Saturday, January 31, 2009

Running Can Be Humbling

Today's run, the last of the week, was a bear. My previous two runs this week totaled seven miles and I'd played about 15 minutes of hard basketball. I should have been fresh for a long run, but the body had other plans.

I planned an 11-miler from the house with two major hills at Miles Two and Nine. The weather was excellent - 50 degrees and dry with a good breeze. When I reached Mile Three, I knew things weren't great. At Mile Five, I felt lethargic. Soon, I felt rotten. I ran eight of the 11 miles, walking 2.5 of the last 3.5.

Sometimes, it's just not there. My stomach growled all morning, and I'm wondering if I'm fighting a bug in the early stages. I almost hope so. Running 26.2 is going to be tough enough, but if I'm having an off day on race day, yikes. We move on.

This morning, the 3rd-4th grade boys' basketball team I coach played well, winning 23-10. Our least athletic boys played their best games, which was a highlight of thge season for the coaches. These boys moved to the right spots, stopped opponents from scoring and made better passes. It was nice to see progress.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reports I Like

Dori's regular monthly check-up at Vanderbilt went well today. She was a little concerned about a small bruise on her hand, but I gave her a hug beforhand and said that's the price of having a sometimes-crazy dog around the house.

Dori called me with the good news before 9. Her red blood cell and platelet counts hit new highs, and her white blood cell count continued to be strong. It's always a relief to hear this, as blood cancer patients know. Yea for Dori, her medical team and everyone who enabled her to make it this far. That's millions of team players, by the way, who include marrow donors, researchers, fundraisers and many others.

After her appointment, Dori went by to see Kara Lee, the lymphoma patient I mentioned the other day, and another friend who checked out of VUMC later in the afternoon. Leaving Vanderbilt Hospital feels good, no offense to the wonderful staff.

I heard an encouraging story this morning on NPR about progress against multiple myeloma. Listening to surfer dude Hardy Jones was invigorating. Check it out.

Recovery from Tuesday's basketball game took two days. I blew off scheduled runs Wednesday morning and again this morning because I felt like Tim Conway's Old Man on The Carol Burnett Show. By lunchtime today, I felt 95%. Tonight, I ran four quick miles that felt fantastic. I ran about an 8:30/mile pace, feeling no stress. Maybe the basketball speed work has helped already.

I guess it's official. I look and sound like Robert Gibbs, President Obama's press secretary. About 10 people have said so since last week, though a few have been kind to say "minus 30 pounds." At one point today, I was standing next to a TV playing a White House Press Conference and a few folks started freaking out. I foresee a fun April Fool's joke if my marathon training goes awry.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

School Spirit

Today was a very good day.

After a productive morning at work, I headed to the kids' school after lunch to play basketball on the Parent's Team vs. the 7th/8th Grade Team. Kathryn, Will and 250 other kids and faculty jammed the raucous gym for Spirit Day! It was louder sometimes than a wild NCAA game, which made the atmosphere great, albeit at a higher pitch! There was more shreeking than cheering, but the Beatles weren't playing.

This was my second year playing in this game. The moms started against the girls' team, and then the dads came in later to square off against the boys' team. I felt really good today, like I was in my 20s. Our group passed the ball unselfishly for easy shots and had some instant chemisty. Playing was a ton of fun!

Will brought a sign that said "Hello Daddy!" with a picture of a frog ... he loves frogs. Kathryn and her friends cheered for the old folks, and it didn't seem to be out of pity. Both Kathryn and Will were recognized at halftime for playing on their teams.

I enjoyed a few other things, including answering the question "How is Dori doing?" Not getting overly winded was cool, as was playing in front of the 3rd-4th grade team I coach. I had to show I could use fundamentals in a game, and that went fine! Passing, boxing out, taking good shots, hustling down the court ... all the things I preach to the boys in practice.

Dori shared with me that she recently visited the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society board. There, she found a 26-year-old East Tennessee mother named Kara who is seven days into a bone marrow transplant at Vanderbilt. Dori is going to see her Thursday, when she's at VUMC for a scheduled clinic visit.

If you would like to follow Kara on her blog, which links to Ann's Fight by the way, feel free. You have our prayers, Lee family.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Picking It Up

With my next race less than two months away, it's time to add miles. This week's mileage hit 22 after today's steady nine miler. My pace was respectable at 9:26/mile, or exactly 1 hour, 25 minutes for the run. Yes, the Garmin is back on my wrist.

It was cool today (35 degrees), breezy on the outer half and not so much on the inner. I hit the halfway mark at a 9:30/mile pace and the wind helped nudge me home. I needed the run, too, to vent some frustration. Sometimes, I'm not very good at letting certain things roll off my back. This morning was one of those times. Everyone needs some alone time, and I was glad to get mine on the run.

This week's four runs were seven, three, three and nine miles. The only real hard run was the second three-miler (yesterday on a hotel treadmill before 6 a.m.). My endurance feels fine, but my speed isn't very good at the moment.

Next week, I'm going to mix in some speedwork, which is the hardest part of running. Avoiding it, though, is not prudent. If your thresholds don't improve, you can blow up on raceday.

Time to charge the iPod.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cheese Delivery

How about our man, Chuck Hendry! Chuck is on his quest to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which you know I dig. Dori and I will be making a contribution shortly, but I thought I'd share this link so you can show Chuck some love for his dedication, and more importantly, support for thousands of blood cancer victims and their families. Run your cancer-surviving buns off, Chuck.

It's Friday night and I need some cheese. Heavy cheese from the 80s. I think I'm in trouble.

Lindsey plays some nice guitar. Might as well grab a can of hairspray and tee up a Spanish refresher in the process.

Kathryn calls that "Kroger music." Enough cheese. I see quite a few bluebirds when I run through our neighborhood and area parks. Here's some real music from Justin Heyward and his temperamental buddies across the pond.

Thanks for supporting Chuck and the LLS.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Paper Delivery

Monday, I ran seven miles, taking Chuck's advice to head into the wind the first half and run downwind the second half. Despite the 26 degree weather, I had to shed clothing, gloves and my hat the last 3.5.

This morning, I didn't shed anything on a three-mile run in 15 degrees. It was cold, but I felt fine after the first half mile. The wind was light on this beautiful morning. The stars and moon beamed.

If I run a certain part of the neighborhood between 5 and 5:30, I usually see Newspaper Guy. A young man, Newspaper Guy drives a beat-up car. His car's hazard lights always are flashing, and his driver's side window, no matter what the temperature, is always down. He has never failed to say "hello" between throws, which he delivers with enthusiasm.

The first time he bellowed his welcome threw me off. A blaring HELLO! at 5:15 can be startling. Now I like it. Newspaper Guy is part of my routine. I'm off to the rest of routine; I hope yours is as productive as I'm planning mine to be.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Discipline of Running

Like most people, I perform much better when I have a goal. I've tried wandering aimlessly, and it stinks. More on that in a second.

The running lifestyle instills discipline, which leads to improved mental acuity and a stronger body that's more able to meet life's challenges. Running races takes it up a notch. In fact, it's not running the actual race that helps runners like me; it's the preparation. The scheduling, execution and recoveries are part of a cycle that I've thankfully embraced. Through steady daily performances, the mind and body are rewarded. Work goes better. Marriage and relationships are better. Bad habits have difficulty taking root. The routine of work, church and running complement each other. Peace of mind is easier to achieve.

Bad habits have a way of creeping up on each of us. When we slide, we tend to rationalize that we think we're in control, when we're not. When we're in free fall, it's often too late to address what's driving the irresponsible, sometimes dangerous behavior. Like every human on this planet, I've succumbed to weakness over the course of my life ... eating poorly, drinking too much, stewing over misfortune ... the list goes on. Running has helped me assert more control over my life. Most runners understand this; many who don't run or exercise much probably do, too.

All of us know a naysayer or two. I will never forget what one doubter said to me a few years ago: "You'll get injured. Aren't you running too far? You might even have a heart attack." Ten years ago, trapped in my own doubt, I might have listened to those words. Fortunately, by the time I heard such nonsense I had broken free of my own doubt. I listened politely to it, allowing it only to firm my resolve.

My new goals are to run the Tom King Half Marathon March 14 and my first full marathon in June. The Tom King will be my eighth half marathon since 2006. I ran my first half marathon at the Tom King in 2006 and my PR half marathon there in 2008, going well under the two-hour barrier that needled me. I love this race for those and other reasons. I have circled the inaugural Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon for my first full. Happenings at work potentially could bump that race, but I plan to be fit enough to run my first full early this summer.

Like 10 years ago, I have doubts about running my first 26.2. But I've conquered my doubts before and plan to vanquish them again, throughout training this winter and spring.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


When something important you've been planning for two months goes away in the blink of an eye, when you have almost no control over the course of events, and when you're simply disappointed by people, what's a boy to do?

You run, cold temperatures be damned! I took off this morning into 26 degree weather, the warmest its been in three days, running north for the first four miles. With the wind at my back, all was well, even though it was tres froid. For another half a mile, I ran behind some buildings, again cold but not anything I couldn't handle.

When it was time to turn into the wind, I expected a rush of cold and that's what I got. The wind, which was 10 MPH at the start of the run, was now 20 MPH. Oh my, it was cold. The sweat underneath many layers just chilled my body. My ears felt like they might snap off. My legs turned beet red, and my face the same, as I learned later when I entered the house.

I ran the last 3.5 miles of an eight-miler directly into the hard wind and mostly uphill. If I sound like I'm complaining, far from it. It was wonderful. I needed to vent. When Charlie Brown kept getting rocks on Halloween, I bet he ran, too.

Dori gave me some good advice earlier in the morning, and I didn't really want to listen to any of it. As I battled against the elements and blew off some steam, Dori's words began to make more sense. By the end of the run, I knew she was right.

I don't have much more to share, except some songs Dori loves in the Friday Night Flashbacks mode. Enjoy and always be sure to vent when needed. Marrying the right person helps, too.

This entry wouldn't be complete without this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beating the Cold Front

We have some frigid weather headed our way. It's been in the teens some nights this winter, but we're supposed to get near zero tomorrow night. I love the cold, but even that's a bit much. I stop running around 15 degrees with no wind and 25 with some wind.

This Arctic forecast was a major reason I arose at 4:15 yesterday morning to run six miles. I figured, "Do it now or you'll regret the missed opportunity." It was in the highs 30s yesterday morning and beautiful ... The moon was beaming and it was dead quiet outside. I lost my headband and gloves shortly after warming up. However, my body decided not to cooperate fully, which happens before 5, so the run was mostly jagged. That said, it was a good run.

So how is Dori doing? She looks terrific and has processed some emotions that surfaced in the fall. Earlier this week, I asked a 15-year lymphoma survivor when she felt "back to normal." She said "never completely" because of some eye issues, but she started feeling strong and looking almost like herself about 18 months after her diagnosis. I think Dori is right on that doorstep, and for that, I am more than grateful.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Progression and Readiness

I coach Will's basketball team, which has been both a challenge and joy. The tough part isn't surprising ... Teaching fundamentals to third and fourth graders requires patience, especially when some kids sometimes have been more interested in being misfits, especially when practice started in November. I've had a moment or two of deep breathing with that. Getting young ones to understand and buy in to the team concept is another important hurdle.

Today, our team took a step forward. Our guys took charge. They hustled. They played great defense. They listened to their coaches. While I directed floor traffic, our assistant coach "coached up" the guys on the bench. Boys who didn't grab loose balls in December hit the floor. Boys who were shooting the ball with little touch put up the ball softly.

Here's the best part. We have a normal group motivation exercise, where I call in the boys and ask them to give us a 1-2-3 and yell "Team" loudly in unison. During a time out, one of the boys called in his teammates, and started and completed this process. He's one of the boys who has been more interested in the past in calling attention to himself. Rather than have my hand in the middle, I backed away and admired the camaraderie and leadership. "TEAM!" never sounded so good.

Even when we were down 13-10 with less than four minutes to go, I was confident they were going to win. I was 100 percent sure they were going to finish the game with passion and heart. We won 14-13, playing great team defense and with several boys stepping up as leaders.

I love the movie Hoosiers with Gene Hackman. Today was a mini-version of that. We beat a school that is so deep with athletic boys that it fields four teams. Yes, it's third and fourth grade, but I would have been equally proud if we had lost. Why? Because I saw heart, passion and progress from the boys I've been coaching since November.

Kathryn also played well today in her game. She has gone from watching the action to trying to get involved to taking charge when she has the opportunity. She grabbed many loose balls and rebounds, ran the fast break, and put up some nice-looking shoots. Call Dori and me proud parents.

Let me switch gears. Listening to political talk radio isn't on my daily checklist, at least the kind that's in your face. I do check in occasionally to one local show because the host, Ralph Bristol, isn't a screamer and doesn't belittle people who disagree with him.

Earlier this week, I'm listening to Ralph, who starts talking about a family member who recently went through a difficult time. Ralph drops the comment that he feels his his family member's spiritual bags aren't packed. "Packing your spiritual bags properly" really resonated with me. Ten years ago, my luggage wasn't close to packed. I won't get into all that, but it's fair to say I cared much more about "the now" than "the later."

I thought about how much life has changed for me the last 10 years. My wife supported me through some tough times early in our marriage and our relationship continues to grow after her cancer bout. I'm blessed with two wonderful children. I'm very close to my mother and sister Anne. Look up "loyal and supporting" in the dictionary, and there they are. I love my job. I love running. I have many dear friends.

While running a five miler in intermittent rain this morning, I thought about Ralph Bristol's comments and how they apply to my life. Like so many, my inclination has been to take the easy road at times in life, with predictable results. Fortunately, I had a mother who taught me about respect and love and a father who instilled some good values.

As I've aged, I've realized, like many, life is fleeting and no one is invincible. Dori's leukemia battle certainly reinforced that. Most of us know, unless we have blinders, we're a blink of the eye from the end of our temporal existence. So packing my spiritual bags has become important to me.

It's not as simple as that, however. We're gonna have to get on our own airplane, too. Our plane requires maintenance to fly. And that's what my life is about. Having my spiritual bags packed and ready with a plane that's worthy to carry my soul. Each day is about keeping those bags and plane ready. And I hope I see you where we're going.

Friday, January 9, 2009


I've been enamored this week by my daughter's inquisitive nature and intelligence she received from her mother. It hasn't been a revelation. I simply admire how much she absorbs and processes. She questions what she does not fully comprehend. She smiles often as she talks about new things. Life is still new to her. You can almost forget that with young ones, even as they near their teens. Being with her and talking with her this week has been such a delight.

The latter half of our lives is quite different, as most of us know. We've seen or experienced much by our 40s, so not much is really new as we near old age. When something new does happen, it often is shocking - like that "ton of bricks" that fell on our lives when Dori was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2007.

I use this blog, in small part, to reflect on such things. Like I mentioned Sunday, life has some pretty nasty curveballs that come at us. I've seen some wicked pitching lately, but if I know one thing in my 40s ... I better keep swinging. The hits are better than the outs.

Seems like after checking up tonight on Ann, Ronni, PJ and other blogger buddies, I can see they agree with me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Life's Harshest Curveballs

I knew something was different when we walked into church this morning. Father Kibby motioned to Dori to visit with him and an elderly couple that were sitting in isolation in unoccupied choir rows. The older gentleman, who is 74, was wearing a blue mask, just like Dori used to wear during her fight with leukemia. Dori spoke with the group for five minutes, then returned to tell me he had been battling AML and received a bone marrow transplant at MD Anderson in Houston. He looked great, six months post transplant.

After the service, Dori and I visited with the couple for 10 minutes. They were delightful. Both had lost previous spouses, and you could tell they were very much in love. They were joined at the hip. They spoke optimistically. What tremendous character, I thought. When they talked to Dori, they were radiant. Dori thoroughly enjoyed listening to them, as did I.

After church, I checked e-mails. Unfortunately, a friend notified me that some friends of ours lost their house in a fire Friday night. Nearly everything they owned is gone. Thankfully, they and their children were out of town.

I went by this afternoon to check out the damage. The only reason I didn't cry was because I know they are alive. I spoke with their parents, who were onsite. They were calm and thankful their child, his wife and their grandchildren are OK. Later, I heard my friend's mother sobbing as she walked through the burned house. Like other friends of theirs, Dori and I are talking about what we can do to help tie their family through the next few weeks.

Houses can be replaced, but people can't. That said, I'm still shocked to see such devastation. I've seen burned houses in our neighborhood, but never a friend's. So misfortune and hardship find more people - who as Dori says - seem to be doing everything right. Random? Perhaps, perhaps not. But no one is immune from misfortune, hardship or even "the abyss." It's what we do with it that makes us better and more appreciative of all the blessings that have been bestowed.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Something to Make You Smile

Not a Friday Night Flashback, but hopefully this turns the corners of a few mouths upward.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Running with Purpose

Someone I love dearly is having a rough time. Last night, I decided to get to bed early and run a long distance this morning in his honor, hoping to channel positive energy his way and at the very least vent some of my negative energy.

The 11.2 Warner Park loop is the perfect route for this kind of run. iPodless and armed only with a water bottle and one energy gel, I headed up the hilly route, which has impressive hills at Miles One, Three, Seven and especially Nine. All was quiet at the start. The asphalt road was coated lightly after a brief early morning shower on this cloudy day. It was 42 degrees with a light wind, perfect for a long run.

The first mile and half, I noted few birds and wildlife, wondering where they might be. As I neared the next access point in the park, which is essentially a horseshoe cathedral of trees under three connecting hills, a choir of birds greeted me. I imagined their chorus as a more subdued version of the welcome Olympic fans give the first marathoner entering the stadium. Robins, cardinal, sparrows and other species cheered me onward, but I needed to stop. While nature was calling, nature called. I had to take advantage of one of the two port-a-potties in the park. TMI Alert: Unfortunately, others before me had done the same, leaving no toilet paper. Fortunately, through sanitary improvisation, this resourceful runner did what he needed to do, and returned to the road to scale Three Mile Hill successfully. Near the top, someone had discarded their McDonald's bag and their contents along the road. How could they? (And I could have used those napkins 10 minutes ago.)

At Mile Four, I reflected on the last day I shared with Otis, our black labrador retriever who I had to put to sleep more than two years ago. I spent my last day with him at this spot, allowing him to walk the 100 yards he could muster before I had to lift him back in the car and take him to the vet. I loved that dog. I whispered his name as I saw another outdoorsman walking his two dogs near the same spot.

At Mile Five, the park opens up to the vast expanse of the Iroquois Steeplechase, the picturesque three-mile grass racetrack that is an entertainment venue for 40,000 Middle Tennesseans every second Saturday in May. Framed behind a line of hills in nearby Williamson County, I thanked my God for this view. How lucky I am to live here and experience this.

I scaled a small hill at Mile Six and rounded a bend, where I came upon a lone turkey scouting for troublemakers like me. He darted up a steep hill, joining 25 other magnificent birds who sprinted briefly before looking down on their unexpected visitor. What a sight ... Good morning, everyone!

Runners are greeted at Mile Seven by a very abrupt hill at the end of the Harpeth Hills Golf Course, which meanders along the run for about a half mile. After scaling, I realized I would need my energy gel soon. My leg muscles began to feel sore, my back began to ache slightly, and all I could think was how good I felt.

Just before Mile Nine, four children were playing on a set of park swings, while their parents and one grandparent talked and watched their beautiful golden retriever frolic in a nearby stream. Upon spotting me, the dog expectedly sprinted to say hello. "You're more than welcome to join me, good buddy," I said, which drew a laugh from his nice owners.

The hill at Mile Nine is a long incline that starts punishing runners slowly, then more so as its angle increases. It is long, much like the San Francisco hills that wasted me and others in October. My success rate in topping this hill used to be poor, but has improved, not surprisingly, along with more running toughness. "No way in hell are you stopping today, big boy," I muttered as I thought of my friend. I compartmentalized my pain during my gradual ascent, also thinking of people on 11 North at Vanderbilt and our friends who are battling disease. A squirrel darted off a log three feet in front of me, startling me before I numbingly gathered myself. The climb continued. At this point, running wasn't the right word; trudging was.

Atop the hill with only two more brief bumps to scale, I knew I was home free. I brought my happy body to the park entrance, stretched and plopped in the car.

At home, Dori, knowing I would probably attempt the 11.2, asked, "Well, did you do it?" "Oh, yes," I said. "It was awesome." Dori said she had run the treadmill while I was gone, which reminded me how good I feel about where she is.

Check out some Warner Park scenery of the 11.2 under "Park Photos".

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Will to Win

To many people across America, Vanderbilt's win against Boston College in yesterday's Music City Bowl was just another college football victory. To Vandy fans, it meant the first winning season since 1982, the first bowl win since 1955, and more credibility to a program that had been a laugher decade after decade.

To Dori and my family, it meant a little more. I'll share an e-mail I sent this morning to Head Coach Bobby Johnson, a man who runs a class program.

Coach Johnson,

Please tell your team and coaches how proud we are of their effort yesterday. Your team simply out-willed a very good Boston College team. We had a block of 15 yelling our lungs out after hosting a tailgate for 35 or so. Your guys deserve every bit of energy we mustered yesterday.

My son, Will, who came up to you and your wife at [church] on Christmas Eve, is absorbing all of this. One thing he noticed was what [kicker] Bryant Hahnfeldt said after the game ... that he imagined succeeding in the situation that unfolded. He was mentally prepared to succeed and help his team ... a great lesson what the mind can do. The body will follow.

My wife, Dori, cried at the end of the game. She survived leukemia to see many things, and this was one of them. Perseverance is a good thing.

I've enjoyed this year very much. Will and I went to the Ole Miss game, which was spectacular. GameDay against Auburn was also amazing. And yesterday was simply thrilling.

Good luck in the off season improving the team. It's clear you have been the right choice and best fit for our program, and we salute you and your leadership.

Jim B.
Class of 1987