Friday, March 21, 2008

the Significance of the Insignificant

Forgive me for being a bit philosophical's what happens when you have too much "alone time" on your long runs.

Have you ever thought about the small things that have happened in your life that at the time seemed so insignificant and yet looking back turned out to be....well...significant. Maybe even life changing. There are the big ones that immediately come to mind like stories about the people running late on 9/11 who missed their plane or weren't in their office in the Towers. Or the people who by some bizarre series of coincidents, triggered by a chance meeting with an old friend, end up meeting their soul mate. I know a guy fired from his middle level job he never would have left who was then hired by a small company that went public and made him a millionaire.

But the question that bugged me while I was plodding and limping through my two and a half hour long run this weekend was "Which of the insignificant decisions I'm making are actually going to turn out to be significant downstream?” And probably more important given my somewhat questionable track record in some areas, "How do I know what the right decisions are?”
You've probably all heard the saying "Don't sweat the small stuff" (it's even a book), and of course the follow on subtitle "everything is small stuff". I new some guys in college that followed that theory. Last I heard they had a great career in public speaking..."would you like fries with that".
But for every quick fix, "I have the answer", one size fits all, self help book there is almost always a counter position (when the first self help theory doesn't work for you, try the opposite one. It keeps the book industry in business). In this case it starts with the old saying "If you take care of the little things the big things will take care of themselves." Tried this theory with raising my kids. I did my part when they were little things but apparently teenagers have a different concept of what "taking care of themselves" means.

From my perspective, reality falls somewhere between these two. For a while my reality was something like this...I sweat the small stuff...which raises my blood pressure...which causes me to shift to not sweating the small stuff...which lowers my blood pressure...but then the small stuff I didn't sweat becomes big stuff that's not taking care of itself...which raises my blood pressure...until I resolve the big stuff...which lowers my blood I go back to sweating the small stuff to prevent it from becoming big stuff...which... Anyway, you get the idea. But I digress. Ever notice how easy it is to digress on a blog? See what I mean, I'm digressing from my digression.

I was at the doctors the other day getting my knee checked out and it occurred to me that I had one of those insignificant moments back in 1976. Back in college I had run competitively for the first three years I was at school and in my senior year fall cross country season I fell victim to a knee problem. The routine in those days was a couple of days of rest and ice and if that didn't work the trainer shot you up with cortisone so you could compete in the next race. By the end of the season I was getting a shot every week or so and it wasn't getting better. I decided my running career was over and I refused to compete in indoor and outdoor track.

Fast forward a year and half. I'm out of school and working for a fortune 50 company that has a great fitness lab and program. Periodically they would invite guest speakers to come to talk about health issues. At 23 I planned to live forever and attending lectures on life health issues were right up there with worrying about retirement. However, one day a friend dragged me to a session on feet and running and the doctor described how almost all leg and knee injuries start with the foot and ultimately shoes. Obvious stuff today but 30 years ago it was not your everyday conversation. That night I pulled out my old college running shoes (can you say "pack rat"...not sure why I kept them). The outside heals on both shoes were worn down through the outer layers and there was at least a half inch difference between the heel’s outer edge and the inner edge. A new pair of shoes and two years later and I was running my first marathon. Thirty plus years and numerous marathons later and I'm still running (a whole heck of a lot slower mind you). It's become a part of my life and of my children's lives as well. But more importantly, that one insignificant decision to go to the meeting set me on a path that years later has allowed me to use my running to help others who need assistance and hope.

I want to thank again all of you who have taken the time to donate or send words of encouragement. Hopefully in some small way I have given you a window to the significance your kindness is having, and will continue to have on numerous lives. As someone who has seen the joy you can bring to a person who is struggling by just offering a smile, a respectful greeting, a question of concern or a hot meal I can attest to the significance of things that seem so insignificant.

If I've learned anything from my time at Lazarus House it is this...there is no such thing as an insignificant act of kindness.

Speaking of insignificant acts of kindness, here's a suggestion on how you can help the runners on heartbreak hill and in the last 6 miles of the marathon. If you happen to be out on the course that day there is nothing better than hearing your name called out with some words of encouragement (except maybe a beer) when the road in front of you looks like Mt. Everest and you are trying to figure out how you are ever going to make it through the next mile.

Till next time...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Spirit is willing but the Flesh is....

...well...Old. Just when I thought I might make it through the training without injury, BANG!...a problem. You start to question it age, or worn out parts, a skeletal deformity, or over training, the way I slept on it last night or maybe just that snow shoveling I did last weekend. Given the flesh is not helping out, I resorted to the Spirit and I'm reading Chi Running. Desperate measures for desperate times.

I refuse to believe it is age (check out marathoner Ernie at age 94. ). One my heroes is Dave McGillivray, a neighbor in North Andover and the director of the Boston Marathon. Dave is about my age and each year when he is done managing this 20,000 runner, 9 city event with the logistics of a major military ground offensive, he drives out to Hopkington and runs the Boston Marathon...mostly alone. By then most of the cheering crowds are gone, the roads are reopened to traffic and by the time he finishes he will have run most of it in the dark. But what impresses me most about Dave is not that he has completed the Boston Marathon every year since he was 17 (although who wouldn't be impressed by that feat) , or the fact that every year on his birthday he runs his age in miles (I'm in awe...that was over 50 miles the last couple of years). What impresses me most is what he has done to turn his love of running and sports into a way to give back to those that need help. This year through Dave's directorship the Boston Marathon will provide numbers to thousands of sloggers like me to raise money to help people in need. In round numbers they will raise over $6 million. The Boston Marathon is not only THE premier marathon, it is a fountain of good will and hope.

But I digress. So if it is not age it has to have something to do with the way I train. Shoes, stride, speed, intensity...maybe all the above. As runners we obsess over these things when we get injured, especially when we have an impending goal...oh, like say the Boston Marathon. Someone once suggested to me...well, if you are injured, just don't's just a race. In a runner's court of law, a response of death by trampling would be consider justifiable homicide.

In truth, training for a marathon can be more mentally agonizing than the race itself. While training you have months of worrying about finding time to run, eating the right things, drinking enough, drinking too much (water and alcohol) and paranoid about training enough, training too much, did I train on enough hills, getting hurt, get the idea. Every muscle ache, every painful twinge sets off a worry about a crippling injury that may keep you from the race. But on race day it's all about the finish line. Once the gun goes off there is no tomorrow, it's all about the next 26.2 miles and the future be damned. I've know runners who broke bones mid way and finished, I've seen runners crawl across the finish line with a smile on their face knowing the next day they won't be able to stand without crutches. Insane? Maybe. There's a question about one's sanity in just being out there...after that it's just degrees (see my earlier blog) .

So I will concede that my problems are not with getting older but rather with the pursuit of youth. For those of you that followed my blog last year this theme may sound familiar to the one titled "Youth is great, too bad it's wasted on the young". I reread it today and was amazed to find how insightfully I had laid out the three lessons I had learned on how NOT to train for a marathon, most of which I have broken this year. Blame it on early stage alzheimers. There's that age thing again.

BTW...if you are interested in a great read on distance events and giving back to the community, check out Dave McGillivray's book "The Last Pick". Inspiring reading. And of course if the Spirit moves you, the link to help me support Lazarus house is