Are You a “Real” Runner?

When it comes to talking about running, there is one, five-word phrase I have never been able to come to terms with. For the past 12 years I have been running, and during that time I have had countless conversations on the topic. I sometimes pity those who have to deal with me, but hey, no one said they had to stick around or even listen for that matter. Luckily for me, most of my friends either understand my obsession or are runners themselves. During these conversations, I have noticed that many themes and common phrases arise. However, there is one phrase, of five words, I hear far too often: “I’m not a “real” runner.” I’ve often pondered what this means. What classifies one as a “real” runner? What is it about someone’s running that could possibly make it “fake”? Most importantly, who had the nerve to set this unspoken qualification?

It seems to me that this qualification exists only in the minds of those who use the phrase. I believe this harsh judgment is self-imposed and always undeservedly so. I personally refuse to believe the statement and make a point to question those who use it. I tend to believe that the phrase is a result of runners attempting to validate their own goals by comparing against the goals of others. Is a “real” runner defined by the prestige of their goals or achievements? To be a “real” runner does one have to win an event in the Olympics, a marathon, or a race in general? While all of these are great goals and achievements, I do not believe that they define what it means to be a runner. Goals are personal and not up for deliberation by others.

To me, a runner is very simply defined as someone who runs with some form of a goal in mind. When it comes to the act of running, I believe it is black and white. You are either running or not. However, the goals of runners are black and white only in the sense that one has a goal or not. Goals are limited only by one’s imagination. Kara Goucher, for example, has the goal of winning the Gold Medal at the Olympics this year in London. I have the goal of becoming a professional runner/triathlete. The man in our video of the week has the goal of eliminating his “man-boobs”. All of these are great goals and hold meaning to those who create them. The act of self-deprecation by stating that one is not a “real” runner certainly does not help one to achieve his or her goals.

Jesse Owens sums up the definition of running quite well: “I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” This week on your runs, my challenge to you is to let your mind drift to your goals. Define for yourself what your running means and what it is that you are chasing after. After all, the chase is half the fun and you ought to know which direction to go.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Quote of the Week – “I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” – Jesse Owens

Song of the Week – Where the Streets Have No Name – U2

Video of the Week – Nike “I’m Not a Runner” Commercial

The Noblest Pursuit

Five and a half years ago I found myself stepping on to the Penn State campus as a freshman. How I ended up there, I can’t quite be sure. Perhaps it was the higher tuition of my beloved University of Iowa, possibly the proximity to my family’s home in Mars, PA, or maybe the prestige of the Mechanical Engineering program. I recall saying farewell to a teary-eyed mother and a stoic father who simply said “you know what you’re here for”. I came to Penn State weak. I was self-absorbed, close-minded, and far from altruistic. Four and a half years at Penn State changed this forever.

Once my stay at Penn State commenced, a transformation began. My eyes opened and I began to see the world through a whole new lens. I finally started to realize there was so much more to life than personal glory and achievement. In fact, I realized that there is much more to be gained by the exultation of others and the act of becoming wholly altruistic. It is at Penn State where I found my love of philanthropy.

The recent passing of Joe Paterno brought back memories of the Penn State philanthropy I loved most, THON.  THON is a 46 hour dance marathon designed to raise money to combat pediatric cancer. It is also an event designed to take cancer off the minds of suffering kids, even if only for 46 hours. Dancers dance for 46 hours straight with no sleeping, sitting, or resting as a way to take on the pain of these children. THON is essentially a two day celebration of life filled with dancing, activities, song, and community as well as a time to remember the children we’ve lost. Since 1977 THON has raised over $78 million for children with cancer. (See video to get a better idea of THON.)

In recalling the moments in which I interacted with Joe Paterno, one memory stuck out to me most. I thought back to 2009 when I was a dancer in THON for my cross country team and Joe was there during the late hours for a pep speech. He was never all that good with words but they carried immense meaning. He said to us that day: “I wish the whole world could see and feel what’s in this room right now. Love and commitment and dedication, it just reeks from this room. 58 years at Penn State and I’ve never been more proud than right now. Never been more proud than the warmth in this arena and to see what you folks have done. When those families came up, I had a tough time keeping my composure. God bless every single one of you.”

When I reflect on Joe’s life, I don’t think of the football coach, rather, the humanitarian and philanthropist. What I take from him, is that there is no greater purpose in life than to help others through your actions. You, as a runner, are in a position where you can do tremendous good for others. It is the charge of those who are able, to take on the pain of those who are suffering.  If you are struggling to find motivation to fuel your running, putting a purpose behind your running can provide motivation you never thought imaginable. The rewards of doing so are infinite and allows you to experience the range of human emotion. It will bring you to tears, give you a smile larger than you could ever imagine, and make you feel complete. My challenge to you this week is to in some way, shape, or form make someone else’s life better. It can be as simple as exchanging a smile or perhaps something as big as fundraising to run a race for charity.  Personally, I have decided that out of all profits I make from my writing and speaking, 5% will be going to LIVESTRONG and 5% will be going to THON. In the meantime I will be dancing in LA THON this weekend to further combat pediatric cancer. I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of great humanitarians in athletics such as Ryan Hall, Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, and many more. You will find that there is nothing in life more gratifying than to make someone else’s life better.

Always in Stride,

Jack

If you would like to donate to LA THON (all proceeds benefit THON), please go to http://psula.donorpages.com/2012DanceaTHON/jhm5024/.

PSU Club XC THON

The Club XC dancers and me during the later hours of THON.

RIP Joe Paterno (1926-2012)

Song of the Week – Open Your Eyes – Snow Patrol

Quote of the Week – “Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.” – Joe Paterno

Video of the Week – THON Promo Video

The Power of the Pack

Howling winds, 2 feet of snow, and a mysterious mountain. This is not exactly what you would imagine as the training grounds of Ryan Hall, Meb, and other US Olympic runners in Mammoth Lakes, California. However, I was not here to train as one might expect. The swirling winds, slushy roads, and bitter cold prevented any such training. I came to Mammoth Lakes to attempt to learn how to snowboard, discover new experiences, and to spend some time with great friends.

This past October, I moved to Los Angeles, California, a city in which I only knew only a few people. Little did I know, that would be all that I would need. I was fortunate to have these contacts who introduced me to some of the most amazing people in the world. One of them was a friend from an internship and introduced me to her boyfriend and his friends, a group of UCLA Law Students. From day 1 they were an extremely welcoming group and took me in.

I am an extremely independent and stubborn person and would like to believe I am 100% self-sufficent. However, even I know this is only a facade. I have learned over the years that I can be great alone but I am not my full self unless I am surrounded by those who further excel me. People like this are able to take me to a whole different level I never would be able to achieve by myself. They also make me happier than I could ever imagine just being without.

I want you to remember that life truly is about sharing these types of moments, spending time with great people who excel you, and most importantly making other’s lives better.

The Lost Art of Sportsmanship

There is one man I will always look up to and admire above all others. He is my career advisor, life coach, and best friend. He is my Dad. As with most fathers, he has worked to pass on his advice on all the various aspects of life based on his own experiences. There have been times when I have rolled my eyes at his advice or ignored it, but when it comes down to it, I have found it to be invaluable. During one of our phone calls this week we spoke about a lesson he was helping one of his coworkers to teach his son. It is the lesson that sticks out most to me when I recall memories of my childhood: gracious winner, gracious loser or as Dad says for short, “GWGL”.

These four simple words have taught me more about sports and life than any others. It means to always be a great sport, regardless of outcome. It means to shake hands with your opponent, congratulate them on a great race/game, and to always show respect for them. It means to practice “The Code” as told in our video from Nebraska Football: “If we should win, let it be by the code, Faith and Honor held high. If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by.” My Dad would always tell me “GWGL” before and after each game. Though this advice was not always the easiest medicine to take, I always found I felt better about myself when I heeded this advice.

Dad and I during a baseball game in my younger years.

It seems these days that sportsmanship is becoming more and more of a lost art. The commercialization of sports paired with big egos has seemed to cause many to forget the basic meaning of why we play. Sport is not about multi-million dollar contracts, large stadiums, endorsement deals, or fame. In its most elemental form, sport is about inspired competition against yourself and against others. As I watched the US Olympic Marathon Trials, I realized that this is one of the many reasons why I love running so much. When it comes to sportsmanship, I can think of no better showcase than running. There are no personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in running because they are not necessary. The running community is about having a great race as defined by you and encouraging others.

My challenge to you for the week and throughout your life is to always be a gracious winner and gracious loser. Before the race wish your opponents good luck, offer encouragement during the race, and congratulate them after. It does not require much effort to implement these actions but offers a large reward. It is a great reflection of self and showing of character. You can be sure that if I should ever decide to go down the road of marriage/kids, the first lesson they will be taught will be “gracious winner, gracious loser”.

Always In Stride,

Jack

Dad and I soaking up the wonders of the world.

Song of the Week – Little Lion Man – Mumford and Sons

Quote of the Week – “Simply trying to define sportsmanship, I think most folks would agree, responsibility and self respect, qualities that today seem in short supply at times. If character is what you do when no one is watching, then perhaps sportsmanship is that conduct with everybody watching. Frankly, the sports industry would probably survive without sportsmanship. It’s so large and so well financed, but it would be refreshing if more parents and coaches, more administrators and more journalists, and especially more players realized there is room to win with flare and style and even get rich and still keep the values that first brought us here to the games.”- Bob Ley

Video of the Week – Nebraska Huskers Code

How Big Will Your But Get in 2012?

You made it! The year 2012 is now here with 2011 in the rearview mirror. You may find yourself in one of many states this morning: hungover in search of a greasy breakfast joint, relieved the “couples” holidays are over (’til February), attempting to piece together the events of the night before, optimistic for what the new year will bring, or possibly a combination of all, some, or none of these. Regardless of your state today, the new year has arrived. The celebrations have ended and all that remains are your thoughts, maybe some new stories, and most importantly your resolutions for the new year.

Resolutions are a great idea in theory and carry strong momentum through the first few weeks and possibly months of the year. I am a proponent of them myself and will certainly have my own for the upcoming year. My issue with resolutions is when they begin to taper off and people begin to lose sight of the goals they set. March and April come along and resolutions can seem a thing of the past. They may have been conveniently forgotten, pushed to the dark recesses of your mind, or just slowly diminished to dust as the weeks passed on.

Most of the posts here focus on positive motivation striving to deliver encouragement and empowerment. However, I have found every once in a while that a little tough love is a necessity. I believe that tough love makes you want to succeed that much more and makes it all worth it when you achieve what you’re going after. Coaches who demand your absolute best and dole out compliments rarely are the ones I admire most. These compliments are simple and concise, yet carry immeasurable meaning. Tough love has a way of putting things in perspective and serves to inspire a passionate, burning desire to achieve. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions I think we all could use some tough love.

My challenge for the week and for the year is to impose some tough love on yourself. I want you to ask yourself a question based on an idea originally posed by motivational speaker Sean Stephenson. How big will you let your BUT get this year? How big will your BUT become to prevent you from following through on your resolutions? No, I’m not talking about the fleshy cheeks you sit on, I’m referring to your excuses. We all have them: I would go for a run today “BUT, I’m too tired”, “BUT, I don’t have the time”, “BUT, the weather is bad”, “BUT, I have to hang out with my girl/boy friend”. The simple fact of the matter is that you could go for a run, but you are making a conscious decision to take the easy way out. You are letting other activities or reasons inhibit you from your goal and resolution.  To be honest, nobody wants to hear about your buts and on some level you dislike yourself for using them. It’s weak, uninspired, boring, and when it comes down to it just an excuse. This year follow through on your resolutions, make a story worth telling, embody greatness as defined by you, and above all else keep the promises you make to yourself.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Quote of the Week – “For true success, ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?” – James Allen

Song of the Week – Mirror (feat. Bruno Mars) – Lil Wayne

Video of the Week – Michael Jodan “Excuses” Commercial

The Race You Don’t Want to Win

We find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season caught up in everything that comes with it: exchanging gifts, attending parties, sitting in traffic, mounting stress, crazed shopping, and more. However, with each passing year it seems the season is losing its “magic”. I have heard many phrases this holiday season that are almost as common as “Happy Holidays”, “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah”, etc but the phrases I am hearing are of a different nature. I have heard an alarming amount of “can’t wait for this to be over”, “if I can just get through the holidays”, “just make it to the end”, and other similar sayings.

Hearing these sentiments is disheartening and also reminds me of how often I hear similar thoughts about running. I hear things such as “just get to the finish”, “when will this be over?”, and other phrases that imply the act is a chore. Too often we as runners get focused on the end result and forget to enjoy the process of training or a race while it is going on. I have found it is far easier when running to simply enjoy the experience, the crowds, the course, etc as opposed to dredging through telling yourself X amount of miles to the finish. It is important to focus on your goal time and finishing, but it is also just as important to savor the experience.

My solution for the disenchantment in the season and in running is to turn to those who are pure of heart, children. Think back to when you were a kid when everything was magical and exciting. The holiday season was looked forward to all year as it was special and cherished. As a child you lived for moments such as the joy you see on another’s face when you give them a gift, the excitement of seeing Santa for the first time, being unable to sleep the night before Christmas, and family get togethers with loved ones. If you look around, you can still see this same magic in the eyes and actions of children. To the same tune, running was looked forward to every day as a child. It was disguised as chasing friends around at recess on the school playground, TV tag on a summer night, capture the flag in the backyard, and other fun games. However, it was not thought of running, it was just “play”.

My challenge to you this week is simple. Take in your surroundings during the rest of the holiday season and during your runs. Make a concerted effort to enjoy them for everything they are. See all the amazing aspects of both as it is a wondrous time of year and running still is and always will be a great way to just “play”. Remember that in life there are races that you don’t want to win. The race to the “end” of the holiday season offers no reward and can leave one with feelings of regret. Similarly, dredging through races and training plans can leave one with empty, uninspired victories and finishes. I hope this post finds you all well and may you and yours have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Song of the Week – Twenty Miles – Spirit of the Marathon

Quote of the Week – “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine

Video of the Week – Salomon Trail Running Video with Amazing Song

Why not YOU? Dare to become great.

Every one of you reading this is human and because of that you are all united on many levels, many of which you do not often realize. Each one of us has our own version of reality as we go about our lives looking to fulfill the destiny that we have set in our minds. This destiny involves goals in athletics, career, personal, family, and many other areas. However, many of you, self-included, are on some level afraid of these goals. You’re afraid of what it will take to achieve them, what will happen if you fail, and may wonder if you’re worthy of these goals. You wonder why should it be you that gets all that you want in life?

However, the question should be WHY NOT YOU? Who’s to say you’re unworthy and undeserving of getting all that you want in this life? Who’s to say you can’t be the next Steve Prefontaine, Grete Waitz, President, Gandhi, Olympian, CEO, life-changing philanthropist, or whatever it is you desire? Our self-perceived shortcomings often hold us back from achieving our goals when they are simply that, self-perceived. Every single person is a human being who believes they have flaws, has something they don’t like about themselves, and is battling some type of internal struggle. The key is to be enlightened by this simple fact and realize that it’s just a matter of taking that leap of faith to see what you’re worth, go beyond your limits, and fulfill the destiny that you have developed in your own mind.

Everything in this post up to this point is a great starting point, but it is simply that. You have only started to answer the question, why not YOU? My challenge for you this week is to actually take action towards achieving your life goals. I want you to write your  goals down on paper because when you write something down on paper, it is a promise to yourself. I want you to take it one step further though. I want you to comment at the end of this post what your goals are and then again how you have started to take action towards them. I’m going to follow up with you to make sure you are holding that promise to yourself, to me, and to the readers of this blog. I’m in this with you so this week here is what I promise to do: Personal Goal – introducing myself to everyone at this weekend’s parties and events, further expanding my network. Running Goal – 2 high intensity speed workouts (3 mile repeats, fast paced 5 mile tempo run) to chase my sub 2:30 marathon goal. Career Goal – putting the pen to paper for my first motivational speech brainstorm.

It is a simple fact that you only get a certain amount of time on this earth. I find it best to follow a similar mentality to Steve Jobs when scared of going after something. I tell myself I’m going to be dead in 70-ish years, so why not just take every chance I get? I challenge you to go after that PR, perhaps embark on your first run, ask out the cute girl/guy, chase your career dreams, and dare to risk it all whatever that may mean for you. Our video this week puts it well: “There are no second chances…Every one of these moments is a test that you get to take one time, and only one time. So if you see an opening tear into it. If you get a shot at victory make damn sure you take it. Seize that moment. That moment is a cross roads where everything you want will collide with everything standing in your way.” Don’t forget to post your goals in the comment section, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so. Everything you desire is within your grasp, you just have to be willing to go after it and fight for it.

Always in Stride,

Jack

P.S. I have a HUGE Christmas/Holiday gift for all of you that I will be delivering this Wednesday! Make sure to check back, you will absolutely love it, promise.

Song of the Week – All of the Above – Maino

Quote of the Week – “Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

YouTube Video of the Week – Versus Commercial “You vs. Them”

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Running is “get-to” not “have-to”

So I begin the pilot post of this blog with a heavy heart and a story that is close to me right now. It starts with explaining to you who my sister, Tara McPheron, really is. Tara is the glue that holds the McPheron family together. She is the best friend you always want by your side and is there when it matters most. Whenever you are sick or hurt she is the first to call and to send a card. She constantly shows her love for others and you could not ask for a better person. Tara, like many of you reading this, is a runner. She was not always a runner but has found it to be a passion of hers over the past few years. Lately she has been getting really into it and decided she would begin training for her first Half Marathon (Pittsburgh) in May with her boyfriend, Keith.

Tara required surgery on her ankle recently so she could hopefully run pain free. The surgery seemed to go well enough until a few days ago, when blood clots were discovered in her legs. She was taken to the doctors and put on blood thinners and bed rest for the rest of 2011. She will more than likely not be able to run for several months now as opposed to a few weeks off. Blood clots are scary as they can lead to life-threatening issues but Tara’s spirit is untouchable and we refuse to believe the clots won’t disappear in the near future.

Her spirit is the spirit that every runner should strive to develop in their running and their life. I know that she will come out of this even stronger and as Mumford and Sons says “find strength in pain”. She has the Winston Churchill attitude of “never give in, never give in”. The situation reminds me that running truly is a privilege. Running is not a have-to sport, it is a get-to sport. On your runs this week, run for those who can’t right now, those who never have, and those who never will get a chance to. I have two challenges for you this week. The first is to be thankful for each of your runs and tell yourself everyday that you “get to” run, not that you “have to” run today. Embrace it. It truly is a beautiful gift. The second is if you are fortunate enough to have someone like Tara in your life, tell them thank you and that you appreciate all they do, they deserve it.

Also if you have a few spare moments after reading this, please send your prayers, good, will, good vibes, positive energy or whatever it is you may believe in Tara’s way. If you have a moment to send her a quick get well message or wall post to lift her spirits at Tara’s Facebook, it would surely brighten her day.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Song of the Week: The Cave – Mumford and Sons

Quote of the Week – “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in”. – Winston Churchill

YouTube Video of the Week – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPDKMmmIuqY