Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Getting Lost

   Watching the sun wake the world and listening to nothing but the sounds of the birds singing can bring a calm to one's soul. As any runner will tell you being out on the roads or trails can be magical if you just open your eyes. Being able to witness the beauty of this world is something we all take for granted and if we're smart we can take a step back and appreciate the forest instead of being lost among the trees. After being lost for so many months a calm breeze kissed my skin this morning and whispered  "wake up" and instantly I felt as if I could breathe again.

   This past Sunday I ran my seventh marathon in Cleveland, Ohio.  Getting lost in the numbers I was instantly let down by my performance. With the overwhelming feeling of panic consuming my being I immediately began to look for my next marathon to redeem myself. Being able to stop and be in the moment today made me realize that I am truly lost but having the sun warm my heart and the breeze kiss my soul I was able to pick my head up and know that I can find the way home.

   Lost in my selfish disappointment I failed to see the beauty surrounding me and this past Sunday it was all around. Lost in my own self pity I failed to embrace a friends encouragement around mile 21 and for that moment I let it break me. As she grew smaller and smaller on the horizon I felt completely shattered until I realized I wasn't. Anger set in and I decided to finish as strong as I could. With my friend completely out of sight I somehow found the strength to pick up my pace and find her. Catching her with only a tenth or two left in the race we crossed the finish line together. This moment made for the best finish to any race I had ever run. The emotion of that moment witnessing my friend reach her goal and qualify for the Boston Marathon was overwhelming.

   Lost in my own heartbreak I failed to see that I had friends all around me, caring about me and celebrating being able to conquer another marathon. Lost among the weeds of self loathing I failed to embrace the company of friends that in all honesty I didn't have a year ago. Friends who are made from the same fabric. Friends who share the same passion. Lost in disdain I failed to embrace the fact I managed a personal best even though my friends celebrated it for me.

   With all of that confusion and noise cluttering my mind blocking my view of the forest I've come to the realization that there is more to running than just achieving your goals. It's the community, companionship, passion and most of all it's the friendship that grows over the miles. So with a humble heart I sincerely want to thank Julie Rudolph, Amanda Fire, Amy Pagac, Ashley and Sal Wood, Becky and Mark Rudzik, Brooke and Erin Schumacher, Cory McCusker, Jay Layshock, Jo Butchko, Scooby, Kara Sheesley, Kevin Guthrie, Liz Yazbek, Mary Beth Acker, Mike Mallis, Vince Marino, Tammy McFarland, Jason Hanysh, Todd Perren, Tom Grantonic, Danielle Cerroni, Justin and Joshua Boggs and Wendy Kish along with everyone in the Youngstown Road Runners Club for giving me a piece of your time even if it was just a wave out on the road. With all of that said I want to give a special thanks to Jaclyn DiSibio for reminding me that my heart was stronger than my mind this past Sunday and a VERY special thanks to Amanda McNich who has come into my life and completely changed the road I've been traveling. Without her heart and her ability to see the good in people I wouldn't be here today. She save me and that appreciation can't be put into words.

   Everyone gets lost from time to time but being able to pause and embrace all that is around you can make the difference in finding your way home and continuing to wander without a direction.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cracks in the Road

   Another year is winding down and soon the snow and freezing temperatures will have a tight grip on this part of Ohio. November is the month where I like to take a step back and reflect on what has taken place in my life throughout the year. I have become a firm believer that taking a personal inventory gives me a better perspective and appreciation for the people, events and actions that have filled this years calendar.

    For the past four months I have felt like my life has been in a rut. That state of mind where you wake up in the morning and just go through the motions. A growing emotion of frustration as if you are at the Doctor's office waiting for your appointment but never being called. Carrying this bag of emotions as if it were a delicate vase afraid to do anything with it because I didn't want it to break.

   The days and weeks following the Columbus Marathon magnified these feelings as if they were under a high powered microscope. Heading into this race I was feeling confident and strong. I was coming off of a personal best marathon three weeks prior and I expected to break through my glass ceiling in Columbus to get one step closer to Boston. Months of training, eating right and getting up early for those long Sunday runs all exploded shortly after mile 14 of the race when a pop in my hip stopped me in my tracks.

   Quitting isn't in my DNA and although I've failed many times in my life I can honestly say I've never quit. This pain in my hip almost forced me to walk off the course, almost. I hobbled along thinking that I'll get to mile 17 and run through The Ohio State Buckeye stadium,  (one of the reasons I chose this race, GO BUCKS !!) and then pull out. Then that little voice in my head started to call me names most to vulgar to describe. Whispering in my ear to suck it up and just when I needed it the most there was someone holding a sign that read "Pain is only temporary". I pushed on and hobbled to my worst finish of the year. This marathon broke me down physically and mentally and although some would say a 3:48 is a great time for me I felt like it was my biggest failure.

  Attempting to cope with this and put it behind me was harder than training. I kept telling myself and others I was OK with it and I've moved on but that wasn't the case. Holding on to something or someone never has a good outcome but this was a piece of the puzzle that I was determined to solve. So the weeks passed by with a steady pace allowing me to find a way to accept this along with other failures mounted throughout the year.

   Doctor's orders were take two weeks off so I took one and then slowly began to log miles again. Running is where I sort out my problems. Where I'm able to have absolute clarity so two weeks seemed a little extreme at least for my mental well being. Then while out on a slow run I took a deep breath and with that exhale a weight was lifted. Even though the long shadows of a mid November afternoon were reaching far across the landscape it felt as if the sun were rising for the second time that day and in that light the cracks in the road were highlighted.

  Staring at the road on that steady slow run I kept gazing into the cracks on the surface. One by one along that eight mile jaunt they hypnotized me and when I was finished everything that had been on my mind seemed to be gone. Those cracks in the road were telling me to let go of everything. Those imperfections that make me who I am also make me strong, flexible and forgiving. Cracks in the road that quite possibly no one else will notice. Cracks in my heart and soul that have made me the man I am today and will shape who I will become tomorrow.

   Running for me is experiencing life wide open. It provides a much needed peace for my soul and a love for my heart that is difficult to put into words. Over the next mile of my life I'm sure there will be happiness, sadness, love and heartache. All that are cracks in my road but more importantly make for a beautiful place to run.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Think of You...

   Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Being that I'm a creature of habit I tend to wake up before the sun. The world is still spinning but most of the time life seems to be standing still. Sunday is the one day of the week where I generally get in my long run, even if I'm not training for anything specific. The peace I get being out on the road before the world opens their eyes has a very calming effect on me and resets my restless mind for the upcoming week.

   As any runner would tell you there are a plethora of ideas and thoughts that cross our minds when we are pounding the pavement or running the trails. I tend to use the road as much needed time with my best friend and this past Sunday we decided to shared some memories. Memories that made me smile and a few that caused a tear or two.

   Mile 2 of a 13 mile run I was focused and could feel my body starting to get loose finally hitting a nice pace. Concentrating on my form, breathing and pace as I usually do during training. Suddenly my mind wandered completely off the reservation and all because of one song that popped up on my iPod. Colder Weather by the Zac Brown Band.

   This song will always be linked to the loss of my boxer Sammy, not because of the words or the story it tells but because it was the song playing on the way home from the vet that sad day I said goodbye. So with that in mind it probably goes without saying that when the tune hit my ears more than a few tears were shed as I remembered all of the crazy, happy years we spent together.

   As the tears dried up I thought about all of the funny times we shared and those memories brought a smile to my face. I know she's in a better place and that eases the ache in my heart. My mind drifted to the people that have come and gone in my life over the past several years. My memories of the people that have touched or inspired me and the friends that made me realize that life could be worse. The remainder of the run I thought about each of them and where they are in life. I thought about why our friendships faded. I second guessed myself for not telling them how much they meant to me and how they touched my life.

   I often question myself when I'm on a run. The questions can be very simple to life altering decisions. On this day I questioned why in certain cases I didn't fight to keep those incredible people in my life and just as a cloud passes over the sun I realized that this is the way things are suppose to be. Sometimes you can fight too hard and push someone away, sometimes not hard enough and that someone will pass through your life like a summer breeze. On that run I accepted that everyone is on their own road. Running at their own pace sometimes joining you for a mile or two until their path takes them in a different direction. I guess hearing that song made me realize that I need to work on showing my appreciation for friends while we're still running together. Maybe our paths will cross again where I can show my appreciation. I'll keep hoping that if or when they do I'm able to express to them the same love and happiness that I shared with my old boxer Sammy. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Moving Forward

      After an extended hiatus I finally decided to sit down and organize my thoughts. The thoughts that have been consuming my energy on so many of my long runs. Cluttering my mind like a busy white board at the end of a seminar. Quite honestly the need to do this was long overdue. As Summer comes to a close the feeling of starting a new season with a new state of mind is a much welcomed idea.

   This morning tossing and turning in bed I decided to get up and go for a run. Just a short 10 miler knowing I have another 15 to run this evening. It's amazing how you can see the world, your world if you take a moment and enjoy it from a different perspective or in my case gazing at it in a different light. I'm on a route that I've run so many times before. I came upon a part of the road that looked different. For some reason I never noticed that this particular stretch of road was a hill. Could have been the lighting or lack there of that highlighted this but in that moment all of the crazy thoughts that have been littering my mind started to fall into place.

   The last Marathon I ran was back in June. Three weeks prior to this race my confidence was at an all time high. I was coming off of a strong 20 mile training run on the course and I had done all of the hard sometimes grueling work that a runner does to get ready for the Marathon distance. My goals were right there on the horizon waiting for me to grab and then came my taper. I have never been loyal to the taper and because of that I decided to log some extra miles. Before I knew it I crossed over the line and my hamstrings said they had enough. Over trained and very tight on race day I still had high hopes of hitting my goal.

   Cruising along just dealing with the tight legs something else decided to smack me across the face. At mile 18 on that hot, early summer day a severe dehydration began to set in. I never planned on this being an issue. There were moments over the last 8.2 miles when I didn't think I was going to finish. There were times when I didn't know where I was and my head was so dizzy I wanted to pass out. This was the first race my family and friends attended so with them giving up their time and not understanding the thrill running gives me I continued to fight and move forward to get to the finish.

    This race has been a mirror for the path of my life over the past several months and has taught me more about living than probably any race I've run. I won't bore you with the details but just like this course my life has been hill after long hill. Climbing one and celebrating the accomplishment to letting my pace open up enjoying the ride on the down slope only to look up and see another challenge staring back at me. Over and over climbing one hill after another with the finish no where in sight.

   Out on the road this morning I realized that everything in our lives can relate to a Marathon. You can do too much and have that impact what you are striving for. You can do everything right and still be derailed by the unexpected and you can love something or someone too much where you ignore what's right for your own health and well being. I now understand that letting go of something you love in order to heal only makes the heart and body stronger. At 38 years old I know I'm not where I want to be in this life but I have had a taste of what makes me happy and if I need to start over in order to keep moving forward then I accept that this is my road. I believe that if I keep moving then I will cross that finish line and that happiness will last an eternity.




Monday, November 14, 2011

Running the Obvious Path

     The calendar tells us that it's winter here in North East Ohio but I think that Old Man Winter is still on vacation because the warm temperatures have been a pleasant surprise. Yesterday was Christmas and families and friends gathered all over the world to celebrate and enjoy the holiday. I began my day with an early Christmas morning run. It may not seem like much but that run was a little gift to myself and was just enough to slow the hectic pace of the holiday season. Nothing but a quiet run in the dark before the world was awake with only the sound of my footsteps to make everything seem right.

   My day continued as I celebrated with my brothers, parents and sister in law. As usual we enjoyed great food, laughs and some crazy gifts that Santa has been known for giving and although the day was fun and spirited something seemed a little different. I can't say if it was a good different or a bad different things were just different.

   I headed home digesting the day and all of the food and decided to go for another run. This run was mainly to help burn the excessive amount of calories I consumed but along that 7 mile stretch of road something hit me that seemed to put things into perspective or at least explain that different feeling. Two separate runs and two separate experiences. Early in the dark morning with only the sound of my footsteps and the beats of my heart to an early evening jaunt where the lives holiday travelers exhausted from the days events buzzing through town retuning home.

   I know that I'm stating the obvious here but my moment of clarity came when I realized that everything is constantly changing. It's such an basic observation but one that I'm sure most of us take for granted or at least never take the time to appreciate.

   There is the old saying that people don't change and after yesterday I couldn't disagree more. We all are changing. Every single day we change and mostly because our lives are filled with the chaos of living we don't quite recognize the subtle differences that occur. For the past several years I have been consumed with trying to be a better person all dictated from my past experiences when all along I have been changing. For the first time I am actually comfortable in my own skin. I'm at peace with where I'm at in life and there is a calm surrounding my future.

   The miles I've been running on "My Road" have given me the experience, patience and understanding to finally come to terms with who I am as a person. For most, all of the running I do may seem a little obsessive or an escape from reality. When all along I was just attempting to put life into perspective. I finally realized that I'm not chasing anything. I'm not running from anything. I'm just a runner, a runner who just loves to run. I'm a runner who uses the cadence of my heart to put a little bit of clarity into this wonderful world we are living in and accept the changes that come day by day.

  As 2011 comes to a close I wish everyone the same clarity and peace that I found along that seven mile stretch of road in the new year. I hope everyone takes the time to pause from life and recognize all of the beautiful changes that surround us and by taking the time to admire the obvious our friendships, relationships, marriages and most importantly our lives will be better.

 Happy New Year and take the time to enjoy that deep breath of life that we all so enjoy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Family

   It's less than 24 hours after my first Ultra Marathon Relay and, as with most of my races I like to take time to reflect on what I had experienced. Between last nights late drive home and this mornings recovery run I was able to put my my thoughts and feelings into perspective.

   Looking back over the past year it's a crazy story how I ended up running some extreme trails in Hell, MI on a late September day. I'll spare you with the details of where it all began but will mention that all of this started with an unlikely friendship. A friendship that I'm extremely grateful for and lucky to have. With that being said I didn't quite know that this friendship would play such a big role in my life until today.

   Most of the people in my life know my Achilles heel has been that I'm a creature of habit. So for me taking the opportunity to run some trails when I've been stuck on pavement was a huge leap. It may sound silly but putting this race on my calendar was a huge  for opportunity for me, one that I've been looking forward to for quite some time.

   I'm off !! My first leg of the race and honestly I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was a 6 mile leg of rolling hills and that I had to follow the pink flags. Heading into the woods solo was awesome. I had no idea where I was going and what I was about to experience. I quickly found a comfortable pace or so I thought until I rolled my ankle (twice). Shortly after tripping on a root so I decided to back off the throttle and enjoy the run, besides this was just for fun. After about a mile I began to catch runners and remembering the lesson on trail etiquette that my friend Maureen gave me, my new favorite saying became "on your left" as I began to pass the runners ahead of me. After passing about 15 runners I was hooked. I'm not a hunter but that's exactly what I felt like in the woods. With every twist and turn I couldn't wait to set my sights on the next athlete so I could make the pass. Looking back at that first leg the finish is what prompted this chapter. Flying down hill to a cheering crowd and not really knowing anyone except my friend Maureen I began to noticed some familiar faces from the the night before. All of their cheering and screaming for me to catch the runner in front of me drove me to pick up the pace. I was flying not only because of the cheering but because I wanted to put distance in between me and the girl that was dressed like a Ninja Turtle. Appropriately Maureen was there for the hand off and with a kind smile I think she knew that I was loving every second of this race.

   As the hours began to pass the team that I was on began to loosen up, as did I. As we traveled between exchange points a little bit more of their personalities began to shine through that cloudy cool day. The Mud Mama's were becoming a family or at least that's how I felt. Maureen, the leader of the team feeling under the weather soldiered through her legs showing that she is a pure runner and athlete at heart. Shannon, powered through some tough and at times monotonous running (completing the same leg twice) and probably pushed me to run harder knowing she is one bad ass athlete. Maggie was the sparky little runner who, in hindsight forced me to run faster mainly because I didn't want to let her speed beat mine although I think it did. Finally there was Mindy a team player who picked up some extra miles running all with a smile on her face. I'm still not sure where my place was on the team but each of the girls (in their own way) made me feel as if I was part of the family and that in itself was worth the trip.

  All of these thoughts were circulating through my head today as I savored the entire experience. Being able to share it with people, who throughout a 10 hour period grew from strangers to teammates to friends all because of our love for competition and running.

   Running, what a funny sport. It has the power to bring complete strangers together. Strangers who over time become a family all because we decide to lace up and put one foot in front of another out on the road or in the woods. A family who understands that drive inside that makes us go out and do that extra mile and more importantly supports that drive. So whether it's your neighbor who gets up at 5:00 am to help you through a long run, someone at the local running club or someone you've connected with online cherish and continue to support them. Support their pace, their drive and their heart because like I recently discovered with the Mud Mama's we are all one big family.


Friday, August 19, 2011

The Gift of Running

   It's the tail end of August 2011 and I along with everyone else in Northeast Ohio is witnessing summer fade away. As much as I love Fall I'm always sad to see Summer leave. The heat this year has made training difficult but nonetheless I cherished every drop of sweat that fell into my eyes.

   The air is a bit cooler in the mornings. The sights and sounds of the local football teams gearing up for another season and the high school bands tuning their instruments for those all important Friday nights are all taken in on an early morning run. The Summer heat still warms the midday but the shadows from the trees grow longer, earlier as the days grow shorter. Running during this time of the year always makes me reflect. I'm not sure if it's because it's the beginning of the season change or something deeper but the isolation of a long run has the power to cleanse my mind and make me notice what road I'm are headed down.

   I have grown so much over the past eight months as a runner. I've been able to conquer more than I ever thought possible. From marathon training in the cold winter to finishing my second marathon with a pulled hamstring. Setting a new PR for a half marathon. Completing training runs in 100+ degree heat along with knowing when to cut a run short because it's just not safe.

   Growing stronger as a runner has without a doubt carried over to my life off the road. I attempt to learn something new about myself on every run and usually file away that lesson to use in my everyday life. The days where the running is tough I'll use that experience to allow me to grow. The training runs that are easy and effortless are savored and used to appreciate the small things in life.

   The most important lesson I've learned over the past eight months is that taking a chance on something is completely worth the risk. This was learned in the only half marathon I've run this year at mile 10. With 3.1 miles left in the race I decided to let go and open up my pace. In the past I've always been worried that I would run out of steam before the finish and be disappointed with the end result. I was always the one to maintain my even split and be content with my consistency. So in that brief moment at mile 10 I decided to open up and step on the throttle. Taking this chance and trying something new opened a new world for me. I finished the last 3.1 miles at a 6:03 pace and was completely spent when crossing the finish. That chance that I took paid off with a new PR (a 10 minute improvement) and more importantly the feeling of breaking my glass house and being free. Freedom to not be afraid to try something or go somewhere, freedom to not be afraid to let someone into my life, and freedom to let go of my perceived guilt's and the "what ifs" in life.

   Running is a gift that most people don't quite understand. Running can open your eyes and allow you to see clear. It can open your mind in order to make sense of murky life situations. Running also has the ability to open up your heart and fill it with passion, patience and love all of which runs short in life. Running gives you strength to take a chance and embrace all of the unknown that comes in this crazy sport we call life. So take a chance and open up your pace from time to time. The rewards are worth the risk both on the road and off and the lessons learned (successes and failures) are life moments to be embraced. Happy running and enjoy the gift of your feet hitting the ground and your heart opening to new experiences.