One of the most important lessons I have from my running adventure is right from the beginning of the journey. I have to thank two colleagues, Kevin McCarthy and Larry Murphy, when we worked together at AT&T Labs in New Jersey in 2000.
It began with them wanting to train for and run the local E. Murray Todd Half Marathon in Lincroft, New Jersey, held annually in the honor of the local champion runner. Kevin and Larry collaborated to inspire other colleagues and created a running group that would train together and takes part in the half marathon.
They put in incredible labor of love to create training plans. This was well before all the running apps and plethora of online resources about running, training, and nutrition, so they had to put in hours to research, compile, and make 40+ binders full of information and customized schedules for the trainees. I distinctly remember there were many who were beginners, including me, who had never run beyond 3-4 miles, let alone a half marathon. I had not been running and was never thinking about getting into running. But they inspired many – including me – and coached the group even as they themselves were learning the ins and outs of the half marathon training. They shared regular motivational reminders, provided weekly technical training and nutritional tips, and painstakingly mapped out local running routes – remember this was also the time well before Google Maps – to keep us all engaged. Even more importantly, Kevin and Larry created truly supportive environments where group members with a range of abilities and experiences can feel at home and actually enjoy the training experience and the race itself.
Their inspiration not only took hold but the group went on to successfully train and complete the race. That was my first half marathon and the start of a long-lasting love for running. Many of the members of that group have gone on to keep running.
Everytime I think about that time, about the start of my running journey, my very first half marathon, I think about Kevin and Larry. The word inspiration immediately comes to mind. That’s the lesson of inspiration for me from two true servant leaders. It is a powerful reminder that we can draw inspiration from many around us at work and in our personal lives. And if you are like Kevin and Larry, you go on to inspire others around you. We just have to seize the opportunity.
Happy running and happy living!
In one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, the celebrated writer Paulo Coelho writes “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” What an inspiring way of the universe! I have experienced this myself.
After a few years into my running journey and completing a couple of half marathons, it was bound to happen. I wanted to do the marathon. And what better ones to do than the iconic NYC and my home state NJ marathons! In December of 2013, I started training to run the NJ Marathon in 2014 that is held each year in early April with a hope to run the NYC Marathon same year in November. On Valentine’s day that year, a freak episode of dehydration and the flu had me faint, and I fell right in my home in a manner that caused a midfoot injury in my right foot. Every time I think about the manner of that injury I still can’t believe it could have happened that way. There is no adventure behind that injury.
A fainting episode and a fall at home. It didn’t hurt much, but all the swelling meant I was bedridden and my mom and my wife earnestly helped with all of the home remedies — from ice to hot turmeric and a salt paste to heal the swelling. Not seeing much improvement, three days later, I went to get it checked by the local podiatrist. His trained eyes immediately determined it was a fracture, but one that would have to be confirmed with a proper x-ray. And as he emerged back to the examination room with the x-ray he reported it as a Lisfranc injury with a face and a voice that seemed unusually ominous for someone who must have seen and diagnosed many broken feet. A Lisfranc, a midfoot injury, is named after Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin, a surgeon in Napoleon’s army who treated a pattern of this injury in the cavalry soldiers who fell off their horses while their feet remained stuck in a stirrup and hence causing a midfoot break. Ouch!
And with that diagnosis my hopes of running the April NJ marathon were squashed. I still very naively asked the doctor how long it might take for this injury to heal and when would I be able to resume the running. He patiently explained that the extent of the injury meant I would need surgery, and though getting back to running would be possible, it was not guaranteed.
From those moments of sheer disappointment to the day I actually stepped up at the starting line of the first-ever marathon two years later in April of 2016, the universe did indeed conspire to help me achieve my dream of running a marathon including the iconic NYC Marathon.
It started with the podiatrist doctor and his staff as they swung into action to put a solid cast around my foot and gave me three references to local orthopedic surgeons in the area. His office staff even scheduled two very convenient appointments immediately so the injury wouldn’t go untreated too long. I was fortunate to be able to see one of the best orthopedic surgeons at Princeton University Medical Center who with x-rays from several angles confirmed the injury and recommended immediate surgery. All systems swung into action leading to a successful surgery with tiny plates and screws in my midfoot to help the joints heal properly. With a solid cast and set of crutches my healing and recovery began. I am fortunate to have a deeply caring family who looked after my every need and ensured every comfort for me. The injury being on the right foot meant I couldn’t drive. Two of my colleagues gave me door to door rides to work for several months until full healing. At work, they ensured safety as I navigated doors, conference rooms, and elevators. I am forever indebted to their selfless attention to my safety and convenience.
Every follow-up with the surgeon, I always asked about my running prognosis and seeing the progress he was cautiously optimistic. He advised that once the joints and bone structure heals sufficiently then the best course of action would be another surgery to take out the plates and screws otherwise repeated running motion would most likely result in them breaking inside the foot at some point. I was determined to run and decided in favor of the second surgery. Again the universe conspired to help me achieve a successful outcome in that phase as well. By the following year I was already trying out short runs — a mile or two at most and at a very slow pace. That first 1 mile run, that first 2 miles run, and that first 5K all felt so very special. But soon I developed a pain in my left knee that I had never experienced before. All the while, barring low but consistent burning sensation and extra sensitivity to touch in the area of injury and surgery, my right foot felt fairly good even after it had gone under two surgeries. So I was puzzled about the left knee pain. There again the universe came to rescue. I have been a long time reader of Runner’s World magazine and one of the articles about going to a local running shop to get fitted for a proper running shoes caught my attention. Up until then, I was just buying a particular brand of running shoes that seemed to have done the job for me and I just stayed with it.
Taking the advice from the running universe, I decided to visit the local running shop Runner’s High in Freehold, NJ. The proprietor of the shop, not surprisingly, was a runner himself and made me do few movements as well as short strides in the parking lot right outside the shop. He observed my running form and gait. We discussed how my running gait might have been influenced in a certain way after my right foot injury and subsequent healing. He recommended certain exercises and a particular stability running shoe and I trusted his advice. The shoe switch along with stability and balance exercises I picked up from him and the running community of coaches and runners profiled in Runner’s World magazine helped. I overcame that left knee pain and continued my training.
Finally the day came when I was at the starting line of the NJ Marathon – my first ever marathon. And there again from all the organizers, volunteers, and families from various towns along the racecourse who cheered on, the universe conspired again – to grant me the cherished dream of running a marathon. In the words of Paulo Coelho, When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
I wish you all the same conspiracy of the universe in helping you achieve your goals.
Happy running and happy living!
Have you struggled to start something? Something you want to or have to do but for some reason you can’t get started? Well, in running, that challenge of just starting the run can be there more often than runners may want to admit, whether that run is a part of a structured training for an upcoming race or just another day of running. Doubts based on a variety of factors — tiredness of your legs, feelings of low motivation or low energy, concerns of not having enough time before the next commitment, or worries of it being too cold, too hot, too windy, too rainy, or too humid out there — may just derail that run even before it starts. If running is not your thing but cycling, swimming, or for that matter even any other sports is your thing you likely have experienced similar challenges. Yet, how many times did you overcome those doubts and not only got the run going, and by the end, thoroughly enjoyed it?
Truth be told, there are so many runs in my log entry that almost didn’t happen. Looking back and examining what triggers ultimately got me going and finishing those runs, one theme seems obvious and consistent. Taking one first step — figuratively and many times just literally. There have been days even as I was contemplating skipping that run, I just opened the drawer and grabbed the first running shirt I could get hold off and put it on. And that one action led to a series of other small actions that progressed on to the first stride culminating into a full-fledged run. Some other day it was a text to a runner friend and asking if the friend wanted to meet up for the run and upon the affirmative answer there was no escaping for me.
In my 20 years of running, I have had this scenario come up more times than I could count. But looking back, it is fair to say that in most cases when I felt like canceling the run, one small action kick-started the subsequent steps and strides that ended up being rewarding. And therein lies an important lesson.
When struggling to start something, find one step and take it. Sounds simple, right? But is it not effective?
In business or in our personal lives, from time to time, we all encounter a situation or a phase where we feel we are stuck.
We contemplate options to get unstuck and none may seem promising.
And we feel like a paralysis of decision making is setting in through more analysis. In such times, just take one action — any action — related to the situation and see how that leads to the next action and the next one, ultimately giving you the start you need. Is it a difficult task of a strategic shift of resources from project A to project B that you are struggling to get going? Then maybe just ask yourself or your team a simple question — “How do you think we are doing with a project A or what do you think is working in our strategy B?” and see the dialogue or questions that unfold, which in turn, can help you crystalize your next steps. Or in life you may find yourself neglecting your friends due to work or other time demands. Maybe just drop a note — a short text or even a conventional email with just the subject line of “hope you are doing well – just wanted to say hello”. It very likely will start a series of short messages getting you two to reconnect, get caught up, and appreciate each other’s journey in life. And there you are – that’s the start of reconnecting with a friend, and you can build from there.
Running has taught me to take that one step and move forward. I hope you always find that one step to do the same for you too.
Happy running and happy living!