Monday, January 26, 2015

Matching Miracles

There's something special about every race weekend but usually when I travel for an out of town race, I'm trying to find what else to take in besides just the wonder of the race. The Miracle Match Marathon race is just a weekend full of great events. It was the first race my mom and dad were joining Kiana and I for the course period and with each of us running the whole course, no one on the stroller. They showed where I get my friendliness they had decided the more the merrier and my mom had brought alone 4 other friends from West Texas so there were 8 of us total in the friends and family group.

The other group was doing the mile distance in three generations of their own. But before any race got started, they had the most impressive pre dance routine I've ever seen... there were kids, adults, both racers and supporters busting dance moves out there... and there were some like me  who showed while we run rather than dance. It's because putting one foot in front of the other is all that people should ever have to watch us do.

But even before each race would start whether they showed that for them the finish line was just the beginning. Even as I recalled back from last year, throughout the weekend between, before, during and after events, they kept pointing out why to them the finish line was just the beginning. This race is called the Miracle Match because they are getting people to sign up to donate blood and to register to be a bone marrow donor. They would share the stories of someone who at age 12 had run a marathon on every continent to help highlight why this was important. A woman would share how her mom's death would get her to register and how she would find a match of a little girl who would spend the first 4 years of her life but her bone marrow would help save it. Some people bypassed anonymity that weekend and met the person who they donated to on the course.

When it finally came time for the 5k to start, Kiana and I were ready despite the cold. She was wearing her outfit and was ready to go. I'd actually offered to let her run this one on her own since she has done the last few kid's k's on her own but she said 5ks were more fun next to each other. She took off with conviction and about half a mile into it as she was at more than 30 seconds per mile faster than she had ever done, I asked her if she was sure she wasn't going too fast, she looked up and said no I can hold this. It having been a few months since her last 5k... it certainly worried me that she would do the old "fly and die" but I thought well there's only one way for her to learn that properly. We kept going and since we often train on the track I'd tell her when she'd complete a certain amount of laps. She was far more concerned with that this route was right next to a nice waterfront and look there was these flower and those ducks. I promised her we'd check them out as long as she wanted afterwards... she let me know she could run and check them out simultaneously...

We kept gunning past the halfway point and not far past that we'd see abuelo and abuela coming behind us. They were smiling and I thought well that's closer than I thought they would be... Is everyone gunning too hard today? Still we kept going and when I told Kiana she only had a little over half a mile left she started picking it up. Her last 5k was about 35 and a half minutes so I thought if she did anything starting with a 34 it'd be cool... We finished in 32.17 with her going over three minutes faster than she'd ever gone before.

We'd head back to the waterfront to take in the flowers and the ducks a little more casually while waiting for abuelo and abuela. I honestly thought it would be longer but there they were coming down the ways. I had told Kiana that we were going to finish with them but that they might be walking so just to go at their pace. She quickly responded with well you made me run harder across the bridge so can't I try to get them to do the finish faster? I had no great comeback but a smile. So she did and pushed them to finish their fastest 5k yet and we all finished together with abuela reaching out to hold hands and Kiana passing it on. So everyone except me ran their fastest 5k that day but I'm actually sure it's the biggest win I've had yet.

I can't imagine a community not getting behind a race like this and it was clearly demonstrated by the events that were there while we were waiting for the results. The Sheriff's department was cooking some good pancakes while we waited for all the participants. The fire department was hosting a firetruck pull where teams who had registered could see who could pull a fire truck the fastest for about 50 feet. There would be teams from gyms, all women's teams. While it was all happening, there were volunteers asking the people standing around if they would register for donating and when they came up to me, I explained that though I used to donate since I've got the universal blood donor that I'm no longer allowed to due to my medical conditions. Still, as they highlighted more stories, the fire truck competition kept going with the race organizers somehow managing to do it all in dresses incredibly fast as if the fire engine was somehow on drive while they were doing it... Perhaps symbolizing so well what they were saying over and over, that one person can make a difference at least certainly to another person, there was one guy who pulled the fire truck entirely by himself! In the end both the balance of that and community was shown when the firemen's team allowed anyone to join their team who'd ever even thought about being a firefighter (I might have jumped in on that one). The inclusive community continued with anyone who wanted to take a picture with or on the truck.

Just as I sat and told my mom that they were moving a whole lot faster than I expected them to, she
acknowledged they'd actually been walking a whole lot more always three miles at a time though it had been rough on some cold winter days. I might have been having a second helping of those pancakes when they were announcing age group awards and I was incredibly pleasantly surprised when they announced my mother Martha Leon as the winner of her age group! I went out to come get her to get her award because she was just watching Kiana in the playground and she thought I was just asking her to come take a picture of me getting an award. I said no mom, you won the award! I was more proud of that than any medal I've ever won (in case anyone's wondering, that age group is women who are perpetually 29).

The next day Kiana and I were up and ready for the half marathon. We got some more dancing in and were ready to run along a different section of that waterfront, around the Baylor stadium and through some serious serious hills. We had done some of the course last year but some had changed and we were doing a different distance. Still, for three months in a row, we had signed up for a hillier half than the month before and with this being the last stroller race on the schedule we wanted to go out with the one that billed itself as the toughest in Texas, no bull.

The weather was gorgeous and the running was awesome. There were a lot of sharp turns along the way keeping it exciting. Kiana yelled out duckies along the river front way. The first few miles overlapped with 10kers, marathoners and ultra marathoners and we were all moving around. We crashed into some friends on the out and back of the course who also runs races with a stroller. I've always thought it was the extra weight that slowed me down but maybe it's because we enjoy the race a little more since we take a lot more high fives than I do on my own. Since he runs with a camera, it was the first time I've seen a picture of it and my favorite in it is Kiana's smiled. We high fived a few more times along that bridge back with a few others.

The course continued with sharp turns, tough hills (one was so long and steep where Kiana asked out loud why were we going so slow) and I am not sure she understand as I said under muttered breath that it was because of that incline. When we got to the challenge of carrying up stairs called Jacob's ladder, I had been between third and fourth the whole time. I tried to get the guy that was with me come but he passed up the opportunity. Kiana got out of the stroller and was definitely beating me up those stairs but she made it clear more than once that these were a lot steeper and longer than the ones we practiced on...

At the top of the stairs, between breathing hard from Jacob's ladder and already having brain issues, I decided to be a typical male and did not ask for directions. I saw a few runners and figured they were from the 10k and started passing them with conviction and about a mile into that passing the next water fountain realized I'd seen those awesome volunteers before... and said out loud oh no we're lost... and then thought oh well, I came out here to run hills... let's do some extra (and of course the portion of the course I repeated was the hilliest section).

It was probably incredibly helpful that the course was full of good humorous strangersalong the way. "Hill workouts are just speedwork in disguise." "Fartleks are better than fart licks." "One more hill and then you're done... Just kidding.""Chuck Norris never ran a marathon." "A race without hills is like beer without alcohol." Kiana's favorite it was "go random stranger go." It was good to have the course that brought out so many grimaces on my face to also get so many smiles on there as well.

It was even tempting to do Jacob's ladder again but I just wasn't ready for that kind of a commitment. In the end, getting to the finish line was in about 1:47 at 15.8 miles my slowest and longest half marathon... It was almost tempting to ask for the ultra finisher's medal :). Still, I was and am proud that not continuing with conviction till the finish line never crossed my mind. You take the challenges as they come till you get to the end. It was enough to whoop my legs but also enough for a third place age group finish which was confusing since I'm older than 29 and my mom had won that age group...

So we came home with lots of memories of family time together on a river, in a zoo. Kiana, my mom and I all came home with hardware with finisher's medals, age group placer, kid's marathon medal and the Phoenix challenge medal for people who did the 5k and the half/marathon/ultra the next day.

But far above all that, we came home realizing that we'd gotten to be part of an event where miracles matched. Where we realized we were lucky to be matched up with each other's miracle of life, where we got to watch people do races that were far bigger than just the events but also would literally save people's lives. Between all of those good things (and the exhaustion from the hills), it was not difficult to get a good night's sleep.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When It Rains

I sit here writing on one of those days where it's pouring rain and that shifted some of the plans for this morning making it lonelier than I expected. That's called life sometimes but I tried to be relatively happy. The runner's world article came out and it's still overwhelming and surprising that the slow news day continues. It refers people to read my blog which a few of the pieces have done which makes me nervous because a) their writing is always so much better than mine and b) while it's a public blog it's really thoughts that anyone with a regular brain would share more privately and what if all these people figure out that I'm just a guy with a damaged brain who likes to run?

Still, I appreciated the piece for many many reasons but probably highest on the list is that this is by far the most comprehensive piece done that tells a totality of the story not just a small piece (I'm not complaining about any other piece; I'm amazed any piece has been done much less more than one). It's once again been brought up that I should write a book, once again with a couple of people who work in the world of writing but I've shrugged that off knowing I tell my story here and remind them that the plot line of one foot in front of the other is pretty lame isn't it? Still when Pamela LeBlanc who wrote the piece said she gets to interview someone actually important, Bill Bryson from A Walk in the Woods, I let her know that it was he who was the lucky one in the interview (though I am amused that she continues to interview people known for putting one foot in front of the other; she's obviously a good writer with no capacity for ADD if that keeps her intrigued).

I am still intrigued that with only one exception not one media pieces has mentioned the custody issues from a couple of years ago. While relationships and divorce and custody proceedings are usually complicated, the reason it intrigues me is that the custody thing was about one thing and one thing alone and it was whether or not I was fit to parent with my medical condition since they were arguing that I wasn't a safe parent due to the seizures and cancer with the literally stating we don't think you're a bad father and specifically putting in legal language that I did reckless things like running with Kiana in a stroller for races. Perhaps it's because that yearlong process was probably the most emotionally tolling thing in this story that I can't quite make sense why it's skipped over.

Anyway, with that said, I am grateful to be able to still put that one foot in front of the other. While I'm aware there will come a day where my fastest races are behind me, I continue to dare to dream that my best foot forward is still ahead of me. I've definitely been getting whooped in crossfit I try to get in bikini shape for the Spartan cruise. It's intriguing to watch people who are older, younger, shorter, taller, different gender than me whoop me on the exercises sometimes while doing more weight than me with smaller bodies but this is the first time I'm working with weights in my entire life but I'll keep trying. I've even set up a spear throw in my backyard since my lack of accuracy is what's caused me the most burpees.

But even as I am excited about that race or thinking about the half, I just got even more excited about the Miracle Match Marathon weekend. The stroller races started after I did Boston and my brother, mother and daughter cheered. I've now gone back and done a race beside each of them. At the recent half I won both of my parents were there cheering but at this one, both of my parents are doing the 5k as are Kiana and I. While the plan is to run it next to Kiana, I'm tempted to let each of us do it at our own pace and then go back to finishing with each other but no matter what I am incredibly grateful that for the first time ever all three generations are doing the same race on their own two feet with no one in a stroller. While I imagine that won't get anywhere near the attention that the wins have, to me that means the family business is about to get a whole lot better. Very much to me, to my parents and I hope to Kiana, it's worth celebrating a whole lot more. I accessorized my Livestrong bracelet with my four letter word hope yesterday and it's at events like that where another 4 letter word, love comes into play that keeps hope alive. There's probably lots more words like patience and saintly that could be used to describe my parents if for no other reason than they put up with raising me.

While my speed has caught some people's attention, I've always said running is my therapy. I'm not sure if I'm running to something or from something but that something is likely death. If I'm running to it, I'm known for being relatively fast so we can say that's why I may die young. But I'm also known for endurance, having ran near 50 miles last week so maybe while death will eventually catch up, it'll sure have had to have hung in for the long haul before it got there. But either way I'll be so glad I didn't do it alone. Yesterday Kiana did her last run of 2 miles in a trail workout where as is our custom we start together, high five when we go opposite ways and then finish racing. It was raining and there was a time where I would have seen two people doing that and gone what kind of crazy people do that but yesterday, well yesterday I was glad we were the crazy people (for all the worrisome people we came home and showered and got in warm jammies and did art immediately after).

So I hope I continue to live the mantra that you have to work on the relationships you want to keep. I'm having lunch with two friends today who were among the first to be there in the hospital and high on the pecking order. We've traded some rather fun emails getting ready for it, some of which will never be repeated in front of my mother or perhaps anyone. But one of them asked if I could pick them up rather than him biking to the lunch like he usually does because of the rain. I biked most of the last 4 years or got rides due to the driving restriction so I couldn't resist making the joke that he was laming for having to depend on rides from people on bad weather days. Showing why he's my friend, without missing a beat, he said "We're all onto you: you need rides when gas is over $3.00 a gallon but now that it's cheap your seizures are magically cured."

So I take back that initial complain about a rainy day... we definitely need it and while when it rains, I don't mind being lonely, that was not today. Today, I got to walk my cute little girl with an umbrella to school today, I had lunch with some great friends, got to hear about my parents signing up for the Miracle Match 5k.  And in just a little while, I'll be listening to some music while I run in the rain with the Ship of Fools (it's the fact we run in any weather that is the origin of that name and why they're my kind of people). So if today is what rainy days are like, through the run, I'll be singing and after I'll likely be dancing in the rain.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What The Wise Men Tell Us

My friend Matt calls the various media that comes out about me the J-Wire. The half marathon win got blogged about by a fitness writer who has become a friend and whose writing a piece that will come out about me in the runner's world website. The rogue distance festival course was one that went through lots of neighborhoods with tons of turns in moisture where Kiana's smiling despite being cold and I look intensely confused or confusedly intense. As I've sat here and struggled over how happy to be over the last few days since the half marathon win because to me it feels like an asterisk win since I made a couple of wrong turns even I did end up doing greater than the expected distance... Just for the record the nearly 14 miles is from my watch and there's been no half where I've gotten 13.1. There's what we call a garmin bonus as the GPS watch is never exactly what the race is, always a little extra (courses are supposed to have a little bonus and to get it exactly you'd have to do the tangents perfectly).

It may sound strange but I am just as if not more proud of the 10th place with a 1:23 on a tough course last month than the win this month with a 1:26 because of that having gotten lost asterisk. But as someone intelligently pointed out in a way that finally helped me accept it a little easier was there a point that I ever thought about quitting or slowing down, in fact when I'd figure out the right direction I ran harder after having checked in because I didn't want Kiana to miss her kid's k which she placed 3rd in. She's very happy with her spibelt that came as a result of that. Pink and polka dotted. She put it on yesterday with her pajamas till she went to bed and is wearing to it to school today. Cause utility running belts are what all the cool kids are wearing now right?

The ups and down of everyone's life are normal. But having made friends through the "guy who runs with brain cancer" awareness, I've made both running friends and friends who have a connection with a disease. I have two friends who have recently had to put their fathers in hospice care and are traveling unexpectedly and rather quickly to be there for them in the end. I was at a brain power hour recently and heard stories again that made me both grateful and nervous. Being involved in the cancer community I've sure had to see way too many unexpected deaths or at least faster arrival to death than anyone anticipated. But I'm clearly aware of one thing, that with incredibly rare exceptions, those people who are part of proactive organization are not representative of the entire cancer community or of people in general. Because when people get involved with Livestrong or the BrainPower 5k or other types of research funding, they are the go getters in life, the ones who want to do something outside of just being a passer by or a victim. There are those in these groups who want to believe that in the end it will all be okay, that nothing shy of 100% defeat of cancer is acceptable... (I seriously annoyed one breast cancer advocate and she let me know how mad at me she was that I wasn't using my podiums more for saying no one should ever die from cancer ever....). Let me be clear I like the attitude but even the flu or common cold don't have that kind of batting average (death and taxes are the only things that I know does though while I like good batting averages I'm not a fan of either of those even as I try to accept the reality of them). One of my doctors in a time where cameras weren't rolling and no one else was in the room more than slightly reprimanded me for the not likely to make age 40 thing that is mentioned in so many of the media things... he reprimanded because both that's just statistically not absolutely true but also because since he's also a serious optimism he knows that the reason he and I both have raised money (and in his case, he's helped conduct actual research) that's as things stand not as he hopes they will also stand. Still, while maybe we will achieve the improbable dream of better brain cancer care before/if mine grows, I work off the attitude in the waiver that was in the study I'm a part of, that this research may not help me but will help future generations. I'm also going to be donating my brain to science when I die but I'm okay with the help they get from that being put off as long as possible.

But while I try to be a dreamer of improbable dreams, and today's blog is coming because it's a day I accept the end of a dream that I'd held onto one for a few years, I also try to balance realism. There are many religions that want to believe that in the end it will all be okay... including the one that I am most closely associated with is Christianity (please don't judge them by me).  I'm not sure how we can imagine heaven being perfect and where everyone's perfectly happy if its where some of the people you love are there forever and some are are gone forever based on one gigantic choice. I suppose that's the romanticism of the nirvana where you get to keep trying till you achieve egolessness. I won't know till forever arrives which, if either, is completely true but the reason I subscribe to one more than the other is because I do think the universe and human existence show over and over that while this isn't true of most choices, there are single moments and decisions that can dramatically alter the course of each human's existence.

With that said there is a song I listen to on days like these, American Flag Umbrella that says that "in the end it will all be okay because that's what the wise men tell us and if it's not okay, it's not the end of my friend." Somewhere in my heart of hearts I want to believe that's true but today is one of those days where I accept that some things aren’t okay and never will be. That’s life. Still, in my book it’s better that way than there never having been life or hope in the first place. You intensely pour yourself into a race that you're lost in the middle of and if you look at the finish line picture, I'm fairly unhappy because of how it had gone. I'd gotten lost in one of the brainpower 5k's before and lost placement but in this one still managed to win it if for no other reasons than it's rare that half marathons are decided by a small margin. As the announcer said at the beginning of the race on Sunday as he made announcements about the course, it's really only a problem if you're near the front. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that the longer distance you sign up for, you get a little bit more room for mistakes and wrong turns and still have a chance as long as you give it what you got AND even if you're not smiling or happy you go till the finish line.

Perhaps the speech I'm most pleased with is the one I gave to the Livestrong leaders, Holding Hands. Here I describe how getting cancer was like being born because of it's confusion. But the birth process has something we've learned to ignore that both the giver of life, the mother and the receiver of life, the child are in a lot of pain through the process and generally crying. I didn't take killer after brain surgery and there's actually been a study done that children born through natural child birth end up being able to handle stress throughout life better than those not because the brain wires for stress certain ways (as a group, let's not go getting all or nothing here). There are those who would argue that this is a stupid argument... why sign up for pain if you don't have to... I hear your argument and remind you that I sign up for Spartans, marathons and today Kiana did her first set of stair workouts to get ready for Jacob's Ladder at the Waco marathon. It's a little bit of fun that she's 8 because now we're getting to do repeats of my favorite number and her age. So to each his own but I hope that the reason I have any chance when challenges come is because I like to sign up for things even when they don't come easy.  I don't enjoy the pain by any means but I think maybe it teaches us something... I've continued to going to these cross fit classes and these workout enthusiasts and their no pain no gain bit... even me a guy who didn't take painkillers after brain surgery argued back... couldn't you also say, no pain, no pain? I did the most
pull ups I've ever done Monday (had to get serious help to get through the workout) and I literally said to the coach, I'm really good at running, why am I doing this and then did it anyway. That's good right or does it just show something's wrong with my brain?

So I am certainly not a wiseman and I don't know how to balance their contradictions any more than I do the ones in my life. But even on a rough day, well I'm glad that I've had some good chapters and I dare to dream that there's usually at least one or two left for most of us on our own hills and stairs. And that's something that reminds me that even if all won't be okay that I appreciate the hope and life that came along way.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Let Your Memory Lead You

Going through some organizing of old things, I found something I wrote years before brain surgery about memory:  "Does our past affect our view of the present more or does our present affect our view of the past more? There’s no way to know but I think it may be a coin toss on any given day." And while it's one of the most often repeated things in this hitchhiker journal, its entire purpose is just to tell myself, a guy with a damaged memory the story of things as I saw them in present time so that if I have to hear this story down the line from someone, well that someone might as well be me. There are a few people who my heart trusts instinctively because they somehow inherently realize the memory deficits quickly by themselves, others who upon becoming aware of it from me or others are helpful in various ways. Perhaps my favorite recent memory is someone who got Kiana a birthday present and though I've got some clue as to when we met (hints from Facebook) she was someone I clearly trusted shortly after meeting her because when I did I let her know something I rarely do on first meeting: down the line I may not remember her nor how we met (still don't and she's been nice enough to tell me that but not nice enough to tell me when). With that said, today's title is borrowed from the musical Cats (judge me accordingly) but when I don't remember things exactly clearly that can be difficult and annoying so be warned that this entry is one of those long rambling ones where I try to capture a few moments that meant something to me so as would be sung on Broadway when the time comes that I read it the memory lives again. (In wrestling they used to say, get ready to rumble... if you keep reading after this, listen to me saying get ready for rambling).

2015 has started with some great pleasantness. The biggest and best to me were various parts of Kiana's life. In no particular order, Kiana's enjoyed her birthday celebration with her friends. The party was okay by anyone's standard including Kiana's (an extra challenge for me was that due to tough weather it was entirely indoors) but we had kids who stuck around for six hours and she loved that her party turned into a playdate (in the interest of simple frankness there was one father's actions that made me a little more accepting of why I may have made some media pieces). Watching her play reminded me of why I'd never wanted an only child growing up in such a packed family but glad to see she was enjoying a good time. While it had a long way to go, it was the most collaborative process between both of Kiana's parents which makes the thought of both living and dying easier. 

For the second time this year out of the two report cards in second grade, she got perfect attendance and straight A's. I was amused that for straight A's they get a little ribbon and for perfect attendance they get a meal at a restaurant. While those who don't show up can't make a difference I probably believe those who say the primary difference between those rewards may have to be that there's more funding lost for kids being absent than for kid's poor grades. The award she's never gotten and in simple frankness will likely never get is the one for good citizenship. They have a 1-4 scale for both grades and behavior (straight A's is all 4 academically, straight citizen is all 4's behaviorally). While she has mostly 4's in the behavior there are some skills she hasn't quite mastered... As I sat through award assembly, afterwards I asked both parents and the principal herself what the equivalent award of good citizenship was in adulthood since those ones for straight's A's and perfect attendance can easily be translated into actual awards in adulthood . While no one can argue that those skills don't have function and benefit, no one could come up with a similar award where just behaving well earned you an award. We'll keep working on it but that realization maybe made me worry a little less about it.

Three things from great past memories came out this week. In chronological order of when the events occurred, there was a new video about the Miracle Match Marathon Kiana and I did last year in Waco  including where she got carried up a set of stairs called Jacob's ladder. We'll be going back this year and doing that ladder again though this time we'll be doing the half because it runs through a zoo while the full has a different course. It features many many cool people.

The second was from Livestrong, perhaps the coolest fighting cancer event I've ever gotten to be a part of and certainly a place where I met some great people. They shared an interactive document of their findings. I didn't even know that kind of technology was possible (but if you'll notice that I'm getting a little more technological as this is the first blog entry that has links where you just have to click on one word instead of a thousand random letters and numbers). While there are pictures and videos of me on there, I honestly have never seen a more patient centered conversation. Like the Waco piece, I was one of several participants and feel privileged and humbled that my story is one of the ways we get to the better picture. I am not sure I belong there but I hope some of the work I've tried to help with allows me to be a lens through which people view many of the stars in the constellation of humans who fight cancer and make life better.

With that said, one of the rough parts about the start of the New Year was that I got a letter that my neuro oncologist who rocks bow ties will no longer be part of the hospital in a few weeks. I had no plans to change insurance during this reenrollment time but now I'm trying to figure it out. Perhaps there are people who think all doctors are equivalent but I don't for many reasons. These are guys and gals who I trust with literal pieces of my mind and both he and the ones at Duke helped get me as close to peace of mind as humanly possible. I joke that maybe I should have sent him flowers but I did send him an email sharing that I was bummed out about him leaving and saying thank you. People who you trust with your life should not be easily exchanged in my book. I don't know quite what I'll do and am relieved I have a bit of time to figure it out but wondering if its time to start returning to Duke (which is a bummer cause New York had just passed the place I'd visited more than Duke).

The last media piece was a Spartan video recap of the race I did with my little brother and Kiana and her cousin. Speaking of getting passed, everyone else who does talking in the video is faster than me at Spartans. Still, if you've ever wondered how much my mother loves me, I think  you can see it displayed in how sincerely she kisses me at the end of a Spartan with my face all muddy and I think you can see how much I appreciate it with the smile on my face.

Perhaps there are people who work in the media or come out enough to where it feels normal. Almost two years into a variety of all these things, let me make it clear that for me the answer is no. I sat through an interview recently for the runner's world website and someday we'll schedule one for the last ESPN shoot and I honestly don't understand but it is kind of cool to get some of life's memories captured by more than this blog and people who communicate better on their worst day than I do on my best.

But speaking of Spartan, I am getting pumped about going on their cruise and have finally joined a gym. It's a crossfit gym and apparently unlike fight club, the first rule of cross fit gyms, you have to tell everyone that you've joined. I've honestly never worked out with instruction besides running and in my first workout, I got beat by people who were older, shorter, a different gender than me. Okay, I came in dead last because the entire workout only had 1200 meters of running and apparently your body has different muscles than just running. I didn't know what gym to join and this one is run by a friend and also so many of the people I've met in the Spartan world are crossfit aficionados.

The part that I'm struggling and excited the most about in regards to the Spartan cruise is that it will be my first time using a passport. Above all feelings, I am really stoked about using my passport to a new place for the first time since brain surgery. However, from a guy who confesses to much on the internet, to be completely honest I'm disappointed that it won't be with a cute girl who I'm pursuing romantically (well I mean right now it's scheduled with no one but I should find someone to join me soon). It's funny when everyone was trying to talk to me about being open to real romance after the great breakup while I blatantly denied it and haven't even had the courtesy to call anyone a girlfriend labeling them George Clooney girls, I did make a list of desirables or things to put off if I ever got a girlfriend for the first time since high school. From a guy who was valedictorian and tries to always PR, maybe it was too ambitious... but I was hoping it was someone who understood who I was before and after brain surgery so they could understand some of the overwhelmingness. I even had a bottle of old wine I got to open with them showing that this would be a relationship about more than sour grapes. Of course we all consider things like looks and IQ and interaction and I figured if anyone messed with me enough, we'd go get a passport stamp together and that would make a great step in a darling lovely fairy tale. I'm a guy who married his high school sweetheart (that didn't work out so great) and grew up thinking I'd save my virginity till marriage (I didn't but certainly think that's a commendable effort). I'm not sure why that was/is such a big deal to me but I am just trying to balance whether let it go here is probably the right thing and things may pan themselves out without my awareness of (after all it looks nearly scripted that I put off brain surgery to run a marathon and trained hard and qualified for Boston and then won one almost exactly two years later, 1 second slower). But I don't want to be people who seem to easily accept failure or mistakes over and over as learning lessons (I see the logic in that but I also think it might be smarter to learn from other people's mistakes since I don't have enough time to make them all by myself). And really there's only two things left on the list, the passport and doing a race with someone and if you give it all up, how close are you to the Vince Lombardi quote that If you learn to quit it becomes a habit. (This is where the intelligent people point out that it's fairly hypocritical to call it quitting when you've been openly announcing and showing that you haven't really been trying; I mean graduating to the Van Gogh girl term mentioned in the last blog was progress but let's be honest he still died alone with mental illness). Anyway, I bet I come back beaming from that cruise and that race and give this less thought then.

But speaking of races, Kiana and I did the Rogue Distance festival. This would be the second race I would ever do with Kiana a couple of years ago, in its first year. They have three distances, a 30k, a kids k and a half marathon. The first two years I did the 30k even though each year they had a kid's k. It starts 2 hours after the 30k and I cannot do a 30k in under two hours though I'm close. It may tell you something about my growth in parenting that it wasn't until the 3rd year that it occurred to me to do a shorter distance to make sure Kiana had time to do the kid's K. This year we were gunning and it may tell you something that I was ahead of every half marathoner but that two 30kers were ahead of me (damn elite runners). Because there were three distances on the course and various arrows and turns, a few of us half marathoners ended up doing wrong turns and I ran nearly 14 miles in 1:25 and change (last month I did the toughest half I've done with her in 1:23). I was actually on PR pace because this was the longest break I'd had between races and the legs were more rested than usual since in the New England cold, I'd found it hard to get out of a warm bed. At the end of the race, my mom was there cheering and I didn't know if anyone had beaten me because of the extra distance from the wrong turns. She tried to take a picture but I was frustrated enough to where I couldn't even smile for it immediately and I had to get Kiana to the Kid's kilometer race.

It didn't take long to get the smile back on my face because out of 22 kids, Kiana took off and while she was nowhere near it at 600 meters with a lap to go, she turned it on and came in 3rd. She'd won her age group before and gotten a medal but it was her first trophy which has joined the family trophy case! I smiled going in knowing that some thing had gone right about making the decision that led to Kiana's first victory (she'd won an age group division before but this was outright placement).

As we were sitting there going through the results I told both the timing guy and the race director about what had gone wrong. While frustrated because by all account I'd had a commanding lead, I said I understood that since I hadn't stuck strictly on course that I'd accept being disqualified. In a moment where humanity continues to amaze me, the guy in both 2nd and 3rd place both made the argument for me being the winner of the half which I received. This is the second half I've ever won, the first one with a stroller. With a stroller, I'd taken 2nd and 3rd both of which had received media attention and this one got none, but somehow that bit of humanity makes this a very meaningful win. The prize was a pair of skechers and while I haven't picked them up, they will likely become my day to day shoes so as I put one foot in front of the other, I'm reminded of how much I believe in and am amazed by humanity.

In 2013, 2014 and 2015 I've gotten lucky enough to win the first race of the year (for the record, I don't win anywhere near most races I do). Each year has been better than the one before. In each of those years and the ones before it I've also tried a new sport (2012 Livestrong century where I learned to bike, 2013 Spartan where I learned to get whooped and 2014 where I did a triathlon and learned not to drown since saying I learned to swim would be a stretch). I am glad 2015 is starting the way it has. I don't know what the new thing(s?) will be this year sports or otherwise but trying to stay open to it while trying to hang on to the new ones and the great friends. But as I'm sitting here signing up for races and possibilities that will come with new memories I am thankful where it has led me.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Sight of the Stars

I'm not sure I could have asked for a much better transition from the best year of my life to 2015. Christmas was great with my family... The last weekend of the year was captured with 21 miles that were just for the run of it since there are currently no marathons on the calendar so it's not exactly training under those circumstances just keeping a base. Or as I sit here with a Cowboys playoff game just happening remembering the old Emmitt Smith quote that all men are created equal and some just work harder in the offseason. 

But 2014 wrapped up well with Kiana's 8th birthday dinner on the 29th in which she got new dresses that she was thrilled about (for Christmas I got new running shoes and Kiana got new running shoes and dress boots. It's a little embarrassing to admit that I'm not sure whether I or my little girl gets more excited about shoes but oddly enough it made me pleased that one of the simplest gifts got of her best smiles). I asked her to not get any older please and she said "I will always be your baby but I'm not a baby anymore I'm a child now."  I am not quite sure why Kiana always carries dust to throw in my eyes while she's being nice .

New Years ended with a really fun trip. There was a stop at Mark Twain's home, a guy who while I will never have anywhere near his skills I hope to echo his idea that you can sample life. This was the first trip without a formal event though running in the Northeast snow/hail and got the hardest working out at the EPIC gym in NYC reminded me I've got a long way to go in being fit. I even dressed nicely for New Years hoping to get at least a ginger kiss. Still wondering whether someone you meet in December is worth kissing in January in another state is risky and doesn't that sometimes end up in getting slapped? If you think I'm going to put whether or not I got a midnight kiss in a public blog.... You probably like TMI.

There were many bright sides to going to New York Cities, one of those cities so nice they name it twice. It's one of those places even if you live there with unlimited funds you couldn't take it all in. I went to Madame Tussad's wax figurine museum for the first time which was impressive. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I couldn't resist taking a picture with George Clooney asking him an important question but his ears were full of wax so he didn't provide an adequate answer.  

Somehow the universe has been kind enough to let this be the 4th trip to New York since I won the marathon and there was one before that way back in my college days. There is a piece of art that I've gone to see all but one trip, Van Gogh's starry night. I love the piece on its own but there is also a beauty about a mad man with a tortured mind removing ghosts from the windows that haunt him.  A commercial disaster in his lifetime who painted for therapy, perhaps the reason I run. While I'd taken pictures of the painting and have an iPhone case that references it, I took one with the painting remembering his quote "I know nothing with certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream." There can't
be any more George Clooney girls now that he stepped up his game but perhaps in 2015 I can find a chapter or two with a Van Gogh girl... Even as I write that I don't know what it means but I promise not to cut my ear off.

Still, I'm a competitive guy and I like keeping score. Somehow, both in totality of trips and days, with this visit, New York passed up Duke as the place I've visited most often. Even as I had time there with some people I've met because they lost someone to brain cancer and even as I left I read of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott dying of cancer today at 49, I thought of what he said and I hope my life echoes it: you beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. I hope I'm getting that right as often as I can.

With the mindset of trying to beat cancer the way he did, So somehow in that competition between life and cancer, between New York vs Duke (though I still cheer for Duke in sporting events), my humanity vs my disease, in that there are no races left that I haven't done with Kiana, in that competition book, cancer has already lost and I hope to keep padding the scoreboard. Certainly, as I look ahead at January and February, it's kind of cool to see that Kiana's ahead of me and currently has four races to my three in the next two months! Two of mine are behind her in a half marathon where I hope it will be my fastest with a stroller and one where I hope it will be the funnest one for her yet as we get to run through a zoo in Waco at the Miracle Match Marathon (!

Still like Van Gogh, I hope to paint my dreams onto a canvas. His was an actual artistic canvas; mine are somewhat more specific and somehow more vague than modern art. So the annual 8 New Year's resolutions have been finalized and will start being worked on. Some old resolutions have now become habit/lifestyle/normal so there were some new ones (weight issues, parenting goals owning less at the end of the year-if there's anywhere financially I have embraced life changes that I'd recommend it would be here because you can't imagine the freedom you find from the things you leave behind). I won't share them all but a few can be more public.  I want to get through an entire book or the first time since before brain surgery. I'm reading Unbroken while Kiana's reading the Hobbit hoping to instill the idea that you read the book before you watch the movie. Using my passport for the first time since brain surgery to a newplace is also looking likely since I'm doing a spartan race in the Caribbean in March, (there was also a trip to Brazil scheduled that got cancelled to go to Duke. While media covered the marathon win I hope my feet not just my pictures arrive on doorsteps there someday). I'm going to try to join a gym for at least till then see if I can't do some cross training for the spartan and for running and to look better in a bikini.

So from little to big, we know if there's anything starry in my brain it has serious faults. But even damaged with unexpected twirls that came with an unexpected beauty, I am going to keep dreaming and trying to run my dreams down.