Tuesday, May 17, 2011


My next run is in less than a week. I'm doing the Run4theHomeless 5k sponsored by The People's City Mission. Though I don't always agree with the spiritual mission of the program, I do support the free/reduced-price medical clinic the mission supports by courting medical professionals to volunteer their time. The mission calls this "social entrepreneurship" and provides medical care to uninsured or underinsured people in Lincoln without using federal money of any kind. The rhetoric of the mission itself is fascinating in a time when the politicos opposed to a federal healthcare intervention call such care "socialism." I also find the mission's use of visual rhetoric interesting (but perhaps a bit overdone). But these are small critiques of what is, essentially, the only focused program seeking to serve thousands of people in the City of Lincoln.

Finding a cause helps me to determine the sort of effect I'd like to make on my community. This run is just one small part of my own mission: to get up and on with life. By raising money with the Lucky Bucketeer Team (click here to support my run on June 11) that will support People's City Mission, I'm also helping myself. The exercise and training, the focus on giving, and the sense that through a collective effort change is possible, make the sweating on sweltering June days worth it. Perhaps the secret to living well is finding a cause and effect.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Lucky Day

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham

When I arrived at the Lucky Bucket Run, it was a cool fifty degrees. Runners of all ages and ability milled about the staging area. Some were in costumes. Most were not. A very tall bloke dressed as Batman slipped through the throng. A gorilla in a shell bikini sauntered past. A woman in a body leotard stood nearby, taking position next to her friend. I took their photograph.

Standing with my friends among the runners, I was thinking through my strategy, repeating my motivational mantra: Finish, but don’t finish last. A man tapped my shoulder.

I turned. He smiled. I ovulated.

“Can you tell me where to get a time chip?”

“Uh, yes,” I said, and pointed to the nearby tables. We locked eyes for a moment. He smiled again. Another egg neared my right fallopian tube, ready to jump like an ovarian paratrooper.

“Thanks,” he said, “have a great race!”

“I just did,” I mumbled as he turned and walked away.

When I turned around to rejoin my friends’ in conversation, Kate laughed. “You should have seen your face!”

“Oh my god,” I said, struck with an incredulous smirk. “It’s been years since that’s happened.”

(PHOTO: My friend and his besties)

Blushing pink on a grey Saturday afternoon, I shambled toward the start and packed in with hundreds of others. Before the herd would be released, a man with a trumpet and standing atop the Lucky Beer delivery truck would play a soulful, funeral-dirge version of our national anthem. His silver horn pointed to the darkening sky with an American flag flapping in the breeze beside him, he nailed it. I smiled. To be atop a beer truck while playing The Star-Spangled Banner seemed to me to be a highlight of any American musician’s career.

Freshly fertile, wearing my racing tag and time chip, and oozing contemplative patriotic pride, I plodded onto the course at a listing, spasmatic pace. I passed three ladies with substantial curves dressed as princesses with billowy tutus. I slipped through a group of women walking together, already regretting the trail race.

Unlike the tidy training trails the Lucky Bucketeers have used for the last couple of months, the race terrain was formidable. Just after the first mile, the first of three water challenges provided an opportunity to schlep through some muck and a creek. The second water challenge, however, was a deeper and steeper ravine. Course workers provided ropes to help runners scale the slick wall of mud on the other side of the creek. Instead of taking that obstacle head-on, I opted to take another route. It was steep but less traveled, and though it cost me some time it was worth the safer ascent.

By this time, runners were spread thin along the route. I often had large stretches of the run to myself. As I ran I could see the sprawling, rolling hills outside of Ashland green with spring rain, an emerald foundation holding up a clouded sky. Prairie birds chatted and chirped. The deep scent of ground, of damp earth and trampled grasses, filled my lungs. I could taste the earth as the sky, mischievously mottled with patches of deep grey, threatened rain and urged me onward.

Between the second and third mile markers, the route became a lesson in pain mastery. A steep upgrade stretched before me as far as I could see. I slowed my pace, listening to the sound of my Keens hitting the packed ground, my breathing, and my heartbeat. My hamstrings played a symphony of burning notes as I scaled the route. I knew I was, by all definitions, a straggler. Though I could hear the moans and exclamations of runners behind me, I could also hear those runners who had already finished partying down at the finish line.

I pushed onward, slowing to an aggressive walking pace, repeating my mantra. Just finish, but don’t finish last. As I reached the apex of the curved earth, I felt a surge of pride. Picking up my pace, I focused on making the halfway mark of the route: a beer-stop.

Alone on a stretch of wooded pathway, I could hear the quick pace of an approaching runner. As he passed me, he slowed to my pace briefly.

“Hey,” he said, “You’re doing a great job! Keep it up!” before leaving me. I smiled as I watched him disappear into a curve.

When I arrived at the beer-stop, workers were packing up the tables and putting them onto golf carts. There were pitchers, some full, some half-full, on a service table. As I approached, a woman worker called out, “We’re out of cups!”

I spied a pitcher, half-full. It beckoned me with its amber charm.

“I don’t need your cups!” I said as I scooped up the pitcher and drank deeply from its brim.

“Atta girl!” a man called out.

I put the pitcher on the last table and pounded toward the last water challenge. As I reached its edge, I understood the difficulty and felt a twinge of panic seize me. I turned, jogged twenty feet back to that pitcher and picked it up again.

“I need courage,” I said as I slugged down several gulps of ale. After an epic belch and a high-five from a race worker, I ran toward the obstacle. The descent was nearly forty degrees – not quite a straight-down drop, but close. Trampled down, slick, nothing but mud and stubborn grass clumps, all one could do is surf. Using my right hand as a rudder, I slid my way down in a big, muddy swoosh until I reached the water’s edge. Momentum pushed me upright as I crossed the water, splashing and determined. The ascent could be ranked, I swear, as a modest 5.5 slab. There was a rope dangling down the slimy route.

Instead of taking the rope, I quickly looked to the left and right of it to see which way offered the best hand and foot holds. “Screw the rope,” I said, and let my climbing skills take over. I ascended fast and was feeling pretty awesome. Workers on the other side yelled, “Woot! Way to go!” and clapped as I grabbed a tree trunk and then leapt toward another. It was a minor free-solo mud victory.

As I left that challenge behind me, I could hear other runners yelling and squealing. Energized and bolstered, I followed the route into the woods. Alone again, feeling my side ache, missing my running shoes, I carried on. I was beginning to lose faith that the race would ever end. As I rounded a curve, I realized I was in the final stretch. I could see the parking area. I could hear the music and smell the burgers grilling at the finish line staging area.

A man approached from the opposite direction. “Are there others behind you?”

“Yep,” I said, “there are folks back there.”

“Good, I can’t find my wife.”

As I reached the paved section a fifty yards or so from the finish line, Kate and Derek were there, cheering. I got a high-five as I pushed past. The final yards were uphill, asphalt-hard, and I noticed some runners were already on their way to the parking lot. As I passed a group of young runners, clearly underage and without their free drink tickets, a dolled up girl holding onto her boyfriend said, “Oh my god, I can’t believe there are people still running.”

I vexed her immediately. “May your thighs become thunderous, and your cellulite profound,” I muttered, “and your syntax sucks.”

Just a few yards from the finish line, my friend Travis was there to take a photo. A woman I didn’t know ran up to me to congratulate me on my finish. “Great job! Keep it up!”

As I crossed beneath the finish banner and stepped over the line, I came to an abrupt stop. Overjoyed, exhausted, I did a jig and a few pelvic thrusts. My friends were right there, awaiting high-fives and grinning.

It wasn’t a flat course like a typical run. It was a 7k trail run with challenges. I did it in an hour and twenty-two minutes, hardly a prideful pace for Spandex-clad seasoned runners. But I didn’t care. As I sipped my beer with my friends, as I felt the dead ache spreading up my legs like a rising tide, even as the temperature dipped below fifty degrees, I radiated a warm sense of accomplishment and self-gratitude.

When the trail got tough, I had thanked it for its lesson. When the trail emptied and I was alone, I was grateful for the solace. When the wind blew chill, I thanked it for the relief it brought. It was a cool kind of beautiful out there. My mind was empty of its doubts, and this was beautiful, too.

I finished, but I didn’t finish last. I ran. I conquered. I smiled. I ovulated. And the beer was damn good.

I guess it was just my lucky day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

(Un)Lucky (Puss)Bucket Run

A couple of months ago, when I discovered the Lucky Bucket Inaugural Run, I thought it was a normal sort of course near Ashland, Nebraska. I rallied some friends. We formed the Lucky Bucketeers and started meeting on Lincoln trails to train. Working hard, encouraging each other, and convinced the run would be on the many trails at the Quarry Oaks Golf Course, we figured we had this one in the bucket.

And then this video came out:

It's a good thing the Lucky Bucketeers are such a dandy band of good-natured ladies, else I'd be tied to the hood of someone's car by now and driven into the country. And while I'm laughing about this change of course, this new set of challenges, I'm also certain that if I bail on this now, I will kick the bucket at others' hands.

And, because I can't stop myself from laughing, this challenge is just another drop in the ... bucket.

Bring it!

Monday, May 2, 2011


(Scooter demands I ride right meow).

It's been a busy week for me here in Lincoln, Nebraska. The end of the term has finally arrived. Campus smells of undergraduate fear, pending finals, and last-minute scholarship. Today marks the onset of final exams, evident in sights I saw as I approached my office:

Two students outside the chemistry building, giving each other high-fives

A lone student huddled in the shadow of the computer science building, smoking, staring off into the distance, muttering to himself

A female student sitting on a bench, crying into her cell phone, "My math class is such bullshit, Mom."

This reminded me of a song by Of Montreal, "Gronlandic Edit," and the line, physics makes us all its bitches. It does, so I smiled.

Though I'm tempted to write at length about the latest developments in the "War on Terror," I won't. All I can tell you is that the celebration of anyone's death makes me uneasy, as if I'm toeing a fine line between the soulfulness of faith and the soul-less nature of human hungers for vengeance. Instead, I prefer to think of the families missing their fathers, and mothers, sons and daughters, lost to war, lost to unspeakable violence, and try to hold their hearts in view, in mindful meditation. Words can never do justice to such loss - only love and respect can hold up the heartbroken. And the last decade has broken many hearts all over the globe.

On my mind today is how easy it is to treat love as a noun, as a thing to acquire or lose, instead of an imperative. "Love!" as a direction, an order ... can you imagine the chaos following such an order would create? Can you imagine the disruption you could unfold in your own life? What if we all followed the same imperative at the same time? What if love as a verb, as something we do, was unbound and released into the universe at the same time?

Whenever the world doesn't make sense to me, whenever I sense a current event is playing at the fringe of present and history at the same time, I think about love, about people as people ... regardless of origin, country, or creed. When it comes to love, just as when it comes to food, there's never enough to go around the world so that everyone feels full, sustained. People need both food for their bodies, minds and nurishment for their spirits. I believe love and respect will be what brings both to everyone. But that's just my sentimental waxing ...

While the world turned yesterday, I headed out to run without the Bucketeers. During our run last week, when a sudden downpour helped me to realize I could run a mile in one shot, I had a breakthrough. For weeks now, I've been holding back. I couldn't quite regulate my breathing, wouldn't let my body do what it wanted to do to support running: breathe on its own terms, its own rhythm.

This was, I concede, a matter of pride. I didn't want to sound like a wheezing accordian. I didn't want my labored breath to be the baseline for the tenor slapping of my thighs. I didn't want to sound like a "Huff, huff, slap, slap" sort of one-woman band. Worse, I wasted a lot of time wishing, to myself, that I could run like the ladies in my group. I denied myself encouragement in my inner-monologue, instead allowing my thoughts to be negative, judgmental.

That is, until the rainy afternoon. Head down, rain seeping into my clothes, blurring my vision, the crisp chill of spring raising goosebumps on my skin, I realized my body knows itself better than I, the mind atop it, do. I let go. I ran, focusing on the path, the rain, on getting to my car. I didn't try to breathe quietly, either. I flapped, slapped, puffed, and huffed all the way to my car where I stood in the rain, hands above my head like a champion boxer, and celebrated my arrival.

Fellow Bucketeer Kim jumped out of her car to join me. "Yay!" she yelled, "Nothing can motivate you like bad weather!" We then jumped in our cars to head our separate ways.

It could have been endorphins, but for at least fifteen minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, I loved myself deeply, respectful of my Self, its body, its possibilities. Chilled to the bone, shivering, I picked up some Indian spiced soup and naan, then headed home where I sat by candlelight, listening to music, marveling still at what I had done. I went to sleep Wednesday night grinning like a big dope.

Love. Such an interesting thing to apply inward, to hold to oneself warmly as if holding hands up to a fire. The warmth radiates, comforts. Yet, suspicious of its depth, by Sunday I wasn't so sure I could repeat my Wednesday success. My mind grew restless with doubt. What if it was just a fluke? What if it was the rain that pushed me? What if I can't do it again?

I suited up and headed for the trail, uncertain, doubting. Love. So hard to stoke, to protect. Love. Beginning anew even when doubt and self-loathing invite inertia, in settling down in the comfort of one's mediocrity - it turns out love as an imperative is a lot like other verbs: Run! Go! Try! Breathe!

As I hit the trail, I realized all I had to do was let my body drive. My mind would follow, catch up, and even fight, the trajectory of forward momentum. I put my head down, focusing on just making my feet move in a reliable, steady pace. For the first time since beginning training, I ran 3 of the 4 miles on our route. As I approached the turn-around spot, I felt my legs burning. I slowed. I realized I had run well beyond my imagination. I had outrun my head for the first time in my entire life.

Grateful, I hugged the stop sign at the trail's edge and ignored the curious stares I received by passersby. I headed back down the path, running taller, hands up in the air, joyful, strong. Love. It makes the impossible, possible.

When I woke today, morning sun held my room in a warm glow. With legs stiff from yesterday's work, I plodded to the kitchen to brew coffee and make breakfast. I made a point to thank my body for working hard by feeding it well with a bowl of oatmeal and dried fruit. As I sipped coffee and read a book, I felt Scooter's stare. I turned to see him sitting on my bicycle seat as if to remind me that I had made a committment to bike commute to work. I took his picture before packing up, donning my helmet, and heading out the door.

Love. In the bigness of internatinal terrorism, and compared to the losses others have endured and continue to bear, my discoveries and progress could seem small, unimportant. Yet, if I turn the lens just a bit, and one can see that in a world full of hate, madness, war, famine, and suffering, one can find love moving through a community, on a trail, on the labored breath, in the wind, and beating in the heart of someone who just passed by.

Looking through that lens, well, love seems like a pretty big deal.