How fast is fast?


In August, the early days of my seemingly never-ending hip injury, I signed up for most of my usual 5ks, two in November and one on New Year’s Day, thinking I would certainly be well enough to train for them. Long story short, I wasn’t ready to race. I was well enough, however, to participate. I ran. I did not race. Here were my times (last year/this year).

  • Vicki Soto – 21:19 / 26:47
  • Turkey Trot – 20:38 / 24:33
  • Chilly Chili Run – 22:11 / 24:59

I ran these races without any concern about time. My only goal for them was to run comfortably. At no time would I push myself to my limit like I normally would in a race. I succeeded. I comfortably ran each race. I didn’t win an age-group medal, but I won. I gained an appreciation for other runners.

When you’re hurt, you’re not the same runner you were, and it gives you an opportunity to look at running differently. 

I wasn’t running fast. Or was I?
I was in a whole new pack. I enjoyed seeing these runners working hard. I saw people running with their kids, sometimes pacing them, others trying to keep up! Racers from 12-60, maybe older, were getting it done. I heard grunts and mantras. I saw people kick toward the finish. These are runners. These are my people. They were working hard! This was their fast. This was my easy. This is not a brag. This is a realization, an appreciation.

Their fast is my easy. Their easy is someone’s fast. I am certain that my fast is easily someone else’s easy. 

Of course, this isn’t true for every runner. Jordan Hasay’s fast is no one’s easy. Eliud Kipchoge’s fast is the world’s fast. For the rest of us, we have to be humble. We run each run, each race, where we are at that time in our lives. We make our own fast.

Right now I am happy that I was able to run in those races at all, even if they weren’t my fast. 



Running with social media: Encourage, don’t compete


Social media is awash with runners, and that’s a good thing! When I got back to running, my fellow running teachers in the #runteacherrun community gave me the early encouragement I needed to keep going. (Thanks for the support @RachelTassler @SherryNGick @Mr_U79 @Manders416)

As my running got more serious, I joined #RunChat on Sunday nights. There I am inspired, entertained, and learn from runners around the world. Early morning runners, casual runners, marathoners, ultra runners, obstacle course runners parents, traveling runners, and lowly 5kers like myself. It’s such a diverse group, anyone belongs. I’ve even felt comfortable in the weekly chat during these months when I haven’t actually run much at all. They don’t care. They’ve been there.

To track my running, I used the Nike+ app on my iPod. It was a good start. I graduated to a Garmin and it’s Connect app, and that’s when the numbers deluge began. As more data became available, I became more reliant on them, looking over my numbers every night, looking for a small area to improve. I don’t think that was a bad thing. Until I started comparing those numbers to other runners. Enter Strava.

Strava’s basic service didn’t offer anything new in the way of data, but it offered a the social aspect and segments. Mmmmmmm, segments!

Segments are portions of a run, defined by a user, that track your time for that section and post your results on a leader board. It’s cool. It’s like living in a video game.  Seeing your name in the rankings gives you that endorphin run that social media is so good at providing. Segments motivating, but they’re dangerous if you’re dumb like me.

After a 5k last June, while working my way back to fitness after an illness, I went out for what should have been a four-mile recovery run. It was going well…until Meetinghouse Hill. 

I reviewed the ranking for this segment shortly before the run and, even though I should have casually trodded up the steepest hill in my area, I decided to up my ranking on the leader board. I ran as fast as I could up that quarter-miler hill with a 7% grade. Dumb. Oh, and it gets dumber. 

About a mile later, nearing the end of this “easy” run, I remembered the “Carnival Daze” segment, almost a full lap around the gravel walking track at our community center. To challenge the segment’s best time, I’d have to sprint it. So I did. I ran as fast as I could…at the end of an easy run…during which I’d already sprinted up a humongous hill. Running suicide.

Within a week, I was dealing with two sore Achilles. I rested for a week. After my July 4th 5-mile race, during which I maintained enough self-control to run at a comfortable pace, I started to have trouble walking. Getting off the couch was a challenge. Some of that hip pain is still there six months later. I haven’t run consistently since. 

Maybe it’s just me. I’ve always been competitive to a fault. But I have a feeling I’m not alone in sacrificing unnecessarily, chasing the data in an effort to rise up the standings in Strava or to impress on Twitter, or two earn an age-group medal at a local race.

I am not going to delete my Strava account. My data will still accumulate there. But I am determined to stop looking at it. I can’t handle the temptation! If you’re like me, maybe breaking up with bad social media habits is a good way to bring joy and health back into your running.

Use your apps wisely. Seek inspiration and encourage others!

Running goals for my 40th year -revisited


Turning 40 is an important milestone in life…because it’s a multiple of ten…and that’s meaningful…right? (I realize I am starting to sound a bit like Neil DeGrasse Tyson here.)

As a runner though, the passing on a decade carries actual meaning in the form of age groups. I am about to leave the 30-39 division. One that has allowed me to rack up a number of medals, since most men my age tell themselves that they are too busy to run.

Just after my birthday in June, I made plans for my 40th year, my third full year as a runner after a lengthy layoff. After two solid years of running, I had built a strong base,  and I decided that I was ready to push toward a goal of a sub 20 minute 5K, something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager.

I knew this was possible due to my 20:38 5K in November, but I had a series of health setbacks in the spring that slowed my times and derailed my training plan. Trying to force myself back into shape upon my return led to injuries that have kept me off the road for most of the first six months of my 40th year. I haven’t come close to reaching any of my goals, and with six months to go I have little hope that any of my goals are currently achievable. Time to hit the reset button.

Screenshot 2018-01-02 at 9.04.08 AM

I wrote a blog post just after my birthday about those goals, but I never published it. I wasn’t sure why, but it’s probably a good thing. Not putting my goals out into the world made it a little bit easier to cross them off one by one, pretending they never existed at all.

I found comfort and support from #runchat friends like Eric Shimmy and David Hylton, who had their own lengthy absences due to injury, and found their way back to the road. Their stories are helping me reevaluate and accept where I am as a runner today.

By backing away from my goals, I hope to have a long life as a runner, well past my 30s, beyond my 40s and 50s, and into my 60s and 70s. Perhaps there, given the limited competition, I might score some medals again!

Best of luck to you in the new year, whether you are pushing hard toward meeting your goals or backing off unrealistic ones to ensure a long life as a runner.

Writing in the face of fear



Just under the wire, I’ve completed my first two “assignments” for Teachers Write, an online writing “summer camp” for teachers. After returning from a weekend away in Florida, I resumed my role as Daddy for the evening; dinner, baths, Band-Aids, and bedtime, before settling in to continue in the far lesser-known role of writer. It’s the role that takes a backseat to all of those listed in this blog’s description.

I began with Kate Messner’s Monday Mini-Lesson about writer’s notebooks. It’s a perfect way to get started because it actually forced me to think about where I keep my writing. If you know anything about my “unique organizational systems,” you’d know that they include little in the way of practical organization. I do my best to post comments to each of the TW lessons I complete. Here was my idea about my “notebook”:

The world is my notebook. That sounds awesome, but it’s not. I have bits and pieces of ideas and writing all over the place. Sticky notes, napkins, receipts, you name it, I’ve got notes, doodles, or writing on it. I’ve gotten better at keeping digital records of these things so they’re not gone forever when the kitchen drawers and counters get cleaned. I’ve also started to use the Rocket Book app to upload images of my work. It’s helping to organize my ideas, but I do enjoy finding an old idea buried in the drawer or in the pocket of last fall’s jacket!

So, this summer, as I continue writing, I will also continue to develop strategies for managing my ideas, writing, doodles, and such.

Today’s second assignment, Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-up, offered encouragement, which TW so often does, and a call to action. One of her possible starting points for stuck writers is, “Write something uncomfortable.” That instantly led me back to my Google Drive, where many of my “notebook” ideas reside, for a single line, “I’m not a criminal, yet.” I have loved that line for a long time, but I was kind of afraid to see where it would take me.

I am fascinated by authors who put it all out there without fear that they will be seen as being like the people they create. Michael Robotham’s Shatter is a good example. How does he think of a character who does horrible things to people? Maybe that’s not the hard part. It might not even be hard to write what they do. But to print it for all the world to see. That’s guts. Surely it changes the way some people look at a writer as a person. “How could he think/write that?” But changing the way people see the world is one of the main reasons to write, so let’s go.


Inspiration. A poem. A finished product?


On Friday, April 1, I got to spend the afternoon with a fool for all seasons, Bryan Crandall, of the Connecticut Writing Project. In a day full of Teacher PD, I most looked forward to his afternoon poetry session. He’s creative. He’s different. He’s fun. He’s captivating and captivated. Bryan’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is inspiring. So here’s a poem I wrote, inspired by the session

Appearance – obsessed New Yorkers
stream as
a robot
customizes wires.
Cutting edge
Wires and brackets
Wires and brackets
The wave of the future
A hunch
They do it a lot.
It’s just easier.

Weird? Sure. What does it mean? You tell me! It came from an activity in which we “deworded” magazine articles, searching for words that seemed poetic.


A deworded article, some notes, and a draft

Another activity had us listing words that began with the same sound. For me, it was hard c. From a list of eight words, I put together what I’m calling a “poetic fragment”.

   Crazy captivates
   Catastrophe coagulates

I think there’s more there, but like Miss Rumphius, I do not yet know what that will be. The first line immediately reflected our culture, particularly politics. The second line had me thinking about how disaster brings us together. On Saturday I ran the 5k for Sandy Hook. In driving rain, about 2,000 of us gathered together to remember those taken in one of our greatest tragedies. Catastrophe coagulates.

Over the last two days, my school was blessed to welcome author Ralph Fletcher. I am continually awed by his ability to catch those moments that pass most of us by and share them with the rest of us. Read Twilight Comes Twice, and you’ll see what I mean.

Ralph talked to staff about using mentor texts to help students see what’s possible. He spoke with students about finding, and often embellishing, moments in their own lives to inspire their writing. These are simple messages, but important ones. They take the mystery and magic out of writing and make it accessible to everyone. Read and write. Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart, and write. Just write.

Tonight, as everyone in my house sleeps, I write. Thanks Bryan and Ralph for the inspiration.

“I’ve got more.”


As a teacher of writing, l often ask nine-year-olds, “Who cares?” at the end of their writing pieces. It’s cold, but it’s meant as an entryway for reflection. If someone reads, how will it matter to them? I should ask myself as well. About writing, of course, but also about life. As 2015 draws to a close, I ask myself, “Who cares?”

Teaching is hard. Sometimes it’s very hard. My 2014-15 school year had me wondering if I wanted to continue this line of work. Teaching is a job where you don’t always get out what you put in. Some years just take, and take, and take. Some years I feel empty in the end, like I didn’t give enough. But one joy of teaching is being able to try again. To start anew. To find yourself again,  to see the promise in new faces, and give more to the next group. I’ve got more. I know that because I haven’t taught to the point of passing out yet.

As that school year ended, my running life began again. I needed to run away, and I found something to carry me on to the next year with renewed purpose.

I used my end-of-year gift card to buy a new pair of running shoes and some shorts, and I ran. I put in 150 miles over the summer. Those miles helped me focus on something that I’d been missing. Me. I got to know myself again on the road. I found out something. I’ve got more. One more mile. One more lap. One more stride. One more whatever. There’s always something left in the tank. I haven’t passed out running yet.

As a dad and husband, I have to remind myself that I have more for them too. More patience. More time. More love.

After a hard day at school, or many long days at home over a break, there is still more I can give them even if I have to dig deep to find it. Being a family man has yet to cause me to lose conciousness.

“I’ve got more,” is carrying me through my life. If every person in the world weren’t getting tattoos, I might emblazon my body with the phrase. That simple phrase that ran through my head running hard around the corner of Columbia St. leading me to push harder when I so badly wanted to slow down changed the way I look back at my year. It’s changing the way I look at my life.

“Who cares?” Maybe you do. Because I’ll bet you’ve got more too.

A running life again


I am a husband, father, teacher, and neighbor. Most of the things I do in my life are for others, and that’s ok, but running is for me.

I probably always thought of myself as a runner. I can remember people saying I was fast when I was a kid. I proved it in the annual mile run at school. I ran all over the place. You couldn’t stop me.

I ran track and cross country in high school. I won a couple of medals. Then I grew up. I stopped running. For close to twenty years, more than half my life, I haven’t been a runner. I have spent more time looking for those medals over the last five years than running.

Now, for the last five months, since the first day of summer vacation, I’ve been a runner again. I hope to be a runner for the rest of my life.

When I was a runner way back when, I learned everything I know about hard work and dedication from my beloved coach, Yvonne Grimes. I never stopped thinking like a runner throughout my life by setting goals, succeeding sometimes, but mostly failing. Never stopping. Never quitting. Now that I’m back on the road, trails, and track, I am all about making the most of every run and getting faster, getting fitter, and having fun.

I didn’t realize it all those years, but the hard purple-faced workouts in the heat and prepping for a race with tingling fingers on a frigid morning are the things I’ve been missing. These are things that make running great. They are the times when you actually ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” These are the times you smile to yourself and simply answer, “Because you’re a runner.”

Now that I am finally a running adult, I cherish every second of my runs. The warm ups (maybe not stretching yet), the excruciating intervals, the hills, counting my cadence, and pushing toward the finish of a workout, of a race.

In the past five months, I have had several runs that went beyond my intended goals. A twenty minute run went five minutes longer. Ten minutes longer. A two mile run became a three miler. After a four mile Sunday morning run, I did a four mile Sunday night run. “You’ve got more,” I literally say to myself. And I do have more. That’s the fun. How much more?

Eventually, all runs must end, and it’s a good thing they do. I am usually greeted by my little girl yelling, “Daddy’s home!” as I enter the back door. She then fills me in on whatever she and her brother and mother have been up to since I ran off.

Maybe the reason I’ve become a running adult, more than the fitness and fun, is because I have people to run for and a place worth running back to.

Since high school ended, I have wasted my running life. I figure I’m only about half-dead, so I’ve got a lot of running ahead of me. I’ve got more.