August 12, 2015

75

I looked into your eyes this morning and was moved to tears.

So young, even in that full Marine dress with your newly minted face of stone.

The inscription below your photo reads that you were one day shy of 20 years old when you breathed your final breath back in 2005. One day from 20. Damn.

And there I was, dripping wet after pushing pretty hard on this morning's sweet run around our little country town under perhaps the most vibrantly starry sky I've seen in years, when I happened past the house where I think your mom still lives. It's the one with your photo tacked to a tree out front, and the words "Freedom Isn't Free."

So I looked in your eyes, and I wished that I had known you. And that you were still here. That you hadn't made the ultimate sacrifice in that faraway land one day shy of turning 20.

So I hope you'll forgive an old guy, LCPT Daniel Bubb, for shedding some tears in your honor.

And then I did the only thing I could think of to do in your honor — I dropped to the pavement and started cranking out push-ups. Maybe it was the moment, but those push-ups were a whole lot easier that normal. Maybe I'm crazy, but I swear I could feel your presence urging me on. 10, 20, 30 ... So I kept going ... 40, 50, 60 ... 75. Complete failure. Plastered flat. Gasping for breath.

Then I rose, and I looked into your eyes again. And I said a short prayer for you and so many others who have given their all for others.

Although I didn't know you, Daniel, I am honored by your life, your service and your sacrifice.

You are not forgotten. I will carry this time with me for many, many days. 

I hope, somehow, that the connection I felt this morning was felt on your end, too.

Rest in peace, brave warrior. What is remembered lives.

July 16, 2015

That Soft Way

Mike Pearson, I will miss you.

You were the first Calvary UMC person to shake my hand, and your gigantic, soft smile was one I came to cherish during our decade plus of time together there.

And not too long after that first meeting, there you were again welcoming me into the back row at choir practice. After that first night, you asked me what I thought and I told you that it was pretty cool and that although I was rusty as an old nail, I'd be back for sure. I got that patented Mike Pearson full face smile and a "Wow, this is gonna be fun." Prophetic, for sure.

Oh the memories. So many songs. Cantatas. More than our share of duets together. That quartet with you, me, Sam Robb and Ron Hartlaub. Cherished memories of mine.

I'm not sure I shared this with you, but I only jumped in as a lay reader because I didn't want you to be the lone wolf there. Man did I struggle with that — I'm still sure I butchered way more of the scripture readings than you did — but it was well worth it mainly because it gave you a break a couple Sundays each month.

Your kind, soft way made me a better dude, Mike. And I'm pretty sure that the pride and love you showed for your Meghan and Nikki tipped the scales for me in deciding to chase the dad thing. Grateful every day for that, by the way. I wish we'd come back to Calvary a few times lately. I think you'd like this 15-year-old version of Ben Gentry. I know he would have been taken with you.

I'll see you again, Mike, if I play my cards right. Have "People Need the Lord" ready, and we'll sing it one more time. And yeah, I'll still be good with the harmony part.

Love you, buddy.

Bill

June 8, 2015

This

Maybe it happened because it was the second long run of the day.

Or because it was 86F, and I was doing laps on the middle school's paved track. Or maybe it was the all-at-once absence of that previously sweet breeze.

I hadn't looked at my watch yet. Just before sneaking a glance I told to myself, "Betcha it says 1:25." It didn't. It read 1:07. "Oh wow. Is that right? Oh. Wow."

So I thought about changing things up and heading out to the nearby trail system. Or bouncing up the hill and knocking out the remaining 53 minutes somewhere in town.

I mean, seriously, what difference will it make if I don't do the entire 2 hours of today's second long run on this stupid track? It's still gonna be 2 hours. And that will give me 4:30:00 for the day. And it's still gonna be just as hot and muggy. It's just a training run. I mean, really, here or elsewhere ... what's the true diff?

So, you know what I did? Staying right there on the track, I turned my music up just a little bit. And I focused on the lyrics and the beat. And I kept on running. And running. And running. Totally lost in the running. The gentle rhythm of my breathing. The relaxed roll-through of my arms and legs. And the next time I checked my watch, it read 1:51.

And there is was in all its crystalline glory.

This. This is why I love running so much.

And I smiled at my deep, full sense of joy and satisfaction.

And I kept on running.

May 28, 2015

Day 28

The short version: Meditation is a game-changer.

The longer version ...

So as a stiff, fidgety old dog who just entered his 38th year of running, I've been fiddling around with meditation since March, and decided to go all in for my birthday month of May to see where it might lead me.

A solid 28 days later, some observations ...

• It's absolutely fabulous and mind-expanding to get so completely lost in space during meditation that I feel myself floating on each breath.

• 10 to 15 minutes whoosh past in no time when I focus first on my breath and then next on whatever thoughts pop into my consciousness.

• Routine mechanical things -- knotted cords, lawn mower stuff, changing the bag in my vacuum cleaner -- that once brought me such frequent frustration are no big deal now. Meditation is helping me see that you can't solve a problem while giving yourself a rash of shit for being an idiot. No big deal for most. Huge big deal for me. So freeing.

• State of Chill only comes to me when I am not trying to grasp it.

• I am sleeping so. much. better. I rarely have trouble with falling asleep or staying asleep, but this meditation thing has taken sleep to a whole new, wonderful place.

• My patience outside of meditation is, at least for now, at an all-time high. Circumstances that typically aggravate me get noticed, observed with curiosity, then pushed aside. I'm intrigued to see what happens during high school basketball ref season this winter.

• Meditation saved my recent 72-hour race. Combo of being a little off in the heat Day 1 and then oversleeping by two hours gave me zero chance of making my dream goal of 216 miles. Dejected, I scooched my ass out of my tent at sunrise Friday and -- bam -- found myself in the appropriate half-lotus position that's become my meditation friend. Some 10 minutes later, the message was clear — get moving, go have fun, make new buddies and give somebody a helping hand. Oh, and learn some new tricks for the years to come. Check, check, check and BIG check. Final tally of 185 miles is my third best among tmy five 72s. And I had a blast. Very nice save, indeed.

• I'm finding great joy in the little things. How I can do 10 more push-ups in a given set if I focus on relaxing my cheeks. How it feels when my fingers dance across my laptop keys. The kiss of a cool morning breeze on my cheeks. The glint of a sunrise off my neighbor's bird feeder. My footfalls when running. Meditation is re-connecting me with my inner kid.

Will I keep it up? Yes. Every day? Not sure about that, but I think it's safe to say that I am a convert.

And that I'm intrigued to see where this leads.

May 10, 2015

Running is ...

Cleanliness of movement.

Seeing what few get to.

Time well spent.

Losing myself.

Filling my heart.

Finding pleasure in the simple blessing of effort.

Meaning.

Confidence.

Comfort.

Pain.

Accomplishment.

My place of peace.

Rich friendships.

Grandiose learning.

 Finding myself.

Contagious joy.

April 27, 2015

Times

There are times.

In those first few minutes of a run, feeling out my body with the pursuant stiffness borne of almost 54 years on Earth and almost 90,000 miles on my feet, I'm reminded that the best way through is often to relax and flow.

There are times.

Alone with my thoughts, skimming the ground, squirrels barking and late-morning sun gleaming through the swaying trees, I am at once lost in time and yet as full of life as seems imaginable.

There are times.

Under a blanket of early-morning stars, the soft cadence of my auto-pilot shuffle gives way to a special euphoria that is all its own.

There are times.

When I let it go — really turn up the heat and see what the legs have in them — I am for moments back in my mid-20s and completely engrossed in every breath, every push-off, every landing.

There are times.

Running with buddies and chatting up a storm, laughs become air and hours become minutes.

There are times.

Up in the mountains, when a beautiful leaf formation or a small creature will happily divert my mind from the intensity of the Pain Cave's second floor.

There are times.

Out for a short run in my little town, I get so involved in the cavalcade of conversation going on inside my head that I realize I don't know which street I'm on.

There are times.

Awash in the beauty of movement, I land on a clarity that satisfies my hope and makes every dream seem touchable.

There are times.

In the dark of a 24-hour race or late in any of the nights at Three Days at the Fair 72-Hour, I am moving along all by myself and yet feel strikingly close to whomever happens to be on my mind.

There are times.

Somewhere in the fifth hour of a long, long training run, fatigue takes a back seat, everything falls neatly into place and I am ever so thankful that running found me.

December 31, 2014

Lost and Found

Oh 2014, you have been something.

Some mostly running-related tidbits at the front of my weird brain ...

I found amazing joy.

I found my 13th Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run finish line in April, and I did so almost stride for stride with my dear friend and training buddy Jack Broaddus, who found his first 100-mile finish line after several previous attempts. We had our lows. We had our highs — especially that 7th loop when the incomparable Amy Surrette was kind enough to pace us — and we crossed the line together in 28:23. Jack was heroic out there. I know I'll remember this one forever. 

I found my way beyond the 200-mile mark at Three Days at the Fair 72-hour in May.

After other years of 183 miles, 189 miles and 167 miles, I  looked at this Sisyphean task in a new way. Thanks to a suggestion from my buddy Bob Ring, I marked each 400-meter chunk of the 1.00-mile loop and then walked one, ran one, walked one and ran one. The plan was 8 miles every 2 hours, then take a 15-minute, feet-propped-up break, repeat ad nauseam and take a continuous 4-hour sleep break each night. Bob said this would get me 72 miles each day. That  Day 1 15-minute break almost broke my brain. Until the end of the first day when I got 72 miles and about 100 extra yards. Oh. wow. Day 2 I totaled 60 miles because I needed 6 hours thanks to abysmal rain-soaked misery and a significant loss of desire. For Day 3, I tweaked the plan to take only 10-minute sit breaks. And I also stopped trying to do the math, opting to Think Small — doing what was right in front of me and ignoring all else — and damned if I didn't manage to knock out 73 miles for the final 24 hours. 205 miles. A dream come true.

I lost my brother.

Joe Gentry breathed his final breath in late-November. He had cancer for 11 years and, thankfully, that was only a small part of his amazing story. He was a remarkable teacher and coach who — as is always the case — had a unique way of caring and focusing on solutions. He touched so many. His reach lives on in all of us who were fortunate enough to feel his magic. My brother lived this secret: You can move mountains and achieve unprecedented results when you focus on The Now.

I found a finish line before everybody else.

In mid-May, I won the ColorBlast 5K in 19:42. A bit of a cherry-pick in that there weren't but 30-some runners in the competitive division of the 200-person field, but I still got to the end before everybody else did. The last W I recall came when in a 5-miler when I was 29 years old. Note: a W at age 53 is far sweeter now than I ever remember when they came more often.

I lost my will.

Epic fail during my August try at four loops and 104 miles of the famed Wild Oak Trail. I had my boys Jack Broaddus, Dave Frazier and Quatro Hubbard lined up as pacers. I had my boy Vince Bowman out there crewing for me. I had some pretty peachy early-August weather. I was in some of the best physical condition I've been in. I had a sweet set-up. And then  I made a huge tactical mistake — leaf garbage bags do not critter-proof containers make!! — that resulted in doing a tough 11-mile, mid-day stretch sans fluid. The ultimate result: I dehydrated so badly that my lower back locked up and it took me 4 hours to "hike” the final 6 miles. Thank God for Dave's patience with me and for being my dear friend as I did what seemed like 5 million repeats of walk-100-rocky-ass-yards, sit-down, cry, stand up." Also, thank God for Vince, who stayed out all night driving around and crewing for us, cooking amazing soup, making us hot drinks and being a fresh, happy face that gave me profound hope and joy. Also for Jack, who paced me that first loop and who pushed himself well, well beyond the brink after my drop-bag blunder cost both of us. My friends, man.

I found my gold.

Yes, gold. As in way more significant than a distance or a time or an amount. Way, way more. Several times — a handful at various races and a whole buncha times in training sessions — I came face to face with that daunting specter I think of as The Big Quit. And at least for these times that I'm thinking of here …

• In the dark and pouring rain after 40 hours into 3 Days 72;
• multiple times doing the TRX 40-40 Challenge;
• the final 200 meters of a recent 1.5-mile time trial that I pushed myself so hard through that I puked afterward;
• going back out twice during the frigid night at Crooked Road 24-Hour when it woulda been so easy to just drive away …

… I stared The Big Quit right in the eyes, took a deep, deep breath and then kicked its ass.

I grew.

I shrank.

I laughed.

I cried.

I won.

I lost.

I found. And found. And found.