Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hope is a 4 letter word

What makes Boston such a great marathon is the crowds. While making it from the start to the finish may not rank as a significant event for most people, to the runners who have spent months preparing for this day there is a lot of personal investment tied up in the goal. And the hundreds of thousands of smart spectators in Boston know this. In the old days, when the number of runners were smaller, the Boston Globe use to print all the runner's names and numbers in the morning paper. Spectators would make a game out of looking up the numbers and yelling out the names of the runners along with encouragement. There's nothing sweeter at the 21 mile mark than hearing your name called out along with "looking great, nice job" (except maybe a handful of jelly beans). It doesn't even matter how bad you feel, or that you really look like road kill, it gives you a bit of a lift. Since those days I've started putting my name on my shirt. Yeah it's a cheap trick but it works and I'll take any help I can get to make it through the day. And on this day it is a team effort, the support of the crowd, the support of the volunteer medical teams, and the support of the water stop crews all contribute. We just have to do the running.
I was out for a run the other day and I was thinking (there's a scary thought...guy on the windy (as in crooked...not blustery) back roads, in the dark, thinking instead of paying attention to dodging cars) about what keeps people going when they face all kinds of setbacks. My wife will tell you that in my case sometimes it's pure stubborn single mindedness. Certainly that has gotten me through more than a few marathons in the past.

In marathon training, hope plays a big role. I hope if I put in the training and get enough long runs I will be ready on marathon day. I hope it doesn't rain, or snow, or is too hot. I hope I don't get blisters or hurt before the race or on race day. But in most cases this is just wishful thinking. So what if does rain, or you get tripped in the crowd at the start or you get a cramp in your neck while trying to check out the girls lining the route in Wellesley (not that it would ever happen to me...but I know this guy...). How we handle adversity when our fondest hopes or wishes don't come true defines who we are. Certainly training in New England winters gives you plenty of opportunity to test that theory.

But HOPE also has a different meaning. Wikipedia defines it as an emotional state different from positive thinking. Hope is the emotional life jacket that we hang on to when everything around us seems to be crumbling. The real test of the word is when you face those really hard times that life throws at you like the loss of a job, your home, a child or spouse, or a long term or critical illness. Often times it is the HOPE that if I keep moving forward things will get better.

Ever notice how much easier it is to get your "hopes up" when you are surrounded by teammates, or family, or fellow workers supporting you? I like to think about hope as a light that needs power to shine. Everyone can give a bit to it themselves but it shines brightest when there is support to help. And much like we as marathoners have gotten support from running with each other and will get support from crowds on race day, the organizations we are running for are all about handing out support and hope. It's really not about the soup, or food pantry, or homeless shelter or medical help. All those are necessary but they really are just a proxy for giving a person hope that they are not alone, that their children won't have to go to bed hungry, that they won't spend another night sleeping in their car, that things will get better and that they can make it through another day.

Yesterday I ran my last long run before marathon day. From here we taper so the legs will get a chance to rest. Nothing we do from here will positively affect our ability to survive the day and certainly it could hurt it. I wasn't sure when I re-started the training with one mile the first week of Jan. if I would make it this far but with a lot of support from my team mates, friends and family...well here I am. I'm definitely the worst trained I've ever been but assuming all goes well over the next few weeks I'll be there at the start.

I want to thank all of you for your support, both the kind thoughts you've offered and the donations. I wish you could all see the faces of the people you help and the hope that you give them. It rivals the feeling crossing the finish line in Boston. And for that feeling I'll run 26 miles.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sanity of Insanity

I recently had a friend drop me a note after one of my blogs about winter running. His message... "I really admire what you are doing but you are insane". I thanked him for both compliments.

I was traveling last week and on one of my early morning cold runs, the ones where icicles are forming on my mustache and hair, I was thinking about what he said. I decided he was right. Certainly sanity is in the eye of the beholder and if the eyes of the desk clerk at the hotel when I returned from my run are any example, I'd find myself in one of those nice, form fitting, white jackets.

There's actually a website where you can test to see if you are an "insane runner".

Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Given this will be my 14 or 15th Boston Marathon (lost track along the way) I'd have to say I fit the definition.

In reality though, isn't that what life is all about. What about the saying "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again". Granted there are exceptions to every rule (like trying to jump over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle), but many of us see failure as a challenge not as invitation to quit. We also see achievements as milestones that we build on, not necessarily the end game.

Given I've already done the marathon before and I am far from ever running as fast as I have in the past, what am I trying to prove by doing it again? My wife thinks I do it to prove to myself that I'm not getting old. Believe me; my body reminds me of my age on almost every run.

I think what it is really about is living life. Ask any runner who has completed the Boston Marathon how they feel when they cross that finish line. The sense of being alive, of accomplishment, of confidence, makes all the effort worthwhile (well most of it anyway). Whenever I challenge myself, whether it's in my job, sports, marriage, raising my children, or just trying something new, I get a great sense of satisfaction for putting out the effort and even more of a thrill if I succeed. Disappointments? They come with the territory. But the downs make the ups that much better.

My son Nick had this great philosophy on life. He would try almost anything and seemed to be afraid of almost nothing (except frogs). Even at an early age he was scuba diving, boogie boarding in the ocean, mountain biking (sometimes at night), competing in paintball contests, playing lacrosse and hiking mountains. He had this mantra of Living Life Large and wherever possible to help others to do that too.

So why do I run the marathon? Running the marathon to help others is one way to honor his memory. I've tried to take his lessons and make them part of my life. To never miss an opportunity to help others, never miss an opportunity to tell my family I love them, to try and encourage and support others that are facing challenges and need to know someone cares, and to Live Life Large with as few regrets as possible. God knows I don't always succeed but I'll keep trying.

By Albert Einstein's definition, I guess that makes me insane.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some Mornings I need an Obama Stimulous Package Too

Picture's a few minutes before your alarm will go off and you are trying to get up the motivation to get out of the toasty bed and put on your running shoes. It's still dark out but you woke early from the sound of the wind shaking your house and while you were lucky that the forecast was for clear weather, the temperature is a balmy 20 degrees (without wind chill). You crawl out of bed (some people hop out but at my age a crawl is doing well), put on numerous layers of clothes until you look like something resembling the Pillsbury Dough Boy, lace up your running shoes (if you can still reach them) and head out into the dark, frigid, windy Boston morning. There's nothing like those first few step when you lungs fill with that refreshing morning air, your bones and muscles creak to respond and you have the pleasure of seeing your breathe before it freezes on your face (or in my case creates a series of icicles on my mustache). Welcome to the world of winter training for the Boston Marathon.

We runners train pretty hard and I think it's only fair that the government should recognize the effort by providing a stimulus package to help get us going in the morning. Mine would involve funding several months of winter training in slightly milder weather...say, the Turks and Caicos Islands. My wife says I’ll be lucky to get a box of tea bags and an extra pair of warm socks and gloves.

For me, the running is not going well these days and every workout is a reminder I am way behind on my training and my leg is not healing. So it's no surprise it takes a "cattle prod" level stimulus to get me rolling out of bed some mornings. But every now and then I get a reminder of why I'm doing this and it makes the effort a bit easier. I had two of those nights this week. The first was visiting a homeless shelter for families where I got to witness first hand the terrific work that the people running the center are doing. I heard the stories of some of the current residents, saw the little kids playing quietly in the hallways and saw the one room "apartments" that the families happily call home. Not much bigger than one of my children's bedrooms. These are the luck families. In the last twelve months in MA the number of families without a place to stay has gone up 50%.

Tonight I had the privilege of going out in the Soup Truck to deliver hot soup, sandwiches and yogurt, along with some blankets, hats and gloves to guest that sleep on the street or in boarding houses. There was a light snow and it was cold and windy but the lines on the street corners where we stopped were far longer than normal. We were out of hats, gloves and blankets before we ever got to the last stop although we had enough food to make sure everyone got a good supply. At our last stop a woman arrived shivering with her bare hands shaking so hard she could barely hold the soup. She asked if we had any gloves. Justin, a current guest at Lazarus House and who had volunteered to join us on the truck, looked around for one last pair. He came up empty handed, and when he looked up at the woman she just smiled and said "that's OK". Justin pulled off his gloves and gave them to her.

So tomorrow, I’ll be rolling out of bed a bit faster and moaning a bit less as I head out into the forecasted snow storm. Keep your money President Obama, I have my stimulus package.