Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Never Quit Fighting

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time.....

No, I can't.

Three times now, I have tried to start this blog post. The idea..the concept...the rough outline...was to make it fairy-tale-ish about a boy with a smidgen of talent and a ton of hard work who trained for 15 years and is now one of those "where did he come from?" overnight successes.

But I can't tell that story. I don't know enough of the details. I know enough of the background to be able to appreciate the now, but I don't know enough to weave a story that will delight and pull you in.

What I do know is that 15 months ago I met a young man who was, quite possibly, at one of the lowest points he'd visited in quite awhile.

He had, literally, left all family and friends and moved to a new town to live and train with a group of professional runners - all with the idea of working with some of the best, and in doing so, making himself better.

Through no fault of the program or the people in it, things didn't pan out quite like he had hoped. It simply wasn't a good fit for him.

On top of that, he'd suffered an injury less than a month after arriving. It was the first time he'd really had to deal with an injury that affected his performance, and it plagued him the rest of his time here.

He regressed in his rise to the top of his sport. His times were off. His finishes were less than expected. He pulled up and was DNF in a race for the first time in his life.

And yet, he never wavered. He still trained. He ate what he was supposed to eat, he ran when he was supposed to run, he worked out when he was supposed to work out, he did physical therapy for the injury religiously.

And he went back home - back to the coaches and the trainers and the support network that had worked for him in the past. That was last July.

Still, it has not been an easy year. The running coach has emailed workout routines to him from two time zones away. The strength coach accepted a new job and moved to a different state just a handful of months after this guy returned home.

He is not sponsored fully by an athletic company the way most elite runners are. (He is sponsored partially by Brooks - we must give props where props are due.) He has a full-time job as an elementary teacher for disadvantaged kids. His training must be done before and after school - often starting at 6 a.m. and not finishing until nearly bedtime. And yet, he has persevered.

Because of his dedication...even determination...even stubborn doggedness...his return to form has been measurable this year. Winning races. Setting new personal best times. Turning in the fastest mile ever run on Tennessee soil. 

4th Place Finish at USA Outdoor Nationals
(Always look for the bright yellow)
Des Moines, June 22

And ultimately placing 4th at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Nationals this past weekend in his chosen event, the 1500m. Watch the video of the finals - at no time EVER during the entire race was his name mentioned. At the bell for the last lap, he was tied for last place in a field of 12. In the last 400 meters, he passed 8 of the fastest men in the country. He ran with former US champions and world competitors and Olympians, and he placed 4th.

There is a chance that he'll actually get to travel to Moscow in August to compete at the World Championships. It's similar to figuring out which football teams get into the playoffs - there are a lot of "if this happens, then that will happen" scenarios that need to play out among the top four finishers and be settled by July 20th. In the meantime, he's still fighting - fighting to get that qualifying time that will make him ready to grab that chance, depending on what the Top 3 do in the next 4 weeks. And to fight for that time, he's going to have to travel to Europe, where he has never been before, and run races over there with the best of the best.

So...how does this fit in with MY journey? I mean, that's what this blog is about, right?

Well, this 15-years-in-the-making overnight sensation is my coach, Matt Elliott. He's the one who gives me tips on how to get better as a runner, or how to get in better shape. (Although I'm not nearly as good as he is at following directions, I'll confess.) He's the one who answers my technical questions. He's usually the 1st or 2nd to hear about any milestones that I hit.

And he is one hell of an example to try to follow. With him as my guide, I have no room for excuses. As long as he never quits fighting to be his personal best, I can never quit fighting to be my personal best.

I will be forever grateful that our paths not only crossed, but crossed when they did. Our relationship grew out of the timing and what we each needed at that moment, in a way that I don't think would've happened if either of us had been at a different point in life.

Keep fighting, Matt! (As if you could do anything else.) ;)

American Milers Club Series, Indianapolis, June 15
New PR in the 800m - 1:49.47
If you want more info on this pretty amazing guy (yes, I'm biased):
Google Search "Matthew Elliott Runner" for previous videos and articles
Check out FloTrack's interview video from this weekend - 25,000 hits and counting
Follow Matt on Twitter - @MattElliott1500
Friend or follow him on Facebook 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I'm Still Here

Well, that didn't last long, did it? LOL!

Since I finished the 500 Festival Mini Marathon and wrapped up the blog, there have been several times I've thought, "Gee, I should write about that." And that would be followed almost immediately by, "Oh yeah. I ended the blog."

Well, pooh on that. It's my blog. I can continue it if I want to. And following my sister's suggestion, I'm changing the name of it because, well, I made it to 50 - in very fine shape, thank you very much. NOW the story is about how to keep it going.

But, how?

Here's where we are.

I lost 40 pounds just in time for my birthday. I've put back on about 5, but it is staying steady at that level, just below 170.

I walked the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in 3 hours 10 minutes and a handful of seconds (thanks to Sandi dragging me along). I lost a toenail from it, and am waiting for it to grow back in. I had an issue with my shoes just before and during the event, tweaked my knee, and still wear my knee brace when I go out - probably as much as a security blanket as anything, but I still do it.

I've found a fabulous Facebook group of people who each do their own thing to keep themselves in shape, and encourage each other in whatever we're doing.

Where do we go? How do I keep myself challenged?

First of all, I'm trying to transform from a walker into a runner.

I'll pause a moment for the hysterical laughter to subside.

This alone is huge for me. For one thing, I've had arthritic knees since I was in my 20s. According to the predictions I was given back then, I should've had knee replacements by now. There's no cartilage worth mentioning in either of them, so it's a constant balancing act between being kind and conserving what I have or pushing myself for more overall good.

When I started all of this last summer, I kept saying, "I. Can't. Run."

Well, I couldn't. But now I can. A little bit.

Lately, I've been doing intervals - running 1/10 mile, then walking 1/10 mile. Sometimes the sprints are a bit longer, sometimes I have to walk longer in between to catch my breath. The idea is to build up the running time and cut down on the walking time.

At least, that's the idea.

In order to give myself a reason to do this, I've signed up for a 5K at the end of August, with a goal time of 40 minutes. Ideally, I'd love to run 2 miles of it and walk the other 1.1 miles. 

My most recent time was 42:38, and I ran about half of it. So it's doable.

I'm facing some challenges, though. 

First, I just can't seem to get back to eating with as much discipline as I did at first. I know that if I did it, even just for a  month, I'd probably knock off those last few pounds and get to goal weight - and maybe below. But ever since I allowed myself to celebrate my birthday - a celebration that lasted for a few weeks, for various reasons - I just haven't been able to climb back on that wagon.

And second, my schedule is not the same that it was last summer. I can't dictate as much of it as I did then. Last summer, I started this during a stretch when work was slow, Kim was working a job that she didn't start until later in the morning, and she could take Ethan to daycare, which was available all day.

This year, work is (blessedly) busy, Kim has a full-time job 8:30-5:00 every day, and Ethan's childcare is only available from 12:00-6:00 each day, so he spends mornings with me (unless I'm working - then we figure out something other option). I can't just get up and hit the trails at 8:00 every morning - that's Ethan time. Ideally, I could be hitting the trails just after I drop him off at noon, but by then I've usually had an early lunch with him, and lately the weather has been hot and humid, and hot'n'humid doesn't mix well with a full tummy.

Beyond that, I now have to use my afternoons to do my work typing. So if I run in the afternoons, that cuts into work time, or pushed it to evening hours, which means I then don't get to spend the evening with Jim.

On a good note, Ethan has decided that it's fun to take his bike and ride it while I run. But he typically is finished after 1/2 or 3/4 mile, and he kind of goes his own pace, and I just have to stay with him. So that's a mixed bag of "good" and "frustrating."

Mind you, I'm not complaining. I'm just putting it out there - this schedule juggling is a challenge for me right now. This summer isn't as easy to make "all about me" as last summer was. So I'm doing what I can, as I can, while knowing that it'll change again in just 8 short weeks, when school starts again.

So that's where we are. If you're willing, we'll jump back on this train together. I don't know how often the blog will be updated. It'll happen when I think I have something interesting to say. But you're welcome to check in and see how it's going, maybe to be inspired, and certainly to know that none of this is easy.