Big boom, high hopes

Since as long as I can remember, the Fourth of July has been my favorite holiday – for many of the same reasons other holidays are other people’s favorites.

Over the years, I’ve always spent the holiday with family and friends, and celebrating the freedom we enjoy in America. And, for me, it’s always worthwhile to count the blessings in my life.

Another tradition for me, going back to my baseball playing days in high school, is giving thanks for those blessings during the national anthem. It’s a tradition I’ve kept while listening to the Star Spangled Banner before the start of races.

For several years, I’ve wanted to run the Red, White and Boom half marathon in Minneapolis. It seems like I picked the perfect year to do it.

The weather at the start was perfect, and I loved the course. It had a couple challenges – also known as hills – but it’s an ideal course to run a negative split. And the Kemp’s chocolate milk, popsicles and potato chips were a nice way to unwind afterward. This certainly was among my favorite road races in the past few years, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky I’ve been to run on good courses and terrific weather this year, first at the Fargo Marathon and today in Minneapolis.

After running through injuries in June, and continuing to manage those, I’ve set my hopes on a strong buildup, with plenty of miles, for the New York City marathon. It’s about 4 months away, but 13-mile runs for the past several weekends are helping set a base for the work ahead. It’s going to take time – more than 4 months – to get back into fighting shape for a strong marathon, but my hopes are high, especially with today’s race setting the bar for the running to come.

Finally, congrats to all of the runners who made it out today for races in Grand Forks, Fargo, Bemidji, Walker, Park Rapids, Minneapolis and elsewhere, or who simply laced up and went out on their own course. I can’t think of a better celebration of freedom and self expression.

Enjoying the heat

“Running to him was real, the way he did it the realist thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” – Once a Runner by John L. Parker

One month ago, the 30 Days of Running challenge for June resonated with me.

The allure, in part, was I needed something interesting to keep me motivated. For my own good, that something needed to be consistent, public and tap my own sense of guilt if I were to attempt talking my way out of a daily run.

About a week into the challenge, my plan was to run at least 4 miles – but ideally more – every day. As the month comes to a close, it wasn’t perfect. But running has become a habit again, as routine as checking the mail, and I’ve managed to run through injuries to feel healthier and closer to my goals.

Along the way I’ve recalled my love for summer running.

Ever since I began running, I’ve loved running in warm weather. Thankfully, I handle it better than most, and June proved to have plenty of hot running days. Along the way I found myself intentionally putting off running in the cool mornings just so I can run after work and soak up the sun, heat and humidity of the evening.

This past Saturday, I nearly met my match. My legs felt great as I started out on my 13-miler, even with a 70-degree temperature reading and 95 percent humidity. By the time I finished a few hours later, the weather taxed me – and a warm shower actually helped cool me down. But the feeling afterward left me feeling accomplished, blessed and cleansed.

Now I just hope the next few months are the same as marathon training builds on the 40-mile base weeks to higher mileage in preparation for the New York City Marathon.

End of innocence

With a heavy heart, I pressed the digits on the keypad for my garage door and headed out for a run.

And as I made my way down the street, I struggled to find the right words to justify the fairness or sense in the pain many friends are feeling: one of our own was the innocent victim of a very tragic accident.

On a few occasions, as our circle of friends intertwined, Dave Hawkinson and myself crossed paths. They were friendly and pleasant encounters, and many of my friends recall him as a terrific person. He was memorable and made a positive impact in many people’s lives.

Unfortunately, he died after a car struck his bicycle on a rural stretch of highway near Grandin, N.D., on Saturday. You can read the story here. By all accounts, Dave had done everything right. He couldn’t have done anything differently. And cyclists will continue to ride that stretch of road.

My thoughts and prayers are extended to his wife, Amy, and family, and those who knew Dave much better than myself. He was a light and gift to those who knew him, and his legacy will serve to making many people better off for knowing him. My heart aches for those who knew Dave well.

Tonight, like many other outings on the run, it became painfully obvious: so many people behind the wheel of their vehicles are driving distracted. In two- and three-ton vehicles. And it’s clear that so few people really stop to think about what it is they’re doing, and how life can change in an instant.

Perhaps runners and cyclists understand this better than most.

We have to share the road with others, especially those in steel boxes with wheels. And maybe that’s why I always wave, in gratitude, to those who are willing to move over and give me a few extra feet of space on the road. They may do it out of courtesy, or because there really isn’t much room. Yes, I always try to hug the side of the road, because I’m going to lose the battle every time with a vehicle. But I want to let passing motorists – at least those willing to grant me some space – that I appreciate the gesture. At the same time, though, I can see those who are are looking down at their phones, reading or writing texts, or chatting without paying attention to the road. Or fumbling with their sunglasses or too engaged in conversation with others in the car. It is all too obvious that most people are simply not that attentive to driving.

The simple truth is that there’s almost no way to avoid encounters with drivers. We all make choices. Drivers decide whether to allow themselves to be distracted on the road. Endurance athletes can mitigate the risks, but ultimately, must choose whether the risk is worth the reward. We can’t live in fear of running or riding the roads, but we can educate others about the consequences of distracted driving.