Archive for February, 2013

The Trip

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[audio https://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/vol-15-the-trip.mp3]

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!)

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New Balance Indoor Grand Prix — Boston

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[audio https://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/vol-14-grand-prix.mp3]

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.


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