Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Let the Healing Begin

It was just a couple of hours ago that I posted my thoughts about what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  It was a struggle to find the words, but I knew that I needed to in order to begin my own process of moving forward from this tragedy.

Late in the afternoon, I saw a posting on Facebook that runners everywhere were being encouraged to meet at the nearest high school track tonight at 9 p.m. and run one mile for Boston.  I shared the post among my local running group, the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, and hoped that the stormy weather would be done in time for me to participate.

Little did I know just how therapeutic one mile could be.  It was dark and wet when we arrived at the high school track, but the rain had stopped.  We all worked our way on to the track and the 10 of us gathered at the starting line.  John Hofferberth, who is busy this week with all the final details for the Earth Day Challenge half marathon, said a couple of words and we took off.

I'm not used to not having a plan for my run.  I'm also not used to just running a mile.  I knew that I didn't want to go all out, but I also knew that I wanted to go hard enough that I was working at it.  I thought about the victims and their families as I went around the oval.  I didn't look at my watch.  I knew that I was moving at a good clip, but it wasn't about that.  I ended up doing five loops of the track instead of four because it just felt right.

When everyone had finished, we stopped for a moment and chatted as a group.  We didn't all know each other before the event that only lasted about 10 minutes.  But what I posted earlier today about running bringing people together was true as we all interacted like old friends.  We talked about a few upcoming local events and one person shared how she had just started running again and had already run for two hours on the treadmill before coming to the track as she wanted to really start working hard to improve her fitness.  Another person ran three miles barefoot to the track and then ran home afterwards.  For me, it was the first time since August 3, 2011 that I had run on that track as I remember vividly leaving that day with really bad shin splints from pushing too much speed work.  This time around I left with a great sense of pride in my running family as my mile felt like I was walking on air.

It may have only been one mile tonight, but it was many steps in the right direction towards the healing process for all of us in the running community and I'm so thankful that I was there.

No Words....

Ashley and I at the 2012 Cap City Quarter
Yesterday was a perfect day to run.  An ideal race day, especially for a marathon.  And after the extreme heat at last year's event, the 117th Boston Marathon really could not have asked for a better day.

When I started running nearly four years ago, I had no plans or goals for being a runner other than I needed to lose a little weight and stay active.  After a few months of just solitary running on the local bike path, I signed up for a four-mile charity race to benefit our local hospital.  As the result of that race, I was hooked on both racing and interacting with the amazing running community.  Along with a couple of friends, we started a local running group, the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, and the running and relationships have just blossomed.

As my running continued, I began to push myself to try longer distance races.  I did the 2010 Columbus half marathon.  Then, the 2011 Columbus marathon.  While my times weren't incredibly fast, they were good enough that I really felt like if I pushed myself, stayed injury-free, and got a little lucky that some day I could earn my way to Boston with a qualifying time (BQ).

The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle for a runner...the holy grail of running.  You have to post a pretty fast time based on your age and gender to earn the right to enter or there are also a limited number of spots for people who raise significant money for one of the official charities of the event.  Either way, it's not an easy task.

Yesterday was a day that so many runners had been dreaming about...some for their whole running careers.  It was their day to run Boston!  I personally had six friends running in the race and for four of them it was their first time.  For three of them, they had tried and tried and tried to qualify and finally had.  All their hard work had paid off and they were set to toe the starting line of the 26.2-mile journey!  I signed up to get text alerts on their progress and pulled up the live stream of the race on the internet.  I was hundreds of miles away, but I too was caught up in the excitement that is the Boston Marathon.

The push cart/wheelchair division started and then the elite women's race followed around 9:30 a.m.  Then, the men's elite runners were off at 10 a.m. followed by the rest of the throng of 27,000+ runners.  The journey had begun!  I was enjoying having the live stream of the event on in the background in my office while I got work done.  Then, when it came time for me to teach the Sports Information class that I teach, we watched the race as a class and discussed various aspects of the event from a media standpoint, from a fan standpoint, and from a participant standpoint.  We got to see the women's finish and then the men's finish.  The class was really into it even though most of them had no experience at all with running and especially marathon races.

I went to lunch and then worked on some things in my office.  My friends begin to finish and I began to get their text alerts.  One by one, they accomplished their goal of crossing that finish line.  First Nate, then Jace, and then Brandon.  Time ticked on and some more updates came.  Soon I saw that Deb, Carrie and Carla had all finished.  I was proud of my friends for pushing themselves to do it.  Some had battled injuries even getting to the starting line.  But they all did it!

I turned my attention back to my work.  All of sudden a message popped up about an explosion in Boston.  Everything else just stopped for me.  My oldest daughter, who is 11, was sitting in my office as we began to watch the news unfold.  We were in utter shock.  My heart was breaking.  It felt like the day when my daughter was just a month old and I held her in my arms while I watched the 9/11 attacks take place on my TV screen.  It was all just surreal.  But this time, I had a personal connection.  I had friends who were right there!  And I mean right there as Carla, Deb, and Carrie had just finished minutes before the bombs went off.

I immediately got on my phone and started trying to find out what I could about each of them.  Thanks to social media and our running group, we quickly heard that Deb and Carrie were ok.  I was able to track down Brandon, Nate, and Jace and they were already away from the scene.  I finally heard that Carla was ok, too.  I was incredibly thankful that they were all safe and sound.

However, that didn't take away the huge ache that I continue feeling in my heart for the people who are suffering.  People I don't know and probably never will.  I've watched other national tragedies and natural disasters take place and felt for the people involved.  But this time it was different.  It was my family...the running family.  And one of the things that was hurting me the most was that it was the spectators who took the brunt of the explosions.  They were cheering on their loved ones.  Showing support.  Like they had done for months leading up to the race.  It's probably the most often overlooked part of the sport of running and definitely the part that doesn't get enough thanks.  Wives, husbands, kids, extended families, best friends...they all pick up the slack to allow us time to run, listen to our countless stories and moans about our injuries, and continue to cheer us on and love us in spite of it.  Today they were the target.  And they never stood a chance.

The running community is one of the tightest, most caring groups of people you could ever belong to.  If you visit any city small or large, you can instantly strike up a friendship just passing a fellow runner and joining in on their journey.  Runners come in all shapes and sizes and all paces.  But we root for each other.  And we all have the common goal of crossing that finish line.  Some times we are out for a PR.  Other times we are out there to pace others.  And other times we are out there just to enjoy the journey.  But we keep getting out there and we keep cheering each other on.

Yesterday was a perfect day to run.  However, we live in a very imperfect world where people do evil, hurtful things to innocent strangers.  It's incomprehensible.  And it takes all of our resolve to not let evil win sometimes.  I had to look in my eight-year-old daughter's eyes last night and assure her that it was ok for her dad to go to his next race this Sunday.  I can't even begin to comprehend the grief of the dad who lost his eight-year-old son in yesterday's tragedy.  I had a long talk with my older daughter about the upcoming Cap City quarter marathon as we plan to run it together in three weeks for the second year in a row while her mom does the half marathon.  She was worried about running it and worried about her mom since she would be running by herself.  I told her that we can't live in fear or it allows the bad people to win.

While Boston and the entire running community and our nation mourns the events of what happened yesterday, we WILL keep running and we will help each other along the journey.  And my hope is that I will be there at the starting line when next year's Boston Marathon gets under way.  In the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with the people who have suffered so very much.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And the Winner is..........

Patrick Neville - 2013 Champion
Congratulations to Patrick Neville...the overall winner of this year's Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse!  Patrick was one of only two people out of 75 in the contest to have Louisville playing Michigan for the NCAA national title and he successfully predicted that the Cardinals would be the winner which meant that he'll snag the coveted Outback Steakhouse gift certificate as he ran away from the competition with 1370 points.

Ryan Workman and Joe Rinehart tied for second place behind Patrick with 1200 points each as they will both also snag a Bloomin' Onion thanks to the generosity of Outback, who allowed me to pick a few extra winners above and beyond what we originally agreed to.  (Really that's how they always operate....exceeding expectations at every turn!)

Patrick Neville's winning bracket
Additional Bloomin' Onion winners as selected by me are: Brian Vinson, who finished in third place with 1160 points, Mike Schreiber, who was one of only two people to have picked Michigan to win it all, Rob Oller, who only got 18 of the first 32 picks right but still made it all the way to a tie for fifth place for the entry with the biggest comeback, and James Mummert because he finished dead last and there are no losers among my friends.

One other winner was Greg Rhoads, who along with Mike had picked Michigan to win the national title, as he tied with Patrick by getting both Final Four winners correct on Saturday.

Thanks again to my 75 friends who jumped in and played.  Some have done it every year and for some this was the first time you ever filled out a bracket.  Let me know if you enjoyed it.  And, make sure to drop Outback a thanks on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Down to the Final Four

Well, the second week of the NCAA men's basketball tournament provided more drama, upsets, and buzzer beaters as well as new winners and leaders in the fourth annual Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse.

On the first day of the Sweet Sixteen last Thursday, 11 of the 75 people correctly picked two of the eight winners while two of the group's predicted champions went down with losses by Indiana and Miami (Fla.).  The Indiana loss affected the most brackets as 21 of the 75 people in the contest had them winning the whole thing with a good portion of the remaining people having them in the championship game.  Thursday's winner of the Bloomin' Onion courtesy of Outback is Darren Mahan, who vaulted into a tie for the top spot with Nate Okuley in the overall standings.

The second day of the Sweet Sixteen saw another predicted champion go down in Kansas and also saw Nate's run atop the leaderboard finally come to an end.  There were 14 people in our contest who correctly picked three of the eight winners right.  Friday's Bloomin' Onion winner is Jace Wolford, who can use it for fuel when he runs the Boston Marathon in a little over a week, as he moved into a tie for the top spot overall with Ryan Workman, who continues to lurk as a possible winner of the overall grand prize.

Darren Mahan and Jace Wolford
On Saturday, the Elite Eight got under way and only two people out of 75 got even one of the four games picked correctly with George Hartz and Mike Schreiber each picking one winner.  Ohio State got knocked out of the tournament and with the loss there were 16 more contestants who lost their eventual predicted champion.  George took over the top spot in the contest with his one correct pick, so that earned him the coveted Bloomin' Onion for the day.

On Sunday, the Elite Eight wrapped up with six people correctly picking two of the four winners.  My bracket officially went in the dumpster with Duke's loss, but I wasn't the only one as now 33 of the 75 people have officially been eliminated from title contention with no more possible points remaining from their picks.  Eric Smith claimed the Bloomin' Onion for the day as he moved to the top of the leaderboard, but that reign will be short-lived unless Wichita State and Syracuse both win on Saturday as he has no possible points remaining either.  Patrick Neville is just 10 points behind hoping for a Louisville national championship to add a steak dinner to the Bloomin' Onion he already won.

George Hartz and Eric Smith
The action will resume on Saturday when Michigan takes on Syracuse and Wichita State tries to shock Louisville.  Very few people nationally picked this improbable Final Four, but here's hoping for two more close games and then a lot of shining moments in the championship game on Monday.