Monthly Archives: August 2015

Running – The Final Lap?

Up until this time I had never run farther than a 10K (6.2 miles). For the first offering of the 10-miler, I was out of town on business and so missed it. And when I got back from my trip, I came down sick with a sinus infection. I had no time to make practice runs longer than the 3 miles I normally ran. I didn’t want to drop out of the series so without any extra training runs, I decided to do the 10-miler.

In spite of no long practice runs, my confidence grew as I reached each mile mark. When I passed the 7-mile marker, I knew I had achieved my longest distance ever. But somewhere close to the 8-mile marker, I began to notice a funny sensation on the outside of my left kneecap. By the time I made it to the 9-mile mark, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was quite painful. Having come this far, I was determined (my wife would say stubborn-headed) to finish. I managed to hobble in the last mile to finish the race. That comment made to me previously came to mind; I had succumbed to my first injury running and sadly supported his statistic.

Having finished four of the five races, I was even more determined to run the last race, a half marathon (13.1 miles) so I could attend the Christmas party and receive my plaque.

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I went to the race that chilly November morning with my friend who had encouraged me to run the series. I started out thinking I could do it but before I had run a single mile, I was already hobbling again. I would walk a ways and then run a few hundred yards before having to walk again. I ended up walking most of the half marathon. In fact my friend already at the finish line began to worry about me as there were fewer and fewer runners crossing the finish line. I finally made it to the finish line myself hobbling so I could cross the line not walking. At that point, I decided, I didn’t need to run any farther than a 10K, a distance I knew I could run without injury.

It took me several months to recover before I could run again. But recover, I was determined to do because by this time running had gotten into my blood—the kicking in of those endorphins that give you a runner’s high. Once the pain went away, I had to build back up my distance. But it didn’t take as long as the first time.

Around this time, I became the president of the Runner’s Club at work and then I got to pick the races each year. We had good participation at work and even won some awards for having the most participants.

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But in 1998, I suffered a far worse injury than the “funny” knee feeling I had trying to run 10 miles, an injury so severe that I thought it might end my running career.

For some time that year, I noticed during my leg stretches prior to running that I was having difficulty stretching out my right leg. Being stubborn-headed, I still ran, as it didn’t seem to be a problem while running. At the end of the summer, I went water skiing with my son and his Boy Scout troop. When it was my turn to ski, I got up but immediately noticed a painful sensation. I struggled along for a while but then threw up the rope and sank in the water. I was in such pain, that my son had to drive me home with me lying down in the back of the van—I couldn’t sit up without feeling excruciating pain in my right leg.

What I found out the next day at the doctor was that I was suffering from sciatica, a condition that made it next to impossible for me to sit for any length of time without experiencing significant pain. Over several months I tried spinal shots and physical therapy to remedy it but with only temporary relief. During this time, we even traveled to Hawaii and I had to stand up most of the time on the plane.

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Right after Thanksgiving, an MRI confirmed that in fact I had a ruptured disc. I selected to have back surgery since the continued pain made me feel as if my life was over. Surgery made all the difference in the world. (Interestingly, my sister who is the only other active runner of my three siblings had the same problem and has actually had the surgery twice).

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Following surgery, I had to go through several months of physical therapy but by the summertime, I was happily running again.

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Since that time, I have had several flare ups of sciatica but none as severe as the original. Each time, I have had to put aside running for a while. A few years ago following an over 2,000-mile road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in my little red sports car, the sciatica didn’t stop and so I gave up running for what I thought might be the last time. This was one of the hardest things I ever had to do as whenever I saw someone running outside, it made me want to run so badly.

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Starting first with an Elliptical, I gradually worked back up to running on a treadmill and have been able to do this consistently. The additional cushioning of running on a treadmill seemed to keep the sciatica at bay. Then last fall, the gym where my wife and I were going closed. We joined another gym that actually had an indoor, cushioned running track and over the winter, I managed to run several times a week.

Once the weather got warm, I decided to take back up running outdoors for the first time in almost five years along the trail that runs around the lake in our subdivision.

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And I have been successfully doing that pain free for several months now. As a result, I have become so encouraged that I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes.

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Based on the date stamped on that first Oak Hall t-shirt, I have been a runner now for over 23 years. And over these years, this has been my primary source of active exercise in my adult life.  I have slowed down a lot over the 20+ years, rather than the 8 minute pace I started out, I now run around a 10-minute pace. In comparison, marathoners who are contenders to win the race complete the 26.2 miles in about 2 hours, an unbelievable sub 5-minute mile pace. I long ago gave up on my goal of a sub 20-minute 5K and running long distances. And I don’t even run in races anymore so most of my running t-shirts, rather than being from races, are now from when I give blood.

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When this photo was taken of me, I didn’t know it at the time but I was probably at the summit of my running career.

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But even at the more leisurely pace I now run and with no motivation to compete for time or distance, I still love it and I hope to be able to continue to run for years to come.

Running – The Next Lap

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The first year I was in the Runners Club, one of the races was to be a 4-mile run—the annual Turkey Trot held in November. Prior to this race, I had not run that far but I was willing to give it a try. I was all pumped up for a new challenge. As I ran the race, I frequently checked my time to make sure I wasn’t going too fast. I knew I would need my strength to run the extra distance. When I crossed the finish line, I was amazed at my time—that is until I overheard someone say that one of the course volunteers had sent us in the wrong direction somewhere after the 2-mile mark and we had actually run less than 3 miles. What a bummer after being all pumped up to do it. The following year I did run a 4-mile run in the annual 4-miler at Rhodes College and sometime after that a New Year’s Day 4-miler (I really didn’t like running in the cold).

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Once I had successfully run 4-mile races, my next goal was to be able to run a 10K (6.2 miles). This didn’t seem like a quantum leap from a 4-mile race. The only problem was that given the popularity of the 5K race (since it is a distance many runners can do), there weren’t very many 10K races locally. But in 1994, I did find one in Little Rock, AR—the Bud Run 10K. Being an avid Budweiser fan at the time, I thought what better run for my first 10K and convinced my family to go along with me. We drove over the night before and the next morning I got up and successfully ran the 10K. Beyond being my first 10K, what makes this race memorable was that President Nixon died the day before the race—22 Apr 1994—and Watergate controversy was all over the news again 20 years after it happened.

Having successfully run a 5K, then a 4-miler, then a 10K it didn’t take much for a friend of mine to convince me to participate in the local Memphis Runners Track Club (MRTC) Road Race Series. This series, which began in the summer, included 5 sanctioned races of progressively longer distance to help prepare participants to run in the local St. Jude Marathon held each year the first weekend in December.

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The first race was just a 2-miler at Overton Park and my friend who was a much faster and longer distance runner than I was encouraged me to run flat out as fast as I could. His logic was since it was only 2 miles; stamina wouldn’t come into play, as it was such a short distance. His logic made sense to me so when the gun fired; I took off as fast as I had ever run. When I crossed the finish line I literally thought I was going to be sick. When I saw my time, just under 14 minutes, I right then and there gave up the idea of ever being able to achieve a sub 20 minute 5K. Rather than the 7-minute pace I had barely run, I would have to be able to run a sub 6.5 minute pace for another 1.1 mile longer. Knowing I would never be the speedy racer I dreamed of, I settled on distance instead. And the Road Race Series was going to help me with that.

Each of the five races were offered twice two weeks apart so if you weren’t happy with your first time, you could train some more and try to improve on the second time. Since I was no longer competing on reduced time, I ran the next couple of races just once. I had no trouble with the 4-miler and the 10K since I had run those distances before. But when I got ready for the 10-mile run, that all changed.

Interestingly prior to the 10-mile run, I had a conversation with the VP of R&D at work about my running. He confidently pointed out that running was the only sport that had a 100% injury rate. I paused to think about that but at the time, wasn’t convinced. Now I am.

To be continued…

Running – The First Lap

Thanks to Jim Fixx (1932-1984) and his 1977 best seller, The Complete Book of Running, running became a popular sport in the 1970s. But it wasn’t Jim or his book that got me started running. No, I must give credit to my wife back in the early 1990s for getting me started.

My wife had begun to run on her own sometime before she encouraged me to give it a try. As is often the case when a suggestion is made for me to try something new, I balked. But my wife was persistent and once I recognized the health benefit of getting regular exercise—which for me at the time was doing yard work—I took it up.

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Possibly one of the reasons running became so popular is that it takes very little equipment. Other than shorts, a t-shirt and some socks (items many people already have), all you had to invest in to get started is a pair of good running shoes. And even if you decided not to continue running, the shoes are still very comfortable to walk in.

With my new shoes purchased, the first time I ran, I couldn’t believe how hard it was. At the time, there was a park near our home, which had a one mile, circumjacent trail paved for walking or running. After just several hundred yards, I didn’t know if I could make it the whole way (I probably didn’t but I just can’t remember). But I stuck at it.

Beyond just the challenge of being able to run any distance, I had to find the time when I could run. Our three kids were 10, 9, and 4 at the time and both my wife and I had obligations to fulfill for them first. I found that after work wasn’t a good time as our kids had activities and we had to prepare dinner. After dinner, there were evening activities and being too full to run, it wasn’t until about 9:00 PM that I was able to find the time to run. This also meant a cool down period afterwards and a shower before bed.

I soon realized that probably the best time to run would be in the morning; I would just have to get up earlier so as not to interfere with before school activities. Getting out of bed about an hour earlier than normal proved hard at first but once my body got used to it, I began to wake up naturally at that time. Plus an added benefit of exercising in the morning was that since I always showered in the morning before work anyway, I didn’t have to take two showers a day. And since I was getting up before anyone else in the house, I didn’t have other obligations that would interfere with my exercise.

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Now that I had a regular time to run, I then just had to build up my endurance so I could extend my distance. I don’t recall the first time I made it around that 1-mile track but once I did, I set my next goal to be able to run three miles. With this capability, I could then begin to participate in some of the local 5K runs (3.1 miles).

With the goal of running a 5K, I began to work up my distance. Rather than running around that track three times, I mapped out a 3.1-mile route through our neighborhood. Even if I couldn’t run the whole way starting out, I at least had a route measured with a definite finish line in sight so I could try to extend how far I ran each time.

But before I had been able to run 3.1 miles in our neighborhood, a race came along that I wanted to participate in—the annual Oak Hall Run for St. Jude. My daughter, who at the time was 9, agreed to run with me. My wife was also going to run in the race but since she was already a more advanced runner, would be well ahead of me in the run.

Neither my daughter nor I had ever run that far. We started out OK and made it through the first mile with out any problem. But during the second mile, we began to fatigue. We did manage to make it to the 2 and 2.5-mile marks but at that point neither of us thought we could make it the rest of the way without stopping and walking. Not wanting us to give up, I took hold of my daughter’s hand and said we could do this together. We held hands the rest of the way encouraging each other along. Towards the end, tears filled my daughter’s eyes and all I could do was continue to encourage us to finish. We made it to the finish line, most pleased with ourselves that we had endured the whole race without stopping to walk a single time. I still have the t-shirt from that first race as a reminder of us achieving that goal together.

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Only after the fact, did I learn that we had not run a 5K. While I don’t recall the distance being advertised in the race brochure we filled out, a coworker told me afterwards when I was bragging about our accomplishment that it was actually a 3-mile race, not a 5K. But even at 3 miles, it was still the farthest either of us had ever run.

Having run 3 miles once, my next goal was to be able to run this distance routinely. I began to run that route around our neighborhood on a regular basis. I decided to just run every other day rather than every day to give my body some recovery time. Being the age before iPods, I had time to think while I ran. And while running one morning, I started thinking that if I averaged running 10 miles a week, I would actually run 500 miles in a year—as many miles as in the Indianapolis 500 car race. This seemed like a worthwhile goal.

Being a bit of an “anal-retentive” type, I typed up a running log where I could capture the date, distance, and time it took to run. The added benefit of this was I could see if I was getting faster as I progressed.

Over time, I eventually worked my pace down to an average of an 8-minute mile. This meant for a 5K run, that my time should be 24 minutes and 48 seconds. To be easier to remember, I rounded this down to 24 minutes and 45 seconds and this became my yardstick whenever I ran to judge my progress.

About this time, I joined the runners club at the company where I worked (I eventually became president of the club). The nice benefit of being a member was that the club picked 10 local races to participate in each year and the company paid the entry fee. This allowed me to get a lot of free race t-shirts. This also allowed me to get to know other runners at the company, which I would frequently see at the races.

Running this 8-minute mile pace, I was never a contender for winning a race given that the first place finishers usually completed the 5K with a time of under 18 minutes (almost a mile ahead of me). But I did learn that some of my fellow club runners could run a sub 20 minute 5K which gave me a more realistic goal to strive for.

Did I make it? To be continued…

God’s Man: An Oral Biography

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This is the title of the book my parents wrote about the man I knew as “Uncle Lloyd.” It was published in 1985 while my dad served as the minister at the Presbyterian Church where Uncle Lloyd attended growing up. I previously wrote about how until I was an adult, I never lived near any of my cousins, aunts, or uncles and how Lloyd became Uncle Lloyd to my three siblings and me, one of our surrogate uncles growing up.

Sketch of Alabama Church by my sister

Sketch of Alabama Church by my sister on book cover

It is a short book, just about 100 pages and includes many photographs of Uncle Lloyd and the places he lived and served first as a Presbyterian minister, and then as a Presbytery executive. I read the book for the first time soon after my parents gave me an autographed copy. But that was almost 20 years ago and I don’t recall that I ever read it a second time, at least not until just recently. And this second reading was an eye opener of learnings and emotions.

Maybe I was just too young at the time to appreciate some of what was in my parent’s book but twenty years hence, it was as if I were reading it for the first time with a plethora of new knowledge.

In the Foreword written by my dad, I learned that were it not for a thank you note my dad sent in gratitude for scholarship funds allowing him to attend Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, that he might never have met Lloyd. But that note did find its way into Lloyd’s hands and the next summer my dad did his fieldwork prior to graduation in the Home Mission for which Lloyd was the superintendent. Had this chance encounter never occurred, I know my parent’s lives would have been different and possibly even mine as well since my dad served in two different churches early in his ministry in that Home Mission directed by Uncle Lloyd—the second being the town in which I was born.

As I read, I learned about Uncle Lloyd’s early childhood. I learned that, in spite of not having gone to high school, he attended the same college that I did graduating in the last class before it moved from Clarksville, TN to Memphis, TN. Forty-five years after he graduated, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from that same college.

The book tells the story of how Uncle Lloyd met his future wife, Alline (to us, “Aunt Alline”) when he was in his second year of seminary. And how before he even graduated, he left school to become pastor of a church in dire need of a full time minister. The book further chronicles all of the churches that Uncle Lloyd served early in his career. But it was the story beginning with the position he took in 1947— superintendent of Home Missions for the Red River Presbytery—that most captured my interest. For it was this work for which he was described as “God’s Man” by my parents.

It was also at this point where my parent’s lives began to interweave with Lloyd’s.   In his new position, Lloyd worked to supply new ministers to small churches in the Red River Presbytery in need of a minister. My dad was one of Lloyd’s early “catches,” as he became minister of Tallulah Presbyterian Church, the church where my parents were when my oldest sister was born.

Over this period of Lloyd’s service, he established 19 new churches, built 22 new churches, 17 new manses (ministers home) while filling over 100 pulpits. I smiled each time I read the name of fellow ministers that Uncle Lloyd helped place and guide in his career, as they were friends of my parents too. Uncle Lloyd was also instrumental in establishing Camp Alabama, the new church camp conference grounds just across the street from Alabama Church, a camp all of my siblings and I enjoyed growing up where our dad served at the third church thanks to Uncle Lloyd’s gentle guidance.

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Camp Alabama

The book further describes how even after retirement, Lloyd tried to stay active in the church ministry, a service he never wanted to relinquish and one for which he was duly suited. He preached his last time, on Palm Sunday 1980 in the church he attended growing up, the church across from his retirement home, Alabama Presbyterian Church.

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Sadly, Uncle Lloyd died the year after I got married so I was never able to introduce my own children to the man I would have gladly referred to as their “Great Uncle.” But it was a tribute that my oldest sister wrote that told of Uncle Lloyd’s greatness not in a generational sense. My dad included my sister’s tribute in his eulogy delivered at Lloyd’s funeral. Entitled “My Most Unforgettable Character”, it was a tribute that brought tears to my eyes even 35 years after Lloyd’s death. It tells of Uncle Lloyd’s greatness not in a generational sense but how Uncle Lloyd lovingly passed contributions of money to ministers in need. My sister wrote: “Young children in a manse, when told by their parents ‘the Lord will provide’, think of Uncle Lloyd, almost thinking them one and the same for Uncle Lloyd hardly ever lets them down.”

Truly as my parents suggested in their book, Uncle Lloyd was “God’s Man” as he touched so many lives throughout his ministry. I for one, being one of his “surrogate nephews”, was touched by his kindness and generosity, as I know my parents and siblings were. And I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for writing this book and telling the story of this great man, God’s Man.

Uncle, Uncle

For my whole life growing up, I never lived in the same town as any of my relatives—no cousins, aunts, or uncles close by. Both my parents were from small towns in Texas and all of their siblings grew up, married, had kids, and lived within about a 50-mile radius of where they were born. To my knowledge, my parents were the only two to move far away from their birthplaces. After I was grown, an aunt, uncle, and cousin did move to the same town I lived in but not having been close to them growing up, I wasn’t that close to them even after they moved to town.

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Since this is all I had known, I never knew what it was like to live close to my cousins, aunts, and uncles. We did go to visit them in Texas at least once a year, but not having more frequent interaction prevented us from really getting to know each other very well. I probably never would have known what that was like if I hadn’t married the woman that I married.

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In stark contrast to my experience growing up, my wife did live in the same town with almost all of her mother’s relatives. She would tell me stories of them going on vacation together, going water skiing together, getting together for parties and holidays, and celebrating many of life’s little events. She still interacts with many of her cousins either weekly or monthly. I in comparison, interact with my cousins probably every few years or so at the most.

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Knowing that my parents lived close to many of their relatives growing up, I don’t know if they ever consciously considered what it would be like for their children, my three siblings and me, to grow up away from close relatives. But one fact stands out that makes me think they must have.

The year I was born, my parents were already living in their third town distant from their birthplaces, just seven years after they were married. And starting in that town, very close friends became adopted aunts and uncles. Whether this was an ingenious way to avoid us children having to call their dear friends “Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so,” to us, they were “aunt” or “uncle” followed by their first name. Since they were the only adults other than my parents that I saw on a more frequent basis, it seemed normal to refer to them as “surrogate relatives.”

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Movie filmed in my hometown

So my first memory from the town I was born in is of Uncle Jack and Aunt Lois, two loving individuals I can still vividly picture in my mind’s eye. Since we moved away from my birthplace by the time I was four—an age very difficult for me to recall—my memories are based on home movies and tales my parents or siblings have told me. And one thing I have been told was that I was very special to Uncle Jack.

Uncle Jack only had one daughter who was older than me. But I’m told his eyes would light up whenever I ran into the room. And he would sometimes show his delight by bringing me gifts which no doubt, reciprocated my delight in seeing him as well.

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If you are a follower of my blog post, you know that I love Cars and have so since a very early age. There is one home movie of me with a small car. I think I would have been either three of four years old at the time. There was a lever on the side that when you flipped it, the car would speed forward several feet. In the movie, I repeatedly flip the lever and then quickly chase after the car to flip the lever again. What I wouldn’t give to have that little car today, a talisman connecting me to my childhood? But I do have the home movie and the memory that this was one of my favorite gifts from my Uncle Jack.

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Even after we moved away, we would occasionally return to my hometown and always would get to see Uncle Jack and Aunt Lois, although later in life we sometimes referred to them as Mr. Jack and Ms. Lois. As an adult, we would visit him at his gift store where we would buy Christmas ornaments, all of which we still have.

In the second town I lived in growing up, we again took on adoptive aunts and uncles.

The second “relatives” I have the most vivid memories of are Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Alline. It seems Uncle Lloyd was a part of our lives even after we moved away from this second town because just like my dad, Uncle Lloyd was a Presbyterian minister.

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My main memories of Uncle Lloyd are of Montreat, watermelons, and cigars. Growing up, we always went to Montreat for our main summer vacation.   And on many of these trips, we would ride in Uncle Lloyd’s car with my dad driving. I don’t think Uncle Lloyd liked to have to drive that far and so my dad drove while Uncle Lloyd provided the car and paid for the gas. On some of these trips, we might have taken our own station wagon but it seems like Uncle Lloyd was with us as well.

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Our family would stay in a family lodge in Montreat while Uncle Lloyd would stay in College Hall, I assume college dorms converted to hotel rooms for the summer. Whenever we would see him there, he would be puffing away on his cigars.

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Camp Alabama

During the time that I knew Uncle Lloyd, he lived in a red brick house near Camp Alabama. Camp Alabama was a Presbyterian Church retreat center that we occasionally went to since it was about 30 miles from where we lived. And behind Lloyd’s house, he had a farm where he grew a variety of produce, but in particular watermelons. My mom and I loved watermelon and it seemed like whenever we went to see him, he was loading us up with watermelons for our return trip home.

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Whenever times were tough, a common occurrence for ministers back then, my parents would say with strong faith and conviction, that the Lord would provide for us. And it seems like after Lloyd would visit us, extra money would suddenly be available. It was as if, Lloyd and the Lord were the same to us small children.

I knew Uncle Lloyd for 20 years, up until his death in 1980. He was a very special man to our family. But what I didn’t realize was that he was connected to my parents even before they were married and years before I was even born.

I found this out because my parents wrote and published a book about him after he died. I recently reread that book knowing I wanted to write about my “surrogate” uncles. What I learned, or maybe relearned was moving, so much so, it deserves its own story.