Monday, February 23, 2015

Easy is Evil

I've kept working out at this crossfit gym realizing that being a decent runner doesn't automatically translate into many many things... I'd say it's humbling to be getting outlifted and out performed by people who are both younger, older and lighter than you regularly but that would be lying... it's not humbling... it's fairly humiliating to come in dead last. Still I've only missed one workout since I enjoyed and while I've got a long long long way to go, it's kind of cool to see some of the initial progress.

Just like with every athletic event I've ever done from running to triathlons to sports to my personal favorite game, a sport so sure of itself that it actually calls itself "ultimate," there are people who think everyone should do it, or everyone should try it at least a few times. I won't quite go that far about anything but I will say what I often say about many activities... "don't knock it, till you try it; you don't have to try it, but if you haven't don't knock it." Still when I'm sitting there doing a deadlift for the first time (who the hell names these workouts by the way, dead lifts in weights, suicides in running... no wonder so many people are out of shape when you're naming things that suggest you're encouraging the grim reaper by doing the activities)... anyway when I'm sitting there doing deadlifts or the proper form of pull ups or pushups which I did not learn till I was 34, there's a sign on the wall that says, "Easy is Evil."

I'm not sure I'd personally subscribe to it at that level of black and whiteness  (it's painted in orange and black just for the record) but I do like that the attitude there is that signing up for the challenge is important. In the age of constant measurement or instant gratification whichever way you choose to label it, you're supposed to put in your workout everyday. I'm old enough to where once in a while is enough on athleticism (i.e. only races counts as personal bests with me) but then acknowledge to myself it's because I'm more constant in the physical stuff while getting a personal best on brain exercises often makes my day. And of course, I'd much rather be around people who are around pursuing their personal best in any area of their life than people who are accepting mediocrity in every area.

So it made my day when on a recent school holiday I took Kiana to the gym for the first time and she was thrilled. She ran in the ridiculous cold 400's outside and came back in. She climbed rope slightly higher than where my hands could reach before she was directed to come back down and was disappointed I wouldn't let her climb all the way to the ceiling. I actually am fairly sure she could have but somewhere the protective father won the go have adventures father while she's still 8. A couple of days later she really thought she was going a whole lot faster on her most recent 5k than the one she had done 3 weeks before but I told her it was faster but not as much as she thought. As I started talking to her about it, I realized that the second one was much hillier so part of the confusion was simply because the second one was much hillier and she regularly does track workouts and a 1 mile loop at a park that's completely flat. So I asked her if she wanted to do hill repeats and we tried it out... Took it in stride the first time saying, she was going to do 2 at a time and take a water break and taking a cue from my running group she did 9 instead of the 8 I'd suggested because as we say at the Ship of Fools, you can always do extra.

So seeing her do that at the two immediate workouts after her best 5k inspires me to keep trying. Those are always the best moments when enthusiasm, passion is contagious. I'm not a guy who has ever done video much but I've made a couple recently because I met someone whose good at them. Then someone from Team Livestrong who had read an article made sure that it now has a typo, I am now going to the 2015 Boston Marathon!  (I'll be raising some money for a charity for it relatively so if you want to be my hero have your checkbook ready). I'm certainly nervous about it as I'll have less than 2 months to train and I've been working off this calf injury and nowhere near 100% yet but wasn't I just talking about how easy is evil. So to quote Augustuna, I think I'll go to Boston! Maybe I'll even find a lover tired of the weather  who will fly me out to Spain ;).

So thinking of Kiana's hill repeats, while I took them slow, especially at the start and finish since I'm not allowed to be explosive for a bit, I went and did 5 miles of hills on Thursday and Saturday I ran 18 miles. The iPod shuffle was nice enough to where at mile 17 what came on was a song I've never actually used in a race because I think it's been over used to the point of being almost cheesy, "Eye of the tiger" but I sped up for the last smile and sang it:

Rising up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

And then I went and did a Spartan workout with my cousin. And still motivated by the fact that both a Spartan and a marathon are on the calendar, I ran trail slow as a recovery and biked with my friend Julian after in the cold with some hills that were tough enough where I'm not sure how much longer he'll be my friend. I somehow have complete respect and little understanding of the people who work out really hard despite no competitions on the calendar. I'm obviously competitive so having a race where I'm trying to beat my best times and other people is higher competition. And with less than 8 weeks to train, let me state it here, while it may not happen, my goal is to try to qualify for Boston at Boston.

With that said, what I'm infinitely more happy about is remembering that Boston is where it all started once upon a time. That was the first time my mom and Kiana had ever watched me race as an adult and now she's done plenty on her own, some on the same course and some on her own. That's where the stroller idea came from to get her to do her first race at age 60. And while there's been way too much media about it all, the enthusiasm I have about that is very small. I'm glad that cancer is not contagious but enthusiasm for life is. My cousin Sammy came Saturday and we joined up for a Spartan workout. He and my cousin Omar are getting ready to do their first, now my older brother who whooped me in soccer my entire childhood is talking about joining me for a race (with my little brother it was the right thing to run his first race beside him cause that's what older brothers should do, right? With my older brother, its tempting to decide between that and whooping him). I am honestly a bigger fan of team sports than "solitary" sports like running and so it really makes my day that somehow we've managed to make these events team sports. And the honest to God truth is forget all the media and interviews or Boston qualifying time, if my approach to putting off brain surgery to run a marathon and continuing resulted in my family being more active, that would be an immense reward. I wouldn't sign up for cancer for it but I'm glad we shared enough of a positive attitude to handle it that way. We've not taken it as easy as we used to because well easy is evil...

I've had to attend to this injured calf and the doctor felt the need to tell me that these types of injuries only occur later in life but she was a sports doctor and just wanted to give me awareness. She gave me a way back to get to what I was doing. There was a friend I was visiting at the hospital who was having some health issues and he's twice my age and was thinking about taking it easy but I told him that the awareness of my mortality had made me want to take life more intensely and well since then he's traveled all over the place and taken on some great adventures.

So as I often joke for people who say they aren't competitive, life started as a swimming race and the first one there got to keep living. It gets a little less competitive after birth, it's not all or nothing. But my experience and my favorite people are those who keep taking life on with conviction with their mind, body and soul knowing that enjoying some challenges is a path to goodness because taking it too easy is evil. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Hundred More

It seemed unbelievable as I was picking up my packet that it had been exactly 5 years since I ran my first marathon on the Austin course when I went to pick up my packet with my family. I thought crossing that finish line would be a one time event, check it off the bucket list, move on. It was tough and painful but I was proud of it. But the next year there I was again putting off brain cancer surgery to qualify for Boston and thinking it was my last just believing that there would no longer be physical capacity after they sliced up my brain. Then the next two years each of them would be my second fastest marathon and the winner of the cancer survivor division. Surely there was no way left to step up my game... but then last year, the first year it conflicted with a weekend with my daughter, I showed who was Paramount to me and while we got to go across the same finish line, there was something very cool about doing it next to my daughter on her first 5k and again letting a happy but ignorant thought slip through my mind that man this finish line can't get any better than this, can it?

But it had been an unexpected week in many ways... there had been the unpleasant surprise of having damaged my calf exactly one week before the race. It was the first time I'd had a sports injury that got in the way of non sporting activities and I couldn't support my own weight. Someone from church had offered me a cane to be able to keep up with Kiana for a few days. They did not mention it was a pink one with flowers which got me some good heckling when I was using it. I am not sure whether Kiana enjoyed the flower print or impersonating me more with it. Still in her last two track workouts, I had limped with it while she had run.

But while a doctor's appointments, a rub down and a verdict proving that my grandfather may be right that tape can fix anything, I was ready to try it either way. But my parents decided to sign up for their second 5k together on Valentine's weekend. I often tell that too much truth in humor joke that my first marathon was on Valentine's day and we didn't train together, run together or do anything except high five at the end and thus it's no wonder we broke up. I was glad to see my parents doing their second 5k together in only three weeks. Since it was only their first 5k three weeks before on a much easier course everyone had Pr'ed that day on a flatter route with less turns, I told them to take it easier on the course since my mom had started running less than three years ago when she turned 60, I mean 29 and my dad had started this year just a few months shy of 70, I mean 29. And yet here we were ready to do the same 5k, as a "fours of nature." Not only do so but do it with the finish line that meant so much to me. And just to put icing on the cake, it was being done when the Paramount Theater was celebrating 100 years! 

But I may be too far ahead of the story, before we'd ever gotten to this starting line, it had already been a good weekend. Friday night had been filled by the annual Ship of Fools dinner where drinks were told, stories were drank, and great people were appreciated one to one and from the front. There were shout outs to people who had won races, gotten their fastest times, done ridiculous new running feats, done the simple things that keep us going like putting out water along the routes, designing the routes, the schedules. We may be a ship of fools because of how hard we train no matter what the condition but that ship is build so solid I can't imagine it ever sinking.
Saturday morning had been the Livestrong brunch. I spoke briefly alongside Sean Maguire and Bart Yasso about the approach we have taken to cancer, life and running on a Livestrong team aptly called "Choose Joy." We each shared stories with self deprecation and appreciation for both the wonder and the frailness of life and how running may not be a cure for anything or maybe it's the cure for everything. There would be people there from an organization that was there for me and my daughter since the beginning of cancer in many ways. There would be new friends who would share sadness with laughter and laughter with sadness... perhaps the lesson I learned best about how to deal with cancer while living strong. There was a young lady there preparing for her first marathon who offered to be my date for Valentine's as long as I called her a mountain lion instead of a cougar. 

When race morning started, we were off and it occurred to me that this course had far more turns and elevation change. Kiana was gunning trying to get another 5k PR and realizing that it's a little tougher on hilly courses. When she'd held a similar speed too early three weeks before I questioned whether or not she could hold it, not it was her questioning it. Near the finish line I encouraged her to smile for the photographer and with a quick breath, she said no. I smiled and would explain to her that's why she's usually the one smiling and not me on the races where she's being pushed along. Still, it made her day to have PR'ed by almost 25 seconds at 31:51. After she caught her breather we sat and smiled and waited for Abuelos. My parents have been run walking but on a tougher course, they decided to run more and get it over with. In three weeks took they almost 5 minutes off! All three taken more time off their 5k in one year than I have off my marathon time... a little embarrassing. Still, the course had gotten a little more special with all three of them having gotten their PR's together. The austin marathon has a bell you can ring if you get a PR and both my mother and daughter rang it with conviction!
We'd stick around to catch friends some who got PR's because it was their first time finishing the distance, others who were disappointed they hadn't quite gotten the time they hoped for, a local getting the half marathon win for the 3rd time as he tries to get ready for an olympic trial. There would be friends who'd qualify for Boston for the first time. But showing exactly why it takes so much guts and gusto to run a marathon the woman who had led for most of the race and then was in second place woman literally collapsed but crawled herself to third place.

This year's logo for the Austin events was make it happen. I've watched them and thousand of participants do it for 5 years. The Paramount theater we ran with has made art happen for a hundred. And from first place elite finishers to third place crawling elites to fantastic "final" finishers in each course division. With each medal, each stride, each walk, I'm thinking I'll never again imagine the Austin finish as it's best day behind it or behind me and I'll bet it that marathon, that half and even our 5k have at least 100 more. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Choice, chance and circumstance

In the age of twitter in which obviously all wisdom should be encapsulated within 144 characters, I am sometimes amazed at the truth people try and achieve to capture in a pithy manner (or me it rarely is too effective in my book since usually a long winded guy that writes a way too long blog starts dissecting it or expounding on thoughts). But there was a recent day where I read two within a few hours of each other that showed what some people may think of as complimentary thoughts that I saw as complete opposite.

One was "What is meant to be will be." Now there are people who have tried to make that argument about my life since I put off brain surgery to run a marathon and then won one pushing a stroller 1 second slower, a story that is incredible to me and I was there! And there are people who share it as they talk about their romantic connections or how they met their best friend or landed a job. I love those stories... where perhaps the way a single leaf fell was a huge difference maker... the naive idealism, the hopeless romanticism, the cheesy incarnation of meaning but... I'm a realist. So when I think about the calamities in the world and we could pick the big ones like the cultural wars or diseases like cancer or heart diseases. But rather than go with those arguments but let's go with to me the biggest atrocity the simple fact several thousand children will starve to death today when there's more than enough food to feed them. I know the micro setting of our own lives and the good and bad things is easier to imagine than a few thousand children that we'll never meet but looking at the big picture of the world... it's perhaps why I've never prayed to beat cancer much less for good race times because if someone has big power over the world, I hope they're exerting it on one of those children will be where it goes. And I'm not ready accept that thousands of will starve to death is what's meant to be.

With that said, not too far after that I got to hear something a little bit longer but I'd summarize it with what went into my Facebook status and twitter, "Sometimes we make choices and sometimes those choices make us." That was a lot more of what I think the universe is like... there are things far beyond our control, I'm a guy whose likely to die from a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components but I still chose to put off surgery and pick my doctors carefully and I think they increased my chances of beating cancer and just as, if not more, importantly  they gave me the best quality of care and quality of life during and after treatment.

Above all things, in my own pithy 144 character captionable thing (and I've been the quote of the day by a couple of media things), I continue to believe in the lesson that you have to "work on the relationships you want to keep." (Someone remind me the next time I'm getting interviewed to say, I'm only here to avoid the fine). Still working on good relationship is the choices that I want to keep making and the one that I hope keeps making me. It made my day recently to wake up Kiana and realize the ridiculous amounts of medals she had on her bed and how many were entirely her own were getting close to passing both the ones she'd done with me and that the ones we'd done together were close to getting above those I'd done on my own (those sit in a box in my closet). And while the stroller days have to end I realize that half marathons is the distance first, and actually the distance we've done most so I'm tempted to choose to do two more because with one, I'd be tied for how many I've done with her and with two, the half marathons would be ahead in ones with her than without her. 

But sometimes the choices you make make you don't have to be all that consequential. I went to a local comedy show called Esther's Follies recently. Speaking of random choices, I got randomly selected out of the audience to help out with a magic trick... I was delightfully treated by a guy who was wearing slightly more than I race in but not much. Told to make an "arrrr" noise for the audience, with each one progressively louder and more enthusiastic, I did not quite impress the host enough since on the last one I was supposed to do it like the box I was holding had a "box full of titties" and when I was done he said that the girl I'd brought and all the ladies in the audience were safe that night. (For the record I had a really cute lady who went with me that night who might have shown her fiery edge when a George Clooney joke came from the stage and I literally got nudged immediately. She won't be a George Clooney girl for many many reasons but including the joke was about him being married now!). Still, while it's something I can't write or say accurately enough, one of those things that's just on the tip of your tongue, it was a cool reminder that while some randomly occurring things have affected my memory capacities negatively, another randomly occurring event will always be a good memory.

But a good joke from that comedy show was that Rick Perry lived by the "good book," the Boy Scouts manual. Now when most people refer to as the Good Book, they mean another one but I find it
odd that so many people who read that book think the universe is such a clean cut place when it even acknowledge in Ecclesiastes that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong but chance and circumstance happen to them all. Now the text itself is referencing that life usually goes to probability, statistics, strengths whatever you want to call them. And I've been living life with cancer based on statistics being a poker player etc... getting away with the humor coping mechanism that statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital... Since the 10 year survival rate of my kind of cancer is 12%, I'm hoping to be the minimal parts of the bikini... (this is the part of the blog where my mom wonders how she raised a boy that referenced the good book and getting into bikinis in the same paragraph). But still, whatever chance and circumstance bring I don't accept that it was meant to be but I dare to dream that we always have a choice at some level in how to react to it.

There are happy little reminders on this like returning to the Outdoor Hope Gallery which everytime has new spray painted art that the artists know will be temporary but is still over and over gorgeous. And I love that it's called the hope gallery, acknowledging that the only constant in life is change but that there's always hope. And hope is somehow my favorite four letter word. New experiences where you get to see the Cathedral of Junk where someone has turned their OCD into making a three story pile of demonstrating the adage that one man's junk is another man's treasure. Why it's called a cathedral I don't know since it's certainly not my idea of taking someone to church but how people can transform beauty is amazing. I love that Kiana has straight A's and perfect attendance and likes to run but somehow I also love that lately we've been working on a project where the book cover says make art or make mistakes depending on the angle you're looking at it. Life is beautiful by accomplishments and achievements for sure; it's why I bust my ass on hill repeats and was the first in my family to go to college. But isn't it also gorgeous when you learn to appreciate joy and beauty for their own sake? Because while I hope both hers and my choices that end up being mistakes are always within a certain limited range just cause you don't want to see your kid damaged, is it bad parenting to say I'd rather her make some mistakes in both life and art than to always color inside the lines?

She does it in simple ways like finding a stick that would be a great snowman arm and singing from frozen; she has a better chance of riding her bike around the halls. And yes there are ways I'm glad she's within normal boundaries like at her 8 year check up where she's telling her doctors about her recent PR in a 5k... I'm sure no one will be shocked that even her doctor is a runner.

And I certainly did that recently... after the two most intense years of physical activity in my life since winning Gusher, I'd said often how I was shocked how I hadn't gotten injured. So physically I've kept stepping up my game and joined a crossfit gym and have learned new things like the fact that getting bench and benching are not the same thing. I've been doing more trail running where I recently ran the hill of life and the hill of death in the same day (took the hill of life hard, ran real easy on the hill of death), broke 50 miles for only the 4th time in my life on a week I did 3 upper body workouts. Oddly enough, yesterday, I finally got injured of all things playing ultimate frisbee, the sport I love the most and probably the one I do the most. At the beginning of a sprint, in what I thought was my first ever cramp, it ended up being a pulled calf. Friends were super kind in walking me off the field and it's been less than 48 hours and I've already got a bike holder thing since right now I'm struggling to walk. But I got a sports massage and am going to a great local running laboratory to hopefully get back on the road before too long. Some people may want to say I spend too much running, perhaps calling this injury a wake up call from that good book to take a break from my golden calf. I think it's the fact that I sometimes forget that I'm 34 and it just reflected an olden calf.

It's funny people were worried about if I'd heal enough before this race or that race of my own. Another friend asked if I was going to be okay without my therapy (I have plenty of therapy, this blog being one of them and you know sex, drugs and rock n roll). But therapy is a means to an end not the end itself. I even tried to make myself feel better about my walking stick that all my fictional favorite characters ever (President Bartlett, House MD, Doctor Who, and Batman) had to walk with a cane at some point (all the nerdy people are laughing with or at me right now). But honestly I found some comfort in the fact that different people form the Livestrong mission had made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and had been kind enough to give nods to me up there. They are doing tougher than anything I've ever done and so I'm certainly not going to complain about a pulled calf much.

The race I worried about most was the one this Sunday where I'm supposed to be running with team Livestrong, the Paramount 5k next to Kiana which was her first 5k a year ago. We did our track workout today and instead of our usual racing the last lap, I went out with my walking stick and "raced her" to see if she could run faster 1 lap than I could hobble/hop 2. I told her we'd start the race together but she may have to go ahead of me and while it took some negotiating she was somehow both excited and sad about it. I knew the day would come where I wouldn't be able to keep up with her but I didn't think it'd be today. But while I hope to be back enough to at least run next to her Sunday, I'm very grateful that she decided that running her speed was important and I sincerely wish that there never comes a day where I slow her down. It's an out and back and she said if she is ahead of me she'll give me a super exciting high five in the middle of it. We went out and biked 3 miles after that and I was glad there was still something we could do side by side.

So I don't know that what's meant to be will be... nor that the timing of choice, chance and circumstance will always line up. Perhaps people find comfort in that someday everything will be all right in their view? I don't look back a whole lot on what if I had not had brain surgery or what if this or what if that because those choices are made and fixed points that will never be open again. But the choices which keep parts of the past open to the future I try to look at and well, I am glad to still be choosing to work on the good parts of my life and I really believe that those choices have made most of who I am.