Saturday, August 30, 2014

Running a Colorful Gap

The beauty of running and racing would start upon arriving at Pocatello in order to Run the Gap. While my stomach is always queasy before races, Idaho had me more nervous than most because well it starts at almost 6,000 feet (is that what they mean by runner's high?) and both the beauty and the fears were literally jolted as the small plane had a few bounces before the landing. It also had me my stomach because despite having done both several times, this race had both a podium I was supposed to speak from and a 26.2 mile course, both things where the start comes with worry and excitement and the finish comes with relief and happiness.

Still arriving into the land known for potatoes, I was immediately taken in by the beauty from the landing. They actually gave us some potatoes as part of the race swag and my speech opening was a challenge to the audience to figure out what we'd call lazy people since we shouldn't insult my carbing up method by calling those do nothings "couch potatoes." But just as I was settling in to my lodging, I was lucky enough to catch a gorgeous sunset... No camera, perhaps no eyes could do justice to how gorgeous it was at each moment, one of those lights that impresses you by walking in the room. It wouldn't have mattered if you were inside or laying on the grass, you felt fortunate enough to have turned around and caught some moments of this sunset.

Still, when the sun was setting, I was on the phone which it was a nice enough evening to where I just took the call outside and saw a sky full of stars. But while I had taken in so many colors during watching the star closest to my world, these seemed so black and white due to their distance. I couldn't help but absorb the thought that while those stars were in a different time or place they each had their own colors. That was the thoughts I went to bed with and slept about as well as possible...

So the next day was the expo where colorful thoughts couldn't be helped as people presented this new
recovery drink or that new sock or shoe. Between the sellers and buyers, I think every color known to man and then some invented were there in shirts, shorts, socks, shoes, eyes and personalities. I'd have meals with a few people and get to hear adventures of marathon maniac friends, a group of a dozen that regularly travel together. There was a guy who was trying to join the 50 states club Idaho was going to be number 49. Someone who was using Idaho as a way preparing for a marathon in Antartica, another one for a marathon in New York because you know Idaho is so similar to both of those. There were people who were planning on enjoying trying to take 6 and a half hours on the course, others who had been to Boston several times, others who it was their first marathon but I am not sure that there were any whose eyes didn't light up as they shared both past stories and the excitement about Saturday's race.

The Pocatello race always has various distances from the marathon down to a .2 mile race (for kids). I'd never run that distance race and while I asked if they would let me switch to it from the marathon, I couldn't talk the race director in no matter how much I argued that would be a new distance for me (I thought my most clever argument was that I was signing up for the hardest part of the marathon). When the pasta dinner finally came and I spoke, it was good to hear people laughing at some of the jokes that start it (because you know since every participant gets a sack of potatoes, if they decided to throw them that's a tough lynching) and I guess I finished just in time because they all stood up at the end but then realized I was no longer on the stage.

And so as I headed to bed before the race (and I never sleep well the night before races), I was trying to figure out how to get into the right mind frame before going to bed (when you're like me where you're missing a piece of your mind you look for the the right frame of heart). I literally asked out lout why am I doing this race, my 10th marathon? Far too often for me, there has been only one goal when lining up for a race, to get my fastest time. Each time whether I succeed or fail at the black and white goal, I finish the race exhausted. When I don't achieve it, I've often tried to find a middle gray ground comforting myself in having gotten to this many races or talking about the weather or the altitude. Sometimes you find comfort in receiving a very cool medal or making some friends along the way. But as I looked at my gear, I decided this time, rather than the black and white world, rather than the all or nothing, or trying to find some comfort in the gray, that from the start line till well after the finish, I was going to let this be a colorful experience where running, people, the scenes and the after party were going to be just as important to a good time as whatever the watch and timing chip would say at the end. The marathon is particularly tough for me it's the only distance I hadn't PR'ed in since brain surgery. Because I put off brain surgery to run a marathon once and qualified for Boston, because I'd twice won the cancer survivor division, because I'd placed in my age group and because I'd won one with the stroller, it was really tough to accept that 2.5 years it was the only distance I hadn't improved time on.

Still, the attitude of saying this isn't a black and white issue... we're going to let this marathon be colorful was quickly reaffirmed. The pacers were in the lobby when I woke up long before anyone should wearing bright pink shirts with the head pacer even having died his hair a bright pink to make themselves easier to see. Some had taken the challenge of trying to come up with colorful bottoms that stuck out... I imagine it was only the ones who wanted their bottoms looked at.

Riding the bus to the mountain top I just kept trying to stay in that color zone and decided I'd see how many colors I could take in in outfits, in flowers, in the sky cause we'd be watching the sunrise, in the different scenery. I was wearing a watch but I'd try to minimize looking at it to take in the other world outside of the run (I never once looked it except at mile markers and I didn't look at it all 26 of them). As is tradition the last colors I'd see before we'd launch off was the red, white and blue as the star spangled banner was sang.

Then we were off, the winner of the women's division of the Pocatello marathon for four years in a row had been asking people what pace they were doing before they started but we never met on time to talk before the race (she was wearing a nice turquoise shirt). Still, at about mile one because we were running practically side by side, I asked her what she was trying to do and her personal best was 3:00 at Boston and 3:02 on this course. She had just come off an injury and was worried she'd be unable to defend her title for the first time and was worried about pacing. My PR was 3:07 and I asked her if we could run it together and help pace each other for as long as possible. And somehow for the first 7 or 8 miles we were just chatting while doing a 6:45 pace, talking about her 4 kids, her husband's job and my daughter and family, about different races. Not long after we started running, she asked how old I was and I answered 34 and she volunteered that she was 32 and trying to get her to smile I said she looked young enough to be 22. She smiled and said yeah let's run more of this together. And we did it and would be together till mile 15. The conversation ceased after a while and the music finally came on and she would smile when I'd burst into various songs which seemed to pop up at some great times. The guy ahead of me would shout every time I'd sing out loud... that's good preaching brother.

At mile 15 she thought she was hurting and would slow down... I kept holding pace but it was getting harder. The first half had been downhill (1400 feet net drop over 14 miles), in cooler weather, in the shade from the mountains on each side of us. Around then there was no clouds and while I was looking for colors, I can't say the sun's light were particularly appealing at that point. Still, with the shortest time I'd ever trained for a run, I kept trying to find distractions from the black, white and gray road.. I counted how many colors people had on that were visible for a while, how many flower colors, what different shades the sunflowers had. I tried to count how many shades of green and blue were in the sky and in the mountains and how there were places you couldn't quite tell how one blended into another.

Somewhere with only a few miles to go... (it's amazing how fast those first few go and how the mile is such an incredibly inadequate distance later in the game because they keep getting longer), the IT band injury and legs started hurting and while I thought I was moving the same speed, neither the watch nor the pain
indicated that perception to be corrected. I had passed a few people since the halfway point and while not all of them would pass me, a few did including the women's winner who encouraged me to do well even as she did so. I kept trying to find at least 4th gear with the right songs but it was getting tough. Finally, at the 25 mile marker, the race director was there wearing a bright shirt in my favorite color... And somehow to my simple brain, that's the inspiration it took and while even if I'd held that dwindling pace it would likely have been a PR but I ran the last 1.2 miles at a 6:35 pace which gave me a finish of 3:04.31, 15 minutes faster than my last two marathon, my fastest marathon by a little over 3 minutes and qualifying for Boston for the second time, and for the first time at the standards they'd lowered since I had originally qualified. Let's just say that the volunteers found my shouting and singing and cheering as I cross the finish line appropriate but colorful in it's own way.

My stomach had been queasy as it often is with drugs that get in the way of enduring athletic performance. However, the vomiting didn't come till a few seconds after the finish line (while we'll leave out the details like what color it was, it came a few times). People asked if I was okay and I'm like "YEAH! I didn't throw up until after I was done, what's there to complain about?"

I would also take 3rd in my age group with certainly one of the coolest and most practical prizes I've ever received. I'd sit and talk to the women's winner while we waited for the awards. She had defended her title for 5 years straight coming in at 3:02 and we thanked each other, her saying she wouldn't have been able to hold without the company or my back to chase for a while and me thanking her for helping me to a PR, knowing she'd been incredibly helpful. She promised to invite me to her 23rd birthday party. 

I'd finished my speech the previous night saying, some of you will exceed or be disappointed by your results because of expectations but I hope that you're smiling at the finish because you kept the frame of heart that got you to run the gap. When I was done, it felt perfect that one of the coolest medals I ever got had a ribbon that said smile makers. The gray matter in my brain may have a gap but it can still perceive colors beyond black and white. The road was pretty gray but there wasn't a direction you couldn't look to take in some colors of nature and of people for a welcome and beautiful distraction. So, I'd say that today's running through that marathon and brain gap was a lively, bright experience.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Imagination and Logic

Einstein said "Logic will take you from point A to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere." It was almost something that went up on my wall but instead I chose another Einsten quote (with that said, an intelligent person who after some early morning wine felt the need to say I quote so many people and songs that I should just talk with quips and quotes and save some energy).

It doesn't take much logic or imagination to realize that the thoughts on here before events, whether they be medical or sports or speaking, have a trend to them and today's entry will be no exception. I'm getting ready to return to the Pocatello Marathon, flying out tomorrow for the 2nd time (and the 2nd marathon this year). I always feel inadequate to be the one giving out speeches or talking to cameras or reporters or phones/recorders; those are for people who have smooth skills for that. In fact, at a symposium I was at, I was asked to repeat something I had said during the Q&A section and I think that was the first (and last) time that I ever tried to talk directly to the camera and well I was horrible at it. It was put on twitter and it was heartbreaking (that's a joke) how no one favorited or retweeted it. So I've made it a point in speeches to be making eye contact with people between looking at my notes and to just be communicating with one person at a time (one time a really cute woman asked why I didn't look at her twice). There are sometimes nods to other people in speeches that make sense to everyone but others that do make sense but are honestly directed at only one person (okay let's be honest there are some references that seem oddly generic and general but that help me going back by taking me to a moment or a person who deserve so many nods that if I was actually nodding everytime I made one, I would seem like a bobblehead.)

I am humbled that Pocatello was kind enough to invite me back. I joke around that the reason I get invited to speak at events is because race organizers have heard I'm boring enough and that people need a good night's rest before a race to have optimal performance. But they were also the first race after the marathon where I spoke. I rewrite the speech each time, with some of the new experiences or thoughts that have come along the way worked in, some of the inevitable parts hopefully improved. But there have been simple things that I wonder how my logic or imagination missed them on my first descent down those opportunities. I've now started using pictures in all my talks that sit in the background. I was an "official" photographer for school publications for the better part of a decade so how did I miss that? The only reason I even started adding them was because a race specifically asked me to. I mean if you go back far enough to reading this blog, and if you don't it mentions that I went back and added pictures since all the original entries were text only. There's usually a dozen or so pictures in the speech and the audience is because if a picture is worth a thousand words,it distracts from my speeches (which are nowhere near 12,000 words long.) And I really do wonder why the invitations haven't stopped but if and when they do... well I'll be thankful and dare to dream that something I said was worthwhile.  Or at least the pictures caught their imagination.

So the speech has me nervous but it is just speaking right? But speaking from point A to point B, this is a point to point downhill marathon (downhill first half, mostly flat second half). I've never been a good downhill runner. People have thought it's because I am more hesitant on downhills since I"m used to having to pull back when running with a stroller since it wants to go faster than I could even without it (which is true, I really slow down on hills with a stroller). However, I was a bad downhill runner eveb in cross country where when racing this other student, it was questionable who was going to win and the question was usually answered if the course ended with the last hill being up or down (zero times did either of us cause an "upset" in that trend). I am nervous about the marathon because this is the least time I've ever trained for one with the triathlons and spartans I've been doing this summer. There are exactly zero races where I'm not trying to get a PR but this one has me more nervous than usual for those reasons. But if nothing else, I've done the course before and when you're descending something similar for the second time you're hoping you won't forget what your legs wouldn't quite forgive (this will be my 10th marathon but that downhill pounding last year was the most sore I've ever been after any with or without a stroller).

But I find comfort that I believe is real and not imagined,  some good things have come out of all this for people besides me and even those that I know. With the race about a week away (one week after a marathon again), the brainpower 5k team, the scarecrows, is the biggest one we've ever assembled, currently at 53 people and I hit my fundraising goal of $2500 yesterday, with the donation that put me over the top coming from none other than Linda Santos, the lady who gave me the ring of hope that if I ever leave the bachelor lifestyle I'm supposed to propose with.

I'm not 100% sure of most things; people who are quite that certain of everything there are days I am jealous and days I have condolences for people for whom the world is that clear. So even as I try to improve life, running, speeches, parenting using imagination and/or logic, I still wonder if I'm headed in the wrong direction someways. But sometimes it's trying to do things a little different that gets you closer to having a clue. For the first time ever, there's no set playlist for a road race. I've got more than enough songs and the ipod is going to be on shuffle a quiet nod that sometimes life being random within a limited range of songs.  That's dreaming that the balance of logic and emotions represented in a playlist  is not a bad thing.. There are of course things that I would have never imagined like running a marathon with a stroller and thinking you'll have a win (but then again, there was the logic of the fact that I had been running longer and longer distances with a stroller). There are differences in training that I've taken up this summer that unless I'm doing a specifically timed run I've stopped wearing a watch and have no clue as to what I was running on those days. There are people who running is their passion, who need an exact mileage including warm ups and cool downs and uploading to the internet to see how their friends are doing, to keep up the motivation that keeps them going. To each his own, but to me, it has and will always be something, like a good kiss or a good meal or a good movie, that maybe if that moment is all you get, while you'd like it to last forever, you're glad to have it that day and dare to dream that it'll be there maybe tomorrow. And so to fall in love with running again, I don't know that I've eased up (it's hard to make that argument when I've hit or come close to PR's in almost every distance since that new approach; plus with Spartan training, I am in the best upper and therefore over all best shape of my life) but I've relaxed enough to not look at a watch and love it for what it is, a natural human instinct like holding hands or wanting to be held that starts at infancy and that we want to do it more comfortably or with the right person matters but that if you ever completely reject it... maybe that's a questionable decision.

So I take my daughter to school in 2nd grade where she's now independent enough to not need to be walked to class. She picked her outfit and the girl who has done races in skirts and seen me run in them for the leukemia and lymphoma society picked out a dress. And she told me about all the things she learned from some math and reading goals to how there are two things you're never supposed to ask a lady (how old she is or if she's pregnant; if you don't understand why well... you probably should work on both your logic and imagination). But we made bracelets in our spare time for each other and each of us also made one for someone special. Logic and imagination combine so well some days.

Neither logic or imagination should always win; where the balance lies I suppose to each of us but perhaps it's a sign of my misfitted brain but putting off a marathon to run brain surgery or to run one with a stroller, or for a guy who grew up not knowing his father to be raising a princess, it's exactly logical but it takes up the best parts of imagination. There was a recent article about how raising kids in the modern age is like a quarter of a million dollars and people shared it on various social media with commentary that said more about them than about the number in my perception but let me make this as a counter logical arguement, being dead is cheaper than being alive too. I guess that's why I like quotes by guys like Einstein who would be working on the theory of relativity but also ride his bike with his tongue sticking out. My doctors are all athletes and my friends kind enough to join a team that feeds the logic and imagination of brain research while running arbitrary distances at arbitrary speeds.

Along that line, I love the drawings and art that Kiana makes from the simple to ones that I simply don't understand... I don't know if she'll ever be Einstein and whether she becomes a janitor or president or somewhere in between, I hope she does so with passion and integrity.  But speaking of not being certain, one of the songs on this playlist is being honest about wondering whether you're actually going the wrong direction ( But I think for the vast majority of us (99.9%), it's better to be moving than to be sitting wondering forever. And the guy who quotes so many authors and runs to so many songs and other people heard something that I never knew. There's even a blog entry called a soundtrack of quiet desperation that talked about why I run with music so that I'm singing rather than doing what the full quote is:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Henry David Thoreau

So with both logic and imagination,I go to speak, to run, and to sing and hope that whenever happens on this race and in life that I find a playlist or at least a song that was pleasant enough to be mine and have been sung long before then.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Launching Change

Henry David Thoreau wrote about how we must "live in the present, launch yourself on ever wave, find eternity in each moment." How to do that quite that consistently may seem over ambitious but I imagine it's no different than good nutrition, good exercise or work habits, the pattern is predictable of impressive wave riding. But every once in a while there are those moment are where you see the seed that will launch tremendous waves. I had the opportunity, no the privilege of attending what I fully believe and hope will be just that in the world of health care. A few months back, I had previously been invited to the ground breaking of the new UT Dell Medical School. There were many cool moments about that but one of the things I was most impressed by was that the dean of the medical school said there was not going to be some ceremonial breaking ground with guys wearing suits using shovels and hard hats as is often the ritual in this type of circumstances. To each his own but somehow I was impressed by that, that he acknowledged and was prepared to think differently than putting shovels and hard hats in the hands of people who most likely ever only used them for ceremonial things.

Here, not too far down the road, actually it was slightly northwest up the road at UT's famous Main building, on August 18th, 2014, I was also invited to the launching of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes ( I love Livestrong for many many reasons... the knowledge they've provided, the people they've united me with, the attitude they've helped me embraced... they're all bridges you feel safe with. They frame things differently, and not just differently but better. I've gotten to be part of their events before with the most recent one before this being a symposium back on June 12th, certainly an unforgettable day in my notebook, where they gathered people from all over to throw out ideas both from the stage and in discussion groups on patient centered care. I saw so many ideas with so much potential being discussed but potential and ideas are useless unless they are used. 

Here in my hometown of Austin, I saw two places I love joining forces and see some of those hope growing closer to reality. UT Austin is launching the first medical school that has been established in the US of A since before I was born. While the buildings and professors are set to start taking students in 2016, the concepts have been taking place for years. Within it, Livestrong is launching the cancer initiatives and pledged $50 million dollars to the Dell Medical School over 10 years taking them over the $3 billion dollar mark necessary for all this. The cancer tips Livestrong they gave me in regards to not just treatment but finances and just as importantly emotional and social things will now be part of that hospital experience with patients getting those options and advice as quickly as possible after they hear you have cancer. I know I was fortunate that a running friend connected me with them within a few days of my diagnosis... it's good to know that for future Austin patients it will be a normal part of the process not just luck that someone knows about it. 
When Kiana and I arrived at the building someone was kind enough to invite us to the front and center section of the press conference launch... (I can't say I didn't both feel unworthy and nervous of how was a 7  year old going to handle a bunch of older guys talking about many things that was above my level of comprehension much less hers. People were impressed with how well she behaved but let me just acknowledge that we were holding hands most of the time and playing a game where she had to keep track of how many times I squeezed her hand and squeeze it back that many times. It was a random amount that we got as high as up to my age, 34. I question my parenting often but if squeezing my princess hand keeps her smiling... I hope that means I'm doing something right. It was also fairly encouraging to have her ask questions about some of the things they were saying which I would answer later when we got home). There we would hear Senator Kirk Watson share about his own cancer experience, acknowledging that when he received it he got above average care and in gratefulness try to make that experience available to more and more people. I'd hear Jeff Garvey Chairman from Livestrong talk about the numbers that are impacted, the President of UT Bill Powers talk about the moment's historic authenticity of two Austin arenas that are committed locally to the University's Motto that "What starts there changes the world." The dean of the medical school Dr. Clay Johnson would talk about how they are unbound by any current rules of medical bureaucracy. There was conviction about how they intend to rewrite the playbook where they will teach their doctors that results matter more than procedures and educate them that the medical response will be more than dealing with the tumor and treat and help patients as humans who happen to have a tumor. A hero of mine, Doug Ulman, three time cancer survivor talked about the things that Livestrong has done for so many outside of the hospital experience and how Livestrong intends to and will be a part of it. If, no when this succeeds, well it will be one more methods in which example leads the way. 

Three of survivors were highlighted in a video presented in the conference (or five if you include our kids, Kiana and I were among them). Ceremonies are important and the public statements gave me much faith that this school is going to be the greatest medical school the world has ever seen. And I know some of the track record of these guys professional  from Livestrong's top brass to the volunteers and interns all showing that they have amazing hearts and incredible capacity. There was plenty of press there and I was asked to share some of my story with them for local news. I've crashed into enough people today who saw it on the news and told me about it but this one was the one that made Kiana the most happy ( One of the questions I was asked was what I thought about the $50 million dollar donation... while fortunately it didn't make the editing, I answered I have no concept of what $50 million is (though I am fundraising for Livestrong currently, Yet it was clear that the heavy hitters who had a lot more to think about and share than just their personal story, those who had captured the dynamically large vision, knew what they were talking about. 

Still with that said, after the launch, there was a lunch (maybe I thought that's what they said when they
inviting me to). Professional stories were also shared more informally there. The dean of the medical school I got to hear about his neurology focus and how his frustration with how little we knew about the brain. It had been slow enough to where he moved into research and then leading change into how that was done and now to the be the dean of a medical. That passion was evident as he talked about how they were going to do things a whole new way. But he also told me about his two young children and their reactions to some of his ideas and how they got wide eyes like he's seen on Kiana. Doug Ulman, the CEO of Livestrong, whose passion and impatience balance itself into his survival and his urgency wanted a story like his far more dramatically than mine about carrying his own medical records from doctor to doctors. He was kind enough to give me a ride from the event and as he mentioned his three year old, while my daughter Kiana was in the backseat of his car, he said a simple human thing don't worry about the ride, I'm not the talking and texting while driving type. The president of UT Bill Powers talked to me about his wife having pushed strollers and because she was faster than him running the first mile of races with him and then turning it on and being so impressed by how she would pass so many people while she was pushing a stroller. He also said with a twinkle in his eye that his staff was going to hear about how did they miss the opportunity of getting a press picture of him and such a cute little girl.  And so between their public media speech and the one on one human moments, I had full assurance and hope that two world forces have taken a giant step forward in making cancer specifically less relevant and the overall medical world better. 

Thinking through all this, I remembered some things about my own journey like I was amazed (in a bad way) that it wasn't until almost 3 years into this journey that the capital of Texas finally got a neurooncologist. While I could have driven to Houston or Dallas (I flew to Duke), I am glad that the best option will be here.   I've long joked that this is all worth the hassle if Kiana becomes a neurosurgeon and she'll have the option of studying right downtown (where she'll come home for her 9 o'clock till she's 30 curfew.)

Maybe my world won't keep being this stable or my health this solid. The dean of the medical school was kind enough to say maybe I'll have you talk to the medical students in a couple of years and I said, I hope I'm still standing then but that'd be great. I am appreciate of the front row at the launch and in no time at all when the medical school is standing, Kiana, Austin and the world will be better for it. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Personal Ghosts

There is an old idea that in a room where people are interacting there are always several ghosts. For each of us, there is the person we actually are, the person we are trying to portray and the person being perceived. The adage is that the more people are in the room the more ghosts there are. There are people who think they've found someone who fully understand them... perhaps such a case exists but I'm not sure that I've ever seen it and I've certainly never experienced it but I sure have appreciated those were it's been awfully close. Even me, a guy who theoretically writes a raw, uncensored blog knows why we invented shaving, collared shirts, gel, make up but also we made up special underwear, toilets... because we want some things to be highlighted and some things to be private. I've sat through enough medical procedures where almost no bodily function is left as completely private. On the emotional side, some people want more private and more public disproportionately to the other... some deal with their private ghosts publicly or their public ghosts privately. But at some level, I still echo George Clooney's idea that if you share too much of your personal life then it's no longer personal. But even now the eternal bachelor's getting married... a friend joked with me that this shows how the mighty can fall... all I have to say about that is if you love someone enough to dream and commit to spending all of your life with them, that's rising to something not falling.

I'm thinking about connections because today my "formal" relationship with my counselor ended. While I've had friends and family, some which have been there all of my life, some which have definitely been there through every part of the mess, and some which I have no doubt will be there for as long as I've got left. However, I've also met with this counselor 3 years, though less and less so recently. I am not too proud to admit I needed help and in fact only grateful to say that he was a very necessary God sent part to be standing where I am.

When the counselor and I started meeting back when I was a probation officer dealing with cancer's after math and a divorce. I would meet with him through the custody challenge, after the job loss. There was one time where I appeared so down he asked me if I was suicidal (I was not. In light of Robin William's suicide, I've been thinking about that. I met Mr. Williams once briefly at a Livestrong function. I don't make strong statements from getting short time with people but he seemed like an absolutely genuine and helpful person.) I watched Mork and Mindy, Dead Poet's Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin etc. He apparently was known for improvising many of his roles. But he struggled with his demons openly and publicly often with drugs and counseling and three marriages of his own. Probably the quote of his that has stuck with me the most was "I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone, it's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone." I've experienced that and fear I've caused it but I am relieved and hopeful that both have been on the minimal scale. But I've never been suicidal and am thankful that I've never felt anywhere near that alone. But if you are please reach out to someone long before you get to that stage.

I try to take in the simple reminders like the ones that came on my birthday a few days ago. In the age of twitter and facebook and email texts, i was thankful for the messages I received through media. I tried to thank each one individual since each of them had individually taken some time to remind me I was born. I received some old fashioned in the mails cards all suggesting I was a non conformist... I had one where the kid born 8/8/80 whose favorite number is 8 had the 8 turned sideways... That's one of those moments where you  are happy enough hope life last 4 ∞. There were a few gifts which were all chocolate and/or alcohol... So the ghost that's being perceived is a chocolate addicted alcoholic. There are worst things to bond over I suppose but I was glad to have some bonds. 

Yet is is thoughts like that or echoes of those connections as to it why I've managed to make any progress at all. My best friends, my family, my church, this counselor were the ones where I could lay down honest thoughts. There are people who don't want judgement from people but I appreciate a good challenge so I always wanted them to say what they were thinking whether or not they agreed with me but my favorite ones are the quick witted, intelligent people who go to toe with me. A girl I'd climb walls with and I were having a conversation about why we choose the churches we do. Theology and community etc etc matter. But the short version for me is that my favorite parable of Jesus is about the two sons who were both told to do so something by their father one says he'll do it but doesn't and one says he won't do it but does... guess which one is the good son? And they are believers but they are also real... a good chunk of the time I come after a Sunday morning race literally reeking and people there literally embrace me. The latest sermon series has been about relationships and the last Sunday ended with a Q&A time. It was about how wives can get their husbands to pray more with them and another questions was about how husbands can get their wives to be physically intimate with them more. While he gave a more thorough answer, he quipped from the pulpit well maybe they can workout a deal where they trade it more :). That's the kind of church I go to.

And the connections I keep working on and am grateful that others are working on with me... still believing that the smartest thing I've ever said is that you have work on the relationships you want to keep. The executor of my will and I had lunch yesterday; to show why we're such great friends he still mocks me about the fact that despite the other media stuff, I'm not really relevant since I've never been in the onion. I am focusing on trip details with someone who can tell when I don't recognize people and is helping me with the speech; they help coordinate the things I struggle with. My daughter is at Camp Kesem with Livestrong so she can meet other kids whose parents have been through cancer (it is a minimal part of the experience because like all Livestrong things does, cancer is meant to be dealt with, belittled in a proper way so that life is better done). 

Appropriately enough, meeting with the counselor was the last thing I did before heading to Beaumont where I'd win a marathon last year,  that has turned into a ride I would have never imagined. (If you're wondering what I mean by that ride when I signed up for that marathon 9 days before winning it, I thought it'd be one more race with a stroller and that would be that. I never imagined invitations or media pieces or articles).

With that said, I try to take that seriously. I finished the logistics a few days ago of the speech at the Pocatello Marathon (, the return to the Spartan Championships and Charity Race ( and I just signed up to join Voices Against Brain Cancer for the New York marathon. My team is currently in the lead for most fundraisers and most participants for the 4th Brain Power 5k ( I believe none of this would have happened with the right people leading me to better at running but also better at being human. Some of that has simply been from meeting other people who shared parts of the journey that made the person you portray and the person perceived as closer to matching. I got to meet a family in Portland at the Spartan whose cousin died of brain cancer (He was hoping to beat the 5 year mark since none of the other doctor's patients had. He would not last the longest but he almost got there.) He also had seizures and it was somehow heart breaking and heart melting to hear them talk about him from the funny stories to one where hearing him late one night they rushed into his room to check if he was okay. They were wearing a hoodie and while first he was scared later, he would be relieved and laugh saying "When you came in with the hoodie, I thought it was the grim reaper." I hope when I go if people tell stories about me, they end in laughter.

I fully understand the desire to have some privacy (though not as much as say an extreme introvert since I can't completely relate to feeling the need to be alone to recharge). Wanting to share those moments and knowing that someone has a clue is probably more common than the desire for privacy. So I stand by the assertion that from birth we want to share life, be held, hold hands. That we want to know that someone, not just somewhere but that the connection with people is a desire from birth till death. Some of us are damaged enough by whatever experience where we try to do it more alone (I'm certainly an echo of that in at least regards to romance with the relationship approach I've taken until recently). But if there's anything I've learned from having a meal with the right person, friend, family or one of those relationships where you don't know where you stand, it's that the experience of life stays yummy longer when you're with the right person. The best connections make you cry sometimes but they also make you smile so big you're not sure if you're moving from double chin to triple chin territory. 

I'd put more about my counselor but some of that we will keep personal. I'll say that our last session had exchange of gifts (let's just say after we traded it showed why he was the counselor and i was the one needing guidance; his was a book; mine showed my brain was damaged). It was a handshake and a goodbye with an open door.

And let me state this clearly, I think sitting with a counselor was never once a sign of weakness though I'll concede that the fact that it's over showed that it was about that both he and I felt I didn't need as much guidance now. But it's like training; I go to running tonight where I have a customized plan on how to put one foot in front of the other. I don't quite understand the pride of not wanting to admit needing some guidance in some areas of life. People pay to be told how to more appropriately put one foot in front of the other; relationships matter a lot more. I went to counseling because I believe who I met with was smarter than me and I believe I'm walking away mentally healthier for it.

I started this with a reference to those personal ghosts. There's probably no way to eliminate those completely. But I am grateful that I  have the opportunity and the friends to where those ghosts keep getting smaller and smaller.  And the happiness that comes from good connections is like a room without a roof so they don't really have much room to haunt. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grounding and Flight

I've long said I've kept running through my cancer journey because it's my therapy and how much I run and how long I run shows how bad I need therapy. However, in my sixth weekend doing Spartans which from the first one woke me up to so much more ( I think perhaps I realize I've been using the wrong word to communicate. Running isn't my therapy... It's one of the ways I've managed to stay feeling grounded... To stay connected to the beauties of life when so much has been up in the air... But even so as I've tried to get faster at running I love the (rare) pictures during road races when both feet are up in the air.

But another great way I've managed to stay grounded is because I'm fortunate to have great family. So I can't say that I've ever been more excited about Spartan than the one I would get to do with my little brother David. Speaking of therapy, at 33 years of age I've almost gotten over all the attention he stole when I was a small kid and he was born. But through some rough points of the last few years he's been rock steady but I knew it would be my turn to help him on his first race period, not just a Spartan, a race of any kind... And I couldn't help but feel grateful as we watched the sunrise on our way to the race that we both had been given the chance of being our brothers keeper.

I did the elite heat first trying to scope out the course before doing an open heat with him. Spartans are tough to not absorb the beauty... because you're sitting there taking in trees that make you want to look up and out. You may be hurting from the atlas pull but you can hear the river besides you and the birds therein. I don't know where man's desire to fly comes from but from the days of Icarus till today we've longed to do it. Not long after we invented cars we got to planes first wanting to taste the clouds... And then we were ready to fly to the moon, to dance among the stars, to know what life feels like on Jupiter and Mars. But even while birds and astronauts have to accept that much of life is spent in the nest you can't wait till the next flight. And thus I go back to Spartan races because while I rarely run on trails, I've gotten (a little) better and bolder at letting myself go on those down hills where falling feels like flying at least for a little while. This Spartan PAC northwest course was on a motorcycle/bicycle trick course. I've seen some of those stunts so it was thrilling where we got to do some of the parts on foot, some just running, others carrying heavy things, others leaping through. Maybe the image of flying bikes why the mentality of being airborne got to be what I wanted to try at the most on this course... I'd say that was my frame of mind but we know that my brain isn't great so we'll say it was my frame of heart. And while it was intimidating to sort some of the ups and downs, it turned out that wasn't a bad thing.

When I got to the hurdles obstacle, it was the first time I cleared them without landing either foot on any of the wooden part of it. When I got to the cargo net, I let myself go from pretty near the top after clearing it. When I got to the balance beam wall, since the rule is just to hit the bell without leaving the blocks, I left the furthest I ever have from the wall, and jumping gave it a flying ring. I threw the sandbag off my shoulder after that obstacle. I am a kid known for spatial orientation issues so sometimes I go the wrong direction... It's its own obstacle for me at Spartans. I did that for a brieft second and almost went to the barbed wire too early but someone pointed me back to the slide obstacle. This was an obstacle where you just went down a slide that was at least 300 years long and flew through the air for a few days to land in a mud puddle (did I communicate my issue with heights there effectively). The volunteer said if you slide sitting down you'll not go as far and you'll be able to see it coming. Let's just say I sat back and didn't open my eyes... Till I was chest deep in mud and my spibelt had gone from my waist to my chest.

But not long after that flight, the old adage of what goes up must come down was reversed.  I'm not complaining... If there's anything I've come to appreciate during Spartans and life itself,there are times when turning things sideways or backwards may feel like the wrong direction but it can make sense in its own way. But what went down had to come back up with the obstacle that I've never done cleanly, the barbed wire. Except this time it wasn't just across the ground it was going up a hill at angle... Got it done but not exactly cleanly unless you decide to call it clean cut and that's not my idea of being shaved well... The first cut was the deepest but the rest still flipping hurt. Still I was proud to get to the top not too gashed...

That was near the finish but the obstacle I am about 50/50 on was the spear throw. It hit the hay but it didn't stay so that doesn't count ... But even there as I was taking in my 30 burpee penalty, I couldn't help but think this is why Spartans love burpees... Because to do it correctly you have to both have your feet in the air and quickly come back down and get your chest to the ground... There is something to this ground and flight idea.

I finished the course and went looking for my brother. He let me catch my breath and then we were onto the 10 Am heat. ( I'd finished about 8:30. If anyone questions how bad ass some the women are out there let me point out the women's heat starts an hour later and the women's second place winner Amelia Boone who'd come in a little earlier 9:30 would also start with her sister at 10 AM). My brother is not a runner so we went at a different pace than I had on my own. Like I had on my first Spartan when a friend joined me, my brother when seeing how overwhelming Spartans can be said "go at your own pace". Like that good friend Alex that led me, there was no chance of that happening and we did it together. He got a deeper end of the gene pool in upper body strength and that was demonstrated over and over on strength based obstacles. Perhaps the best quip of the day was when he owned me on the ball and chain and it was pointed out that he handles that better is why he's the one happily married.

He took his own flying seriously taking my guidance that the mud pits and hills were easier if you jumped in as far as you could into the water rather than climb into the mud from pit to pit. He was less afraid of flying on the slides and flew further. I had never done the course in an open heat before but some of the obstacles were tougher because there was lots more mud. Let's just say that uphill barbed wire crawl after the ground had more wear, well on the second try it also gave my body more tear.

Speaking of that, when we were at the rope climb we started together but only I got to the top though more sloppily the second time. He was doing his burpees when I came down. There on course side watching a spartan race for the first time was my mother and Kiana. I've only stopped to hug anyone twice during a race in my life... The first time was at the Boston marathon where on the East coast I'd stopped to hug my mom, brother and daughter ( It definitely felt like an upgrade to be doing it while sharing the course with my brother. While Kiana may have given me the softest hug and kiss she ever has because of all the mud on my face, my mom hugged me with conviction. I hugged her back with the same.

Like my mom has done with too many of my messes I think that hug cleaned up my hands and so the second time doing the spear throw, I nailed it. Mt brother did it too right by my side. He missed his and went on to his 3rd set if burpees; I tried to comfort him by saying the three obstacles he'd missed were ones I'd also missed on my first spartan. I'm not sure he heard that in the middle of burpees but I hope he remembers that I was doing each one of them by his side.

Still he got the last obstacle done, we jumped over the fire and finished. I've gotten medals from many cool people and given some to many more... But at this finish line, David and I had our parents, our kids, his wife and they were the ones who framed our hearts with love and our necks with medals... Reminding us that the reason we our able to be grounded and take flight ain't no thing but a family thing.

The unpredictability of Spartans in distance, terrain, obstacles remind me and comfort in acknowledging life's too short to pretend like it's always clean. If you sign up for some of the messy things, it makes the ones you don't sign up for easier and helps you embrace the right people in both circumstances. The families out there showed there's different ways. Amelia and I did it with our siblings first at our own pace and then at theirs. Matt Nokavich, the men's 2nd place winner, did it with his wife and 14 year old son (who holds the Boy Scout record for most pulls ups, 60!). While that family each did it at their own pace it was clear they were doing it together. The Unbreakable Jones, a father son team, were out there who did the course 7 times together in one day, once literally tied at the wrists. Amanda Sullivan, a "disabled" athlete who does some obstacles with her crutches, she was out there doing it with friends who were clearly her family. Stephen Sinek,better known as the painted Warrior whose wife spends hour making his body into a work of art. I noticed her catching him with the art of photography and the one he does with the obstacles all over the course.

Still despite all the adult athletics, I think my favorite sport is still being Kiana's dad. Not long after our finish it was time for the kids Spartan. Watching her and Jaden my brother's son do the kids spartan was my favorite part of the day. Kiana liked the course enough to where she did two miles worth of repeats on it... And when asked what her favorite part was...the obstacles. She particularly got muddy because the kids race director had said whoever splashed the most mud won that obstacle.

When Jaden and Kiana finished David and I medaled and hugged them. Then they hugged grandmothers. My parenting philosophy is first you gotta give kids roots than you gotta give them wings. As I watched Kiana hugging my mother, and her cousin after finished and as I hugged my brother I realized where we had gotten it and hoping, no ,believing we were passing on both the roots and the wings. And while each one has been great this was my favorite Spartan yet because at the start, middle and after I felt so firmly grounded and so free to take flight.