.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Cesar Cruz

The billboard was meant to be controversial, specifically designed to cause conversation, and response:  Mississippi overwhelmingly went for Trump, and has a troubled racial history.  The message is provocative because the message conveyed could be any number of things: were this the point of view of the Klu Klux Klan, it would be hate speech; in this case it’s the work of an artist with the express purpose of discussing what we mean when we use a phrase like “Make America great again.”

And so it goes that we have become uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.  In the meantime, we’re faced with a Vonnegutesque warning: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Schools have pretended that to be educated means not having to confront opposition to your ideas, not having to defend your ideas, and that ideas contrary are to be avoided or just not engaged.   We’ve pretended that making anti-discrimination national policy is equivalent to ending the conversation.  We’ve pretended that racial diversity and ethnic diversity is the only diversity that matters, that engaging other opposing ideas is dangerous and that diversity of thought will somehow expose us to danger rather than strengthening our understanding of each other.

Let’s stop pretending that conversation is a bad thing to be avoided, that ideas different from your own can hurt, and that it’s more important to be convinced you’re right than it is to find common understanding. That somehow engaging a conversation is more trouble than it’s worth.