Night poetry

When the darkness comes things get worse,
Something goes bump in the night it’s another verse,
This time louder clearer steadier closer faster,
Never the same It only gets worse just a pawn never the master,
The night grows longer and I lose control,
I face the demons that robbed my soul,
Where there once was safety in the night
Now that’s where I relive the horror and fright.

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I am not a walrus

I am not a walrus.

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I am not a walrus

Do you remember this scene in the breakfast club?  This is where Brian was about to write his essay stating who is or who he thinks he is.  And he says some thing like this: Who am I? I am a walrus!”  Bender was staring at him the whole time.  I thought it was hilarious.

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For some reason I have been wondering just who I am.  First and foremast I guess I need to think about my life.  What do people see when they look at me? I am a Father I know that for sure. What else defines me?  I am a runner, cyclist, swimmer, and coach.  Maybe people see me as an Athlete.  I don’t think I am an artist or very creative for that matter.  Although, I do come up with a lot of crazy ideas.

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People who knew I was in the military used to define me as a soldier. Of course I would refer to myself as an Airman but most people use he word soldier pretty loosely so that’s okay. I think that is how my Grandfather saw me.  I wish I knew him better.  From what I knew of him I really liked him and I remember him often always smiling.  One time we went on a walk and we kept asking how far and he would say 10 minutes. It must have gone on for an hour.  Funny the things that stick with us.

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I used to be viewed as a meteorologist (After all I forecasted the weather for 13 years).  Now, I am in the process of making major changes.  it took a long time to do this but I am trying.  I applied to school to become a Paramedic. I think I would have a good fit with that.  I will get some excitement but most importantly I will be doing some good.  I am hopeful that I will be on the saving life side as opposed to the taking life and blowing things up side of work.  When I was in the midst of hating my old job I would tell myself my job does not define me.

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I have Crohn’s disease a lousy incurable disease.  But, I refuse to let it define me or stop me.  Of course there are days when I am in bad shape but I don’t talk about it all the time. I don’t want people to look at me and think I am a victim.  I am strong and although I suffer some from my disease I know I will have good days and bad days and I refuse to waste the gift that is my life.

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So that leaves me again with some unanswered questions.  Should I question my political affiliation? Or the philosophy I choose to follow?  Does that make me a tree hugging liberal Buddhist with a running/cycling problem who poops a lot?

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After all I have 4 bicycles in my apartment about 6 pair of sneakers and an almost never ending supply of Eastern philosophy books and super soft toilet paper with aloe in it.  Hey, when you poop as much as me you learn what toilet paper is the best.  Trust me when I tell you this…Money is no object when it comes to good toilet paper.

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I am running another half marathon in 17 days. So I guess it gives me about 2hrs and 16 minutes (hopefully) to figure it out.  But, if my Crohn’s acts up trust me I will have my aloe soaked super soft paper and 13.1 miles of woods to run into in case of emergency and it will just give me a couple extra minutes to think things through.

I wonder what I’ll come up with when I’m out on the road.  I have this grand plan that Ill learn something about myself but maybe I’ll struggle and just wish it was over.  Or maybe I’ll be in the zone and count people in my head as I pass them.  I wonder if I will have to walk or be able to run the whole thing?  One thing I know for sure is every long run I go on I always end up being glad I did it.  Heck it gives me an excuse to go eat steak and eggs!

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Let me leave you with a quote from that great movie and then a question. ” Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… and an athlete…and a basket case…and a princess…and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

Who do you think you are?

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One less item on my bucket list

 

 

before

I ran my first half marathon this weekend.  It was a great experience and I think I finally get some things.  I accept that I am a middle of the pack runner. I have never been real fast.  I know I can cut time off my runs in the future but really am I going to go pro?  I doubt it.  However, I can and always will race myself.  I will continue to challenge myself and push myself.  I know I cannot sit around and wait to be inspired.  I must be the one who inspires. I need to inspire and motivate myself to keep going.

If you don’t know yet you do know now that I am always early for everything and this day was no excuse to be late. I went to bed the night before at 9:30pm and I fell asleep fast and my alarm woke me up at 4:30.  I popped out of bed and woke up everyone to tell them we were leaving in 30 minutes.  I had packed everything the night before so all I had to do was shower and go over my checklist one last time.  Before you knew it was 5 am I had eaten my banana and it was time to go. We left on time and my daughter Jordan and my Girlfriend Cindy and I showed up at the race around 5:45 am it was still dark and pretty cool out. I picked up my packet used the bathroom and as I was walking out of the store it was still dark and I fell down the stairs and twisted my ankle. It hurt but it wasn’t an injury. At the same time I thought if this takes me 3 hours I have an excuse. They bussed us out to the start 1.5 miles away where there was only one port a potty and a huge line. As I waited to go I saw bunch of people I knew and then waiting for the start I saw a bunch more people I knew. It was nice feeling like part of the community. I didn’t realize just how many local runners I knew.

Anyway, let me stop my editorial here and give my splits and then back to the story. Mile 1) 10:17 mile 2) 9:46 mile 3) 9:50 mile 4) 10.21) mile 5) 9:43 mile 6) 10:29 mile 7) 8:11 mile  8:11 mile 9) 11:16 mile 10) 11:17 mile 11) 11:26 mile 12) 10:48 mile 13) 14:03. Total time 2:19:52. My goal was to finish under 2:30 but I really wanted to finish under 2:20. I reached my goal so over all I am pleased with my performance.

Okay back to my tale.  The sun began to rise and although it was still cool I knew it would be warm soon.  The race director called for us to approach the line.  I kissed ad hugged Jordan and Cindy goodbye and said expect me anywhere between 2:10-2:40.  I found myself in the middle of the pack.  I don’t know how I picked my spot I guess it was just open and happened to be next to a friend.  We had a few minutes for idle chitchat while we waited for everyone to line up and then the race began.  Next thing you know the race director started the race and we were off.  The race began on a slight incline and the pace was a slow shuffle as runners began to find their place in the pack and spread out.  I tried to maintain my pace and not get caught up in the excitement and start out to fast.  I got passed by a few people and I passed a couple of people.  But at mile one I looked at my watch and I was right where I wanted to be.  The road had was pitched with the peak in the middle.  I tried to run near the center of the road as to not strain my hips and knees too much.  When we hit the 1.5 mile point it was right by the beginning and they were handing out water.  I wasn’t ready for any.  I wondered if I should take a sip but I decided I still needed to find my pace and loosen up.  So I ran right on past.  That was the first incline of the race and I thought well if all the hills are like that I’ll be okay.  However, I was going to learn that Florida does have hills after all.  There was still a lot of idle chit chat going on between runners.  I am not a big talker when I run (I don’t know why) so I was just listening and every now and again adding my two cents.  Around the 2 mile point some runners came out of the blue and passed us like we were standing still.  We decided they must be 10k runners and we let them go.  One of the women who was running with us said whenever she sees someone running faster than her she assumes they aren’t going as far.  I like to think that way too.  We made a rather sharp turn and the road was rough.  So rough that it hurt my feet.  Luckily we weren’t on this road long and it was pretty level with a steep decline at the end. And we had a long down hill run.  I let gravity take over and help guide me down the hill.  At around mile 3 or 4 two girls were at an aide station giving away water and Gatorade.  It was pretty funny no one wanted to Gatorade but everyone wanted water.  The Gatorade girl looked so dejected I almost took a cup out of pity.  But, I did not and I got a water thinking Ill want Gatorade on the way back.   We reached the base of the hill and started out into a little village and out toward the beach.  I saw one port a potty set up but I was good and kept on going plus I know at this point it was a portion of the course that went out and back.  I also felt pretty strong since I had not yet seen the leaders coming back yet.  Eventually I saw the leaders and they looked strong.  I love to see the grace in their stride and how easy it looks for them.  I often wonder if they see me and think what a disaster that guy is.  I doubt they do I am sure they are in the zone.  I was approaching another aide station and it was the guys and girls from my local running store.  I needed to see them there and hear them say my name.  I hope they know how much they helped me out and kept me focused and on task.  I passed them and I made a left running passed a group that had been passing me and I had been passing them back and forth for a couple miles.  We ran through the neighbor hood and back out the path passed the porta potty (which I still didn’t need) and out to the turn around point.  It seemed like forever to get there and I knew it couldn’t be that far away but I seemed like it should be just around the corner and it wasn’t.  Then I saw the leaders again they were on the way back to the finish.  Then more runners were coming back I knew I had almost reached the turn around point.

At mile 6 or 7  I could tell my form was falling apart and I was leaning forward. So I heard myself say exactly what I tell my kids at CC practice (listen to your body and relax). I took a moment and listened. I stood up straight, got control of my breathing, leaned from my ankles, dropped and relaxed my shoulders and I did great the next 2 miles on a flat part of the course. By mile 9 my shoulders began to hurt from being so tense before and I spent the next mile trying to relax them.  At mile 10 a friend of mine road by on his buke and he gave me some tips on how to relax my shoulders.  He helped me out a bit and said guess what?  I said what he said “less than 3 miles to go.”  At mile 10.25 I started the climb back up to the finish. I was still doing well on time but I knew I was slowing down climbing back up the hill. It seemed to go on forever.  I had been out on the course for a long time at this point.  I thought about how the winners were already done. I thought if we would have started an hour earlier I would be done and I don’t know what else I thought about.  But at the end I wanted to finish strong and I thought about my daughter.  I thought about how she has recovered from a knee injury and is running again.  It made me think about all the kids I coach and how I won’t let them quit and how I tell them it is on their heads.  That they are strong enough to do it.  On mile 13 things began to fall apart. My quads were exhausted from that last big climb.  I saw a friend who had gotten ahead of me on the course.  I had been trying to catch him for a couple miles.  It seemed as though the hill had taken a toll on him too.  I passed a spectator holding her baby and she was saying I think I can, I think I can, I smiled at her and said thank you.  It was nice to hear that little mantra.  My friend had slowed to a walk by the time I caught up to him.  I took this as an opportunity to walk for a few seconds and make sure he was feeling okay.

He was fine so I started my final jog. I knew where we were on the course and I guessed I had about 5-7 more minutes left when I heard a familiar voice behind me yell “lead us in Josh!”  I tried my best but those two women over took me in the last quarter mile.  That’s when it hit me a quarter mile to go I got a cramp in my quad and I tried to rub it out but I couldn’t and I had to stop and stretch for a few seconds to power up the final hill The finish looked so close and I looked at my watch.  I was so close to reaching my goal and finishing under 2:20.  I saw Jordan’s Orange track coat and she was holding a sign.  Cindy was there next to her with a sign as well.  Jordan’s sign read touch here for power and Cindy’s sign said 2 legit 2 quit!  I listened to the crowd cheer me on and I heard the announcer call my number.  As I jogged through the finish lines I had friends there who took my picture.  I grabbed my water and received my medal and I felt accomplished.  Jordan and Cindy came up and gave me hugs and kisses.  What a great way to finish a race.

I’m sore today but this weekend I am getting new shoes and I will be doing my next Half Marathon in 3-4 weeks.  Cindy will run this next one with me and Jordan still isn’t recovered enough to go that distance but she is already planning on what new signs to make for the run.  She really enjoyed inspiring be people to finish.  I love that fit ness and athletics is an important part of my life my daughters life and my girl friends life.  Everything in my life is not back in place yet but it is well on its way.

after

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Why?

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I originally started writing this blog at the suggestion of a friend.  Deep down I thought she was crazy but I decided to give it a try.  I have grown to enjoy it.  It helps me think things through.  I don’t always come up with the answers I am looking for.  

I started running again because I saw a picture of myself and I realized I didn’t like what I saw.  I started reading about health and fitness.  Then I read more about the foods we eat.  When I lived in England and Turkey the food seemed fresher.  I am sure it was.  We ate seasonal fruits and vegetables that were not imported from the rest of the world.  Now, I prefer to eat organic foods preferably those that are locally grown.  

One thing I have always known but it was really confirmed when I started spending more time over seas is that I am fortunate to have been born in the Country that I was.  When we lived in Turkey we used to joke about being a Turkish millionaire because the Turkish Lira had yet to been re valued.  For example 1,000,000 Turkish Lira was equivalent to about .60 cents U.S.  As an American I didn’t realize just how fortunate I was.  While living in Turkey I ran but only around the local community and never really ventured out.  What an opportunity missed!  However, my Crohn’s disease was very active at that point and I was yet to be diagnosed.  All I knew was that I had to be aware of all the bathroom facilities.  I did get to travel around the country and see some amazing things and it was also at this time that Jordan showed (she was 2-4yrs old) me what an amazing athlete she was going to grow to be.  It was also at this time that I first learned of cross fit.  

We moved back to the States after 2 years and I focused more and more on fitness over the next 2.5 years.  I realized it helped me with stress and I also enjoyed the challenge. I loved cycling and swimming and while I was running a lot I didn’t enjoy it.  Probably because I had so many i.t. band problems.  I would run and work up to 6 miles and then irritate my legs.  Then it took me months to rehab and I would do it again.  It was a cycle I couldn’t seem to break.  I started doing more cycling, swimming and cross fit.  I was still running just not quite the distance that I had hoped for.

When I moved to England I stayed active and continued doing Cross fit exercises.  I also started cycling more. it was amazing riding through England.  I loved riding the village streets and roughing the cobble stone roads.  It was tough on my but it was worth it.  I cycled past pubs, churches, and castles.  Up and down hills through rolling farmlands.  I continued to swim but the dollar was weak and the British Pound was strong and it cost me about $10 every time I went swimming.  So I would swim a lot when I went to the pool. I figured if I was paying ten bucks I wanted to get my monies worth.  When I was living in England I was diagnosed with Crohn’s had my surgery and was medically retired.  

After that I moved back to the states and specifically to NE.  The gym there was amazing!  I guess it has to be when you live in such a cold state.  I loved going to work and heading to the gym on freezing cold winter nights.  The gym had weights, an indoor track (3 laps was one mile), a pool, in door soccer field, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and racquetball courts.  I think you get the idea. The gym was awesome!  It was somewhere between England and Nebraska where I developed my love affair with fitness.  

My family life had been in distress for several years at this point and the gym was an escape.  I would breakdown emotionally running laps in that gym.  Going to the gym was spiritual for me.  I made it through the Nebraska winters and started running on some of the best trails I have ever run.  Nebraska’s slogan is “The Good Life”.  I’d gladly go back to the greater Omaha area.  I feel as though it is one of the United States best kept secrets.  But all good things come to end (eventually) and we had to move again. 

I found myself in Florida where I know live.  I took advantage of the warm weather and kept running.  I only had a few great runs.  Most of my runs felt forced.  I felt like I had to do it.  I didn’t want to do it.  After some time went by I ended up moving to my apartment.  It was a long time coming but my fitness fell by the side.  I was working out but not hard and not loving it.  I did enjoy spin class but it wasn’t giving me the change I needed.  

This brings us to December 2012 Jordan and I went to the track and started slow.  We increased our mileage every week by 10%.  I started going to an unorganized/organized (does that make sense?) run leaving from our local running store.  I am not always out going and I would go to the run see some faces and leave.  Now I have a few friends or at least people I chat with every Tuesday night.   Jordan and I also started doing 5k runs and I think more people know her than me (she wins and I just finish).  We have made friends and made our selves more and more healthy.  We eat better (no more fast food), enjoy the out doors and inspire each other to push farther and faster.

In one week I will run my first half marathon.  I am nervous and excited and proud of myself.  I feel as though I have come a long way.  Especially for just one year of serious running.  Now I don’t know if I will be the lion or the gazelle on Sunday.  But I guarantee I’ll wake up running

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Long run Sundays

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This weekend fast approached me with the knowledge that I had a long run to do on Sunday.  I was planning on going 12 miles.  To some 12 miles sounds crazy far and to others it seems like a warm up.  I was indifferent.  I don’t know why but I just wasn’t sure how I felt about it.  I just knew I was scheduled to do it. And, I was going to have to dig deep for some mental toughness.

I made all the right preperations. I made sure I was hydrated and well rested and went to bed early Saturday night.  I had a peaceful nights sleep and I woke up at 5:00am.  I felt great and ready to go.  I should have just gotten up and did it then.  However, my plan was to leave at 6:00am and I wanted to stick to my plan.  An hour passed and I was on the road and on schedule with my running partner.  She was going 8 miles today so I knew I would have to dig deep and  find my strong all on my own.  As we headed out it was peaceful.  Just like I like it.  Quiet, cloudy, cool and still dark.  I love heading out before the rest of the runners while the world still sleeps. One of my favorite things is coming home they are just leaving.  It makes me feel like they look at me and know my struggles and sacrifices when they see me on the way back.  The first few miles went well with a light mist to keep us cool. I made my usually 3 mile stop at Whataburger and used the restroom (the joys of being an athlete with Crohn’s disease).  I don’t think the manager there likes me much cause I never buy anything and I just use his restroom.  But I guess he should be grateful I am not going in his bushes. By the time I walked out CIndy had caught up.  She was waiting on me cause she didn’t know her whole route.  Little did she know she was just minutes from her turn around point.  We ran a little longer together and parted ways.  It was an ideal place to split since I didn’t know the neighborhood well and I wasn’t bored easily since I had new scenery to look at.  This is the point though where not many people realize the loneliness of the endurance athlete.  Before I knew it I was back on familiar ground and running through the down town area. The streets were empty and the rain had been getting progressively stronger. I didn’t think I’d see anyone but I saw about 4 homeless people walking from the shelter.  It made me feel guilty that I chose to be out in this weather and they were forced out into it.  I wanted to run over to them and take them all to breakfast but I just don’t have the ability to do that these days.  Maybe one day my dream of being a philanthropist will come true.  Until then I guess I’ll just have to do my daily good deed.  I eventually made my way back North (back home) and in my mind my run got easier. I knew I was finishing this up.  I finally got into “the zone” at about mile 6 and I was just jogging up the road at a nice steady pace.  Finally not thinking, I was just going.  I didn’t even notice the rain anymore.  I was where I wanted and needed to be until I was almost hit by a car.  I am not mad about it at all.  This was my fault instead of paying attention I was just zoned out and ran across the intersection.  The driver of the car was happy to tell me I should have stopped (not very nicely I may add).  I turned around and thanked him and told him he was right and said something to the effect of thanks for looking out for me or reminding me to pay attention.  He was shocked. I think he was ready for a confrontation.  I just kept on going hoping to get back in my easy stride.  At 8 miles I stopped at a convenience store and bought a water and I realized I was totally soaked.  I don’t know if it was the rain or sweat.  I left the store and I knew I only had about 3 – 4 miles left.  The run was going as planned but I was a few minutes behind pace.  I didn’t let it bother me.  Probably because I didn’t know my exact distance.  Eventually I saw Cindy around mile 9ish and she had a Gatorade for me.  It was great having a support wagon set up.  She was stopped by a donut place and it smelled heavenly.  As I left her to finish the run she asked if I wanted a donut. I said no and kept on going.  The problem was I did want a donut! and now all I could think of was chocolate glazed donuts.  For the next mile I turned into Homer Simpson.  I may have even said mmmmm donuts a few times out loud.  I made a few more turns and I was in the final stretch soaked and starving.  I was glad to finish the run and I felt accomplished but it wasn’t the run I had hoped for.

So many times my runs relieve me of stress and I feel as though I had a cathartic moment out on the roads.  Sunday’s run was physically demanding and mentally challenging for me.  I had to dig deep and motivate myself through it but I hadn’t felt as though I had grown or changed any.  This week I will begin my taper for my upcoming half marathon so I will stick to my training plan and do my best to succeed and remain positive. I really want this whole experience to be a positive one for me.  I know in a couple weeks I will be running with a crowd but the herd will thin and it will be up to me to perform on my own.  The fact is even when I run with someone I still run alone.

 

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Saturdays are race days

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I ran The Man Up 10K race this weekend and I was really disappointed in the whole experience.  Sadly, the run was so bad I am having trouble finding motivation to run today for fear that I will feel awful out there again.  

Let me tell you the story.  The middle school Cross Country team that I coach competed on Wednesday.  The kids did well.  The Boys team came in 2nd place and the girl’s team got disqualified because one of our girls dropped out midway through the race.  However, one of our 7th grade girls won the whole girls side.  I left feeling good about the entire team.  Thursday was a rest day for the kids and I was comparing their times to the previous weeks. I noticed they had all run strong but some of my weakest runners set Personal Best times and some of my strongest runners finished slower than they are capable of.  I felt like I had failed those kids.  Maybe I didn’t train them right.  Maybe I didn’t motivate them.  What ever it was I knew a change was needed.  Friday is usually our long run day but I needed to mix it up so we did speed work instead. I tried to do speed work as races so it was fun but still a challenge.  I noticed a lot of the strong kids still were not pushing hard.  We had plenty of time left so we did an Indian run.  Indian runs are always a killer.  The pace was too slow for me and I knew it was going to make me sore.

Saturday morning came and as I awoke I was psyched it was race day for me!  I hopped out of bed and I was so sore.  That slow pace had caught up to me. I tried to stretch and jog out the soreness but it just wasn’t working I was tense and tight and to make matters worse I could feel my Crohn’s disease starting to niggle itself awake.  That familiar uneasiness in my gut…I was a bit concerned as I ate my pre race banana.  I didn’t want a bathroom emergency along the route.  The start of the race was unorganized and that frustrated me. I am pretty laid back but for some events I need discipline and order.  I also hate tardiness and it appeared this race was going to start late by a minute or two.  You would think a minute or two is no big deal but it is hot in Florida (even in the morning).  

The horn sounded and the race began. I started my GPS timer and my watch timer and began what I thought would be an incredible easy (although boring) 10K.  As I approached the first mile marker I knew something was wrong.  I was really stiff and jogging slow. And according to the marker I just passed I had covered 1 mile already.  I thought to myself this couldn’t be right.  The course was crowded with 5k runners and 10k runners.  At the one mile mark there was a water station but no bathroom.  I wondered if that was a bad sign but I kept on going.  I could see the 5K turn around point.  There was a truck there playing loud music and an aid station.  The 5k leaders were just making the turn and I thought to myself “hmm, I may just be running faster than I thought if I am up with the 5k leaders.”  I also thought to myself it would be great if the organizers had arranged for entertainment along the route for the 10k runners.  Anyway, let me get back to my race report.  As we passed the 5k turn around point the course got quiet and the herd had thinned out considerably. I was no longer weaving in and out of running traffic and all I could hear were my footsteps and my breathing.  My breathing was easy and my pace was beginning to increase as I saw a runner ahead of me and I decided to pick him off. He was an easy target and I wondered how he got ahead of me either way he was behind me now and I saw my next victim.  She was a bit harder to catch but I just maintained my pace and reeled her in.  We chatted for a bit and she told me how she is inspired by people with chronic diseases that run and so she decided that she would start running.  I wasn’t going to tell her I had Crohn’s but she asked me if I knew any athletes with a chronic disease.  So I told her a little bit of my story.  Her watched beeped and she said she had to walk wished me good luck and I was on my way never to see her again. I approached the two-mile mark and barely noticed it because I was focused on my next victim. Or should I say victims? I saw 3 runners ahead of me.  One single woman and a couple (man and a woman) running side by side wearing headphones.  I was still stiff but I could feel the stiffness going away.  I knew I was going to have to work to catch these three ahead of me but I was confident I would.  I zeroed in on the couple.  I blew by them in a breeze. They didn’t even look at me, or each other.  They were just trying to get through this race and deal with the heat. I don’t think they realized I was racing them (heck, I don’t think many people realize I am racing them…but I am).  As I was approaching the lone woman she veered of course and I heard her ask a guy if she could use his bathroom.  Oh, that brought me back to reality fast.  It reminded me of my uneasiness that I felt earlier this morning.  I was almost 3 miles out and not port a potty in sight.  I could see the aide station and the three-mile marker ahead.  Two girls dressed like the Mario brothers were ahead of me.  I thought, “Are you freaking kidding me?  No way can you let these two beat you.” I grabbed a cup of water took a sip and dumped the rest down my neck and back to try and cool down (it didn’t work it just made my shirt wet).  I passed “Mario and Luigi” one girl tried to keep up with me but all of a sudden I felt loose and strong. I extended my stride and I extended my lead on her.  

I knew there would be no crowd support on this race and it often makes me think that not many people know the loneliness of the long distance runner.  I know the 10K isn’t a very long distance but to me it is where distance running begins.  It prepares you for the solitude and the challenge against yourself.  I always learn something about myself on long runs.  Sometimes I have an amazing revelation and other times I am just impressed with my ability to not quit.  Maybe that is why a 10 mile bike ride never seems good enough. It has to be at least 25 miles before I begin to say it was a good ride.  It’s the same thing with running.  I used to have a time when I said I ran 1 mile!  Now I say I only ran 6.  I love Man vs. Himself challenges. It is easy to go against another but to go out against yourself is hard. Challenging myself to greater mental and physical acts is fantastic.  

I got off track there.  Let’s get back to the run.  I saw 2 men ahead of me they weren’t that far ahead of me but they were running just as fast as me.  I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to catch them.  I did just that. I ran a bit faster so I could tell I was gaining I started concentrating more on my breathing. I wanted to ensure I used my oxygen wisely.  I took deep breaths in through my nose and forced my air out through my mouth. I thought your body is the machine.  Make it do what it is capable of.  I did just that. I ran passed the first man.  He was on the left.  The man on the right realized we were racing and so did the guy I just passed. They both picked up their pace.  The man I had just passed followed behind me as we passed the second man.  My inner voice yelled “What?  Are you pacing of me dude?  Do not guide this guy all the way in only to let him pass you at the finish.”  I picked it up and he fell off I knew he couldn’t keep up I heard him breathing too hard. I saw I had three more victims in front of me.  We had just passed mile four and I knew what I had to do. The next girl was easy. I knew she would be.  I saw her ahead of me and I remembered her from earlier.  When I saw her I thought she went out to fast and was now run/walking.  I took her with ease.  Heck, I even said hello as I passed her.  Ahhh, some times it’s to easy.  There she was ahead of me. A strong runner, she was standing tall and taking long even strides.  Her form looked strong which made me realize mine probably looked like crap and to get back to work.  I chased her down and passed her about 100 meters before five-mile marker.  We passed each other back and forth battling for the next mile all the while reeling in our last victim together.  We didn’t speak a word but I knew she was struggling to keep up.  She fell behind and I was disappointed I was going to have to get this guy on my own. I had no one to help push me to victory.  We passed the six-mile marker the last man in front of me was not slowing down. He had better prepared himself for this event.  I saw his bright orange shirt make the last turn I still tried to catch him but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I had made my initial move to late.   I chased him down the final stretch and I saw him cross the finish line. I forgot about him and enjoyed the moment. I listened to the crowd encouraging me to finish. I smiled at a few friends and I saw my Father, girlfriend and daughter all waiting for me and smiling at me.  

I finished the run in officially 55:45 (although I disagree with the official time) and I came in fourth in my age group (I disagree with that as well I think I should have placed third). My split times all got faster at every mile marker and I ran the pace I wanted to for my upcoming half marathon.  So, All in all while I didn’t love the race I think it was a success.  Oh yeah, and most importantly My Crohn’s decided to leave me alone for that 55 minutes and I didn’t have to bang on some strangers door and ask a stranger if I could use the bathroom.

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It all started in 1985

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The more I think of it the more I realize that 1985 was the start of a significant time of my life.  I was 12 years old that summer, about to become a teenager, living in Lancaster PA and on the verge of a whole new chapter of my life.  I didn’t know then but the best was yet to come.  

That summer before the start of seventh grade I bought my first road bicycle.  That was before anyone much less the Pros wore helmets.  She was a gunmetal grey Schwinn Super Le Tour.  Heck, I didn’t even know how to pump the tires.  I did know a few things though, I knew it was a 12 speed, that it had the thinnest tires I had ever seen and I was easily just as fast and definitely stronger in the hills than Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault.  I rode my bike all summer then school started and other more important things like girls distracted me.  That school year was the 85/86 time frame and I got my first kiss from Erica in the movie “Spies Like Us.”  Erica was a a huge distraction to my career goal of becoming a professional cyclist.  Luckily (at the time I didn’t feel so lucky) we moved to Chester county.  Still in Pennsylvania to a blip on the map called Embreeville.  Embreeville was about 1 hour from Philadelphia but it was far from being the “burbs”.  It was horse country out there.  With a lot of rolling hills and a lot of country roads.  I didn’t then realize the paradise it was. Especially for a cyclist and runner.    

The summer of 1986 we took a trip to see family in Belgium.  I loved going to Belgium. But, this trip was different.  The Tour de France was going on and LeMond was in the hunt.  It was a dramatic Tour that year.  Hinault had just won the tour for the 5th time and returned to defend his title.  Hinault Betrayed LeMond in the Mountains and it looked as though LeMond was going to have to wait another year as he followed team directions to stay with the Peloton in the Pyrenees.  The next day the betrayal was evident and LeMond used his anger to fuel his pedals.  He won the toughest stage of the mountains and was only 40 seconds behind.  It took some chasing and by stage 17 LeMond had the yellow Jersey. LeMond (as most of us know) made history that summer and was the first American to win the Tour.

I came back with my first real pair of cycling shorts three jerseys and reinvigorated.  My walls were plastered with pictures of cyclists and girls ( I was 13 after all ).  I rode almost every day that summer.  My legs grew strong as I got used to riding what seemed liked mountains to me.  I rode a set route almost everyday.  I would turn right out my driveway strap my feet into the cages and bunny hop my bike over the train tracks I didn’t have time to slow down (and it seemed so much cooler).  I rode out past Kevin’s old house on the left, through the intersection and out past the state police.  There was a long gradual hill I would climb.  I can still see the open field to the left and the woods on the right. At the peak of that hill I shifted to the big ring and pedaled hard and fast eventually getting into my most aerodynamic tuck and flying down the hill.  I didn’t have a computer on my bike so there is no telling how fast I was moving and I also wasn’t wearing a helmet but most importantly not a care in the world.  My only safety gear was my gloves and I wasn’t concerned about it.  At the base of the road was a stop sign with a sharp turn to the left.  I made the sharp turn to climb the biggest hill in the Eastern PA (maybe not really but to me it was).  I drove my legs pushing and pulling my muscles my feet strapped in making me part of the machine.  I was mentally preparing to beat LeMond up that mountain.  The first time I attempted to conquer that hill it was rough and it was heartbreaking that I couldn’t grind my way to the top.  But after a few tries I conquered it. I would follow that road passed the state police barracks to Stargazer road and ride down winding my way through the curves.  The trees formed a tunnel and the temperature dropped. I felt as though I was descending the Alpe d’Huez. At the base of the Stargazer road I turned right passed Kevin’s house and made it home.  Usually, as I approached the rail road tracks I was too tired to bunny hop them ( but every now and then I would ).  I would always end my ride victorious and feeling great.

As the summer ended so did the cycling season for me.  School started and my usual weakness (girls) got me again.  I rode a bit the following summer but not as often as I would have liked and not with the fury I did before.  Next thing you know high school had begun and my world was different. My family had changed and I had changed.  I rebelled and I chose different friends and I had different priorities.  I don’t know what I was rebelling against but I guess I was finding my way as a young man.  Life became difficult for me. I guess I made a lot of bad choices.  But, I always say it is better to make bad choices at 15 than it is at 30 or in my case now 39.   

Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school and some crazy admissions counselor thought it would be a good idea to let me into college.  I was a lost soul in college.  Some people would say to me don’t worry you’ll figure out what you want to do.  You will settle on a major. Yada, yada, yada.  I hate to say it but I thought that was lousy advice.  Cause I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to party and meet girls. It was the one thing that was easy, fun, and seemed to come naturally to me.  Anyway, I picked a major (Park and recreation Management) got a job took out A LOT of student loans and used grants to pay for college.   When I was first in college I worked at the gym as a fitness instructor. I loved it.  The best thing about working in a gym is positive peer pressure.  However, there was more money (and more girls to be met) working at the bar (bad decision).  Do you remember the movie “Animal House”?  John Belushi was brother Bluto.  That was me I even had a sweatshirt that read COLLEGE.  There is a scene where Dean Wermer is berating the Deltas and he says to brother Bluto “fat drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son.”  I needed that advice.  Through some mystery I graduate in four years.

I still didn’t know what I wanted to do so I got accepted to Graduate school (must have been the same crazy admissions counselor) and I majored in Geography and Regional Planning.  I was also a Graduate assistant so I got free tuition but still had to pay for rent and food so I need more student loans and more grants.  I took a full load (12 credits) my first semester and I did really well.  I believe my GPA was a 3.8 and I got accepted as a master’s degree candidate.  That second Semester of Graduate school my Professor sent all our assignments to us via email. None of us knew what it was or how to use it.  So, we all had to go to the computer lab and learn how to send each other email.  I distinctly remember looking at the guy next to me and saying this is the stupidest thing ever.  This is never going to catch on!  That comment was some foreshadowing for me. If you didn’t guess it I didn’t do as well my second semester but I was still passing. However, I realized I didn’t want to do any more school (bad choice coming here) and that I needed a break.  I wanted to work and planned to come back and finish.  I never finished my graduate degree.    

I got a great entry level sales job (I didn’t realize how good) and I was doing pretty well. So I jumped from company to company always looking for something more. But, I didn’t know what it was. I knew I wanted a job that made a difference and I thought who cares who sells you pesticides or industrial hoses or cars or phone service etc…I eventually joined the Air Force and I loved it. I felt a natural ease with it.   I knew my job made a difference.  

Fitness once agin became a priority in my life and I started running again.  Then running and swimming, then running, swimming, cycling and lifting weights.  At the same time I was pretty sick and undiagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  It took the Air Force about 8 years to diagnose me.  When I had surgery the Dr. wanted me to take 2 months to recover but I recovered in about 2 weeks and he said it was no doubt because I was so fit.     

The problem with the military is it is a business centered around the idea that we are prepared to deliver violence against those that would do us harm.  Well when you have Crohn’s disease you are no longer considered a capable member of that team.  I was notified that I was being medically retired and I had one month to find a job, a home and get out of the Air Force.  Well, luckily I got a job. Unluckily for me it was as a civilian with the Department of Defense.

My Crohn’s disease went mainly into remission with the occasional minor flare up. But my job was horrible and it was making me feel worse and worse.  It was still a violent job just a differnt kind of violence and I took some drastic action based on the recommendations of my Dr. and I am hopeful things will work out for the best. I know I am done with violence in my life but it is stressful not knowing what’s next.  

Lately my Crohn’s has been flaring more and more.  I still try to exercise to deal with stress and limit the effects of my disease but it doesn’t always work.  My Iron is low and so is my B-12. I am very tired most days and some days exhausted but I do my best to hide it. When I run I always have to stop and poop, some times more than once and sometimes more than twice.  I get a lot of comments that I am too skinny or that I don’t eat enough.  

The fact is eating isn’t fun for me.  I don’t eat a wide variety of foods anymore because a lot of foods       (most that I like) make me very sick.  I get tired of hearing why don’t you try something new? You always get the same thing.  

And, the worst part of it all is just when I think I have my Crohn’s disease figured out, my stress under control, my diet planned I get some mysterious flare up.  My health suffers, my joints hurt, I get depressed I spend the majority of my day in bathrooms. It just isn’t pleasant.  Then it gets worse the Dr. experiments with a new medicine on me or wants to scope me.  The Dr.’s and the scopes are all the same.  They never see anything.  Because the scope doesn’t reach far enough into my small intestine to see where my crohn’s is. This is where I am now.  Flaring…Again.  

The one thing I keep coming back to is fitness, coaching, and recreation.  Maybe I did get the right degree after all.  I love challenging myself physically, and helping others reach their goals.  Right now I’m training to run a half marathon.  I want to set the example for my daughter. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of anything I want to achieve.  For me there is no greater feeling than guiding a group of people (kids or adults) to victory.  Training them from day one and giving them the tools they need to succeed.  Showing them that they are capable if they work for it.  Now, if I can just find a way to get paid for it.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and that same college admissions counselor who was crazy enough to let me into college and graduate school will give me another great opportunity.

In the movie Dodge Ball Lance Armstrong said: 

“You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?”

I may not have beaten Greg Lemond or Lance Armstrong but I am no quitter.  I won’t quit cause I am tired I’ll quit when I am done! 

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The Gift

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I have read and heard people say over and over “whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”.  I don’t know if I believe that.  But, I can say for sure whatever doesn’t kill you will leave you with a scar.  How you decide to deal with that scar is up to you.

I have a lot of scars.  Physical scars and emotional scars.  Here is a breakdown of just some of my physical scars.  The more obvious ones are as follows:

I have a scar on my forehead from chicken pox when I was a kid. A scar over my eye from a fight I got in when I was in high school. A bunch of scars on my legs and arms from running through the woods and building barb wire fences. I also have a significant scar on my stomach from surgery when I had one meter of my small intestine removed thanks to my Crohn’s disease. Oh yeah, I also lost a front tooth form a stupid night out when I was in college.

My emotional scars run deep.  They are hard for me to list but I will do my best.  Ready? Lets start the list:

I have emotional scars from being a fat kid who was lonely and sad.  I was very introverted and painfully insecure. I was always told I was smart but still to this day I don’t think I am that bright.  Boys are supposed to love sports but as a kid group sports didn’t come easy to me.  This is probably why I gravitated to individual sports like cycling, swimming and running.  I still played team sports but I never loved them and to this day I still don’t.  I remember playing goalie in soccer cause I was the fat kid and in the late 70s and early 80s that is where the fat kid went.  As I got older I got fit and I learned my way and started to focus on girls.  Girls were tough to learn about as a young man.  I got my heart broken a few times and then I got cold hearted promising myself to do the heartbreaking and not get heart broken again.  I probably missed out on a lot of great opportunities because of this attitude.

I remember I went to college cause I didn’t want to work and I didn’t want to join the military. little did I know at the time that the military is work! College was fun (as it should be). But, I was there with out direction.  I bounced from major to major class to class from girl to girl and party to party.  Eventually I picked a major for probably for the worst reasons ever.  I picked my major because I only needed to take one math class (about 15 years later I took college algebra and loved it) and at that time I loathed all forms of mathematics.  As it turns out I did pick a great major for me but sadly I have yet to ever use my degree.  I would love to get a recreation management job but right now I settle for coaching all sorts of sports.  When I was in college I made some incredible friends who I miss dearly.  I even met the woman I ended up marrying and having a great child with.  But as with all things in my life college ended, I lost touch with friends and my marriage fell to pieces. However, (thankfully) my daughter is still in my life and we have a great relationship.

During that time after college I worked various sales jobs but settled with a military career.  The Air Force moved me all over the world and gave me a hand full of all expenses paid trips to horrible places.  I was in the Air Force for 8 years when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  After my diagnosis I had a meter of my small intestine removed and I was retired from the Air Force.  I got a job with the DoD and I was doing pretty well when I settled in Florida.  The bad news was my job was awful and upon recommendation from my Dr. I quit my job and todayI find myself at a precipice.

Now I sit back and I think to myself where do I go? What should I do?  The answers are obvious…  I move onward and upward.  I take the road less traveled.  I don’t know if I am stronger but life has not ended.

I am now taking the time to think what do I want to do with my life? I have Jordan in my life and I don’t waste our time together. I have a new girlfriend who I try to always have fun with.  Instead of having a midlife crisis and buying a Porsche (which I almost did a few months ago). I do volunteer work, I challenge myself physically. I go on long runs and I go on short runs.  The one thing all my runs have in common are that they are slow.  I just don’t have the gift of speed.  Today I went 4 miles and it was painful for me. I didn’t have energy and I was breathing hard my muscles were straining and I felt weak.  I could tell my Iron and B-12 were low (thanks Crohn’s disease) as usual.  But I used that as an excuse tonight to get a Big juicy burger.  I have a goal of completing a half marathon in a about 1 month and 2 days.  I just hope I feel better than I did today. Even if I don’t feel better I refuse to quit and I’ll walk it if I have to. My runs make me feel better (even when I struggle) about myself.  They remind me that my disease has not beaten me.

I have a great friend (alice) and she motivates me. I am inspired by her running.  One day she mentioned that she was nursing a running injury and she told me to run an extra mile for her.  Every time I struggle I remind myself that plenty of people are not capable of running and I should go a little harder or a little further for them.

Everyday I wake up with sore muscles It reminds me I am alive and that I refused to waste the gift.

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a baptismal running in the rain.

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Friday night I went to bed with the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Saturday I woke up prepared to run it off.  It was warm and muggy.  My goal today was 8 miles.  I ate a banana grabbed some energy beans and my head phones just incase and I stepped out the door. At the last minute I decided to change my route. As I reached the 1.25 mile mark it was get dark and scary to the South.  So, in my wisdom I went North determined I would out run the storm. 

That plan however was flawed and did not work out.  At mile 1.5 the heavens opened up and the driving rain began (i’m talking cats sleeping with dogs. It was anarchy) and did not quit.  The roads were flooding but I pressed on.  Instead of hearing my feet against the gravel I heard the puddles splash with every step.  And I loved it! I also loved the looks people gave me as they drove passed me.  It gives me some sort of satisfaction when people look at me and question my sanity.  I love the “suck”.  

This rain Saturday morning was different than other rains.  This rain was cleansing me. It was a baptism, I was being purified. I felt as though I was trying to wash away my sins and pay my debts.  I was reborn. My inner strength renewed and allowed me to drive on.  

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The only other people I saw were fellow runners.  Even the roads had barely any traffic. by mile 5 I was right on track and reaching a gradual downhill slope.  I try to never walk down hill.  I feel like gravity is helping me and I stride out and enjoy the speed.  But today was different I had a plan to follow.  I needed to eat some of my magic energy beans (watermelon flavored) so I can get used to eating on my runs get longer.  I was prepared to pull out my head phones to help motivate me on the way back.  but I decided I didn’t need them.   My run was too easy. By the time I finished my beans I knew I was over half way and I felt strong.  At 6.5 miles the rain finally stopped in an instant like someone shut of the valve.  It was odd and the sun began to shine.  The skies were clearing just like my mind was.

I was soaked and so was my shirt.  I couldn’t handle the weight and my nipples couldn’t handle the chaffing.  So I took my shirt of and continued my run back to the start to complete my 8 miles. All in all I went 8.2 miles at a pretty leisurely pace.   But, I enjoyed the run. I know I’ll never break any speed records but I do enjoy the distance. I am not in it for the quick win.

My life hasn’t always been peaceful and the one thing about running for me is the peace it provides me. When I run the world around me is different.  I don’t worry about politics, wars, money, work, bills, the cost of gas any of that stuff.  Well at least I don’t worry about it after the first mile.  Heck, who I am I kidding. I don’t remember anything I think of when I run.  I do know that I battle my inner demons when I am out there.  

One day I will conquer my demons. I’ll remember the things I have forgotten and move ahead. I’ll be forgiven and I’ll forgive myself.

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