Sunday, March 31, 2013

Impromptu 15 and a Journey Down Memory Lane

It was yesterday morning and the forecast was second to none: sun and rising temperatures. Ever since the groundhog committed suicide to leading a world astray via its early prediction of Spring, I've been dying to get my shorts out and a short sleeve tech tee. While the temperature at First Light was 29F, I donned a pair of Brooks shorts and my "see me a mile away" bright orange Buzzard 50K Brooks tech tee..and a pair of gloves to keep the freeze at bay for awhile and hit the road.

I had no real agenda, route, or target distance. I just wanted to run. The birds were just beginning to sing and the blades of grass were crispy white. My hands were cold at first but everything else felt fine as no wind was blowing. Within a few miles, I had warmed up and was so glad I wore what I wore. I doubt the passers-by thought the same thing. I can only imagine the "Look at that crazy guy!!!" comments as they passed.

I will admit, I did have somewhat of an agenda for the run and it had nothing to do with calories. For me, my faith, my walk...running is what provides the time for me to do "business" with the One and heavenly Father. The distractions of life are removed and often, miles simply slip away as we "talk." I had plenty to talk about yesterday. As the run progressed, I decided I'd make it a run through my past. All within my small rural town, I lived in four homes as a child and was married here. By each home I ran by: the little house first where we ripped the walls down and remodeled. The house where I remember getting a TV for Christmas which was hidden in a closet. I remember those old slats in the wall with plaster dust everywhere. I don't remember anything else from that house. The old farmhouse was next where I recall very little...only where my bedroom was. I do remember getting off the schoolbus once, holding a bag of supposed chocolate chip cookies that a childhood friend gave me as a present. Turns out, they weren't chocolate chips...they were chocolate-flavored ExLax. I ate the whole bag. 'nuf said about that! Once past this house, the mighty hills followed, the temperature was rising and sun blaring. God and I kept talking...doing business. As the next home appeared, I remembered more from this one. This was the last home I lived in prior to heading to the Navy and getting married. Not a lot of good memories here, though. Memories, nonetheless. I do remember, though, forgetting to set the emergency brake on my dad's truck and it rolled backwards, across the yard towards the street and only stopped because it slammed into a tree. I still remember trying to replace that entire steel bumper all by punishment. Moving past this house, I came upon a nature preserve, called the Triangle Lake Bog. It's a tiny preserve in my tiny town that most just drive by. The gate was still down but I ran on by and down the long paved driveway. Here was my view...beautiful, isn't it?! As the sun rays blared across the roadway, I can just feel the heat and light.
I figured: "No one can touch me back here. Just God and me." We kept on talking. Here's the thing about doing "business" with God...we can't ever out-transact Him. Doing business in this world always involves giving and taking. I give you something in exchange for something received. We have such an awesome God who will take, take, and take our burdens, struggles, and pains and gives us a limitless grace that has no end. We can never out-give Him via our actions and works here in this world. It's an impossibility yet He never stops showering us with gifts that have no end. How blessed we are!!! Yet, so many times we feel the need to hold on to those things and control them...instead of giving them up. Knowing His promise to never leave us nor forsake us and going to Him daily results in a life filled with more peace and closeness with Him. He is standing by to bless us and pull us close...yet, our sinful nature is to push away. If only we wouldn't.

The bog was crispy white as the sun had not quite yet melted it away. The new cover photo at the top of the blog is from the short walkway at the bog. After a few minutes walking through the bog, I continued on, but only after snapping a few more photos to remember the brief visit.
See the ducks?

As the miles racked up, I passed the church where I sealed my covenant with my wife over 20 years ago. I still remember her blotchy red skin as she walked down the aisle and lighting the candles on stage. I also remember that annoying rice pelting me in the face as we left the church. So many memories from that church as a kid from the 5th grade through high school to marriage. I could still see it all. Not too far from there is the house my dad built that moved us to the area when I was 10. Running past it, it looks nearly the same. I don't remember much from there with exception of the rabbit hutch out back. I had a California Rex rabbit...the ones that are bright white with red eyes. I was in the local 4-H club back then. That's the reason you'll never catch me eating could I?!? Not too far later...about 2 1/2 miles, I returned home. 15 miles. I felt great. It sure was an emotional run in many ways but as always, I'm a better man, father, and husband because of it. I even burned some calories as a bonus. You might say I "ran happy". :-)

Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen! Risen indeed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mr. Moon

If you known me for any length of time, you know I don't simply refer to the moon that rotates around our planet as the "moon." No, it's Mr. Moon. There were days at least 2 or 3 years ago where on this blog, I wrote about running with Mr. Moon in the early morning hours quite often. Today, I don't write about it as often, except for the occasional mention here and there. In my home, though, it's still Mr. Moon. Last night on the way home from music lessons, Mr. Moon was in the sky and wow, was he beautiful!

I love my iPhone, but it really can't take a photo in the dark of Mr. Moon. As we were within a few miles of home and about to cross over the interstate, my wife said "You're going to stop and take a photo, aren't you?" Why yes I am! Window down but I couldn't get it to focus and capture what I was seeing. "Why can't I get what's THERE onto HERE!" argh... It had just risen and was mighty big. It had a slight orange hue and was briskly passing by scattered clouds in the sky. Moment by moment, it illuminated the landscape beneath then hid behind clouds while illuminating those clouds from behind. Regardless, it was present...powerful...beautiful. Seriously...I could pull out the lawn chair and just watch it all night long, no joke. Here's a photo I grabbed off of Google this's pretty close to what I saw last night.
There is just something very deep about the moon. Our smallness, our insignificance on this's amplified when we think about the mightiness of what we see. We're nothing more than a spec on this planet in comparison and then the moon itself, it's nothing more than a spec when compared to other planets in the solar system. Often has there been a morning where I left the house on a run and verbally said "Good morning, Mr. Moon!" and he lit the entire way from my home and back again. I do love to run with him. Parallels abound, too, with him. Faith, endurance, never-failing, beauty, forever-present...lots of parallels.

One other thing exists today when I look at Mr. Moon and it applies to my wife, too. It takes me back nearly instantly to a few years ago. It goes deep so I'll only skim across the top of it today. Back when I was in Afghanistan, on the other side of the planet, I went on runs with Mr. Moon. I remember so perfectly times where I'd stare at the sky seemingly forever and imagined being at home. It was easy. I saw nothing else but him so I could've easily been at home, on a run around town, or on the trails in the early morning or late at night during a 100-miler. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I escaped through my mind and went home. Not only that, but the moon was our constant..."our" meaning my family/wife and me. We could share the same moment. Our eyes could virtually meet in outer space. This has carried on since that deployment to times I must be away. Whether only a few hours or a few states away, if Mr. Moon is there, we can both "connect," if only for a moment.

So yea, it's just the moon. But to represents much more and different things on different days but all significant in their own ways. "Beautiful and awe-inspiring...Mr. Moon, you are those and so much more. These words today are only a peek into what I "feel" when you shine. See you soon."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits

I have given up on trying to "blog to a schedule." It's much easier to write when I feel like writing or have something to say. For that reason, you may see 5 days skip on by with not a word followed by 3 entries in 2 days. Like the weather in northeast Ohio, there is no pattern to this writing thing. That being said, since Monday is gone and "M-Cubed: Monday Morning Musings" doesn't really work on a Tuesday morning, consider these my Tuesday Morning Tidbits...or any other pithy thing you can come up with. (I love that word...pithy. Here's the definition in case you're wondering: "Brief and to the point: brief, yet forceful and to the point, often with an element of wit." Well, let's see how brief I can be and witty? You can be the judge of that!)
- 50K on Saturday. Ate everything in site on Sunday. Even all of my baby Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs are gone. (and a few went missing from their hiding spot in my freezer...the jury is still out on their whereabouts) I crashed hard on Sunday I was found curled up on the bed before bedtime even arrived. I couldn't keep my eyes open to save my life.
- Sunday was a great day and we finally showed "The Passion of the Christ" to our girls. We've been waiting until we felt they were old enough. The know the story but the movie is Rated R for a reason..because it truly depicts what was done to Christ this week in history between the time He was arrested until His crucifixion. They did cover their eyes a few times and my youngest even said "You could've waited a little longer, Dad." Well, given that Easter is the root of everything we believe and what we teach them, it is and was important to embrace what was done, why it was done, and how that drives our every decision, our every prayer, and our every moment. No regrets.
- Recovery from the 50K has gone well. I once again stand on the pedestal and shout loudly that Hammer's Recoverite is the best recovery drink...period. No pain, no issues, and Sunday morning's 6 miler was not difficult. Bristol (my 4-legged pal) accompanied me over rolling country hills for an easy sunrise Palm Sunday 6. Rebuilding, though, happens on the rest days. No running yesterday and today but I'll be back at it tomorrow. April is a big race month so I need to be sure to recover well so I can dive right back into it when its time.
- Our Tango lessons have gone really, really well. This is a week off due to many of the couples being on Spring Break vacations but we'll be back at it next week for two more weeks. We're pondering the decision of whether or not to do another 6 weeks. We don't know the style yet but who really cares, right?! I never thought in a million years that I'd be on the dance floor doing the Tango with my bride...yet here we are...and it's priceless.
- Do you use Twitter much? As you can see on the right, I have an account and Tweet fairly often. One thing I follow is CS Lewis. Lots of meaty things in there I love to read and ponder. This morning's one caught my attention: "Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive." True, isn't it. The true mettle of a person appears when you are faced with that forgive or not to forgive. It strips away all the layers of who and what you are and exposes you completely and without hesitation. What you are when no one is looking presents itself. Be authentic. Be the same in and out. Public and private.
- Both my wife and I have felt a distinct 'tug' lately to reach out to those less fortunate. We were previously working at a shelter in Akron but our association with that no longer exists. We are working now to build new bridges and relationships so that we can serve as a family and in an environment safe for our kids. We are certainly ones to protect our kids but not to the reality that exists right in the middle of our communities. Homelessness, poverty, and more exists all around. Together, we seek to be His hands and feet and want to do it as a family.
Enough ramblings for today, Friends. Have a great day!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Report: Buzzard Day 50K Trail Run

I'm 20! Well, not exactly...actually, I'm nearly 40. But yesterday was my 20th ultra-marathon (a race in excess of the standard 26.2 marathon) and wow, it was an amazing journey.  These days, I'm a whole lot more picky as far as what races I run. There was once a time not too far in the past where I had at least a race a month and training for those races dominated my weekends and thoughts. Those races have taken a backseat to family and time at home. So, when I do pick one, I pick carefully and try and choose based on schedule, location from home and "why" the race even exists.

Enter the inaugural Buzzard Day 50K Trail Run, held about 45min from my home in Medina County within the Cleveland MetroParks, namely the Hinckley Reservation. I first heard about it near the end of 2012 and after hearing more details about it at January's Run for Regis 50K, I registered just after finishing that race. It's led by multiple seasoned ultra marathoners and local "legends." For them, this area is their weekly training ground. For me, I'd never ever been to these trails and honestly, I'm glad I never saw it until yesterday. Talking after the race, it actually took five years for them to obtain the permit for the event. Lots of relationship building with the park officials but eventually, the race became a reality and all of the finishers are better because of it.

The Buzzard 50K/25K is the epitome of what is good and pure within the local trail running community.

Why is that? Well, it's more than just running and burning tens of thousands of calories. It's about community and taking the proceeds from race entries and giving back to the local community. It's about supporting the sponsors who gave of themselves to make the race happen. It's not about lining the wallets of the race directors. Absolutely top notch race organization and a genuine care about each and every runner was evident from months of pre-race communication and through even today. It just "feels good" to participate in a race like this. It's so much more than just another finish line (but that doesn't hurt either!).

Race morning, it was 19F and arriving at the start, I was already exchanging hugs with some great friends who I've made over the past 7 or so years since becoming a trail runner. After signing in and picking up my race packet (of which I was thrilled to get yet another Brooks tech tee that is so bright I'll be seen from outer space!), I headed back out to my heated seat in my car to relax prior to the start. The sun was pushing up from the horizon through the bare trees in front of me and temps were forecast to rise quickly into the mid-30s. I sent off a few final texts to my bride and shut down the phone and headed to the pre-race chat.
Packet Pickup inside the cabin and location of post-race "dinner"
(Photo courtesy of Dr. George T.)
Just a few minutes past 8am, we started the 31.2 mile journey to an old school verbal countdown of "5..4..3..2..1...GO!" You know it's old school when you start that way. No bull horn, no podium, just a stop watch and a "GO!"
Moments before the start (Photo courtesy of Dr. George T.)
The Buzzard Day 50K consists of 4 loops (2 for the 25K runners). Each loop is 7.85 miles around and doesn't overlap itself one single step. It is not a technical course, by any means. But, it is beautiful in many ways and quite varied. On that first lap, a lot of ice still remained on the course and the early miles were littered with frozen horse hoof prints so it was important to watch each foot plant to prevent a twisted ankle. Lots and lots of conversation throughout that first loop with friends who I hadn't seen in quite a while. Always great to catch up. Much of the course lined the lake and was wide enough to run side by side with another runner. No tight single track to speak of. 3.7 miles into the 7.85 mile loop, the first aid station was set up in a pavilion. The regular ultra-goodies were present and accounted for...Hammer's heed, salty snacks and much to my happiness, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Oh yes, I sure did have one! That and my new favorite ultra food...Pringles. Love love love Pringles during a race. Of course, I topped off my bottle with Heed, but I never skip Pringles. Salty yumminess. After that aid station, the course is distinctly marked with a steep uphill before entering The Ledges. Named the same as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's "Ledges," it's very different but equally beautiful in its own right. Since I didn't carry a camera or phone, I don't have photos to share. You'll just have to go out yourself!  After climbing up and through the Ledges (no running through here), a little more uphill followed before getting back into the woods. Also throughout the loop is scattered bits and pieces of the "Emerald Necklace." This is the paved all-purpose trail and sorta forms a "necklace" around the city of Cleveland and is marked by green hash marks down the middle of it. We'd basically jump on and off of the pavement and onto the trail. Around the 5+ mile mark into the loop, we hopped off of the trail and onto a country road. Normally, I wouldn't be happy with stretch of road during a trail ultra but this was totally different. For one, we were immediately greeted with a panoramic view of the valley so beautiful I questioned still being in Ohio! I never see views like that! This road section was also all downhill and curvy. Right away, we passed by an old farmhouse with an old green metal roof. Beside it was a small vineyard with wine-producing equipment staged out back, ready for Spring to arrive. Not too far past that I saw my first buzzards of the day. There was a carcass of probably a deer in the field off to my left and 3 buzzards were feasting a few flying above. Wow...the wingspan of those birds are amazing! HUGE! I don't recall ever seeing a buzzard before on a run and the race immediately had its name validated! After getting through this section, more trail waited and the one main, unavoidable water crossing. Only one way through and that was under water...and less than a mile from the loop finishing, too. Getting back to the start/finish at 7.85 miles, I was happy with my pace and did that loop in about 1hr, 10min. I refueled (including Pringles) and hit the trail again.

As the day progressed and temperature rose, the trail softened, mud appeared and ice went away where the sun could reach. The views just kept amazing me over the lake and through the barren trees where the sun blazed through. My 2nd lap was only 1min slower than the first and the 3rd loop was my slowest of the day. That was miles 15-ish to 23-ish. I definitely took more walking breaks during that loop and lost some time...probably a solid 15min. After finishing my 3rd loop with only 1 to go, my calculations told me that a sub-6hr finish was certainly within reach. Leaving home that morning, I told my wife I'd probably finished between 2pm and 3pm (6 to 7hr finish) so finishing under 6 sounded awesome to me. I only needed to maintain the pace I had going. Well, during the final loop I came alive again and ran harder and challenged the hills with a renewed vigor. My overall finishing time would've been probably 5min faster or more had I not slowed to a walk to talk to people but honestly, WHO CARES?! I enjoyed the conversation and the last one was with a man hiking on the trail by himself. It was just after that last water crossing. He had once weighed 320 pounds and was probably in his late 50s. He now weighs 250 pounds and is looking for another 20 pounds to shed. Taller than me (I'm 6'2"), is a big guy but he's out there...doing it...walking through freezing water and into a shoe-sucking mud pit, he's doing it. After talking and walking briskly for about 5min, I told him I've got to get moving and finish this, I saw a runner up ahead and definitely had it in me to track her down but that conversation made me lose sight of her. Still though, no big deal! It turns out I knew that runner and today's her birthday so I'm very happy that I didn't chase her, it was her best-ever 50K finish as she totally destroyed her personal record.

In the end, I crossed the line in 5hrs, 52min, 44sec...good enough for 26th out of 48 50K finishers. Later as I compared past times of other 50Ks, that was still my fastest 50K since April 2009. VERY HAPPY with that! Here's me at the finish and thanks again to Dr. George T for capturing the photo:
20th ultra-marathon finish: 5hrs, 52min, 44sec
Post-race, the cabin was buzzing. A local craft-brewery (Lagerheads) from Medina was sampling for free, massages were being given and "dinner" was being served...spaghetti and meatballs. Oh yea...Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on the picnic tables. More and more conversations with fellow runners and the organizers of the race followed but eventually, it was time to get on home and the enjoy the rest of the day. Physically, I felt great. Tired, but great. No blisters, no chafing anywhere (thank goodness) and I certainly had more miles in me. I was very happy and thankful for the run. I have to publicly thank Shannon, Roy, and Hugh for a phenomenal job. There is not one shred of a complaint I could possibly muster up. Your race was perfect in every way. From the non-running things like what the race supports to the course marking to the logistics perfectly executed to the post-race. Everything was spot on. You should all be very happy. You can count me in for future installments of this race, no doubt. THANK YOU! Thank you also to the countless volunteers. Without them, it simply couldn't happen, especially out at the remote aid station..freezing in the shade. Thank you all so much!

Run Happy, friends.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

So What's the Point?

I've been a "serious runner" since somewhere around 1996. I pick that year since I ran my first marathon in 1997. I was on active duty in the Navy and ironically, I was on limited duty due to passing out on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. Many tests later and I was diagnosed with vasovagal syncope. In a nutshell, I have a super low resting heart rate and when a few conditions are present (dehydration, a pointed pain, or sickness), I can pass out. On that ship, I was found on the floor of the bathroom and after a day in the carrier's ICU, was flown via helicopter to Portsmouth Naval Hospital. Since then, I've hit countertops in bathrooms (woke up under that countertop...bleeding), gone through shower doors in the middle of the night (landed on my neck and spent the night in the ER) and thrown up on the table while donating plasma...twice. In recent years, I had a total workup by a local cardiologist who gave me the Rolls-Royce of tests...proving...wait for it...I'm extremely healthy. "If you want a pacemaker, I'll get you one," is what he said. "If you want meds, I'll prescribe them," he also said. My reply: "Can I just stay hydrated and avoid the situations that provide a ripe opportunity to pass out?" "You can do that, too," he said. Sold.

Well, 26 marathons and 19 ultra-marathons later, meds-free and pacemaker-free, I'm good and about to hit the "Year of the 40" next month. Since 1997, a whole heck of a lot of life has happened. The reasons for running have completely changed, kids have been born, lots of career changes, an all-expense-paid trip to Afghanistan happened, and life has been "reset" more than once. Today, I run because I can. I rarely wear a watch, don't care about racing and enter few races. I lace up and head out to look inside myself, enjoy God's creation, and experience life uninhibited by all of the distractions of life. Running is my normalizer in life.

Running along with social media has also thrust me into the local running community that has grown incredibly in recent years. I once started the Western Reserve Trail Running newsletter with a few hundred subscribers. It grew to 3000+. Today, WRTR ceases to exist and there are more trail events than you can possibly attend. Gone are the days of knowing everyone at the starting line and leading group runs on the trails of the national park. As I deleted each of the 700+ members of the WRTR group on Facebook a few days ago, I was certainly sad about it. I miss writing that newsletter and joining all of the races under an umbrella that sought nothing more than to create community and communicate to the masses what's going on, when, and to inspire via interviews with local runners. You'd think with deleting such a group/organization, it would be replaced and made better. You'd be wrong. There are other organizations out there that are pulling in races but the reasons are different and the "community" is no longer being pulled together centrally. I am looking to find my place here on the outside looking in and not sure what that looks like. I still feel I have much to give and contribute but via e-mails, Facebook messages, and other "things" that have happened, I'd be lying if I felt welcome in many of the circles I once felt at home.

So I run. I don't do it for anyone else but myself. I am much more strict on myself as to what races I'll consider and support. I want to know who is directing it and where the funds go. It matters. I can run for free but if I'm going to shell out money to run, I want it to be worth it and serve a higher purpose. That's one reason I recently took my Brooks sponsorship for 2013 and fully devoted it to supporting the local "On My Own Two Feet Marathon and Half Marathon." It's directed by a fellow ultra-runner who cares about giving back instead of just being a part of the herd and the funds go directly to battered womens' shelters to support them...locally. This year, three certificates will be awarded that provide a free pair of Brooks or a Brooks jacket, everyone's goodie bags will be Brooks Run Happy recycled bags, and the finish line will be lined with Run Happy pennants all the way in.

Mentally, I've felt a little like dropping out more ways than one. The feeling is too familiar as I've felt it often during those long races or training runs. I just read an article called "The Dropout" in the April 2013 edition of Running Times. It's found on page 18 and was written by Pete Magill who holds five American age-group records and is the oldest American to break 15min for 5K, having run 14:45 a few months before his 50th birthday. I will recall the following quote often as I run my 20th ultra-marathon this Saturday:

"Here's the thing: When we quit, we take the loneliness, self-doubt and suffering we couldn't overcome in the race and make it our permanent training partner. Finishing gives us hope. It fosters belief that more training will yield a reward, that there will be a better finish line in the future - and that we'll have the fortitude to cross it."

 Run Happy, friends.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Needed a Screwdriver

A few weeks ago, I was backing out of my garage and clearly, I wasn't paying attention, as I got a tad bit too close to the wall and clipped my outside mirror. It's a foldable mirror but I did not provide nearly enough room for that folding action to even begin. Spring ahead 2 weeks to yesterday, and the parts arrived. Removing a little access cover on the bottom revealed that I need a phillips screwdriver but a super-duper short one since it's so close to the body of the car. I don't own such a tool.

So today, I have the day off. Since I: 1) really wanted to sleep in, 2) didn't want to wake up to an alarm, 3) wanted to see both of my kids off to school, and 4) wanted to spend some time with my wife before she headed to a meeting and work. Making it to the trails of the national park really wasn't feasible given the travel time and getting back in time for my girls. Enter multi-tasking: I need a screwdriver. I need/want to run. I guess I could just run to the store...the long way, right?

My wife left for the day, the clock was approaching 10am and I decided to load up one bottle of Heed, my military ID (in case I get whacked alongside the road), my debit card, some cash and my iPhone, too. And that was that. I took the long way, went through 3 townships and 2 cities and got my screwdriver...actually two screwdrivers. They came in packs of two and put me back a whole $1.90. The day was sunny to partly cloudy, breezy, and low 30s. Really not too bad and nice to run in daylight vs. my normal run time. I can't get this one man out of my head. It was around 7 miles and he was pushing an old rusty bike up the hill. I'd say with great confidence that he's homeless. On the outside was a black and red plaid shirt which I bet was one of 4 to 5 layers. Old boots, ragged pants, and hair and a beard that had gone quite awhile since being trimmed or washed. His skin was like leather. I shouted a "Good morning!" and he nodded to me. I didn't feel I should stop or do anything, but I thought about him for quite awhile. I'd love to hear his story and buy him a hot cup of coffee. I wonder how many look the other way when they see him...or smell him. Regardless, my heart kinda ached for him today and perhaps it shouldn't...but it did.

So yea, I got my screwdriver and even burned over 3000 calories. Not too shabby a day off. Oh yea, if you're a Facebook friend, I temporarily suspended my account around mile 12 today. I need a break. I'll be back.

Run Happy, friends.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Almost Turned Around

It was 4:32am, the temperature 30 degrees and unlike 30 minutes earlier, a heavy snowfall was coming down. Wet, fat flakes clinging to every hair on my face and diving into my eyes. A strong wind had also begun. Inside, I nearly turned around not even a hundred yards from my front door with only a goal to crawl back into my bed beside my one-and-only. But I didn't. I ran.

This has been a week to forget so far. It's been rotten and little has gone like "I" want it to. There are few constants that I can rely on and the run is one of them. This morning's run was very intentionally slow. I struggled to keep my thoughts upward and kept falling back into the happenings of the week. As I crossed small bridges over creeks, they were 100% covered in snow and my footprints were the first to disturb the crystal-white coating. Little did I know, though...the snow had stopped. I hadn't even realized it.

Upon climbing the final hill to home to round out an even 7 miles, I looked up into the sky. Not a flake and not even a cloud. No. What I saw was a clear sky full of millions of stars. Absolute brilliance. So beautiful. So as I headed out today, I could barely see where I was going but I could feel so much...but I kept running. Because I did...because I didn't quit...because I didn't give up...I was blessed with clarity, with brilliance, with beauty.

"Thank you, Lord. Thank you for hearing me this morning and showing me just one more glimpse of You. Lead me...and I promise, I will follow."

Monday, March 11, 2013

M-Cubed for 3.11.2013

Monday Morning Musings for March Eleventh, Two Thousand Thirteen.

- Beautiful Spring-like weekend in the books. Temps in the 50s on Saturday followed by the low 60s yesterday.

- Saturday, after we slept in, we walked for a few miles along the Cuyahoga River in Kent on the new section of the Portage Bike & Hike. (new blog header from that walk..and the sunshine) Gorgeous area to walk along. Quiet, lots of wildlife, herons, deer, ducks, etc. grace the area. We enjoyed lunch downtown afterwards along with a stop at my favorite popcorn shop, Popped! I'm a huge fan of their "Firehouse Caramel" so of course, I picked up a bag.
Portage Bike & Hike...before Spring springs
- The stars aligned and our afternoon together spilled into night and we were able to grab a movie for some alone-time on the couch. We watched the newly-released "The Words" with Bradley Cooper. I won't dare ruin it for you, only to say that we loved it. It's not inappropriate for kids but I'm not too sure kids would like it. It's the perfect date nite movie. We picked it up at the local Redbox. Actually, I did a lazy, afternoon 11.4 miler and picked it up on the way that's multi-tasking!

Black Dog Acres raw honey
-  Saturday, before we headed onto the Bike & Hike, we first hit up Kent's Haymaker Farmers Market. Soon, we'll be going to the market underneath the bridge again but for now, it's still inside. I had just run out of raw honey that I use to sweeten my morning stovetop espresso every morning so I picked some up. Raw and local.

- It's's extremely mild outside...yet, the desire to run today is absent. I hope this isn't setting me up for a rough day but after 4 days straight and 5 runs, I want a break. Just watch, winter will arrive tomorrow just to remind me the Spring equinox has not yet arrived!

- I anticipate today being a bit different than other days in my office. I work for the federal government and in my city, a tragedy happened yesterday morning. Around 6:50am, a 1998 Honda Passport, which seats 5, had 8 teenagers in it from ages 14-19. As it went around a corner just south of my office, it went over the guardrail and into a swamp on its roof. Given how they were jammed in there, I'm assuming no seat-belts were being worn. 2 escaped when it hit the water and 6 died. All were current students in the city except for the lone 19-year old who is a graduate of the local high school. Please keep the families and the community in your prayers. Given the large number of deaths, I'm sure someone in my office is connected to this tragedy. Details are coming out often on the local newspaper's website here.

- T-2 weeks till my next 50K...the Buzzard 50K. It'll be in a section of the Cleveland MetroParks that I've never been to. It's also the inaugural year for the event and being run by local ultra-running veterans. I'm really looking forward to it. That's on the 23rd, Easter is the next weekend and then it'll be April. Geez, time is flying! April is going to be a big running month, too. I have my 40th birthday which I'm debating on whether or not to do 40 miles that day (I took a vacation day just in case!), then my 27th marathon 4 days later followed by another 50K a week after that. A few things are for sure: I'd better take care of myself, eat right, rest right, and be smart. Or else...  I won't be running much afterwards. I'm considering running 40 kilometers instead of 40 miles on my birthday, actually. I have that big mountain 40-miler in June and kinda want to save those miles for my focal race of the year. 40K is about 24.8 miles so it'll still be a good calorie burn and great way to soak in the aromas and sights of Spring...and allow plenty of time for socializing along the way.

- My most favorite musical release is tomorrow! Each January, a HUGE gathering happens in Atlanta, GA called "Passion." It's thousands upon thousands of teens and early 20-somethings who meet for a few days of worship, connection, and to be ministered to. At Passion comes forth an album about this time each year from the event. This year's will have 15 tracks and most are 5min or longer, along with 5 videos. I often remember Passion 2011 as my soundtrack from Afghanistan. I ran around my base so many times to that soundtrack. Every year's album is awesome and I go back to them at least once a week. They are also perfect for the first few hours of work, especially on Mondays, when I need to keep my head screwed on straight and keep my eyes upward. If you want to check it out, just search for "Passion 2013" on iTunes.

- A few deep thoughts as you and I begin the week: We are only responsible for our own actions. We can't control the actions of others. They do what they do and often times, it makes no sense to us. Sometimes it hurts, too, and we struggle with the "why?". Truth is, we may never know. We just need to stay true to who we are, stand up and walk tall in the truth of what we believe, and remember to always treat others as we would like to be treated. None of this comes natural to us. We have to commit to it and choose the high road, no matter what. So when you lie down at night next to your loved one or kiss them goodbye this morning, be thankful for what you have and regret nothing today. Live life to its fullest but do it selflessly and choose to bless someone today...somehow. It's not about you. It's not about me. It's about the legacy we'll leave behind us and the lives we can impact while here. Think about those 6 kids who lost their lives. No warning. No final goodbyes. Life snuffed out in an instant. Chin up, friends. Make today great!

Have a great week, everyone.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Report: Brooks Pure Flow 2

Over a year ago, I began running in Brooks' new line of minimalist shoes dubbed "Pure Project." The original line which just gave birth to their second incarnation around the first of the year hit the ground running and with great success. Four versions were offered: Pure Grit (trail), Pure Cadence (stability), Pure Flow (neutral) and the Pure Connect. The Connect offered no real support, was the lightest of the group, and offered very little between the actual foot and surface below. The Pure line of shoes have a multitude of unique features over and above their light weight. Most noticeable is the sorta split toe called "Toe Flex" designed to enhance forefoot flexibility and empower the toes to function independently for better balance. The heel, called the "Ideal Heel" is slimmed down and encourages a more natural, mid-foot landing therefore aligning the runner over the center of gravity, the most efficient way to run. Overall, the original Pure line was very lightweight, and held the foot snug, but still had the traditional tongue, lacing, etc. For the past year, I ran in the Connect. When I mentioned this to a local speciality store owner, he was surprised given my size, thinking I'd tear right through the shoe. I did not and in fact, the biggest feature for me was the Ideal Heel. That designed literally changed my gait and mechanics of running. I began landing mid foot, became faster, and the biggest deal to me was a nagging injury that just wouldn't go away from my third 100-miler in 2009. It finally dissipated into nothing. I am still amazed that a shoe was able to do what it did for me. In fact, that's the body's natural inclination. Some time, run barefoot down the road and run again in your  normal cushioned shoes and have someone record you and give you feedback. Immediately upon going barefoot, you will start running as you were designed to do...landing mid-foot. Your arch is your built-in spring and there for a reason...NOT to land on your heel.

So about me: I'm 39++++++ years old (not yet 40 but darn close), 6'2", about 205lbs, have longer legs than normal and therefore a shorter upper body and do NOT look like a natural runner. I have my own "unique" form and most will say they can see me coming a mile away because of my "uniqueness." As for the kind of shoe I'm coming out of, it's always been a neutral shoe vs. a stability shoe. I've also always leaned on the heavy, top-of-the-line shoe because heck, I'm a heavy runner, right?! That's what I thought and was advised that I should wear to get the maximum life out of them. So after a year of going from the Brooks Glycerin, their $135 high-end cushioned shoe, I cold-turkeyed into the Pure Connect 1 and you know the rest of the story there. When I heard the 2nd rendition of the Pure Project line was set for release around Christmas 2012, I thought it was time for the Flow which was less minimal, offered a little bit of cushion, and is for the neutral runner. One of the biggest changes in the 2nd line is the tongue is incorporated into the upper. The upper literally "becomes" the tongue, creating a seamless transition. The lacing was also made very non-traditional and along with an elastic band, encourages a very natural fit...almost sock-like.

So I just retired my first pair of Pure Flow 2's at 350 miles. For me, I know when a shoe has reached end-of-life by my knees. Long mileage, marathons, 50Ks, etc. don't really bother my knees so when they ache like they did yesterday and a few days prior, I knew it was time. Let me introduce you to the bottom of my Pure Flow 2's after 350 miles (right) and my new Pure Flow 2's (left) with zero miles on them:

Remember, I'm a 205lb guy...not small. Check out this wear pattern. When you look super close, you can tell I give more attention to the outside rear section but not much more. If I did, I'd destroy these shoes. There just isn't much to speak of back there. But then, from bottom to top, the wear is incredibly even! I certainly toe off to the outside, too...just barely. I was actually sitting at a local running store Thursday night and the guy commented about my brand new Pure Flows and wanted to know what I thought. "They actually have almost 350 miles on them," I said. I know, I know...they have been amazing and held up so super well.

Overall, I have been super happy with the Pure Flows. In full disclosure, I am in my 4th year with Brooks as part of their Brooks ID (Inspire Daily) program. So, I wear nothing but their products from head to toe, 365 days a year. But, I cannot get past the huge difference they have made to me as a runner and an injury-free one at that. They completely changed my gait, my form, how I take off with each step and how I rejoin the earth. That let me finally heal completely and strengthen the injured area while becoming more efficient and fast in the process. The fit is phenomenal, too. The way the shoe wraps has resulted in zero blisters, no movement, no hot spots, or anything. Structurally, zero wear and tear on the upper. No frays, loose threads, slight tears or anything. I simply gave them the occasional spraydown in the deep sink and never put them in the wash. That's it. As for surfaces they've run on, it's been exclusively asphalt. I'm not a dreadmill....I mean treadmill runner and I ran all winter long. So sometimes slush, sometimes snow, but always asphalt beneath.

So what more can I really say about Brooks Pure Flow 2s? I will say that I believe that most shoe writers, reviewers, and columnists would not recommend the Pure Project line for a "big guy" like myself. However, I have proven the opposite. They are THE perfect shoe for me and I continue to preach about it to close friends and those looking for advice. If you run in a neutral shoe, I recommend the Flow. If a stability shoe is your flavor, then go for the Cadence. Want less shoe and more connection with the earth, hit up the Connect. Want practically nothing between you and the earth? Try out the new Pure Drift. For you trail junkies out there (I'm one of them), the Pure Grit is for you. (I have two pairs!) Regardless of the shoe on your foot, the brand of clothing on your back, or the path you choose to follow, Run Happy...always. Accept nothing but that and fight back all resistance to do so!

Run Happy, friends!
350 miles (LEFT) and my new Pure Flow 2s with 0 miles. (RIGHT)

Friday, March 8, 2013

in·tol·er·ance vs. tol·er·ance

It was a so-so run today. Besides something I must have ingested yesterday which was wreaking havoc on me since 3:30am this morning and throughout my 7 miler, I had some other things on my mind. A few will remain where they my mind, but one I feel the need to flesh out.
If I may, I'd like to offer a definition of the word "intolerance" and "tolerance":
in·tol·er·ance: 1) refusal to accept differences: unwillingness or refusal to accept people who are different from you, or views, beliefs, or lifestyles that differ from your own; 2) state of being intolerant: the state of being easily annoyed; 3) allergic sensitivity (I'll spare you the rest of #3 as that's not what I'm talking about)
tol·er·ance: 1) acceptance of different views: the acceptance of the differing views of other people, e.g. in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views; 2) tolerating of somebody or something: the act of putting up with somebody or something irritating or otherwise unpleasant; 3) ability to endure hardship: the ability to put up with harsh or difficult conditions.
About Me: I'm a Type A kinda guy. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. That doesn't always serve me well, especially in the workplace but it is who I am and I'm constantly working on bettering my "approach" to others, especially when challenged and it's contrary to my beliefs. Integrity...well, it's my cornerstone, my pet peeve, or whatever other acronym sums up "IT'S A HUGE DEAL!" to me. As for my core beliefs and foundations upon which I live every day, I make no bones about that. I'm a Christian. I believe in the trinity. I believe Christ was a whole heck of a lot more than a good man. He was THE man! Easter, actually, is the most important holiday of all to me. Sure, we need Christmas as that's His birthday but Easter is THE exclamation point on my faith. So, given that you know my foundation, you should know that I seek to follow His lead, to be "like" Him, to ask myself in every situation "What would He do?" and do my best to do just that.
I'd like to propose some questions to you as you read today. First of all, would you agree that Christ was tolerant or would you disagree and consider Him intolerant, based on what you know of Him and the definitions above?  Keep in mind a key point: tolerance does not mean you take on another's views, it simply means you "accept" the different view while being fair towards the other person. The opposite, intolerance, represents an unwillingness to accept PEOPLE themselves...because their view differs. Make sense? So for Christ, what do you think? I propose that He was incredibly tolerant. In fact, some of the greatest stories in the Bible are of Him blessing people who were FAR from what was considered good: prostitutes, tax collectors, and the diseased. Society's views of these people were ones of rejection yet He went to them and while He may not have agreed, etc. about their ways, He reached out to them. The Bible is littered with examples of how the main populations were turned off by Him because of who He "ran" with and the crowds He was found teaching in. I can't help but think of Pastor Mark Jobe in Chicago who has 19 church "campuses" in every ethnic area regardless of the "social status." He is meeting them where they are, regardless.
There are many in the running community who consider me to be intolerant. I know so. There are many outside, as well. However, there is no doubt that the bulk of folks whom I know are runners. There are a good many that think simply because I "believe" one way, I'm "intolerant" to the subject at hand (of which we're not going to dig into doesn't matter). Their response is a complete severing of the relationship, the almighty "unfriending" and permanent "blocking" on social media, then the trash-talking within the running circles. It sucks the most when the person is race director of a race I'm hugely fond of. To know that I'm truly no longer welcome because of what I believe and NOT because of something I've DONE...well, that really stinks. I, on the other hand, have a handful of friends whom I know we stand at the opposite end of the spectrum...we both know it...yet we fully embrace the friendship. THAT, my friends, is the epitome of tolerance. THAT is precisely how I live, too. You won't catch me bashing a certain social class, sexual preference or anything. I promise you. I can also tell you I'd make a really crappy Naval Officer if I lived that way, too. A lot of this came to a head last Fall when the whole Chick-Fil-A controversy exploded simply because the CEO of that company stated what they believe and how they govern their company. They weren't spreading hate or anything. They have beliefs and they live them out. Don't you? DON'T YOU?!? We all do. That's when I first felt the wrath of intolerance against me. Here's the big irony in all of this and wow, it's telling.
I just scratch my head every time I get a dose of this. "Your ugly intolerance against me is precisely what you are accusing me of." I'll never get over that's the same every time. Then there comes the debate on issues that are core to our beliefs. You know what they are and I'd bet if you recall one right now, you're convinced that no one's going to convince you otherwise, right? So why do we spend so much time debating them, losing friendships, causing strife, and creating an environment rich with finger-pointing and gossip? Instead, why don't we live what we believe, be accepting of others who don't share our views, and simply treat others as we want to be treated? Why can't we be selfless instead of selfish? Again...I don't think I can say it enough: I am not proposing we accept the belief. We should accept the person instead of rejecting them. That's key to my point. Tolerance.
So when I went through this again recently, it wrapped itself around my mind again and really bothered me. Because I won't fight on the issues but will also clearly state them without hesitation or reservation, I'm a lamb in a lion's fight. Luckily, I have THE main Lion in my corner but in the here and now, in the flesh and blood, it's just me...tolerant me. I'm not crying "woe is me" here but asking you: please be tolerant. Don't be the vehicle of intolerance. Next time you come upon the fork in the road of intolerance vs tolerance, count to 30 and make a good and wholesome decision. That's all I ask.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

4 Left Feet

20 plus years gone by. Like many couples, we've talked of dancing countless times but never acted on it. Talk. Nothing but that. So today, if it weren't for Groupon, that's all it would remain but that's not reality now is it?! A few months back, my wife saw a Groupon for "Ballroom Dancing for Two: $35." After reading the fine print, it looked like lessons for 2 for six weeks. After a few chats and texts back and forth, I said "Go for it! Let's do it. I promise nothing, though!" You see...I'm the epitome of the clumsy, non-sports, "White Men Can't Jump" guy. I can run...far...but outside of that, don't ask me to shoot a ball into the basket with ease, play baseball (even though I love that), or just about anything else. If I go to a dance, it's to eat the horderves and keep the chairs warm. I can "slow dance," I suppose, but that's my limit! But hey, I do love a good laugh and holding on to my girl so heck, let's do this.

She bought the Groupon and made the call. Turns out, the place is called "2 Left Feet Dance Studio." Perfect! They know me!! Here's the writeup from the Groupon: "Dancing with a partner can help you reveal your fun and flirty side, display affection for a true love, or show solidarity when battling a gang of fleet-footed street urchins. Learn the tenets of rhythmic warfare with today's Groupon: for $35, you get six weeks of couples' group dance lessons (an $80 value) at 2 Left Feet Dance Studio, redeemable for classes at the Akron, Stow, and Richfield locations. Pam Burton has been instructing limbs and enlightening minds to the elegance of ballroom dancing for more than 20 years. With an accommodating schedule of weekly, one-hour classes, this twirling trainer can teach even the most uncoordinated couples to not break a leg while busting a move. Neophytes learn the basics while building the foundation for any desired ballroom style, including rumba, tango, foxtrot, and waltz. The studio's lessons are casual (low-heeled shoes and jeans instead of stilettos and shiny suits of aluminum foil)." So last Wednesday night, we plugged in the address to our Google Maps app and ended up at a parks and recreation lodge in Stow. Let it begin!

The setting is a parks and rec building, wide open dance floor and about 10-15 couples. It all starts with the men lined up on one side and the women opposite. Pam teaches the steps from the center and we all practice before coming together. Right off the bat last week, she says "We're learning tango!" OK...I'm a fan of "So You Think You Can Dance" on Fox and when I think of tango, I think of black capes, stilettos, powerful music and raging bulls running across the dance floor. "Oh geez," I thought. "This should be interesting." In this large group are veterans, too. These classes run 6 weeks, take a week off, then do it again but only a different style so for a few, this is old hat to them. You can tell who they are, mostly because of their laid back, goofiness on the floor. Clearly...we had better have fun! So on with the steps and learning the basics of tango. We quickly learned what "dance position" is, posture, where our arms and hands go, and some core principles that govern every movement. I lead...she follows. Keep my right arm up, don't slouch, and for goodness sake, hold her close! Offset hips that touch! So within the half hour last week, we were "dancing around the room, hard belly-laughing, and ruining any shine we had on our shoes. Oh my goodness...I've never stepped on her feet more cumulative in the past 20+ years than I have in the past two weeks. But that's OK per Pam. We need to focus on the steps and the non-foot-crushing will come in time. "OK, Pam...I trust you."

Pam is fun. Her method of teaching and demeanor is one that is inviting and not condescending. For a "Type A" like myself who is very much a perfectionist, this environment could tear me up and cause me to sprint to the nearest foxhole and never come out or let me relax, have fun, and actually learn how to dance. The former is what's happening and it's a lot of fun. I did say on the way home last night that we need some ground rules during the 1 hour lessons, namely not to be critical of each other. The hour goes so fast so to be critical and ruin the "mood" just pours grumpiness on an otherwise really happy, fun, and priceless time together. After all, this is not about getting on Fox for the next season of So You Think You Can Dance and it's not about tearing up the floor at the next wedding reception, it's about spending quality time together and learning something new...together...that we both have ZERO experience at! It's totally leaving our comfort zone of running or whatever and stepping out...pun intended. :-)

Last night, we learned our first 16-step tango dance. The previous 3 were 8-step moves but we learned the "Rock Step" last night. Yea...I crushed her feet countless times but it was fun. Through the next week, we'll practice and you know what? I think we have more fun practicing through the house with the tango channel on Pandora than in the class itself, although last night we sure did laugh a lot in class. Our girls are eating it up, too. As soon as the music comes on, they hop on the couch to watch mom and dad clumsily dance around the house. They couldn't care less about our moves...they just like watching us...together. It's more about painting the mural of our family in their eyes and basically nothing about stepping on each others feet to them.

So 35 bucks for 6 weeks of lessons....dang cheap. I can easily see us dropping 80 bucks to continue after we finish this 6 weeks. That's still not expensive, either, if you break it down, and very much worth it. An intangible investment in us...sign me up.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Miscellaneous Tuesday Musings

If I was a person hung up on my mileage every day/week/month, I'd be in a funk right now. After last Thursday's 14 miler over the muddy Buckeye Trail, I didn't lace up again until yesterday. Friday morning brought ice. I nearly hit the concrete hard simply rolling my trash can to the street early Friday morning due to the sleet overnight. Given that my route is very rural and I normally beat the salt trucks out there, I decided to stay in, knowing full well that the weekend would not offer up the chance to run at all.
It was a great weekend, too. In the very wee hours on Saturday morning, I began my 3hr trek to Columbus for the Navy yet again. This time, I went prepared with coffee as the sleepiness typically hits me halfway there. Unfortunately, it wasn't the sleepiness on Saturday that hit me but instead, white-out conditions as the snow came dumping down. By the time I got close to my destination, it ended and the roads were dry and sun was rising. This was my first weekend at the helm of my Navy Reserve unit. With about 30 sailors and airmen, it's a new and rewarding challenge to step into a more prominent leadership role. On Saturday night, I went and saw the Oscar's "Best Picture" from last weekend: Argo. I didn't know about this movie and while it was interesting and historical, I left giving a max 2 out of 4 stars. Best Picture, eh? Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained...all much better than Argo. But, considering that the Academy is traditionally a very liberal organization and this movie centered around the Jimmy Carter administration and Ben Affleck was the director and star, it was absolutely no surprise that Argo got Best Picture. Was it? No way. Not even close! But, the golden statue went to them because of reasons not related to quality but instead, their political positionings. Oh well. Great story, regardless, thanks to the declassification of it by President Clinton a few years back. Sunday morning didn't bring forth a run, either. I stay in an area not too kind to running and honestly, I'll take the day off and more sleep before I hit the hotel dreadmill. No thank you!
Yesterday, though, I was blessed and was again today. Both days had temperatures in the upper teens, no wind, millions of stars in the sky and a bright moon. Yesterday, I couldn't shake the word "Majestic." It truly was. I also had an old-school hymn trapped in my brain that included that word, too. It WAS majestic, was today. Today as I was running over the hills, looking down at my shadow on the road, thanks to Mr. Moon, and then looking up above at the constellations, I simply wished that EVERYONE could see this! I can't even adequately describe it. Absolute awe is the best description. As the horizon presented just a hint of first light before I got home, I felt so thankful to be witness to the majesty all around. While enjoying my two hard eggs on toast covered with goat cheese a little bit later with my wife, I said "Looking at that, how could there NOT be a God?! Seriously! How can people think that "BAM!!!" and it was all just there. Nothing that amazing and brilliant could be made from man nor be an accident." So yea...I took three days off but I've had a few days of really great miles. I did have a glimpse of sadness post-run today. I'm pretty sure my Brooks Pure Flow 2's are done. I got them around December 1st but didn't start tracking miles on them until January 1st. Since then, I have 236 miles on them so most likely, I've got 300-350 total on them. Being a minimal shoe and NOT a small guy, this is really good but my knees were telling me "Your shoes are done" this morning. Luckily a fancy pair of Cleveland Browns orange Pure Flow 2's are in the basement waiting...with zero miles on them. :-)
The dancing is going well, by the way. We are one week in to our six week ballroom dancing class. For each six week session, the instructor covers one style and we just danced our way into the Tango! Since last Wednesday, we've been practicing all throughout the house to the Tango Pandora channel online. The girls love to watch and we love to dance, practicing all three moves we learned last week. Honestly, the practice in between lessons is where the pure joy happens. So tell me: why did we wait 20+ years to do this? Regardless, I'm thankful for it today! I can easily see this continuing past the initial six weeks.
Oh yea, I made an impulse purchase over the weekend: my 4th Buckeye Trail 50K to be held in July. It was also my first ultramarathon back in 2007. Call it peer pressure, a craving to return to my roots, or whatever. Bottom Line: I'm in.
Have a great week, everyone!