Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Life Less Ordinary



All I ever wanted was to lead a life less ordinary and running took me there.

Realizing that a comeback is highly unlikely due to medical concerns, it is time to admit that my competitive running career is over. Having not raced a marathon since December 2016, I was able to qualify for Boston in my last competitive effort. But that was a long time ago.

Some people say that going out on top is the goal of every athlete. It’s just that I wasn’t ready to hang it up when that time came, and I struggled for a long time once it was gone. I felt like less of a person because I could no longer do, what I was could do. When you are vastly known for being successful at something, the second it is gone you just don’t feel like yourself and the depression quickly ensues.

But after much introspection, I have come to be grateful that I was able to do it in the first place. Which is maybe why it has taken me so long to actually write these words and admit to myself that it’s over.

And if I can't be great at it, then I don't want to ruin it. It’s too important to me.”

Racing at a highly competitive level totally changed my life; it gave me confidence as a man that I lacked in my younger days. I learned that with hard work, you can accomplish great things well beyond your abilities. Good enough was never good enough for me and I had an insatiable hunger for competition.

It’s not who is the best. It’s who can take the most pain.” - Steve Prefontaine.

I was going to push myself to breaking point and then back off ever so slightly and remain there for as long as I could. And the longest time, this meant track Tuesday, hill beat downs on Wednesday, tempo Thursday, race Saturday and long run Sunday. Then repeat to the tune of 4,000 miles a year for a decade. I was obsessed with the pursuit of my own glory.

A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.” - Steve Prefontaine.

My mantra was that I will do today what you won’t so that I can do tomorrow what you can’t.
In reality, I wasn’t doing anything super human. I was just an ordinary person in pursuit of the extraordinary. I didn’t have any special talents. But I thrived on being dismissed or overlooked and used that to fuel my passion. And so I took a small amount of talent and turned it into 82 career wins and 189 podium (top 3) finishes in 400 races.

I believe my personal crowning achievement was running sub 3 (hours) at all three US marathon majors as that is the most coveted distance for most runners. This was important to me because I was able to do it (well) on the biggest stage(s) in the country.
  • 2009 Boston: 2:56:17
  • 2011 New York 2:54:44
  • 2013 Chicago 2:49:12 (at age 38)

When I first qualified for Boston in 2007, my parents were there in Green Bay to see me cross the finish line. Then a few months later when I ran Boston for the first time, they were there again. That was something special to this only child to make his parents proud of him.

But being competitive at all distances was what I thought made me unique. Accomplishing my own success standard of going sub 3-4-5 was always my goal. This is a sub 3 hour marathon, a sub 4 hour 50km and a sub 5 minute mile which I accomplished with a slash line of 2:43/3:53/4:57.

It was in 2011 that I realized that this was not about my own glory, but about His. Which is why if you saw me winning a race, it was just like the picture above where I was pointing to the Heavens to give praise to the reason I was able to do it all. I became humble.

In the years that followed, I devoted my life to running and giving back to the running community through volunteer work. My life was running, but it brought me so much joy to pass that on to others. Even simple things that shouting encouragement to others who were finishing their race was so important to me. Giving back was the reason I served on the HTC board, as a race director and started the Rocket City Marathon Pace Team. I will never forget pacing 3:40 in the 2010 marathon helping others realize their dreams, all while I was running on dead legs having realized my own dream of 2:43:40 just six days earlier at CIM marathon in Sacramento.

Amidst the success, there was much failure along the way. There were times when I pushed too hard and my body pushed back. Maybe this was because I was always seeking greatness and I tried things that were well beyond my ability. This included the 335 mile 7 day Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run with Rob Youngren. After reaching the AL/GA state line and completing 172 miles, my body said no more as I was running on bloody stumps for feet. Some might say this was a great accomplishment. I saw it as failure. But I had tremendous respect for Rob went on to finish all 335 miles and set the standard for all who will follow.

I like to think that it was my ability to get knocked down, and immediately get back up again that made my running special. But once I was diagnosed with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, it became more and more difficult to get back up. I managed to race New York Marathon while having 3 surgeries during my training. Eventually the doctors suggested more aggressive means to keep the virus at bay, which included weekly interferon injections which in essence killed my ability to run at that level.

I didn’t want to retire. I thought that I could continue racing at that level forever. After all, I was able to finish Mountain Mist in 4:24 after tearing the meniscus in my knee. I was able to race just 8 weeks after knee surgery and win McKay Hollow Madness. I felt invincible. But I really was just human. And I don’t think it was until I was able to walk away from it, that I realized all that I have accomplished. I know that I did not appreciate it in the moment. I took it for granted.

So it is ironic that something as small as a rare virus on my vocal cords would put an end to my competitive racing career and not a devastating over use injury. And in the 2 years that followed I still felt that a comeback was possible. Look at Tiger Woods; as a fellow 43 year old, he just accomplished what no one else thought possible. I don’t have Tiger’s talent, but we both know how much hard work it takes to return to the summit once you’ve been knocked off. My body will just not allow me to push it to the limits that it once did. It is likely (though impossible to prove) that I pushed too hard, which took its toll on me and may have weakened my immune system to the point where it can’t beat this virus.

Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia

I am tremendously thankful for all that running brought me and hope that others are thankful for all that I brought to it. I tried to pass along every bit of knowledge I was bestowed with from my coaches, onto others. Pay it forward.

If I impacted just one person’s life through running, then it was all worth it. One day I hope to have the words “difference maker” etched on my tombstone.

So now my focus will be more on adventure running, thru hiking long distances. I have to say that running across the Grand Canyon and back and setting the fastest known time on the 40 mile Greenstone Ridge Trail with my Dad waiting for me at the end are some of my fondest memories. I always loved being in the woods, and slow long distance is one thing my body will allow me to do. I have always enjoyed seeing things that can only be experienced afoot and am thankful that these two feet can still carry me there.

As the tattoo on my right side reads, the less I have, the more I gain. off the beaten path I reign.

And that is where you will find me, should you happen to be looking. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Championship of the Best Power Ballad of All Time Tournament



When I first came up with the concept to determine the best power ballad of all time two years ago, I had no idea how much work this would be.  It seemed so simple!  Come up with a list, seed the entries and play it through to the end.  But to make this meaningful, it required countless hours of research listening to hundreds of songs to even come up with a list based on a criteria that I had to develop. Arriving that the 64 songs that were deemed worthy was a tremendous step forward.  

Beyond that, it was not difficult to group songs as to whether they should be 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 or 13-16 seeds.  But to comb through lyrics to figure out what the bracket names should be and which entries should be in which brackets took a weekend.  Then to make sure that artists did not have too many seeds in a single bracket was more effort.  Even once I settled on bracket, I decided to walk away from it for a few days to clear my head.  Then I came back to it and made adjustments before publishing.  

This series of blog entries has been very satisfying to write.  Just like my cereal blog, it allowed me to remember something that was meaningful from my younger years.  In the case of music, I would argue that people are most impressionable from preteen to high school graduation.  For me, the music from this era is still my jam and will be for life just like Booker T & the M G 's - Green Onions is for my dad.  This was always about the journey, no pun intended!  

CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH UP

The final match up features the #1 seed, Survivor - The Search Is Over out of the Full of Regret region against the #4 seed, 4 Chicago - Look Away, out of the Love Hurts region. 



Here is one final sound clip from each song.




If you need a reminder of how we got here, the entire tournament bracket with results are below. 



CHAMPIONSHIP HIGHLIGHTS

I am sorry Chicago.  I found someone else.  So for you, I guess it's over, baby.  It's really over baby, whoa.  But don't worry.  If we see you walking by, and the tears are in your eyes, we will just look away.

For Survivor, this was not easy outcome to determine.  Look Away put up a tough fight till I came to my senses, through some miracle of fate.  You should have known from the start.  
The Search Is Over.  How can I convince you what you see is real?  You were with me all the while as the best power ballad of all time. 

WINNER

Survivor - The Search Is Over

NEXT UP?

My next project will be to rank the 10 best John Hughes movies of all time!  Stay tuned.  

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Final 4 Results Best Power Ballad of All Time Tournament







FINAL 4 HIGHLIGHTS

And then there were 4.  The final 4.  The survivors, if you will, of a tournament to determine the best power ballad of all time.  If you have come this far, then you have no choice but to stick around until Monday when the winner will be declared.

For the first few rounds of the tournament, winners have been crowned based on many factors, including the passion of the lead singer and the memories that they may stir from a time long ago.  The lyrics have also come into play, as they literally have been part of the story telling.  But that was then.

When this tournament was envisioned, it really was about the "punch" of the love ballad.  Those few seconds of a song which after a slow, fervent build up leads into a guitar riff or drum smash climax of the chorus.  Some may call this the climax of a song, but regardless of your definition, you know it when you hear it.  So why not go by what you hear to determine the final match up?  Your wish is granted.

The committee spent hundred of hours listening to the songs in each of these match ups from beginning to end.  But when it was decision time, they focused on the following clips.  They could neither confirm nor deny if the videos played any role or were considered whatsoever in the outcomes, but when Steve Perry looks directly into the camera at the end of the Faithfully clip, they almost had a come apart.  

The results will be at the bottom of the blog, but for now, watch these short video clips to see for yourself that the outcomes are how they were meant to be.















CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH UP

1 Survivor - The Search Is Over vs. 4 Chicago - Look Away