A couple weeks ago, I was in a manager’s meeting where the presenters used a marathon run as an analogy to introducing significant organizational change. The dialogue caused me to think back on the first marathon that I ran more than a quarter century before.
When I was living in southern California in the mid–80’s, I had an one-bedroom apartment in ‘the valley’ in a town called Chatsworth. Chatsworth is right beside the foothills and my apartment complex was nestled between the high school and a cryogenic lab.
My workplace was seven miles away in trendy Woodland Hills. Each workday, I would take a bus to work with the rest of the valley girls and valley dudes. After work, I’d change into my running clothes and run the seven miles home with my work clothes shoved into a back pack.
While riding the morning bus, I saw an advertisement for the Los Angeles Marathon just a couple months away. Always up for a challenge, I registered for the race and began to prepare. Since this was in the days before the Internet, I researched by picking up a running magazine and speaking with friends.
The running magazine had useful tips such as putting Vaseline between your toes, warning against wearing new shoes on race day and doing an additional long runs of 15 miles during the weekend. My friends had advice like ‘isn’t that too far’ and ‘stop if you get too tired’.
On the day of the race, I was fully loaded with carbohydrates and accompanied by my fiancée. Her role was to wait at the finish line and drive me home. Since it was my first marathon, I was hoping to average 8 minutes per mile and complete the 26 plus miles in three and a half hours.
As the race began, I turned to wave goodbye to my fiancée and prepared to settle in. As I reached the five mile mark, I noticed that the runer in front of me had an artificial leg. He unknowingly provided me with some additional motivation. As I reached the ten mile mark, I encountered a runner pushing a cart with his young child aboard. Around the fifteen mile mark, I began to tire before the singing from a Baptist church inspired me to pick up my pace. For the much of the race, I’d been going surprisingly fast. If I kept my current pace, I’d finish in under three hours. Then I hit the proverbial wall.
Around the 20-mile mark, there was a hill. Well, it wasn’t really a hill by normal standards. It was a hill by ‘I’ve been running 20 miles’ standards. It was a bit of an upgrade and it slowed me to a crawl. At that point, I had my first internal debate about whether to stop. I began pulling in mental support. I went through the index inside my mind and came across my adoring and elderly grandmother. Yes, she’d want me to buck up and finish this. If I could finish, she’d be very proud of me. I could almost feel her soft hands covering mine as she smiled as me.
I didn’t speed up much from my crawl but I felt a resilience to continue to the end. I trudged along and gained just the slightest of speed as I neared the finish line. As I reached the finish line at the Los Angeles Coliseum, I began searching the crowd for my fiancée. She was nowhere to be found as I completed the run in just over 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Exhausted and drenched in sweat, I shuffled around the finish area looking for my fiancée. She was nowhere to be found. I check the official greeting area, food stands, bathroom areas and even the post-race massage section. Nothing.
I thought she might have decided to wait at our car. After all, it had been over three hours. I slowly made the trek to the car while hobbling along on my sore feet. When I arrived, she was nowhere to be found and the car was locked. I waited a bit and then began to walk back. Low and behold, I saw her coming my way.
“Where the heck have you been?”, I asked.
She replied, “I was waiting in the emergency area where they bring back people who couldn’t finish the run.”
With that vote of confidence, we headed off for a restful bite to eat. She pulled into a local restaurant and I looked forward to a nice quiet meal. About 15 minutes later, we had a table cover with food and drink.
That’s when the mariachi band walked up to our table.
It's been 25 years since my first marathon run and the memories from that day are still bright and clear. Even how the mariachi band.
Earlier today, I was sitting in my orthopedist's office. He was going to give me another cortisone shot in my hand for a 'trigger finger' problem. Hopefully, the third time would be a charm.
As I waited for the doctor, I looked down at my left hand and noticed the various imperfectioms.
The V-shaped scar on the middle knuckle is from a weird soda bottle versus glass incident after an AC/DC concert in 1980. Getting stiches at Fort Bragg was quite the adventure. Neary self-service.
Lots on scar lines from having cats for 20 years and losing some of the play fights.
Some deep ridges from fingernail scratches. Mostly basketball opponents with long nails trying to steal the ball. That didn't happen and they got my flesh instead.
One notably crooked pinky finger that was crushed in a basketball game in Chatsworth, CA in 1987. A big dude landed on it when we dove for a loose ball.
A bump on the left side on my hand from a 'boxer' fracture in 1979. I found my Army mate drunk and asleep in his car. Fearing the MPs might nab him, I attempted to get him to his room. He didn't like the idea and slugged me. I punched him back. Hence, the fracture. He got a nice black eye for his trouble. After they set the break, I got a cast.
There are more scars along my knuckles from a tobogganing accident in 1970. I was steering the toboggan and the friend behind my decided to cover my eyes with his mittens. This took us off the path and into the woods. I cut up my hand and busted a wrist blasting into a tree.
In 1991, I was watching the Giants/Bills Super Bowl at my parent's house. When the Bills kicker missed an easy, last-minute field goal giving the Giants the win, I jumped up with excitement and banged my knuckes on the ceiling. I left blood stains in that sandy white ceiling paint and a line of small scars on my knuckles.
There's a dot of pencil lead buried my palm from 1976. The kid behind me thought it would be funny to stab my hand during high school biology class. We're now friends on Facebook.
It's interesting what tales one hand can tell just by looking at it. Not to mention all the things this hand has grabbed, held and touched over the years.
If you're a NHL fan, you're probably familiar with the beards the players grow as they compete in the playoffs. It's meant to show their bond in reaching a goal. It's a constant reminder of what they're striving for together.
My father wore a beard for last fifteen years of his life. It looked good on him. He had a Santa Clause-type vibe when his grew in. On occasion, I would grow one when we were on summer vacation together. My dojo-mates would then take to calling me 'Hemingway' given the silver beard and my sunburned face.
With my jujitsu black belt test currently slated for late August, I'm going to grow a battle beard of my own. Partly to remind myself to focus and work hard in preparing for the upcoming test. Partly as a rememberance to my father who I wish could be here to share in the run up to my attempt.
I attended a wake today. It was for the mother of a long-time and good friend. In fact, she's so well-considered that she's the godmother to my only daughter (and she takes the role seriously).
We spoke for a few moments about her mother's difficult last year and also about times past. We'd shared good times. As an example, I'd been the best man at her wedding and she'd been the maid-of-honor at mine.
As we spoke, a young man entered the funeral home and she struggled to remember his name. As he neared us, she said, "Well, I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
While her mother finally passed from a stroke, she had suffered with Alzheimer's for a few years.
As the people in the wake gathered, they began to mingle into groups to catch up. They shared updates and stories of the past. It was impossible not to notice the irony of all the memories shared at an event honoring a women who'd been ravaged by Alzheimer's.
The other day, someone asked me a hypothetical question. Would I rather lose my hearing or my sight? This was meant to be a conversation starter. I choose hearing.
After today, my worst fear would be to lose the memories that I cherish so much.
With one glance, it was clear that something was wrong. I should not be peeing blood. Then again, I'd had jujitsu class the night before. I had worked hard with my 6' 5" and 280 pound training partner, Big Dave. Possibly this was just the aftermath.
My doctor sent me for a CT scan and I went home to wait on the results. I was alone when he called. Sitting in my home office in January of last year. The news wasn't good. It looked like I had a large tumor on my left kidney. More tests would be required. Those tests would find another issue. Tumors on my thyroid.
During the first couple weeks when the testing was underway, I kept the issue to myself. I didn't know specifically what was wrong or what my prognosis was. I spent my time scrambling to organize myself for the worst case scenario. I visited my financial planner to ensure matters were in order. I furiously worked to clean out my desk, closets and garage. I dug tunnels through the blizzard's snow banks to allow for drainage in the Spring. I created a document with all my account and password information. I was preparing for those I might be leaving behind.
I then prepared myself of the prospect of dying. Was my life going to be over soon? Grasping the reality of own mortality, I even wondered who would be at my funeral. Family and friends for sure. My acquaintances from 20 years of soccer coaching. My jujitsu training partners. My workmates from the past 30 years. Even a few friends from as far back as elementary school. There would be plenty of folks to help console my family. This was reassuring.
I asked myself whether I'd lived a full and decent life? I thought so and could rest easy in that regard. I'd been adventurous and most often kind-hearted. I could feel comfortable that I'd lived a worthy life.
I found that one thing troubled me most. This was the prospect of what I would miss in the years ahead. I was already fearing this and even found myself napping on the floor beside my daughter's desk as she did her homework.
A couple days before I spoke with my family about my illness, my wife, daughter, sister and mother went off for a shopping day. They enjoyed these treks down to Clinton to wander through the outlets in each other's company. While they were away, I spent more time frantically organizing. As they were returning that evening, they called and asked that I meet them for dinner at a local restaurant.
When I arrived, I found the four of them sitting at a table by the fireplace. They were in great spirits. They laughed and smiled at each other's stories. surrounded by her mentors, My daughter looked radiant that evening. The conversation soon turned to beginning high school in the Fall and learning to drive soon thereafter.
My daughter said, "Dad, you're going to have to teach me to drive. Mom has NO patience."
Across the table, I smiled and nodded as my heart ached and I fought back tears. Would I be there for her? To teach her to drive and so much more?
Last February, I had my left kidney removed. Earlier this year, I had my thyroid removed. For awhile, I was worse for wear but I've rallied over the past few months. I'm back at jujitsu class and cheering on the sidelines of my daughter's soccer game. My daughter and I recently went parasailing and jet-skied in the Gulf of Mexico and ran a five-mile race together on Thanksgiving.
We've shared similar experiences in the past but, these days, I cherish and savor it all just a bit more.
The other evening, I was wheeling the garbage bin up the driveway while perilous gazing up at the star-filled sky. As I reached the garage, my daughter arrived home from soccer practice.
As she jumped out off the car she greeted me with a smile and a greeting.
I'm glad that I didn't miss that.
These days I'm not afraid of dying. I'm only afraid of not savoring every moment I'm graced with.
I shouldn’t have started jujitsu when I was in my forties. It’s a very physical sport with all sorts of judo falls, joint wrenching and fierce grappling. In the first couple months, when I was a white belt, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I considered quitting and moving onto something slightly saner.
My training partners said that wouldn’t be allowed. I stayed.
When I was a yellow belt, I was practicing furiously to earn a promotion to blue belt. My Sensei had been testing my abilities during class and I felt that my promotion was near. We had our annual ‘bash’ in a couple weeks and I hoped that I might get my new belt that day. To prepare for the annual ‘bash’ we had special training slated for the Saturday before.
In the early morning hours of that Friday morning, I received a call from my mother. My father had fallen getting into bed and he couldn’t get up. I threw on some clothes, zipped to their home and lifted my father back into bed. He was having an acute case of gout and the pain in his legs was excruciating. Later that day, an ambulance transported him to the hospital for treatment. After being brought into an ER room, the doctor drained his leg to relieve the pain. Miraculously, he was able to walk out just an hour later.
The next morning, I went off to ‘bash’ practice a little bleary-eyed. We proceeded to spent the 90-minute class doing lots of fighting. As the class drew to a close, I was exhausted and was having a hard time moving. I decided to stand my ground and take on an experienced brown belt. The result was that I ended up landing on and separating my right shoulder. I was then back to the same hospital ER and my hope for promotion was gone.
I eventually got that promotion to blue belt about six months later. I continued to train hard and, in a couple years, had a date to take my brown belt test. In the months before the test, my father fell ill and was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. Over the better part of three weeks, I spent countless hours in his hospital room talking about everything under the sun. I told him about my upcoming test and shared my hope that he’d attend. After leaving the hospital, he died just a week later.
When I passed the brown belt test in a couple months, I had my father on my mind and it helped drive me toward preparing for and completing the test.
In the fall of 2010, my Sensei targeted August 2011 as a potential timeframe for my black belt test. In January of 2011, I was diagnosed with cancer. I underwent surgery in both February 2011 and January 2012. When I returned to the mats, my Sensei set this July as a tentative test date. At first, I didn’t think that I could rally. The past year had been very trying physically and emotionally. Then, one Saturday, I was sitting on my couch feeling bad for myself. It was a sunny and warm day for March. I pulled myself off the couch and spent the rest of the day splitting firewood and listening to Motown.
That wood cutting event spurred me forward. In addition to taking three jujitsu classes a week, I began to do five or six fitness workouts a week. In a couple months’ time, I was becoming far more fit and my techniques were improving. My energy was laser focused on making the test date in July.
Then last week, my Sensei said that he was moving the date of my test out until later in the year. I needed more practice he said. If I was testing in July, my techniques should be nearly perfect already. He felt I was fit enough but my techniques were not refined.
I was crushed. I’d been working so hard. With all that time before the new test date, there was always a chance that I could get injured again. I was wildly disappointed and near furious. I’d been striving for this and working as hard as I could. I wondered whether I wanted to go back. I wondered whether I had the will and motivation to return.
On Tuesday night, I went back. It’s still not settled in my head. I’m still angry and frustrated. I’m determined but I’m not yet happy. This is a goal that I’ve strived for. I’ve given a lot of myself to this dojo. Is it important that I follow through or is it now a personal obsession run amuck?
Possibly this is just the latest hurdle. We’ll see in the coming days and weeks.
I've put in a good run of training and I'm beginning to feel that I'll be able to get reasonably fit again. Saturday I went to jujitsu and Sunday I worked in my yard most of the day. I worked with a fitness trainer on Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesday and Thursday, I did a 'warrior workout' in addition to jujitsu class. I have fitness training again tomorrow and jujitsu class on Saturday. Sunday will be a rest day while I watch my daughter play in a soccer tournament.
Generally, I'm feeling better although I broke into a cold sweat tonight between the warrior workout and class. I felt a bit off the whole night and sweated profusely throughout. I'm not sure if it was a reaction to the warmest day of the year or the strain of the increased workout schedule. Either way, I need to keep working and getting past this hurdle.
I'm happy with the progress in my fitness and my consistency in attending class. I can tell that many of the brown belt techniques are beginning to settle in but I still have tons of work to do in the coming weeks. My biggest concern now is my newaza, randori and live self-defense practice.
I've been given hints that I should be more aggressive in my newaza but I have grown comfortable in making this a teaching session when working with lower belts. It has been suggested that I should be more attacked minded. I've been a bit more aggressive but likely nothing near to what's expected.
Randori and live self-defense are critical areas to practice but are also the most dangerous. I know this because this is where I've been injured most often. Due to this, I don't throw myself into these with the same ruthless abandon I once did. Having spent the past year recovering from two surgeries has also made me tired of spending time feeling broken and mending.
This has left me being cautious in these activities with the most potential danger. On one side, it seems to be the prudent and reasonable approach to do. On the flip side, I wonder whether those 'reasons' are really a new layer of trepidation that's impacting my ability to train properly.