Saturday, December 31

Resolution Run

This year the first falls on a Sunday. As a result, I was hoping that Nashville's annual Resolution 5K might be scheduled for a time designed to accomodate church-goers. Nothing doing. As a result, since I knew I wouldn't be running in it for the first time in three years, I decided to have my own little resolution run today.

My private New Year's Eve jaunt was a five-miler and was blessed by great sunshine, pleasant temperatures, and a fresh breeze from the south. Indeed, it was so perfect that I concluded it with an actual resolution: sub-four. That's right. I'm going to take a shot at trying to do a marathon sometime during 2006 with a time somewhere, anywhere below four hours.

Just three days ago I was wavering on whether I would ever even attempt another marathon. And now, here I am proposing to not only do one more, but to do it faster than I've ever gone before! Yikes!

Wednesday, December 28

It's Always Something

It seems that the weather changes these days faster than fads and fashions on a college campus. First it is sunny, bright, and almost warm. Then suddenly, it is cool, dreary, and blustery. It is hard to plan a run for optimim conditions when you can't predict the conditions. I waited a little too late today to get in my run. The wind was howling from the north bringing in a fresh cold front. I battled it for three miles before finally giving in and turning back toward home. My head cold and my IT Band were starting to cooperate--even my schedule was allowing some rare flexibility. But the weather did me in. It's always something.

Tuesday, December 27

Unintended Long Run

I decided first thing this morning to take it easy. The weather was dreary, cold, blustery, and wet. My head cold was worsening. And my IT Band was still bothering me. So, I went in to the Y for a quick three mile run and a short circuit around the weight room.

But then, the weather cleared. The temperatures soared into the sixties. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. And just then, I got several stressful, difficult phone calls in a row. There was nothing for it: I had to go run.

I thought I might just destress and pray in the sunshine for a mile or two. The next thing I knew, five miles had slipped by. I was still going strong. When the sun finally sunk below the clouds and a chill returned to the air, I decided that it was the better part of reason to stop--but I really didn't want to. I'd run eight and was still feeling good.

My head cold and the difficult situations are still there--but now with my unintended long run under my belt, I'm in a much better humor to deal with them.

Monday, December 26

Y Cross-Training

Like most Americans, I really over-did-it over the Christmas weekend. Pies, cakes, candies--to say nothing of the traditional Christmas tamales! I ate too much and got too little exercise. I paid for it today at the Y with a good, intense cross-training session. I ran three miles, biked for thirty minutes, and made two circuits around the weight room.

Saturday, December 24

Going Long

I probably waited too late to get my long run in for the week--by this morning, the weather was blustery and threatening rain. Still, I had a hard time dragging myself out. But, once I finally got out there, the miles just melted away and I remembered all over again why I run: yes, it is healthy; but even more than that, it is the best stress-reliever I have ever discovered. I listened to the wonderful choral Christmas music of Greg Wilbur and set my heart on the joys of Christmastide. Eight miles had flown by before I knew it. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Friday, December 23

On a Wing and a Prayer

When I run, I try not to just let my mind wander. Sometimes that is easier said than done. My first priority is to pray. But, I will also allow myself to think through the various subjects I am teaching or writing about. This morning as I put in a quick three miles, I thought of and prayed for my students, past and present. The miles slipped by quickly and my heart was warmed--despite the wind and the brisk temperatures.

Thursday, December 22

Ghost Town YMCA

I arrived at the Y for my workout a little later than usual this morning. I was fearful that the normal crowd would mean long waits for the machines. Not a bit of it. The place was practically deserted. It was like a ghost town. I guess everyone was getting ready for a day of shopping at the mall (shudder)!

Not me. I have all my shopping done--and as per usual I never came within spitting distance of one of those architectural and civic abominations (of which most Americans seem to be so inexplicably fond). I loathe malls for a host of sociological and aesthetic reasons--but, that's probably a subject more suited for my other blog.

At any rate, this morning I was able to focus on a good, thorough workout unencumbered by the typical teeming throngs. I ran three miles. Then I biked for twenty minutes. I made a single circuit around the weight room. And then I finished off with another three mile run. After that, I was ready for my day--giving thanks for an empty gym and all the folks who were even then queing up at the big box store tills instead of at the treadmills.

Wednesday, December 21

Cold Weather Running

It was really, really cold early this morning when I stepped out to run--according to the Weather Widget on my Mac, just about 15 degrees! There was no snow on the ground. But, the hoary frost on all the trees and fields made for a magnificent sight as the brilliant, piercing sunrise scattered a glistening splendor across the whole landscape--for a high contrast, black and white panorama. It was wonderful.

These days, technical fabrics and specialty running gear make it possible to run in much more adverse conditions that what I faced this morning. I used every layering trick in the book. Even so, it was still really, really cold. No amount of nifty Polartech or Goretex can ameliorate that! So, despite the stunning beauty all around me, I was only able to withstand three very chilly miles. Then it was back inside for a cup of steaming Peets Java.

Tuesday, December 20

Cross Training

This morning I was able to get in some solid base miles and cross training--three miles on the treadmill followed by a quick trip around the weight machines followed by another three miles. I am convinced that I am going to have to get a much better foundation and do some serious core and speed training if I am going to reach my goal of qualifying for Boston. I'll probably have to lose another ten or fifteen pounds too!

My plan is to use the holidays to establish that distance foundational base that is so essential to building a strong core. And then, I'll use cross training to up my overall strength. And finally, I'll start adding speed work once the holidays have come to an end and I start aiming toward the Austin Freescale Marathon in February.

Saturday, December 17

Saturday Morning

I had great plans. First a really good, really long run, then a lingering cup of coffee in the library, and finally lunch at the new BBQ place in town. The problem was the cold. And the inevitable early morning procrastination.

So in the end, I got out on the road a little too late for a really long run. I was able to get in just five miles before I had to call it quits to get ready to meet everyone at the BBQ place.

Priorities are priorities, after all. The long run might get shortened or even displaced, but not the BBQ.

Saturday Mornings

I had great plans. First a really good, really long run, then a lingering cup of coffee in the library, and finally lunch at the new BBQ place in town. The problem was the cold. And the inevitable early morning procrastination.

So in the end, I got out on the road a little too late for a really long run. I was able to get in just five miles before I had to call it quits to get ready to meet everyone at the BBQ place.

Priorities are priorities, after all. The long run might get shortened or even displaced, but not the BBQ.

Friday, December 16

Cross-Training

Today, I went to the YMCA to lift weights, do the machine circuit, and ride a stationary bike. It was the first time I'd done any cross-training in quite some time. I didn't want to run because I am going for a long training run tomorrow morning. But, judging from how sore I am already feeling, I probably need to spend a lot more time in the gym if I am going to get into the shape I need to be in for the Country Music Marathon in April.

Wednesday, December 14

Running in the Dark

Early this morning, before dawn, I logged a really good run. I love running in those ethereal hours before anyone else is awake. Since Wednesdays are generally my big meeting days, I really need to get in a run to de-stress well ahead of time. This morning's 5-miler was just what the doctor ordered. The dogs pretty much just thought I was crazy. But, with Kemper Crabb's Medieval Christmas CD loaded onto my iPod and my Brooks running mittens and REI technical jacket shielding me from the cold, I was altogether in the zone.

Saturday, December 10

Jingle Bell

At the start of the Jingle Bell 5K this morning, the temperature had not yet risen above 20 degrees. Despite such frigid conditions, the sun was shining and more than 150 daring runners turned out for what was a delightful dash through the park. Not yet fully recovered from my marathon this past weekend, I decided to really take it easy. I had a great time and was once again reminded of the joys of running. Besides, it is not every day that I get to run alongside Maresa Hensley dressed as Santa--full beard and all!

Wednesday, December 7

What's Next

Most runners experience a bit of a let down following a really big race. We often find it difficult to get motivated to do just about anything for a couple of weeks--or even for a few months. I have decided to take a few precautions to avoid this kind of post-marathon funk. So, I've set some pretty tough goals for myself--including doing a triathalon this summer and qualifying for the Boston Marathon sometime within the next two years.

My next big races will be the Team Nashville 10 Miler in early February and the Austin Freescale Half Marathon at the end of that month. In March, I will run the Tom King Half Marathon. And then in April, I will tackle the really big one: the Country Music Marathon. After that, it will be time to begin training for a triathalon--I think I will try to do the one in Chattanooga.

But, I am not going to wait for these headliner races to get myself back into the swing of things. Instead, I am going to pick right up where I left off. So, this weekend, I will run in the Jingle Bell 5K in Nashville's Centennial Park. And after that I'll run as many 5K and 10K races as I can squeeze into my schedule through the winter and spring.

Qualifying for Boston and doing a triathalon are no mean feats. I am going to have to stay really focused and work really hard. But, even with my haphazard and ill-structured training up to this point, I've come reasonably close to the Boston cut off. So, if I can discipline my training, strengthen my core, get in more long runs, add the swim and bike cross-training, and develop some basic speed techniques over the course of the next few months, I might actually have a chance.

At the very least, I should be able to beat the blues.

Post-Race, Post-Haste

I've begun to recover pretty well from the marathon this past Saturday. Obviously, I didn't run for the first few days. But, by this afternoon, I was itching to get out there on the roads again. Even though it was bitterly cold outside, my schedule was more than a little crazy already, and my legs were still pretty sore, I was ready to kick some asphalt. So, I laced up my trusty Brooks GTS 6 trainers, bundled up as best I could, and ran a nice, easy 5K. It felt great.

Time Correction

The official times have been posted at the St. Jude Marathon site. My official chip time was more than 14 minutes faster than what I originally thought (see: I really am a klutz with my fancy-smancy runner's watch). Somehow, instead of running the race in 4 hours and 18 minutes, I actually ran it in 4 hours and 4 minutes--coming in 617th place overall. So, it appears that my goal of attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon in the next year or two is not as far out of reach as I had thought! That's good news indeed!

Saturday, December 3

Mission Accomplished

Well, I did it. With lots of help from my intercessors, supporters, Der Chasers, and my dear wife, I was able to complete the St. Jude Marathon. It was really, really hard. I knew that I wasn't in good enough shape to tackle 26.2 miles this time. But, just remembering who I was running for--the St. Jude kids, Mrs. B, Joe, Josh, Zach, Kaitlin, Deb, Tricia, Wes, and Lisa--drove me on when I just didn't think I could take another step.

When I checked in at the expo, I had a little trouble with race numbers and timing chips. I ended up having to change my number once and my chips twice. I am not sure they never quite got the bugs worked out. As a result, they warned me that I might need to keep track of my own split times. Alas, I am such a klutz with my pace watch that I completely missed several of them along the way. But, I got into a pretty good zone--sticking to what I think was close to 10:00-10:30 splits through the first half and 8:30-9:00 through most of the second half until about mile 22 or 23. That's when I totally fell apart. From there on I was just doing a zombie-lunge to the end.

I finished at 4:04.25.

The weather was perfect. It was cool, breezy, and overcast most of the day. In addition, the race was incredibly well-run. There were water stops, PowerAde tables, pace clocks, and porta-potties every single mile. And there were great crowds and cheer stations all along the way.

I don't know that I've ever hurt so much! Everywhere! Even my skin hurts! But, I am so gratified to have finished it. I have so much to be thankful for. I am so grateful to all who contributed to St. Jude and to all who prayed me to the finish.

The next challenge: to see if I can walk to Rendezvous! I've got some BBQ to eat.

Friday, December 2

Marathon Countdown: 1

Tomorrow is it. I've gone over the race route, plotted my pacing plan, and begun hydrating. Today I will visit the expo and the hospital briefly and spend the rest of my time resting and reading.

Running a marathon is certainly a physical challenge. But as Brianna Bleymaier, one of my former students, reminded me with an e-mail full of great quotes recently, it is much, much more than just a physical challenge. Indeed, according to George Sheehan, "It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."

Likewise, according to Jessica Propst, "Games require skill. Running requires endurance, character, pride, physical strength, and mental toughness. Running is a test, not a game. A test of faith, belief, will, and trust in oneself; so hardcore that it needs a category all to itself to define the pain... Running is more than a sport; it's a lifestyle."

For as long as I can remember I have been either in or around sports. My father was and is a life-long sportsman--to this day, he plays tennis or golf or both nearly every week. The sports page was and is the most coveted and the most carefully read section of the newspaper. We got involved--both when I was a kid and when my kids were kids--in Little League, swimming, soccer, football, and basketball. My son, Joel, actually started the sports program at Franklin Classical School when he was a student there. Three generations of Grants have competed in team sports at the college and university level. Clearly, it is in our blood. We can't seem to help but want to go to the games, climb the rock walls, compete beyond all reason and exhaustion, and memorize every stat in the books.

But, there is something about running a marathon that is more profoundly life altering than any sporting event or activity that I have ever particiapated in before. It is such a monumental challenge; it is such a test of will; it is such an intellectual puzzle; it is such a solo effort yet rooted in such a throng of community support; I find it almost in a category all unto itself. I've never done a triathalon (although, that's next), but I'm guessing that there is something similar at work there too. But, this business of running for hours and hours and hours on end really is a remarkable experience of deep soulfulness.

I am ready to do it again.

William Shakespeare wrote, "Bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible." Amen and amen.

Thursday, December 1

Marathon Countdown: 2

I am in Memphis. I've picked up my race number. I did a quick round at the expo. I'm ready to go.

Tomorrow, I'll have a chance to visit St. Jude Children's Hospital--the charity I've been raising money to help fulfill its vital work. I'll be able to deliver several final contributions--including more than $200 collected by my students in Franklin. What a blessing.

Now, it is time for some serious hydration and carb loading.