World Record

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I didn’t break the world record.

I smashed it!

4:16.829. American/World Indoor 45-49 age group Masters Mile mark is obliterated by more than 3 seconds! (When ratifying for a world record, World Masters Athletics requires a count to the thousandth of a second.)

This time, I really didn’t think I could do it. Six weeks ago, I was running strong. I was on course to claim the Masters World Record. But a nagging foot injury and a constricting chest cold set me back on my heels. I was having some eye trouble too.

At Cornell, two weeks ago, I clipped a competitor’s spike and took a headlong crash in the first lap. I finished strong, but was way off the mark. [Read the full story in "The Trip."] Yet again, no world record. I awakened the next morning bruised and battered, as if I’d been in a car crash.

I began to wonder if I could do it. It probably wasn’t meant to be. Eye trouble is a difficult hurdle.

My health returned, but my workouts were sub-par at best. Coach Hislop made some significant compensating adjustments in my training cycle. Still, in running lingo, my legs were flat. After two horrific workouts, I was deeply discouraged.

I remember my old wrestling coach, George Artemis, telling me I’d be a champ. I’m not so sure now.

Here I am in New York. I almost didn’t come. Why should I make the substantial investment in the trip if I’m not even in position to score? Two slightly encouraging interval sessions in the last seven days, though, had me thinking, “Maybe, just maybe…”

Coach Hislop talked me through the pros and cons.  My wife, Alydia, a top-notch high school running coach, persuaded me that this could be my last best chance and I ought to try. I honestly didn’t know. My corporate sponsor, Get Air Sports, booked the flights, got my reservations, and sent me on my way.

So here I am in Uptown Manhattan. The Armory, site of the United States Track & Field Hall of Fame, housing one of the fastest indoor tracks in the world, is host to the Columbia University Final Qualifier meet. I wear hip #5 – that’s fifth position – a decent place to start, strategically.

I’m feeling okay. I can do this. Still having a bit of eye trouble, though.

The gun goes off with a crack and — with an extra surge of adrenalin — I am drawn reactively into the momentum of a furious start. I come through 200m at a too fast 31.5. I don’t ease back quite enough, and add slightly to my “out too fast” error with a 63.5 first quarter.

“Yes, I think I can do this. I just have to get my head right.” This isn’t just about running fast, it’s about running smart. I relax further and see a 1:36.5 next split, followed by 2:10.0 at the half-way mark.

“Okay. I’m right where I wanted to be” – but now my pace is much too slow. I feel myself being overtaken, not by another runner, but by doubt – a runner’s nemesis. I focus on what I have been teaching my wife’s talented high school distance runners.

When faced with doubt, discouragement, and despair – typical and shattering companions in the latter and incredibly painful realm of a distance race – we must practice “replacement therapy:”

We are not responsible for the thoughts that enter the stage of our minds, but we are responsible to decide the cast that we allow to perform.  Instead of wasting focus chasing away the villains, Doubt, Discouragement, and Despair; we simply replace them with the more powerful actors, Faith, Confidence, and Fury!

“Now, shift gears.” It’s the right time to lean into this race. I start to pass the youngsters, one by one.

My fifth lap split is a surprising 2:42.0. I lean in harder and drive past the ¾ mark at a terrific 3:14.0.

The change of pace is actually refreshing. The announcer notices my surge and gets the crowd involved in what is happening. They begin to shout encouragement – and coach me from the bleachers. “C’mon Brad – you can do it!”

Faith and Confidence have played their part. It’s now time for Fury to take center stage.  At 3:45.5, I throw myself at the bell lap. Around the turn, I refocus on mechanics. “Brain now, not brawn.” It has to be that way. There is not much brawn left in this old fella’.

This is now a mental game. Arms take over.  “Shorter, faster, more relaxed.” Arms guide the accelerated pace of my legs. “This is working.”

On the final turn, I push even harder and am rewarded with immediate bone-deep searing ache – late stage lactic acid overload. “Keep it together. Don’t muscle this. Focus on perfect mechanics. Run through the finish…”

The announcer brings the crowd to its feet with the booming proclamation that a World Masters Mile Record has just fallen! In foggy-numb elation, I lift aching arms in weak reply to the cheers – but there is nothing weak about my grin.

I’ve done it! A world record.

I have! I really have done it.

There it is again. Eye trouble. “I” trouble. I did not do this. We did this.  I stumble to my gear and find my phone. My first call is to my wife to thank her. I thank my family, without whose significant sacrifice this would not have been possible. I call Chick Hislop and yell, “Congratulations coach, we did it!” I message Val Iverson, founder of Get Air Trampoline Parks, my corporate sponsor and friend. I tell him about the prize we have won.

I silently thank God for the physical gifts and the team of supporters without whom I never could have come close to winning this prize most runners only dream about.

I am officially the fastest old miler in the world – thanks to a pretty amazing team.  The persistent support, excellent coaching, and faith of my family and friends back home. An entire crowd of enthusiastic strangers in the stadium seats. The architects of this world class venue. My competitors who were with me, literally, every step of the way. John Hinton who, five years ago, set the world record that pushed us to such an achievement.

I didn’t break the world record. “I” could not have done this. Only “we” can win this kind of prize.

Today is a special date. The only day of the year where the date is also a command: March 4th – march forth! And thus we shall. I… “we” will march forth eagerly to the conclusion of an amazing indoor track season – the National Masters Championships in Landover, Maryland on March 22-23.  We will continue to march forth and support each other and even the fellow who will eventually – sooner than later – break this world record.

I am seeing much better now – and I’ll see you in Landover.

The Trip

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Ithaca, New York.

No Masters mile record at Cornell University on Saturday. I was prepared and my plans were well laid but a trip to the inside lane left me short.

The first lap of the mile race was a jumble of elbows and near misses as the thirteen of us (mostly college kids) furiously jockeyed for position. I spent all of it in lane two and three.

In heavy traffic at the 200 m mark I saw an opening to the inside lane and made my move. In doing so I clipped another runner’s spiked toe and fell hard on the inside aluminum rail.

After a bruising impact to my left shoulder and a heals-over-head forward somersault I sprang to my feet and, dazed, accelerated back to full pace. “I’m okay. No harm done. I’m still in this.  I can do this.”

Now ten meters behind, I refocused on the task at hand and steadily willed myself back to the pack.

Having caught up, I ran well through the 800 m mark. Then fatigue hit early and it hit deep! Keeping positive and focused from there became increasingly difficult. I ran hard, experiencing the final 300 m in a sort-of tunnel vision.

It was over. Although I finished respectably and did beat most of the college athletes I wasn’t close to my record-breaking goal.

Track and field is, like life itself, a terrible and a wonderful endeavor. Just like life we don’t always get what we’ve worked hard for and deserve.

However, when we fall behind on our payments, fall down on our luck, fall short of our goal, or just plain fall flat on our face, we do have the choice of what falls next.

Do we fall victim to the injustice, fall out of hope, into despair and wait until next fall to try again?

Or do we realize how precious and fleeting this moment is? So we scramble to our feet, hustle back to full stride, refocus on the task at hand and without fear, do as Paul suggests: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Let us fall on our knees when we need a lift and then fall unto the habit of rising each time we fall.

If we do that, it surely will be a great trip!

Thanks to all of you for your kind words of affirmation and encouragement as I stretch my limits and fall closer to my goals. Also, a huge thank you, for their generous support, to my corporate sponsor Get Air Trampoline Parks, LLC. (Val, I definitely caught some unexpected air on Saturday!)

New Balance Indoor Grand Prix — Boston

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Carbs for breakfast. Carbs for lunch. Rest a lot; get a little work done. Focus on the race.

Nasty, cold morning here in Boston. Nasty chest cold too. Horrible hacking, wet cough and an almost healed foot.  Lots of question marks…

Call coach Hislop for counsel and race strategy review. “Plan my race then race my plan.” Okay. All ahead full.

Check-in at the Reggie Lewis Center near Northeastern University campus. I warm up in the cold with fellow Masters (Masters = 40+ years old). They remind me more than once that Erik “Ned” Nedeau is the one to beat. Younger, better leg speed (and today much healthier lungs)! My foot feels okay. I’m surprised at my relative lack of nervousness.

The warm up facility is sparse. Picture seventy-five Masters, elite high school superstars and Olympic medalists cooped up in a small gym together with medical staff, equipment, refreshment coolers and a short carpeted runway bisecting the room diagonally. I do two minutes of stretching and hazard two short strides (warmup sprints) on the runway before they escort us with ceremony down a long hall and deposit us, without ceremony, in a cubicle near the track.

Fifteen minutes to race time.

We strap into our racing spikes, jump up and down in place (a poor substitute for a warm up) and try not to make eye contact with each other.

Event marshals line us up and we stand in place five more minutes before finally being led in an obedient line to the track where three thousand raucous fans stomp and roar!

Four minutes until race time. Too close for real warm up strides. After a couple of short bursts they line us up for introductions.

The talented field consists of the fastest Masters milers in the country. With the best qualifying time, I wear a white #1 hip tag and am placed in lane one. I’m careful not to obscure the logo on my singlet for Get Air Trampoline Parks, my corporate sponsor.

We will race a full mile on a 200 meter track. To make up the roughly 9.3  additional meters the starting line is set back from the finish line. The following description is in yards:

Final instructions from the starter and then the gun…My first step is off balanced, but I catch my stride and am off. No one challenges me as I claim the lead around the banked turn and try to judge a 32.5 first lap. Without proper warmup, I miss badly and come through at a too brisk 31.5. I ease up on the throttle, careful not to over correct and land a decent 64.5 first quarter. I lean back into the effort and come through 660  at 1:36.5 which keeps me slightly ahead of world record pace. I somehow lose a degree of focus and saw my 2:10 880 split.

“Okay, good. I’m still in this. I’ve given myself a chance. Finish up with a 2:09 and I’ve done it.”

The crowd is at a fever pitch as I consciously increased my effort. “Just make it 3:15.” My mind begins to fog. My 1100 split is something like 2:42.5. My mind reaches back to the chase pack hoping for support but none comes. I resist checking the size of my lead in the huge monitor at the back turn, choosing instead to reserve my dwindling mental faculties and focus forward.

Pressuring the pace is costing me. My congested lungs are unable to keep up with this sustained effort. The vice tightens on my chest. A twinge of detached disappointment with the number on the clock as I passed 1320 at 3:16. “I’m one second down but not out.” I throw myself at the pace. Race plans call for a marked change of gears with two laps to go. With the low altitude this deliberate change of rhythm should energize me but it doesn’t. My legs protest in pain as I accelerate off the turn and into the back stretch.

The announcer explains my predicament and my throbbing mind registers the encouraging chant of the crowd, “Brad-Bar-ton, Brad-Bar-ton…

The crowd’s encouragement feeds my effort around and on to the bell lap. I’m really moving now. I don’t see my split but it must have been respectable. I learn later that I gapped the field and stole ambition from my chief rival the talented Erik Nedeau.

brad wond grand prixI tried in vain to redouble my efforts for the final pull. This last oval begins in desperation, turns unmanageable in the back stretch, and erodes to a sheer ugly grind to the tape. This isn’t fun anymore! Numb, hazy, throbbing, in a daze I turn and touch the others in a weak imitation of a high five. Someone hands me a victory bouquet of flowers. I’m thinking “Funeral?”

I’d finished with a disappointing 4:24.13. After a moment, I jog a victory lap to the roar of a cheering crowd, barely registering in my oxygen-starved brain.

It is now Sunday evening. I’m sitting in a crowded terminal in Phoenix. I receive a text from my new Masters friend Lance Elliott from Minnesota. His simple message: “Fun weekend. Unfinished business…”

Lance is right.

Back On Track

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Are you on track?

Much of who and what I am today, I owe to the Weber State University Track & Field program. Distance running was my life. My teammates and I poured everything into the accomplishment of specific and lofty goals. We gave athletics a lot. It gave a lot back.

I loved those days of butt slapping camaraderie that only those who have laughed and suffered hard together can appreciate. After marrying (Alydia and I met on the team), and beginning our family and my professional speaking career, I didn’t think I really missed the sport all that much.  However, while reading John L. Parker Jr’s powerful novel, Return to Carthage, I realized there was something I did miss – and I missed it a lot.

When you are a competitive runner you are constantly on a quest for excellence. You are absolutely focused on being better today than you were yesterday and better still tomorrow. Tiny improvements represent huge victories. You are an organism constantly evolving to a preconceived approximation of perfection. This isn’t just an ideal. This is a runner’s job!  This quest for excellence is something real runners live.

When we were young competitive runners, we strove to be the strongest, the fastest – the best we could be.  To achieve our personal best required more than hard work. It required a focused will. As Parker says, “It takes effort, determination, conviction. But mostly, it takes will. It takes a conscious decision to follow one difficult uphill path, and then the will to stay with it and not waiver, not to give up.”

Parker is right. Running was more than a sport. Our habit of constant improvement, our quest for excellence set the pace for life. When we ran well, we tended to excel academically, socially, spiritually.

Then what happened? As we got older, did we continue to strive for excellence, or did we feel we had arrived – become good enough at whatever we are good at? Did we lose that drive? That determined quest for excellence?  I had. And I wanted that feeling back.

I’m older now. Life is good. I have been blessed with a wonderful family and a professional speaking and writing career. It is fun and fulfilling to enthuse a group of young people, instruct a group of educators, inspire a room full of coal miners. I have been blessed and blessed and blessed with opportunity, victories…

But I felt somehow stagnated.  I missed that directed focus, that drive, that quest for excellence. It occurred to me that I had gotten “good enough” in too many ways.

It also occurred to me that I could still reclaim the quest. Even at forty-five years of age (that’s one hundred sixty in dog years). I could try once again to achieve whatever standard of athletic excellence a forty five year old might achieve.

I could be a runner again. Thank you John Parker!

So, last winter, I got back on track – literally. A five-minute mile is a lofty goal. Let’s try for that. In February, I ran 4:32. Wow. I called my old, retired, (USATF Hall of Fame) college coach, Chick Hislop, to see what he thought of that. After a long pause, he simply said, “I guess we both ought to come out of retirement. Are you ready for one more adventure?”

Thus the quest began anew.

The indoor American Masters 45 – 49 age group record in the mile (also the world record), is 4:20.18. By late March I had run 4:26. In mid-April, 4:23. Then, on a sunny day in late April at a Utah State University collegiate meet, I ran the fastest masters age group 3000 meter in the country.

I also broke my foot in the process. My 2012 quest was prematurely ended.

Now it’s 2013. On January 12, I ran 4:25.92, at Idaho State University. This old man blew past college kids! January 19, Boise State, 4:21.58. This weekend I’m headed for Boston and a shot at that Masters record. I’m fit. Inspired. Determined.

How about you? Are you still on track?

I’m raising a family, advancing my career and doing some good in the world – and again know that marvelous feeling, that focused, determined, quest for excellence.

I’m back on track.

The Space Between

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Years ago, I chased the dream of making the US Olympic Track & Field team in the 3000 meter steeplechase. One warm April evening in Southern California, the night before an important race, I was reading a book that a favorite college professor had recommended – Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. 

My eyes fell upon a single paragraph that was so compelling, so astounding, so memorable that it has profoundly influenced the rest of my life.  That paragraph conveyed a profound idea.

“Between Stimulus and response there is a space.   In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.  In our responselies our growth and our happiness.”

 

I was overwhelmed by that idea. It meant that I was not bound by my upbringing, my current habits or my future circumstances. It meant that I always have the power of choice – no matter what.

I was alone, in a hotel room, but I wanted to find someone to share it with.  I reflected on it again and again, bathing in the joyful freedom of it.  The more I pondered over it, the more I realized that I could choose responses that would even affect the stimulus itself.  I could become a causative force of nature in my own right.

My commitment to live in alignment with this powerful principle has been challenged many times – especially last week. 

My 16-year-old son Jacob is a cross-country state champion.  I was running a difficult 1000 meter repeat workout with him.  The kid is fast!  It was all I could do to run every other interval with him. I struggled at the edge of my pain threshold. I was running much faster than my fitness level should permit.

Near the end of the second to last interval, I noticed that Jacob’s running form was beginning to suffer.  In his fatigue, he was forcing it, tightening up, over striding. Through gasping breaths, I reminded him, “stay loose – don’t muscle it – use your arms more – shorten your stride.” In the midst of my wise admonitions, he growled, “Will you just shut up?”

My first inclination was to react in anger.  Here I was busting my hump – risking heart attack – trying to help my ungrateful son through a very difficult and important workout.  How could he show such disrespect and ingratitude! 

I felt like dropping back and walking off. Then I remembered my freedom to choose and resolved to lengthen the space between his stimulus – and my response.

Instead of lashing back at my son, or walking off leaving him to struggle on alone, I continued to run with him, offering an occasional cheerful encouragement. 

200 meters later he said, “Sorry Dad.”  During the 90 second rest before the start of our last interval, he tried to explain his reaction.  I put my arm around him.  “No worries, bro. We’ll work together and finish strong.”

After the workout, Jacob was still contrite.  He again apologized for his retort and asked for my ideas about handling fatigue as he runs deeper into his workouts.  On our cool-down, we had a great discussion – not only about the biomechanics of efficient running, but also how we have power to call the shots in our running and how we run our lives. Because I chose to act constructively instead of reacting destructively, the warmth and closeness of our relationship was restored and even strengthened.

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and say things we will regret. What we need is a pause button. And we have one. A wonderful little mechanism located somewhere near the heart.  It helps us pause between what happens to us and our reaction to it – and gives us time to choose a better response.

Therein lies our freedom and our happiness.

Who Gains Most?

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In the transaction of service, who gains the most, the server – or the served? The answer is mathematically obvious. I have two of something and you have none. I serve you by giving you one of mine. It looks to me like I am down by one. I serve you – and lose in the process. Right? It’s simple math.

When I was a small boy, we lived on a farm in Layton, Utah. The Stimpsons were our neighbors. They were an elderly couple who were not very well off. We didn’t have much money either, but we had a large garden and plenty of food. We took to leaving fruit and vegetables, fresh baked bread, etc. on the Stimpson’s doorstep at night. They never found out who made these nocturnal deliveries. My mother wanted it that way. She always said, “To do good – feels good,” and to serve anonymously feels even better.

When I was perhaps six years old, I made my first solo delivery. While Mom waited around the corner in our old station wagon, I nervously placed the basket of food on the door step, jumped off the porch and ran for cover. I was hiding behind an old overgrown shrub in the front yard when Mrs. Stimpson finally creaked open the door.

She looked around bewildered – no one was there. Then she spotted the care package. She stooped over, picked it up and held it like a precious treasure as she peered out into the darkness. In a voice quivering with emotion, she said, “Thank you. Thank you, whoever you are.”

Suddenly I felt it. Welling up inside me from wherever it came from, was a warm wonderful feeling I had never felt before. After Mrs. Stimson closed the door, I dashed to the car and jumped in.

“Momma, what’s happening to me? I feel like God’s inside.”

That’s when my mother taught me this wonderful mathematical law of the universe. What we give away from our hearts returns to us multiplied. That’s real math – that’s real magic.

Relatively Happy

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You may think your attentive spouse, your loving children and good friends are affecting your happiness.  But what if there is some deeper magic at work in your life?

According to a new study published last month in the British Medical Journal, the people they are connected with make you happy as well.  The study proposes that happiness is transmitted through social networks, almost like a germ is spread through personal contact.

 

James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego explored how social ties influence our moods and our sense of well-being.  The primary finding: People who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to be happy themselves.  In addition, the people surrounding the people we know make a difference too!

 

Imagine several pebbles thrown into a pond, sending ripples outward. Each pebble represents a happy person and the waves are the impact of that person’s mood on others. This affective impact extends through several degrees of separation, to the friends of a friend of a person’s friends.

 

The study found that happy people form clusters and the happiest people are those most centrally located in the clusters.

 

According to the new study, your probability of being happy rises over 15% if a friend or family member is happy, 9.8% if friends of your friend or family member are happy, and 5.6% if friends of the friends of your friend or family member are happy.

 

Of course, the researchers stress personal factors such as self-esteem, job satisfaction, rewarding hobbies, stress level and marital quality also affect happiness. 

 

Bottom line: Want to be happy?  Make others happy.  How to make others happy?  Be happy.

 

Notice: Reading is not the only option.  Click the link above and I’ll read this to you.  Great fun!


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