Tuesday, December 14, 2010

With A Little Help From My Friends...

As this year draws to a close I have to pause and reflect.  2010 has been a great year for me regarding my running.  I have put up incredible mileage, approached paces I only dreamed of previously, and won age group awards in races.  Let me repeat that - I WON age group AWARDS IN RACING!!!

And the biggest changes in my training came in the second half of this year.  My motivation is up.  The satisfaction I get from running is immeasurable.  And my confidence as a runner is limitless.  When I line up before a race I am certain I will finish strong.  I approach a 5k knowing I will get something.  My 10k time only needs a race to prove how strong I have become.  Marathons and ultras are frontiers I hope to explore for decades to come.

The great leap in my training can be directly attributed to my interaction with other runners.  You don't race in a field of one, so why train alone.  I'm sure some people fare better alone.  Running is not necessarily a team endeavor.  Reflecting on the past six months I realize that running with others instills a sense of competition and assertiveness that is growth inducing.

If you run with folks putting up big miles, you have to put up big miles.  If you run with folks putting up fast miles, you have to put up fast miles.  My only exposure to team sports were one year in Little League baseball and a few years of club rugby in college.  The group thing is a little intimidating.  So I feel I have to really show what I'm capable of to prove I belong.  To prove I am worth their time and camaraderie.

By pushing myself I have improved in so many areas.  While not always easy, the miles are getting easier.  While not always fast, the miles are getting faster.  And while not always smooth, the miles are starting to smooth out.  In fact tonight my form really felt "locked in".

But I owe this moment in time to so many people within my running community.  I have developed connections in Myrtle Beach that mean a great deal to me.  The miles logged with the North Myrtle Beach Running Group have meant more than any solo plan.  Those predawn Saturday runs gave me the idea and the confidence to volunteer as a pace runner for a half marathon.  This was in fact the first half marathon I ever entered.  The support, the jokes, and the technical advice have helped me greatly.  I even owe "The UnaRunner" to this cast of characters.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to the worldwide community of The Daily Mile.  If you ever need advice, motivation, support, or a good laugh you need to check this place out.  They even announced a "Secret Santa" initiative this week.  How cool is that.  What humbles me about the community within The Daily Mile is that I know so few of the "friends" personally.  The outpouring of well wishes when I perform is a huge boost to my confidence.  But the greatest gift is when I received so many words of encouragement and genuine concern.  This touched me beyond any thanks I could ever extend.

Growing up I never really "tried".  I hoped but never pursued.  Athletics were something to be watched.  Participation was not for me.  However, the last year has witnessed my evolution into an "athlete".  I see something of myself that did not previously exist.  And I know other people see something of me I never imagined would be discoverable.  Some of these friends have pointed out how and where I can continue to grow and develop so I may become the best runner possible.

My turn as running for friendship has knocked me for a loop.  I am astounded by the people seeking me out.  To know that people watch me is intimidating and pressure-packed and motivating.  But it is also odd.  Had these people seen me even a few years ago they may not have seen the potential?  How many of them would have looked twice?  The fact is that my past no longer matters.  The person I was no longer exists.  Some of you have learned personal things about me outside of running.  A few of you have shared private moments with me outside of running.  Some of you are becoming the brothers or sisters I never had.  These connections will be held in my heart forever.  And I owe it all to running.

So the next time someone asks what I do I will answer "I run".  And it has made all the difference.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Waiting for the snap-back

Runners often say that running is our drug of choice.  This activity provides many things, but first and foremost it is mood altering and personality enhancing.  Yet sometimes even a "good" run has no affect and brings no relief.

I struggled for years with self-image.  I have an overactive imagination and tend to read into situations and see things that do not exist.  There was even a time I sought professional help and chemical relief.  That's what a crap job with no support from management will do for you.

Thankfully running has given me something no doctor or prescription could ever provide.  Time to myself not in darkness and self-loathing but time in sunshine and self-development and the company of people who see the good in me and support me no matter the "issues" I am dealing with in my life.

That's why this past week was so difficult.

One thing I noticed as I have dealt with bouts of depression over the past seven years is that there is no trigger.  No moment or event that sparks the slide.  I just know that its coming and feel the world tilt beneath me.  My world has been pretty level for some time now.  But not so much in the last two weeks.

Two weekends ago I was feeling really dark.  No reason other than the usually stresses in life.  Money.  The approaching holidays.  Kids' schedules and fitting work into the cracks.  The only thing going well had been my running.  Then I developed a pain in my heel which required a visit to the doctor.  I don't like to mix running and doctors, but this one was cool and runs and did not preach.  The relief was immediate and my spirits was up.

I have made some solid friendships outside of running recently.  These folks are online buddies and are separated by miles and will probably never meet me in person, but already they feel like family.  And the best part is sharing aspects of life that need an unfiltered, unobtrusive, nonjudgmental view of a situation.  No agenda. Just questions and answers and hopes that things get better.

Each friend is having relationship issues and I tried to be the sounding board and ask the questions that each needed to ask.  Maybe hearing the questions and answers out load out provide a different perspective.  I know that my own thoughts sound different once they pass my ears.

Being a father put their issues in a perspective I had not anticipated.  Boys can handle themselves.  This is a man's world, as James Brown once sang.  But girls are different.  Tell them they "can't" and either they believe or take the challenge and try to prove the world wrong.  As the father of two girls I choose to tell them they can.  I told my oldest to set her own path.  Do what she wants in the world.  Make her own labels in life.  Do not become what somebody wants her to be if that label prevents her from being herself.

But this is getting off the point of the post I guess.  I've not adjusted well to the recent cold.  I ran a few nights after the kids went to bed.  The second night was awful.  My pace was fine, but the dark and cold and clothing I had to wear created a crushing claustrophobic effect that sunk me into the most depressive state I've felt in years.  Not suicidal, but it doesn't have to be that bad to be bad.

I unloaded on dailymile.com.  I wasn't looking for too much sympathy (ok, maybe I was).  It seemed a good play to turn because other outlets are like speaking with a stone wall.  My wife knew I wasn't right and we talked a little about it.  But I think I needed to hear the support of other runners.  She helped my through the worst of my depression, present for the breakdown in sunday school (that was such a bad day) and is my smile when I feel nothing.

I got tons of advice.  Don't know why.  I got tons of support.  Can't imagine why.  Read tons of kind words and even a few harsh yet necessary words.  Message received.  I knew I had to get out of the dark, literally and figuratively, and find my sunshine.

Before I took that next run I saw a dailymile challenge called "One Mile For Miranda".  She was little girl, not sure of the age, who died this week.  A challenge was created to run a single mile in her memory.  You know about me and dedicating runs to others.

I set out in the middle of the day.  I was still cold, but not so cold as the previous night.  The sky of clear and the wind was slight.  And I set a fast pace.  I thought again of my friends and their issues.  I thought of my family and our issues.  I kept coming back to my form and how I was feeling physically and emotionally and could feel the break coming.

I realized in this run that mental illness in less extreme cases is like jumping with a bungee cord.  Stretch it too tight and the cord snaps and you don't walk away.  Hang on and stay loose and just maybe the you'll get a bounce back and return to vantage point where you started.  Just get back up.

My GPS chirps at each completed mile.  As I returned home Mr. Garmin told me I had one mile to go.  And my thoughts returned to Miranda.  A little girl I'll never know and would have never heard of were it not for dailymile.  As if by a "higher power" my legs went of a pace reserved for speed work.  I knew I was running hard and found an unbridled joy in taking flight with this newest angel.  And with a half mile left in the run I nearly broke down and sobbed.  There was a convulsive spasm in my chest.  The kind you get in some great tragedy in life.  But I was not sad.  I was happy.  And for no real reason.  I'm not given to pray or church these days, but I do get the power of shared human experience.  Maybe sharing in the passing of Miranda's life kicked my brain into thinking I am not in such a bad place.  Doesn't work for everyone, but it may have worked for me.

Not really sure what the thread to this post is.  Probably just random thoughts and a deeper view into my brain that most of you could do without.  But I also like to thing that a glimpse into my mind will tell someone they are not alone, not so different from other people.  Whether you care to share or not, know I'm with you in the struggle.

Dailymile asked this week what its members would do if the website crashed.  I know I would still run.  I would still run with local folks.  I would still "talk" with running friends I have outside dailymile.  But something would be lost.  I like to think the Mirandas' of the world need places like dailymile.  To work their magic on people like me.


Live for today.  Run for tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Other Meaning of Dedication

Ok, I'm gonna be totally honest and if that's not cool then please stop reading now. This is me as Logan and not The UnaRunner so I hope y'all understand. And I'll try to keep it short to not waste anyone's time or bore you beyond tears.

I do not believe in God but do believe in the power of prayer. Knowing you are the intense focus of another person's positive thoughts is a powerful feeling. Whether a being intercedes and corrects problems that solicit the prayers is another subject.

I do think there is something to releasing positive energy into the world to share with others. A college friend suffered a heart attack from some sort of viral or bacterial infection over the summer. Freak occurrence. Over the following weeks I dedicated several runs to his healing. My release of energy to his gathering of energy for healing (go ahead and laugh). I recent spoke with his wife, another alum, who said he is doing well and working again and being the husband and dad his family needs. Maybe there is something to this...

I sometimes run for a friend who died running. Not long after we moved to Murrells Inlet.  Our oldest daughters were born the same summer. Heart attack. No ID. Wife found out he passed while calling hospitals hoping he may be in the ER with an injury. Two kids left with memories. One son with no memory, except in photos. And a widow who struggles but needs to do something to get in good health for these children. But I sense she fears leaving them the same way their father did. Taken too soon and with no good-bye...

This Thanksgiving marked twenty years since my maternal grandmother's last.  We always spent Thanksgiving with that side of the family as Christmas.  So this was our last Christmas.  And it was the last time I saw her outside of a hospital, other than the funeral home... Needless to say there have been a lot of tough memories for my mom this past week.  So I'll add a few more names to the list, for comfort and rest.

The point of dedicating runs and miles to others is not for self-gratification or self-fulfillment.  It is just a way for me to remember and burn some energy and be positive.  Remember the vibrant times.  The laughter and smiles.  The cheerful days.  And if it helps smooth out the miles or soften the sun or blunt the blustery cold then I get something out of it as well.

If you have never dedicated a run to someone give it a try.  Maybe give each mile to a different person.  Does not matter to whom or why.  Just think of someone other than yourself and the pain you may have at that moment.

Makes me smile just thinking about it.

Dot, Becky, Wayne, Mary, Will, Farra & Bob - you were all in my thoughts and on my miles this week.  Be well.