Unexpected Consequences and Life Impact

It looks like I started this blog in 2009 and did a lot of posting at first, but now rarely do.  I hope to change that by using some of the habit-changing tools I’ve recently learned about.  In fact there are a bunch of things I want to change.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle

This post is about an influential person in my life… and gratitude. And being grateful is a habit I want to cultivate.

We all affect everyone we come in contact with. Positive or negative, our actions can have long-reaching and frequently unforeseen influence. This is the story of one such individual.

This person is a man I worked with 20 years ago and he literally changed my life, but I doubt very much he knows it.

drum roll…..

Rocky Sample.

I know, I know…there is a big kerfuffle these days about the use of the word “literally” when you really mean “figuratively”…but Rocky LITERALLY changed my life and changed it so completely that barely a day goes by that I don’t feel his influence.  We weren’t really friends.  At times we weren’t even particularly friendly.  He was a manager and I was a machine operator so our social circles didn’t overlap.  He was also a little older than me. But he helped me discover  a passion that I had denied since childhood.  I was 36.

In grade school I was the kid that was always coming up with excuses to miss gym class. In high school, I was harassed and teased about my lack of aptitude and coordination with any activity involving a ball.  Consequently I identified myself as a non-athlete and experienced a fair amount of shame about it as a result.  By my mid 30’s I was a middle aged father of 2 that smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day and stayed far away from any real exercise. My wife and I  lost our baby weight together after child number one, and after number 2 was born, we set out to do it again.  20 minutes of elevated heart rate was the absolute minimum daily physical activity prescribed by the particular diet plan we followed.  My pride prevented me from being seen doing  aerobics with a videotape ( a WHAT?) on vacation in front of my father-in-law, so I decided a good way to get my heart rate up for the Minimum Daily Activity was to jog for 10 minutes down the road then turn around and jog 10 minutes back.

When we returned from our July 4th vacation, I was blabbing at work  to anyone that would listen-including Rocky- about how I jogged 1.7 miles.  Rocky said  ” You should run the Sycamore Pumpkin Fest 10K in October.”  “10K?” I asked. “How far is that?”  “6.2 miles.” he answered. “Yer friggin’ nuts.” I opined, but I got out on the road and increased my mileage in my now-familiar haphazard fashion, learning the hard way about plantar fasciitis and runner’s nipple.

When we came to the end of October 1996. I donned my cotton t-shirt, cotton gym shorts, and a monstrous pair of Nike Air Pegasus running shoes, took off at the starting gun, and marveled at myself for what I was doing: RUNNING in a RACE…with people I had heretofore identified as kooks, crazies, and whack-jobs!  Around the 5-mile mark I saw a familiar face in the thinning crowd ahead of me.  It was Rocky! I trotted past him after a brief greeting and plowed through the remaining 1.2 miles with a huge grin on my face.  I further amazed myself by kicking the last 100 yards and passed a couple more runners.


They say the difference between a jogger and a runner is a race number. During the ensuing 19 years I’ve run too many 10K’s to count, a handful of 5Ks, a couple half-marathons, four 30K’s, two full marathons, several sprint triathlons, a few olympic tri’s and a 1/2 ironman (70.3 mile) tri.  I went out and ran almost 6 miles before dinner the other night just because it felt good.


I guess the kids on the playground were wrong.

I AM an athlete. I am a runner.  Thank you, Rocky.

Miles Wound All Heels

My experimental “caveman” run is complete and the results are in!.  I wanted to see if I could heal my heel by abandoning my uber-comfy Nikes and went Paleo by running barefoot.  The actual barefoot running only lasted about 3/10 of a mile. I found a very new, smooth asphalt path to run on.  At first I tried running to the side in the grass but after so many years of being cradled in comfort my skin was too tender to handle the weeds. As predicted by the barefoot running crowd, my form changed dramatically to avoid the teeth-jarring crashing of my heel into the ground and I practically danced along on the balls of my feet.  Well, not exactly danced.  More like clumsy stumbling. When I was done, the soles of my feet were ON FIRE!



What was needed was a little protection for the soles of my feet without the over-cushioning of my over-priced heel-bangers.

A quick search of the internet provided unexpected hilarity.  Countless “Minimalist” running shoes are abundant and plentiful….and more expensive! I had to laugh.  Here was a modern-day version of The Emperor’s New Clothes!  Less shoe for more money! On to Wal-Mart!

There, I found these little delights.

Shoes like these used to be called “Red Ball Jets”…Except they were red.

Nike would crow about the  “zero drop” design.  New Balance would tout the “lightweight fabric”, but only Wal-Mart says “Hey! These shoes are CHEAP!” 14 bucks later I was out on the Great Western Trail with the K9 running team.  I don’t know if it was the cooler weather, the recent bi-daily running, or the minimalist experience giving me that heady Caveman feel, but I went almost 5 miles!  First time I’ve run that far since before January, according to my running log.  I had to take a couple of walking breaks, but my head (50% of the battle, remember?) wanted to go that far.

That afternoon my heel hurt like hell and my calves felt like they had barbed wire running through them. I expected some stiffness, but maybe I overdid it.  The next day (Monday) I wore the most comfortable shoes I own to work (Chippewa steel-toed engineer boots…heavy, but I love them) and that evening I walked 1/2 mile in flip-flops at the Y with a friend before swimming laps. My heel felt great. Tuesday was a moderate pace bike-ride for about 45 minutes, and by Wednesday I was ready for more running.  I cut back the miles to 2.7 and my pace was pretty slow.  Being 40 lbs overweight has drawbacks other than tight clothes.

Thursday was a no-workout day, and I’m doing another 2.7 miles tonight.  My right calf is a lot sorer than my left because the heel pain made me change my gait.  Now that I have a healthier and more normal stride it will take time for the muscles to accustom themselves.  I’m doing all of the usual therapies for plantar fasciitis: stretches, golf balls, night splints.  I hoped for a quick fix, but time is needed to see if  changing my foot strike will heal my heel and keep me running!

Dog Days of Summer

Labor Day weekend is considered the end of summer.  To runners, however, it is the beginning of the race season. Oktoberfest runs, fall classics, Turkey trots, etc.  Here in my part of the country the Chicago Marathon overshadows all other races.  The marathon is a singular experience because 40,000  people start with you but you cross the finish line alone.

Training for any race is a lonely process and no matter how much external support you have, on the trail you’re on your own, buster!  Having a training partner or joining a running club is advice I have heard from more than one source and I heartily agree.  I joined a local running group and they were a fantastic group of people.  One spouse would set up water stops and cruise the course in his mini van looking for stragglers.  They organized a 10K by the local racetrack (cars) and it’s been a great success.  But…(there’s always a but!)  I started running because I’m lazy.  It sounds counter-intuitive, I know.  But that’s basically my motivation.  Minimal equipment required and all I need for a workout is to open the front door.  For many the social aspect of a running club is a large motivator.  For me, not so much.  I’m a bit of a loner.  What’s an anti-social lazy endurance athlete to do?  An ideal training partner would be ready to run on the shortest notice, wouldn’t have prior commitments, doesn’t sleep in on Sunday,  and doesn’t care how far you are going, what time of day, or how hot/cold it is.  On the trail they shouldn’t  spout bizarre political views or complain or come up with lame excuses to turn around. Oh, yeah, you really should like each other, too!  So I run with the KK-K9-10K club

Me, Kipper (Jack Russell Terrier), Riker (German Short hair Pointer), and Izzy (Black Lab).  I don’t usually take Kipper running, but she is a “me too” kind of dog, so she’s in the picture.  I’ve always run with the dogs.  My first running dog was Watson, a Black Lab. He really “got” running.  He stayed right by me on or off the leash and he would poop while running  just like a horse.  It was amazing.  Riker is the real athlete in this picture and  is he fast!  Not being content with ducks and geese, he can just about catch robins on the ground.  He can get 1/2 mile ahead of me before I even realize he is gone.  When I call him he won’t come, but he’ll stop and patiently wait which is a bad habit according to the Dog Whisperer, but I figure if he’s ahead of me he deserves a rest.  Izzy is a little lazier than Riker but still always up for a run.  She’s  more gratifying to take because she’ll at least be tired when we get home.  I took Riker for a 10-miler in the middle of winter and it was so cold the sweat in my hair froze it straight up and I had icicles in my beard.  When we got home he sat in front of me and grinned from ear to ear as if to say “is that all you got?”  I don’t think I’ve ever tired him out. The day this picture was taken, I ran Kipper for about a mile.  Her little legs went a million miles an hour and when we we got home she was toast for the rest of the afternoon.

So leave the iPod at home. Listen to the wind and the birds and your heart for a change. Make your best friend happy. Plus, there is always potential for extra cardiopulmonary exercise from screaming at the dogs to “leave the @#$%^ skunk alone!”

If You Run More, You Run More.

Newton’s first law of motion would be more concise: When no force is applied, a body in motion will stay in motion and a body at rest will stay at rest.

APPLY SOME FORCE: Keep a running log.

I use little 2-year calendars.  A note each day about your workout or non-workout. I started running in 1994, but didn’t keep a log until 2002. The act of making a mark on a calendar solidifies your run into a thing.  And you own things. Now you own your run.

I went further than just putting an “x” on a calendar.  I tracked distance ran, times, pace, weather. I was so anal about it for a number of years I added up my weekly, monthly, and yearly mileage apparently just to amaze myself.  In 2002 I ran 711 miles. In 2003: 814. There are other notes in there as well that amuse and bemuse me.  I had some kind of secret code with myself that has long since evaporated from my mind. August 28, 2004: “ZM9” What was that? I even highlighted it with a marker.  I did it again on September 25, so it must have been a good time! I noted other events, too.  Buying a new stove and dying my hair purple both were significant enough to make it into my log.  Other information to be gleaned is what my state of mind was and how that affected my running.  When my father died, I didn’t run for weeks and that initiated a ramp-up and a branch-out to triathlons.

The inescapable conclusion after an examination of 10 years of running logs is this: I ran more when I ran more.

Proof that you’re a runner!

You don’t get what you pay for.

” A word to the wise ain’t necessary…It’s the stupid ones that need advice.”  Bill Cosby

My college-age daughter expressed an interest in running the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K this year, and I proceeded to give her some advice on getting to that level quickly.

What is real value of advice?  Last winter I told my doctor (a marathon runner) of my goal to reclaim my athletic lifestyle.  He warned me about taking on too much too quickly.  He said starting running at my weight could incur injury, and the last thing I wanted was to frustrate myself by becoming injured so I couldn’t run.  What he didn’t know was that I was Kenny King: CYBORG. My legs were so strong after many years of biking and running that they would quickly adapt and actually become stronger than ever before.  I had 15+ years of experience as a runner and triathlete to back up my efforts. I know how to “listen to my body”. So I ran.  240 lbs on a 5’8″ frame takes a lot of energy to move down the path.  What was required to improve my endurance?  More running.  I don’t know how many times I hobbled/limped across the family room in the evening, suffering the jeers and sarcasm of my children about my age/weight/abdominal protrusion before I finally “listened to my body”.  It took me weeks to realize that the plantar fasciitis I have been plagued with qualifies as an injury. I mean it really hurts.

So I paid a very educated man a lot of money that I  chose because of his special knowledge of my individual goals for his best professional advice and promptly ignored it with the predicted result.

So to Jessica: Go running every day, listen to your body, read all you can about running, get some good shoes and a stick of Body-Glide.  But I don’t think you need my advice.

A Brave New World

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Blah, blah, blah.

So here’s my running cred.

Just before the birth of our second child I began running.  At first to control my weight. Then I allowed myself to be goaded into the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K. I beat the guy that double-dog-dared me.  I’ll never forget the look on his face as I cruised by him just before mile 5. “Hi, Rocky!”  I said.  I didn’t understand the implications of his excuse-making the next week at work. “I’m just a little older than you.”  and “I didn’t execute my strategy correctly.” I had just gone out and ran as fast as I could for as long as I could. It was the first time I had ever beaten any one at any athletic endeavor in my life.  I was hooked.

I mean, I didn’t win the 10K, I just beat the guy I knew.  A few years later another fellow runner at work challenged me to my first 5K.  I beat him, too.  Since I don’t remember my 100 yd. dash times from grade school, I can’t say I NEVER ran that fast, but it was the hardest I remember ever pushing myself. I ran 7:20 that day, a personal best I have yet to beat.

In the next 10 years I ran 2-3 10Ks per year, but running was always just a lifestyle thing, not a competition thing. Usually about 2 miles per day, but I ramped it up if I was expecting to run in a race.

I moved on from 10Ks to a few 1/2 marathons and 30Ks, and then my first Chicago marathon in 2003 at the ripe old age of 44.  Then the Triathlon bug bit.