Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Step Away

I just spent a couple of days with my twin grandchildren (oh yeah, and their mom and dad too) and I’m convinced grandchildren are God’s apology to old people for the trials of aging. If ever there is a spark to keep people young it has to be babies/children. Not that I would have said that when I was a parent of 4 but it certainly holds true when as a grand parent changing the diapers is an option, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night when they are sick, you can bribe them with candy and ice cream and not pay for dental bills, and you don’t have to worry about paying for their college education.

The twins are awesome. I can sit for hours talking and playing with them and the fact the are only 4 months and don’t care a thing about what I’m saying is irrelevant. It’s nice to have someone who will smile at you through a half hour conversation, not offer a bit of criticism and not care they don’t understand a word you said (sounds like some of my international sales meetings). But I also wonder, “what is going on in their heads” as this grown man coos and makes noises like a 4 month old while the 4 month old nods sagely and smiles like an adult?

Occasionally I get the same question about long distance running. “What do you think about when you are out running for hours”? There’s not a short answer since it depends a lot on the weather, the terrain, the location (day dreaming in a city can be an invitation to become a hood ornament), and probably most important, whether you are injured or not. Injured runners spend a great deal of a run thinking about their injury and ways to avoid the pain or avoid making it worst. I polled a few injured runners and to the man (it was all guys) they said their number 1 concern was “Will the next step be the ONE.”. The one that pulls my hamstring again, the one that wrecks my knee, the one that pops my Achilles, the one that prevents me from running again. For an injured runner with a goal, like running Boston, that one step can be the difference between completing another training run or standing on the sidelines on the day of the race. It usually means second guessing everything…did I stretch enough, should I go slower, maybe avoid hills today, should I wrap the injured area, how far should I go so I don’t go one step too far. It’s not hard in the course of the run to be haunted by self doubt and obsessed that every twinge means you are just “One step away” from that run stopping injury.

At some time in our lives I think we all feel like we are “One step away” from disaster of some kind. Problems with finances, jobs, relationships and health issues can pile up and become overwhelming. You reach that point where you feel if one more thing happens I’m going under. I give up, I just can’t try anymore. It might be easier to do that when it is just you but if you have children, family, employees that are dependent on you, giving up is not an option. When you reach that point, where do you turn for help? For some of us it’s friends and family. If you have no where else to go it might be a church or local charity. It is to these last people that we want to offer Help in the Nick of Time. The goal of the foundation is to target families that need a little helping hand to get them through a difficult time. It might be to fix a broken car, get a new suit for a new job, handle a short term medical issue or help someone travel to see a dying family member.

My goal is to let donors know on a regular basis the affect they are having in reaching out to others.

As for me and the marathon, I’m in the gray area this year. I had the best training I’ve had in years up through the beginning of Feb but it has been a disaster since. I’ve had days where I could jog a few miles, days I could walk and jog for several hours, some days I could barely cover a couple of miles and some I couldn’t run at all. It started with the Achilles but as is typical of runners insane enough to run with an injury, my attempt to compensate has resulted in problems with the opposite knee. So at this point I have no idea where I will end up on Marathon Day. I plan to be at the starting line and I know I won’t be moving fast enough to be anywhere near last year’s time or even near the qualifying time for my age group. But I plan to make a go of it and use the walk/run approach and with good weather, a stiff breeze from behind, the support of the crowd and the grace of God, Nick and I will make it to the finish line in under 5 hours.

So I’m not giving up, at least not yet. If I can move I will be out there and I’ll be counting on Nick for a little Help in the Nick of Time.

Until next time….

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You are now leaving your Comfort Zone.

I was in the UK for work last week and spent a good deal of it doing a reasonable imitation of the old John Candy/Steve Martin movie “Planes, trains and automobiles”. Throw in a few subways, a number of buses and a lot of walking and you pretty much the picture. I travel a fair bit so the idea of finding my way around the mass transit systems and navigating the labyrinth of city streets is not overly intimidating; especially in a country that kind of speaks English. But it does take you out of your comfort zone the first time and can be overwhelming if you are in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

I had this happen to me in Japan one time. I was taking the subway to do a bit of exploring and found myself standing in the middle of a station with no idea which direction to go and totally befuddle by a map only in Kanji (not that being befuddle is new to me). Around me hundreds of people rushed by, heads down and intent on wherever they were headed. One poor unfortunate woman made the mistake of looking up as she approached and I stepped into her path and asked her if she could help. From the look on her face you would have thought I had asked her to hand over her purse or maybe her first born. In fact she probably would have gladly done either if it would have gotten her on her way, except it’s a Japanese custom that if someone asks you for help that you are obliged to either help them or pass them on to someone who can. Turns out she didn’t understand English and most of my Japanese was only appropriate in a bar or singing karaoke. Now both of us are outside our comfort zone. After a couple of attempts that left us staring blankly at each other she turned and grabbed a passing business man. He spoke English but didn’t know how to get to where I was headed. I now had two people who were indebted to me. Over the next few minutes these people in turn grabbed other people and before long I had collected a small crowd of people around me energetically pointing and arguing in Japanese about the right directions. The resulting situation would have made a great You Tube posting.

While somewhat humorous (at least to me), some of you may be asking “What does this have to do with the marathon?”. I’m glad you asked. A few weeks back I pulled a stupid rookie move and changed shoes. It’s normal to get a new pair of shoes a couple of months before the marathon to have time to break them in, but the rule of thumb is to stick with the model you are currently wearing. It’s the old…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…approach. I had been running in the new style minimalist shoes (more on this and the book that inspired it (Born to Run by Christopher McDougall) in the next blog), and I couldn’t find the model I had been wearing. In addition I was worried that when I got up to the higher mileage I would need the padding of the old style “big heel” running shoes. I was out of my comfort zone and in a moment of complete insanity I switched back to regular running shoes. Big mistake. Within a week I couldn’t run more than a mile without the sensation of someone driving nails into my leg. I tried switching back but the damage was done and two weeks later it was no better.

Anyone who has read my blogs over the last 5 years know that it is not unusual for me to be whining about some injury or ache at this point in my training. The difference this time; it was not healing and no amount of icing, heating, stretching or resting was helping. I pretty much gave up on the idea I would be able to run the marathon this year (unless they would let me move to the wheelchair division). I was totally crushed. This was the first year of running for Help in the Nick of Time and I’m a wash out.

As my colleague Eric and I were racing between subways, trains and buses last week I realized that I was doing quite a bit of walking without nearly the pain I faced when trying to run. Recognizing my grasp on sanity ebbs and flows (kind of like Charlie Sheen) when it comes to running, I decided I’d try training by walking. For years I’ve heard about walk-run programs to help people get started running and potentially work their way up to a 10K or half marathon. If that is what it takes for me to get to the starting line and make it to the finish line in Boston, then sign me up.

I’m now totally outside my comfort zone and I have no idea where this going to take me, but for now I’m moving again and have some hope. It’s pretty much the same with the Help in the Nick of Time foundation. But on that front the outpouring of support and kind words makes success much more likely.

Stay tuned…it should be an interesting 5 weeks.