Top 7 Running Experiences of 2017

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It’s hard to look back on a year—whether it’s running or anything else—and not measure it.

(How many miles did you run? How many books did you read? How many pounds did you lose?) That’s how many of my annual reviews have gone. (OK, so I ran 1,202 miles and averaged 8:02 minutes per mile, I read about 1,096 books if you count the children’s variety, and I actually gained a little weight—can we talk about something else, please?)

But running, like life, is so much more than numbers. It’s what happens between the GPS data points—the people you talk to, the scenery you take in, the deep places you dig to find the extra oomph you need to get where you want to go.

Here are my top seven running experiences in 2017. Were you there for any of them?

7. Instagramming.

Instagram is, well, Instagram. If you’re reading this, you probably you have an account and know what it is for you. For me, it’s an outlet for relatively safe, running-focused expression—a place that I can put my too many selfies and actually get support for running at 4:30 a.m. instead of getting eye rolls. (Well, maybe the eye rolls are happening, too.)

I’m proud to have extended my reach in Instagram in 2017,  connecting with some super-interesting people and growing my account by about 30%.

6. Running Ragnar Chicago.

Well, the actual running part of this was awful—I had GI issues the whole time. But the overall experience was memorable, as always. Plus, I ran with TEAM PAWS Chicago, my charity running group, and got to know some pet-loving people better.

5. Cheering on friends at the Chicago Marathon.

I planned to spectate this race instead of run it, and doing so surpassed my expectations! What an amazing feeling supporting my TEAM PAWS Chicago teammates and other friends among the 45,000 participants. I did stand in one spot and yelled for five hours, which might have been as exhausting as running! Plus, I still have PTSD from the cowbell I continuously clanged near my ear. Worth it.

4. Rocking an ice beard at the Frozen Gnome 10K (Crystal Lake, Illinois).

I’m only partly kidding when I say I grew a beard for this express purpose. I’m still not sure why the ice beard was so glorious when the conditions were similar to what I’ve run in before. I haven’t been able to duplicate it since.

I’m glad a race organizer was around to take the picture (and later send it to me), because my phone had died from the extreme cold. (I joke that my phone is acclimated to Arizona.)

3. Running Ragnar Michigan.

I owe my presence at this event to an unserious comment to a runner who lives 1,700 miles away. I’d already run Ragnar Chicago a few months before (see #6 above) and scratched my Ragnar itch for the year. But I wanted the Double Medal for running a second relay around the Great Lakes. I heard that a friend from Arizona was captaining a team going to Michigan, and I asked about an opening. Sorry, it just filled. Then, not long after that, she said a spot opened up, and, after some leaning, my wife was gracious enough to let me go.

I have experience jumping on Ragnar teams with strangers. I’ve heard from others that doing so can be a crapshoot, that one bad seed can spoil it for everyone. I’ve been lucky to avoid that in all of my Ragnars so far. (It helps to not be the bad seed, just sayin’.)

What I loved most about this one was our van. Cool people! The six of us were from five different states, yet we fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

2. Crushing a PR at the Phoenix Marathon half (Mesa, Arizona).

I’m calling this my best. race. ever.* I ran my fastest half-marathon by more than two minutes. I felt I could have gone even faster, but I’m not upset about it. Shoot, it was just plain fun. Shouldn’t it always be like this? I trained hard, and it paid off.

I remember carefully managing my pace throughout, then getting to the final miles and accelerating. I didn’t worry about burning out, because I knew I had enough left to get me to the end. Heck, I pulled my phone out and took a selfie, which I definitely don’t do when I’m struggling or worried that I might. After the race, I felt great, like I could have run another half (or something like it). Perhaps that meant I could have gone faster. Well, I can test that another time. The bar has been raised.

The *asterisk* here is my gross underestimation of waiting in the cold before the start. They had lots of heat lamps, which was fantastic. But it wasn’t enough to keep me comfy in my singlet and shorts. Why the guy who moved from Arizona to Chicago to come back to Arizona unprepared for the cold is beyond me. I spent 45 grueling minutes in 35 degrees, standing in one spot, clenching my arms around my body, gritting my teeth. No joke, I was worried all that time spent shivering would drain my energy. Thankfully, it didn’t.

1. Running the New York City Marathon.

How could this, the largest marathon in the world, not be on the top of the list for everyone who ran it? It was epic on so many levels.

First, it was my first trip to the city. First romp around Central Park. First trek to Times Square. First skyline view from Top of the Rock. First look at Lady Liberty. First (and, ahem, second and third) time getting lost in the subway system. That’s all before race day!

Race day’s epic needs no explanation.

I saw a shirt that said “Took a train to a boat to a bus to run 26.2 miles.” Just getting to the start line on Staten Island from my apartment in Manhattan was an accomplishment! (I’m glad I’d gotten lost earlier so this key commute went smoothly.)

The race moved me more than I ever thought it would. Through every borough—Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Manhattan—people lined the streets in droves to support us. People of all abilities, nationalities and ethnicities cheering on runners who were equally as diverse. All in an amazing pursuit of human achievement. It’s overwhelming in the best of ways.

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I can’t stop thinking about this race—and really, this moment. I enjoyed my strongest 20 miles ever at the @nycmarathon and felt as though I unraveled so much in the last 10K. To see this strong, composed runner crossing the finish line, after all of that, boosts my confidence greatly. . . . BTW, a PSA: This is one of my fave race photos ever, and I almost missed out. It wasn’t in my original official shots from the race—it was in the miscellaneous bin! Peeps, always check the misc bin. There might be a gem in there … . . . #running #run #runner #runchicago #runchi #marathon #marathoner #marathonrunner #training #igrunners #runstrong #werunsocial #instarunners #instarunner #instarun #runnersonig #runnersofig #runnersofinstagram #runitfast #runalways #gorun #runitfast #monthlymiles #novembermiles #tcsnycmarathon #nycmarathon #nycmarathon2017 #gomattmorgan

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It’s Daylight Savings Time and I’m Feeling Shifty

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For the last 20-plus years, I watched the world move an hour back and forth around me. I was in Arizona, which doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time. If you were the changing tide, I was a soggy old tree stump stubbornly anchored in the sand.

Today, though, from my new Chicago base camp, I shifted along with the rest of my new BFFs in the Central Time Zone. Whee!

Forget the physical changing of the clock (which is a minor but legitimate pain, BTW). For real, I was having conversations with people about what the time change actually means.

So, wait, we start later and get an hour less of daylight—but that’s OK because the days are longer anyway? (Update: Turns out we shift to get an hour MORE of daylight.)

Hmm, I wonder whether my phone alarm will automatically adjust the time overnight. Oh wait, it’s Sunday, so never mind about the alarm. (Update: My phone DID adjust overnight!)

Why does anybody change times?

You got me there. I googled it and found articles like “The Strange and Surprising History of Daylight Saving Time” and “Love it or hate it, here comes Daylight Saving Time.” Benjamin Franklin was involved somehow. It’s all quite fascinating. You can look up the history of DST if you like.

Perhaps more interesting, why doesn’t Arizona change times?

As a longtime resident of the Copper State, I feel I should know this answer. But I do not. I found much discussion online about energy savings and human productivity and desert weather. Whatevs. All I know is I never had to worry about resetting the clock on my microwave.

Until now.

Does your life change with the changing time?

I mean, should your life change? Does anybody use Daylight Savings Time as a transformative kick in the pants, like people use New Year’s or a milestone birthday? Meet some new people. Call a loved one. Spend more time with the kids. Volunteer. Donate.

I’m going to try to make a meaningful shift.

Most days I run, I commute, I work, I commute, I love on my family. Repeat. With an hour more of daylight for the next eight months, I want to be more mindful of how I’m spending the time that I’m given. (Note: I originally said we got an hour less of daylight. Oops.)

What kinds of things can I do differently to supply more substance to myself and others?

Don’t float through life like the changing tide. For that matter, don’t dig into the sand like a soggy old tree stump. Go do some serious shifting.

 

Love Phoenix AND Leave Phoenix

Twenty-two years ago I was making my way to Arizona. A pimple-faced kid fresh out of high school, nervous but mostly excited about the life that lay ahead.

On this trip I caravanned with my parents, they in their family van and I in my sporty new Honda Civic. I remember gunning it to 100 and zipping past them in stretches near Palm Springs, just to see what it would feel like (and maybe also to see what they might say).

Today I’m on the road again, making my way out of town, away from the place I’ve called home for more than half my life. Leaving Arizona. This time, I’m the one driving the family van, and not nearly as fast as that Civic. I’ll tell you it’s because I’m pulling a 4×8 U-Haul trailer. But on a deeper level, it’s because I’m so very reluctant to leave.

“Aren’t you excited to go to Chicago?” people ask. That’s a loaded question.

Right now, I’m more stressed than excited. Moving is one of the most stressful things a person can endure in his lifetime. Ask any psychiatrist. Having your entire life wrapped in cellophane, packed into boxes and stuffed onto a tractor-trailer? Stressful.

Right now, I’m more anxious than excited. I do not like change. Never have, probably never will. I get anxious when someone beats me to my favorite parking spot at work. I don’t have to tell you what kind of next-level anxiety this relocation is evoking.

Right now, I’m more heartbroken than excited. I’ve always kind of tolerated Arizona through the years. (Maybe taken it for granted?) It was a place to be. The possibility of moving had me start to realize my true feelings, and then the reality of moving to galvanize them. Best I can describe, I’m in mourning. My insides ache, the way you feel gut-punched after a nasty breakup.

Say what you will about the heat. Or the “wild west.” Or the politics. I love it here. Arizona is home. And it’s with a heavy heart that I leave it.

But …

That’s not the end of the story.

Just like people in mourning, after this move I’ll deal and I’ll heal. I have every reason to expect that someday, maybe soon, I WILL be excited to be in Chicago. Exciting things await me there.

Soon, I’ll be excited to push my personal and professional boundaries. Chicago offers a career opportunity I was likely not to get in Phoenix. It’s a rare chance for me to lead and innovate and shape the direction of a growing team.

Soon, I’ll be excited to experience seasons. Chicago has a winter, a spring, a summer and a fall. Imagine! I’ve lived in Southern California and Arizona just about all my life. I don’t know what weather is. All that ends very soon for me and my family. The kids will know what it’s like to dive into a big ol’ pile of leaves and build a snowman and use an umbrella.

Soon, I’ll be excited to run. Chicago, from what I gather, has an incredible running community. In two days after posting a plea for winter running advice on Facebook, I received 102 (mostly) well-meaning and constructive comments, plus an invitation to a holiday party. I’ve been asked to join a charity running team, which I’m seriously considering. I can’t wait to sign up for the many races around Chicagoland.

Soon, I’ll be excited to explore. Chicago has an incredible community, period. Winter weather aside, I’ve heard very little negative commentary on the place. The people, the culture and the history top the list of attributes.

Twenty-two years is a long time to live in a place. Today, it’s time to go, ready or not. Here’s to getting past the stress, the anxiety and the heartbreak—sooner rather than later—and into the excitement.