Monday, April 23, 2012

Running is a Team Sport

For almost two years now, I've been able to call myself a runner. I started out on this journey to lose a few pounds and then stay in shape, but along the way I discovered that I really have a passion for it. Whether it is a long, pre-dawn solo run or a large race with thousands of participants, running has become a big part of my daily life and changed me for the better.

Just a couple of months into my running journey, I discovered that a few of my other local friends were also interested in getting together as a group to run. We formed the Mount Vernon Running Buddies and it is a huge reason why running has become so much a part of my life as the accountability that comes from being a part of a group really helps you to show up at 6 a.m. instead of sleeping in. These other runners have become some of my closest friends as we spend time working hard together to reach our respective goals. We've hosted numerous themed 5K's and also two charity ones to-date.

One of the great aspects of our group is the fact that we try our very best to make sure that no one ever finishes their runs by themselves if at all possible. On our daily 5K's, we loop around and run in with the last runner. At races, we always wait until the entire group has crossed, and we also find ways to encourage each other even when we can't all be there. Even when one of us has been down with injuries, the rest of the group has worked hard to keep the injured runner encouraged.

The Mount Vernon Running Buddies are also now part of a larger group of Central Ohio runners known as Run DMC (or Daily Mile Columbus). This group is made up of runners who have connected via the running social media website Daily Mile. The group schedules training run meet-ups to keep people from having to run by themselves and then usually has a great presence at most of the Central Ohio races and beyond. It's been fun for me to meet other runners and find other places to run.

On Sunday, these two groups came together with at least 20 total runners along with others there to support the runners at the Earth Day Challenge half and full marathon in Gambier, Ohio. There was a fun time of catching up in person and meeting some people for the first time in real life, and then it was time to head to the starting line for the business at hand. I was one of four people in the combined groups to have signed up for the full marathon, and I set out to attempt what was my second marathon with a lofty goal of a 3:15 to BQ after posting a 3:52:04 in my first marathon attempt at Columbus last fall.

The first 13.1 miles of the race was so much fun as I ran pretty much a perfect race according to the plan that I had going in and I crossed the halfway point in 1:36:10. Since the course was an out-and-back course there were a couple of times in the first half that you crossed paths with all the other runners and it was so much fun to share smiles and encouragement with all of my other running friends that also included a lot of MVNU students. This made those first 13.1 miles just fly by as we all helped each other.

Then, I passed the turn off for the half marathon finish, high-fived my daughters (pictured above), and headed out to the much less traveled second half. Boy was it lonely! The only four people I saw the next three miles were volunteers stationed at cross roads to protect us from traffic. I kept churning out the miles, but all of a sudden my legs started to fail me around mile 17. Two of my Run DMC friends, Brandon and Peter (who was pacing Brandon after running Boston himself on Monday) caught me as I started to slow down and they tried to get me to go with them. I did for about half a mile and then faded again. Mike, another Run DMC friend, caught me just after the turnaround and also tried to get me to hang with him, but I was pretty much toast at that point. (My best guess is that I didn't drink enough water the first half and dehydration hit my legs hard.) A smile and some encouragement from Candice, another Run DMC'er, and Chris, a fellow MVNU alum, helped me keep trotting along for a few more miles as we crossed paths. However, by mile 22, a bad cramp in my left hamstring brought me to a screeching halt and I started to walk.

As I approached another cross road, I saw my Mount Vernon Running Buddies group, Chad, Teri, and George, as they had come out to cheer me to the finish. Seeing all of them REALLY lifted my spirits and I started to run again and thought "OK, I can definitely do this" and continued on. Since they had each run the half and had driven out there, they had to drop off after a short run and drive back to the finish, but just the brief minute or so they were there really helped and I trudged on.

Before I knew it, another familiar face popped up in the distance. This time it was Molly, a new friend I had made through Daily Mile and then had met in person for the first time the week before at a 10-mile race when we ran the first half of it together. She had finished the half marathon with a new PR and as the fastest female, but she took the time to come out along with her brother to help run me in to the finish. We jogged along to around the 25-mile mark and then the Mount Vernon Running Buddies (including Donald in jeans and all) appeared again along with Peter to create quite the contingent to get me over the final mile and to the finish line.

As we got closer to the finish, my daughters also joined in the running group (pictured above) and I saw that a huge portion of the Run DMC group had stuck around for almost two hours after finishing their half marathon race to see me cross the finish line. Talk about a show of support!!! Every single one of them helped will me to the finish line and I crossed it more than 10 minutes faster than my previous best time with a finish time of 3:41:39. While I still have a lot of work to do to reach that elusive BQ, this is a race that I will never forget because of the kindness, encouragement, and support of my family (Carla, you were a trooper to have the girls there for over four hours!) and a huge contingent of running friends. While our times are recorded individually, I am more convinced now than ever that running IS a team sport. We have the opportunity to encourage those around us and help push them to more than they think is possible. This PR belongs to every single person who helped me cross that finish line. Thank YOU!

P.S. If you want to see exactly how amazing this support has been, check out my Daily Mile page with the race report there. I'm blown away!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Welcome to Central Ohio, Kristyn Hartman

As part of my ongoing plan to introduce you to the people I've had the privilege to cross paths with, I would like to use this post to welcome to Central Ohio the newest member of the WBNS 10TV family - Kristyn Hartman.

It was announced back in mid-February that Kristyn was being hired to fill the evening anchor spot being vacated in May by Andrea Cambern, the award-winning, beloved newscaster who will be stepping down after working at the station since 1991. Being a fan of Andrea and the entire 10TV family through various interactions both via social media and in real life meetings, I was curious to get to know more about Kristyn, especially since the bio in the release about her hiring mentioned that she was a runner. I looked up her e-mail address on the website of the station she was currently at in Chicago and dropped her a quick note just to welcome her to Central Ohio and 10TV and give her a standing open invitation to join the Mount Vernon Running Buddies any time she wanted to.

Imagine my surprise when an hour and a half later an e-mail popped up in my inbox from Kristyn thanking me for taking the time to reach out to her. Here, on what was probably a pretty exciting yet busy day in her professional life, she took the time to respond to a total stranger. In the meantime, I had seen that one of my friends had started following her on Facebook so I checked out her page and noticed that she was also responding to all the well wishes from people in Central Ohio there, too. It was a great first impression for me as she was already connecting with what would be her viewing audience.

After that brief interaction to welcome Kristyn, I honestly didn't give it much more thought. I knew that she would be coming on board at the station sometime in May with a first on-air anchor date set for June. Well, imagine my surprise last week when my cell phone rang with an Illinois number and the voice on the other end was hers. She was calling to say that she wanted to take me up on the offer to come up and check out Mount Vernon and meet some of my friends. She said that she had orientation all day on Monday which was her first day at 10TV and then was booked until Thursday morning so we scheduled to meet that day.

It was great to have the opportunity show her around the university where I work (Mount Vernon Nazarene University) and introduce her to some of my friends and co-workers. We also briefly saw part of the city of Mount Vernon and I introduced her to the mayor and representatives from the police department, the fire department, and the sheriff's office. Everyone commented about how down-to-earth and genuine she was and they all enjoyed meeting her. I think she was also impressed with what she learned about our community and MVNU.

During the time that my wife, Carla, and I walked with Kristyn around campus and then the time that I spent driving her around town, I really enjoyed getting to find out more about what Kristyn is all about and what her plans are heading into this new job. She told me about how excited she is to come to a station that is viewed from the outside as one of the best jobs in the business regardless of size. She has been blown away by the hospitality and welcome that she has already felt from Central Ohio. She spoke lovingly about different things relating to her and her husband of 20 years, Chris, as their relationship started on a college campus much like Carla's and mine did.

Kristyn spoke with great admiration about Andrea and all the amazing things that she has done in her role over the years. She feels a sense of responsibility to continue the great relationship with the community and charity organizations, but she also knows that you don't replace someone like Andrea or try to be her, and she is looking forward to connecting with people in her own way much like she did with me and the others who met her on Thursday. She is very much looking forward to making Columbus her home and getting to know the great people that make up Central Ohio. Who might be the next person to get a phone call from her saying she's coming to see you! It really wouldn't surprise me at all because she knows that everyone has a story to tell and she loves to hear those stories and meet the people behind them.

From what I understand, you will start seeing Kristyn doing stories as early as next week as she gets her feet wet locally first in the role of a reporter. Then, her first on-set anchor date is set for June 4 when she will start doing the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. news slots with Jerry Revish. You will want to check it out and welcome her into your homes.

For more information on Kristyn, you can check out her bio page on the 10TV website.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

And The Winner Is.... (Part II)

Below is the acceptance speech that I received from Jim Clark as the winner of this year's Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse. Enjoy! :)

I had a dream!
By Jim Clark (NCAA GURU)
April 4, 2012

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of NCAA basketball prognostication in the history of our nation and the Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse.

Several weeks ago, a great American named Dave Parsons, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, sent out an email with an invitation to join the Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to many who had been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to avoid the flames of withering injustice and to correctly pick the 2012 NCAA Tournament Champion. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long nights of our captivity.

But many years later, there are many who still have not won the big prize. Many years later, the life of many in our group is still sadly crippled by the manacles of improper selections and the chains of poor decision-making. Many years later, there are Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse members living on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity which includes ownership of the Outback Steakhouse Gift Card. Many years later, Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse members are still languishing in the corners of American society and finding themselves an exile in their own land of misfortune. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to cash a check (or claim an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card). When the architects of our Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest wrote the magnificent words - “please join my group”, they were signing a promissory note to which every one of us was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men and a few women, yes, men as well as women, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card.

But there is something that I must say to you my friends who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining your rightful place you must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have never, ever come close to winning the Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for greatness left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of ridicule.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I had a dream. It was a dream deeply rooted in the quest for greatness as well as humility.

I had a dream that one day I would rise up again and live out the true meaning of the creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (and women) are not created equal when it comes to predicting basketball games."

I had a dream that my three little granddaughters will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by whether their Grandpa won the Six Degrees of MVNUSID Bracket Contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to my office with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of the Six Degrees of MVNUSID into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and sisterhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that one day maybe each and every one of us would be privileged to redeem an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Let freedom ring from the rolling hills of the village of Cedarville!

Let freedom ring from Mount Vernon Nazarene to Cedarville University!

Let freedom ring from every Outback Steakhouse in the USA!

Let freedom ring from everyone eating a delicious Bloomin’ Onion.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of us as God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "I have won an Outback Steakhouse Gif Card, I have won an Outback Steakhouse Gift Card! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

And The Winner Is...

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of this year's Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse is Jim Clark.

Jim, who is the assistant sports information director at Cedarville University, made his move after the Elite Eight round. George Hartz maintained his lead heading into the Final Four as he was one of 12 of the 69 entrants in my contest to pick three of the final four teams in the field correctly. He held a 950-920 lead over both Troy Current and Chris Bean at that point with Troy joining him in picking Ohio State to win it all and Chris having had his predicted champion, Duke, eliminated back in the first round. For his performance, George earned the coveted Bloomin' Onion card for that round.

In the Final Four, Jim joined eight other participants in correctly picking Kentucky and Kansas to advance to the national championship game as he claimed the Bloomin' Onion card for the round. At that point, it came down to who would win the championship game to see who would take home the grand prize.

In the title contest, Kentucky prevailed to give Jim the title, bragging rights, and the $45 voucher that Outback Steakhouse so generously donated. (Yes, originally, it was supposed to be $25, but they are so cool that they upped the ante.) I'm also throwing in a Bloomin' Onion card for runner-up, Jay Stancil, who only entered because Outback was involved, and I drew one more name from among the people who correctly picked Kentucky as the champion and that Bloomin' Onion card goes to Amanda Rykoff.

And for those wondering how bad my wife, Carla, beat me this year...she finished 12th out of 69 people with 1290 points, while I was a distant 22nd with 1200 points.

A big thank you to Outback for sponsoring the prizes for this year's contest. It would be great if you each took the time to follow them on Twitter and dropped them a note. Also, thanks to everyone who played along as this was the biggest field of participants yet. Here's hoping that even more people will join in on the March Madness next year.

Anything is Possible...Just Ask Debbie Gibson

OK, by now, those of you who follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or this blog are hopefully figuring out how much fun you can have connecting with just about anyone these days thanks to social media. From my first days on Twitter when I had a close encounter with Conan O'Brien to the amazing birthday surprise that Outback Steakhouse threw me virtually for my 40th birthday, I have experienced firsthand that anything really is possible.

Two weeks ago while traveling to Florida with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team to cover their annual spring trip, I had the opportunity one night to meet up with Dan Holm and Becky Maree, the two people who manage the Twitter and Facebook accounts for Outback. We met up fittingly at the Outback by the hotel I was staying at in Lakeland and spent the next couple hours chatting about all things Outback. It was fun to finally meet them in person, to hear what all is involved in their jobs, to find out what went on behind the scenes when they did my birthday surprise, and to even get to visit the kitchen of the Outback we were at and watch Bloomin' Onions be made. They are great people and they have been so kind to me.

As part of our conversation that night, I told them that the only thing missing from the whole 40th birthday surprise celebration was the fact that I had not been able to connect with Debbie Gibson, the 80's pop singer and then Broadway star who is now on this season's Celebrity Apprentice, to get her involved. I really felt like if she read the story that she would jump on board, but with over 56,000 followers on Twitter and a busy schedule I knew that she could easily miss my tweet about it. I did say that if Outback sent a tweet that maybe that would help her notice it.

Well, little did I know that Becky took that comment and ran with it as she tweeted Debbie from the Outback account. By the time I got back to my hotel room less than half an hour later, I started seeing messages that got me excited as I realized that Debbie was now paying attention. In fact, before I knew it, she was following me on Twitter and now I knew that I had a chance to pull this off!

Debbie and I exchanged a few direct messages as I worked out the details of getting a mailing address to send her Outback Surprise to her. She had me mail it to her PR firm in Beverly Hills, so that she could pick it up the day that she filmed the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I decided to make a brief video for her to give her instructions just as Outback had done for me when this started. I also included five extra Bloomin' Onion gift cards with the package so she could enjoy giving things away just like I had. I mailed the package off and waited to see what would happen.

Well, fast forward one week. I'm checking my e-mail this morning and a message pops up from her PR person. Inside is the link to this video:

OK, needless to say, I was speechless! I mean...I've been a fan of Debbie's for over 20 years and to have her collaborate with me on a project like this is just beyond cool. To top it all off, it probably comes during one of her busiest weeks as she's on a whirlwind PR tour that has included the Tonight Show, the Today Show, and various other shows.

Thanks Debbie and Outback for making all of this possible! You guys sure know how to help a guy celebrate his birthday!