Sunday, August 31, 2008

Promise Kept

A little over a year ago, my daughter (#3) ran in a local 5K race. Several people who watched told my wife how great our daughter ran and that when I got back home from Afghanistan I should help her run the Disneyland Half Marathon. When my wife and daughter got home from that 5K race they emailed me, and of course I told my daughter that I would help train her to run the next Disneyland Half Marathon. Well today we did just that. We ran stride by stride.

I could say that I was proud of her but that couldn't come close to describe the admiration that I have for her. She was solid the whole race and her pace never slowed. When I was her age, I never had that kind of discipline...and at mile 10 she picked up the pace. All I could do was hang on for dear life. It was such a joy to see her enjoy what she was doing. What kind of words could I use to express my amazement of what she was able to do?

As we ran, I also reflected on my older two daughters as well. When daughter (#1) was a Senior in High School, we ran a half-marathon together, but daughter (#2) was too smart and skipped out of her senior year, heading off to college a year to soon for me. But how I wish they could have been with us today. They both were amazing runners in their own ways.

But there was another special moment as we ran through the park. It was as we passed the Matterhorn. It was more a feeling that thought. In 1960, I was there with my Grandfather. My memory is cloudy at best but I remember holding his hand as I looked at that mountain. And today as I looked at that same mountain for the first time since he held my hand...I felt sure he was still holding my hand.

Today was a good day. My promise kept running a half-marathon with my daughter. A memory kept in remembering my wonderful daughters who were not there with us. And I felt the touch of something eternal...holding a hand of someone who loved me.

So today, I made a new memory with my daughter. It will be there in her life for a long time to come. And maybe some 45 years from today as she runs a half-marathon with her son, she'll remember the time I ran stride by stride with her.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why Run A Marathon

My apologies to Tim Noakes, author of The Lore of Running. I rewrote and edited this from his introduction to the book because it expressed my feelings so well. Tim Noakes is writing about the Comrades (an Ultra-Marathon) that he has run several times. But I have adapted this to marathons and my experiences.

At the start, there is neither doubt nor fear. The outcome is predetermined. Even when we have spent our last ounce of energy, there will be an arm for support, a shoulder to steady our shaking legs, and someone to carry us away from the finish line.

In Faith then, begins each runner knowing that this is the year. This year he is at his peak and is older, wiser and more experienced. This year at the moment of truth, when once more the pain and discomfort become intolerable and the desire to quit almost irresistible, the runner will fight back with more courage, greater energy, and supreme endurance. This year he will run the course on his own terms, and he will become the hero he was always meant to be.

I know all these things; I know that this is finally to be my year. The first part of the race passes effortlessly; the pace a pleasure. The friendship, the scenery, the weather--all have been perfect. But then, as always I notice the effort for the first time. Quite suddenly I no longer have breath to spare for conversation. My horizon comes down to the few feet of road ahead, and I shorten my stride, looking for maximal efficiency. Now the run begins in earnest.

Soon enough, I pass a group of people standing on the side of the road. They cheer as I pass by. I feel the warmth of our humanity. The distance has by now removed just about all the extra energy from my legs, yet I stretch out my stride knowing full will the waste of energy spent.

Now alone and unaided, I pass into the void beyond. It is here, in the sudden solitude of the quiet lane that for me the marathon begins. No longer do I progress on my own terms; the hopes and confidence stored in training now vanish before the reality. The course that I have held at bay is now running me. I am approaching the line, isolated, uncertain, and caring only for survival.

My legs detect the first signs of an ailing will; begin their own mutiny, their tactics carefully prepared. They inform me that this is enough. Geographically, they argue, the race is two thirds over. Why, they ask, must they continue to run, knowing that from here each step will become ever more painful, ever harder? After all there is always next year. Through the blanket of developing fatigue, I begin to appreciate the logic behind these questions; I begin to feel the attraction of that haven of rest at the side of the road, the bliss of not having to take even one more step.

Around me, I know that each runner is engaged in this same battle. In common suffering, we are alone to find our individual solutions. A glance up the road shows a string of runners, each running alone, each separated by a constant distance from the runner in front and behind. A common thread holds us together, but only reluctantly do we defile the sanctity of space that separates us; the space that is our universe, 20 feet of tarmac and just enough room for our thoughts.

My will power now comes from the volunteers working the aid station. Ever smiling, ever happy, they are pure encouragement, my sole precious link with a world that cares. In his hands he holds a cup of water or a sponge. His presence confirms that it is all worthwhile, that to him and his world, I am the most important runner.

In each race, I have learned, the desire to quit comes but once. It is a coward who once beaten does not return. The continual jarring of the descents and rises has taken its toll on my quadriceps, and every step now sends an ever more painful shock down each thigh. The muscles are in rebellion, depleted of energy; their connective tissues are now coming apart. I want to lie down and die.

You may think that even now I could still walk, that a few minutes of rest would restore the desire to live and would defeat the coward within. But you would be wrong, for the discomfort I feel exceeds my ability to recall or describe it. For me that desire to live does not come from within, not from any universal insights. For coinciding with these darkest moments, I learn from a lone spectator, preached on the embankment that the finish line is in sight. Just a mile or so left to run.

And so it ends. I am reduced to running each step by itself. My eyes see only the road at my feet. I now must obey the runner's rule ("Don't look up"), because I have no choice. I no longer have the energy even to lift my eyes to the horizon. The minutes speed by, but the road seems to stand still. I am straining to deliver full power but sound as controlled as a steam engine at full throttle. I wobble and groan monstrously and begin to hope that something will burst. I run oblivious to the noise and confusion around me as I near the finish line. Then I see the line; on the left a haggard group of runners, and on the right people yelling and cheering.

Later, when a measure of physiological normality has returned and I am secure in the knowledge that the last step has been taken, I know again why it is all necessary, what common bond unites all. Skill, you see is not our requirement, nor has our race anything to do with winning or losing. These are the spoils of other, lesser games that are unable to transport us to places we have been.

Indeed the only requirement, the common bond that links all runners, is the need to look for the mountains in life. We need to take the paths least traveled, to go against the common stream, to search for the unattainable, and finally to accept that we have no option.

So because I have not choice but to follow my fate, sometime between mile one and mile twenty six you will find me in mind, if not in body, somewhere on the road between here and there, secure in the knowledge that this is my year, that this year I shall finally defeat the coward within and so commence the hero's life.

(Thanks Dr Noakes for such a wonderful description, hopefully I haven't missed it up too much.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

It is a question that I really never truly understood for several reasons.

When I was young I was small, slow and awkward. I tried to play basketball, but was too short. I tried to play baseball but was uncoordinated. I tried to play football and just got squashed. Academically, my teachers thought I was slow and put me in the slow working group. Success for me was not getting an F on my report card.

But then in the 5th grade, I had this teacher who decided to teach the class chess during our lunchtime. For some reason, I excelled at it. The next thing I knew I was moved from the easy math group into the advance math group. And things began to change.

I never understood the question because I could never succeed...but then in the trying...something happened and there were small successes.

In 7th grade, we went from running across the playground at full speed to running laps around the field. Again it wasn't an overnight thing but I wasn't the last person finished, I actually was near the front. Then by high school I was winning races on the track.

Again, I never understood the question about my incapacity to fail, because it seemed to me that the constant effort to try...and keep on trying eventually brought a measure of success.

Finally, now later in life, the lesson has been learned. The question is not "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" rather it is "Well you keep getting up and trying again when you do fail?"

This small, untalented, slow kid has over time been successful, because I trusted something greater than me and I've got up off the ground after each failure. I believe God has a plan for our lives. My faith is going after that vision that God has given me and trying time after time to find the way to accomplish it. I know I'm going to fail and I'm not going to succeed. But I do know that I'm going to get back up and try again...and again...and again...because that's the question we all have to answer.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Long Week

This is me in July 1976 at the Alabama AAU Championship Meet at Troy State University. I had just finished competing in the 6 mile open division.

I've not adding anything new here this week because I've been busy with life. That to me is the hardest part of living life. I make plans...then life happens and throws my plans out the window. But I'm still standing and I'm still running.

My stress this past week was my staff being out of the office. On any day, I had two or maybe three members working. In fact on Thursday there were only two of us in the office the whole day. And the work load was the same as any other day. My sanity was maintained because my daughter (#3) forced me out to run at sundown. The quiet and solitude was there, but my daughter, not normally a talkative runner, had all kinds of hard life questions she wanted to ask. In our conversation, one point that M. Scott Peck repeatedly makes in his books kept rising to the surface. "Life is difficult." And I would add that it is this overcoming of life's problems where we truly live.

I've also started to read Paulo Coelho's new book Brida. In the introduction he talks about each person taking one of two attitudes to life. The first is the builder who in his words: " take years over their tasks, but one day, they finish what they're doing. Then they find they're hemmed in by their own walls. Life loses it meaning when the building stops." The second attitude is that of the gardener: "They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener's constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure."

When I read these words last night it put this week...and my life in a new perspective. I'm 50 years old and I'm thinking about going back to school to earn a second doctoral degree...I'm still trying to improve my running, though I'm long past my prime...I've helped two of my daughters grow up and get out of the house, but I've still got two more children at home to help them plot courses through life... I always thought I was building my life and at some point I would be able to look on my life and setback and enjoy the fruit of my work. After reading Coelho's words...I really think I'm a gardener and I'm enjoying my fruit as I work. So some weeks will be tougher than others, some seasons will be more productive then others...but the great adventure is still out there and comes everyday. I guess I want to see myself as the gardener for lots of reason but the most important one is that I know God gives the rain and the growth.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Running at Sundown

I just got back from an incredible run. The sun was setting behind the clouds over the Pacific. We ran along the road down past Trump National Golf Course and it was just simply beautiful. Our pace was slow and enjoyable.

Sometimes you just have to slow down and look at the wonder of it all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fading Pages not Memories

This weekend I've been going through boxes of old papers and photos trying to weed out the excess that has accumulated over the years. Talk about something that takes a herculean effort.

I purchased a scanner to aid me in the process. My vision of the task was simply taking an item, scan it into the computer and throw it away. Nothing very complicated. Yea, I could knock this off in a day or two.

Wrong...what I discovered was the emotional ties that made me keep the crayon drawing of my daughter (#2) from kindergarten in the first place was as strong as my desire to keep it now. Yea, it got scanned then placed back in the file to continue the yellowing process…maybe some day later, I’ll get around to throwing it away, but today…couldn’t do it.

In the midst of all this emotional stuff of looking at the pictures and papers, the phone rang. It was that little girl who drew that kindergarten picture upset because her wedding plans are not going the way she wanted them to go and …she was missing her Dad. The paper may yellow with age, but the memories just so much more precious.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What does it mean to be educated?

This past weekend, I attended my daughter's (#2) graduation from a major university on the east coast. It was impressive. I was so very proud of my daughter and her hard work. She earned her Master of Science my opinion something that ranks up there as one of the hardest accomplishments in life.

Education is one the most important parts of life. We should be continually striving to learn new things. But what does it mean to be educated?

M. Scott Peck writes that thinking is a very hard thing to do because it is about seeing the truth in both sides of an argument and living with the fact that both are right. It is about seeing that only part of the truth is available and the other part will never be known. Its about feeling all right to have only a partial truth. Finally its about making up your own mind and sometimes going against the majority of others.

To me, being educated is not a matter of being intelligent, rather it is away of thinking deeply about things. It is about asking questions concerning issues and facts. It is holding doubt and acceptance in both hands and feeling comfortable with them. It is not a conclusion but rather a process that never ends.

I hope I never lose the curiosity to learn...and continue my own education.