The Kandahar Marathon: Week Fifty-Two

“All good things must come to an end.”

~Chaucer

It’s been a heck of a year. While there’s a lot to talk about, from career changes to, more recently, car accidents, and from publishing books and articles to time spent with loved ones, I’m going to focus most of my attention here on running.

This year was full of running accomplishments. At the Oma-half, I set a lifetime PR in the half marathon, and at Grandma’s I set a lifetime PR in the marathon. I got second place in a 5K this year, first place in a beer mile, paced half a dozen half marathons, ran a total of five marathons in five states including the I-35 challenge, and covered 2,223 miles in total on the year—more than a thousand more than any previous year.

I also learned a great deal about Afghanistan, and the Afghan people. My students and I researched and read about Afghanistan at length, we helped two Afghan families resettle in Omaha by helping to set up a home for them to live in, we celebrated the Afghan New Year, ate Afghan food, and developed a habit of seeking out news about Afghanistan, getting better and better at finding it as we did. 

Finally, this year, with your help and that of many, many more people, I’ve helped to raise somewhere around $1.3 million dollars. About $5K of that went to Afghan refugees resettling in Omaha through the Kandahar Marathon, and to those who supported my efforts, thank you. I hope that in the future we’ll do even more together.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and go for a run, but you probably guessed as much. If you’re a runner, or have any inkling of becoming one, reach out and we’ll go together sometime. I don’t care how fast we run, but I’d be grateful for your company. Please sign up to follow my blog at markgudgel.com, keep in touch, and have a wonderful start to the new year.

Yours in friendship and gratitude,

Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Fifty-One

“You can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners.”

~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

For most of my adult life I have wondered, often aloud and in classrooms full of inquisitive young people, if we’d have cured cancer, hunger, and violence by now, not only as a society but as a species, if only those who came before us: revered Biblical characters, followed by great kings, intrepid explorers, pen-flourishers, founding fathers and the like, had held even a base level of respect for women. Orwell nails it when Old Major intimates in Animal Farm that “man is the only creature who consumes without producing,” though I am as convinced that this is a matter of choice as I am convicted about its accuracy. We don’t have to be like this, selfish, violent, fallen—rather we choose to be. And as crass as it feels to quote J.K. Rowling these days, it is our choices, rather than our abilities, that define us. For the vast majority of human existence, men alone have made the meaningful choices and impactful decisions, effectively holding the child-bearing half of our population hostage to our barbaric, typically misguidead and antiquated ideals in one society after another all around the globe. If this sound a bit like self-loathing, well, just remember that I have a daughter. In this nation, women have had the vote for all of a meager century, though admittedly in others they fare far worse. Not only is Afghanistan one such place but, even despite the horrific occurrences in Iran of late, every indication that manages to reach my news feed would suggest that they may still be the very worst.

The news this week from Afghanistan wasn’t good, of course, though it almost never is which I hope suggests that remarking upon it now means that it’s awful even by the incredibly low bar set by the Taliban over the course of the past year. Women in Afghanistan have now been completely expelled from university. This, of course, comes on the heels of their expulsion from secondary school, and while I hate the Taliban with the burning, murderous passion I normally reserve for rapists and racists, it can’t go unremarked upon that the only reason they’re in power is because the United States—run mostly by greedy, corrupted men in my view—flippantly reneged on our commitments to the nation and enabled an inevitable terrorist takeover of the democracy we had not only installed but were in theory and obligation if not in practice committed to maintaining. My stomach never ceases to summersault each new time I think about it. I’ve copied a short blurb-article below from CNN about this week’s events. Please don’t fail to notice that it’s blurb five out of five, which is the norm when it comes to American news channels reporting on Afghanistan, a phenomenon somewhat akin to the New York Times burying information about the Holocaust in the latter pages of their publications until late in the war.

5
Afghanistan   The Taliban government has suspended university education for all female students in Afghanistan, the latest step in its brutal clampdown on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women. The US condemns “the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. Girls were previously barred from returning to secondary schools in March, following monthslong closures imposed after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. The Taliban have historically treated women as second-class citizens, subjecting them to violence, forced marriages and a near-invisible presence in the country. Women in Afghanistan can no longer work in most sectors, require a male guardian for long-distance travel and have been ordered to cover their faces in public.

I walked two-and-a-half miles on Monday, studying Spanish on Duolingo as I did so. My streak has long surpassed a hundred days, y yo aprendo espanol mas y mas con cada dia nueva. Maybe next I’ll study Pashto. Tuesday I was going to go for a run with my Teammates mentee, with whom (and it bears mention at his suggestion) I’ve signed up to run the Lincoln Marathon in May, but a powdery layer of snow settled atop a layer of ice deterred us and we spent the afternoon drinking cider and hot cocoa and discussing his first semester of college, global climate change, and current affairs by the fireplace in my living room instead. There will be time enough to train in the new year. With only a little more than a week left in the year I’ve decided to shut it down for the rest of the year, and by “it” I mean my legs exerting themselves more than is required to transport the rest of my body to and from a vehicle or my children’s sleds to the top of a hill. In the time since then I’ve managed to shake the aches that plagued my hips, my knees stopped hurting and my toenails have started to grow back, and while I feel a bit lazy and lethargic—a feeling greatly amplified each time I eat another Christmas cookie or pour another glass of wine—my legs are resting up and promise to fully mend.

They’ll need to for the year ahead.  A roundtrip flight to and from Sacramento for $168 was more than enough encouragement to get me to sign up for the Napa Marathon in March; the registration fee was actually significantly more expensive than the flight, but I’ve always wanted to run that one. In April I’ll pace the Olathe Marathon, my first full marathon as a pacer. In May I’ll run LNK with my mentee. In August, inshallah (Lord willing), Sioux Falls will check South Dakota off my list, bringing my number of states up to nine. In October, I plan to run KC and Des Moines with Scott and Tiffany in the I-35 Challenge again. And in late November or early December, I’m planning on the NYC Marathon if I can get in, St. Jude for a second year or perhaps Dallas if I cannot. I’d hoped to sign up for OKC and Fargo as well, but conflicts have pushed them off to some undetermined year in the future. I’ll make up those lost races, however, with a slew of 10K’s, 10-milers, and half marathons that promise to keep me busy and, with a little luck, shed the weight of all these Christmas cookies as I run them.  It’s been a great year for me for running, in large part thanks to you all for following along. Thank you.

As I finish writing this, I look over to my left. My wife is driving us north for Christmas. She was educated at the same university that I was, she’s quite successful in her field and, best of all, I’ve always been in awe of her intellect. I’m a reasonably bright person, and far too educated, and I’ve always been grateful to be married to someone who is at least my equal and probably my superior if I’m being candid. Behind us, our son is napping and our daughter is coloring and sneaking cookies from a plastic tub. She smiles up at me impishly and I smile back at her in the mirror. At two years old she was already one of the strongest people I knew, and now at the age of five I wonder what she’ll do with her impressive combination of creativity, intellect, and willpower. She is forceful and strong-willed; nobody tells my daughter what to do, not even me, and I love her so much for it. Even more, I’m grateful that she’s growing up in a country where she can freely attend school and acquire the education that, combined with her formidable ensemble of powerful character traits, will turn her into a force for good. Inshallah.

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Fifty

Week Fifty

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”

~Oprah

I guess I knew people read my blog, but I don’t think I realized how many until I posted last week about therapy, medication, and my own efforts to destigmatize mental illness amidst my own modest sphere of influence. The number of people who commented, emailed me, replied on social media, or texted me directly was, well, reassuring. We’re all in this together, but it can be easy enough to forget that at times. To everyone who took the time to touch base with me last week, thank you.

Prompted by Afghans for a Better Tomorrow (weareafghans.org—I’d encourage you to sign up for their emails) I sent another letter to my representatives this week. Senator Fisher and recently-reelected Representative Bacon stand in stark contrast to one another on this point, but I reach out to both of them all the same. I went ahead and sent it to outbound Senator Sasse as well, even though his senate seat now matches his usual facial expression: vacant. He’s defected to Florida, and he’ll fit in well with the Desantis crowd, I’ve no doubt. Good riddance. Still, if he could be persuaded to do something even a little useful on his way out…

Good afternoon,

I am calling on you today to urge you to prioritize and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act (S.4787 / H.R.8685), a bipartisan piece of legislation that would give a pathway to legal status for thousands of newly arrived Afghans in the United States as well as provide support for many of those at-risk Afghans that were left behind. This bill has support from both sides of the aisle in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

For twenty years, many of these Afghans risked their lives and that of their families in Afghanistan, which ended in heartbreak when they were forced to flee Afghanistan due to the Taliban takeover of their country last summer. No one should be forced to flee their home — but now they’ve made it to America, where they are starting a new chapter in their life.

Now, they need your urgent help in ensuring that their new life in the United States is a success. As an Afghan community ally, I want to raise my voice in support of this act and to ensure that this bill passes Congress. Without this act being passed, newly arrived Afghans will have to relive their trauma and navigate a deeply complex and backlogged asylum system.

No one deserves to live in legal limbo or uncertainty as they try to navigate new life here in America. I would like to remind you of the solemn promise America made to those allies who stood alongside us in the past twenty years. Now, it’s time for America to honor its promise by passing this vital and important Act.

I welcome these new Afghan refugees with open arms. Will you do the same and stand alongside them by voting YES on the Afghan Adjustment Act?

Thank you!

Dr. Mark Gudgel

A friend texted me this week, having read an article in one of the few English language periodicals with which I’m unfamiliar, “The Atavist” or something like that.The piece was an in-depth examination of the Afghan refugee crisis in Europe, framed around the murder of three Afghan women. It focused on the relationship an tensions between Turkey, Greece, and other nations that share a border over which the swell of Afghan refugees is wont to move. For me, what the article emphasized was that as personal and localized as this crisis can seem in any given moment here in Omaha, it remains a global issue and will until it is resolved—somehow. Still, we do what we can on a local level, and hope others are doing the same elsewhere.

In Iran, women are protesting for their rights, not unlike they have done in Afghanistan. It came to light Sunday, right around the time that Messi and Argentina defeated Mbappe and France in dramatic fashion in the World Cup final, that a footballer in Iran has been sentenced to death for supporting women’s rights. Death. Rights. One is a construct, the other very much reality. Or perhaps both are reality? Or maybe both are constructs of our imagination. I hate the image that these nations paint of Islam with their barbaric treatment of women. I’ve known too many Muslims to buy into it, but I realize that so many peoples’ perceptions of Islam is dependent upon the media, much like their perceptions of Afghanistan, Iran, Qatar. The Qatari’s are responsible for the deaths of thousands of workers in their construction of stadiums in which to host the World Cup this year, yet they did it, ironically, to attempt to improve the world’s opinion of their nation. They bribed FIFA to host the games, murdered thousands in preparation, and yet somehow manage to come out as media darlings whenever the washed-up athletes who serve as commentators weigh in on them. It’s incredible really. No wonder I run.

Speaking of running, this week I ran a 10K every day, Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday intended to run a half marathon, but part way in my right knee developed a pain that went from dull and achy to sharp and stabby with alarming efficacy. I stopped after seven-and-a-half miles, totaling 44.7 on the week and 2,219 on the year. It’s probably about time to shut it down for 2022, though one of my former runners who I now mentor through Teammates is in town so I suspect I’ll get at least one run in with him still.

Next year, I’m signed up to pace the Olathe Marathon and Lincoln Marathon in the spring, and Hospital Hill half in the summer, and to run the Liberty half in the spring and the Kansas City Marathon in the fall. I’m likely to add the Napa Valley Marathon, Sioux Falls Marathon, and Des Moines Marathons to that list, and I’m going to enter the lottery for New York as well and pace a few more races this fall I’d imagine. I’m sure I’ll jump into a handful of 5K and 10K races as well, and I’m also trying to talk Sonja into a trip to Memphis to run St. Jude again, and I’d like to devote more effort to raising money for their research. All things considered, an added week of rest right now would likely do me good.

I’ve no idea what, if anything, I’ll have to report on next week, but I’ll try to get one more blog post out to you all to wrap up the year. Maybe some sort of summary. Hopefully not more of my pseudo-philosophical blathering. I guess we’ll find out. Thank you all so much for reading, and please remember to sign up to follow the blog for next year. Have a great week and wonderful holidays, everyone!

~Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Nine

“Nothing makes one feel so strong as a call for help.”

~Pope Paul VI

This week I’d like to begin with two important reminders from previous posts. First, if you’re interested in continuing to receive my blog when it comes out in the future, please sign up at markgudgel.com as in 2023 I will cease to send weekly posts to my email list as a matter of course. Here is a link to sign up: https://subscribe.wordpress.com/

The second reminder is that, with only a few weeks left in 2022, if you’d care to make a donation to support the Refugee Empowerment Center, which recently merged with Immigrant Legal Services, please do so. Here’s that link: https://www.fanangel.com/campaigns/2315/story

This week, I want to be very forthcoming about a topic about which I’m often more inclined towards jocular quipping and self-deprecating deflection. As a high school English teacher, I often made it a point to introduce to my students the fact that I was in therapy. Marriage counseling has saved my marriage on at least two occasions, and counselors have helped me to deal with my personal struggles throughout much of my adult life.

While I understand that this doesn’t jive with the “shut up and teach” crowd, I have always viewed this sort of things as one of the most important things we teachers ever did. I wanted the young people in my care to know that they knew someone who benefitted from—no, needed, counseling. My hope was that if they were considering counseling, or weren’t sure what they needed or how they felt, they’d realize they had at least one caring adult in their lives with whom they could talk about it or ask questions.

The older I get, the more of my friends from years gone by openly speak about seeing their therapists. I like this for us, and for our culture. There’s no shame in needing help. I hope in time our culture gets to a place where it’s commonplace, though I know that seeing a therapist doesn’t mesh well with the toxic masculinity that drives a significant subsect of our nation. Perhaps in time this will change.

Where I used to, and still sometimes do, get a bit flippant about it, is when I talk about “other” therapies. If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ve read my explicitly and implicitly state that running is a form of therapy for me, and it is. That was thrust into the spotlight this week as I recovered from the St. Jude Marathon and thereby was deprived of that therapy. I ran a few times, but never more than five miles, and the absence of running in my life was certainly felt. This time of year—winter, not the holidays, depresses me. It’s cold and dark and, as much as I love the holidays with my children and the Christmas trees and playing chess by the fire, I long for summer. I’ve heard people say that’s because of the absence of Vitamin D which we get from the sun. Sonja suggested a special lamp. I suggested moving to San Diego.

But on this note, I wanted to go a step further today regarding the therapy thing. Not terribly long ago, to combat anxiety and depression, I began taking Lexapro, which is essentially Prozac as I understand it. I’ve found this to be quite helpful in stabilizing my mood. I’m more patient, at times more focused, and the voices in my head that once were only silenced by running long distances have largely subsided as well. I don’t miss them.

I bring this up in the same spirit in which I’ve often mentioned counseling. If anyone out there has those voices, has that anxiety, and wonders if there’s a medicine that might help, well, I found one that helped me. Beyond that I’m not that kind of doctor, but I am willing to speak about it if it might be of benefit to you. In the end, I think that taking Lexapro may be the thing that saves me should I ever lose running (god forbid).

It’s difficult for me to accept that this journey, this Kandahar Marathon, will soon come to an end. That said, my running won’t. This year, with your help, I’ve run 2,175 miles, five marathons, and as many halves. Together we’ve raised well over $5,000 to help resettle Afghan refugees in Nebraska. Thank you. Take good care of yourselves—and of each other.

Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Eight

“Was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale.”

~From “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn

At some point Friday night, after a twelve-hour drive, it started to don on me just how many songs have been written about Memphis, how many incredible artists got a start at Sun Records, how much history still lives there. It was dark and misty as we rolled up to the race expo for the Saint Jude Marathon. I was feeling heavy in more ways than one. My friend Brian let me work in the car a bit on the drive, which helped somewhat in alleviating the weight of my impending deadline with my publisher. I’m excited about my new book, but memories of being a graduate student are flooding back to me as I consider how much has to occur between now and when the manuscript is due. 

I was also heavy in a more literal sense. I think I’ve run around twenty-two hundred miles this year, something like that—so many that I stopped adding them up and will have to go back over my running logs to do the math. I’ve more than doubled the mileage of any previous year. I’m proud of it, but it has come at a cost. My hips are sore, an issue I’ve never had before, and while my feet have given me at least a short break from the trouble they like to cause, my knees have taken their place and now complain during most runs that exceed five miles. Worst of all, I just felt leaden. I recall those races, those runs, when I could bound around with energy, light as a feather. But here, in early December, even walking can be something of a chore. I need rest. I know I need rest. But pulling into Memphis, I knew I wasn’t about to get any.

Friday night after the expo we laid out our gear and set our alarms. Brian had informed me in no uncertain terms that this marathon, his second, would be his last. I understand, though we’ve been running together for years and I harbor hopes he may one day reconsider. We’ve known one another for decades now, and I enjoy his company. We grabbed some pasta at the hotel bar, skipped the wine, and went to bed early. Saturday morning we awoke to the revelation that the hotel was out of coffee and, yes, I plan to write a scathing review. How dare they?! Uncafffeinated, we headed to the start line.

I feel inclined to bore you with details, here, dear reader, as they are myriad and most of them seared into my memory. However, keeping this brief makes more sense to me right now. Some highlights from the race, however, are important.

Early in the race, we ran through the St. Jude Village, where children who were patients came out and waved at us. There were runners around me openly weeping. I came to tears. No wonder 26,000 people run this race each year, and I thought back to the race director telling us that this year they raised around fifteen million dollars. Amazing. I’m thankful my family has no need to St. Jude, but that realization only makes me want to support their mission more.

The course itself was flat, running through beautiful neighborhoods, parks, and historic parts of Memphis, and the weather was good. Both of us being experienced pacers, Brian and I opted not to join the pace group but instead to try to hold out own at around a ten-minute pace. We chatted as we went, and while Brian was perky an energetic I was heavy from the beginning. Still, at that relatively slow pace, I was able to keep up. We walked aid stations for about fifteen seconds each—there were so many of them—and we banked around four minutes in the first half.

Around mile eighteen, inexplicably, I began to loosen up. Maybe it’s because I started singing Paul Simon’s “Graceland” aloud as I ran, but suddenly, after all that running, I felt better than I did at the start. My friend, however, was having the opposite experience, and by mile twenty I could tell he was hurting. At mile twenty-two we had a brief conversation and he told me he planned to do some walking and that I should go ahead. I realized if I didn’t, I’d end up dragging him along at an uncomfortable pace for both of us, and that injury was a risk. He needed to do his own thing, so I told him I’d see him at the finish line.

With nothing on my mind but running, I sped up. I went from a ten-minute pace down to an eight almost immediately. I made a game out of passing people, and started to count the marathoners I passed. By mile twenty-three, the number was thirty-nine and I felt amazing. At mile twenty-four, the road was lines with banners bearing the images of young people who had been cured of cancer at Saint Jude, a series of before-and-after pictures that were designed to bring you to tears and were extremely effective. I sped up. I uttered a quick “good job” or “you got it” to each person I passed, silently tallying their numbers. As I got to the top of the hill that descends toward the finish line, there were but two more runners in front of me and I had passed a hundred and thirty marathoners on my way, hacking huge chunks of time off my race in the process. I intended to let the two in front of me keep their lead, until the one in front threw his hands up in celebration with fifty yards to go. Something in my forced me to kick at that moment, and I finished having passed a hundred and thirty-two runners in an unofficial time of 4:08:17, which turned out to be my fastest time ever. My chip time was slower, but still good enough for the second fastest marathon in my life. I felt amazing, and almost immediately began scheming to return to Memphis next year, this time perhaps raising money for St. Jude.

The rest of the day was spent at the post-race party drinking local beer and on Beale Street at B.B. Kings eating ribs and listening to some amazing local artists. It was, frankly, perfect, and might go down as the best race I’ve ever run. Ironically, Sonja leaves for Memphis tomorrow for work.

And so, dear reader, thus concludes the story of my racing in 2022, though the Kandahar Marathon will continue until the end of the year. Here, I have a small favor to ask of you: presently I pay a significant amount of money to be able to send my blog out to my large mailing list, and I intend to stop paying very soon. On that note, if you’re interested in keeping up with me in 2023, would you please “follow” this blog on my web page, markgudgel.com, so that we can keep in touch? I’ll write The Kandahar Marathon through the end of 2022, but the new year is fast approaching. Thank you for reading. Have a great week, everyone!

~Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Seven

“You’d rather be ten percent under-trained than one percent over-trained”

                                                            `                                               ~Coach Ryan Salem

I may finally have done it. At the start of the year, I was astonished that no matter how hard I pushed my body it seemed like it was eager to adapt to higher mileage and equally capable of doing so. Most years, I run a little more than a thousand miles. This year I’ve run well over double the usual, and I still have over a month to go. All that being said, it feels as if maybe I’m finally wearing down. I have a new issue with my right hip, and it seems likely its related to the pain in my right knee. My left knee, also, has been registering some complaints, especially on my long runs. While I seem to have the issues with my feet under control, they’ve been replaced with some that seem even more likely to shut me down. Worse still is the general fatigue. Whenever I go out for a run, as I did four times this week, meaning that three times I did not, I start out feeling fresh and strong only to begin to feel heavy part way into it. My body, it seems, needs a break.

The timing is good, I suppose. At Thanksgiving dinner, my friend Brian who, along with his family, joined us for the meal, casually mentioned that we had a marathon in Memphis next weekend. “That’s next week?” I asked. I thought we had two more weeks. How does a person get caught off-guard by the information that they are running a marathon? Sheesh. All that to say I’m into my taper now, further in than I realized, and I get to do a lot more resting this week in preparation for the St. Jude Marathon on Saturday.

Over the weekend, two of my former cross country runners stopped by for coffee. They’re both in college now, running casually and keeping up with classes. They’re both extremely bright, and more importantly, they’re excellent humans. I agreed to run the Lincoln Marathon with one of them next year, and signed up for that over the weekend. It seems to me I’ll need to get some serious, intentional rest in, and maybe devote more time to Peloton, core work, and lifting, if I’m going to be ready to tackle the five marathons on my calendar for next year when it comes time to start training in January.

Out of Afghanistan this week, the news is a mixed bag. On one hand, there are headlines about women pushing back against the Taliban, and the UN denouncing the Taliban’s treatment of women. While the latter is really just symbolic, or seems to be from here, that it remains on their radar is somewhat encouraging. Then there’s the ugly news. The Atlantic reported this week that if Congress doesn’t take action, thousands if not tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who were evacuated to the United States last year when the country fell could be deported. This is significantly complicated by the fact that control of congress just passed from the Democrats to the Republicans and, to make matters worse, there is an internal power struggle in the GOP regarding leadership that will only be exacerbated by the coming presidential primaries. Put another way, I have my doubts that the House of Representatives will take meaningful action on behalf of refugees leading up to a presidential election. If you’ve ever been inclined to write your senator or representative, now might be an excellent time.

This morning, Monday, my kids woke up early and climbed into my lap. True enough, they aren’t real conducive to me getting my work done in the mornings, but the ability to snuggle with them, to study Spanish with them in the mornings, and to spend more time with them in general was much of the impetus for my change in jobs this fall. That is to say: I don’t mind. As I sat here snuggling them, I was reminded of what a friend said to me in Sarajevo this past summer, something to the effect of “You compose yourself with the confident demeanor of a person who knows they have a home to return to.” I don’t recall his exact words, but the concept of what he was saying is something I reflect upon a lot. I have no doubt that he was correct, and I am equally convicted that every person should be able to feel this way. I end today thinking about the parents, in particular the Afghan parents in the United States, whose future remains uncertain. I once thought that running a few thousand miles this year was going to be how I helped them. Now I am beginning to realize it will need to be far more than that. I’m sure that no matter how tired I feel, it’s nothing compared to them.

~Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Six

“&$*%^%$&)(#$*&^%#.”

                                                            `                                               ~Me

I’ve been too frustrated this week even to write this down, though I feel that if you’re one of my regular readers then the least I can do is to offer you some form of explanation. Here goes.

Heading into this year of running, my great fear was injury. Surely, I thought, doubling my mileage would significantly increase the likelihood of stress fractures, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and all of those other miserable ailments that runners so often get sidelined with. Yet here I am in mid-November, and to be honest the worst thing to have happened is that very minor surgery on my foot, a few missing toenails, the occasional slight muscle pull. Things had gone so much more smoothly than I expected…until this past week.

I don’t know if it’s the weather, which has been frigid enough in Nebraska to force me onto my treadmill most of the time, or if instead it’s something else, but last week I fell apart. My mileage dipped down to nearly non-existent, and the combination of three miles here and seven there added up to a meager twenty-seven for the week, something like half of my usual weekly totals. Then Sunday, it culminated in what felt like a disaster.

I woke up at seven or so and did some writing, intending to go out for a double-digit jog. By ten in the morning, however, I was so fatigued that I could barely drag myself to bed and, once I did, I slept for three more hours. My body seems to be rebelling. I don’t have a fever, a cough, or a runny nose. What I have is muscles that are refusing to cooperate. It feels a bit like trying to get a stubborn horse to stand up. Good luck with that.

Monday morning, after nine hours of fitful slumber, I got on the treadmill and forced four miles out at a feeble pace. Not terrible, but far from the marathon training I’m used to doing. My hope is that perhaps this week I’ll get back into a rhythm. Should my muscles persist with this tired-horse routine, I have my doubts about my ability to finish out the year. I’ll know more next week after further field testing. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone. I’m thankful for your support.

~Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Five

“Afghan supreme leader orders full implementation of Sharia law.”

                                                            `                                               ~The Guardian 11/14/22

Afghanistan was, at long last, in the news again this week, but only kind of, and mostly for the wrong reasons. After failing to produce a “red wave” in the midterm elections, Republicans have reportedly set the botched American withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of their agenda for the presidential race. Fair enough, and though I hope nobody will forget that it was Trumpster Fire who set all of that in motion, Biden certainly shares blame for how poorly it was executed. Regardless, wouldn’t it be nice if the people of Afghanistan could be something other than a pawn in our tiresome political games? Sigh.

Other ways that the Afghans appeared in the news this week, and these you had to look for: the Taliban have barred Afghan women from gyms. Also, a report came out detailing that the US Military is responsible for the deaths of 64 children in Afghanistan during our occupation. Oh, and remember the Russians? The Afghans do, too. In fact, there are a significant number of Afghans who still speak Russian, and there’s some overlap between those and the people the US trained and armed, and reportedly they’re being recruited by Putin to fight in Ukraine. So, in summary, the Taliban gonna Taliban because they value women’s rights about as much as the US Supreme Court, America doesn’t kill as many children abroad as we do at home but, hey, closer than you’d think, and in some grotesque nod to the failed Soviet era, that mediocre KGB agent-turned-demagogue has launched his latest iteration of operation human shield with the unwitting help of the Americans. You really can’t make this stuff up. 

As if all that weren’t enough, Monday morning in the US, Monday evening in Afghanistan, riffing off of the whole banning-women-from-gyms (and also public bath houses and, well, society at large) thing, the Taliban went ahead and ordered the full implementation of Sharia law. After skimming several articles all of which appear to have the same sources, the gist of it seems to be that the major change isn’t in the law but in the implementation and enforcement of punishments—yeah, those punishments, the ones we used to read about and cringe. Apparently, having thrust the country into horrific poverty as winter sets in and returning women to third-class citizenship wasn’t enough for the Talibs, and they’re now going to begin public amputations and stoning people to death on soccer fields again. It’s 2022, but the whole world seems to have missed the memo. Everything is backwards. We’re living in the dark ages again, but this time we have the internet.

So, when people ask me “how do you run so much” it’s not really that weird that I think “how can you not?” right? It’s the therapy I can afford, and how can you keep up with the news in this world and not need therapy? Still, I’ve never been one of those “ignorance is bliss” folks. I envy them sometimes, but in the end I suppose I’d rather be depressed than stupid.

This week I ran about as much as the last, and I’ve now run thirteen days straight, the entire month of November so far. I never been a “streaker” but I’m thinking about trying to at least run to the end of the month and see how that goes. Most days this week were 5-7 miles and some core work, though on Sunday I got in 18.5, one mile for every degree Fahrenheit it was outside when I began. In all this week I ran 52 miles and felt pretty good, save for a minor nagging pain in my right knee. My big toes are each uniquely aware of the absence of nails atop them, though both respond to their nakedness in their own ways and neither slows me down much. If anything, I enjoyed bundling up to run Sunday morning, and no part of me got unbearably cold. A win of sorts.

When I started this project, this Kandahar Marathon, it seemed like, well, a marathon. Fifty-two weeks. A few went by. Then a few more. Then months passed followed by seasons until suddenly today I looked and realized that winter is upon us and there are only seven weeks left in the year. This year may not have changed much in the grand scheme of things, but it has changed me significantly. Sometime earlier this month I crossed the two-thousand-mile mark for the first time in my life, and I’m still going strong. Have my efforts made a difference for others? It’s hard to say. I know there are Afghan people in Omaha who have benefited from my efforts and the support of those who have joined me in this endeavor. Having said that, I have to admit that sometimes it all just feels more than a little overwhelming. It must be time to go for a run again.

Until next week,

Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Four

“Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get.”

~Mark Twain

Last week, I gave a talk on sustainability and regenerative viticultural practices in the Napa Valley. A lot of what I shared in my talk, and much of what I’m writing about in my book at the moment which is due out next year, is about climate change. A week ago, our kids were trick-or-treating in seventy-degree temperatures I remember that when I was young, I often trick-or-treated in the snow (walking uphill all the time, of course) and preferred a ninja costume because of the face mask that would help keep me warm. Climate change won’t be the end of me, but as a parent—and a human—I can’t help but be deeply concerned by it. As I wrap up my book on the Napa Valley, fire, drought, erratic temperatures, new highs and so much more are making the industry harder and hard to maintain. I’m glad I get to do some work in this area, to bring attention to the issues, but I wish that there was more that I could do.

I still check the weather in Kandahar from time to time on my phone. This time of year, their temperatures are pretty similar to those we experience in the American Midwest. In fact, this week, the weather in the part of Afghanistan is remarkably consistent, ranging from the low forties to the high sixties almost every day, with daily sunshine and no precipitation predicted. It’s not as erratic as the weather here in Nebraska, and I wonder sometimes how that reality impacts those who move here. It must seem very deceptive to those who are used to seemingly more predictable weather to live in a place where it can be seventy degrees and sunny on afternoon and seven degrees and snowing the next morning. It’s hard to plan for, as if the lives of those who move to Nebraska from Afghanistan—or any other nation—weren’t complicated enough.

Cindy reached out to tell me that the new Afghan Community Center is opening in Omaha soon. They need volunteers. I’m trying to figure out how, with a full teaching load and publishing deadlines looming among so many other obligations, I can find more time in the day to fit that in. I used to make more time in the day by waking up earlier and earlier every morning, until at one point I was waking up at 3:45AM each day. That was no good for anyone, and the older I get the more rest I require. If you happen to live in or near Omaha and want to volunteer at the new Afghan Community Center, here’s the link to their Facebook page:  https://facebook.com/events/s/afghan-culture-night/2423669814453783/

As running goes, I ended up taking Monday off this week, the last day of October and my third day of rest in a row. In the month of October, I ended up running a modest 136.5 miles, my second-lowest monthly total of the year, despite having run back-to-back marathons. In fact, more than despite that, it was because of it. Between the taper leading up to those races and the rest required to recover from them, it’s a miracle I was able to run as much as I did. This past week, beginning Tuesday the first, I got back into a steadier routine, running daily and feeling my body get used to the demands of it again.

Friday the family and I headed down to Kansas City and stayed with some friends. Saturday morning, I paced the Longview Half Marathon. It was a wicked thirty-something degrees that morning, and because it was the day before daylight savings, it was pitch black when we arrived at the lake with almost no lights to be found anywhere. Not only was it cold, the wind was brutal, amplifying the effects of the temperature. When the rain turned to sleet as I was pinning on my bib, I bristled and put on another layer of clothing. When the sleet turned to enormous, wet snowflakes at the starting line, I chuckled wryly. It was going to be a rough one. I paced the two-hour group and we went out at an easy pace, knowing we’d make up the time when the group go warmed up. I was the lead pacer, and my group was amazing. The two-hour group is often popular as that’s a common time goal for many. I had a score of runners around me for most of the race, including many who were running their first half marathon ever. At mile eleven, most broke free of me and sped up. I finished in 1:59:58 unofficially, with a group of five, and I was honored to find many from my group had waited at the finish to thank me. We swapped a few hugs, I congratulated them, grabbed a couple slices of pizza and headed to my car to join my family for the Husker game.

Sunday morning, my friend Brian and I drove to Lawrence to run the Kansas Half Marathon. I was pacing the 2:05 group this time, but I took the trail role. We had a solid pack through mile six or seven, but then they spaced out. For much of the latter part of the race, I had a small group of four or five, and by mile ten I was with a lone runner, Sarah, who was fighting hard to hold our pace and doing an amazing job of it. Sarah finished her first half marathon ever, and Brian and I sat with some of my fellow pacers, eating a banana and chatting before we headed back. Brian had broken free of our pack earlier to do his own thing, which I totally get. He and I are running the St. Jude Marathon in less than a month, and more than anything he needs to feel strong and confident. We both do.

So far this year, I’ve raised a little over $3,400.  Thank you to those who support my efforts to raise money for Afghans resettling here in Nebraska. The week ahead is packed with meetings, but I’m going to do what I can to pack it with miles as well. If you’d like to make a donation to join me in supporting Afghans in Nebraska, below is the link. Thank you, and have a great week. https://www.fanangel.com/donate/2315

~Mark

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Forty-Three

“When your legs get tired, run with your heart.”

~Unknown

I was interviewed after the I-35 Challenge by Coach Eladio Valdez of Runner’s Edge in Kansas City, as was Becki Culler—I can share her interview with you if you’d like, but I’m only including mine below for now. I was glad Coach reached out. I’m not sure I’d have taken the time to reflect so thoroughly upon the experience had he not asked me the questions that he did. Below is the interview he sent out in his “Runners Edge Ramblings” newsletter last week.

Ordinary People Achieving Extra-Ordinary Things 

Why did you decide to take on this challenge of running 2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days?

I think I used to run marathons in part because of the uncertainty–I was never entirely certain when the gun went off that I would finish. Over time, as I’ve become a stronger runner, that uncertainty faded. One thing about the I-35 Challenge that was appealing in a way was that I was genuinely unsure of whether or not my body and my brain could pull it off. So often you wake up the day after a marathon stiff, achy, bleeding. To know that despite how I felt, eighteen hours after finishing KC I had to run Des Moines required some pretty serious mental gymnastics. I liked the idea of being tested like that. 

There were other reasons, too. I talked my good friend Scott into it. He’s an ultra runner, as is his girlfriend Tiffany, and it was fun to do it with them. I also got to check two states off of my fifty-state list in one weekend, plus I get to say that I ran as many marathons last weekend as I did in my twenties. The so-called humble brags write themselves after finishing two marathons in thirty hours.

What adjustments did you make to your regular marathon training to prepare for this? 

That was tricky. We all know you don’t train for a marathon by running marathons, right? But how do you train for something so ludicrous as two in two days? One thing that felt important to me was to finish a marathon with something left in the tank, to prove to myself that I could, so at the last minute I signed up for the Heartland Marathon in Omaha and locked on to the 4:45 pacer for the entire race. I ran a 4:09 at Grandma’s in June, but finished with terrible cramps and almost to the point of collapse despite terrific weather and a great course. When I crossed the finish line at Heartland, at a significantly slower pace, I felt great. I hugged my kids, ate pizza with them, then went home and we played catch. Having that finish behind me gave me confidence. 

Another thing I worked hard on was my diet and, more specifically, in-race fueling. I love that people provide food on the course, but you can’t count on that. In Born to Run, I read that Jurek carries pita and hummus–real food instead of processed gu–when he runs, so I started carrying simple trail mix with me. Salty nuts, sugary dried fruit, a bit of chocolate. It’s perfect. I carry four of them, and eat one about every six miles. I rarely eat the fourth. After cramping so badly at Grandma’s, I’ve also started popping salt and potassium every four miles during the race, along with a few hundred mg of ibuprofen. You have to be careful with that stuff, but it seems to work for me and I limit the excess to race days. 

I also cut a bit of weight, sort of as a natural consequence of high-mileage training. I’m an Asics, guy, so the other thing I did was made sure that two different pairs of shoes, one pair of Gel Nimbus Lite 3’s and one pair of Gel Cumulus, were broken in and ready for each day. I had my kit and my fuel down to a science. That helped give me confidence going into this thing.

What was your gameplan going into this for how you intended to run the first marathon and the second marathon the next day? How about what you planned to do in between the marathons? Were you able to stick to the plan or did you have to adjust it? If so, in what way(s)?

Pacers were key–I knew that going into it. I also know, as a pacer myself, that they aren’t all created equally. Part of my issue at Grandma’s was that there was no 3:55 pacer, and that was my goal. A smarter, more discerning me would have gone with the 4:00 group. Instead, I went with the 3:50. He was erratic and too fast out of the gate and by mile sixteen I couldn’t hang on to him. By mile twenty-one, the 4:00 pacer was passing me. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

In KC, we had Sarav, easily one of the best marathon pacers out there. We walked aid stations and hills. He chatted us up the entire time, encouraged us. Tiffany ran ahead, but Scott and I found it easy to hang on with him. In Des Moines, we gave ourselves permission to slow down. There was no 5:00 pacer so we started with 5:05 but quickly caught up to the 4:50 and held on to her. Using pacers to control tempo, for encouragement, to be reminded to walk aid stations–even for a very experienced runner who paces a lot of races, I found it invaluable. I’d never endeavor to do something like the I-35 Challenge, or even a marathon, without using pacers.

In between races, we fueled and rested. The three-hour drive wasn’t my favorite part of the experience, but it’s unavoidable. We got to Des Moines and immediately ate. We found some soup and salad, but fueling on the road can be challenging. Part of the fun of running races in other cities is seeing the city and going out to eat, but the availability of your usual foods is unreliable. In retrospect, I’d suggest packing a cooler to anyone with religious eating habits. Then we went to the hotel, turned on the Husker game, and did our usual. I soaked in the shower for a while. Scott has some leg compression sleeves we shared. My massage gun died so I rubbed my quads and hamstrings out by hand, flossed a little on the edge of the hotel desk, and wolfed down several bagels and a sandwich. I turned the game off before it was over and got as much sleep as possible. There was no perfect way to prepare to do something like this, but we did everything we could.

Share about your double marathon challenge experience.

After the KC race, I was pretty sure my left big toenail had given up the ghost, but instead it was just swollen and bleeding from all sides, oozing pus (sorry), and generally a painful mess. Every step pushed the loosened nail back into the quick and sent a stabbing pain into my foot. The KC race had been easy, thanks largely to good company and a great pacer, and minus the issue with my toenail, I felt pretty great. Scott had cramped in KC, but on the whole we felt good at the finish. Someone handed me a cold Bud Light around mile twenty-one and frankly, it was amazing. The carbs were great in that moment. I drank the entire thing in about a quarter mile (I also won a beer-mile earlier this year) and then FaceTimed my children since they weren’t at the race. By the time we finished I was tired, sure, but felt pretty good. I do think that the idea that we had finished a marathon and we were only half way done for the weekend was sort of an unpleasant notion, but we put it out of our minds. I did anyway.

In Des Moines, I woke up with my toe in so much pain that for a while I doubted whether or not I’d be able to run at all. Then I stubbed it on the bed while I was getting ready and invented some new swear words because the old ones felt entirely insufficient in that moment. I told myself I’d give it my best shot, drop down to the half or drop out if I needed to. The weather was perfect. The course in Des Moines is excellent, not only scenic but for the most part pretty flat, and amazingly well-supported. I think I was handed four bananas on the race and I ate them all pretty greedily. No Bud Light, unfortunately. It was probably not until mile fifteen that I became somewhat confident that I’d finish. We had a solid pace group that included Scott, Tiffany, and myself, as well as several other runners and Ashley, who had paced KC the day before and was now pacing us. That group made it work, despite our collective exhaustion. 

By the end I was entirely beat, but I also felt absolutely incredible. I had done something that I genuinely had no idea whether or not I could accomplish at all. I told my graduate students a few days later that it was probably the first time since writing my dissertation that I had done anything like that. I think I’m still processing it–and still paying for it with my toe–but it’s an amazing feeling.

Are you glad you took on this challenge? Why or why not?

Absolutely. If you’ve never run more than a 10K, your first half is a mind-blowing thing, right? I knew that I could run a marathon. I had no idea if my body and brain were equal to the task of running two of them back-to-back. Knowing I can gives me a feeling of strength and a confidence I didn’t have before in my ability to run. I don’t see me transitioning to ultras, but I no longer have much doubt that I can finish the fifty-state challenge. I joked to Scott and Tiffany that we should do it again next year–but I’m not sure that’s a joke. I’d do it again if I’m healthy and injury-free next fall. 

What advice would you share for someone who wants to take on a double marathon challenge?

Bart Yasso commented on my tweet about the I-35 Challenge with an important reminder to me: “The most important thing to pack is the reason why you are running the I-35 Challenge. You were born to run this race(s).” Remembering, first, that we are indeed born to run, that running long distances is the one things humans excel at physically, was huge. Remembering my own personal reasons for taking this on was equally valuable. I was grateful to the legend for his timely advice. 

I really feel like running a marathon in advance was a benefit, and having a routine in terms of fuel and supplements was the difference between this and those races that have punished me. The most important thing, I think, was not setting ambitious time goals. As a pacer, so often people will join my group and, when we start talking, tell me they “barely trained” or that they’re hoping to PR by twenty minutes. I think it’s natural, if also sort of stupid, for runners to be ambitious and to have big goals. That being said, most of those “I’m going to PR by an hour!” people fall off by the halfway point and wind up getting passed by pacers they could have stayed with if they set more reasonable goals for themselves to begin with. So, my advice to anyone running the I-35 Challenge or anything akin to it would be this:

1. Make finishing the goal. Don’t worry about time. In regard to time, go out at a pace that’s almost boring. By mile fifty, I promise you won’t be bored.

2. Taper. Do not fail to taper. 

3. Get your fuel down to a science. Use a marathon as preparation and practice in advance and see if you can finish one with as much as possible left in the tank. 

4. Stay at a race hotel, within walking distance of the starting line.

5. Use pacers. 

6. Pack your reason why and remember that you were born to run.

That’s how I ended the interview. Reminding everyone, most of all myself, that we were built for this.  In the weeks that had followed my back-to-back marathons, I’d been an odd combination of sedentary and active. I rested that week only to run a half marathon the weekend after, and the following week, this past week, I found I had little left to give. The hips, quads, and hamstrings were sore and achy. My calves were twitchy. Everything felt heavy. After a half on Sunday, I rested Monday. Tuesday, I went out to run five which quickly became walking two. Wednesday, I went out for seven but barely completed five. After a rest Thursday, I managed seven slow miles Friday, but finished feeling as tired as if I’d just run twice that distance. Reluctantly, I took Saturday and Sunday, the days usually reserved for long runs, off. I knew I was pacing back-to-back halves down in Kansas the following weekend, and I didn’t want to jeopardize my ability to help others the way my pacers had helped me.

I’ve never been very good with moderation, and the thing is that it usually catches up with me. The worst part of having to take time off to rest is knowing that every mile I don’t run is a few bucks that I don’t raise to help people, and that’s hard to take. That said, if my legs fail to freshen up soon, it could cost me a lot more mileage in the long run, and as I wrap up writing this on Sunday afternoon, I’m considering taking Monday off as well in the hopes that I can finish November and December this year as strong as I started. Time will tell.