Tuesday, August 23, 2011

To My Daughter on Your First Day of Kindergarten

There’s always been a connection between dads and their little girls and ours was cemented from the start. Barely five years ago, your mom called me at work from her doctor’s appointment. “The doctor broke my water,” she said casually. “Oh,” I said, apparently not realizing at the moment that the second addition to Team Wuori was coming that very afternoon.

They say that the second child sometimes gets the short end of the stick. Fewer photos. A little less wonderment at the things they do. A little more casual behavior on the part of the parents since we’ve “been there and done that” with the first. If that’s been the case, you’ve more than convinced us that we take you for granted at our own peril. Now, here we are, ready to send you off to kindergarten, to follow in your brother’s footsteps and to forge a new trail of your own.

You’ve been a bundle of energy and excitement since we first brought you home. Eager to learn. Eager to voice your opinion. Eager to sass your brother. Eager to prove me right when I tell people,“don’t mess with Kristen.” Eager to prove your strength.

You broke your arm on my watch when you were three, falling off the monkey bars as we enjoyed a fun afternoon of scampering about at our neighborhood playground. Never once during those six weeks in a tiny purple cast did you complain. Never once did you slow down, either. Strong.

You tackled the challenge of learning to ride a bike without training wheels and earned your stripes three months earlier than your brother had. Strong.

You saw Alex finish a somewhat perilous climb on a large log in the Rocky Mountain National Park. “C’mon, Kristen,” I said, “we need to keep moving.” “Daaaad,” you replied with both a stern word and focused look, “I wanna climb on that too.” And so you did. Strong.

You park yourself regularly in the corner of your room with a pile of books, “reading” out loud and telling me, when I’ve asked what you’re doing, that you are “growing my giant brain.” Strong.

You fired up your little legs and pushed through the heat to finish the State Street Mile just a few months past your fifth birthday. Strong.

I wrote once on this very blog that what the world needed was more strong women. Women like Paula Newby-Fraser. Susan Collins. Dara Torres. Indra Nooyi. Annie Leibovitz. Sally Ride. Joycelyn Elders. Your namesake Kristen Daly. Hillary Clinton. Christiane Amanpour. Your mom.

These are women who have achieved greatness in sports, in the arts, in medicine, in science, in politics, in business, in journalism. Women who aren’t afraid of challenges. Women who didn’t start out with fancy titles. Women who sacrifice because they want to leave the world a better place than they found it. Women who work hard and get stuff done. Women who bring it and earn it. Women who find something inside of themselves that few have. Women with passion and energy and drive and enthusiasm. Women who say, “Go ahead. You can push me. I will do this and there’s nothing you can do to me to keep me from my goals.” Women who are strong.

Like all fathers, I revel in what you are and I dream of what you will become. I take my responsibility seriously to show you the world; to teach you right from wrong; to impart upon you the importance of helping others; to help you face your fears and overcome them; to teach you to push yourself when you want to quit; to grow your brain and never stop learning; to help you become. . . strong.

A few months ago you asked me, rather casually, "Daddy, do you get to keep your name when you are a grown-up? Will I still be Kristen?"

"Of course," I answered, "you will always be Kristen."

And, in my head, I thought, “you’ll always be my little girl, no matter where you are or what you are doing.”

Good luck in kindergarten and beyond, my strong little Kristen, you’re gonna do great.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Confessions of a Teenage Paperboy

What was your first real job? I was a teenage paperboy.

TIME Magazine published a piece in mid-February about the decline in the number of kids who deliver the daily newspaper. According to the article, only about 13 percent of today’s newspaper delivery people are “kids,” down from nearly 70 percent in 1990. While there are a number of reasons for the decline, the article points primarily to two: the changing manner in which newspapers are distributed and the flight of families from the “suburbs to the exurbs,” which are too vast in size for kids to cover by foot or on a bike.

Reading that piece took me instantly back to the three years I delivered papers for the Times Leader, at that time a six-day-a-week paper based in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Wilkes-Barre. I got the job early in eighth grade and I can remember the sights, sounds, smells, blood, sweat and tears like it was yesterday.

Northeastern Pennsylvania is hilly in general and we lived in the Back Mountain area outside of Wilkes-Barre. My alarm would go off at the insane hour of 4:45 a.m. and I was usually out the door in a mental fog by 5. I would hop on my trusty blue Sears bike with the Y-shaped handlebars that my Dad had bought me some years earlier, not knowing at the time that it would someday cradle a bag of newspapers just perfectly.

I delivered about 30 papers each morning and the drop-off point for my stack was three blocks from my house on a corner near an elementary school. Two more downhill blocks from there was the start of my route.

My bike and I delivered those papers through all kinds of conditions—wind, rain, cold, snow— rarely asking one of my parents for a ride unless the temperature dipped into the low single digits or if a blowing snowstorm was simply too much for me to handle. What was most enjoyable about the route was the quiet, the fresh morning air and the feeling that those of us awake and moving at that hour didn’t have to share the world with too many others.

I had that route down cold. I knew who wanted their paper placed under the porch mat and who wanted it slipped inside the storm door. Who wanted it folded and who liked it flat. I used mouse-like reflexes to keep old, beaten-down porches from creaking as I gingerly placed the paper inside someone’s attached mailbox.

I became intimately aware of people’s routines and knew who got up when, who came home late, and what they might have had for dinner the previous night. I could tell you who drank Folgers and who drank Maxwell House. Whose house was sealed up tight and who should have invested in a better set of curtains. I knew if I was on time simply by the way a customer’s house was lit up. “Oh, the upstairs light in the Johnson house isn’t on yet? Sweet! I’m running ahead of schedule.”

Every two weeks, I’d go on “collection” where I’d roam the neighborhood and get my $4 from each customer for two weeks worth of newspapers, plus a tip. Only rarely did I stalk anyone looking for “my two dollars,” but when the movie Better Off Dead came out in 1985, you could bet that I and my fellow paperboys and girls were there in spirit with the tenacious carrier chasing John Cusack around town.

The end of my route was a dead-end street in a wooded area a good two miles from my house. One morning after turning around following the delivery of my last paper, I was cornered, literally, by a snarling German Shepherd-sized mutt with a Cujo-like attitude that said “it’s either you or me.” He was blocking my way out of the neighborhood and just wouldn’t let me pass. His disheveled look, menacing bark and healthy set of snapping teeth trumped my desire to get home.

After hemming and hawing for about 10 minutes, hoping he might retreat, I finally summoned the courage to bang on someone’s door and ask for help, not an easy thing to do when the sun’s not up yet. The man who answered knew the dog was trouble so he called the police while I waited patiently on his porch. Fortunately, an officer arrived quickly and was able to use his car to block the dog from getting me. I’ll always remember the reassuring look he gave me after the dog had retreated to the woods. “If that dog bothers you again,” he muttered,” I’ll shoot it myself.” I have no doubt that he meant that.

Times have changed and it’s mostly adults now who deliver today’s newspapers by car, sliding them into our mailboxes or depositing them with a thud on our driveways early in the morning. That’s all well and good, I suppose, and I certainly appreciate a dry paper on a rainy or snowy morning. However, there’s nothing like a paper route to teach a kid responsibility, discipline, money management and the ability, or inability I guess, to outsmart a snarling dog at 6 in the morning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Post-Marathon Post Mortem

“Well, that sucked.”

Pretty much sums up my feelings right after we crossed the finish line on Sunday. Quad and knee pain started to kick in heavily around mile 17 or so, forcing me to walk a bit and slowing us down. I’m certainly happy to have that fourth medal but it was a bit frustrating to have a bad day on race day. Jen felt great, though, and we’d decided beforehand to finish together so it was nice that she helped me drag my butt across the line.

Spent the last three days trying to figure it out and there’s really not much to analyze beyond the fact that, as the cliché says, some days you feel great and some days you don’t. Sunday was the latter and it was unfortunate that it happened on race day.

Conversely, I am pretty happy that I gutted it out and finished only 15 minutes slower than my goal of 4:30. There’s some satisfaction in that and in the fact that our training had really gone pretty well with only a few minor speed bumps along the way. Our 20 mile runs were good. Our speed training and tempo runs felt great, for the most part. We overscheduled ourselves in the last six weeks with kid stuff and work things and that impacted our ability to cross train, which may have hurt me. In the end, I took the race I was given and made the most of it.

Random notes:

*Saw some great signs and writing on shirts along the way including: “Chafe today, brag forever.” “I’m running with my daughter,” on a mid-50s man, right next to a 20-something woman with “I’m running with my father.” “Run like someone’s chasing you.” My favorite was on the back of a runner: “Sometime in the future, there will come a day when we will not be able to do this. This is NOT one of those days.”

*Felt weird to start the race all bundled up as we faced temps in the low 30s that never really climbed above the low 40s all day. Stayed in three layers and my running pants through the whole race and was shivering uncontrollably for 15 minutes afterward due to exertion and the cold. After two years of extreme heat, ironic that we’d face chilly temps on race day.

*Mentally, I’m incredibly happy to be done with marathons for a while. Both Jen and I really became burned out this summer and we’re jazzed about throttling it back to half-marathons and cross training. In some sense, I think we’ll be in even better shape with the added cross training and the variety. Adding to that, we’ve signed up for this half marathon in February, providing extra motivation to train hard through the winter and forcing us to take a little vacation to boot.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

T-Minus 1 Day and Counting. . .

As I write this, it’s about 20 hours until the start of the 2009 Chicago Marathon and the culmination of another long training season for Team Wuori. I’m sitting in our hotel room at the Renaissance, looking east toward Chicago as the skyline pokes through the early-morning haze and watching planes make their way toward the airport.

We’re on the east/west O’Hare flight pattern and the planes literally pass right over our hotel room, gear already down, about 60-90 seconds from landing. Soundproof glass and the fact that I’m a plane junkie make this a pleasant location.

My emotions are all over the board but in general I’m feeling good about the race and how our training went this summer. There seemed to be a few more aches and pains than in previous years and I missed two longer runs due to injury and illness. However, I think I’m in better overall shape that I’ve been in our three previous marathons.

Even experienced marathoners have pre-race doubts and I’m no exception. I’m a little concerned about my left knee and left ankle, which have been bothering me off and on this summer. I’m also a little perplexed by what to wear. With morning temps in the low 30s, staying warm in the early miles may be a challenge. While I know I’ll warm up once things get going, it’s the 45-60 minutes of pre-race waiting that may take its toll.

One other thought that I keep returning to is to enjoy the experience. I tend to get so worked up in worrying about the weather, my aches and pains and my time goals that I sometimes forget that this is supposed to be fun. Running with 40,000 runners, each with their own individual story, in a sea of a million spectators, should be an inspirational and exciting experience. I just need to remember to stay in the moment and enjoy it. Just a little bit.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

T-Minus 2 Days and Counting. . .

Good run on Wednesday a.m. Did 3.1 in about 28 minutes, taking great pains to go nice and slow. Was a little groggy from lack of a “wake up” shower that I usually take before our morning runs. And, hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. All in all, though, I did feel fine.

Our bigger concern right now is weather. Forecast is for morning temps to be in the high 20s/low 30s, with the daily high only at 46. No rain forecast yet, which is good. However, the temps mean that we will most likely be running most of the race in the 30s, which creates a whole different set of issues. I’m not as concerned about my upper body as I am about my lower body. I’m trying to figure whether or not to wear my polypro running pants or not for the duration of the race.

I’ve run 3-5 miles in them before but never a long run and I just don’t want to end up with chafing issues halfway into the race. I’ve begun thinking about having running shorts on under the running pants and then just running in that until I feel comfortable enough to lose the running pants. Decisions. Decisions.

We’ll have “throwaway” clothes to wear on the train to downtown and to keep on before the start. That's really where I have most of my concern. We'll be at the starting area for about an hour before we actually start running and it's during that time that we'll have the potential to be really cold. So, gonna dress in layers and just plan to throw off some stuff as the start gets closer. It's a weird scene but necessary.

Received some good advice in the mass e-mail from the race medical director reminding runners that we want to be cold the first couple of miles and to dress as though it were 20 degrees warmer. Just need to keep remembering that.

We're going to try to get in one final 3- or 4-mile run tomorrow morning or afternoon, weather permitting, just to keep the legs fresh. Then, it's relaxation city until the start.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

T-Minus 4 Days and Counting. . .

Our plan this week as we zero in on race day is to do 3-4 miles each day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday just to keep the legs loose. Ran last night after class and cranked out an easy 3 in just under 27 minutes, coming in just as the dark was becoming an issue. Did the loop around Rock Valley College with a glorious sunset giving way to dusk and then darkness. Temps were low 50s, the run was effortless and the tunes on the Shuffle were just right. This is what running is all about and it felt great. Going to head out on Wednesday morning to do about 3 or 4 and probably do the same on Friday morning.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

T-Minus 7 Days and Counting. . .

Well, here we are. One week from right now, I'll be sitting in a hotel in Chicago getting ready to get a fitful night of sleep as I ready for our fourth Chicago Marathon. It's been a long road of training and it's nice to be ready as we near the end.

Did our final long run today; 10 miles with 5 out from home and back. Temps were a bit chilly, not that I'm complaining, with the long-term forecast for next week looking about the same. Had a couple of takeaways from today's run. First of all, I'm in wicked good shape, as they say in Maine. Knocked off 10.15 miles in 1:34:22, averaging just under 9:20 pace, much faster than we'll run next week. Felt great, nearly from start to finish, from a cardio standpoint.

On the not-so-great front, I had some knee pain toward the end and my connective tissue from my leg to foot is sore, as it has been after most of my 10+ mile runs. I look at it this way; it's general fatigue from all of the running this summer and I'll be able to have a good recovery following the race.

My pain tolerance is fairly high and if I have to suffer next week, it'll be worth it to have that medal hanging from my neck. We're set for a few short runs this week, just to keep the legs fresh. And, news flash, I'm getting my first-ever massage on Wednesday in the hopes that it'll loosen me up a bit for the big race.

More thoughts to come. . .