Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Olympics

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:31 pm, September 1st, 2016

The latest Olympic Games are now over, and as always they were a grand spectacle. While Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and the entirety of the US women’s gymnastics team got the bulk of the headlines (deservedly) in Rio, I was most excited about the runners. In the 1990s I was a mediocre runner in high school and college, and during those years my role models were elite American distance runners who were getting totally obliterated by the Africans at all major competitions, to the point where it was exciting just to see an American distance runner qualify for a final.

In recent years American distance running has experienced a resurgence, and in the Rio Olympics the Americans absolutely killed it, bringing home seven medals, which is more than they’d won at the past four Olmpics combined.

After a generation in which American kids might have believed that the East Africans were literally invincible in distance running, today there’s a small army of Team USA runners to be inspired by. Clayton Murphy, a junior from the University of Akron who two years ago was only the sixth-fastest runner in the Mid-American conference, is now the 800m bronze medalist and owner of the fifth fastest 800m time ever run by an American. Galen Rupp, already the defending silver medalist in the 10,000m from London, earned a bronze medal in only the second marathon he’d ever run in his life. Matt Centrowitz won a surprise gold medal in the 1500m, becoming the first American in 108 years to win that event, and admitted that when he crossed the line he “literally was still looking at the board like, did somebody go by me? Did I really just win?”. Other medalists included Evan Jager in the steeplechase (silver), Paul Chelimo in the 5,000m (silver), Emma Coburn in the steeplechase (bronze), and Jenny Simpson in the 1500m (bronze).

Sport is one of the few opportunities in life to discover your limits, and in almost all cases it turns out that those limits are far greater than anyone believes possible. Every four years the Olympics offer a chance to see that principle on full display, and the Games in Rio, particularly for a former distance runner like myself, were an emphatic affirmation that humans are capable of amazing feats.

Matt Centrowitz

Matt Centrowitz wins the Olympic 1500m. Image from NBC Olympics.

Former Glory

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:59 pm, November 29th, 2015

In elementary school I was picked last at recess for everything: I was the smart kid without coordination who would watch others kick the kickball to the edge of the schoolyard, then when it was my turn I’d rush at the bouncing ball hoping for the best, only to kick it just far enough that I might make it to first base before being thrown out. By the time I graduated from high school, however, a member of the yearbook staff remarked that she was sick of seeing my name while tallying votes for “most likely to win a gold medal”.

The transition started in the fifth grade with the Ludlow Elementary School mini-marathon. This “marathon” consisted of a bunch of elementary school children running around the block, but at each of the practice runs the kid who was always picked last somehow managed to beat everyone except for one older boy. When the actual race day came around, that older boy sprinted out ahead, but two-thirds of the way through the race he was bent over throwing up and I crossed the finish line first. In middle school I was the school’s top runner both years, winning the conference mile championship as an eighth grader, and in high school I set the school’s cross-country record and made All-State as a junior.

I’m writing about these things in the journal not (solely) in some sad attempt to relive high school glory days, but because after 23 years my name was finally bumped from the record book when Justyn Moore became the first runner in Shaker Heights High School history to break sixteen minutes in the 5K, running 15:58 at the state championships three weeks ago. I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little sad at seeing one of the only chronicles of my high school days wiped away, but it’s also pretty cool to see someone from the alma mater running fast. From what I can tell Justyn is better at track than he is at cross-country – his track times are much faster than mine ever were – so I’m actually excited to see what else he might do in the Spring. Also, I still hold the record for fastest cross-country time by a junior, so my name hasn’t been entirely erased from history just yet :-)

Ludlow Mini-Marathon

Catching Up, Part 3

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:31 pm, December 27th, 2014

It took me long enough to get to “Part 3” of the “Catching Up” series that there will likely need to be a “Part 4”, and possibly even a “Part 5”, in order to get back up-to-date. Timely journal entries are apparently not my thing. The last entry covered Scare the Children 2014, and this one gets us through the beginning of November when I went into the hospital for my first-ever surgery.

First, some history: back in 2011 I was running a lot and getting back into good shape, then in August of that year I felt a crunch in my knee while on the treadmill and wasn’t able to run again without my knee swelling up to impressive size. I went in to Kaiser, my insurance provider at the time, and told them I had probably torn something in my knee. I gave them my running history, let them know that I had experienced several minor injuries over the years and knew the difference between soreness and something more serious, and then waited to see if an X-ray would be sufficient of if they would need to schedule an MRI. Apparently neither was in the cards: despite my protestations that something was very wrong I was sent home with instructions to ice the knee and take aspirin. Combined with previous bad experiences, that was the last time I ever went to Kaiser.

Unfortunately, as a self-employed person, I was in a position where I could not switch insurance providers without facing the dreaded “pre-existing condition” denial of coverage. While Obamacare is obviously hated by some, the law’s ban on using pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage was a godsend for me, so I waited until it went into full effect on January 1, 2014, and after fighting with the Covered California website and with the overwhelmed Anthem Blue Cross, I finally switched to insurance that allowed me to see a sports medicine doctor. I visited UCLA, was quickly scheduled for an MRI, and was diagnosed with a torn meniscus. Apparently the normal protocol is to try to resolve such things via physical therapy, but despite a few months of twice-weekly visits and lots of exercises I was never able to run more than two miles without having knee pain the following day.

By the time it was clear that physical therapy wasn’t going to resolve things it was too close to the 2014 World Tour to schedule surgery, but shortly after returning home from Africa I met with one of the best knee surgeons on the West Coast and made an appointment to get sliced up. At 6:30AM on November 4 Audrey took me into the hospital, and an hour later an anesthesiologist told me “c’mon, take a deeper breath than that”. An hour after that my eyes opened, and then they wheeled me out of the hospital. Two days later I was walking, and as of last week I’ve been given clearance to try running again on a limited basis. Christmas day Aaron and I went for a short run around the neighborhood, and so far the knee has remained its normal size. Since pounding concrete sidewalks hurt my knees even before the meniscus tear I’m waiting for our treadmill to be repaired before trying to run again, but for the first time in over three years I’m cautiously optimistic that I may yet be able to resume the only sport I was ever good at.

Commitment

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 9:32 pm, April 15th, 2013

The very sad events at today’s Boston Marathon are cause for grieving, but to a greater extent people seem to be focusing on those who immediately rushed into the smoke to help, or on the fact that in the aftermath so many people donated to the Red Cross that their web site crashed, or on the commitment of the individuals who chose to run the grueling race. On the latter subject, Ezra Klein wrote an article that does a good job of capturing why the marathon is so inspiring entitled ‘If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon’:

My wife has been training for a marathon. She leaves the house early in the morning and runs for hours and hours. She comes home tired and sore. And then she does it again. And again. And again.

There’s no reason for her to do it. There’s no competition or payoff or award. It’s just a quiet, solitary triumph over the idea that she couldn’t do it, and it all happens before I even wake up.

It’s thoughts like these that provide hope in spite of tragedies. The runners in a marathon are a case study in human inspiration: yes, running 26 miles is impressive, but the reason to cheer each finisher is as much about the days or years of effort that lead up to that accomplishment, and the idea that any human being who is willing to dedicate themselves to the task can complete such a mind-boggling feat.

A friend of mine in LA, Arkady, not only finished the 50 mile Comrades Marathon through the mountains around Capetown, but was in the top 15% of competitors. Several years before, this same ironman was 80 pounds heavier with 40% body fat, and made the decision to change his life. That single commitment, revisited day after day after day over many years, is what people celebrate when Arkady finishes a race, and is what they were celebrating as he finished (safely) in Boston today.

Another friend, Angela, decided one day that she wanted to run a marathon, and started out by running around the block once. The next day she ran around the block twice, and before long she was carrying a wooden box of matches with her and transferring them from one hand to another to keep track of her laps. Rather than stopping at the marathon, she trained for the world’s toughest race, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramathon through Death Valley in the summer, and today is one of the very few people on the planet to have actually finished that race. That seemingly-impossible accomplishment started out with an average person simply making the decision to do something extraordinary, and then getting out each day to put in the required work over a period of years to make the impossible possible.

Sport is about incredible human accomplishments, but a key reason that we stand along the road and cheer during a marathon is because the athletes in the race show us that a completely normal person who simply makes the decision to commit each day to a task can do something amazing and thus prove that things that seemingly can’t be done are within anyone’s reach. The bombings today are a tragedy, but the fact that so many people are taking notice of good things in the world, and perhaps themselves making a decision to commit to do something inspiring, provides hope that even such a horrible evil can be a catalyst for a great deal of good to come.

I Just Felt Like Runnin’

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 9:30 pm, July 31st, 2011

Back in the day I was bad at every sport that required coordination, but did have the dubious talent of being able to run at a fast pace without barfing for longer than most other people. Since those days I’ve run less-and-less, and thus eventually reached a state in which I was bad at every sport, including those involving running and vomit.

It’s easy enough to make excuses and much harder to find time and motivation, but at the end of 2010 being out of shape had become a big enough issue that something had to be done. As a result, including today I’ve now run a minimum of 1-2 miles every day for 213 consecutive days. After spending January just trying to do two miles a day, last week was the first time in years where I ran over forty miles in a week – not a particularly impressive total, but obviously far better than doing nothing.

Distance running isn’t glamorous, but it teaches a good life lesson: a difficult task begins with the first step, and is only successful when that first step is followed up consistently with many more. That lesson has been a valuable one to have learned early, as even the most daunting endeavors no longer seem overwhelming – just like training for a distance race, many tough challenges can be met by just going out there each day, putting in some work, and knowing that while it may not seem like anything is changing, every step is absolutely necessary in order to get to the end goal.

Of course, with all that said, it would be a lie to say that there isn’t a small part of me that wishes I’d been blessed with a bit more coordination and thus writing today about how my years of fame as the football team’s running back taught the valuable life lesson of teamwork…

The Best

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:05 pm, July 17th, 2007

One of the last episodes of this season of Lost (the best show in the history of television) featured the Hobbit guy making a list of the five best moments in his life. Supposedly that was also done in High Fidelity, but it still made for a cool scenario. After talking about the idea, Aaron and I came to the conclusion that it’s probably impossible to come up with the five greatest moments, but it’s pretty nice to try making a list of good moments. What I discovered in trying to list those moments is that it’s tough to sum up an experience in a single line, but since this journal is meant to be a way not only for me to keep in touch with people but also to record moments that I want to remember in years to come, I’d like to occasionally add entries about times that for one reason or another left a lasting and memorable impression. So in no particular order…

Spring 1989

I was in the seventh grade, I was on the track team, and I had finally discovered a sport that I was good at. During my elementary school years recess meant being picked last for whatever sport we were playing – football, soccer, kickball, whatever, I was last pick. And it sucked. And then one day the gym teacher had everyone run around the block, and I wasn’t last. From there things improved steadily, and by the seventh grade I had a tentative grip on the position of best distance runner in the school, which when you’re thirteen seems like a pretty big deal. Of course, I realized that most kids didn’t care about distance running, but after years of being last pick the fact that people knew my name because I was a runner was a night-and-day improvement to me.

So that’s the background to a Spring workout in which Coach divided everyone up and had us run the quarter mile. I was a miler, and most of the team was faster than me at the quarter, so I lined up expecting to finish in the middle of the pack in the best case scenario. Coach yelled for us to start, and sure enough at about the halfway point I was fairly far back of the leaders, who were tearing along at a solid clip. And then it happened. Standing at the side of the track and screaming AT ME was Betsey, a family friend who I’d known since the third grade, and one of the only girls who ever passed me notes in classes. As I went by her she yelled at an insane volume “MOVE YOUR BUTT”, and she yelled it AT ME. I was already struggling, but knowing that someone was paying attention to me, out of everyone running, was motivation enough that I picked it up a bit. Running now at a speed I wasn’t sure I could sustain I saw that the runners ahead of me were getting noticeably closer. Despite feeling fairly distressed I dug a bit deeper and realized I might have a chance of catching them. And finally, not knowing if my legs would turn to mush before the finish line I made a final effort. And I beat the rest of the runners.

Running is all about limits. When you first begin your brain always thinks it can do more than the body is ready for, and the reality involves a lot of pain and often some humiliation. However, as you get into shape the body allows you to go places you didn’t know you could reach, at the cost of a great deal of pain. On that day I realized that there were different levels of pain involved in running, and that only by pushing well past what I thought I could handle did I discover what I was actually capable of. And along the way a cute girl with a ton of energy had cheered me on, and I didn’t feel like the last pick anymore.

Burbank, California

Posted at 3:45 pm, April 16th, 2003

Gabe Jennings is a guy who just graduated from Stanford and who was an Olympian at Sydney in the 1500 meters while still in college. He’s known for being someone who marches to the beat of a different drummer, but his post-collegiate “training” has gone to new levels: he’s not running this year, but is instead biking from Arizona to Brazil on a thirty-year old ten speed. Report 4 “in which monkeys assault Gabe with coconuts as he runs through the Costa Rican jungle” is especially good. Makes me proud to be a fellow runner.

Los Angeles, California

Posted at 10:40 pm, December 16th, 2002

If the scales are to be believed then I dropped six pounds while running tonight. I therefore decided to take drastic measures, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream is no more. As if a good run and a pint of ice cream wasn’t enough happiness for one night, the local grocery store doubles coupons, so Dr. Pepper only costs $0.26 for a two liter. Maybe I’m simple for being impressed by things like a good run and cheap Dr. Pepper, but if that’s the case then simple and happy is fine by me.

Los Angeles, California

Posted at 10:45 pm, December 11th, 2002

One of the odd side-effects of running a lot is that you begin consuming rather insane amounts of food. The average person supposedly needs two thousand calories each day to stay alive. If the treadmill is to be believed then I burned an additional twelve hundred calories while running tonight, so I should need thirty-two hundred calories today to keep from losing weight. For lunch I ate two foot-long Subway sandwiches, and ate another for dinner, but I’ve still dropped a bit of weight this week. What that means is that just to maintain my weight I’ll probably need to up my diet to three and a half feet of sandwiches per day — forty-two inches of sandwiches! That’s a midget. One midget worth of sandwiches each day just to keep from losing weight. Utter madness.

Los Angeles, California

Posted at 11:50 pm, December 9th, 2002

Life has been moving at a crazy pace lately. Drove from Los Angeles to Palo Alto and back over the weekend, arriving in Palo Alto at 2:00 AM Friday night and getting into LA at 1:00 AM last night. In between I enjoyed sushi with Nadia, Zac, Scott and Anna, moved most of the rest of my stuff (the Forester rules), scanned in my photos from Cambodia (I’ll put them on the site when I have a bit more free time) and got in an eleven and a half mile run. Left for work this morning at eight, was actually useful while on the job, joined the gym after work (the outfits the women in LA wear while working out make it worth the price of admission PLUS you get to watch six televisions while using the treadmills) and got home at ten, just in time to play with Argus and Fundy before they went to bed. Also met the last of my housemates, J.C. (not to be confused with my old housemate, J.B.) who is finishing up work on an independent documentary. Hopefully those folks waiting for me to write to them will understand why my e-mail output has tailed off as of late.

Palo Alto, California

Posted at 7:00 pm, November 25th, 2002

All of the details have apparently been worked out so it looks like I will be starting a four-plus month contract with Warner Brothers next Monday in Los Angeles. The last few months of retired life were most definitely an enjoyable time, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who might be considering an early retirement of their own. Going back to work after such a long break is going to feel weird.

On a completely random note, Tom McArdle ran a gutsy race to finish eighth at the NCAA cross-country championships today, while Jorge Torres absolutely beat up everyone, including two highly-touted Kenyans, on his way to becoming only the second American NCAA champion in the last decade (European or African recruits have won every year except for 1998). Meanwhile it’s after 7:00 PM and I still haven’t run today. Time to quit typing and lace up the shoes…

Random happy thing for the day: I stole this photo from an old high school friend’s web site. Enjoy.

Copyright unknown, this image has been floating around the internet in emails…

Palo Alto, California

Posted at 2:15 pm, November 23rd, 2002

A quick update on the latest happenings in retired life:

  • It looks like I may be coming (temporarily) out of retirement — the latest from LA is that the administrative issues are nearly worked out and they’d like me down there starting the Monday after Thanksgiving for a six month contract.
  • The current photo gallery code is now available for those of you (Jason) who might be interested. You need to know Java and be willing to modify the code slightly for it to be of any use to you.
  • Went to see a friend do amateur standup comedy last night, and had a surprisingly good time. If you’ve never been to an amateur show it’s a lot of fun since everyone up there is still trying to find their style, resulting in a wide variety of performances.
  • The running mileage for the week looks like it might hit sixty, which would far and away be a new record for me. Reading about Tom McArdle and his improvement from running high mileage was a bigger inspiration than I originally realized.

Palo Alto, California

Posted at 9:45 pm, November 16th, 2002

For the first time in my life I actually have enough time to run each day and also get plenty of rest. The result is that I ran forty miles last week and should hit fifty miles for this week. That’s only about half of what a good runner would be doing, but it’s as much as I have ever done (I was lazy in college). Who knows if I’ll be able to stick to this routine, but if I could I might finally be able to find out what I’m capable of — it’s an amazing feeling to test one’s limits, but very few people (myself included) ever find out exactly how much they’re capable of.

It’s tough not to get excited about running with people like Tom McArdle posting his training on the web and Dathan Ritzenhein reminding everyone of Steve Prefontaine. In addition, living in Palo Alto puts me within a few miles of the Nike Farm Team, so I’ll occasionally find myself at a restaurant sitting next to a table full of folks who are among the fastest distance runners in the country, or I’ll see various elite athletes out running on the roads. Anyhow, I’m a comparative nobody in the running world, and until I’ve been training seriously for a few months I probably should be ashamed to even mention anything to do with myself and running. Still, if I can keep at it the next few months could be a great chance to test my own limits.

Concord, California

Posted at 9:30 pm, November 9th, 2002

Went to the Rolling Stones concert at Pac Bell last night with the Goob (my brother), the Jenn (the Goob’s girlfriend), and Peaches (Peaches). Excellent concert — I was singing and dancing the whole way through, as was most of the crowd. Folks ranged in age from twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, including an older lady in front of us who was absolutely jamming from the first song onwards.

Today has been spent hanging out with the family, which is awesome. My brother absolutely rules — he and I were running in the mud at Concord High track tonight and we spent the entire time trying to outdo one another before practically collapsing at the end of the workout. If only I could convince the rest of the Holliday clan to move to Alaska with me life would be absolutely perfect.