Saturday, September 29, 2012

Getting It Right

Eons ago, back when I was a teenager in high school, I ran on the track team. I ran in the distance events, occasionally dropping down to run a middle-distance leg on a relay team. One day, my track coach assigned me a workout that was very heavy on sprints. “Coach,” I said, “why am I doing all these sprints? I’m terrible at sprinting.” My coach just looked at me and replied, “That’s why you’re doing them.”

When my dear wife informed me that she was once again with child, I imagined a similar conversation with God. “Lord,” I said, “why are you giving me another kid? Can’t you see that I’m a lousy dad?” God the coach replied, “And you’re going to keep raising them until you get it right!”

So, maybe by the time the youngest Hilgefort comes of age, I’ll have finally mastered the parenting skills that some men bring naturally to the task.

(Please don’t misunderstand me. The self-deprecating remarks above apply only to me and not to my older children. My wife has heroically compensated for my clumsiness, such that they seem to be turning out pretty well. I only hope that they don’t hold my failures against me.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Chat

It’s Friday! How ‘bout we have a little chat?

Running is easy for me to talk about – very little introspection required. Marathon recovery has gone well, and the Oktoberfest 10K is now only nine days away. After a nine-miler on Monday, I sat on my duff for three days because of rain, but my 4.6 mile Minster loop this morning was at a good pace. The last time I weighed in, I topped out at 223 lbs heading out the door for a run, so as long as I don’t come down with a stomach flu this week, I should be well-positioned to place in the 220+ weight category.

Why didn’t I just run circles at the Y on those rainy mornings? Well, I thought I could be helpful at home. Around this time last year, Erin was in the hospital for a week with pneumonia. She started showing respiratory symptoms last week, so Amy took her in to see our pediatrician. Now Erin has to receive breathing treatments with a nebulizer every morning and evening. In addition, the doctor was unhappy with Erin’s weight, so we have to severely limit some of her favorite foods – ramen noodles and queso with chips. I don’t know how helpful I’ve been these past few mornings. I almost feel more like I’m in the way.

The diet change and breathing treatments have made life with Erin a little more difficult when added to Jamie’s bedtime anxieties (she cries and says she’s afraid when it’s time for bed, so we’ve had to stay in the room for as long as 30 minutes until she falls asleep). I can only imagine how the pediatrician will react the next time she sees Michael, our 50 lb two-year-old who’s out-growing his size 4 clothes. We accept these things and recognize the need to adapt, but that doesn’t mean that, on an emotional level, we remain in balance. The constant noise of a screaming child has an effect on my psyche that is not unlike that of fingernails on a chalkboard, and that inevitably bubbles to the surface through my harsh words and actions.

Did I mention that my forty-year-old wife is pregnant with our eighth child? I’ve been changing diapers for eighteen years. What’s another three? Life with a pregnant woman is always fun. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

Speaking of Oktoberfest, which I was three paragraphs ago, my service schedule has changed a bit from past years. Two of the shifts that I’ve worked for years for my Knights of Columbus council have been filled by other members, with the only remaining shifts occurring at times not suitable for my state (e.g., coincident with the Saturday evening mass or the Sunday parade). So maybe this year I’ll actually have a chance to enjoy “ein bier” and listen to some oom-pah music with the kids at the gazebo.

I shouldn’t let this little chat pass without some modicum of introspection, so here it is. My spiritual life is a mess. It has been for a while. An incident with our parish staff last year has left me skeptical of any parish-level initiative and reluctant to participate. Most Sundays find me attending mass at a neighboring parish rather than at the church just two blocks from my home. I still read along with the Lectionary, and I usually pray the Rosary while I run, but I rarely pray the Liturgy of the Hours now, and I can’t remember the last time I went to a holy hour. The discipline that I hoped I would learn by training for the marathon hasn’t manifested itself in the rest of my life. I know that I need to go to confession, but I just can’t seem to summon a suitable degree of contrition from my spiritual ennui.

If that doesn’t cheer you up, I don’t know what will! Maybe riots in the Mideast or the collapse of Spain and Greece? Oh, right. Well, at least we’ve got the upcoming elections!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


A pair of Brooks running shoes: $105.

Race registration: $90.

One small Bodyglide anti-chaffing stick: $6.

Being cheered on by my wife and kids at miles ten and twenty-six: priceless.

It’s been three days since I participated in the Air Force Marathon, and my feelings about the event continue to evolve. I don’t regret running at all; I’m glad I did. The evolution, rather, pertains to whether I consider my finish a victory or a defeat.

No matter how many races I run, I still get race day jitters. I have come to learn that this is a physical reaction stemming from the body’s anticipation of the demands about to be placed upon it. The marathon is a race unlike a 5K or 10K road race, and the jitters for the marathon began the day before the race. I took the day off from work and went with my wife and two youngest children (Jamie, 4, and Michael, 2) to the sports expo, where I was to pick up my bib. We treated it as something of a dry run, ensuring that Amy would know where to drop me off the following morning and how to get to the spectator areas in Fairborn and at the Air Force Museum.

We prepared as much as we could the night before, because on race day, we were up at 4:30 am for a 5:00 am departure. I ate a light breakfast (half a bagel with peanut butter) and sipped some coffee. It was a cool morning, and I wore a zippered hoodie over the short-sleeved t-shirt that I planned to run in. I know that the running purists would probably scoff at my clothing selection, but I knew that the temperature wouldn’t provoke excessive sweating, and I really wanted to wear my Hilgefort t-shirt.

For thirty minutes before the 7:30 start, I sipped on a Gatorade, and fifteen minutes before the start I took a gel pack and discarded my hoodie. The Air Force band sang the national anthem, a B-2 stealth bomber flew over, and we were off. I have to admit that I was a little emotional.

I tried to settle into a slow, but comfortable pace, and as we crested the first hill at about 1.5 miles, I settled into position with the 3:35 pace group, where I would remain for the next twenty or so miles.

I executed my strategy, taking mainly electrolytes (i.e., Gatorade) at every other hydration station and grabbing gel packs where they were available at around miles eight and sixteen. The gels were ones that I had tried before: available from our local Wal-Mart. They were thick and hard to swallow, but they did the job.

Most of the race was run within the boundaries of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but there was a section around mile ten that was routed through Fairborn, and that section was filled with cheering crowds. It was inspirational, and that was the first chance that my family had to see me running. After that, we re-entered the base and saw only military personnel and the occasional roadside band for the next ten miles.

Mile twenty came and went, and I could feel myself growing fatigued. After all, we’d been running for nearly three hours! I could feel the dreaded “wall” looming ominously ahead, somewhere in the last six miles.

I encountered it at mile twenty-one. My shoulders grew tight, and my quads started burning. I had never experienced anything quite like it in my training runs. I walked through the next water stop, and watched the 3:35 pace group disappear into the distance.

For the last five miles, I had to walk through the water stations and up the hills. It would take a supreme effort for me to resume running after cresting each hill, and by the end, I was also walking parts of the flats. I did at least manage to make my walk a brisk one, passing other walkers on those segments. I still clung to the hope that I might meet my time goal of 3:45, so it was with great disappointment that I watched the 3:45 pace group pass me in the last two miles. I was simply unable to fall in with them.

I managed to run the last stretch and cross the finish line with a chip time of 3:48:52. I had to stop and take a knee, and a volunteer came over and asked if I was all right. I waved her off and stumbled my way through the runners’ tent, grabbing a bottle of water on the way, which I sipped. There were slices of pizza available for runners, but I simply had no appetite for any food. I passed through the tent to search for my family, which I found a short while later. I wanted nothing so much as to sit down, but not on the pavement. I sat in a chair for a short while, then claimed my free beer (which, although cold, did not taste nearly as good as I thought it should have), and started the long, long, walk to the van.

Recovery-wise, the first few hours after the marathon were the worst. I fell asleep for most of the ride home (thank God Amy was driving!), and we all slept for about an hour after arriving home (remember, we’d gotten up at 4:30). By early evening, I was moving a little more freely, though still with sore muscles. Sunday morning came, and I rolled out of bed stiffly, but most of that dissipated within about 15 minutes. By Monday, I felt well enough to go to the YMCA, where I ran a few miles and lifted some weights. I don’t have time for a long recovery; I have to defend my super-heavyweight title in the Minster Oktoberfest 10K on October 7.

So why the vacillation between considering my performance a victory or a defeat? I should be happy that I completed a marathon (some would add, in under four hours). That’s true, I suppose. I’ve accomplished something that few others have. And I did it in spite of a hamstring injury nine weeks out that interrupted my training for three weeks.

But I failed to meet my goal to come in under 3:45. Granted, it was an arbitrary time, based on the fact that George W. Bush ran a 3:44. And I failed to run the whole thing, succumbing to weakness with a mere five miles left (Weakness? I’d already run 21 friggin’ miles!). I failed under weather conditions that I can’t imagine being any more ideal. Maybe if I’d worn proper running attire or carried more gel packs with me, I wouldn’t have fatigued as quickly. Maybe if that darn hamstring hadn’t caused me to miss my 17, 18, and one of my 20 mile training runs, I would have been more prepared for “the wall.” And the ultimate recrimination: maybe if I’d only shown a little more mental toughness and determination at mile 21, I could have continued by force of will alone.

Whether a defeat or a victory, the question turns into whether or not I try it again. Right now, I have no plans to register for another marathon. I definitely want to incorporate the weekend training runs into my regular routine, but two hours early on Saturday morning, such that I’m home by the time the rest of the family starts waking, is about all that I’m willing to commit to.

On the other hand, by the time spring rolls around and I’ve spent the winter running circles at the YMCA, I’ll be looking for some new mountain to conquer, and President Bush’s 3:44 will still be there, mocking me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Broadcast Professionals

The radio that sits atop our refrigerator can reliably bring in two radio stations: a talk show format station out of Dayton and a country music station out of Lima. The country station broadcasts a local church service every Sunday morning, but last week was just another example of how poorly they do it.

It's a little disappointing the way that the station cuts directly from the middle of a Kenny Chesney song about drinking beer in Mexico to the organ music that begins the local service. You would think that the broadcast professionals that staff the station could program the songs so that the start of the service would coincide wih the end of the song that precedes it. I used to do something like that back in the days of cassette tapes when I didn't want a long stretch of blank tape at the end of either side that I was recording onto.

You would also think that they could select a song that provides a better seque. It's not as if country music isn't filled with songs about faith and family. Among the top ten last week were songs like Hard to Love ("You're like a Sunday morning full of grace and full of Jesus / I wish I could be more like you."), For You ("When I thought about my unborn child... / When I thought about my wife... / And the answer rang out clear from somewhere up above / No greater gift has man, than to lay down his life for love"), and Cowboys and Angels ("I'm not sure why her path crossed mine / Accident or grand design / Maybe God just kinda likes / Cowboys and angels").

Finally, you woud think that the church paying to have its service broadcast would ask for these little courtesies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Could Go Wrong?

Transcript below the player.


We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which purportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for sixteen thousand new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a congress who didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take affect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese and financed by a country that’s broke. .

What could possibly go wrong?