Category Archives: Life Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness

The Only Way

THIS MONTH I AM CELEBRATING an important anniversary. I know this because LinkedIn told me so.

You see, in 2017 I founded my zero waste event services company, Happy Planet Running. And this month marks the start of my fourth year. Holy smokes. It really does feel like just yesterday I was filling out the incorporation paperwork and filing it with the State of Michigan. And I had an attorney as my registered agent, and business insurance, and business cards. It was real.

And I’d started it at age 55.

2019 – I’m holding the landfill trash from an entire weekend of trail races.

I am not the first person in my family to start a business in his fifties. My father was let go from an executive position when Burroughs and Sperry merged into Unisys (and inconsequentiality), with all three of his kids in college. The script called for finding another large company to work at until 65 and the gold watch. Instead he founded his own PR firm and ran it until just before he died at 76. It paid the bills and kept him comfortably busy and connected to the world.

I asked him once, “Dad, why have your own business at your age?” At the time, I was full-time corporate and enjoyed it, like he’d done most of his professional life. His answer, “Because it’s the only way to do it,” surprised and amused me. My friends who owned small businesses spent a lot of unpaid time and effort behind the scenes doing the paperwork and other mundane stuff. I just couldn’t see myself doing that.

And yet here I am, and I supported 41 events last year, and will likely do the same number or more this year, God willing and we survive the latest virus scare.

I call the evolution of all this both inevitable and unexpected. Inevitable because like my dad, I can’t handle sitting around doing nothing, even when I intentionally carve out time to do just that. Like when I voluntarily cut back to part-time employment in 2015 to “pursue other interests” – which was true.

I’d wanted to do more running, more long bike rides, more volunteering at events, and get back to creative writing. And I did- up to a point.

And ziplining. Don’t forget ziplining! (Although this was part of a business trip.)

The unexpected part was what I actually ended up doing with most of that freed-up time.

The key was seeing dumpsters fill up with event waste that could have been recycled or composted, and getting fed up enough to do something about it. Which led to research into Zero Waste practices, which led to volunteering at a Zero Waste event, which led to pitching it to an events company in Ann Arbor, and, eventually, creating a business that continues today.

So far, no one has asked me why I would start a company “at my age.” Perhaps that’s due to 21st century business realities, where startups sprout up like weeds and no one expects to work at one company for forty years. But if someone does, I have an answer ready.

“Because it’s the only way to do it.”

Thanks, Dad.

This Running Life

Life would be so much simpler if I hadn’t started running.

This fall has been ten solid weeks of continual “busy mode” with any time I haven’t spent at my office job consumed with working races, running them, or travel. All my own fault; I knew what was coming and signed up for the commitments anyway. And yet, even “winding down” has its share of little adventures. Here a just a few.

Half the fun is not the run: Earlier this week we returned from Richmond (their marathon weekend), where we visited my daughter and her wife. With fall race season (mostly) over, I was really looking forward to kicking back with family and relaxing. And we did the race: Tori and Jess ran the 8K, and me the half marathon.

Richmond lets you choose the name on your bib. Silly, but fun!

Richmond claims it has “The World’s Friendliest Marathon,” and they back it up well. Lots of cheering spectators on the course, a huge crowd lining the last half mile to the finish, and well organized. And when I couldn’t find my drop bag afterward, the staff invited me into the VIP tent while they searched for it. Turned out I’d been looking in the wrong station, but they forgave me, saying they were grateful they hadn’t lost it.

But my half marathon was a self-imposed sufferfest. I hadn’t trained enough to seriously attempt a PR, but I just couldn’t run easy, take pictures and enjoy the live bands and the junk food station. No, I had to run it hard anyway and be miserable for 13.1 miles. One of these days I’ll be able to get out of my own way and have fun. Maybe.

What is this “Free Time” you speak of? On the drive back I went over my upcoming commitments. There was a high-priority office task to work out, I had to finish a composting talk for Frost Middle School, and what about the weekend? Every weekend since early September has involved working a race, running one, or traveling somewhere. I had to finish planning for whatever this one would be.

Wait a second. What do I have coming up this weekend? Nothing. It’s a free weekend at last. It was true, but such was my frame of mind that I couldn’t process it. Even now, on this free weekend, it’s kind of hard to believe.

The keys to happiness: At 5 a.m. Wednesday I got up for the regular 6 a.m. club run. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to talk myself out of it. The run went fine and I returned to my car as the rest of the group went their way. You know that little fear we get sometimes that we’ve locked the keys in the car, or they’ve fallen out of our pocket? Well, I reached into my coat pocket where I keep my keys – and they weren’t there.

So: it’s cold out, I’m sweaty, by myself, with no nearby businesses to duck into. What now? Call an Uber? Run to the nearest coffee shop? And how will I find my keys? They could be anywhere on the 6-mile loop we all just ran. Then I checked more carefully and found they’d snuggled way down deep in the pocket. All was well. But the key gods were in a playful mood, because I misplaced them twice more that morning.

Snow long, it’s been good to know ya: Earlier this month we got a YUGE dump of snow – about nine inches in 24 hours – and after shoveling it all out of my driveway, I decided to make some hay with it, so to speak. I broke out the snowshoes and spent a couple of hours tramping down a quarter-mile trail around my property, and testing it with a mile run. I’d be able to get in some early training for the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January! Then off I went to Richmond, and of course it warmed up and it all went away. C’est la vie en niege!

Just before we left for Richmond.

And when we got back. You can just make out the traces of the trail I made.

Why do I not feel so relieved? One recent Sunday morning I joined a group to run the Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney, just for fun. The “Poto” as we know it round here can be challenging with rolling hills and plenty of rocks and roots, but it’s one of my favorite trails. While we were out there, someone mentioned hunters. “Wait,” I said, “Deer season doesn’t start until next week, right?”

“Gun season hasn’t started yet,” he said. “Bow season is still open, though.”

No Sugar Tonight: Two Very Different Experiences

IT BEGAN WITH A STOMACHACHE.

I was working at a recent race, managing the Zero Waste program as usual. This is a very active job – lifting, moving things around and such, but mainly a lot of walking from place to place. And as typically happens at such races, I got hungry, early and often.

The food provided to the athletes is available to race workers, but I don’t want to rely on it or overdo it. So I brought along a large bowl of oatmeal with pecans, hoping it would sustain me a while. It did, until the cooking table started up and I was offered “taste tests” of the breakfast burrito. And a pancake. And boxes of cookies lay in plain sight, begging to be consumed. And ice cream, and so on. All par for the course, except on a warm day I was washing everything down with coffee instead of water.

Things did not end well.

So I lost my water bottle at mile 15 and it was a cupless race, you see…

By early afternoon my digestive system was in full revolt, and with cleanup and takedown left to do, there was nothing to do but gut it out. (I’ll stop with the puns now, as I’m guessing you don’t have the stomach for it.) Things settled down that evening, but the next day I ate very simply and drank only water. And again the next day. I stuck to basic foods, with nothing processed.

I felt fine, not even feeling any cravings, so I wondered if I could go an entire week this way. That’s right – no pastries, no chocolate, nothing with added sugar. And I did. I even made it through my weekly D&D game and Saturday long run this way, breaking my sugar-fast on Sunday in style with part of a whiskey-chocolate fig from Grocer’s Daughter.

From their Facebook page. The photo does not do it justice.

This brief foray into a sugarless diet was far different from the first time I tried it several years ago. I’d accepted a “challenge” by a fellow blogger who wondered if his readers could go a month without any sugary foods. I’d tried, but after only a few days I’d given it up, explaining that “I missed my chocolate.” I accepted his ridicule because, well, I had my chocolate to console me. This time all went smoothly.

I WON’T give up chocolate! You can’t MAKE ME!

What made the difference? I think mainly the source of the challenge. The first had been for a month, not a week, but I’d quit so fast I’m not sure that mattered. Rather, it was its external nature. The motivation was extrinsic – sugar is bad, so stop eating it at all – an attitude that didn’t resonate with me anyway. I had no incentive to stick it out, other than the praise of someone I didn’t even know.

This time the challenge was internal. No one put me up to it, or even suggested it. From just wanting to recover from my digestive fiasco, it turned into an experiment to find out how I could fare without my usual junk foods. It was a personal test, similar to how many pushups I can do or how far I can run. Instead of a burden, it was interesting and fun.

I also noticed that week that I didn’t miss the sugar itself. Rather, I missed the habit of eating it. Mid-morning coffee didn’t feel the same without a piece of chocolate or sugary snack to go with it. Fruit or savory snacks proved acceptable substitutes, or even going without. How about that?

And yet, with that week over, I’m back to eating the things I enjoy, whether or not they contain sugar. As a small part of an otherwise balanced and healthy diet. It’s nice to know, however, that I am not addicted to sugar or dependent upon it.

Although I refuse to give up chocolate.

It’s Sad, and So Damn Pointless

Running is usually such a positive and uplifting sport that the occasional sad story gets, I think, an unusual amount of attention. Not just in the running community, but even in the national news.

In the “sad” category I include runners who die during an event, or leave us too early due to disease (R.I.P., Gabriele Grunewald), and also those who are disqualified or banned due to cheating. I include cheating because while it’s a human failing as opposed to a physical one, it’s just as pointless in the end.

The most recent example is Dr. Frank Meza, who was disqualified from this year’s Los Angeles Marathon after evidence surfaced that he’d cut the course. The story is doubly tragic because shortly after his disqualification, he was found dead in the Los Angeles River. The cause is not official as I write this, but it may have been a suicide.

This story baffles me. Dr. Meza was 70 years old, a lifelong runner, former high school track coach, and mentor of Latino students. People who knew him speak of the positive effects he’d had on them and the community. In his sixties he began to run marathons in under three hours – a mark of prestige at any age – and at the 2019 LA Marathon he finished in 2 hours 53 minutes, a record time for his age group. By all accounts, a real “feel good” story, right?

Except he may have faked it. And not just at this marathon. His 2015 finishing time was also under investigation, and the California International Marathon disqualified him twice, then banned him. He denied all allegations of cheating, and agreed to run a future marathon with an official monitor. But his death ends any chance to clear his name.

I don’t know if Dr. Meza cheated, or if he did, at how many races. But the preponderance of evidence suggests he was not as fast as his finishing times indicated. If so, I have a simple question that we may never know the answer to:

Why?

Cheating is as old as competition. I get that. The prestige that comes from winning can tempt people to reach for it any way they can. But Dr. Meza wasn’t attempting to win the marathon, qualify for the Olympics, or get sponsored. We’re talking about an age group award, which comes with nothing other than a hearty handshake and maybe a paperweight or similar tchotchke. Even setting an apparent record age group time wouldn’t have meant lasting fame or fortune.

Some of my more notable age group awards. (Yes, that is a roll of toilet paper on the right.)

Was it worth exposing himself to the scrutiny that would inevitably follow a record time? Was a fleeting mention buried somewhere in the LA Times worth risking his lifetime reputation of community service and inspiration to others? Was his ego that fragile that he couldn’t accept being anything but a champion?

For an amateur runner like Dr. Meza, or me, I find cheating to be especially pointless. For the real competition is not against others, but ourselves. Even with the support of crew, coaches, or other runners, in the end your performance is based on your own training, ability, and desire. It’s wanting to know how good we can be, or to break through what we thought our limits were, that keeps us going.

Sure, cheating hurts others if you take away an award or recognition that rightfully belongs to someone else. But mainly you cheat yourself. Even professionals do. Does Lance Armstrong ever wonder how good he could have been if he’d raced clean? I bet he does. But no one, including him, will ever know. And that’s a shame.

Perhaps Dr. Meza’s wife, even if inadvertently, summed it up best. “Running was very important to my husband,” she said, “and now unfortunately he won’t run marathons anymore.”

And that’s sad.