Sabbatical: Race #2

Kentucky ✔

I found the Iron Horse Half Marathon race online. It is slated as a top destination race by Runner’s World. I now know why.

Midway, Kentucky isn’t far from downtown Lexington. Population, less than 2000. They may have as many horses. And this morning, it seemed about half the town was running the race.

The course really was picturesque. If you are a horselover and a runner, you should schedule this race. Be advised, it’s hilly. But you’ll be glad you did it. You feel like you are spending the morning on the horse farm. Very unique setting.

As for my “performance,” this was a test. How would I do running two halves back to back? How prepared was I? Would I manage myself well before, during, and after both races? 

I give myself a 90%. Surprisingly my thighs are worse off than my calves. I’ll take these two results happily and move on to State #15, possibly thus next Saturday. Stay tuned

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Sabbatical: Race #1

Indiana✔

Almost 1,600 of us converged on the streets of Evansville, Indiana, at 7amCST to run 13.1 miles. I finished in 2:03:31. Pleased with that.

EVENT REVIEW:

Everything about this race was done very well. 

  • Packet pickup was easy to find and speedy. (We got buckets along with our goodie bags…still not sure why)
  • Race parking was a breeze-plenty of it, and I unknowingly parked one block from the start line. Unheard of. 
  • The course was mostly flat-perfect for Floridians. It weaved nicely through neighborhoods and parks. 
  • The community presence was great. Very few areas weren’t covered with spectators, volunteers, first aid, or policemen.
  • Plenty of encouragement and refreshments at the finish line. Shout out to the announcer for calling out “John Gregory from Bradenton, Florida” repeatedly until the crowd cheered.

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: 

  • If I weren’t running again in the morning, I probably could have pushed to get under 2 hours. Good to know.
  • My pace stayed pretty steady through 10M. 57-degree start had a lot to do with that.
  • I surprised myself being able to pick up the pace the last half mile. Assimilating that on the treadmill pays off.
  • Shout out to Holly and another young lady who unknowingly paced me from miles 9-11. Strong job, Ladies.
  • State 13 done. On to 14 tomorrow. (Bucket list item: run a race in every state)

Sabbatical: Week 2 Project

This morning I headed out from TN where I’ve spent the week in Nashville. The weekend will take me to Indiana and Kentucky to run two races, and I’ll end up in Ohio to visit a friend for a few days before heading to NY on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago I posted a video teaser about my sabbatical activities. You were probably smart enough to figure out that the video footage was from a recording studio. If not, here’s the scoop. 

Over the years, people have encouraged me to do a recording. I’ve always dismissed the idea for lots of reasons, the main one being time. So when I was given the opportunity to take a month’s sabbatical, that excuse was no longer valid. Back in the spring, I connected with a producer, and we’ve been working on this project since then with the target of being prepared to do the recording this week. Target met.

I could write a lot about this process, but for now I’ll just relay what we did this week.

  • Monday was a full day at The Library Studio in Joelton where 18 string and brass players added their talents to seven of the songs. In the picture above is Dave Bechtel, producer, and Robert Nugent, arranger and pianist.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday the woodwinds were added, and we got vocals for nine of the songs recorded.
  • So yesterday was the final day, getting the last song recorded and some final tweaking.

The project is by no means complete. But you are now “in the know.” I’ll share more as we move along.

Sabbatical: Week 1 Roadtrip

Last week was a step back in time. My mom and sister Debra joined me on a roadtrip to Illinois. Final stop, Beecher City, population 500. This was a delayed 80th birthday trip for my mom to visit her twin sister and brother-in-law. 

Last time I was in Beecher City was probably before I started kindergarten. What would I know, but it appears not much has changed. For instance, to our surprise at the gas station, we received full service. I can’t remember ever receiving that. Anywhere.

We enjoyed the disconnect from the rest of the world for a few days. My mom and aunt enjoyed seeing the home they grew up in (cover photo above) and their high school and even catching up with classmates from their elementary one-room school classmates. A taste of yesterday. In this place. A meaningful week to start a sabbatical month.

Utility Players: Being the Ideal Teamplayer

(This is the sixth post in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

What makes a teamplayer ideal? Patrick Lencioni, writing about this in a 2016 book, may not have meant to highlight attributes that make up an established trend in baseball, but much of his content applies. That trend is the manufacturing, valuing, and usage of the Utility Player (a player who can play several positions competently, a sort of jack of all trades).

My Cardinals certainly are riding this trend with players like Matt CarpenterGreg Garcia, and Kolten Wong. They bring excitement to the clubhouse and the field with their versatility. But the player who has best modeled the worth of the Utility Player over the last decade is Ben Zobrist. Zobrist has been called the Father of Utility, and with good reason. He’s been at it most of his career, which includes playing for the last two World Series champions.

So what does Zobrist have, besides talent, that makes him the ideal teamplayer? What does a Utility Player possess that any teammate could possess, regardless of the team or their position, and be an ideal teammate? Here is a short list:

Hunger

Lencioni includes this as one of his three attributes of the ideal teamplayer. To be hungry means to want it more, to be self-motivated, to have what Bill Hybels calls a holy discontent. Hungry teammates want to be on the field, at the plate in the big moment, or dedicated to every workout and routine. They aren’t satisfied letting the rest of the team outdo them; they are passionate about carrying their weight and taking on more responsibility.

Flexibility

If you’re not careful, hunger can blind you. Hunger could lead you down the “it’s my way or the highway” path. To avoid that road, the ideal teamplayer values and pursues being flexible. If he’s not in the lineup every day, he trusts the coach. If he’s asked to move to another position for a short term to cover for an injured teammate, he trusts the decision. Hunger and flexibility must be present for the ideal teamplayer to maintain balance.

“Team First” Mentality

The Utility Player will fail with a “me first” mentality. Eventually, all teamplayers would. Building and maintaining a “team first” mentality is what the ideal teamplayer does. They show up on time, they meet deadlines, they squelch any temptation to complain, they even offer to give the rookie a shot at glory. The ideal teamplayer knows how to and works hard at staying off any ego trips.

So what about your life teams (family, work, community, ministry)? Maybe you aren’t the skilled Utility Player, but would your leader call you hungry? What’s your flexibility level? Who mostly comes in first in your thoughts, you or the team?

If God has placed you on that team as the Utility Player, how are you managing your perspective on your position? Your position on the team is what God designed for the team and for you. Stay hungry and flexible. Keep team first. Be ideal.

How Good Are You at the Small Ball?

(This is the fifth in a series on wisdom from baseball. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

Because it didn’t happen often, you would think I would remember every time it did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. However, I do recall one time, in high school, pretty clearly. I knew I made good contact on the ball, but as usual I put my head down and just started running. It wasn’t until I was almost on second base that I realized the ball actually carried the fence for a home run. I was so surprised, I’m not sure I even slowed my pace by the time I crossed home plate.

Baseball today is a much different game than when I played. The players are bigger and stronger, the gear is better, and there are some dynamic home runs. Yet despite all that, I believe it is still the small ball — walks, singles, bunts, sacs — that wins games. When it comes to winning at life, there’s application as well. Here’s what I mean


Do the Little Things

During my time playing the game, one phrase was constant — do the little things. That meant being good with the fundamentals of the game, such as making good decisions with the ball, being ready for the play, or minimizing errors. In life there are fundamentals too. Here are a couple worth mentioning.

  • Discipline—To become good at something, whether a skill or attitude, it takes discipline. The skill or quality produced by discipline doesn’t usually happen through a home run. It is the consistent single or double which creates runs and ultimately produces wins. In your career, it may be consistent excellence in your performance. In physical health it is diet and exercise. Whatever the circumstance, discipline is a key contributor to the results you’re looking for.
  • Manufacture Runs—Small ball wins games because it creates and leverages opportunities. Take the lottery for example. There are certainly some big home runs for the winners, but just because there is a winner doesn’t mean it is a good investment strategy. To manufacture runs means to create your own opportunities rather than wait for the big one. It means that you’re looking at life proactively, rather than reactively. And it means you are able to see the potential in the singles and doubles, rather than focusing solely on the home run.
  • Play a Team Game—Home runs are a solo effort, whereas small ball is a team game. It requires you to know your role, which sometimes means sacrificing your at bat for the good of the team. Your team might be the organization you work for, your church, your family even. Regardless, the attitude of small ball is ‘what can I do to make the team better?’ It means that you’re willing to put others ahead of self, and to help when needed. It is recognizing that by contributing to the success of others, you also contribute to your own success.


It’s How You Play the Game

We all recognize the phrase “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts.” We may be tempted to quickly dismiss this as a Little League consolation statement. But what if it is true? What if what really counts is how you played the game? Statistics track wins and losses, but stats never tell the whole story. A loss can be a success—an improvement from the last game. And a win can be a failure—not playing to your full potential.

In his book Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes, “The world is always trying to seduce us with the extraordinary. The culture fills our hearts and minds with spectacular dreams about hitting home runs, but life is about getting up every day and hitting a single.”

Home runs certainly create memorable moments and grab attention. But in the end, playing small ball — doing the little things in the right way — presents the best chance for being successful over the long term. So, how’s your small ball game?

Sabbaticals: Not So Unnormal

I’ve had interesting dialogue with people about going on sabbatical this month. For the large part, it seems people have an idea what a sabbatical is for, but it appears foreign because they’ve never been on one themselves. 

This is my first legit one. I say that because two seasons in the past I pretty much gave myself a sabbatical by choosing to leave jobs without transitioning immediately into another one. No regrets. Both ended up being about six months long. (I should have lobbied for more than a month this time. JK)

If you just Google various angles inquiring about sabbaticals, you find this is more normal than not. And it should be. How it’s defined is going to vary, yet the value will remain. To read one recipient’s review, follow this link.

So as I post throughout this month, I encourage you to ponder what a sabbatical might look like and mean for you, your family, your company. Become more normal.

Obstacles: Sometimes You Have to be Your Own Generator

It’s been two weeks since Irma. Much continues to happen around the world with natural disasters. In our town, we haven’t had to deal with the devastation of other places. Regardless of how impactful the storm, one thing is true for anyone living in a post-storm world: things aren’t normal. Normal has been replaced, if not permanently, at least temporarily.

This was clear the first day I went for a run. It was Tuesday morning, not much longer than 24 hours post-storm.

As odd as it sounds, I literally had to tell myself that it was okay to go for a run. I’m sure to many it would have been the furtherest thing from their mind. To me, it was what I should do. It is my routine, and I should do it even if I didn’t want to or questioned if I should.

I did a 5.7-mile route through West Bradenton. A little darker than usual, even for early morning hours. Darkened street lights, humming generators, and impassable sidewalks were obstacles to my normal carefree run. Watching traffic on Cortez Road between 51st and 75th was interesting; actually on this entire route it was. Non-working traffic lights (5 out of 9) were catching many drivers offguard. They were having to pay more attention because routine was broken.

When routine is broken, when there are obstacles in life to doing what we are accustomed to doing, it can be quite jolting, to some life-altering. All of these things I noticed on my run were simple examples of obstacles that post-storm living presents. And if you allow them to, these obstacles can appear overwhelming and unnavigable. They can appear to be.

If the appearance grips us with fear, we would do well to step back and let our brains catch up to our emotions. Our brains can help us see…

  • …taking a shower by flashlight is doable.
  • …if you don’t know how to do something, most likely you know someone who does.
  • …a new routine will take more time…so leave earlier for work, allow more grace to other drivers, and expect the unexpected.
  • …the obstacle may not be addressable in the desired timeframe. That’s okay. Give time to yourself and to others to get it addressed in a safe and wise manner.
  • …obstacles don’t automatically mean you can’t do your thing.  They may just cause you to have to figure out a different way.
  • …like many pre-storm days, the best motivation is self-motivation. Sometimes you have to be your own generator.

Closers: Own Your Role

(This is the fourth in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

New York Yankees. A lot of people love them. A lot of people don’t. I live just south of Tampa.

Love them or not, their history of great players is remarkable. So much so that they have their own greatest players list that could rival all other teams combined. Google “Yankees Greatest Players,” and you’ll see.

In most of those lists, the name Mariano Rivera appears at least in the top ten, some even higher. Writer Anthony Maimone placed Rivera number six. Here’s part of his explanation:

“There is no question that Rivera is the greatest closer MLB has ever seen. The real debate is whether or not he is the greatest pitcher of all time. The fact that is even a question shows the extreme dominance Rivera has had on the competition stretching his 19-year career. There has never been a pitcher as dominant as he has been, and there may never be one again.”

If you pull up the Wikipedia article on baseball closers, guess whose photo illustrates the article. Of course he does. Why? He set the bar (652 career saves), the standard (served the role for 17 years), basically defined the role (precise control, smooth motion, composed demeanor). Others before him might disagree that Rivera is the greatest closer ever, so that brings up the question: what exactly makes a closer great?

The greatness begins with acknowledging what their job is. They are the relief pitcher called in to get the final outs in a close game when their team is leading. To be great, a closer has to be reliable, very business-like, and certainly able to handle big pressure. Tony La Russa, a manager considered a developer of the role of the closer, said this:

“It is important that relievers know their roles in the situations which they will be called into a game. Sure, games can get away from you in the seventh and eighth, but those last three outs in the ninth are the toughest. You want a guy who can handle that pressure. That, to me, is most important.”

They know their role. I would add, not only does a great closer know their role, they also own it. They are part of a pitching staff of roughly 15 pitchers. The starting rotation usually consists of four to five pitchers, so the rest of the staff are relievers. But the closer, everyone knows what his job is. That pitcher must know his role and own it.

Most likely, that player didn’t grow up through little league, high school, and college thinking he was going to be a closer. He probably dreamt of being the star pitcher, the horse, the leader. Whether by choice or force, he now finds himself in the closing role. And to be great, he has to own it.

When it comes to owning your role, one of the best instructional writings available is actually found in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes about the body of Christ in chapter 12. Using the body analogy, he says we all have a designated role to play by being part of a body. So if you are the ear, you have to own being the ear; you can’t decide you won’t without the body becoming dysfunctional. Every part must know their role and own it if the body is to function as it should, to be in winning form.

  • You want to be great at work? Know your role on the work body and own it.
  • You want to be great at home? Know your role in the home body and own it.
  • You want to be great in the community? Know your role in the community body and own it.
  • You want to be great in God’s kingdom? Know your role in the kingdom and own it.

Mariano Rivera played for the same “body” his entire career. His owners knew they wanted him and would do what it took to keep him. As a result, he has ridiculous amount of records and is considered one of the greats of the most celebrated team in all of sports. This was made possible because he found his role, and he owned it.