Archive for September, 2013

It’s Still a Journey

There’s an old saying or story (one that I use occasionally) about the surest sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. It’s akin to the proverbial “knocking your head against the wall.” This was one of my reactions to my recent run at the Virginia Beach 1/2 marathon. Previously, I posted (“Running Legends“) about the good things about that race – being with my niece, dinner with Frank Shorter and my law partners, and meeting Jim & Anne Ryun. I mentioned also the not-so-good aspects of that race: the heat and humidity and my lack of preparation. I have not, until now, talked about my lower back pain or hitting my head against the wall.

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Even if I’d like to whine about the weather for the Virginia Beach race (yeah, I know @bigbiggeek, Alabama must be even worse), I wasn’t trained for 13.1. What i am somewhat pleased with about my race was i managed myself well. i knew my conditioning and i generally understood what i could do and what was likely not in the cards. so i set out slower than usual, found a pace for that day and interspersed walking breaks. i finished without incident on a day with difficult weather even if it was my slowest time. i say without incident, but during the last two miles my lower back began to ache somewhat – thus, the reason for this post. (I know, you were wondering if I’d get to that.)

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Despite having some success in losing weight and learning to cover long distances with running shoes, I’m still not a small guy (no one mistakes me for a runner) and I certainly not a fast runner (most of my marathons have been right around 5 hours). Therefore, I need to keep a relatively large frame upright for a long time in a marathon, or even a 1/2 marathon. At the Chicago Marathon, held on 10-10-10, I was struck at Mile 19 with locking IT bands, which kept me on the course much longer (my slowest marathon time). For the last 3 or 4 miles my lower back ached – getting progressively worse. This came back to me as I was finishing the Virginia Beach Half – the same pain.

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I should not be surprised. The problem with my training (exercising) is all I do is run – and generally run at the same pace. I did some hills last week, but I rarely do intervals, fartleks, tempo runs, or even hill workouts – and I rarely do any core or resistance training. So, if you do the same thing, you should expect the same results – hence, lower back pain maybe the rule unless I stop banging my head against the wall.

Being on a journey means you have not come to the end. Just because I published a book about my “journey of running and faith” does not mean that I am finished learning and developing as a runner, just as it means as a Christian I continue to mature as a disciple.  So, I made some decisions – I deferred my full marathon and will aim only to have a good (13.1) run at the Richmond Marathon. More importantly, I will change-up my training by adding intervals, hills, etc. and I will begin a regimen focused on strengthening my core and try to drive away future back pain. (All of which will give me plenty of material for future posts. I ask my atheist or skeptical friends to wish me well in this endeavor. My Christian friends know I can’t do it alone, so I ask for their prayers.)

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Running Legends

A big runner’s expo also features booths promoting races throughout the country and the world, running products from shoes to shirts to specially formulated drinks, as well as retail outlets for running gear and race memorabilia. … Toward the end of our tour around the booths . . . I was speaking with someone at a booth about the Nashville Country Music Marathon when Mike came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come on, we have to go. We’re taking Frank Shorter back to his hotel.”

“Frank Shorter? I exclaimed, “the Frank Shorter?”  Yes, the Frank Shorter. (excerpt from The Race Before Us)

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Two weeks ago (prior to “A Run in Central Park“) I completed the Virginia beach half marathon. I was not prepared. I had no plans to run it, but I thought I’d attend the race because Frank Shorter (Shorter offered one of the Forewords for my book) was in town and we always have dinner with him the night before the RnR race. I also had arranged a meeting with Jim and Anne Ryun (yes, the Jim Ryun). Usually I run this race (or at least travel with) my law partner, but because neither of us had trained properly, I asked my niece Caitlin if she might want to go with me and meet Shorter and Ryun. Caitlin had become a runner over the last two years or so, and in adopting the Paleo Diet and sticking to a running regiment, she had lost almost 70 pounds and completed a half marathon – she is quite an inspiration.

I thought she might want to meet these running legends. She did, but she also wanted to run the half marathon, and do it with me. Not to discourage her, I said sure and immediately started to wonder how that was going to work out.

A few weeks later I picked Caitlin up on the Peninsula and headed to Virginia Beach. We arrived at the convention center, picked up our race bibs, and took in the expo. I’m a sucker for a good expo. Its exciting and inspirational to discuss distances, events, and other running challenges amidst the newest training devices, running shirts, and new flavors of Gu. We made our way to the stage in time to hear Frank Shorter talk about running tips for the heat expected the next day at race time. After the Q & A, we said hello and Caitlin got her picture taken with Frank.

Frank Shorter & Caitlin

Frank Shorter & Caitlin

We spent a little more time shopping for a new Spi belt for Caitlin as well as comparing the Garmin and Timex GPS watches. Then it was time to meet up with Jim and Anne Ryun ( a mutual friend had encouraged our meeting because of the themes of my new book). Jim Ryun, of course, set many shorter distance world records and won the silver medal in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. Perhaps Jim is best known for being the first high school runner to break the 4-minute mile barrier and he is the last American to hold the world record in the mile. (Just as Frank Shorter is the last American to have won the Olympic gold in the marathon.) As I said, these guys are legends.

Caitlin, Jim Ryun & Bruce

Caitlin, Jim Ryun & Bruce

I suspected that when I invited Caitlin to meet Shorter and Ryun that she probably didn’t know who they were. She had done her homework and was excited to meet them. We closed down the Expo and headed for dinner with a couple of my law partners and their wives. As we have done now for five years, we had dinner with Shorter, who is always fun and shares interesting observations about running and life generally. He was gracious to Caitlin and signed her bib.

We learned that the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” series of races (over 30 at one time) had just been sold by the Competitor group to a hedge fund, who had immediately decided to cancel all prize money for the elite runners. It was also feared that the new owner would end the tradition of bringing running legends like Shorter and Ryun to these race events.

What a shame I thought if the running public lost this unique opportunity to meet them. Maybe its the historian in me, but we are in the midst of what many have called the second running boom. Races have become extraordinarily inclusive – accommodating every type of runner and raising millions of dollars every year for charities. It’s now mostly about participating, not winning or your time. In the 1970’s, when the first “running boom” hit America, race organizers were excited when their registration number hit 2,500 or 3,000 participants. Today, those same races feature 25,000 and some have over 40,000. It’s probably fair to say that no one envisioned this type of growth.

We need to thank Shorter and Ryun, and various other running legends (such as Bill Rogers, Greta Waitz, and Steve Prefontaine). Hoping that a new generation of runners will appreciate the accomplishments of these legends I plan to profile a several these runner over the next number of months. As a reader of this blog I hope you will share these profiles with the new generation of runners – both the baby boomers who came to the sport fairly recently as well as Millennials, GenXers, and others.

FRANK SHORTERjimryun

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A Run in Central Park

It’s hard to beat the fall in New England.  I was born and raised there.  College got me to Virginia and Cheryl kept me here.  No regrets.  Best decision of my life. I consider my life – my family and my community – an enormous blessing.

Richmond is a great place to live and it’s a great place to run.  As much as I love Richmond, I often say there’s only two things in Richmond that I’ve never learned to enjoy – July and August. This became even more pronounced when I started running a few years ago, particularly as I trained for a marathon with long runs in those summer months. Not surprisingly, then, I really enjoy running in the cool mornings of autumn in the north.  And while New York’s Central Park in not New England, it’s not far off.

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These realities returned to me quickly as I headed down Fifth Avenue at 6:00 a.m. yesterday.  And it wasn’t just the low humidity, blue skies, and nippy early morning air (51 degrees – my favorite temperature for a run) that made this time most pleasant, but the enormous contrast to running in Virginia just two weeks earlier made the time absolutely glorious.  (As my niece and I headed for the shuttle parking at 6:00 a.m. at the Virginia Beach (Rock ‘n’ Roll) 1/2 marathon, my car thermostat said it was 78 degrees – and the humidity hovered well above that.  It was enough to ruin my enthusiasm.) Recalling those conditions and that mental state, made my return to running in the “park” rather joyous.

If you’re a runner and you haven’t run in Central Park, I have to recommend that you put an autumn run there on your runner “bucket list.”  (See http://www.runlist.wordpress.com – “The Run List”).  With over 840 acres of lakes, fields, gardens, ponds, trees, hills, roads, and paths, the park offers just about every type of run (recall that from 1970 to 1975 the NYC marathon was run completely in the park, and in 2007 the Olympic trails for the marathon were also confined to the park).  And, it seems like at least a couple of times every month the NYRR holds a 5K or 10K or similar race in Central Park.

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My usual run when I get to run in the Park is an early morning circuit on the Park Drive (East Drive and West Drive), which is closed to vehicular traffic from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.  It’s a fairly busy place, even at 6:00 a.m.  Walkers, bicyclists, joggers with strollers, and runners at every pace possible.  It seems as though more people (and all bicyclists) move counterclockwise, so I’ve joined the activity heading that way as well.  I usually enter the Park near The Plaza hotel and run north. Being careful to avoid the cyclists (and a variety of mini pelotons), as a runner (or walker) you move to the inside lanes.

The terrain rolls modestly as you pass behind the Metropolitan Museum of  Art on your right and then The Reservoir (technically, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir) on your left as you “squeeze through the Reservoir and 5th Avenue on the far east side of the Park.  The run continues north by ball fields and the conservatory gardens and then heads downhill towards Harlem and the north edge of the Park.  The Drive almost leads out of the park at 110th Street (and the halfway point for this run), but turns left and up the toughest hill faced.  Now heading south runners pass between the Reservoir and the western boundary of the Park, getting closest around 90th Street,  gently dropping and then remains relatively flat with some gentle slopes.  The lake comes into view on the left as Strawberry Fields is right.  The road then rolls to Tavern on the Green (through bankruptcy and apparently and hopefully preparing a facelift and a reopening).  Down a slope towards Columbus Circle, a left along Central Park South and we return to the southeast corner near The Plaza.

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This loop measures out at an almost perfect 6.2 miles.  With warmup and cool down back to your hotel, you are usually good for a nice 7-mile outing and yesterday it bordered on the perfect!  My time?  My pace?  I don’t know.  I left my Garmin in the room.  Like I said, almost perfect – I just enjoyed being out in the beautiful, cool morning welcoming the coming of autumn and my favorite time of the year to go for a run.

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Beginning the Run

Dr. Mumper confirmed that I was a walking, Type II diabetes time bomb – I was overweight with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. . . . I had a serious and immediate health situation.  I had to get going.  Winter was upon us, so I went to the YMCA and climbed back on a treadmill.

 (excerpt from The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running and Faith)

The quotation above is taken from my book – The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running and Faith.  My decision to start running was part of a need to grapple with some health concerns that I was facing as I was about to turn 50 years of age.  Like many others who blog on running, faith (or cooking or politics or any other topic), there is typically a desire that others might learn from the experiences and expertise the blogger has gained.  That was certainly my motivation in writing a book about my “journey” and as a Christian we might say it is a way to “witness” to others.

I’ve said often about my journey, “if I could do it, anyone could do it”.  (With the book release I have been trying to understand and use Twitter.  One of my new “Followers” has on her Twitter page almost the same quotation – “If I can run, anyone can run.” Thanks @corinnebaur.) Like Corinne, I believe that.  In January of 2007, I could not run even a mile.  (If you are one that doesn’t like to know the resolution of a plot before it is revealed – you may want to skip to the next paragraph.)  Eleven months later I ran (and completed) the New York City marathon.  I will use this blog then to recall much of my adventure in learning to become a runner and trying to complete a 10K and attempting longer distances. I hope that some might be inspired to take that first step, whether it be to begin a walking program or a commitment to run their first 5K.

Because the journey turned into a spiritual quest as well as a physical challenge, blog posts will alternate generally between the running (what I often refer to as “The Run”) and the spiritual (what I often refer to as “The Race”) journey.  In fact, a unique feature of my book is that it has two Forewords.  Olympic gold medalist in the marathon at the 1968 Munich games, Frank Shorter, wrote “The Run” Foreword, and internationally well-known Christian speaker, author, and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, wrote “The Race” Foreword.  In adition to encouraging novice runners, I how Christians seeking to become amateur apologists and others with questions or doubts about the Christian faith will also follow the journey of this blog as it tackles many questions I raised (and most people eventually face) in The Race Before Us.

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Welcome to THE RACE BEFORE US

This blog previously had the title “Six Weeks in Oxford”.  I returned from Oxford in July (2013).  As I alluded to in that previous blog, Mission Books of San Diego has published a book I have written about my recent spiritual and physical journey, called – The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running and Faith.  The book is being released today (September 3, 2013).  I have resumed in this blog to coincide with that release.

The book title is taken from Hebrews 12:1 – “let us run with perseverance the race that is set out before us.”  Whether we recognize it or not, each of us is running a race as we live out our lives every day.  Oftentimes we work just to put one foot in front of the other and sometimes we find the time to ask life’s big questions.  I am no different, I just decided to capture my thoughts as a addressed these challenges at a particularly reflective time of life intensified by some personal challenges.  I hope that the book and this blog might be an encouragement to others who wondering about how best to approach the race that is set out before us.

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The Run and The Race.  The subtitle of the book is “A Journey of Running and Faith”.  My journey involved a physical challenge – using running to improve my physical well being at a time that my health was at risk (“The Run”).  Some of my blog posts will be for novice runners or people thinking about starting to run (or walk).  My prayer is that such observations might be an encouragement to start putting one foot ahead of the other on a road towards better health –  because if I could do it, you can do it.

My journey also involved a spiritual challenge – exploring my Christian faith at a time of questioning and doubt (“The Race”).  Many of my blog posts will address questions about faith, the existence of God, and what the answers mean for us.  My hope here too is that those reflections might be an encouragement for anyone wondering about or working through some of “life’s big questions”.

To learn more about the book itself, please click on the “Book” tab above.

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