Saturday, January 18, 2014

Running For Meg and For Us All


 “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” ~Epictetus
A runner is hit and killed at 8ish on a Saturday morning by a drunk driver. A runner who is a wife. A runner who is the mother of three small children. A runner who is young and vibrant. 34 years old.

I didn't know Meg Menzies, but we did run Boston "together" in 2012 and she was training for Boston again when she was struck and killed. I too am training for Boston and I find myself sometimes facing down cars on uncivil roads.

She was doing everything right. She was running against the traffic. It was not dark at that time. And who would really expect a drunk driver at 8 in the morning??? But the world can be a messed up place and there are some damned messed up people out there. Why they seem to survive and those who are not messed up, who contribute to the good in the world, who have something positive to add, do not - well, I'll leave that up to my more enlightened readers to make sense of.

I am feeling many things in response to this tragedy.

As a mother I think of her children. The lose is unspeakable for them. The emptiness. The need to have mom hold them. The reality that they will never feel her kiss on their skin again. The warmth of her embracing them, whispering into their tiny soft ears.

And I hold my daughter closer today - as close as I do everyday, but today there is something else.

I think of Meg's husband, now thrown into a scary world - facing life without his life partner - with 3 children. They are all left behind.

And of course Meg - who's life was too short. Who seems to have lived life with gusto. A horrible, tragic shame.

Of course bad things happen all the time - but that does not ever diminish the suffering of each individual who must live through it.

This situation hits home for me because I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a lifelong runner. AND I have been hit by cars (3 to be exact) and I have had untold numbers of close calls and adrenaline surging scares.

And I when I think of Meg, I think: That could be me. That could be my daughter. That could be my husband. And I feel a little sick to my stomach.

Today the world running community is coming together to remember and honor Meg by dedicating their running miles to her memory. This is what runners do in the face of horrific events - we run.

But I am also hearing some comments slip into to some discussions - Comments like:

"It's just too dangerous to run on the roads."
Or,
"It's TOO much of a risk."

And here is where we try to distance ourselves from the vagaries of life - and I am reminded of the human tendency, shown with unnerving clarity is books like "The Death of Ivan Illich" - To somehow say - this will not happen to me because I won't be so risky. I won't say it's a case of 'blaming the victim' to make these claims, but this seems to happen every time a runner goes missing, is assaulted, killed, hit by a car, etc. The warning are clear: Do not that. It's not worth it.

I won't die if I play it 'safe'.
“A ship is always safe at the shore - but that is NOT what it is built for.” ~ Albert Einstein
Well, I've been chastised for running alone. My judgement has been questioned for sometimes running on the roads (and let's be honest - in some places there are few choices) - even busy roads - which I do sometimes. People act like I'm 'asking for it'. They insinuate that I'm taking foolhardy and SELFISH risks.

And again, we have to wonder what makes a life worth living. I wrote about this when Sherry Arnold disappeared (later discovered to have been murdered) 2 years ago: "I'm Angry As Hell...Therefore I Will Run"

Let's face it - getting in a car and driving is more dangerous than running on a road. Statistically you are more likely to be killed. So let's not fool ourselves here. We must continue doing the things that make OUR lives valuable, for then we are more valuable to all those around us. Let us hold those we love closely every day. Don't kid yourself that it 'can't happen to you' because you are being safe(r) and (more) prudent.

What I think is needed, for a productive response to this tragedy (and two other runner deaths this week - Lindsey Ranz & James Callaghan) is that the running community needs to join together as a force to be reckoned with - to fight for the same '3 Foot Rule' that many states have in place for cyclists, but which does not apply to pedestrians/runners. And on Monday I will be contacting my legislators.

But for today I will run for Meg and for all of us. Be safe.

“There is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder.” ~Anne Lamott

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stretching The Mind: USATF/IAAF Elite Endurance Academy

 
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Last week I was fortunate to attend the USATF/IAAF Elite Endurance Academy at the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista California. This is the highest level coaching certification available both nationally and international. It brought together some of the most accomplished and knowledgeable coaches and researchers from around the world.

~~  For my roommate, Kathy Butler (two time British and Canadian Olympian, multiple NCAA champ, All-American, yada yada yada...) and me (Ummm, yeah. I got nothin') our days began with the alarm sounding at 5:25 as we, bleary-eyed, set out for our pre-dawn run. Then shower, van drive to the OTC, breakfast and then...commence sitting and squeezing A LOT of stuff into our itty-bitty brains for the next 12 hours. (45-60 min breaks for lunch and dinner). AND that was repeated for the week.

Each morning I noticed my eyes getting a bit more blood-shot with the accumulating exhaustion. And yet, we all push on. And once we were all together again for the day, time froze, and the day became another day. The week became a blur of running and projects and discovering things we didn't know, reinforcing things we did know, and challenging long held assumptions.

The Good:

The food at the OTC ROCKS!!! I have NEVER eaten that well for a week straight. Never.

The Chula Vista campus is beautiful. And, I think the guys liked that our classroom was next to the beach volleyball facility. And the weather in southern California in January???? Well, I don't really think I need to say much. Perfect.


The running:  I ran really fast (for me) last week - I had planned my training thus: The week before I left, knowing that I would have little time available to run during the Academy, I ran an 'over mileage' week.  My plan for the week in Chula Vista called for shorter and faster runs, and I got that! All the people I ran with are faster than me, and I worked it, and I discovered that I loved it (Experiment = success). The high point of this was running 5 miles with Deena Kastor and actually being able to keep up fairly comfortably. I was absolutely expecting to be left far behind as 10 of us (all much faster than me) took to the dark streets. But I didn't totally suck on that day. And for that I am thankful and a little proud :)


And while I foolishly forgot to bring an actual photo of the shot I took of Deena at the finish line of the 2013 Bolder Boulder, I did get her to sign a print-out copy of it. Next time I'll plan better!


The faculty:  Not only did we have the opportunity to learn from the the most accomplished coaches, researchers, and athletes, we also ate with them, lived with them, and ran with them. You learn a lot in the classroom, but where the learning really happens is at the lunch and dinner tables, hanging out in the sun during breaks, and discussing and debating with other classmates.

I think everyone's favorite instructor to admire in fear and trembling was Gunter Lange - the formidable and uber knowledgeable, somewhat opinionated, German from the IAAF (now based in Jakarta).


Gunter has a dry, German, sense of humor, and began every lecture with a slide of a convoluted flow chart (so small we could not actually read it!), with the comment:
"And zo vee beeegin here. Deez is vhat vee muzt know. Ya?" (Chuckle chuckle chuckle.)
  “Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain.” ~ Aristotle
And then there is Joe Vigil, who I met almost a year ago at the USATF Distance Summit West. At age 84, with a wicked sharp mind, he is arguably the grandfather, or the Godfather, of distance running. He oozes running from his pores and an aura of running invisibly hovers about his being. He is a student and lover running culture - and is at his most animated as he tells stories of running adventures.


Add in: Robert Chapman, Iain Hunter, Don Greene, Liz Broad, Randy Wilber, Will Wu, Joaquim Cruz, Deena Kastor, and PattiSue Plumer and you have assembled in one place some of the most knowledgeable, cutting edge coaches, researchers, sports nutrition experts, sport psychologists, and athletes. And, add to that the experience of the 'students': Successful private elite coaches, coaches at Division I universities, successful high school and club programs, and on and on, and you can't help but soak it all in. Thanks to the awe inspiring organizational skills of Terry Crawford, the USATF Director of Coaching, (and Reny Colton!), this Academy went off without a hitch.

One of the cool things about these clinics is how you come to know your classmates over the course of the week. I knew a few going into this, and had met some this past July at the USATF L2 course in Hayward California, but most were strangers to me. By the end of the week were one united group - we had run together, eaten together, stressed together, complained together, commiserated together, stressed some more, and on and on...And at the end of the week we were different people, different coaches, and we became both friends and colleagues.

This is as much about the community of coaches - all learning and exploring and experimenting and sharing and growing - as anything else. We are all here because we want to be better at what we do. We want to learn more. We want to contribute to the body of knowledge already out there. We are all curious and hungry for all the sustenance we are offered. And we gobble it up.
“The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” ~ Aristotle
~~  On Saturday, after our morning presentations, Kathy and I return to the hotel with one goal in mind: to finally reach the shore which we fell short of during our morning runs. We have already run that morning but the day is so glorious and we are so relieved to be 'done' with this part of the whole process (we still have a 6 month project and report ahead of us) that we set out west and will not turn back until we reach the water. We both have young daughters who needs must have shells. We are on a mission.

 And we make it! And we find shells.

~~ The week ends with a gala at the OTC with guest speaker Bob Larson (Meb's coach).

And then partying into the wee-hours with new friends and colleagues...

~~ Recovering from this week rivals marathon recovery. But the mental fitness, the knowledge and deep understanding, the experience of being in this physical place for a week surrounded by examples of excellence and mastery - that will never be lost.

And I am again changed by this experience. I was a bit terrified going into to this. No, I was very terrified, but I survived. No. Actually I did much more than that.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin

The Things That Change Us

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” ~ Goethe Sometimes we never "go back" to what we were before....