Monday, December 28, 2015

The Work by Wes Moore

I saw Wes Moore speak at a United Way event this year.  As part of attending the event, I received a copy of his book, The Work.  I now hope to go back and read his first book, The Other Wes Moore.  The book is about searching for one's life work.  Searching for work that can be tied to meaning.

It is interesting to think about the search for meaning as I just read a story this morning about ultramarathon runners (i.e., people who run races longer than marathons) and the search for meaning in The New Yorker.  (You can read it here if you wish.) 

In any case, I wanted to comment briefly on four things I read in the book.  First, is a quote that Wes Moore attributes to former Johns Hopkins President Bill Brody, "...every day you say longer than you have to, you become extraordinarily ordinary."  This was with reference doing something that a person is not passionate about. I am lucky to be passionate about my present job.  I was passionate about my previous job.  But one of the reasons I made the change from being "just" a faculty member to faculty and administrator is that I was no longer so passionate about being just faculty.  And when I become non-passionate about running, some day (if that ever happens), I'll give it up and find something else to turn my attention to.  And if I ever find that sharing my thoughts through writing is not something I'm passionate about any longer (although I find that unlikely as I did creative writing for fun as early as when I was nine), I'll find another way to express myself.  And if I find that one way of reaching out and helping others is no longer something about which I'm passionate, I'll find something else.  But, again, I expect to always find helping others to be something about which I will be passionate.

Second quote of interest is really not a quote so much as a phrase, memento mori.  The translation is "remember you will die."  A reminder not of death, but of a reason to live.  A reason to make the most of every day.  To think back to Dead Poets Society, carpe diem.  Seize the day. Do something with life.  Do something with every day.  Every minute it I can.

Which brings me to the third quote, from the same chapter as memento mori.  I would love to quote the entire last paragraph, but I'll just quote the last sentence, "It's understanding that at some point everybody will die, but not everybody lives."  Much the same message as the second quote.  But just an even stronger message.  Living is about more than just getting up, working, relaxing, sleeping, and starting the day over again. It's about challenges and community and change.

Finally, for each of the other leaders Wes Moore focused on in his book, he provides a series of questions that they inspire.  For Daniel Lubetzky, Wes Moore challenges the reader to ask himself or herself, "If money wasn't a factor, what might you be inspired to create?"  And that is where something like this blog and the whole idea of 56 Frickin' Miles comes from.  I have an idea for what running means to me and might mean to others.  And by sharing that, I want to tie it in to other way of helping others.  I've been doing that since my first marathon in which I raised money for the American Cancer Society.  But this is about more opportunities for people I could see in what I now think of as my hometown (and what is certainly my boys' hometown.)  So, I'll state here that I hope to write something meaningful about the seven C's of running: challenge, community, conversation, connection, compassion, contemplation, and change.  Maybe it'll be a book. Maybe it'll sell a few copies.  But if nothing else, I would love for it to bring others to my love of running and love of giving and making the world just a little bit better for those who surround me. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dream of Joy

Today, is the third Sunday of Advent.  It is referred to as gaudete in thee Catholic tradition.  And it is a Sunday of joy.  On this particular Sunday, the priest at our church reminded us that we are supposed to be a people of joy and a people of kindness toward others.  One of my dreams--besides the 56 miles--is to be a person of joy to all those around me.  I hope everyone can think of a dream, particularly a dream involving joy, on this Sunday of joy as we pass the midpoint of the Advent season.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Story of a Dream: Taking Running to the Next Level

Yesterday, a friend posted the following question on her FB page (So What? I Run):

TELL ME: If you've been contemplating on taking your running to the next level, what's stopping you? OR, If you finally made the leap, what gave you the courage?

There are a few distinct dates in my running life.

Before the spring of 1984, I just thought of running as something I would do to help with cardio for soccer or basketball.  In the spring of 1984, I joined the track team in my freshman year.  After having had glasses for three years and two soccer seasons, I turned my attention to a new sport.  My first race was a 6:45 1600m (essentially a mile) race.  I was lapped on a four lap track.  I didn't give up.  I got much better over the remainder of my high school years.  I surprised someone at church recently by the fact that I still have my junior year cross country sweatshirt, it is in pretty good condition, and I wear it. 

I lost my passion for running at the end of high school.  Other than one attempt with a friend at a 5K in college (my senior year), I didn't run much.  Same was true for five years in Ann Arbor.  Same was true for our first three years in Baltimore.  And between August 16, 1999 and January 1, 2006, I can count on  one hand the number of times I ran.  

Courage to come back started with realizing my weight was 185 lbs.  That is not too excessive for someone who stands just about 6'1", but it was not where I had ever been and it was not where I wanted to be.   

First, I got back into shape.  One night after worship band practice in early 2007, someone suggested I train up to a half marathon distance.  So the next bit of courage came as part of a challenge.  I got up to the distance in 2007 but failed to register  early enough for the half marathon portion of the Baltimore running festival that year.  I took time away from running again.

Then, in 2009, I got my act together.  Self-discipline and a positive response to the previous challenge drove me to run the half as part of a race.

In 2010, I received my last promotion at the School of Public Health where I work and found out that several people I knew had run the full marathon in 2009.  I treated myself to marathon training in 2010.  So, that was just chasing a dream.  I dream I hadn't imagined in 1984.  But a dream I have now pursued for almost six years.

The first marathon went okay but not great for me.  I responded by making a serious attempt to qualify for Boston.  Took me three more tries, but I got it.  I ran Boston and thought I was done.

But someone I had met in Boston (a friend of a friend when I met her) was a coach.  And the pressures of my body aging (I turned 44 in 2014) made me want to try one more time for a personal best.  To push myself well below 3:15 (my fastest ever was below 3:15 to qualify for Boston but not by much.)  So the dream became 3:10.  And I was blessed to achieve it at the Philadelphia marathon in 2014--thanks to a coach who got my body ready, and a series of friends either watching the race or running the race who helped me spiritually to reach my dream.

Again, I thought I might be done, but one of my training partners off-handled comments on how she consistently runs faster when we run together.  That, plus the need for a good qualifying time for an ultra marathon I was planning for 2016, led me to my latest very good run at the Freedom's Run marathon.  At that point, the inspiration was to help a friend as much as it was to help myself.  Given how much of my running had become social and spiritual and not just "as a means to do better in two other sports" where running started for me, this seemed like a natural progress.

Finally, where did the inspiration for an ultra come from?  I read about it in Runner's World several years back.  It is international.  I have colleagues where the race is being held.  And I could arrange a work trip that will end with the race.  And I will get to push myself one more time to see just what my body can take.

There will be a lot to learn.  There is for each marathon.  And at the end of the day, whether running has come as a means to an end, to lose weight, as a response to a challenge, as a test of my self-discipline, or as just part of seeking a dream, in each case, it has been about learning something about myself.  The more I run, the more I search and explore my motivations and the more I understand my body and the wonderful thing we call life. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Second Chances, Confidence, Coordination

I have registered for the Comrades Marathon 2016.  Except this is not your ordinary 26.2 mile marathon.  The course in 2016 between Pietermaritzburg and Durban will be approximately 90 kilometers or just under 56 miles.  In my first two marathons I raised money for charity.  I have not done that since 2011.  As I prepare for my longest race ever in 2016, I want to share something with those who follow my preparation and cheer for me to complete the race. I want to share information about a not-for-profit called Sharp Dressed Man. I am hoping that my efforts and my call to action will inspire some of those who follow along to make at least a small donation to Sharp Dressed Man. 

When I think of Sharp Dressed Man I think of second chances, confidence, and coordination.  The organization collects used suits, prepares them to be given to men who are in need of a suit for an interview or a job but who are somehow down on their luck, and works with other organizations to help the men learn other basic skills that can help them to put their lives back together.

Have I ever been in a situation that would lead me to need this type of opportunity?  No.  But I think we can all relate to stories of second chances, needing confidence, and the value of coordination. 

So let me briefly share my story of why these themes speak to me so much.

First, I think everyone needs second chances at some point in time.  Some are just bigger needs than others.  I got a second chance at being fit and healthy after letting myself gain ten pounds in the first year of my youngest son’s life which was the last of nineteen years of nearly no exercise.  I’ve made big changes in my educational training and in my career.  I’ve made mistakes in my career and needed more time or another chance to get things right. I have overcommitted and ended up not doing the right thing by any of the commitments I made and then needed a second chance to follow through. I’ve never found myself so down on my luck that I was homeless or bankrupt or needed a total restart.  However, I know how valuable second chances can be on a day to day basis even if they are just little second chances.

Second, confidence.  Even as a highly successful professional, I spent the first 16+ years of my career at a university not caring about suits and (other than not wanting to look like a fool) not really caring how I dressed.  After I made a big job switch within my university my boss told me to get better suits.  I had met Christopher Schafer of Sharp Dressed Man a year earlier at ArtScape, and I decided to go to the Christopher Schafer Clothier for a suit.  I later bought two more.  Having the right suit even makes a difference for someone like me.  I felt more confident—about work and everything else.  I felt better.  I talked to others who noticed.  I talked to others who had their own story. The key is to be confident in myself without being arrogant toward others.  My second chance at better clothing gave me a chance to have a story and reflect.  But the fact that I needed a second chance gives me no right to ever be arrogant toward others as they explore their own style and impression issues. 

Third, for coordination.  I know I cannot prepare for the 90 km race all by myself.  I have many running friends who will join me for miles along the way.  I have a coach who will help me to prepare.  I have friends on social media who encourage.  I have a family who supports me.  I know what I do well.  I know what others do well.  We each need to play our part.  Christopher Schafer knows what he and Seth do well.  And he knows how to find other people to team up with for the other aspects of helping the men he places in suits through Sharp Dressed Man.

So, I am asking you to join me to help Sharp Dressed Man on its journey.  My journey is a physical one.  Sharp Dressed Man is on a journey that is part love—a love of giving and a love of the space on Park Avenue.  Sharp Dressed Man is on a journey that is part rejuvenation—using as many recycled materials as possible to spruce up the old building and put in dressing rooms, mirrors and multiple racks to store the donated suits.  Sharp Dressed Man is on a journey that is part spiritual—believing in the men who are getting the second chances.  Sharp Dressed Man is on a journey that is part financial—the money to rent the space and store the suits and provide the fitting services has to come from somewhere.  Sharp Dressed Man is on a journey that represents the best of what successful business people can do—doing business with humanity in mind with the goal of building economies and societies and not just building up ourselves.  Consider making a small donation at  And if you do, please let me know or let Christopher Schafer know so we can continue on this journey together. 

Anyone who makes a donation and lets me know will get a free copy of reflections I am writing in the six months of training for Comrades—The Spirit of a Runner on the Way to Comrades.  It should be available by August 1, 2016 after I clean up what I write during the training.