What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year at this time, I was wondering if I would be able to run without pain ever again. I had hurt my hamstring somehow at the end of 2015 and it affected my preparation for the 2016 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. During the month of December when I planned to work on speed drills, I found myself having to walk up hills and being unable to push the pace during my runs. I had registered for Los Angeles with the goal of running a PR at that marathon. Suddenly, I was not able to do any of the things I wanted to do to get ready.

We went to Los Angeles in February 2016 to run the marathon as well as watch the 2016 Olympic Trials the day before. We wanted to watch our friends, Erica Speegle and Meb Keflezighi, run in the Trials so it was a good time to go. At the time we registered, my goal was to attempt to run a PR there. With my training not going as planned, I realized I had to adjust my goals and I did. Although the first half went well, the second half was a real challenge. The beginning of the marathon was hillier than I had anticipated and it was unseasonable warm for February with highs in the low 90s. It was actually worse for the elite runners in the Trials on Saturday because of their later start but it warmed up quickly for us as the sun rose into the sky. I ran with my friend Teresa who was coming off a foot injury and we both suffered over the last half of the marathon and finished much slower than we had planned. But we did finish!

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After returning to Birmingham, it took me much longer than normal for my legs to recover. I usually start feeling pretty good again within a week. This time I found myself struggling even after six or eight weeks. I could not figure out why the recovery was so difficult when I felt like I had not been able to run very hard at all in the marathon. It just seemed that every run, especially the longer runs, were such a struggle and that was not what was normal for me. Nothing I did seemed to help with the excessive fatigue I felt in my legs during my runs. Eventually, I started having days where I was feeling more normal and I was ready to get back to training again.

Almost immediately after I started getting back to my normal routine, I noticed I started having pain in my foot. It began to bother me more and more but I tried to ignore it. I told myself I could deal with the pain in hopes it would eventually go away. It did not.

A year ago, my running buddies in Run University went to Jasper, Alabama, to run the inaugural Tallulah Half Marathon. The run started well and I ran strong for about six miles. At about the halfway point, we run up a hill and my foot starting to really hurt to the point that I had to walk most of that hill. From that point on, I determined that I had to walk up the hills for the rest of the race. Unfortunately my foot started to hurt running downhill too. Needless to say, the last seven miles were not much fun. After the race, I tried to hide the pain but it was obviously hurting me based on the comments from my friends. It hurt bad enough that I was almost certain that I had a broken bone somewhere in my foot. I made an appointment with Dr. David Linde at Foot Specialists of Birmingham for the next week and learned that there were not broken bones. However, I did have plantar fasciitis and was told that I could continue to run as long as I could tolerate the pain.

For the next few months, almost all of my runs hurt. Some hurt worse than others. I had the IMT Des Moines Marathon coming up that October in Des Moines, Iowa, and was trying to prepare for that race. It was a frustrating time as I was not able to finish my long runs on Saturday like I needed. I found myself walking the last mile or so just about every week. The level of frustration was growing each week such that I was prepared to let Des Moines be my last marathon. I was tired of hurting all the time. I was even having to wear sneakers to work because my loafers hurt my foot within minutes of putting them on. I followed my doctor’s instructions but nothing seemed to help.

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I continued to run as best I could through the summer. On Labor Day, some of my running group went to Scottsboro, Alabama, to run the Scottsboro Half Marathon. At the start, I was asked if I had a goal for that race. I said I wanted to run at a pace that would allow me to finish within two hours and I would stay at the pace until I finished or my foot started hurting, whichever came first. I finished the race that day in 1:55 but was most happy that I ran pain free because the previous week had been one of my more painful weeks so far. I am not sure why, but my foot has not hurt again and I got back to running and training again. It felt good to run without hurting again.

Yesterday, our Run University group went back to Jasper to run the second annual Tallulah Half Marathon. I did not have a specific goal other than to run well, especially since I ran 3:58 in the People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington just two weeks ago. My only plan was to run the first two to three miles hard and then decide if I thought I could continue running that hard. After last year’s experience, I just wanted to run a good race. I am happy to report that I not only ran a good race, but I was to exceed my expectations. After the struggle last year, it was redemptive to come back and run well.

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Since the Scottsboro Half Marathon, I have turned 50 years old but I have been running as well as I ever have. Since I was 41 years old when I started running, I missed my prime athletic years but that gives me the opportunity to hit new PRs even at my age. At the beginning of March, I ran a new PR at the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. About a month later, I ran a new 15k PR at the Ellis Porch Statue to Statue 15k in Birmingham. This race is billed as the South’s toughest 15k. Just a couple of weeks after that, I ran a new 10k PR at the OHOH Run for Their Lives 10k in Helena, Alabama. The lesson I learned (again) is not to give up on yourself. We can all do just about anything we want if we are willing to work for it. After suffering for several months last year, I am more appreciative of being able to run than ever. It makes a huge difference to run with the right attitude. I enjoy running with my running groups more now than ever. It really helps with my run streak too. Most of my friends probably have no idea how close I came to ending my run streak last year due to the foot pain I was enduring. I may have had a few more one-mile days than I would have normally but I was able to keep the streak going. By doing so, I should be able to reach run streak day 2000 on Wednesday, 14 June. For the last couple of months, I have been looking forward to hitting this milestone. A year ago, I would have said there was no way I could get here. Wednesday, I will show myself the reward of maintaining the consistency that I have been able to maintain. I hope to show others that anything is possible if you are willing to fight for it. It is not easy but that is what adds the value. Never give up and stay focused on your goal. You can and will achieve your goals if you can do that.

My Running Story

Unlike my running, my blogging has been very, very inconsistent.  I would like to make an excuse but it’s just a matter of not making it a priority.  Because I have not been consistent, I decided that I would write this blog post about why I run.

People run for lots of different reasons.  Some run for the competition.  Others run for their own well-being.  Still others run for camaraderie.  Non-runners have a hard time understanding why people would want to run without being chased by someone or something.  I know.  Before I started running in 2008, I thought all runners were idiots.  When I saw someone running in the rain, I thought they were stupid idiots.  I just could not understand it.  Until I started running.

My running story goes back to wrestling days at Scottsboro High School.  My coaches, Wayne McNutt and Larry Morris, were two of the greatest male influences on my life.  Only my Dad influenced me more (click here for more on that).  Our coaches liked to make us run.  Sometimes it was for conditioning purposes.  Sometimes it was for disciplinary reasons.  It was never fun regardless why we ran.  I hated it but was highly competitive so I always tried to be one of the fastest.  Once my high school wrestling career was done, I swore I would never run again.  Then I tore my ACL playing flag football at The University of Alabama and my physical therapist made me run again.  My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Les Fowler, also made me run as part of my recovery.  On my last visit to see him post-surgery, he told me that he wanted me to find a 10k and finish it.  Two months later, I ran/walked the 1989 Cotton Row Run in Huntsville, Alabama.  As I crossed the finish line, my only thought was that I would never do that again.  For the most part, I did not really run again until I joined a Couch to 5k program led by my current coach, Danny Haralson (click here for more about him).

When I started the C25K program with Run University in May 2008, I absolutely hated it.  I was overweight and I thought it was too hard.  I wanted to quick after the first day.  It was a seven week program and my wife, Caroline, convinced me to stick with it until the 5k.  Actually, she didn’t seem too sympathetic to my whining so I decided to just get the 5k done and then quit.  I hated every run for the first six weeks.  It was hard and I had to contend with shin splints.  Nothing was enjoyable other than I met some really good people.  The week before our 5k race, Coach Danny had us run the race route.  For the first time, I did not think the run was too bad.  In fact, I was surprised how well it went.  I ran the 5k the next week and it went as well as I had expected.  I ran another 5k the next month and did better.  Eventually I ran a couple of 10k races near the end of 2008 and then worked up to a half marathon in early 2009 and eventually a marathon in October 2009.  To date, I have completed over 50 half marathons and 32 marathons.  Included in that 32 marathons are a few ultramarathons (races with distances in excess of 26.2 miles).  Because I have a compulsive personality, I started a run streak on 24 December 2011 and will hit 2,000 consecutive days of running at least one mile sometime in June.

I don’t recap that simply to brag about what I have accomplished.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of what I have done because it represents a lot of hard work.  One thing I do realize is that I would have done none of this had it not been for Coach Danny.  He taught me to love running and Run University introduced me to the best running group on the planet.  What I have learned so far in my relatively short running career is that anyone can achieve a goal if they are willing to work for it.  I was the poster child for non-running.  Prior to 2008, I would have never believed I could do any of this.  Now, I tell anyone that they can do the same if they really want to make a life change that will truly improve their overall life and health.

When people tell me they could never be a runner, I have to disagree.  If I can be a runner, anyone can.  You see, I am just a regular runner.  I may be a bit more compulsive than most, but I am still just an everyday runner.  I am certainly not overly fast.  I just enjoy the time spent with my running family at Run University and Run4FunBHM.  There are no more supportive friends anywhere than my running friends.  We help each other achieve whatever upcoming goals we set.  You can’t overestimate the value of these friendships.  They make running fun every day.  It doesn’t matter how fast you are, how long you’ve been running, who far you run, what economic bracket you are in, we are there for one another as equals.  Maybe if our politicians would start running together, we would see more issues resolved.

I believe the following quote expresses my opinion on runners.  We all have our place and I have accepted my station in the running community.

There are two kinds of distance runners – thoroughbreds and pack mules.  I am perfectly happy being a pack mule.

Return to the Blog and 2016 Review

When I started this blog a few years ago, I did not want to put myself in a position to have to post on a schedule (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) because I did not want to force myself to write something just because I had to post. I decided that I would post when I had something to share, whether it was interesting to just me or I thought others might find it interesting. If I was going to write a blog, I was going to do it because I wanted to share something. Having said that, I have not posted in a long time. In fact, I have not posted anything so far this year so I decided to post a brief review of 2016.

First thing of note is that I hit five years of my running streak as of Friday, 23 December. It is hard for me to believe that I have been able to maintain the streak for this long and avoided any sickness or injury serious enough to prevent me from running at least a mile each day. It surprises me that so many people credit me for being a much better runner than I am just because I am anal enough to force myself to run every day. I really am just an average runner at best. I am not all that fast but am not the slowest either. There are many more runners that I know that have so much more impressive running credentials than I have. I just get recognized for being OCD and finding the time to get in a run every day. It really has much more to do with the fact that my running friends are simply awesome. Our weekday running group, Run4FunBHM, have developed a strong bond with one another and we always look for ways to push and encourage one another to reach whatever goals are set. We all know that we do not have to do go out on our own unless we want. As the name of our group implies, our primary goal with running is to make it fun. There has been enough drama and conflict in the Birmingham running community over the past few years that we just decided to get away from it. To be fair, I participate in the drama early on before I decided that running needed to be fun so I pulled away from it so I could get back to running for fun. Fortunately, I found a group of people that felt the same way and we have thrived as a group. It is largely because of this group of true friends that I look forward to my run every morning. I have also kept close ties to Run University, which is the group I started running with under the direction of Coach Danny Haralson. I still run with this group just about every Saturday and any other chance I get. I always know that I am meeting a terrific group of runners that look out for one another and help each other achieve whatever running goal is set. That is the key to being able to run at least one mile per day for five years.

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Other key running achievements this year include going to Los Angeles in February to watch friends Erica Speegle and Meb Keflezighi participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. As expected, Meb earned a spot on his fourth Olympic team by finishing in second place behind Galen Rupp. Erica is a local Birmingham runner that earned a spot in the trials but unfortunately had to deal with injuries leading up to race. It is a tremendous achievement to run a qualifying time to run in the trials. The day after the trials, I had the privilege of running in the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. Although it was Valentine’s Day, it was very warm and I really struggled after the halfway point. Fortunately, I had my friend Teresa Crain with me the entire way. Even though our time was not what we had hoped, I was glad to cross the finish line to complete my 30th marathon. More importantly, this marathon was #100 for my friend Julie Weiss, also known as the Marathon Goddess. It was an honor to be invited to her post-marathon celebration as she marked an incredible accomplishment.

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Met up with Julie at the Skechers Performance Marathon expo

 

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Spending time with Meb the night before the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon where we had to maintain the tradition of conferencing in David and Jack so Jack can say a prayer over Meb

 

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Erica runs past us during the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon

 

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Meb comes by us on the last loop of the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon knowing that he had secured his spot on another Olympic team

 

In addition to the marathon in Los Angeles, I also completed IMT Des Moines Marathon in October. The primary reason for going to Iowa was because my friend, Micki Haralson, is trying to run a marathon in all fifty states with Iowa being #46. That day I had the privilege of running with another good friend, Brooke Weaver. She is one of the strongest runners I know and it took all I had to stay with her for 26.0 of the 26.2 miles. She just had more juice left for the finish than I did but I was very pleased with our performance that day. One learning for me that day is that Iowa is NOT flat like I thought.

 

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After the Des Moines Marathon with Brooke and Micki

 

Earlier this month, I had to honor of running with Jennifer Cole at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. She had asked me a few months ago to run with her. Her goal was to run a PR (personal record) and we were able to do just that by about a minute. I never doubted she could do it but what made is such an incredible feat is that she had overcome so much adversity leading up to race day. What she was able to do that day is a testament of her strong will, dedication to training and the adaptive coaching of Danny Haralson to tweak her training plan.

 

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Finishing the St. Jude Memphis Marathon with Jennifer

 

These three marathons were the highlight to my running year. I would be lying if I did not say I was looking forward to 2017 from a running perspective. This year has been more challenging physically and psychologically than any other time in my fairly brief running career. I came into 2016 hampered slightly my a sore hamstring, which affected my training for Los Angeles. It took me six to eight weeks after Los Angeles to feel like my legs were back to normal when it usually takes a week at the most. As soon as I started feeling recovered, my foot started bothering me in late April. It got progressively worse until I went to the doctor thinking I might have a broken bone. It turned out to be plantar fasciitis and Dr. David Linde at Foot Specialists of Birmingham took care of me but told me it may take a while for the pain to go away. Eventually, my foot just stopped hurting suddenly at the beginning of September. I do not know what made it stop but was sure glad that the pain was gone in time to finalize preparation for Des Moines. For the past few weeks, I am finally feeling like my old self so I am really looking forward to a much less painful 2017.

 

Reflections on Boston

As I sit home on a Saturday night, just a few days after the verdict in the Boston Marathon bombing trial, I am thinking about all that has happened over the last two years. You see, this coming Wednesday is 15 April. Besides being tax day, it also marks the two-year anniversary since two evil brothers exploded bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I have never shown these two losers the respect of mentioning their names, and I do not plan to change that here. That beautiful afternoon on Boylston Street in Boston, the explosions killed three innocent people (29-year-old Krystle Campbell, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu and 8-year-old Martin Richard) and injured over 260 others. A few days later, they killed Sean Collier, a 27-year-old MIT police officer. During an extensive manhunt, one of the terrorists was killed and the other was eventually captured. It took two years, but the trial for the other terrorist concluded last week with guilty verdicts for all thirty counts. Seventeen of those counts could carry the death penalty when the penalty phase starts next week. Personally, I hope he gets the absolute maximum penalty possible. In fact, I want him to get the death penalty on all seventeen counts where it is a possibility.

Boston Marthon Victims

Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu

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Officer Sean Collier

You may wonder why I feel so strongly about this. For those that do not know, I was running the race that day and wrote about it here. In fact, had I not had a minor leg issue around mile 22 or 23, I likely would have been at the finish line at the time of the explosions. Instead, the Boston police stopped us about a half mile from the finish. My friend Jack was also running the marathon that day and was just a little ways behind me. The biggest concern I had after learning about the explosions was that Jack’s wife, Barbara, was in the grandstands at the finish line. You can imagine my relief to find out that she was okay despite being right across the street from one of the bombs.

As I heard about the verdict, my first reaction was one of satisfaction that justice might finally be served. Of course, I hope the penalty phase delivers an appropriate sentence for the heinous nature of the crimes. The more I thought about it, some of the emotions from that day returned. I found myself thinking a lot about Krystle, Lingzi, Martin and Sean. Three of these victims were just watching friends and family finish the most prestigious marathon in the world. It was supposed to be a time of celebration. Instead, a senseless act took them away from their friends and family in a horrific fashion. There were an estimated 264 other victims that day, all of whom found their lives forever changed. There were numerous stories like the one about Celeste Corcoran who lost both legs below the knees and her daughter Sydney that was also severely injured. Sisters Nicole Gross, who had her left leg broken and right ankle fractured, and Erika Brannock, whose leg had to be amputated, were at the finish to watch their mother, Carol Downing, complete the 26.2-mile course. Eleven-year-old Aaron Hern was there with his dad, Alan, and little sister, Abby, to cheer on his mom, Katherine, in her first Boston Marathon. He suffered significant injuries that landed him in the ICU. Newlyweds Patrick and Jessica Downes both lost their left leg below the knee and Jessica was in danger of losing her remaining foot. There are so many more stories like this. These are the people that should be remembered. These are the people I choose to honor, not the loser that was put on trial.  You see, these people exemplify the power of the human spirit.  These people show that the terrorists will not ultimately win.

I also choose to remember the 2014 Boston Marathon. The feeling in the city the next year was much different. It felt like there was still a sense of mourning over what had happened the year before. At the same time, there was a muted excitement during the weekend. You could see the steely resolve of the runners as they walked around the expo. It was like we all knew the significance of what would happen on Monday. The anticipation brimming over by the time the race started. In a normal year, there would be around 27,000 runners lining up to start the marathon in Hopkinton spread out over three waves. Last year, there was such an interest in running the marathon that the Boston Athletic Association added a fourth wave which brought the number of runners up to 36,000.

In 2013, I felt great throughout the race. The weekend was absolutely perfect. It started with a surprise 70th birthday party for my Dad before I left town on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon, I attended my first baseball game at Fenway Park. When Monday arrived, it brought an absolutely gorgeous day for a marathon. I knew I was ready. I had devised a race plan with my coach, Danny Haralson, to run my first sub-4:00 marathon. Danny always tells us to “plan your race and race your plan.” That is exactly what I did. For about 22 or 23 miles, I was right on plan and felt terrific. Suddenly, I got a strange pain in the quadricep muscle of my left leg. It was a pain I had never felt so I tried to run through it. Eventually, it started hurting bad enough that I finally had to walk a little bit. I was frustrated at that point. The walking was enough to keep me from hitting my goal. Somewhere past mile 25, I crested a small hill and found people in road stopping the runners. At first we did not know why but we soon found out about the happenings just ahead of our location. The thoughts of finishing the Boston Marathon changed to concern for those injured or killed. I struggled with accepting a medal for that race. To this day, it is still the only race that I have started but not crossed the finish line. Jack got my medal and put it around my neck at the airport the next day just before our flights left. After he and Barbara left me to board their plane, I put the medal in my backpack. I just could not wear it. It took me about two months before I would wear the race shirt. Every time I saw something that reminded me that race, I would find myself getting emotional. Even though it was challenging to find a way to deal with what happened, I also was determined to go back the next year if given the opportunity. I knew that was my way of showing the terrorists that they would not win.

Boston Marathon Bombings

Location where the police stopped us somewhere past mile 25. That’s me in the red MEB Foundation shirt in the bottom right corner.

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This is what the scene looked like where the police stopped within just a few minutes.

Fortunately for me, the Boston Athletic Association decided to allow those of us that did not get the opportunity to finish the 2013 race to come back in 2014. There was a special registration period for the approximately 5,600 runners that fit the criteria. I registered within ten minutes of that registration period opening. I was determined to finish what I had started the year before as I wrote about here.  As I mentioned earlier, the mood in Boston was reserved all weekend, especially around the expo. Jack and Barbara also went back and I was blessed to have my wife, Caroline, join me this time. Although the mood was reserved, there was a feeling of anticipation too. The night before the race, Jack, Barbara, Caroline and I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with Meb Keflezighi and his wife, Yordanos. We talked about the significance of the 2014 marathon after what had happened in 2013. The next day, Meb ran the race of his life. He not only ran a PR with a time of 2:08:37, but he also became the first American to win Boston in 31 years. To show what the race meant to him, Meb wrote on his race bib the names of the four people killed the year before. Even though I did not run the way I had hoped, it meant a lot to learn while I was around mile 12 that Meb had won the race. When I finally made it to the place where I had been stopped the year before, I was determined to run from there to the finish line. The excitement, especially on Boylston Street, was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. The muted excitement from the weekend was overflowing on that Patriot’s Day. It was like the people of Boston were reclaiming their streets. They were taking their race back.

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This was Meb running through the place where the police stopped us in 2013 on his way to winning the 2014 Boston Marathon.

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My picture just after completing the 2014 Boston Marathon with the finish line in the background. I asked a volunteer to take this picture since I did not get to reach this point the year before.

The 2015 Boston Marathon is only a couple of weeks away. There is a side of me that wishes I could be there again this year. Although I will not be running the marathon this year, I will be following it closely. I would like nothing more than to see Meb win again this year. With the verdict, and hopefully sentencing, out of the way, the world can place their attention back on the race and not give these terrorist the time of day. They do not deserve it.  Instead, let us honor those that have shown the resolve that is the American spirit to overcome the tragic events of two years ago.

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Thoughts on Passover and Easter

This weekend is significant in the Judeo-Christian world.  Passover began last night at sunset and runs through next Saturday at nightfall. Within the Jewish faith, Passover is an eight-day festival commemorating the liberation of the nation of Israel from slavery in ancient Egypt. Many probably already know this, but the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptian pharaohs for decades. God heard their cries and sent Moses to ask Pharaoh to release HIs people. Of course, Pharaoh refused and God reigned down devastating plagues on Egypt. The last of these plagues resulted in the death of the first-born man and beast in every home. To avoid this plague, the Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of slaughtered spring lamb. Upon seeing this blood on the doorpost, the Spirit of God passed over the home and spared the first-born inside. Thus, the holiday became known as Passover. With the devastation, Pharaoh finally let the people of Israel leave with Moses. See Exodus 12:1-32 for the Passover story.

As a Christian, Passover holds significance for me as well. Just like God’s Spirit passed over the Israelite homes that had the blood from a sacrificed lamb smeared on the doorpost, God spares those who accept the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, His Son Jesus, as payment for our sin. The Israelite families did not automatically get passed over that fateful night in Egypt. God gave them specific instructions to follow to avoid His judgment that night. They had to take a unblemished year-old lamb into the home until the day of sacrifice. They took the blood from this sacrificed lamb and put it on the doorposts of their home. They also ate the lamb that night, roasted on a fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This meal is known as the Passover seder. For us Christians, this event foretells of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a memorial of HIs death as the true Lamb of God. Christians partake of unleavened bread and wine (or grape juice for us Baptists) in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus’ beaten body and shed blood. We believe that it is this sacrifice that makes forgiveness of sin possible. Paul tells us in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [ESV].

In my opinion, Easter is the most important day in human history. Christmas is obviously significant as God came to earth as a man to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was 100% God and 100% man all at the same time. He lived for 33 years and never sinned. That was important because the Levitical law called for the animals used for sacrifices to be “without blemish” {see Leviticus 1:3,10; 4:3, 23, 28, 32). The fact that Jesus lived a perfect life, He met the requirements of an unblemished sacrifice, which was necessary to fulfill God’s requirement in the law. Good Friday is also significant because Jesus died as a sacrifice on our behalf. As sinners, we owed a sin debt that we could never pay. God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son so that we could have a chance to enter into a relationship with Him. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Obviously, Christmas and Good Friday are significant dates on the Christian calendar. However, it is what Jesus did after between the crucifixion and that first Easter morning is what gives us hope. With His death, Jesus took on the sin of mankind. In doing so, He paid the penalty for us. He took on the wrath of God against sin in our place. He also overcame death and hell as The Bible says in Revelation 1:18, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

You see, after dying as a sacrifice for us and defeating death, Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter. It was His resurrection that fulfilled God’s plan to reconcile us to Him after Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden. That first sin created a rift between us, as flawed humans, and a perfect God. It was a rift that we are unable to repair on our own. That is why Jesus had to bridge the gap for us. His resurrection completed the process that makes reconciliation possible. Jesus did the hard part. All we have to do is accept His gift. He created man with a free will. Therefore, we all have to make the choice on our own. No one else can make the decision for us. We need to realize that refusing to accept this gift of grace means we are relying on our merits, which are woefully lacking.

The Bible is very clear that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Our sin creates a chasm between us and God that we cannot bridge on our own. Fortunately, God has shown mercy on us an provided a way to bridge that gap. In John 14:6 Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In very clear language, He is telling us we cannot reach God the Father without going through God the Son. The reason is because He knew what He had to do to make it possible for us to have a relationship with God again. He accomplished the task on that first Easter. All we have to do is accept His free gift. In fact, that is all we can do. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Did you catch that? It is not based on what we have done. It is solely based on what Jesus did. We just have to accept that free gift.

Some important things to know when making this decision are:

I think too often we go through Easter without really thinking about all that Jesus did for us. Just like God saved the Israelites whose homes were covered with the blood of a lamb, He will save those whose lives are covered by the blood of the Lamb of God. If you have not accepted God’s free gift of saving grace, I urge you to do so. There is not a more important decision you can make.

World Majors Achievement

The article I wrote for this month’s Birmingham Track Club newsletter, The Vulcan Runner, is about a major achievement accomplished by one of my good friends, David Kahn.  Below is the article as it appeared in the newsletter:

What do you think of when you hear the word “major”?  I looked it up on www.dictionary.com and found a couple of interesting definitions:

  • Noun – one of superior rank, ability, etc., in a special class
  • Adjective – greater in size, extent, or importance

What does this have to do with running?  I am glad you ask.  I decided to look online to see what I could find a connection with “major” and “marathon”.  On www.active.com, I found a list of the biggest marathons in the United States:

  1. ING New York City Marathon – 43,660 finishers
  2. Bank of America Chicago Marathon – 33,701 finishers
  3. Boston Marathon – 22,843 finishers
  4. Marine Corps Marathon – 21,405 finishers

I am not sure of the year that these numbers represent, but the point is that these are the largest attended marathons in the country.  I guess you could consider them the United States’ major marathons.

I know several runners in our area that have run all four of these marathons.  Some have completed one or more multiple times.  They are all great and unique events in wonderful cities.

On the world level, there are six marathons that are classified as World Marathon Majors.  These major marathons are Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo.  On their website, their mission statement states:

“PROVIDE GLOBAL LEADERSHIP IN ELITE AND MASS PARTICIPATION MARATHONS.”

The World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world:  Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, BMW BERLIN MARATHON, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.  The organizers of these events are united in their effort to advance the sport, raise awareness of its elite athletes, and increase of the level of interest in elite racing among running enthusiasts.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) determines the world’s best male and female marathoners, awarding a $1 million prize purse split evenly by the men’s and women’s champions.  The purse is awarded after each full year cycle of competition.  A one year series is defined as follows – AWMM Series IX begins at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon and ends upon completion of the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.  AWMM Series X begins at the 2016 Boston Marathon and ends upon completion of the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Each subsequent series will begin and end at the next AWMM race on the calendar.  The Olympic Marathon and IAAF World Championships Marathon will be included in the race schedule in years they are held, but will not begin or end the series.

The ninth running of the Tokyo Marathon on 22 February 2015 marked the official start of Abbott’s title sponsorship of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

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The champions are the male and female runner who scores the greatest number of points from Qualifying Races during the one-year scoring period.  During each scoring period, points from a maximum of two Qualifying Races will be scored.  An athlete must start in two Qualifying Races over the Series cycle to be eligible for the championship.  If an athlete earns points in more than two events, the athlete’s highest two finishes will be scored.

Points are allocated following each race as follows:

1st Place 2nd Place 3rd Place 4th Place 5th Place
25 points 16 points 9 points 4 points 1 point

If you are still reading this, you are probably wondering why I went into so much detail on the World Marathon Majors.  Well, I am glad you asked.  With the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, one of Birmingham’s own has actually now completed all six World Majors. David Kahn began his quest to complete the major U.S. marathons with the 2009 Chicago Marathon only about a year after he started running.  He followed that up with the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon, 2011 New York City Marathon and the 2012 Boston Marathon.  To make this achievement more impressive, he started a new business during this same time and grew Yogurt Mountain to over 40 locations.

Once he completed the largest U.S. marathons, he looked for another goal to go after.  Since he was half-way through the World Majors, he decided to complete the three international races.  In 2013, he completed the London Marathon.  After that he set his sights on Berlin, which he completed in 2014.  With the completion of this year’s Tokyo Marathon, he rounded out the World Majors.  He has also started another new company, Pizza 120, while wrapping up these international races.

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As far as I can tell, David is the first runner in Birmingham to complete all six races of the AWMM series.  He may be the only runner in Alabama to complete this feat.  We all know that only a miniscule percentage of the population ever complete a marathon and David has become a member of an even more exclusive group.

Congratulations to David on this most impressive achievement!

Lessons from Meb Keflezighi

As many of you know, I write a regular column in the monthly newsletter published by the Birmingham Track Club. My column is titled “Ramblings” because I just write whatever I feel like writing each month. For the January issue that was just released, I shared something that I read not too long ago about Meb Keflezighi. Since we are starting a new year and I thought this was good advice, the following is a reprint of the article:

Sports Illustrated recently blew a historic opportunity to make a strong statement to the sports world when it selected Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants over Meb Keflezighi as their 2014 Sportsman of the Year.  Taking nothing away from Bumgarner, he was incredible in the playoffs last fall, but Meb accomplished something that transcended sports when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon.  To me, it seemed like such an easy choice to select Meb as Sportsman of the Year.  One year after the terrorist bombings at the finish line on Boylston Street, Meb ran a PR on his way to winning the marathon.  He honored the four victims killed the previous year by writing their names on his bib.  He wanted to do something special for the running world and, more specifically, the city of Boston.  And he did!  Just shy of his 39th birthday, Meb took the lead early and held it throughout to become the first American winner since Greg Meyer in 1983.  With his victory, Meb brought pride to our country and he reclaimed the streets of Boston for the community and runners.  The win also made him the first runner in history to win both the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon along with an Olympic medal.  Those of us who know him personally could not have been prouder.  I just wish Sports Illustrated had recognized the magnitude of his accomplishment.

Reading all of the posts on the internet in the aftermath of Sports Illustrated’s decision, I ran across an excellent article outlining lessons that we could all learn from Meb.  I dug it back out and thought I would share the advice here.  Regardless of ability, all of us can strive to better ourselves in 2015.  I hope you find this as good as I did.

Lesson #1:  No Pity Parties

If you have run for any length of time, you have most likely experienced a pity party.  If you run a marathon, you will see many pity parties all around you as you get deeper into the race.  When things become difficult, human nature is to dwell on the pain and suffering.  This is something Meb does not allow to happen.  Because of his mental strength, he is a master at refocusing his attention away from negatives.  When my wife told him she did not like to run long distances because it hurts, he laughed and told her that a marathon hurts him for all 26.2 miles.

Just like all of us, Meb suffers when he runs but he refuses to live in the suffering.  He quickly redirects his thoughts to things, usually external, that can be beneficial to get him back on track.  I have heard Meb say that he often thinks of his father who escaped Eritrea by walking more than 200 miles to get his family out of the country.  When he began to struggle in the Boston Marathon and Wilson Chebet was gaining on him late in the race, he thought of the victims from the previous year’s tragedy to find the strength to keep the lead and race to victory down Boylston Street.

For those of us that have been fortunate to train with Coach Danny Haralson of Run University, we often hear him tell us to think about other things when we feel tired or deflated during a race.  He tells us to think positive thoughts to get our minds off the negativity.

Meb’s ability to refocus from the negative to a positive mindset is a key to his consistent success in running and life.  As he often says, “I run to win but winning doesn’t always mean getting first place.  It means getting the best of yourself in each race.”

Lesson #2:  Relentlessness

Meb displays the same relentlessness in training as he does in races.  If you are familiar at all with his story, you know he has had more than his fair share of injuries.  Others have written him off repeatedly.  Sponsors have chosen not to renew his contract.  He just keeps coming back, stronger and better.  His secret is relentless hope.  He believes that if today is not his day, then it probably will be tomorrow or maybe next week or even next month.  He is always looking ahead with hope.

When he races, he always has several goals.  At this year’s New York City Marathon, he had three goals:  win, top three finish or PR.  The wind gusts created conditions that took the PR off the table, but he kept his sights on his other two goals.  He ran with the lead pack for most of the race but was unable to match some of the late surges and fell back to eighth place at one point.  He saw the reigning world champion, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, ahead of him and thought, “Well, that’s not too bad to finish behind the Olympic champion.”  As soon as he thought that, his relentlessness kicked in and he decided to give it one more push.  He soon caught Kiprotich as they set their sights on the next runner ahead, defending champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya.  That is when Meb thought to himself that this might be his only chance to beat Mutai so he continued to push.  Just like that, he found himself in fourth place and began thinking, “Maybe one of the top three will fade and I can achieve my goal.”  No one faded, but that is how he thinks during a race.  He is always hopeful and ever relentless.  By the way, that fourth place finish was good enough to be the top American finisher.

Lesson #3:  Hard Work Pays Off

An interesting fact about Meb is that he thought the marathon distance was too hard for him after he ran his first marathon.  He then went for a visit to his native Eritrea and was reminded of what “hard” really is.  The trip rejuvenated him and what he thought was hard was no longer hard.

In both his running and non-running activities, Meb works hard.  He spends a significant amount of training time on non-running activities such as cross training, mobility, massage, nutrition, etc.  At age 39, Meb believes he has to work even harder on these non-running elements than he did ten years ago.  His long and consistent career is testament to the fact that he knows hard work pays off in running.

It does not matter what kind of runner you are, we can learn something from these lessons.  Whether you are a front-of-the-pack runner trying to win races as Meb does or a middle- to back-of-the-pack runner just balancing life and running, you would do well to keep these three simple lessons in mind.  I call them simple because conceptually, they are.  Putting them into practice is much more challenging.  We all have the tendency to focus on our pain or feel content with where we are rather than push to see how much better we can be.

Most of us want this running thing to be easy.  I hear people say all the time that if it were easy, everyone would do it.  As runners, we are already mentally, physically and psychologically stronger than the vast majority of the population.  The truth is that the only thing that can really hold us back is ourselves.  As we embark on a new year, make the commitment to “run to win” as Meb describes it.  Find out how good your best can be!

If you have not read Meb’s book, Run to Overcome, I highly recommend it.  If you cannot find a copy at the bookstore, just go to www.runtoovercome.com to order a copy.  The latest edition includes a chapter about this year’s Boston Marathon.

I also like to include some inspirational quotes with each of my articles. Since I chose to include quotes reflecting on hard work, I wanted to share those here as well.

“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”

   ~ Sam Ewing, a former baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

   ~ Thomas A. Edison, (1847-1931) an American inventor and businessman

“All growth depends upon activity.  There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

   ~ Calvin Coolidge, (1872-1933) the 30th President of the United States

“We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.  We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.”

   ~ William James, (1842-1910) an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.  Hard work is the price we must pay for success.  I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”

   ~ Vince Lombardi, (1913-1970) an American football player, coach and executive best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s

“Focused, hard work is the real key to success.  Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it.  If you aren’t sure which way to do something, do it both ways and see which works better.”

   ~ John Carmack, an American game programmer and the co-founder of Id Software

“It is only through work and strife that either nation or individual moves on to greatness.  The great man is always the man of mighty effort, and usually the man whom grinding need has trained to mighty effort.”

   ~ Theodore Roosevelt, (1858-1919) an American politician, author, naturalist, soldier, explorer and historian who served as the 26th President of the United States

I hope you enjoy this and find it to be good advice. I did.