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.



Sunday, July 24, 2011


  This morning I've decided to force myself to sit down and reevaluate where I'm at with my training and my life. I've been off the radar so to speak since the Marathon in April. Mostly because I'm a creature of habit and I tend to fall into a comfortable routine in which I don't like to break.With that being said I also believe that every now and again everyone needs to pause and look back in order to move forward. So, here I am pressing the pause button...again.

   Since the beginning of the year I've been drawing this blueprint. A master plan to reach my training goals, and a plan on what direction I want my life to head. During all of this I've been taking inventory with what and who is in my life. Running has become such a huge part of my life. As anyone that runs knows hitting the road always gives back more than what it takes. This is hard to explain and honestly to people that don't run it may sound like a bunch of gibberish but there is something to be said about how a run can center you and bring things into focus.

   To say that running has been a struggle for me over the past several months would be an understatement. Not because it's hard to lace up (well sometimes) but because of the physical strain and mental pressure I place on myself. I'm a perfectionist and mediocrity doesn't sit very well with me. I have been working hard at getting faster so that one day I'll be able to run the streets of Boston. I've increased my mileage, done the speed work, run the hills and every time I head out is like game day. Trying to maintain my focus and keep my eye on the ultimate goal. The other day when I was out running in record temperatures something hit me as if I was running into my wall at mile 22.

   Forced to run slow because of the heat. I set my mind on just one facet of the run, my form. I quickly realized that somewhere over the last few months, probably because of injuries my form had been compromised. So for 7 miles this was my focus and just like a switch being turned on I was running with a smile again and more importantly running was easy and loose. Running loose was something I had forgotten how to do. Not realizing that the pressure I've been putting on myself mentally had inadvertently forced me to run tense and hard. The last 2 miles of that run were amazing even with the temperatures close to 100. So the next several runs I kept this in mind and just took what my body gave me instead of my mind taking what my body didn't have.

   The second part of this grand plan I've been building was on a personal level. I believe in balance and for someone to be truly happy a balance needs to exist.  To say that I've had a balance would be a lie. If I'm being honest evaluating the past several months it would be a colossal oversight to say that the loss of my boxer Sammy hasn't been weighing on me daily. In the wake of losing her I can look back and be grateful for what has developed since. My crazy lab Hunter and I have spent the time bonding. The loss has definitely made us grow closer. Closer than I ever thought we would. Definitely a blessing in disguise. It took him some time but with his hesitation and my approval he took over Sammy's spot on the couch. A hard decision for both of us but one that I think we knew was right.

   A few weeks ago, almost as if it was meant to be I adopted a puppy (another crazy lab) that needed saved from a horrible situation. My thought process was that it would be healthy for Hunter to have a friend again and some company when I wasn't home. So we welcomed Jax into our family. I think it goes without saying that it's been an adventure. Especially once Jax decided to come out of his shell and feel safe. Since then Hunter and Jax have been playing nonstop and there have been times where Hunter has given me that look that Sammy use to give saying "get this crazy dog off of me!". There have been times where I've actually called Hunter, Sammy when he has given me those looks. So I know my faithful old girl is looking down on us wagging her tail.

   To some extent I believe the loss of Sammy has impacted my running. Feeling guilty heading out after work or for a 3 hour run on my day off would weigh on my conscience knowing Hunter was by himself. Now with Jax a part of the family that weight has lifted and I'm sure it will get easier as the time passes and a new normal take place.So I think it goes without saying that having a second shadow following me around the house again has been nice even if one of the shadows is tugging at my pant leg.

   With all of this craziness in my life or lack of craziness depending on your standards I've also taken a hard look at the people in my life or lack thereof. Back in April I began the process of evaluating my expectations of the people around me. It's not often I get tired or fatigued (after all I run Marathons for fun) but certain people in my life have worn me down. I've come to understand that just because I have such high expectations of myself those expectations can't be applied to family and friends. Life gets in the way so having expectations often lead to disappointment. This is why I place so much value on the act of giving. Giving not in the sense of material items but the giving of time something that is more precious than anything we have. Something I think a lot have people have forgotten how to do. Even though all of this may seem negative (something I don't like to be) there has been a silver lining in the support system surrounding me.The old friends that have been pillars for me to lean on and the new friends that know that taking a minute out of their life to share a moment can mean everything. No excuses just the simple act of giving. Something we all should do more of just to be better people.

   Looking back at the blueprint I've been drawing it seems like I've been focusing on hammering one nail instead of looking at the entire project. As life gets in the way and does it's best to distract me I need to remember what's important and what my goals in this life are and what I can give back. So for now I've stopped chasing and returned to my happy pace. A pace that will bring a smile to my face and hopefully as I stop to give time put a smile on the faces and hearts of the people around me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Running in Nashville

   It's Monday night and all day long I've been struggling with my race recap. I had over 9 hours of driving and all day today to think about about my race and how I actually feel about my performance. There is so much to be proud of and yet something inside of me is angry. I feel like the hills of Nashville got the best of me. I keep justifying not hitting my goal on the course, weather and my injury. In my mind they are all excuses but I guess every endurance athlete has a bad day. Ok....I feel a little better getting that off my chest now for the lessons learned and my race experience.

   I arrived into Nashville on Thursday night after a long drive. The only thing I wanted to do was run a few miles and knock off the rust. Instead of running the four I had set my mind on I actually listened to my body and only pulled off three just long enough to give me a good nights sleep.

   Friday went by in a flash. Probably because of the anticipation of the next days event. I got to meet new friends, had fun and learned some stuff at the expo and had the pasta dinner preparing for the race in the morning. The quiet time alone in the hotel room is where my mind started to stir. I kept going over my game plan, my pacing and my fueling strategy to get through the 26.2 miles. Needless to say with all of this circling my mind I didn't sleep to sound.

   Race day is finally here and after months of training the time had come for this moment. All of my morning preparations had been completed. Before I knew it I was in the corral. I was one of the first sitting on the ground stretching my injured hamstring. The hills of Nashville were on my mind as I loosened up. I didn't quite know what to expect out of my hamstring. In my prior long runs it was giving me a solid 10 miles before acting up so with it taped and on some rest due to the taper I was hoping for the best.

   The National Anthem was sung by Danny Gokey and honestly that's all I remembered from the start. I felt like I was in a zone. Before I knew it my corral was released and finally I was off running.The first 2 miles went by in a flash. My legs felt light and my strides were smooth. I'm not sure why, but in every race that I've run there has been an emotional wave crash down on me and this wasn't any different. Entering the 3rd mile and rounding a corner I saw a guy standing there cheering the runners. Normally this wouldn't cause me to tear up but he had his dog with him. A mixed boxer that looked like my Sammy who I lost just a month prior to the race. I made eye contact with his dog and just like that Sammy was with me again.

   I carried her memory with me for the next few miles until I was side tracked with the overwhelming urge to pee. Mile 6 is where I lost two minutes for my pit stop. We had already climbed some steep hills and from what the map of the course looked like I only had to get through another two miles before it flattened out. My hamstring didn't give me any issues and I knew, or so I thought I knew that the next two miles were going to be the toughest climb in the race.

   Mile 7 came and the funniest moment of the race happened. As I was pacing along focusing on my stride I passed a corner with some supporters when a woman standing with her friend shouted "Oh my God, marry me !!" All I could do was laugh and I kindly replied with "Sorry I've got somewhere to be." Now I'm not sure where that came from but it did make me laugh as I pressed on.

   Cruising along with no pain or issues I felt like I was running my race. I had completely forgotten about my hamstring issue until mile 12 when it decided to remind me it was still there. My thoughts were well that's two more miles than normal and with the pain quickly going away I felt it was going to be a good day. At the halfway point I was on pace to hit my goal. I had reached 13.1 miles faster than I ever had before and I wasn't pushing my pace. It was an easy comfortable run to that point. Then mile 15 came and the race began to unravel.

   Mile 15 was up a steep incline that I wasn't expecting. I knew there were a few small hills left on the course but the map didn't show this monster. At this point is where my hamstring wanted to quit. It was pulling and getting tight. Tight enough I had to stop for a few seconds to stretch it out. Up the hill I went and at the peak I knew I was in trouble. I knew my goal was probably going to be out the window because the pain wasn't going away so I made a conscience decision to adjusted the goal and set a new PR.

  I was slowing and my leg had a hard time extending. My form was getting sloppy and all I could focus on was my hamstring. As the miles went on my leg wouldn't open up so my shoe kept clipping my ankle rubbing it raw. At this point in the day the spring sun was beating down and at the aide stations they had volunteers spraying hoses for the runners as we passed by. At mile 18 my leg was completely gone and I had to readjust my goal to just finishing the race. All of the hard training through the winter months came down to just finishing. A very sobering and disappointing moment.

   At mile 19.6 I passed a house full of supporters. They had a microphone plugged into some speakers to cheer on the runners. The guy behind the mic saw me struggling and noticed my Ohio State hat. He came on the mic and said "Come on Buckeye !!" I smiled until he came back with "O-H..." I shouted back "I-O !!" and the house cheered as I slowly passed on. There is something about being from the Buckeye state gets me fired up. That encounter got me to mile 23.

   In the fall this is where I hit the wall. My energy level crashed because I didn't stick to my fueling game plan. This time around there was no wall to hit. I fueled perfectly and I felt like I could go faster my leg just wouldn't let me. Mile 23 was through a park and yet another steep hill. Small, but steep and there were plenty of people starting to walk. This is where I changed my goal one last time. Finishing was in sight so I only wanted to beat the guy with the red mohawk in the daisy dukes (not fun to be running behind I might add) and the girl who kept sprinting, walking and sprinting (I was getting irritated with her for some reason).

   As we climbed the last hill coming to mile 25 I began to get emotional again. I can't say why. Maybe it was the way the race played out. Maybe it was because I didn't hit my goal or maybe it was because I knew I had pushed my body so hard when most people would have quit. I'm still not sure and I'm OK with not knowing.

   Coming to the end of the race my playlist hit the song 'Till I Collapse. I was the perfect song to cross the finish line strong. I crossed the line and unlike in Columbus where I raised my hands excited and happy I looked down and cursed my hamstring. I received my medal and immediately went to the aide station for them to wrap my hamstring with ice. I grabbed a few bottles of water and some fruit bites and found a place to sit. It just so happened that it was in the middle of the parking lot of LP field. I layed back and just enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the nice breeze that was blowing. Some peaceful moments during all of the racing chaos to gather my thoughts.

   There is something to be said about endurance athletes and I was recently reminded that we are a gutsy group of people and that "running is not defined by the days we go out with a number pinned to your chest." I finished the task at hand and I am proud of that. There will always be another race and I'm grateful for what Nashville has taught me and I'll use that knowledge to grow as an athlete doing something that I love, running.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Adjusting the Lens

   This past year has been one amazing ride. One that I will say has been well deserved after the road that I've traveled the past few. The mental, emotional and physical transformation that I have gone through has made me a stronger more resilient man. Being able to take a step back and see that I've come full circle has been a blessing in disguise.

   Today I am only two weeks away from my second Marathon. April 30th is exactly 364 days past my first ever race. I never knew or realized that a year ago running and racing could have changed my life. I'm a different, better man all because of the self discipline, commitment and dedication running has taught me. All principals that I try to apply to my daily life. I recently had some time to reflect back on the past year when I received a kind note of support.

   This winter has been hard. In the beginning I enjoyed the challenge of hitting the road and fighting the weather. The cold, snow, freezing rain and sub zero wind chills were just another challenge to push myself through. It would be a lie to say that come the end of February and all of March didn't wear me down. Training for a spring Marathon is probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. The mental and physical strain that a body and mind go through is extremely taxing. All of that was compounded by the loss of my beautiful friend and companion of the past 13 years, Sammy. That emotional loss of the only staple in my life over the past 13 years made it harder to get out the door for my runs, but knowing that she could finally run with me like she was a young pup again made those hard days pass by a little easier.

   As the winter moved on through and my complaints grew louder there came a point that I couldn't see the forest threw the trees. My body was beginning to fail me. My calf went first, then my Achilles and most recently my hamstring. I was logging more miles than I ever had before. There is something inside of me pushing and pushing to get better and faster. These injuries were only scars of my dedication and like the self confident fool that I can sometimes be; I ignored what my body was telling me.

   As I sit here reflecting on the past year I'm a little ashamed of the days when I let my negative attitude break through. With that being said I guess I'm only human and that may happen from time to time. I am, however grateful that my body hasn't completely failed me. I am still patiently waiting for my hamstring to heal  but the other injuries have passed and I'm extremely thankful for that.

  Today, April 16, 2011 I'm adjusting my lens. My heart is torn between what could be, and my ultimate goal. Although I don't have an official trainer or training partner I have a friend who has followed my progress is unable to run the next Marathon on her schedule due to an injury. My heart goes out knowing all of the hard work and dedication she has put into training through the cold winter months to prepare for this race. Knowing the type of person she is I know that she will come back stronger because that's what runners do. We NEVER give up. So get better Maureen and even though we've never met I appreciate all of your support and advice as I learn this crazy sport we love.

   The flip side of this coin, and my ultimate goal is being lived right now by another runner who has been ever so giving to share her first experience of running the Boston Marathon. Witnessing all of the emotions that are being poured into this weekend and through the race on Monday are truly inspiring. Maybe only runners can appreciate this accomplishment and what it means to have the privilege to cross Hopkinton Rd but I wanted to take just a moment to congratulate Jane on reaching her dream and being so kind to share it.Ohio is pulling for you so enjoy your moment.You've earned it.

  All of this is just lessons in life. Never take for granted of what you have and never ever give up on your dreams. This isn't just about running it's about what we all need and look for daily to be happy. Take that first step and find your happiness everyone deserves it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who We Are

   Life is a crazy sport ! We play this game of life hoping that if we win we will be truly happy. Most of the time we don't even realize that the clock is ticking until something traumatic happens that makes us call for a time out. Unlike the sports we enjoy on TV, our time outs in life can, at times bring us to our knees and shake our souls. After my 20 mile run yesterday I realized that my life was in one of those time outs over the past week.

   It's funny how the solitude of a run can help me deal with my thoughts and emotions. So at the crack of dawn, on a Sunday, when the world is still fast away in their beds I headed out hoping to start my game of life again.This past week I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my life and I was hoping that somewhere along those 20 miles I would make peace with my decision.

   In 1998, looking for an addition to my home I ventured out to the local dog pound after seeing a cute picture in the paper. Something about that picture of a mixed boxer, head cocked to one side sucked me right in. She was just a pup maybe 8 months old. She was abused and malnourished and slated to be euthanized if she wasn't adopted. There was something about her dominate personality that almost said
"Well Mr. Vanek I choose you so let's do what we have to do and get out of here."

   Home now, and her official name became Samantha (Sammy) Vanek. The first few years were eventful to say the least. This loving pup was growing up to be a gorgeous dog. One that loved to test me and test her boundaries. Those first few years were scenes right out of the movie "Turner and Hooch" minus the slobber and drool. She loved to test me daily to see who was the boss and she learned very quick to talk back just like a sassy teenager. It'd be a lie to say I won all of these disputes. The fact is that I have a soft heart when it comes to my animals and sometimes I would just give in to that adorable grin.

   As the years moved on so did our relationship. We moved to Kentucky and back. I was in a relationship one that Sammy seemed to love. She became protector of the home. To some degree I think that because she couldn't have any puppies herself she protected the kids as if they were her own. That sense of protection almost cost her life. On a late summer day the mailman came to deliver the mail. Sammy jumped full force against the front window and it shattered. Her front legs going through and as she pulled back sliced them up. She was in bad shape and we didn't know if she was going to make it. I will give credit and thank my now ex-wife for making the decision to spend the money to try and save her. Sammy recovered months later with only a slight limp. This was just another testament to her will to live and survive.

   Time seemed to just slow as life just played out. I watched her face turn grey, as the game of life played on. We lost our friend Buster my old golden retriever and then we lost our family when my marriage fell apart. Sammy took it hard when the kids weren't around anymore. She spent weeks laying in their beds until she decided to let go. This heartbreak was one that made our bond stronger.

  It was evident that my old girl lost a step or two. Hunter (my chocolate lab) came into our lives and being a typical Lab kept Sammy on her paws and worked hard at keeping her young. The winter of 2010 was fast approaching and in my heart I could also see Sammy entering the winter of her life.

   On Thursday, my trusted old dog gave me a look from her spot on the couch that I understood. She was tired and was ready. With tears in my eyes and my heart shattered I knew what I had to do for this dog who gave me so much love. Friday March 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm my faithful partner of the past 13 years passed while laying in my arms leaving behind a loving dad and brother (Hunter).

   During this time out in my life I started to think about who we are. With some very kind gestures, comments and support during this hard time it hit me that friendship makes us who we are. Taking time out of ourselves to give to one another is what we are placed on this marble to do. Sometimes it's a helping hand or a gentle smile that gets us through a tough day. Sometimes it's that simple gesture to let you know you're not alone and you can lean on someone and sometimes, on that rare occasion you are given the precious gift of time and companionship that touches every fiber of your heart and soul.

   Unconditional love is what we all are looking for in this game of life. Dogs were put here to show us exactly what it feels like to have that touch our hearts. That is why it's so hard to say goodbye. Sammy, Hunter and I miss you everyday. I miss you talking back, I miss you stealing my shoes to sleep with or my dirty clothes to lay down with. I am going to miss looking over at you on the couch when we are watching TV. Most of all I'm going to miss you as my friend and all of the little things you did that just made me smile. Sammy you taught me how to be a friend, how to do the small things that may mean the world to someone, and in the wake of you moving on, you had the power to bring out the kindness and compassion from the people in my life. You were an amazing friend Sammy, I will never forget you. Thank you for sharing your life with me.
Samantha Vanek 1998-2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011


   It's February 2011, and the dead of winter in Northeast Ohio. As with most of the population in this part of the country cabin fever begins to creep into our souls. We still have weeks of cold, grey days that will test all of us who choose to live here. For some reason I've been reflecting on my life the past few weeks. Maybe it was my upcoming birthday, maybe it was just time to reevaluate the course of my life or maybe it was just a week of challenges that I faced. In recent years I've become a firm believer in taking inventory of my life and looking back at the road I've been traveling to make sure that the path I've been running is leading me to happiness.

   The week leading up to my birthday was a roller coaster physically and emotionally. I had the feeling of being lost, turned around and not knowing what direction to turn. I'm not sure how I got lost, but before I knew it I felt as if I was in the middle of a forest not knowing how to get out, and with no one around to hear me ask for help. So with this overwhelming, uncomfortable feeling filling my heart I did what I always do to sort out my issues. I laced up the shoes put the gloves and hat on and went running.

  I believe that I'm a good person. A man that always tries to make the right decisions. Although my approach doesn't always coincide with the main stream I generally believe I'm doing what's right or in better words, believe that the consequences of my decisions will make everyone in my life stronger. The past several weeks have tested the very fiber of who I am. These hurdles needed to be jumped so I could put my mind at ease.

  In the past week the old saying "blood is thicker than water" kept crawling through my brain and each time it crept into my mind an anger filled my heart. This anger has made me question who I am as a man, friend and father. During my runs I've had to evaluate each scenario that had played out over the past few weeks to put these challenges behind me. I've realized (something that most people probably all ready know) that even though the outcome of my decisions don't always give me what I want in the immediate future I have to believe and be patient that they will bring happiness into my life later down the road. It's amazing how the solitude of running and the simple cadence of my stride can help put my world into perspective.

   Last nights birthday run definitely made me look at my life in a different light. The events in my life over the past several years has changed me. I use to be one of those people just going through the motions of everyday life. This, I believe, is one of the reasons my marriage crumbled. A man just going through the motions of everyday life attempting to squeeze in some "me" time by running or cutting the grass. The divorce made me change my ways. I became a man that is an absolute pleaser. A man that has no balance or ability to distinguish between what's right for me verses just making my friends or family happy.

   At the top of a hill 2.5 miles into my run last night I paused as all of these thoughts washed over me. I looked back at the steep hill I just climbed thinking "that hill use to kick my ass" and smiled because it's nothing to me anymore. I turned around picked up my pace and enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. The sun sinking, behind the snow covered hills and bare trees of the sleeping landscape while casting a gorgeous pink sky in the distance. Smiling because in that moment all of the challenges that I've been dealing with felt as if they were behind me just like that old hill that I use to struggle with.

   As I continue to be a pillar for those in my life I know that my new challenge is to find that elusive balance I didn't know I was looking for. Somehow I believe that as long as my feet continue to hit the ground in perfect cadence I will find that balance and then maybe, just maybe I'll be able to start a new chapter in my life.Until that is ready to be written I'm just going to smile and continue to enjoy who I am, and who I'm becoming. I'm going to soak up my personal growth because I believe it's going to bring me to happiness.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Year End Review

   It's amazing how fast this year has gone. Most people are welcoming the start of the new year as an opportunity to start over, start fresh, and toss the old out to the curb. As the year was winding down I couldn't help but think to myself all of the new year's resolutions that will be made and not kept. I guess the new year gives people hope and hope is a good thing to have, but from what I've learned this past year hope is only a small piece of the puzzle. Change only comes from a desire to be a better, stronger and more caring person. This is a decision we all have the ability to make each and every day when we open our eyes.

   I welcomed 2010 just like everyone else wanting and hoping for a better year. I guess I thought fate would play a large part in how the year unraveled and to some degree this is true. Somewhere around February I realized that my choices were going to have a larger impact on how good or bad my year turned out. I made the decision to break through my glass ceiling and turn my love of running into my lifestyle.

   I registered for my first half marathon and ran it in May. The results were not what I expected or desired. I crossed that finish line my emotions seemed to take over the "Joe" that was weak and beat up from a failed marriage and that constant feeling of failure seemed to leave my heart. I began to believe that I could conquer anything.

   The months rolled and the running mile began to pile up. Before I knew it I was back in Columbus, Ohio for my second half marathon. I was feeling strong and confident. A new "Joe" was emerging. At the end of that race I had a noticeable improvement in speed and endurance. Later that afternoon at a running expo promoting the Columbus Marathon I decided this was going to be my next accomplishment. I left Columbus to head home and didn't quite realize the road I was on. My year was unraveling in a way I never expected and it was all because of my daily choice to get stronger not only as a runner but as a person.

   October 17, 2010 the Columbus Marathon. Wow was I nervous! I'm in Columbus flying solo and it was like everything that I had experienced over the past few years was challenging me all over again. The gun sounded and I was off and running. The range of emotions that I battled over those 26.2 miles transformed me into a stronger man a transformation that I didn't expect. All of the heartache, weakness, confusion and anger was left behind me littering the streets of Columbus.

   So last night when I was out celebrating the New Year all of this started to cross my mind. The "Joe" that started the year was definitely not the same that was finishing it. I smiled throughout the night as I listened to people state their new resolutions, but somewhere knowing most of those new beginnings will fall to the wayside as 2011 passes through. I've let go of some toxic thoughts and feelings that have been polluting my heart and mind for the past several years and I'm stronger for it. 2010 I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. There is a common misconception that people don't change. After 2010 I can firmly say that they do and they can. It's a choice we all have the ability to make, but it's a choice we have to make every day until it becomes the new "you". I have a long way to go but I'm ok with that. This is my road and it will only make me stronger. This is the road I choose to run.