Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The First Mile

Last weekend, I attended another TnT Info Session. I've lost track of how many I've attended in my short time with the program.

The goal of an Info Session is to educate potential participants on what we're all about -- our running program, the events, meeting goals, crossing the finish line, and of course, the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Despite the fact that I've seen the tear-jerking video a million times and heard from the coaches and participants and cancer survivors, I always come away with a little something that reminds me why I do this -- for the love of running, a good cause and my teammates.

Sometimes my team has so much fun that we forget we're actually making a difference, a difference in the lives the each other, the participants we train -- and a difference in the lives of those touched by blood cancers.

Back when I started TnT, my mentor, Dave, sent me an email sharing something he holds special. It's called "The First Mile," and every word of it is true.

It applies to running and training just as it does to everything in life. We all have a first mile.

Dave shared this with the group last weekend, and since it was way back in 2007 that I first posted it, I decided to share it again:


I just finished running.

It's 6:12am.

During the run many revelations came that paralleled this morning's run to life.

There are two very difficult miles to run no matter how long the run.

The First and the Last Mile.

I usually run five miles or more.

The first mile is the hardest and the one most missed.

You see, you have to get started to run the first mile.

It's hard to get started.

I have to get out of bed.

Those first few steps that wake a sleeping body are part of the first mile.

They are tougher than the steepest hill.

You have a race to run, a course to complete, or a project that awaits you.

You too have a first mile. And your first mile is tough, just like mine.

When I take my first step outside most of my run is completed.

I've accomplished the hardest part.

I've gotten started and stepped out.

The next few steps bring out the stiffness of your body as the muscles stretch and your lungs fill with the crisp, cool morning air. It's still dark outside and menacing shadows reach out from strange corners.

Darkness creates a different, somewhat eerie world.

There could be dangers in the shadows but danger usually doesn't get up this early.

If there are any aches and pains, the first mile will bring them out.

The greatest probability that you will give up and turn back is in the first mile.

The vast majority make new year's resolutions each year. Most have broken them at the end of the first two weeks.

The first two weeks is the first mile.

Miles 2, 3 and 4 are usually uneventful, but the last mile is a doozy. There is something about the last mile that's a real stretch and it doesn't matter whether I am running 2 miles or 10 miles. The last mile is a real stretch. The effects of the previous miles pile up but at the same time you can ‘see’ the finish.

And so it is with life.

To get started is a strain.

To finish is a stretch.

The First and The Last Mile

What's your first mile?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Give Me A Break, Mother Nature...

It's only about three weeks until the Hampton Half Marathon.

And I can only hope that the next three weeks of weather are better than the last three.

This winter has been brutal for an outdoor runner. It seems like every time I'm ready to go out for a run, I'm facing another snowstorm, ice storm or record-breaking temperature.

I tried my best to stick to some sort of training schedule, keeping my goal finish time in the back of my mind, but I've really been thrown off track.

I've expanded my cross training activities, including a shot at a few spin classes, and even resorted to running 9 miles on the DREADmill the other day. Yes, 9 long miles.

It was a new record for me - and not one I have any interest in trying to break anytime soon.

Hopefully the warmer temps (yes, 20-something degrees actually seems warm these days) will get me back into the groove and help me cross the finish line next month.

And I no longer care how long it takes me to finish the 13.1 miles -- unless it's below-zero. Then I definitely don't want to be out there for any longer than I have to.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Friends on the Road

Sometimes, somebody else really has a way of capturing what we're all thinking. Below is the recent NH Runner column, written by Maureen Milliken.

There's always a friend on the road
New Hampshire Sunday News - Sunday, January 4, 2009

AH, THE LONELINESS of the long distance runner .

The introspective, pensive athlete glides along silent streets alone with the deep thoughts that only such a solitary, yet noble, figure can think as the rest of the world gazes on in distant, uncomprehending awe.

What a load of hooey.

Every runner knows there's no such thing.

Every run is an exercise in trying to keep the outside world at bay just enough to get through it in one piece. Unfriendly drivers, dogs, unyeilding groups of pedestrians, leaf blowers (or snowblowers) make solitary introspection a joke.

And lonely? Hardly.

Besides the obvious companionship found in running clubs and charity groups, every runner , no matter how solitary his or her actual running, finds a level of fellowship.

The "accidental companionship" of running is actually one of the treats of the sport.

The most basic level is the "hale fellow runner well met." This is when two runners pass on the street and give each other the friendly runner nod. Sometimes there is also a friendly runner wave. And sometimes there's even spoken greeting. Or a knowing grimace if the weather is bad.

And you know you're not out there alone.

There is also the "running buddy."

This is when you have a friend who also runs who you tell all your running tales to because your spouse, friends or coworkers don't want to hear it.

Running buddy: "How did your run go?"

Runner : "Pretty good, until about one mile, when my ankle started doing that thing.."

Running buddy: "Oh yeah, like my thing with the achilles..."

Runner : "Right. So it did it for about seven-tenths of a mile. Then I got to that hill, you know the one at the white house?"

Running buddy: "I hate that hill. It must have a nine grade or something."

Runner : "Right. So I was going up the hill and by the time I got to the blue house, the ankle felt okay. So then I really picked up my pace, etc., etc."

Who else is going to listen to that?

Then there are the temporary running buddies, who you meet in a race, run with, chat with, commiserate with, but will never see again. But for however long you run with them, they are some of the best running buddies you'll ever have.

Sometimes you don't even need to talk. Sometimes you're running in that race and there's that woman in front of you in the purple shirt and you tell yourself "if I can just keep up with her, I can do this." And you follow her for miles. She's the reason you PR. And she never even knew you were there.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ringing It In On The Right (?) Foot

There's only one thing crazier than running a New Year's race in sub-zero temps -- running the race, then jumping in the ocean.

At least I can say I'm not as crazy as those runners, who after running a bone-chilling 10K on Thursday, decided they'd plunge into the frigid ocean -- an ocean that one person commented at the starting line looked "angry."

He was right. I looked at the ocean, with the wind whipping across the beach, and saw dozens of white-capped waves. Go in there? No thanks.

It was enough just to get me to the Hangover Classic that day.

I had signed up a few days earlier, thinking that (like last year) I'd start the year off on the right foot. A good race would get me out of the house, get in a training run and put me in the right frame of mind for the New Year.

But when I awoke on New Year's Day and heard the wind literally howling outside my window, I had second thoughts.

I had an internal struggle -- between whether it was really worth it to run in sub-zero termperatures and whether I had an obligation to because (thanks to a status update on my Facebook page) I had recruited a few friends to join me.

Throughout the morning, I received text after text from people telling me they wouldn't brave the the weather. Phew, I thought, still in my pjs on the couch.

I sent a final text to Erika, who ran Disney with me last year, telling her I was out.

Almost immediately, my phone rang. "I'm already on my way to the race," she said. I had forgotten she was coming from Portland.

So we chatted for a while, mostly reminscing about the Disney trip and wondering where the past year had gone. Finally, out of the blue, I told her I'd join her for the Hangover Classic. I could hear the excitement in her voice.

As I made the drive to Massachusetts, my car shuttered in the winds whipping across the highway. One entire lane was blocked by snow that had drifted into the roadway.

I couldn't help but wonder how I'd run in this. Radio news gave warnings to people to cover all exposed skin. Luckily I'd bundled up and was pretty much prepared -- I say pretty much because I don't think one can ever be fully prepared to run in windchills of -14 degrees.

I squeezed my way through the crowded bar where registration was being held, picked up my number and somehow found Erika among the crowd of runners bundled up from head to toe.

I also saw Geoff, who's recently gotten back into running, which reminded me of yet another person I'd coaxed into running this crazy New Year's race.

He and Erika were in for the 5K and made their way to the start. I had signed up for the 10K. If I was coming all this way and dragging my butt to a race on New Year's Day, I was a least going to make it worth my time.

At the start line, runners literally huddled together in an unsuccessful attempt to keep warm. We all questioned our sanity. Then, after what seemed like an hour wait, the gun went off.

I heard the sound of hundreds of sneakers scrunching along on the packed snow. It was like no sound I've ever heard. Runners whooped and hollered, some screamed.

It was cold. Actually, cold doesn't even begin to describe it.

We made our way through the small oceanside streets, at one point even having to duck under an enormous town plow that was blocking the way. Then, in a mean twist of fate, we ran by the lots where we had parked our cars. I could easily jump out of the race and back into my car, I thought.

I seriously considered it. Seriously.

I couldn't feel my toes and my legs were cold all the way through. The wind burned my face, despite the neck-warmer I had pulled up over most of my face, the winter hat I had pulled down to my eyes and the sunglasses I had covering any other exposed skin.

I realized I'd forgotten my watch. I certainly wasn't in this race to set a personal best, but I like to use the watch to gauge my pace. I soon realized that there were no mile markers either.

It was like being in a timewarp. I had no idea how long I'd been running or how far I'd gone. My sneakers had a tough time getting traction on the semi-packed snow, and at times it felt as if I was not moving forward at all.

But luckily, I must have been moving forward. Fifty-seven agonizing minutes later -- and after passing by a beer stop, seeing a runner in a full gorilla costume and witnessing ocean-divers strip down naked after their plunge -- another New Year's race was behind me.

Given the circumstances, I'm not sure if it was the right way to start off the New Year.

There could have been worse ways to ring in the New Year. But maybe there could have been better ways, too.