Monday, January 30, 2012

Restoring Faith in Humanity

This isn't really a running related post. This past Saturday I had the privilege of serving at a food pantry with a group from my church and I wanted to share some thoughts on it.

Several weeks ago someone in our small group at church had the good idea of serving at a local food pantry and it was just the kind of opportunity I'd been looking for. I don't know how many of you out there have looked on your own for volunteer opportunities before, but they can be awfully hard to find at an individual level. Volunteer organizations (Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child, Feed my Starving Children, etc) typically only accommodate groups of people so unless you're involved with a bigger group, it can be hard to find places to plug in. Anyway, I digress. We showed up at the People's Resource Center in Wheaton, IL on Saturday morning which, despite having gone to school mere blocks from this place for 4 years, I never even knew was there. PRC exists to help people in DuPage County by providing them with everything from food to computer and job training classes. Their food pantry is open almost everyday and anyone in the county can come and gather a load of groceries, no questions asked. PRC gets it's donations from individuals and business in the area and is also a member of the Northern Illinois Food Bank which gathers food from all areas of the state and distributes it to food pantries all over the state. The goal of the pantry is to provide people with food so that the money they might have otherwise spent on groceries can be freed up to be spent on other things like rent, medication, etc.

There were already people lined up waiting for food at 8:30am and after a short-orientation on how the whole process works, we were quickly busy helping people fill their shopping carts with food. During orientation, the leader asked for volunteers for various jobs and when there was an opportunity to work outside, my hand shot up. Sure it was only 25 degrees out and sure there was a biting northwest wind, but hey, the sun was out and being outside is almost always better than being inside. Besides, I had gloves, a coat and a hat. A handful of others joined me and our job for the subsequent 4 hours was to help people bring their food to their cars, load it into the car and take the cart back so another person could go through the line. It was a pretty simple job - nothing flashy.

In observing the people coming through the line, it was fairly obvious that many of these people are quite poor. It's probably not a stretch to assume that many of these people work tough and thankless jobs just trying to get by. Several of the families looked to be immigrant families and perhaps do not have jobs. I thought the coolest part of my job was that for a few minutes on a Saturday morning, I got to serve these people who are often likely the ones tirelessly serving other people and their own families. I'm just guessing, but I would imagine it takes a certain swallowing of one's pride to go to the food pantry and I made it my mission to make those people feel loved and appreciated.

More to the point of my post, helping at PRC really restored some of my faith in humanity. For one thing, there were a TON of volunteers there. Everyone did their best to stay busy, but often there were more than enough hands to help out on a given task. Also, the pantry was absolutely FULL to the brim with donated food. There was canned food stacked in boxes along the wall waiting to be used, the bread bins were overflowing and there was even some food being kept outside (so as to keep it cold and out of the way) until it could be used. During the 4 hours that we were outside, I would estimate that about 8-10 cars pulled up with donations of clothing or food. One guy stopped by and said that a group at his kid's school had conducted a food drive the night before and he was there to drop off several bags of canned goods and other items. A pickup truck pulled up and had a flat-bed full of food, flowers and other frozen goods from the local Trader Joe's. Another van pulled up with bread from Panera....and that was just in one morning.

More than helping the people - it was nice to see all of the generosity around. Every day I talk to people who are all about themselves. To be honest, I'm all about myself a lot of the time. You see road-rage, rudeness, bickering on TV, the back-and-forth in modern-day politics, the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality in the media...that all gets exhausting. It's life-sucking. But this, this was life-giving and left there with more energy than when I came. Other people is what life is about, helping other people, putting them first, giving the extra that you have to make up for the deficit that others face. I plan on going back to PRC - I found out that they don't just operate with groups, you can show up any day of the week and help. Sounds good to me.

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" -- Matthew 6:26

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back in the Saddle

It's been too long - this always seems to happen, I get all excited about blogging and for a few weeks I post and post and post...and then real-life gets in the way and I disappear for awhile. In my defense, I took about a 3 week break from running so there wasn't much running-related material to talk about. Over the break Leslie and I found out that we won spots into the New York City Half Marathon which was pretty exciting once I got over the sticker shock ($128pp...yikes). Anyway, the best part of this whole thing is that our friends Stephen and Emily from NJ also won spots in the race so all four of us are running the race together. Personally I'm probably more excited just to hang out with them for a weekend than I am to run in the actual race (though that is also exciting).

Once we found out, I immediately set about formulating a training plan to prepare for the race. If you've read this blog before, you know that I've been reading Jack Daniels' book (Daniels' Running Formula) and throughout the book he gives training templates for races of various distances. I was hoping to find a half-marathon training template, but alas, I had to settle for a marathon program - which I then modified to suit my needs. The basic premise of Daniels' training formula is that two days out of every week are devoted to what he calls "Quality" (Q) workouts. For longer distances one of the Q days is devoted to a long run, usually done on either a Saturday or a Sunday, and the other Q day is typically devoted to a speed workout. The rest of the days in the training schedule are devoted to easy-to-moderate running with an emphasis on getting miles in and letting your body recover from the Q days.

I decided to start the program pretty conservatively with a couple of weeks of fairly low mileage since I was coming off of a 3-week break. I didn't want to jump in and immediately start tallying 30-40 miles a week so as to avoid injury, while at the same time getting my body used to running on a regular basis again. So far I've really enjoyed the structure of it. I've noticed that I really anticipate the Q workouts because for the rest of the time, it feels like I'm really holding back...the quality workouts are really my only chance each week to "let it fly." I really like knowing exactly what I am going to be doing each day because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of training and really focuses me on what it is I'm trying to accomplish.

My goal for the NY Half is 1:30:00. Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like it's an ambitious goal because a) I've never raced (let along run) that distance before and b) to run sub-7:00/mile for 13.1 miles would be equal to the pace of my fastest 10K to date. That being said, I am confident that if I stick to this training program and keep my end goal in mind throughout - I will be able to do it.

Leslie chose a different training program which I also find interesting; she is using Hal Higdon's Intermediate Half Marathon training program which is very similar to the Daniels' formula. My brother is currently training for another marathon and he's using The Hansons' method which emphasizes the consistency of your training (i.e. maintaining high weekly mileage totals throughout the course of the program). I'm struck by how many different ideas are out there on how to train for longer distance races. I don't tend to think that any one program is better than another, but from person to person one may work better than another.

Long-term my goal is to run in the Chicago Marathon this coming fall. With that in mind I tailored my training program for slightly higher weekly-mileage totals than is probably normal for half marathon training. The idea behind the higher mileage is that I over the course of the next 10 weeks or so I will get my body used to running 35-40 miles per week which is pretty much the starting point for marathon training. I'm very pleased with how this year has started in terms of running and I'm excited to see how my body responds to this program.

I would love to hear about other people's programs and goals. If you're a veteran of longer races, how did you figure out which program was best for you? Did you seek out a program or develop one on your own based on experience?