Sunday, September 11, 2011

Medals4Mettle: Letting Go to Lift Up

While preparing for the Illinois Marathon last April, I got a note from fellow Marathon Maniac and Illinois resident Scott Dahl, setting up a MM Photo Op for the event. In that communciation, I learned of an organization in which Scott is active. Medals4Mettle is based on a simple and compelling premise: Runners give their medals as encouagement to children fighting long-term illness.

When Scott explained this to me and after I looked at M4M's web site, it grabbed me. What a beautiful yet simple thing!! The group was started by a surgeon who is also a triathlete; he had a child as a patient, fighting a long haul disease and, somewhat spontaneously, gave the child a recently earned medal from a tri. He wanted to salute the "mettle" the child required to deal with the illness. The child was so pleased and so encouraged by the simple gift, he realized he had stumbled on to something. He began involving other athletes and the idea took form.

Scott described this and I realized I could easily be part of it. Over the years, I've placed medals and race bibs behind the door to our home office, below. It's a quiet, out of the way part of the house.

Yet for what reason did I need the medals? Did any local sports reporters clamor for the opportunity to photograph them? Did any family members stroll up to the room to marvel at my athletic prowess? Did I receive email requests for me to pose in front of them? Laughable suggestions, all. The only purpose they held was for some periodic reminisence. So, it seemed logical I could part with them for more noble use.

I knew this information in April. And I knew how I could send them to M4M. And I didn't take any action until now. Why?

At one level, I simply needed to get around to it. But there was a deeper, more self-absorbed reason which I had to acknowledge if I was to be honest. This was the real cause the four-month delay.

I liked having the medals. In some way, they gave meaning, identification. To look at them was to relive some day gone by. Keeping them was to somehow seek to cling to a moment which was done, over.

Years ago, I heard a quote I've never forgotten: "If you own something which you can't give away, you don't own it, it owns you." I realized the medals were starting to "own" me in some way. Not at the depth of control of the "precious" in Tolkien's Ring Trilogy, yet there was a cling. This realization both frightened me and spurred me to action.

It was a strange, yet good sensation to begin pulling the medals off their ribbons, one by one (M4M adds their own ribbon to each medal, so asks folks to send in medals without the ribbon). It was a healthy lifting of some strange attachment. The half-marathon medals, interestingly, were not a big deal to part with. But the marathon medals were. It took work to pull each one off its ribbon. I laid them all out on the desk and smiled. Each one had a special memory of a marathon which went well or terribly or alone or with friends.

I ultimately chose to keep two medals; my first half-marathon medal at the Indianapolis Mini-marathon in 2005 and my first marathon medal of this era, St. Louis in 2006. All the rest went into the box. 

And it was fine to send 4.5 pounds of medals out the door. Shoot, I still have all the bibs. I still have all the ribbons, many of which are specific to a particular race. And, I pray, each of those medals will bring a smile and a bit of encouragement to a kid and his/her family facing a much bigger challenge.

If you'd like to be part of this wonderful and simple project, all you need to know is at the M4M web site. I'd like to know what, if any, mental process you might work through in so doing.

I know I'm glad I did.

Persevere. The kids sure will.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Race Report-Blueberry Stomp 15K

ORN:  15km (9.3 miles), 1:17:52, 8:23/mile
Had huge fun today, Labor Day 2011, running the Blueberry Stomp 15K road race in Plymouth, Indiana.  The race fell nicely into my fall race plans, helping build towards three marathons later in the fall.  About a 90 minute drive away, it was easy to get to and offered a good distance.  I had run this race in 2005 and was looking forward to running it again.
After a brutal heat wave last week, a massive cool front came through over the weekend and the temps were perfect for running.  The thermometer read 53F at the start and could not have been much over 56 by the end.  A refreshing breeze of cool, dry, Canadian air made us forget, for a little while anyway, the mean heat we've had this summer. 
I wasn't quite sure what the legs would allow today, given a hard half marathon just two weeks ago.  So, I decided to see if I could carry a pace of 8:50/mile and see how I felt.  The weather was just so very, very nice, I did feel hopeful, though.
The race started right on time with what seemed like 500 or so combined 5K and 15K runners.  In the first mile, I found myself running comfortably yet was surprised to see the first mile come along in 8:37.  I tried to hold back the reins, yet miles 2 and 3 went by in 8:28 and 8:34.  The 15K route made a large loop of country road past past some stately manors.  Mile 4 checked in at 8:33.  I was still feeling good, so decided to let the pace improve a bit.
Mile 5 and 6 were 8:20 and 8:31 and we were heading back to town, feeling good.  So, what was possible??  I picked up the pace.  Mile 7 and 8 were in 8:10 and 8:07.  The last 9.32 miles went by at a pace of 7:59 and we were done.  The final was 1:17:52, which eclipsed my former 15K PR (set on the same course in 2005...I don't often run 15K) by over 7 minutes.  The aggregate pace was 8:23/mile and the entire race seemed to pass oh-so quickly.
The fun part of this race comes at the end, though.  The running event is simply one part of the larger Blueberry Festival, a carnival of activities over the whole Labor Day weekend.  The high point is a big parade on Labor Day morning.  The start of the race preceeds the parade, though many folks had already staked out prime viewing spots along the way.  Thus, we had a nice crowd on the way out.  On the return trip, however, the parade was in full bloom, going south, while the 15K runners were strung out, running north, in a lane along the left side of the road.  I decided to have some fun, giving official "parade wave" to the float carrying Miss Blueberry and her court (they got the joke) and doing an air guitar with guys on a float for a local radio station. 
But the real fun was seeing a bunch of guys walking along wearing t-shirts with a huge "Joe" emblazoned across a silloutte of the state of Indiana.  Turned out it was a campaign effort for Joe Donnelly, currently representing that part of Indiana in the House of Representatives but also hoping to make a run for the US Senate in 2012.  In the moment, I mostly thought it was a cool T Shirt, for obvious reasons.  Better, though, as I ran past the T-shirted dudes, I saw a guy in a tie-less white dress shirt shaking hands with folks on the side of the parade route.  Man, I said to myself, that has to be Joe!!  So, even with 200m left in the race, I peeled back and said to him "Are you 'Joe' "?  He grinned and said yes.  I ran up and shook his hand, telling him I was Joe too!  I guess this meant we were both, simultaneously, shaking hands with Joe.  In a nice bit of clarity of thought, Joe said to me "Hey, I'm messing up your time!"  I appreciated his awareness of the moment.  I pointed out I was not on the bubble for making the Olympic team and just was having fun.  He got the joke and the political moment made us all smile. 
It was huge fun to be able to run well on a perfect day.  It doesn't always happen...savor it when it does. 
Persevere.  And give a politician a smile if you have the chance.