Blogs tagged with "friendship"

Day 2 - 21 June - started on the airplane. The flight was about 6.5 hours. We watched the movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" which contained a quote that may become my go-to phrase for the rest of this week: "You embrace the suck. You move forward."

Neither Jim nor I slept much on the plane, but I WAS able to confirm that Turin Brakes' album "Ether Song" still sends me off to slumberland.

We arrived at London Heathrow around 9 am. The long queue to border control went quicker than expected, and when we got to the agent, and he asked us what we were doing in the UK, I blurted out proudly: "We're going to the Glastonbury Festival!!"

His retort was priceless: "I was just reading about it this week. I read it's where middle-aged people go to get wasted."

I told him we were well past middle age!

We carried our tent and sleeping bags, two backpacks, a carry-on, and a duty-free bottle of rum through too many corridors of Heathrow to the express train to London. By the time we got to Paddington Station, we were exhausted and ready to be done with the day, but it was still morning. We grabbed a couple Cornish pasties for breakfast and then boarded the train to Exeter.

We arrived in Exeter at 2 pm, walked our luggage to Andy and Caroline's house for the anxiously awaited reunion with our friends and the real start of our Glasto adventure.

We checked the weather, we played with their cat Chui, we checked the weather, we got SIM cards for our phones, we checked the weather, we drank cider, we checked the weather, we ate dinner, we checked the weather...

Photos from today:

Getting train tickets at Heathrow:



We're exhausted on the platform:



Paddington Station:




On the train:




Finally in Exeter


And seeing Chui again:


Andy's cuppa:


And finally, the pre-Glasto necessities, the shepee (a gift from Caroline):





Day 2 - 21 June - started on the airplane. The flight was about 6.5 hours. We watched the movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" which contained a quote that may become my go-to phrase for the rest of this week: "You embrace the suck. You move forward."

My "Glory Days" gang

I have a running friend who used to declare: "You're only as good as your last race."

Granted, it was mostly in jest, but sometimes I actually used it against myself to support my claims of unworthiness - to bolster my my argument during the times I saw myself as a complete failure in my sport of triathlon. My claims are usually met by my husband Jim cursing the ground that said friend walked on, declaring that this was a complete fallacy, and: "Why do you even listen to him?!?" But I want to point out the following: according to this declaration, one can never hang his/her hat on the "Glory Days."

And yes, I mostly agreed with that sentiment... until yesterday.

Yesterday started out as an ordinary day. I got up, went to work, came home, started making dinner... and was just about to sit down to eat when my phone rang. It was buried somewhere, vibrating away. I would have let it go to voice mail, but Jim went digging for it. Before he handed it to me, he looked at the caller-ID, looked at me, and said: "Debbi Kilpatrick-Morris." I grabbed the phone immediately, afraid that I when I put it to my ear, Debbi wouldn't be there because she had been diverted away... to voicemail-land.

To my delight, she WAS there. Her first words: "I was expecting your voicemail." I don't know if that meant she wanted my voicemail or if it was just a statement of fact, like, "it rang so many times, surely the voicemail will pick up." She was obviously unaware of my frantic phone-grabbing-and-answering.

Why does this all matter?

I guess it starts with this: I don't have the opportunity to talk to Debbi much, but she is an integral part of my past.

And it goes back to the beginning: Debbi was my running inspiration from the day I first heard her name (this was well before I became a triathlete). At that time, all I knew - all I wanted to know - was running. In the late '80s and '90s, Debbi was one of the best runners in the U.S. She ran in three Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing 6th - an alternate to run in the Olympics - in 1996. That same year, she won the US Women's National Marathon Championship in Houston. And, perhaps most importantly, she was (is) a Northeast Ohio native - a local girl.

Being the hero-worshipper that I am, meeting Debbi was beyond anything I could imagine. RUNNING with her was, well, something I could never even dream about (or comprehend). But one day, in late 1997, when I started running on Saturday mornings with the Cleveland West Road Runners, I was invited to run with a group starting early from a different location. Debbi would be there. The scene that Saturday morning was chaos - a near-disaster in my as-yet-to-be-nicknamed-Disaster-Magnet existence. Strangely enough, I can't even recall the details. It involved my car - either not starting or not being able to navigate a snow-covered driveway hill. What I DO remember was frantically waking Jim up to help me. I remember panicking - and probably hysterically crying - I couldn't dare miss this. I may never get a second chance. "I'm running with Debbi Kilpatrick today! I have to get there!" Yeah, I made a big fat scene, man. At 6am.

But that's how I felt. And I made it just in time. And I never regretted it. Because knowing Debbi has been one of the great things that has happened to me in this life. Not because she was a great runner, but because she is a great person. She proved to me that it's ok to put people on pedestals - that they can and do live up it. She proved to me that injury is not the end - and showed me how to never stop trying. During the years we ran together, her career as a runner was in decline because of a chronic hamstring injury. Yes. That's right. A hamstring injury. Similar to what I'm currently dealing with.

I call those days - the days I ran with Debbi - my running "Glory Days." She inspired me to work harder. To train smart. To race smart. To rest hard before races. And to shoot for the Olympic Trials. And after I qualified, she even threw the send-off party (in 2000).

I remember stretching myself to my limits to hang with her on hill repeats and muddy bridal trails. I remember being in oxygen debt for all 20 miles of a 20-miler, wondering in who's universe is this "conversational pace"? I remember comparing where our legs got got muddy (she always had mud where her heels hit the inside of her legs). I remember sitting in freezing cold water in a wading pool to lessen the pain in our legs after those ridiculously-hard long runs. And I remember one of my fastest-ever 10K races with Debbi right on my shoulder, actually letting me set the pace, coaching me through the turns ("run the tangents"), and, of course, blowing me away in the final mile. I still loved her, even for that - it taught me the importance of having a finishing kick. And until yesterday, the biggest compliment I ever got was when one of her friends mistook me for her while I was running in one of our local hilly-workout locations.

I admired her so much and was so thankful for our friendship that I made sure I was involved in planning and throwing her first baby shower. I even personalized the invitations with a drawing I made just for her:

The original drawing for Debbi's baby shower invite

All of this only begins to explain why I didn't want Debbi to "go to voicemail." Its been many years - more than a decade since we ran together. One of the last times we ran together, I remember her son being fast alseep in the running stroller. Yeah, now he's in high school. When I do get to see her, it's usually a gathering of that "Glory Days" group of runners at someone's 50th or 60th (70th? 80th?) birthday party.

Then, a few months ago, out of the blue, she texted me about getting together - and brought her son, her daughter and a friend, and mother-in-law to my workplace - the Cleveland Museum of Art. We met for lunch and a stroll through some of the galleries. I would have liked to take the rest of the day off and spend it with them. I was very impressed with her son who is interested in everything and incredibly bright. I texted her afterwards to let her know she has a near-if-not-genius level kid on her hands and I loved her approach of exposing him to many different experiences, including art. I must have said more, because it was one of the reasons she called me yesterday.

So the conversation began with great advice about hamstring rehab (again, passing on her wealth of knowledge) and then an admittance of not being exactly why she called. She called to thank me for something I said at the museum that day.

I must have mentioned the lessons I learned during my own soul searching for a career - that in choosing a path, we need to consider our interests in addition to our skills. My parents and teachers did only the latter in pushing me into an engineering degree - because I was excellent at math and science and, of course, I'd could "make a living" as an engineer. I wanted to study astrophysics - a theoretical science - but in the end, terrified of disappointing everyone, it was easier to foreclose on what my parents wanted and pursue a skills-based career. The result? Seven years after landing a job as a wind-tunnel test engineer at NASA, I left in search of an art career.

Debbi was calling to thank me for that advice... that she should consider her son's interests in addition to his skills in helping him choose a path for higher education. Whether it was true or not, she felt she and her husband were "pushing" their son in a certain direction based on only half the information. She's changed that approach and wanted me to know how big an influence I was.

But there was more... the trigger to call me was a reaction to a Facebook post I made after a bad race. Something about being a failure. She wanted me to look at things differently - to realize I had succeeded in other, more important, realms. And then she said something many MANY people have said to me in the past, and for the first time in my life, I actually HEARD it. She said:

"Jeanne, do not tie your sense of self-worth to your athletic achievements."
And just like that... my perspective changed. Forever. How do I know? Because a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. I've heard this phrase said in so SO many different ways, but I continued to do exactly that - judge myself by my performance in my last race. Assume that the only reason people will ever "like" me is because I'm a good athlete. It's just. Not. True. Hearing it from Debbi was the snap-out-of-it wake-up call - it was important enough that she went out of her comfort zone to tell me.
The Glory Days may be past, but we CAN hang our hats on them. We were young and we didn't "get it" at the time, but they didn't make us better people because we were great athletes. They made us better people because we learned about our strengths and our weaknesses. We learned how to approach life daily with everything we have. We don't remember the splits. Or how many time we won races. What we remember are the smiles. The shared joy. (The shared misery.) We have the stories - of those hours and hours grinding out miles together in all weather conditions. We have those friends for life. Friends we always look up to - who will always have an impact. Friends who know exactly what we're capable of.
And that's why they're the Glory Days.
Pre-Olympic Marathon Trials 2000,
with two of the greatest athletes I've ever known:
(left) Peggy (Fortune) Yetman and (middle) Debbi Kilpatrick-Morris

There's a great quote in a novella by a famous author that was once made into a pretty awesome movie. The quote is: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." The author is Stephen King. In the novella, The Body, the next sentence is: "Jesus, did you?" But in the movie, Stand By Me, the next sentence was: "Jesus, does anyone?"

The movie version of that quote hit me smack in the face this weekend. Because… I think I realized... It's true.

Which brings me to the story of the tall tale.

I had one of those friends when I was 12. Her name was Suzanne. We met at age 11 in middle school - sixth grade. It was a new school for both of us, and we met because her last name started with "A" and mine with "C" and because of the alphabet, we ended up in the same homeroom next to each other. I was fortunate to have intimately connected with her before RE-connecting with friends from my elementary school.

The next few years were, as with most kids, the happiest I can remember. It was before I became an insecure, stressed out, depressed teen and started hating myself in high school. In fact, my attitude was likely responsible for our slowly falling out of touch with one another.

But yesterday and today, I don't remember any of the negative stuff, or arguments, or when the last day was that I saw her. I only remember the great stuff. I remember late nights lying on the floor listening to music with her, especially Boston and the Electric Light Orchestra. I remember thinking she was the sister I always wanted and how her parents treated me like one of their own. I remember how her mother bought me my first pair of swimming goggles because my parents weren't coughing up cash for something they never believed I would stick with. And I remember The Lake.

The Lake was the place where legends were made. Her parents owned a house on a lake in northern Connecticut, near the Massachusetts border. They invited me to spend a week there every year. And every year, Suzanne and I spent most of that week's waking hours on the lake in their little Sunfish sailboat. We sailed every inch of that lake. When the wind was strong, we acted like it was a catamaran and hung on for dear life. And on hot days, sometimes we purposely capsized it just to go swimming or to get wet. One of us always "acted" like it was accidental. It was never scary, except for the time she got tangled in the rope as the sail caught the wind and dragged her in the water away from me while I screamed "don't leave me!" (You know, because there are sea monsters. and sharks. and Jason Voorhees.)

And then there was the The Storm. Now THAT actually was scary. It was the stuff of legends, and as far as I was concerned, it had grown into a tall tale. My husband Jim has heard one too many times. I'm sure he thinks I made it up. And for all I know, it gets wilder with each telling, even though I never set out to embellish the details. Because the story was legendary enough without having to do that. But before I tell the story of The Storm on The Lake, let me tell you a little more about Suzanne.

Suzanne was one of those people that had a number of fantastical things happen to her. Call them tall tales, call them legends, but they happened. And she didn't make them up either. I have first-hand knowledge. Because I was THERE for some of them.

There was that time when we were picking blueberries in a field near The Lake and it was raining everywhere - we could hear the rain hitting all the leaves around us - except it wasn't raining on us. It was like there was a hole in the clouds right above us wherever we went.

There was that time our swim coach gave her an All American award for scoring team points in the 500 yard freestyle by finishing only 450 yards. Or was it 400? Who knows, really? It was too far to begin with. And, she got the points!

There was that time she became the first person I ever knew to be hospitalized. We were all jealous because not only did she get to miss school for a week (!), she also managed to lose weight without dieting and come back to school looking like a model (note, this happened in the years we girls had become obsessed with how we looked). She also had an IV - seriously, who even knew what an IV was? It was legendary.

And then there was The Storm.

Suzanne and I were on the boat in the middle of the Lake when we heard it approaching. The sky was black as night in one direction, so we decided to head for the beach. Just as we turned the boat toward the shoreline, something magically horrific happened. The wind went dead calm and the water turned to glass. It was the day I learned the true meaning behind "the calm before the storm." It was the eeriest experience of my entire life.

As the thunder got louder, we looked at each other, aghast - we were sitting on a boat in the middle of "flat" water with a metal post sticking straight up in the air, the highest point in the landscape. There was only one thing to do, take down the sail and paddle like madmen.

No, we didn't have oars. We got down on our bellies, her on one side of the boat, me on the other, and used our hands. I'm sure we were laughing - probably more like hysterics. It would have been hilarious if we weren't so scared. We inched along, and it seemed there was no way we would make it before the full fury of the storm hit.

Moments later, we looked up in the direction of the storm and saw what appeared to be a wall of water slowly making its way across the lake. Yep, to a 12-year-old (to anyone?), this was terrifying. Seriously, to this day, I have never seen anything like it. It was rain, but it looked more like a tidal wave. Who made the tidal wave in a tiny lake?

It must have been adrenaline, but Suzanne and I managed to paddle that little boat all the way to the beach before getting drenched. We grounded it and sprinted for dear life. To the house. To shelter.

And I've been telling people that story ever since - for more than thirty years. I had no idea if she continued to tell the story. Or if she remembered it the same as I did. Or if I embellished it. But every time I told it, I kept us in that moment. Young. Totally dependent on a best friend in a crisis - in which  the only way to survive was together. We had outwitted the devil.

This past Sunday, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, Suzanne stopped at my house while driving cross-country to Connecticut after visiting family in Washington and Idaho (it's bizarrely coincidental that she was also in Coeur d'Alene last weekend - the same time we were - but we failed to connect). She wasn't able to stay for long, but it didn't matter. Seeing her was like having all the happiest memories of my childhood materialize right in front of me.

And one of the greatest moments of the day was when we brought up "The Storm," and my husband realized who this was sitting at the table. I think his words were "oh, YOU'RE the one!" -- like.. ok, ok, let's get the REAL story behind what happened that day. And I let her tell it. And our stories are identical. Embellished? I don't think so, but who really knows? The most important thing was that we embellished it the same. Even after all these years. I guess that's the power of a tall tale. It's the memory that something actually did happen that bound us to this particular legend. Our legend.

And this year, we'll be spending Thanksgiving together. Hopefully to create more legends of our own. And I'll get to tell her, while I'm able to, how much I treasure our friendship past and future.

Thus, it's indeed true - you never DO have friends like the ones you had when you were 12. Or, in this case, 49.

Jim, me, Suzanne in Cleveland

There's a great quote in a novella by a famous author that was once made into a pretty awesome movie. The quote is: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." The author is Stephen King.

Tags: 
friendship

The clocks went forward a couple weekends ago. It's usually my wake-up call for the upcoming season. We'll get more light in the evening hours and I can now think about getting my bike off the trainers and out to ride after work. With my an almost-two-year injury on the mend, I am once again struggling with something that has weighed heavily on me for the last five years of racing. How can I ever hope to compete with people who have all the time in the world to train when I have a nine-to-five job with no flexibility in my work hours?

Here's a quick update on my injury. A couple months ago, my physical therapist gave me the green light to put more stress on my hamstring tendon (it started out as more and harder miles on the treadmill as February has been mostly sub-15-degree days). I've also been increasing my time on the CompuTrainer and spending more time in the pool. Although there's still pain, my hamstring has responded much better than expected, and I've had several hard running workouts with no pain at all. The pain usually subsides before the next training session, but the tendon is still not at 100%. My orthopedic doctor recommended another PRP injection which I will got a few days ago - right before I left for a four-day vacation in Los Angeles.

Increased training time has also brought to light the limitations I now have in pursuing additional goals outside work and racing. It's more difficult than in the past because I've been focusing on my art during the injury recovery, and now I'm torn between wanting to make a go of it (showing/selling my work) and go back to racing Ironman. With a full-time job and trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, I can only expect about 5-6 hours on weekdays to spend on myself, my family, my social life. When I write it like that, it sounds like a lot of time, but when you add cooking, shopping, housekeeping, etc., and bad rush hours, that time disappears very quickly. Pop culture TV series have been right out - to my dismay.

Until now, most of those hours have been spent stressed out about what I cannot do - or what I didn't get done - and feeling like a failure for it. Recently I found myself being overly honest about it in social media.

Fortunately, I've made goo friendships over the years, and my stressed-out, injured plight turned out to be near and dear to another athlete I've known for many years - his name is Kevin. In his own state of injury, he reached out to me and it turns out that we have quite a bit in common: the same orthopedic doctor, the same physical therapist, the same sport (although he was a triathlete back in the days when it wasn't popular like it is now), and the same worries.

As good as my husband Jim is at helping me through these rough times, having a peer to discuss it with has eased my mind in a way that I never dreamed was possible. Here was someone I had always admired as an athlete - someone I deemed "one of the cool people" because he knew, trained, and raced with all the local heroes of our sport (I mostly trained alone with my self-deprecating thoughts). For the first time ever, I have been able to see myself through another athlete's eyes. I didn't think anyone noticed what I did or how I raced, and Kevin regarded me (ME?) as somewhat of a local hero. He was one of "those people I was always trying to impress" (for lack of a better way to say it). Brain-dumping our thoughts about racing on each other has resulted in an amazing transformation: his outlook on life (somewhat stress-free but not without a lot of work to get there) had begun to affect my own. And now I want to achieve a similar state of ease with who I was and where I was at this point in my life.

It doesn't (and won't) come without sacrifices. I know I have to make big changes in attitude and behavior - changes to be fair to everyone, especially myself. Setting lofty race goals in hopes of being noticed by others was something that only mattered in MY mind. People HAD noticed, but it didn't make me any happier. It was a behavior pattern that began in high school - trying to be a famous athlete and exceptional student so my parents/teachers/coaches/schoolmates would pay attention to me. It was also when the constant stress began.

Thirty years later, I'm still trying to be the best employee, the best web developer, the fastest triathlete, an accomplished artist, and the perfect wife. But all I am is the best at being stressed out and depressed. I've lost any concept of success. And this is what Kevin taught me (because he's been through it): I had to (truly) search my soul for why I couldn't be happy with myself no matter what I did or excelled at.

It came down to something I've known for years.. that I wanted people to notice. That I only judged myself through how I thought others viewed me. My accomplishments only mattered if other people acknowledged them.

So why is this realization different this time? Because this time, unlike the last many times, I have a working model of someone who's been through it and came out the other end with flying colors. Someone I admired, an equally-accomplished athlete. Someone who has the perspective I need. And I've started to let go of trying to impress people and stopped looking at myself through other people's eyes.

One of the first things I did was quit my triathlon team. I used to think being part of a team meant I had "arrived" - that I was "good enough" to be on a team. I wanted to perform well to make my teammates proud of me and thus be worth keeping me on the team. Being injured for a year made me feel I had failed at that too. I maintained the team's website to make up for it. But in the end, no one seemed to care either way and I found it nothing but frustrating. Since it didn't seem to matter if I were on the team or not, or doing the website or not, and knowing I couldn't get to the team's once-a-week rides because my job was on the other side of town, I decided I needed to stop feeling useless and just quit. I still feel sad about it, but I no longer feel stress from it. And I'll always be grateful for three years of support I got from Fleet Feet Sports and Bike Authority.

This  is obviously just the beginning. I still need to get healthy. I still need to learn how to leave work at work. I still need to learn how to say no to extra work and freelance web jobs. And I still need to decide if I want an art career more than racing long. I can't help that I will put my heart and soul into anything I decide, but at least I can be sure it's what I enjoy doing - and not because I need to prove anything.

What cross country REALLY means

Early this week, I made the decision to throw out my pride and run (not race) in a Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot." I was planning on doing a workout that morning anyway. Why not do it by running (not racing) with others and supporting the greater Cleveland running community in the process?

Once that decision had been made, my next big decision was: "which race?" There are gobs - no pun intended - of Turkey Trots all over northeast Ohio - in Cleveland, Akron, Warren, Lorain, etc. There were races 15 minutes away or over an hour. Race distances were 5K, 4 miles, 5 miles, 10K - you name it! (ok, so no marathons in there, but you get my point).

The decision wasn't a no-brainer, but it was relatively easy. I knew I did NOT want to run in downtown Cleveland - especially since I would be driving there by myself - I gave my husband Jim the day off from support crew. I would have to find parking. The car would inevitably be far away, and Jim would not be there to hold my stuff while I ran (not raced). And, selfishly, I wanted to avoid discomfort, and the Cleveland Turkey Trot boasts thousands of runners. This meant I would have to wait in long bathroom lines. Instead, I chose the "LCCC Turkey Trot" - a cross-country 10K at Lorain County Community College.

The ease of the decision came in that I had run the LCCC race once before - way back in the 1990s before I knew triathlons existed. I remember it was fun. I remember it was a nice soft-surface course. And I remember it wasn't "huge," but it had good competition and a great reputation among many local elite runners.

Mark liked my Punk Rock Racing threads.

I knew I had "lucked out" with my race choice when I walked into the registration area only to bump into two of my good friends (and runners), Mark Breudigam and Lou Karl (who would be turkey-trotting with his dog). As the crowd of runners increased, more people I knew showed up, including a large contingency from two of the local multisport teams, Spin/Second Sole and Snakebite Racing. I briefly felt guilty for choosing this race knowing one of my sponsors, Fleet Feet, supported the Cleveland Turkey Trot. But then I remembered why I was here - to do a fun run (not a race).

After some quick socializing and before long, runners were on their way to the starting line - which was situated in a field. The last time I ran this race, I was told the course was always muddy with one huge hill (that you run up twice), and at one point, we would have to wade up to our knees through a river. Of course, the year I ran it, the course was mostly dry and the "river" was barely a stream - we just lept over it.

The dogs are out in force at LCCC,
Lou and Molly before the mud. 

But not this year. THIS year, even though the weather was sunny and in the 40s (balmy for Cleveland in late November), the course description came back to haunt me tenfold.

We had to "wade" out to the starting line. I'm not exaggerating. By the time I was standing in that field, my socks and shoes had been completely submerged in water and mud, and I had given up trying to keep them dry. The race director stood in front of us and shouted instructions. He pointed to the sky: "Do you see that big yellow thing? THAT is the SUN! Something we haven't seen at this race in a long time." Next, he explained the rules of cross-country (white poles, red poles, run on grass not the road, etc). Then, he explained some changes on the course, which many were familiar with because it's also the LCCC Men's X-C course. He said (and I quote): "The course is a MESS," and proceeded to explain changes that were made in areas that were deemed impassable. And with that, we were off.

Even with all the warnings, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. In the first 100 yards, my only thought was how thankful I was for wearing my trail shoes, even though it didn't help much. Before the first mile was over, I was covered with mud from both my kicking it up and the people in front of me kicking it back. After announcing to my friends at the starting line that I "got nuthin'" because I had just started quad-killing bike trainer workouts and I was here only for a workout (and not to race), I started out very easy and IN the pack.

And yet, within the first mile, I found myself passing most of the women (and girls) and people jogging with dogs who went out sprinting. Mile 1 is at the top of the aforementioned hill. Just before it, I passed Lou and Molly (who tried to give me the slip but she was on a leash and had to haul Lou's butt up that hill). On the way up, I stupidly ran on the mud instead of the grass and was passed by almost everyone just behind me. On the steep (and muddy) downhill, my only goal became to not break one of my ankles.

Before Mile 2, I found myself chasing down the "runner in pink" (a.k.a. the women's leader). In doing this, I had to run for almost a half-mile through ankle-deep water on top of thick mud and grass. Every single step felt like I was wearing ankle weights. I decided to hang behind her, but just before Mile 2, she slowed a bit. With a comfortable pace going, I decided to pass her.

I wondered if that was a mistake. By Mile 3, my tired bike-burnt quads started their screaming. And then came my lungs (also screaming). What was I THINKING!! This was supposed to be a fun run. With my friends! With their dogs!

And now that I was leading, the competitive me started a conversation with the me that went there to NOT race. I was hurting, but could I hold on? Did I want to? Would I be embarrassed to lose my lead?

Um.... yep. I would.

A return to analog racing.

I buckled down and decided I would, in fact, RACE those last three-point-two miles. Despite the distress, I chased down everyone I could - only one guy passed me, and it was on that confounded hill! I plowed through the water, the mud, the woodsy terrain, and ran hard to the finish where I was handed my finisher's card. Yes, folks, this is old-style, no number-bib, analog racing at its best. It had the number 22 on it.

Shortly thereafter, the girl in pink finished. We immediately struck up a conversation. Her name was Katie - she's a 29-year-old mom of three whose goal is to break three hours in the marathon. Listening to her attempts, I have no doubt she will do it. What was wonderful about meeting her was that I found myself playing a sort-of mentor role for the first time. We talked marathons - she was even interested in my history. I was beyond honored to hear she "didn't feel so bad being beaten by a former Olympic Trials marathoner." (I did remind her that I am, in fact, 46, but she took it well.)

In all the excitement, I never hit my watch at the finish, so I am relying on the accuracy of the race timer to tell me how fast (or slow) I ran. And I still have not looked for the official results online. Or the results of my post-race interview.

I learned afterwards that I had, indeed, been beaten by my good friend Rich Oldrieve. Now, mind you, I don't have an objection to being beaten by Rich. In his storied past, Rich has run a sub-2:30 marathon - in Boston, of all places. I met him after he turned 40 - when he was not only the fastest local masters runner, but always took home masters money at national- and international-level marathons. In local (longer distance) races, he often won outright. So yeah, Rich can bury me in any race, even now in his mid-50s. What I objected to on Thanksgiving was that Rich Oldrieve not only slaughtered me in the race, but he did it in cotton sweats, tube socks, wearing a fanny pack, and running with his dog! (I'm only slightly exaggerating, but I was happy to hear that "Hamlet" probably beat Rich across the finish line.)

Old friends Randy and Toby
And, all I have say about that is (a common thread in my blogs lately), the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And thank heavens for that! Because the greatest thing about running (not racing) this Thanksgiving was that I reconnected with people I have not seen in many, MANY years. After the race, I met up with some long-lost running and racing companions: Randy Barkacs (a.k.a. the fastest guy never to have run a sub-3-hour marathon, who just turned 60 and doesn't look a day over 40), Dave Wendell (a well-under-3-hour marathoner who I beat Thursday for the first time ever), Rick Ventura (another outstanding masters runner now in his late-50s - one who could sometimes beat Rich Oldrieve), and the almost-always-smiling-but-not-today-until-it-was-over Kevin Krol (one of the first people I ever knew and admired in the multi-sport universe).

I had the opportunity to hang out with my not-long-lost friends: Lou (and mud-covered Molly, my newest Facebook friend), Nancy Desmond (an outstanding local cyclist who ran with her own mud-covered Maddie), and Mark (one of the best friends I ever met through running). They invited me to partake of the communal flask of B&B (way cool), and I was given my own plastic Solo cup of Guinness (which kicks chocolate milk's arse as a recovery drink).

Lou, Molly, B&B, Mike, Nancy, Maddie

I met the incomparable Mike Twigg who had the quote of the day: "The older you get, the better you used to be." I was told this expression was directly intended for "Old Like Lou" Karl who, I think, was a legend before he was even born. And I suspect it's been trademarked, so make sure you give credit if you borrow it.

For my friends out there with the goal of breaking four hours in the marathon, this was a tough group at LCCC on Thanksgiving. Catching up after the race, I told Rich Oldrieve that I ran the New York City Marathon four weeks after Ironman Kona. He asked how I did in NY. I said: "not great" (considering that Rich's standards for me are similar to my own, having trained with me during my sub-2:50 days). He asked my time. My reply: "Three fifteen." Rich's reaction? "Yeah, three fifty? That's not very good." (Note, this was in a totally matter-of-fact manner.) I countered: "No, three FIFTEEN." His tone changed to one slightly less critical: "That's not bad."

Molly has eyes for my first place trophy

[Again, my apologies to all the over-3:50 marathoners out there. The views expressed are not my own. But in his defense, Rich is a very logical and scientific elite runner, and I have him to thank for teaching me how to disassociate my emotions from running. He was one of the biggest influences on my fastest marathon performances.]

The final thing I found out at the LCCC Turkey Trot was that many of the local runners thought I had left town or gotten seriously injured because I dropped out of "running" circulation in 2003 - this was right after I was hit by a car training for triathlon. I had often assumed everyone knew about my accident. I didn't race again until 2008, almost completely missing out on my early masters years. Who knew people were paying attention? Who knew I had fallen into the "whatever-happened-to" file? It was actually a good feeling - I guess you have to be someone in order to be someone that people wonder what happened to.

I waited for the awards to cheer for both my old and new friends. In the meantime, there was a raffle during which they gave away things like plastic containers of sticky buns and issues of Men's Health magazine (yes, I won that) in addition to cool gift certificates. It's fun, but I was told to stick around, to not miss the most hilarious thing. AFTER the awards ceremony, they give away the final raffle prize - a TURKEY.

My question: "What is the winner going to do with a turkey NOW? [as opposed to yesterday]"

Rich Oldrieve's response? "THAT'S why it's so funny!"

When it comes to training and racing, I've always been self-motivated, but now in my mid-40s, the flame doesn't burn as bright for all 365 days of the year. I never needed a training group to help with my motivation, and when I did run with a group, it was more about the camaraderie and social activities. After I was hit by a car in 2003, group training ceased altogether for me. There were many reasons, the biggest of which was that the near-death experience made me wake up and smell the coffee (literally, by sleeping in on Saturdays). My OCD running behavior took a vacation, and the group-running habit no longer served a purpose. I was still motivated to run, bike and swim, but not to get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays and drive 30 minutes to run someone else's workout. Or sprint out of work and drive like a maniac while changing into my running clothes in rush-hour traffic.

For several years, the only time I talked to athletes was at races, and even then, I tended to shy away because I always felt (and still feel) like the poor stepchild riding the beater bike and wearing hand-me-downs. I know my training could use a push from faster athletes now and again and I still find ways to challenge myself as often as possible even though I train mostly alone.
But things are changing in this connected world we live in. Social networks have made my world a smaller and brighter place where I can find people like myself and not feel so alone. For me, social networks Facebook and Twitter are not places to tell everyone what I ate for lunch or where I am at every minute, but they are places where I can share experiences and read other people's stories and feel connected. As an athlete, I am continuously blown away by people who contact me, share with me, or are even interested in what I do. And I love reading about their trials and tribulations. It has re-energized me to work harder in hopes of having my own stories to tell or wisdom to impart as a way to thank them.
Making connections with athletes in social media circles is still new to me, but some of my online resources are the following (this is a personal list, it's NOT comprehensive -- I welcome others' resources in the comments):
Some coaches' and athletes' blogs I follow are on the right and there are many triathlon groups and pages on Facebook, which is still the place I spend most of my time.

When it comes to training and racing, I've always been self-motivated, but now in my mid-40s, the flame doesn't burn as bright for all 365 days of the year.

As I get older, I find myself reminiscing more - I guess that's really what writing memoirs is all about. For instance, after my swim the other day, my mind focused on the lock on my locker that belonged to one of my high school running friends and I realized I will never be able to tell her I still have her lock because I've not heard from or seen her since graduation. However, I WAS fortunate enough to find someone ELSE I thought I had lost, my best friend from high school, Jo-Lynn. Is it just a coincidence that Jo-Lynn popped into my head while I was lying in that MRI machine last week listening to the James Taylor song "Fire and Rain"?

Before I say anything else, I just want to say that there are only a few people in my life that I am or would have been willing to die for. One of them is Jo-Lynn. If I had a sister, I would have wanted it to be her. The last time I heard anything definitive about her, she had left her husband of two years - they lived only three hours away, in Dayton. This was sometime around 1990. He wrote to tell me. Why did HE write? I'm not sure - he was actually a friend of mine from college who pursued her (she went to a different university). I thought he just wanted to meet her because I talked about her all the time and how much I missed her.
The last time I saw HIM was when I moved to Cleveland in 1987. I visited him in Dayton. During that visit, he showed me his "scrapbook" -- containing things he had collected from years of relationships with different girlfriends. Scarily, he had stuff of MINE! Stuff he took from my college dorm room. Stuff like, my earrings (!) and some drawings! He was reluctant to show me anything after MY "entry" in the book, but when he left the room, curiosity made me look. It was then that I realized what he didn't want me to know: he was obsessed with Jo-Lynn. He pasted her college ID and other stuff of hers in there. Years before, she had told me they had a brief relationship, but I thought it had ended. (For some reason, HE never told me about it.) 
The whole episode scared the daylights out of me -- I felt like I was browsing through the belongings of a psycho/serial killer. I didn't sleep that night, and I was very happy to finally get home the next day. After that, he wrote and called often. I just let him talk. Imagine my surprise when he told me, in a letter, that he and Jo-Lynn were getting married! 
I should have done something. I should have called her and pleaded with her to get away! But it was her life, and I didn't want to get in the way. I was also afraid that if I said anything, the two of them would think I had feelings for him and was trying to stop the marriage for selfish reasons. So I did nothing. I NOW know I made a terrible mistake. She was my best friend and I loved her, and when it mattered, I did nothing. I do not know the hell that she went through with him, but from only a few statements she wrote, I know it was truly a "hell," and I feel partially responsible.
So now, over 20 years later, I found her on Facebook. I didn't know if she wanted to hear from me. I was scared that her feelings for me might have changed even though mine for her have not. Over the years, I had Googled her name over and over again and never found any information (my mistake was not using her married name). And the past 20 years could never be described as "water under the bridge." We're 44 years old. We have different lives. We travel in completely different circles. But we're only 3 hours apart. Is there a cosmic significance to that?
When I saw her photo on Facebook, I cried. She was the same. The same smile. The same hair. I sent a friend request. She accepted. She said that I looked the same. I told her I never had a friend like her. She told me the same. I read her "25 random things about me" only to find that all the things I loved about her in high school are still traits she carries to this day. I realize now that some of her best characteristics are the very things that make me the person I am today. Jo-Lynn was one of those rare people who just told you the cold hard truth, whether you wanted to hear it or not. She was never about lying or schmoozing or stroking people's egos. She is the reason I resent people who bullsh*t, lie and backstab (things that make it difficult for me to be in the marketing workforce). But she is also the reason I work so hard at being truthful and honest. It may not "get" me anywhere in life, but I can live with that. I have few regrets, but letting Jo-Lynn go is one of them.
Writing all these feelings out may not paint a nice picture of me as a friend, but it IS honest. And although it's not sports- or technology-related, it's still another life-lesson learned. I hope not too late.

As I get older, I find myself reminiscing more - I guess that's really what writing memoirs is all about.

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