Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sharing the Sidewalk With Tuba Guy

While I was running this lovely autumn evening, a remarkable thing happened.  Today was not one of those days where I felt fast.  Today was one of those days where I felt a little beat up and slow, so I was slogging my way up one of the longer hills on my route, when up in the distance I saw Tuba Guy.  Tuba Guy was on my same sidewalk.

Residents of Fairfax know who Tuba Guy is.  He's this guy who walks around town playing his tuba--okay, technically it's a sousaphone.  Everyone who's been around Fairfax for a couple of years knows who Tuba Guy is, they've seen him on his almost-daily excursions.  He's been in the Fairfax City Independence Day parade the last few years, and the only people who get louder cheers than Tuba Guy are the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Given that we've lived here for a decade, and given how much I run along the roads that are part of Tuba Guy's regular route, it's reasonable to think that I would have shared the sidewalk with him on several occasions.  The truth is, tonight was only the second time in ten years that I have been on the same sidewalk with Tuba Guy.

But that's not the remarkable part.  At this point I should probably say that I do not wear headphones or listen to music when I run.  I have nothing against people who do, but as I have noted previously in this blog, I choose to use my running time to think big thoughts and ponder the complexities of life and the universe.  Or something like that.

The remarkable part was that when I was still about 150 meters or so away from Tuba Guy, he turned around and he started to play.  Tuba Guy was playing for me.  And I started to get a little pep in my step.  I started to move a little bit quicker.  And for the next two or three minutes, I had Tuba Guy playing a soundtrack for my run.  And it was AWESOME.

Now I seriously doubt that Tuba Guy was actually playing for me.  He was just doing what he does--he walks along and he plays his sousaphone.  And he probably has no idea that the fact that he turned around and started playing when he did was a huge boost for me.  So for Tuba Guy it was probably just another beautiful autumn evening in Virginia, but for me it was exactly what I needed at that point of my run.

As I get older and reflect on the little things in life, this was another one of those experiences that reminds me that those little random acts that might not seem like a big deal to us as we do them can have a big impact on other people.  We might never know it, but that doesn't make those little random acts any less important to the people that it affects.  I wasn't in a bad place today while I was out running--I was maybe lagging a little bit, but I wasn't in distress or about to pass out or anything.  But the feeling that Tuba Guy was providing a soundtrack just for me as I ran up that hill, that made me feel pretty good.

So smile at people when you pass them on the street, in the store, in the hallway at work or school or wherever.  You never know when that simple little random act can have a huge positive effect on someone else.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Of a Resolution (Finally) Kept and Lessons Learned

For the last three years I have had made one New Year's resolution, one goal.  Same goal each of those three years.  Run 1,000 miles during the calendar year.

I have never been one to make too many New Year's resolutions.  I am a firm believer in making goals and working to achieve them, but I'm not the type that at the start of each new year makes a list of things I will and won't do.  This was something that I really wanted to do, though.

In 2014 I finally accomplished this goal.  For me, it's a HUGE milestone.  I like to run; both of my blog readers can tell you that.  I am not a fast runner, I am competitive only with myself.  I have actually won my age group in two races.  Both time, I was the only one in my age group.  So it's not like I'm some amazing running guru.

In both 2012 and 2013 I came woefully short of my goal.  Like a couple hundred miles short.  I can make excuses for why it didn't happen.  I had injuries that took me out for weeks at a time in each of those years.  I had a challenging work schedule.  I was traveling, blah-blah-blah.

But this past year, I did it.  One thousand miles.  Aside from the obvious physical benefits of running, I think the spiritual lessons I learned are of greater worth to me.  It took over 170 hours of running over the year, and I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things.  My family, my seminary class, my job, the world in general, my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  Sure, I thought about running, too, but often my internal musings inclined towards the application of what I was doing to life in general, such as:
  • The journey of a thousand miles does not happen in a single day.  It requires persistence and dedicated effort spread out over a long time.  A few miles every day adds up over time, and you cannot forget that even those quick, little efforts are part of the long-term cumulative goal.
  • When the big tests in life come, you can see the strength that comes from consistent, daily efforts to strengthen yourself.  You cannot decide that you will run a marathon a couple of days or even a couple of weeks before and expect to do well.  You need to get those daily, short training runs in, with the occasional long runs.  Likewise, when those trials in life come--and they will inevitably come--we will be better prepared to deal with them with our Father's help when we have made consistent, daily efforts to include Him in our lives through regular prayer and scripture study.
  • Despite our best intentions and constant efforts, we will still have bad days.  It doesn't mean that we are bad or that we are failing or that Heavenly Father has abandoned us.  It just means that some days are better than others.  We don't define ourselves by those bad days.  We learn from them and move on with the hope that tomorrow will be better.
  • Progress requires dedicated, concentrated efforts, and sometimes those efforts can seem boring, repetitious, or even a little lame.  If you want to run faster, you have to dedicate parts of your training to actually run faster.  Hoping or wishing that you will is not sufficient.  Case in point: I really do not enjoy speed workouts, but I cannot deny that my overall pace has improved because of them, hence I continue to incorporate track and hill workouts into my training regimen.  If you want to have a greater understanding of God's word, you have to be willing to immerse yourself in the scriptures and study the teachings of His prophets, even when it seems like you've already done that a million times.
  • Building on all the points above, variety can be a good thing.  Sure, I could have run the same route every day and eventually I would have reached my goal.  But some days I knew I wouldn't be able to run more than a few miles.  Other days I felt like I could take on the world and I ran much, much further.  Some days I want to dig into the scriptures and spend lots of time finding all the passages that relate to a given topic and cross referencing them between the Book of Mormon and the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants.  Other times I want to read a talk from a recent General Conference and take that quick thought with me for the day.  Either one of these is better than doing nothing.
  • Family and friends are invaluable.  No, they can't run for you, you have to do that yourself.  No, they can't read your scriptures for you, you have to do that yourself.  But they can support you, they can offer you words of encouragement, they can be there right beside you.  I would not have made it to 1,000 miles without the help of my friend Kenny.  The hours of training together are one thing, but without him, I literally would not have completed my first ultramarathon.  Likewise, without my amazing, sweet, incomparable wife Mali, I would not be half the man I am today.  She makes me want to be a better husband, father, and man.

There are other lessons--I've been toying with the idea of writing an allegory of the runner for use in my seminary class--but I'll save those for later.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go run.  I think today is a speed day.  Another thousand miles doesn't just happen on its own.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Punctuation Matters: a Cautionary Tale

No-shave November.  Seems pretty simple, right?  Unless you mistake a simple hypen for an em dash.

  • No-shave November = no shaving during the month of November.
  • No—shave November = please, go ahead and shave during the month of November.  No, really, we mean it.
Let's be honest, who hasn't made this mistake?

Punctuation really does matter, people.

Don't let this happen to you.  Pay attention to punctuation!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Autumn Jaunt in the Mountains

Wildflowers in October

This past Columbus Day I thought that we should head out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the changing leaves while they were still on the trees.  In all the years we've lived in Virginia, every year we've heard that we simply have to go to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park while the leaves are i all their fall splendor.  We tried to go out and see the fall foliage last year, but we waited until the first week of November, and by the time we got there, most of the leaves had already fallen.  I wanted to avoid that this year, so we took advantage of the holiday to head a little to our west and see what there was to see.

Some friends decided to join us on our adventure, so I looked through the 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia book that we somehow acquired—seriously, I have no idea where we got the book, and we’ve had it since before we went to Thailand—to find a hike that was short enough for the little kids, but would let us see something awesome.  I found the perfect spot in the Woodstock Observation Tower, just outside the town of Woodstock (shocking!) on the western side of the national park, but not actually inside the park itself.  For the tightwad in me, that means I didn't have to pay twenty bucks for the privilege of seeing autumn leaves.

The tower itself, according to the US Forest Service, was built in 1935 by the Civil Conservation Corps.  It’s less than a quarter-mile walk up the trail from the parking area to the tower itself, so our little kids had no problem.  From the top of the tower, looking to the east, you get an awesome view of a sparsely populated valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind, and while we were on the tower, there were clouds moving through the valley creating a simply gorgeous picture, especially with the leaves starting to change on the mountains.  To our west, at least when we first got on the tower, you couldn’t see anything but clouds—the kids thought that was really cool (so did I, but it seems like much more fun if you say that the kids thought it was cool...).

Looking east.
We had lunch on the tower, and eventually the clouds to the west parted long enough for us to see the incredible view, which includes the Seven Bends in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While we were up there, another set of clouds blew through, including one that actually enveloped the tower, which we all agreed was pretty ridiculously awesome.

Oh, and we had a valuable lesson with the kids about not reading graffiti out loud.  Important stuff for life, really.

Imagine these two in 60 years...
On the way home, we stopped in the town of Woodstock and enjoyed a little of the small-town America feel of the place.  Anne was glad that she skipped a friend’s birthday party to come along, and even Ben finally admitted it was pretty cool.  Maggie spent the day with her friends, but when she saw our pictures, she said she kind of wished that she’d gone with us instead.  I like to think that these are the kinds of experiences we have with our children that, when they are older and living away from home, they will remember with fondness and think, “You know, we did some cool stuff as a family when I was a kid.” 

How you lichen this weather? :-)

Friday, July 4, 2014

If You Give a Brent a Blog*

If you give a Brent a blog, he'll want to write about lots of things that you might find boring. Like running. Especially running. But on occasion he will blog about other things. Like food.

Mentioning food will make Brent think about the pizza they had at work the day before Independence Day to celebrate America's birthday.

And if you give a Brent too much pizza at work, the chances are he will come home feeling sluggish.  When he gets home, the Brent will probably be torn between giving in to his feelings of sluggishness and wanting to go for a run because it has finally stopped raining. And because most of the Brent's blog posts deal with running in some form or another.

The pause in the rain will remind the Brent of the powerful storm that he witnessed from the top floor of the building in which he works. That storm brought amazing amounts of rain, accompanied by wicked crazy wind that broke tree limbs, all while his coworker was out getting pizza (that man is a true American hero, by the way).

The Brent will decide that going for a run is in fact a good idea, because it will make him feel better mentally as well as physically. Even the resumption of rain won't keep the Brent from going out for a run, because he knows that summer rain actually feels quite nice.

The pizza that he ate will probably make the Brent feel bloated and sluggish as he starts running. Maybe he shouldn't call it "running" at that point, because he's not likely to be moving very fast. It will take a little while for him to loosen up and actually feel good enough to really call what he's doing "running."

While he's running, the Brent will have lots of interesting mental conversations with himself that would make people question his sanity. That's why he will keep them to himself, unless he decides to blog about them. Really scary stuff.

Speaking of scary, because he left for his run after 7:30 at night, it will start to get dark before the Brent gets home.

Because of the rain and because it's summertime in Virginia, however, it will also be nice and humid.

The warm humidity will bring out fireflies. Seeing the fireflies will get that song by Owl City stuck in the Brent's head for the last mile-and-a-half of his run.

And that will make him smile. Might even make the Brent giggle a little bit. When he gets home, he might even call his children to come out and enjoy the light show put on by the fireflies. And there will probably be more smile, more laughter, and happy hearts.

All that running and smiling and giggling and happiness will probably make the Brent want to blog about it.

*My utmost and sincerest apologies to Laura Numeroff.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

That one time I decided to do something totally crazy, like run 50 kilometers

The first weekend in June marked my third time participating in the The North Face Endurance Challenge trail race.  This is the event where, two years ago, I completed my first marathon.  It’s also the event last year in which I failed to complete my first attempted ultramarathon, dropping out at Mile 26 of a 50K race.  I was determined to finish the race this time, and after failing to train properly for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon a couple of months ago, I tried to make sure I was getting the proper mix of long and short runs in training so that I would be able to finish.

My buddy Kenny came down from Connecticut—he had signed up for the race before he and Melanie moved up there in early March—and we drove up to Algonkian Regional Park bright and early for the race.  Kenny’s strategy for the race was to keep his heart rate in his optimal fat-burning zone, which in his experience is a pace that he feels he can run at for hours and hours.  What that meant was that we had to walk up and down the big hills—last year we were a little too aggressive on some of the steeper downhills, and that can be more taxing on your legs than perhaps you might think.

So that’s what we did, and it worked really well.  The temperature and humidity were manageable, especially compared with how hot it got last year.  The trails were a little sketchy in a few spots because it did rain overnight, but it was nowhere near as muddy and slippery it was two years ago.  We were making good time and feeling really good as we got into the Great Falls aid station, just under the halfway point.  About two miles before we got to that aid station the race leaders passed us going back the other way—the two guys in the lead looked phenomenal, and we figured they were going to finish the race in about four hours (official time for the 50K winner was actually 3:58—that’s just awesome).  At this point we were on pace to finish in about seven hours, which would have been a great time for us.

The section right above Great Falls was, for me, the most difficult part of this course.  It is all up and down, and some of the footing is very tricky, so this is a section that can really mess with your mind.  Up until this part, I was feeling pretty good, but it took a lot out of me getting through that section, and I was starting to struggle a little bit.  Kenny stuck in there with me, and his encouragement was greatly appreciated, especially since I really struggled between Great Falls and the Carwood aid station.

This would be a good time to mention that the Carwood aid station was new this year—in previous years, there weren’t any aid stations between Great Falls and Fraser, a distance of about six miles, and that was very difficult for a lot of runners, including me.  The addition of that stop was crucial for me, and I’m sure for many others, in being able to finish this year.  Like I said, I was struggling and staring to have doubts that I would even finish the race, again.

That's TWO thumbs up, just for finishing.
All that said, I have to confess that I walked the entire distance between Carwood and Fraser.  At the start of that section I was feeling so worn out and depleted, I was thinking that I would be able to finish the race, but only by walking.  I told Kenny that I’m just not built for ultramarathons, that he should just go ahead and run ahead without me, and that I’d see him at the finish line.  To Kenny’s credit as a friend, he stayed with me.  His legs felt fine, but he was having some pain in his lower back, so every so often we would stop so Kenny could stretch out his back.  We walked pretty fast, it wasn’t like last year where I was barely conscious of where I was, but for almost three miles we just didn’t run at all.  Fraser was where I dropped out last year, so just getting to that point was an accomplishment for me, but it wasn’t enough to just get there, I wanted to get past it.

By the time we got to the Fraser aid station and got some food in us, I felt like I was ready to run again, so we did.  Not only did we start running, but we ran for the majority of the last five miles.  And not only did we run for most of those last five miles, but according to Kenny’s Suunto GPS watch, we kept a pace that was our fastest of the entire race—looks like we did something right by walking those three miles!

All smiles once it was all done.
In the end, we finished the race in 7:56, just under eight hours and four hours after the winners crossed the finish line.  Not exactly a world-beating time, but I finished, and for me that was huge.  I cried at the end of the race, with Mali and the kids around me and offering their congratulations, I literally sat down and started to cry.  It was just such a relief to finally finish this distance, no matter how slow and painful it might have been.

Just like last year, after the race I said that I’m done with ultramarathons.  And, just like last year, within a day of saying that, I was already thinking about what I could do differently to be stronger, to finish faster, and to have a more enjoyable experience.  I have other running goals that I am going to turn my attention to—sub-20 minute 5K, sub-40 minute 10K, sub-1.5 hour half marathon—but I won’t rule out more attempts at marathons or ultras.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am done. I really mean it. For now.
 And, of course, we went to Five Guys afterwards to celebrate.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I've Been Uchtdorfed

I've been going through another one of those periods where I feel guilty about not having put anything in my blog for months on end.  I mean, every month I tell myself that I will write something, I'll put something here, and before you know it, another month has come and gone and I haven't written anything.

And then, over Spring Break (yes, it was two weeks ago, but let's not have a guilt trip over that), something happened.  It was Tuesday night, I was walking from my office to the car.  The wind was blowing the snow--yes, you read that correctly, SNOW--horizontally, so I had to hold my umbrella perpendicular to my body just so I could see.  And in my mind I was grumbling about how it's supposed to be spring break and why on earth is it even snowing, grumble-grumble-grumble.

I settled into my car, turned on the engine, and what was it that I heard?  The amazing German-accented advice from Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he gave in the Sunday morning session of General Conference this past April.  I've taken to listening to recordings of General Conference during my commute because I find things that are not only useful for my early-morning seminary classes, but there's so much there that helps me just be a better person.

Anyway, President Uchtdorf said:

"Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be."

And that got me thinking.  I have so much to be grateful for, even when it might not look like I should be thankful for those things:
  • I'm grateful that I'm tired.  I'm tired because I have a job that I enjoy and I get to spend every school morning with some of the most amazing teenagers you'll ever meet.  Yes, I'm exhausted sometimes, but it's worth it.
  • I'm grateful that children poke me and wake me up from my nap on the couch to say good-bye before they go to school in the morning.
  • I'm grateful for my sweet daughter who covers me with her blanket while taking said naps so that I won't be cold.
  • I'm grateful for my oldest daughter and the high-school attitude she cops with us sometimes, because it shows me that she's starting to grow into an independent young woman.
  • I'm grateful for a wife who complains about my sometimes difficult work schedule, because it means she is concerned about my health and wants to spend time me.  It means so much that she lets me sleep in on Sunday mornings.
  • I'm also grateful that she doesn't complain when I tell her I'm going for a three-hour run on a Saturday.
  • I'm grateful for those days, like yesterday, when it rains so hard that you can hardly see out the window, because it means we're getting water for the beautiful trees and flowers that make Virginia so awesome (apologies to my wife and others who suffer from allergies!).
  • I'm grateful for those phone calls from my in-laws that come at sometimes awkward times of the day, because it means they're thinking about our family and they want to talk to us.
  • I'm grateful for indoor plumbing.  Not that it's a burden, I'm just constantly grateful for it.

So many other things to be grateful for, but hopefully I can always remember to be grateful, regardless of my situation.  Even if I do have to remember to do so with a slight German accent.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It Totally Happened Again!

Once again, had a day off work and nothing went to plan.  About two months ago I started working a flex schedule where I get one day every two weeks off.  Every fifth week or so I have Sunday duty, but when I do that, I get Monday off.  So in theory, I should be able to get lots of stuff done on those free days, but it rarely actually happens.  But, as my dear wife said to me today, "You got a lot done, just nothing that you had planned on."

The Plan

Right after seminary I planned on walking my younger kids to school, and then I was going to get started on this translation project and knock out the hardest part of it, maybe finish folding the clean laundry, get my haircut, write an amazingly witty blog entry, and try to get a decent workout in there somewhere, too.  I was going to do all this before the kids got home from school, because they wanted to play a little tennis for family night, and I was cool with that.

What Actually Happened
  • Got home from seminary, fell asleep in the easy chair in our living room.  The kids overslept a smidge and therefore had to be driven to school by their mother, because, as already noted, I was asleep in the easy chair in the living room.
  • Eventually woke up and gathered my materials for the translation project to the dining room table, and realized how annoying it is that my laptop defaults to a Lao font that I really do not like.  Spent at least three hours today trying different things, including exploring system settings with regedit, to get the darn thing to default to my preferred font.  I have nothing to show for those efforts.
  • I did get to spend a couple of hours with my wife, and the consumption of hamburgers was part of that experience.  Elevation Burger is pretty good--they have milkshakes--but Five Guys is still my favorite.
  • About that haircut--yeah, I got it.  I had something in my hair.  First time I've paid for a haircut in over two years.  First time I've paid for haircut in America in over five years.  I'm still trying to decide if it will be another five years before I pay for another one.  Mali sincerely hopes not.
  • Connected the BluRay player in the basement to our cable modem so that the kids can stream Netflix in HD in the basement.  No, seriously, it's for the kids...
  • Speaking of TVs, I finally mounted the TV upstairs on the wall so that Mali has full, unfettered use of the top her buffet.  And we discovered that you can adjust the TV so you can see it while at the kitchen sink and stove.  I'm not sure much good will come of this.
  • I finally fixed that pesky towel bar in the basement bathroom that kept falling off.
  • We did go hit some tennis balls tonight.  It felt good to run around a little bit, it's something I've been really missing (getting old and rehabbing injuries sucks--DON'T GET OLD!).
  • As for that blog post, well...
Now if I can just figure out how to get that darn Lao font to default to my preference.  Oh, and figure out why blogspot won't let me made comments TO MY OWN BLOG POSTS!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Channeling Dorothy Gale

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
This summer we loaded the family up and went on an epic roadtrip.  We drove from the verdant forests of Virginia to the cornfields of Illinois and the Midwest, through the arid high plains of Wyoming to the majestic mountains of Utah (including a dip in the Great Salt Lake!), across the dry moonscape of eastern Oregon to the lush beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  Then, after about a month, we drove back through it all to get home.

Wherever we go, Mali and I have these conversations about how we could live there.  We have friends and family scattered all over, and there are wonderful things about every one of the places we’ve gone to visit, chief among those being our friends and family who mean so much to us.  When we say, “We would love to live here!” we genuinely mean it.

Great Salt Lake, Utah
In the almost eighteen years Mali and I have been married, we’ve lived in four states, criss-crossed the United States multiple times, and even gone overseas for a spell, and we have had been blessed and our lives have been immensely enriched by the experiences we’ve had and the people we’ve associated with.  I honestly believe that we could live anywhere and be happy, as long as we have each other.  And indoor plumbing.  As long as we have each other and indoor plumbing, we're good.

That said, the old adage, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” rings true for us every time we return from one of our adventures.  It was fantastic to spend a month away, going back to Utah and Washington and spending so much time with our families—and we musn’t forget how much we enjoyed being with our friends in Illinois as well.  Without detracting at all from the great times we had on vacation, there’s just something about coming home to my own abode, sleeping again in my own bed, returning to the regular rhythm of everyday life that is soothing to my soul.  May it ever be so, I earnestly hope and pray.
Wherever we go, we are a happy family 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't You Hate Days Like That

You know the kind of day I'm talking about, the kind of day when you have grand plans to get lots of stuff done because the kids are in school and you have the day off.  And then nothing you planned on doing gets done because other things came up.

Things like enjoying a nice lunch with your wife at a restaurant you've never tried before.

Things like taking a nap because early morning seminary has wiped you out (and it's only the second day...I am in so much trouble).

Things like taking the family out to play tennis, then enjoying ice cream cones at a place that might well be the best kept secret in Fairfax.

In the end I did get around to some of the other things I'd planned on, but the fact that I got to spend the bulk of a beautiful late summer day with my wife, just relaxing, was priceless.  No better way to spend the day, actually.