Posted on 11-07-2010
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Three years ago, I wrote a post about failure in a tempo workout that inquired about M.H. Alderson, to whom the quote, “If at first you don’t succeed, you’re running about average,” is attributed.

This week, his family chimed in. As it turns out, Mr. Alderson was a pretty good guy. He earned a purple heart and two bronze stars, returned to the U.S., got married, became a small town newspaper publisher, a great father and a civic leader. He died of cancer in 1984. His quote was originally inspiring to me because I’ve read about so many successful people who started out with a string of failures. Even people who seem invincible, like Lance Armstrong and Richard Branson, have there bad days (like today in Mr. Armstrong’s case).

I remembered writing the post three years ago because it included a lot of fun quotes. I had forgotten why I wrote it. The two comments from Mr. Alderson’s family this week led me back to that post and I read it with a smile. As I previously mentioned, the post was about a failed tempo run. I was trying to run 3 miles at 7:35 pace. I only got 2 miles before I had to walk. At the time, I was wondering if I’d ever be any good at running. I was feeling a little bit like I’ve been feeling the last few weeks. I was questioning why I race and why I spend so much time at an activity that on the surface seems rather pointless.

That post from 3 years ago reminded me that it wasn’t pointless because this February I nearly held that 7:35 pace for 26.2 miles and one month before that, I held a 6:48 pace for 13.1. I’ve worked hard in the time since that post and I have improved – quite a bit. When the sun is hot and it’s hard to breathe and the workouts hurt, it can be hard to see that improvement, but if you’ve been consistent and you look back over a longer time, you can see that it does matter.

So, when your heroes are being plagued by doping scandals and sex scandals. When they don’t seem so much like great heroes anymore – and all heroes have their shares of bad moments (they are human after all) – look back at yourself. You may be your own hero.

(3) Comments   
Posted on 03-07-2010
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

This week, I’ve been hanging out with the family in a nice home up in the Smoky Mountains outside of Gatlinburg, TN. I haven’t been running at all. The neighborhood streets are very narrow, very steep and very curvy. Alice and I decided it was much too dangerous to run on them…or maybe that’s just a convenient excuse.

In any case, we’re not exactly sedentary. Yesterday, we decided to tackle the Chimney Tops, a popular 2 mile trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is steep. It climbs up 1700 feet over those 2 miles and our progress was slow. Wendy isn’t as used to cardiovascular exercise as Raffi, Alice and I are, so she was feeling the effects. About 1.5 miles into the hike, she couldn’t go any further so she and Raffi hiked back down to a stream while Alice and I continued to the top.

At this point, I should back up and mention a peculiar incident that occurred earlier on the trail. We were climbing a particularly steep part of the trail when a shirtless teenage boy went running past us at full speed, breathing very heavily. His run didn’t last very long and he stopped about 50 yards ahead of us to catch his breath. Then, he started dancing. Right there in the middle of the trail, he attempted to do the robot. Soon, his father called him back to the group and the whole group eventually passed us while were were resting near a stream.

Fast forward about 45 minutes. Alice and I had reached the top of the trail after leaving Raffi and Wendy behind. To reach the spectacular view at the top of the Chimneys, one has to climb about 100 yards up a series of rocks. It looks like this:


Note the caption on the photo. Alice and I proceeded up the rocks, wary of the 100-200 foot vertical drop on either side. Proceeding on all fours, the climb wasn’t horrible, but the rocks were hot and burned our hands so there was little time to rest and analyze the tricky path up. There were also quite a few people coming down, so we had to wedge ourselves into small spaces to let them pass. We were about halfway up and dancing boy was sitting with his family about three quarters of the way up when a lady emerged near the bottom of the climb.

“There’s an easier way over here!” she yelled up the hill. That made sense. After all, I’d read about 8 year olds successfully reaching the summit of the Chimney Tops. We scrambled back down only to find that the “easy way” was blocked by a fence with a “hiker alert” saying that the area was closed for rehabilitation.

When this close to the edge of a steep vertical drop, I tend to listen to the National Park Service and not go into closed areas, but it had been a long climb to get to this point and dammit, we wanted to see the 360 degree view.

We climbed the fence and made our way a long a gently sloping path around the peak. This was indeed much, much easier. When we reached the end of the path, there was a steep, narrow 30 foot climb to the summit. It was a little more treacherous that the longer climb on the other side, but it seemed easier to swallow our fears for 30 feet of climbing.

We pinned our backs against the rock face so hikers descending could make their way around us. Meanwhile, dancing boy and his family brushed past us in the other direction and waited in a tree for the descending hikers. When the last hikers were down, an old man at the summit yelled down at us.

“Come on up and get your money’s worth!”

From the bottom, I swear it was Larry the Flip flop guy, but that seemed impossible. Dancing boy’s family started up and dancing boy reluctantly followed. Alice and I lined up behind.

“Do you want me to go first, or do you want to?” I asked Alice.

“I’ll go first,” she replied. “If you were to fall, we’d both die. If I fall, you can catch me.”

The logic sort of made sense and she started up the steep climb. I looked up, grabbed the rocks with my hands and started up behind her. As I looked past her at the very slow progress made by dancing boy, it occurred to me that Alice’s logic was slightly flawed because a fall by the eccentric dancing boy would certainly take both of us out.

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than he started kicking the side of the mountain erratically. Dirt and rocks fell into our face. Then, he screamed a loud, high pitched scream and let go of the rocks. I don’t know how he stayed on the mountain as he stood straight up and turned around, facing out toward the open air.

“I don’t want to die!” he screamed has he started to rapidly descend, out of control toward us.

“Oh shit,” I said to my daughter, “we gotta get the hell outta here.”

Adrenaline shot through me as I slid down the rocks. Thankfully, the tree prevented us from going over the edge as we slid past the narrow trail. The screaming continued from above.

“Where are you going? Mommy! Mommy! I want my mommy!”

Alice and I scurried along the narrow ledge like squirrels on an electrical wire.

We heard another high pitched squeal behind us.

“I want them to leave me alone! Mommy! Mommy! I don’t want to die!”

We could then here dancing boy’s dad telling him to get down as fast as he could. Alice and I clambered over the fence, past dancing boy’s mom and aunt who were having a conversation about camelbaks with another group and started back down the trail.

A quarter mile later, dancing boy ran past us at full speed, his back full of giant, puffy welts. His sister soon followed and we eventually found them bathing in the same stream where Raffi and Wendy were waiting for us.

Later, dancing boy and his mom hiked down behind us and asked for Benedryl. He had been stung multiple times by angry bees. We had none, but they made it all the way down and found someone at the bottom with Benedryl in their car. We’re pretty sure he is autistic, which explains some of the behavior we witnessed. Still, he outweighed both of us and he looked like he was going to kill himself and take both of us with him.

If I ever return to the Chimney Tops, I’m going on a cooler day and I’m taking the “hard” way.

(2) Comments   
Posted on 30-09-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Lately, I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on the recommendation of the headmaster of Alice and Wendy’s school.  It’s an interesting read with some pretty interesting studies on the factors that go into success.  In many cases, those factors might be initially unexpected (such as being born early in the year makes you a better hockey player), but when the reasons for the somewhat unexpected factors are examined, they suddenly become more obvious.

I’m only about halfway through the book, but so far the theories of Outliers confirm my overall beliefs about success in life being a lot like success at the poker table.  It’s a combination of luck, talent and hard work (Glenn will appreciate this, I’m sure).  There is no doubt that poker is a game of skill.  It’s also very obviously a game of luck.  The skill comes in minimizing losses during unlucky times and maximizing gains during periods of luck so as to come out ahead in the long term.

In life, we’re all dealt unlucky hands from time to time.  We’re also presented with lucky opportunities.  These things we have little control over.  It’s how we handle them that matters.  Opportunities come and go.  Many people don’t recognize these opportunities, or are too lazy to take advantage of them.  They’d rather focus on the unlucky times.  They’re unlikely to be successful.  Those who minimize their losses in the unlucky times, recognize the opportunities and work hard to take advantage of them are the ones who will be the most successful.

That’s really a brief and somewhat poor summary of what I’ve already read.  The book’s examples are descriptive and fun to read.  I’m sure that for every example Gladwell produces one might be able to produce a counter example, but it’s a good read nonetheless.

Sometimes when I’m feeling sorry for myself, I wish I would just win the lottery.  Then I could do whatever I wanted.  I could travel around the world, stay at the luxury resorts with the extraordinarily comfortable mattresses and the 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  Then I remember a dream I had when I was in high school and Volleyball was such a large part of my life.

It was a time when vampires were popular in culture due to movies like the Lost Boys and Interview with the Vampire – much like the vampire buzz that now surrounds Twilight.  I dreamed that I was vampire.  It was a really realistic dream.  I felt it.  I was suddenly lightning fast, incredibly strong and I could jump as high as I wanted.  I was the king of the volleyball court.  In time I grew depressed.  I successful and kicking butt and nobody knew that I was a vampire – but I knew.  I knew I hadn’t earned my success and it was no fun.  In the dream I quit the volleyball team and spent my time watching from the bleachers wishing I wasn’t a vampire.  I woke up glad I was just normal Brian.

I guess my point is that the journey is half (or more) of the fun.  It can be hard to remember when you’re in the unlucky times – you’re injured, out of work, or just spinning your wheels – but a victory earned through hardship is so much sweeter than one that is handed to you by default.

(7) Comments   
Posted on 09-09-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

It’s been another stressful week at work.  I had a difficult “easy” run this morning that was supposed to be 6 miles, but wound up being only 4 miles.  Richie ran 16 this morning and was a little disappointed at not getting a full 20, so he hit me up for 4.  That was good for both of us as I might have skipped my afternoon run otherwise.  We took it slow for 4+ miles and chatted the whole way.  When I got home, I opened up my Napster account, put on some Jimmy Buffet and Beach Boys tunes, then cooked up some Tilapia in a white wine lemon butter sauce.  I was trying various rum based shots while cooking which isn’t necessarily the best thing to do the night before a race, but the race is in the afternoon so I’ll hopefully be okay.

In any case, the Beach Boys tunes took me back to my high school years when I was playing volleyball.  I used to listen to the Beach Boys’ “Made in the USA” album on my Walkman religiously.  My favorite tune was the remake of the old Mamas & Papas tune, “California Dreamin'”.  At the time, I was obsessed with volleyball.  I started playing volleyball in the 5th grade, which was a rarity for a boy living in Missouri.  I’ve also been 5’10” pretty much since the 6th grade.  So, I was one of the few good volleyball players in the greater St. Louis area at the time.  I traveled around the Midwest with a club team and when I got to high school, I was a backup on the varsity team during the state tournament my freshman year.

As I progressed through high school, my teammates and opponents grew up around me.  I went from middle hitter to swing hitter to opposite hitter to setter through my high school career.  My senior year, I went back to opposite hitter and made first team all district.  I dreamed of moving to California, majoring in Marine Biology and playing volleyball.  If Men’s college volleyball were as prolific as, say, Men’s college track and field then I might have had a college scholarship somewhere, but I settled for majoring in Physical Therapy and playing intramural volleyaball at St. Louis University (we did win the intramural championship).

This evening, under the influence of some Captain Morgan, I was reflecting on those Beach Boys tunes.  While I didn’t move to California, I did ultimately move to Florida (still warm and beachy) and I got a Ph.D. in Oceanography (sooooo much better than marine biology).  The life isn’t quite as I imagined in high school, but it ain’t so bad.  In high school, I envisioned my destiny as a volleyball player.  Now, I know I’m really a runner.

So, on the eve of my next race that will be contested mostly against high school runners, I had to smile just a bit at the long circuitous path that has led me here.  I often wonder what life would have been like if I had realized I was a runner in high school.  How good could I have been?  On the other hand, if you’re happy with your life, you can’t complain about what go you there.  You can’t change the past anyway.  So, it’s onward and upward.  Maybe I can take down a few high school runners tomorrow.  We’ll see.

(3) Comments   
Posted on 29-07-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

I really enjoyed John L. Parker Jr’s Once a Runner so I eagerly requested the sequel, Again to Carthage from my local library.  I guess with such high expectations I set myself up for disappointment.  I don’t want to say that the book was bad.  It certainly had its moments – for example, when Cassidy easily outruns a group of spoiled brats in a 4×400 m relay.

Even moreso than Once a Runner, Again to Carthage is a series of vignettes.  It takes place over the course of a few years after Cassidy has graduated from law school and integrated into society as a “normal” person.  After losing friends and family members for a variety of reasons, Cassidy begins to question his life and realizes that he’s not done running, but he’s running out of time.

He retreats to his family’s land in the North Carolina mountains, enlists the help of his old friend, Bruce Denton and sets out to qualify for the 1980 olympics in the marathon.  The training is interesting, but the book’s climatic moments are somewhat more unrealistic and unbelievable than the original.

It’s definitely worth a read, but don’t expect to enjoy it as much as Once a Runner.

(4) Comments   
Posted on 25-06-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Yesterday, Jess had an interesting post daydreaming about life as an independently wealthy runner.  She laid out her typical day.  I’ll confess that I think about this very thing from time to time.  Here’s what I’d do:

1)  Wake up and start a run before sunrise

2)  Stretch

3)  Eat breakfast

4)  Shower

5)  Go back to bed

6)  Have a leisurely lunch

7)  Spend the afternoon reading or working on a pet project and snacking

8)  Run an easy afternoon run

9)  Shower

10)  Have a relaxing dinner with moderate amounts of whiskey

11)  Relax, read, work on pet project some more

12)  Sleep

That would be kind of nice.  We’ll see where life takes me.

(6) Comments   
Posted on 23-06-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Yesterday was hot, but I didn’t have any outdoor workouts scheduled.  Still, I had a lot of meetings around town and I ended up doing a lot of walking around in the heat.  The rest of family was out for the evening doing various things, so I had the place to myself.  After running many errands in the heat, I decided that a nice cold rum punch sounded pretty good.  So, I picked up a bottle of Appleton White Jamaican rum.

At home, I tunneled to the back of the cabinet and dug out the big souvenir glass I got from T-Rex after the Disney half marathon.  I filled it with ice, grabbed my shaker and mixed my favorite citrus rum punch:

1 & 1/3 oz Jamaican rum

2/3 oz triple sec

1 & 2/3 oz orange juice

2/3 oz lime juice

I shook the mixture, poured it into the glass and then topped it off with 7-up.  It was cold and refreshing.

Now, I normally do most of the cooking in the house, but when nobody’s around I find it difficult to go through the trouble of making a real meal.  So, I popped 40 pizza rolls in the oven and relaxed with my rum punch.  I ate all 40 pizza rolls (1470 calories if you believe the package) and then made myself another rum punch.  I now had a full belly and was feeling pretty good really buzzed.  I relaxed for a while, read a few blogs, wrote a blog post of my own and then decided to settle down with Again to Carthage by John L. Parker Jr.

It was 10:30 PM.  The sugar and the alcohol were playing conflicting games in my bloodstream.  Before I even opened the book, I was off the couch.  I was dying to try out my new racing shoes.  Foregoing a shirt in the dark night, I threw on some running shorts and my lightest running socks.  I laced up the new racing shoes and headed out the door with a very specific two mile route in mind.  I walked quickly through the dark, soupy humidity like a man on a mission.

When I arrived at the route’s starting point, I quickly went from walk to brisk run.  My legs were fresh and unencumbered by the weight of my trainers.  I charged through the first quarter mile feeling like a high speed hovercraft floating over the pavement.  I couldn’t see my Garmin.  I had no idea how fast I was going, but I knew I was moving at a pretty good clip and I felt like I wasn’t putting any effort into it at all.  I came to a point where uneven pavers make the sidewalk treacherous.  In the dark, I couldn’t pick my through like I normally do in the daylight.  I didn’t slow down.  I just high stepped my way through that block so I wouldn’t trip.

When I arrived at the park – the one mile mark and the site of so many painful interval sessions – I stopped briefly  to turn around.  I was dripping with sweat from the humid evening, but I didn’t feel one ounce of tired.  I looked over the moonlit lake and started to laugh.  I don’t know why.  I couldn’t stop.  I was a shirtless guy with bright orange shoes standing alone and laughing on a street corner in the middle of the night.  I looked at my Garmin only to find the battery drained.  Somehow, this made the whole thing even more humorous.

I decided I better get moving before people started calling the cops to come remove this crazy man from their neighborhood.  Fortunately, I was feeling fast.  I zipped home again with that incredible floating feeling in my legs.  I returned to my starting point with a huge grin on my face.  I was in love.

I don’t know exactly how fast I went but it wasn’t all out.  The Garmin died at 0.94 miles and registered an average pace of 6:50 min/mile up to that point.  I didn’t slow down after that, so I figure I was sub 14 minutes for the two miles.  It’s not lightning quick, but considering I finished feeling almost as fresh as when I started, I was giddy with the possibilities.  I think there’s a good chance I’ll be running that midnight 5K on the 4th of July.

(8) Comments   
Posted on 27-05-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Hey, it’s two weeks in a row! It’s amazing what some time at the beach and time away from running can do for one’s ability to read. Well, I suppose that’s misleading. It’s not like if you’re illiterate, you can take some time off from running and hang out at the beach and hope to suddenly be able to read…Of course, if you’re illiterate, you’re probably not reading this right now anyway.

What I mean to say is that I’ve actually had time to read over the last few weeks and I put another book in the bag. I requested Again to Carthage (the sequel to Once a Runner) from the library and it did not arrive in time for the weekend.  Instead, I checked out Duel in the Sun by John Brandt.

Duel in the Sun is the story of the 1982 Boston marathon.  Some Many would call it the greatest marathon in history.  This, I knew.  What I didn’t know was that the two main players, Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar, essentially fell apart after the marathon.  The book progresses pretty nicely, weaving the post marathon trials and tribulations (Salazar’s depression and Beardsley’s drug addiction).  Sometimes it even loosely ties said trials and tribulations with the physical equivalents during the actual race.

The book certainly wasn’t the page turner that Once a Runner was, but it did keep my attention.  I do think that Brant went a bit overboard trying to postulate that the 1982 Boston marathon itself was the cause for the downfall of both runners.  While both runners certainly pushed their bodies past their limits during the marathon, I doubt that Salazar’s asthma was solely the result of that race.  More likely, it was spurned by years of high intensity (over) training.  After all, Salazar did win the New York City marathon the following year (albeit in a significantly slower time).  Likewise, Beardsley continued racing hard without adequate recovery following Boston and drove himself into the ground.  What is evident is that the 1982 Boston marathon was the pinnacle of the careers of both men.

For my part, I did 3 easy miles on the treadmill this morning at the gym.  I followed that up with some stretching and an extra long shower.  I did 4 miles in the unrelenting sun with Alice this afternoon.  She was sore from yesterday’s run, so I finally know that I’m doing some good.

(5) Comments   
Posted on 20-05-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

I’ve never participated in Literary Wednesday and I’m so glad to be able to this week.  When I received the most recent issue of Runners World, I was intrigued to find out that there was actually a fictional novel about running.  I’ve read instructional books and non fiction, but a novel?  Now that’s cool.  I read the synopsis and it sounded just like what I was in the mood for.  Then, I received a Border’s gift card in the mail and I was off to the store.

Most of the reviews you’ll find about Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. are very, very positive.  I fall into that group.  I thought it was an excellent book.  I was thoroughly entertained and inspired.  That’s not to say the book is perfect.  The literary snobs will certainly find a few flaws.  For one, the story is a little disjointed.  It’s presented as a series of vignettes that are roughly in chronological order.  Certainly with a little more filler between vignettes, the story would be longer, but more boring I think.  Yes, every race and every training run could have been described, but I think Parker struck a nice balance between details and pace.

I read one review on amazon.com that described the book as “dated” and “chauvinistic”.  It is dated I guess, but only in the same way that American Graffiti or Grease is dated.  The book takes place in the early 70’s at a southern university (based on the University of Florida).  That’s an historical setting that has an effect on the characters of the book.  Is it chauvinistic?  Perhaps.  There are few (if any) strong female characters in the book.  Still, I think this is simply a reflection of the book’s time frame.  I don’t think the book advocates it, nor do I think it is central to the plot.  In fact, the most chauvinistic  and racist characters are the “villains” of the book.

Others complained that the book looks down on recreational runners.  I don’t think that is quite true either.  One passage reads,

“When they occasionally blew by a huffing fatty or an aging road runner, the automatically  toned down the banter to avoid overwhelming, to preclude the appearance of showboating (not that they slowed in the slightest).  They in fact respected these distant cousins of the spirit, who among all people, had some modicum of insight into their own milieu.”

I found Once a Runner to be a real page turner.  The climax of the book actually had my heart racing as though I was running alongside the main characters.  Is it a literary masterpiece?  Probably not, but it was thoroughly entertaining, thought provoking and inspiring.  That combination makes for a great book in my opinion.

My second favorite passage is this:

“A runner is a miser, spending the pennies of his energy with great stinginess, constantly wanting to know how much he has spent and how much longer he will be expected to pay.  He wants to be broke at precisely the moment he no longer needs his coin.”

I can’t reveal my favorite passage without ruining the book, but I highly recommend Once a Runner.  I’m very curious, however, to know if the female readers enjoy it as much as I do.  Though the main characters are male, I don’t think it’s too male focused.  I think a woman ought to be able to identify with the training and racing aspects of the book.  I’d love to hear your opinions, though.  It would make for great fireside discussion at running camp next year :).

On the training note, I skipped Tuesday morning because I felt like it. It was raining pretty hard when I got Alice from school and she was cold. So, we headed to the Sports Authority and picked up a long sleeved tech shirt on clearance for $11. We also got nylon socks, sunglasses and a wrist stopwatch for her. By the time we were done shopping ,we were right near the Pinellas Trail, so we took a two mile run on the trail. This portion of the trail contains two overpasses, so we were able to get some hill work in as well.

Today, I hit the gym for 9 miles on the bike, followed by a full body strength training session. In the afternoon, it was raining again, but Alice and I put in 4 miles anyway. Her new long sleeved shirt kept her warm and she finished the 4 miles in 39:25.

(10) Comments   
Posted on 02-04-2009
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

I’ve seen a few of my twitter friends vow to start every Tweet with “In these tough economic times…”.  They haven’t followed through, so I thought I’d go ahead and do it.

In these tough economic times, I ran 3 miles.

In these tough economic times, I created something new.

In these tough economic times, I had a new idea.

I’m not special.  If you’ve lost your job, you’ve got more time.  Do something with it.  If there’s one thing I learned from “running” the one marathon I’ve run, it’s that each step – no matter how short, or how slow, or how painful – takes you closer to the finish.  Find your passion and pursue it one step at a time.

This morning, I hit the gym for 6 miles on the bike combined with an upper and lower body workout.  After work, I headed downtown with Alice for a 3 mile run.  It was windy, but she was feeling fast today.  We ran it sub 9 min/mile (approaching my normal easy pace).  I might have to reign in the speed demon.  Sunday will be her first 4 mile run, so we’ll see how she handles that.  I’ll be hitting the core training class tomorrow morning, but I’ve got no running on tap until Saturday’s 400 m intervals.

In case I don’t post before Saturday, I’d like to wish a heartfelt good luck to Jess.  She’s trained hard for a long time in preparation for this Saturday’s Big D Texas marathon.  Unfortunately, she’s come down with a digestive virus in the last week, so that’s an added (unplanned) challenge.  Good luck Jess!

(1) Comment   
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