Thursday, October 11, 2007

On to the Next Mountain

This morning was my first run since last Sunday's marathon and it felt pretty good. No new pains that I didn't expect and I hadn't forgotten how to run over the past three days. It has been fun to sit back and enjoy the satisfaction of achieving a long-held life goal, but sitting back and reflecting only gets me so far. By Monday afternoon or Tuesday, I was beginning to wonder, "What's next?" Not that anything needs to be next. It would be perfectly acceptable to check marathon off of my life list of things to do and move on to other arenas. I'm not sure about that one yet.

This I am sure of. Resting on yesterday's successes gives a nice feeling, but does not provide a future accomplishment. I never want to be that person who always looks back at what he has done in the past to find adventure. I need some kind of adventure or new horizon that is still up ahead--something to strive for and something to pursue.

Same is true with faith. For many people, their college years or some younger time of life was a dynamic spiritual time, but the present and future are bleak (or just gray). Unless we continue to pursue new horizons of faith, all we will have of value are recollections--not a great way to live in my book.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Additional Reflections

Now that I have had a little time to reflect on yesterday's adventure--and that of the past several months--I am struck by the focus of time, energy, and thought that went into finishing 26.2 miles yesterday. For just a few minutes around mile 14, I found myself thinking, "I'm not sure that I can actually do this." Even though the heat and my early faster-than-wise pace were having their effect, I beat that thought into submission as I recalled all of the hours and miles that had gone into getting to that point. At that moment I determined that I would finish, maybe not fast, maybe not at my target time, but I would finish.

An email from a friend on Saturday night wished me well and that I would enjoy the run and not just gut it out. At that point around mile 14, gutting it out seemed like the only option. I wish that I could say that all changed, but until mile 25, it was a matter of gutting it out. After all, I didn't train in order to not finish. The goal from day one was to finish--even if the finish felt rather ugly.

18 weeks ago, I could not have run 26.2 miles. Yesterday I did. And the reason was the persistent application of effort, over time, to increase my capacity to run. This is true in other areas of life as well. At the outset we have a dream, or an idea. It may be beyond our present day capacity, but by the application of discipline (which is really nothing more than consistent effort over time so that we can become what we are not, but what we desire to be) we grow our capacity. Sometimes the growth is so incremental that we can only notice as we look back. But this kind of discipline always has a good result.

Not just discipline, but a willingness to try--to ask "Why Not?" At 47 years old, after three knee operations, I finally said "Why Not?" For some reason, and I don't know why now, I became unwilling to remain limited by my past failures to move to higher levels of fitness and physical accomplishment. I suppose that it can happen in other areas of life as well.

Finally, putting the commitment out in public in front of people I care about helped me to keep on track. Once I started this blog, and people were reading, I could not just drop the idea when it got difficult or unpleasant. And your encouraging comments along the way simply helped to spur me along. "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ..."

I look forward to Thursday when I can start running a little bit again. I wonder how it will feel with the marathon milestone in the rear view mirror--probably pretty good.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Marathon Finisher

I can now add marathon finisher to my life list of things I have done. I finished today in just under five hours--much longer than I had anticipated, but finished. It was somewhat different than I expected, but everything after 20 miles was brand new territory. It was difficult (as would be expected), but I avoided the cramping that afflicted many of the runners. The heat and humidity were Florida-like and the race's medical director spoke to all of the runners at the start and told us that no one would be getting a personal record today, but that due to the high heat (for Minnesota in October) we should slow down and enjoy the run.

What was most unexpected was the spectators. Along the entire route people were lining both sides of the street cheering and enjoying the festival atmosphere of the day. As people would cheer for individuals you could see the encouragement lift their spirits. They would pick up the pace or at least run a little straighter. It didn't seem to matter whether the runner knew the cheerer. The fact of the encouragement was all that mattered.

How often do we not encourage someone because we don't know them or are not sure how they may respond? Many of you who have said that you have been reading this blog have been encouraging to me. Thank you. It has meant a lot to hear your responses to the thoughts I have written. I think that I will continue with this blog in a few days when I start running again in anticipation fo the Holiday Halfathon that I am running with my brother in December. Thanks again for all of your encouragement.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Goals -- setting and revising

I have been wrestling with whether to revise my earlier-stated goals for the marathon. I initially wanted to run the race at 175 pounds and finish in under four hours. One of those is not possible and one is still within reach. For some reason, I dropped from 207 to around 190 like clockwork by about halfway through the training program. Then for some reason my weight stabilized and I have not been able to get of off 190 despite increasing my miles and pace. Admittedly, I have not been watching my eating as closely as earlier and maybe that would account for the holding pattern. I can take that one up again in post-TCM life.

The time is a goal that I am still going to shoot for. My training and other long runs have been on such a pace that finishing in four hours is within range. I am going to try to run each mile in about 9:05. (9:08 would actually me to the finish in four hours, but I can multiply 5's better than 8's to stay on pace along the way.) One of the challenges will be to not start too fast. The adrenaline of 10,000 runners and lots of spectators--plus plenty of nervous energy wanting to get burned off--will push me to take off fast. But I would pay for that early exuberance in spades by about mile 15.

I have been trying to imagine what it will feel like to come up the last part of Summit avenue and turn the corner by the Saint Paul Cathedral. I am anticipating a mixture of relief at being so close to the finish line and sadness that this adventure is coming to a close. I'll let you know if my imaginings bear any relation to reality.

By the way, if you want to see other info on the Twin Cities Marathon, the official race link is

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An Ending--of sorts

This morning was my last scheduled training run before the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday. I feel a sense of satisfaction with having made it through 18 weeks and more than 450 miles of training--and without any significant injury. Thanks to Hal Higdon for the training program and to the family and friends who have been so encouraging along this journey. But the adventure is not quite over. There is just this small remaining matter of 26.2 miles to run on Sunday. Wouldn't it be absurd to stop now? To celebrate the training and skip the race? After all, just about everything that I have done for fitness over the past 18 weeks has been pointing to Sunday.

Finishing well is a challenge for most people--even those who start well and do the middle part well. Whether it is a project, or a running event, or life itself, finishing well is not easy, nor is it something hat you just coast into. So many Biblical characters failed to finish well. They may have had early successes and mid-life strength, but the number of end-of-life champions is limited. That is a topic that merits further discussion some day.

For now my focus needs to be on finishing well on Sunday. I am prepared. I am more ready than I ever have been before. I am probably more fit than anytime in my life since college or before. Now it is time to tame the butterflies and finish well.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

This morning's run was scheduled for just 3 miles--which at this point doesn't feel like much. Six months ago the same three miles would not have felt somewhat effortless and I would have marked the day with a sense of accomplishment. Today it just felt like marking time. Perspective makes such a huge difference. Compared to my former coach potato existence, 3 miles is a lot. Compared to next weekend's 26.2 mile adventure, 3 miles is just a beginning.

Last Friday Hannah left the country for about 4 1/2 months on a missions project. In the run up to Friday, I was rather glum as I thought of her being gone and only being able to skype and write. But when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, I was reminded that other parents are sending their 18 year olds off to Iraq and Afghanistan--not for 4 1/2 months, but for 12-18 months. All of sudden, my perspective shifted, and while I will still miss Hannah while she is gone, 4 1/2 months is not really that long.

On Sunday I will need to keep the perspective that I am ready for this adventure (ordeal?) and that no matter how difficult it feels at any given moment, after 4 to 4 1/2 hours, I can stop and will be finished. I hope that this perspective will help me to persevere when the task feels like it is too much and to finish well.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Home Stretch

Yesterday I put in the last "long" run of the training program--about 8 miles. A week from today, I anticipate taking the stairs gingerly and considering ibuprofen to be one of the major food groups. But I also anticipate wearing my TCM Finisher t-shirt to work. This week I am scheduled to run 2, 4, and 3 miles on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday respectively. I will follow through with the program, even though running such short distances doesn't feel worth it because it will take longer to get ready and get cleaned up than it will to run. I simply need to keep the goal in mind. Wednesday's run is not the goal, the goal is to finish 26.2 next Sunday.

Keeping the ultimate goal in mind is a challenge for most people I know. Even when we have good intentions about how we will spend our time, energy, and money it is so easy to get sidetracked. One key to long term success in life is to keep the main thing the main thing. Of course, what is crucial is to make sure that the main thing that we are pursuing is truly worth being the main thing. Not a bad question to assess--how much of my life am I keeping focused on the main thing?