My Coach

Coach Jim Boughton

The man in the picture above is Jim Boughton.  For the past couple of decades, he’s been a math teacher and cross country coach at Dubuque Senior High School.

I first met Coach Boughton when I was about ten or eleven years old, when my older brother Greg joined up with the cross country team.  Back then, he was just Mister Boughton but after seeing how he molded Greg into a runner, I had no doubt that I wanted him to be my coach. That came true when I entered High School.

He was an awesome coach.   He ran with us during workouts.  Even with 60+ guys on the team, he took the time to be with each of us and make sure we were feeling right or maybe adjusting our stride or pushing a little harder.  During the award ceremony at the end of each year, Coach could recite every runner’s time and where it happened without referring to notes.  He knew us all that well.

You know something?  It wasn’t until after I graduated High School that I discovered not everyone’s coach did the workout with their athletes.  To this day, I use that as a measure of how dedicated a coach is to his athletes.

Even though I graduated in ’93, Coach B hasn’t stopped coaching me.

About six or seven years ago, I was in a bit of a running slump.  I was putting one foot in front of the other, but I wasn’t making any progress.  I almost gave up on running.

I had to look backwards to see what was missing.  It all came down to the core basics : putting in the miles, proper eating, the mental mindset, the hard work.  Even hitting every water fountain you pass on race day.  In short, it was those things Coach B taught me as a teenager that I’d forgotten.

Remembering those lessons, I cut 26 minutes off my marathon PR.  I regularly place in my age group in races.   I have more medals hanging on my office wall than I ever have in my life.  I’m almost as fast now as I was when I was under his tutelage.  This brings me immense joy.

I think if I mentioned this to Coach, he’d just smile.   He has that way about him.

Last November, Coach Boughton suffered a seizure while teaching class.  Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with brain tumor which led to brain cancer.   During his fight, he and my Mom spoke often.  She was fighting cancer as well and the two of them leaned on one another.  At times, he’d be the Coach.  Other times, he’d have to listen to her to get that extra little push.

Coach’s cancer is aggressive and chemotherapy is not working.  He may not see Fall and the next Cross Country season.  The team has been left in the hands of Paul Kilgore, one of my classmates and  a guy who will no doubt tell you he’s been molded in Coach’s image, just like so many of us.

Where I lack words, Dennis Healy can provide.  He was an English teacher at Senior as well as the Girl’s Cross Country coach.  He and Boughton had a great friendship that he wrote about in this article in the Telegraph Herald.

If you’re a runner or if you’re a writer or an artist or a teacher or whatever, you had someone that played a role in your life and molded you.   It might be a good time to let them know.

I hope Coach knows just how much all of his hard work and patience has meant to the hundreds or thousands of runners he’s coached over the past 20+ years.

I’m fairly certain he knows.   But I still want to tell him and I hope I can before he’s gone.

Fighting the Lawn … and Losing

The Reel Thing
The Reel Thing

This is my lawn mower.

While some might call it ‘Old Fashioned’, it is technically called a ‘Reel’ lawn mower and all things considered, a remarkably good lawn mower. It cuts the grass very nicely, mulches, I get a good workout, and it’s eco-friendly, not to mention cheap (less than a hundred bucks plus it never needs gas).

The downside?  Well, if you come across a pine cone or a fallen branch or maybe a stubborn blade a grass, it stops.  Like, on a dime.  Without any warning.  And whomever is pushing the mower is impaled upon the handles.

Fun times, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, the Reel mower broke on Sunday.  A nice split in the handle, probably due to my abdominal muscles being repeatedly slammed against it.  While I can take some pride in having abs that can bust metal, it does mean I’m out of a lawn mower.

Black & Decker
More Power, Grunt

So now I’ve ordered a new mower – a Black & Decker CM1836 18-inch 36v Cordless Electric Lawn Mower.  I’ve been eying one for a while since it fits all my needs – quiet, mows, and eco-friendly (there’s plenty of articles out there on how inefficient gas mowers are).

The downside is that (good) electric lawn mowers are not cheap.  I had been hoping to save up for the new one but things sort of got pushed forward.

Now I’m faced with a new problem.  The new lawn mower won’t be here for about two weeks (you try paying for overnight shipping on something that weights 60+ pounds.  Not cheap!)  Despite my asking, begging, and pleading, I don’t think my grass is going to stop growing.  On top of that, we’re due for rain on Friday and my lawn usually takes off after a good soaking.

I could, in theory, borrow the neighbor’s lawn mower but that’s a gas powered one and as I stated earlier, I’m looking for eco-friendly solutions.

So after some brainstorming, I came up with two great, environmentally sensitive ideas.  I can’t wait to see which one Steph will choose …

Prairie Burn
Prairie Burn

… with Envy


On the far left is the t-shirt that I am currently wearing.  As you can see, it is Green.  It’s a shirt we gave to our Help Desk staff four years ago.  Comfy shirt.  I like it.

Next to that is a shirt I got during my Senior year of college, a Luther College Cross Country shirt.  It too is Green (Steph argues a bit on the teal side, but that’s semantics).  I wore that on Friday.

Next in line is a race shirt from our local Guinea Gallop.  A wonderful off-road/cross country 5K road race.  Lots of mud.  It’s a nice summer Green.  I got that shirt last year and wore it Thursday.

Last in line, on the far right, is a t-shirt from the annual Luther College Adventure Race.  It is a light Green, fitting of the fading summer when the event took place.  I wore that on Wednesday.

Kermit was wrong.  It is easy being green.

Cat Spring Fever

While we were gone on vacation this past weekend, Steph forgot to shut off the alarm clock.  This meant that every morning at 6am, it would go off with a loud buzzing noise.  I think it carries on for 30 – 60 minutes, I’m not sure.  No one was home to hear it.

No one except for Tim Tam, that is.

This pissed him off and our esteemed feline has made certain that we will pay for our transgressions.

This process starts at 3am.  He jumps up onto the bed, walks over our heads, leaps onto the head board and starts playing with the blinds.  So we open the blinds.  Then he plays with the strings.  We move the strings.  Then he jumps onto the laundry basket and plays with the other window on the far side of the room.  Steph solved this by yanking the basket lid out from under him so he had to sit in the laundry. This did not please him.

Around 4am, Tim Tam decides he’s hungry and starts to meow.  Loudly.  This is accompanied by more playing with the blinds.  Throwing him out of the bedroom means he just comes back (with the added bonus of chasing us into the room and biting our ankles).  Locking him out of the room leads to a chorus of his paws banging against the door, which isn’t all that much better than the meowing or playing with the blinds from earlier.

Thus, we’ve not slept past 3 or 4am this entire week.

Perhaps Tim Tam is just old and cranky.  He’s around 12 years old, that’s near the end of lifespan for most cats.  The day will come when he’s no longer with us.  But I told Steph last night, knowing our luck, Tim Tam is going to be one of those cats who lives to be 19 or 20 years old.

Just to spite us.

Arch de Triumph

As we’re prone to do, Steph and I headed down to St. Louis this weekend to visit a couple of friends (Becky and Simon), enjoy some good food, and oh, yeah, torture ourselves by running the St. Louis Half Marathon.  In short – a typical vacation for the Hughes family.

Click for Detailed Image

Let’s start with the running.  The half marathon course (13.1 miles) was challenging, scenic, very well organized, and the city brought out plenty of spectators.

Steph finished in 1:55:14, a mere 14 seconds off her goal.*

My goal was 1:40 and I finished in 1:41:54.  Despite missing the time I wanted, I’m considering it a triumph.

Why?  Well, around mile 6, the whole thing almost ended when I started having tunnel vision.  My feet felt like lead bricks and even the slightest incline felt like climbing up Longs Peak.  In short, the symptoms of dehydration.

It was a simple miscalculation, really.  The race started at 60 degrees and finished in the mid-70s.  Nice weather until you realize that all of our training had been done in 50 degrees or cooler temps.  That’s a huge difference and I nearly paid the price and dropped out.  I opted instead for Gatorade (4 cups) and water (10 cups) between miles 6 – 10.  Despite suffering through that, I still finished just under two minutes off my goal.  That makes me feel pretty good about my conditioning – both physical and mental.

What else can I say about the race?  I’m convinced the Bagpiper’s Union of North America has a deal to have a member at ever race.  I’ve never run a marathon or half-marathon without seeing a bagpiper.  It was fun running past the Catholic Church with the priests standing outside in full attire, cheering on the runners, and blessing us with Holy Water.  (Simon remarked “You should have run past and screamed ‘It burns!  It burns!'”   So wrong, but we laughed so damn hard).

I also came across a very interesting runner.  About mile 9, I passed two guys.  One was obviously a guide, like the sort used for blind runners.  As soon as I passed, I heard ‘ASICS Gel Cumulus 11’.  A few seconds later, ‘Nike Air Pegasus’.  It took me a bit to remember that I was wearing ASICS Gel Cumulus 11 shoes.  The guy was autistic and calling out the brands and models of the shoes worn by the runners who passed him.  The people you meet …

Of course, what would be a visit to Becky and Simon without food?  They are Foodies like us and it’s always an adventure to find out where we’re going to dine.  So far, in multiple trips, we’ve eaten at the same place only once or twice.

So for those who are interested, below the cut is a listing of the places we dined.  St. Louis – it’s more than just BBQ and Blues.

* Steph is now laid up with tendinitis in her foot, which started bothering her about mile 10.  She toughed it out and finished up.  I didn’t even notice when I watched her finish so it’s damn impressive she finished so close to her goal.

Continue reading “Arch de Triumph”

Observations on Animals

From the death of lambs on Monday and the herding of sheep to my Cat and Dog both experiencing Spring fever, this has been a week of animals.

Given that I’ve spent so much time around them, I thought I’d share with you my non-scientific observations of these creatures and what I believe to be their mindsets.


Shaun the Sheep and Friends

You Spot Something Edible
Eat.  Bonus points for moving mouth in a partial circle and staring blankly.  Especially if a Human is watching – it creeps them out.

You Are Approached by a Canine or other Vicious/Violent Creature
Run away.  Stop as soon as the canine or other Vicious/Violent creature has captured and killed another member of the flock.  Chew on grass and watch with a blank stare.  Cheering is discouraged.

You are Approached by a Human and ARE NOT Cornered
Run away.  As far away as possible.  Make sure to go up and down hills, underneath trees, and put as many obstacles between you and the Human (i.e. sheep droppings, gopher holes, etc).

You are Approached by a Human and ARE Cornered
Stand still.  Very still.  Grow roots into the ground and do not move no matter how much they yell, shout, or push you.  Stand fast even if a tractor is brought in to budge you.


A Cat Lying in Wait

You Find a Human Who Does Not Appreciate Your Company
Sit on their lap.  Or on the newspaper or book they are reading.  Bonus points for sticking your butt in their face.

You Find A Human Who Appreciates Your Company
Allow them to pet you for several minutes.  Once their guard has been lowered, bite them.

You Find a Pile of Towels
Sit on towels, taking time to knead it down to a comfortable level.  Clean self.  Spot loose string.  Attack string!  Attack string!  Clean self.  Attack string!  Knead towels back to a comfortable level.  Attack string while it’s guard is down!  Hack up a hair ball.  Clean self.  Walk away with dignity.

A Dog Waiting for a Treat


The Humans Are Away and You’ve Been Given a Treat
Take a nap.  Stare out the window and contemplate the errors in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity while cursing the Human’s inability to understand your language.

The Humans Are Away and You’ve NOT Been Given a Treat
Eat the newest shoe you can get your teeth on.  Bonus points given for causing the female of the house to say to her husband “That Dog of YOURS …”

Sheep Dog to Shepherd

Lector : And what did you see, Clarice?  What did you see?
— The Silence of the Lambs

While the In-Laws are on vacation, Steph and I are in charge of the farm.  There’s not much to it – feed the cats, make sure the sheep have enough water and food (which is easy given there is no snow on the ground).

Today was different.

Sheep have a nasty tendency to find whatever holes are in the fence so I like to make sure they are still around. Standing near the barn, it’s easy to see the sheep in the pasture.  They’re a dirty white and tend to hang out within sight of one another.  So it wasn’t right when I spotted a bit of that color off to my right, far from any other creature.

A dead lamb.  About forty feet to my left, another one.  The fact that they were killed, but not eaten meant that it was probably dogs.  A coyote would have eaten it.  Dogs just want the hunt. (Or as Lyle said, “Coyotes are pros.  Dogs are amateurs.”)

With two dead lambs, it was imperative to make sure the others were okay.  I grabbed Steph and together we called the rest of the sheep up toward the barn.  Thankfully, there were no splotches of white left behind in the pasture.  Being that we were just caretakers, we called Steph’s Dad and told him what happened.

After surveying the scene and talking with Lyle, we agreed the best option was to bring the sheep into the barn for the night.

Thus, we went from caretakers to sheep dogs.

For all their docile nature, they are not easy creatures to corral.  Steph went first, running down into the pasture and circling around to bring the sheep back up to the barn.  Nearly all of them ran into the barn right away and I locked the gate behind them.

Both Completly Useless in Herding Sheep
Both Utterly Useless in Herding Sheep

Four, however, decided they had better places to go.  I took my turn in pursuit of the sheep.  As I hopped through the grass, wound around trees, and tried to avoid breaking my leg in a gopher hole, all the while shouting at the sheep, I couldn’t help but think that I probably looked like my Shetland Sheepdog.  I had just as much training in herding as him and was having just about as much luck as he would have.

Which is to say, none whatsoever.

After chasing them to the far end of the farm (literally) and back, I led three of the four sheep into the barn.  The last one ran behind and huddled in a corner.  I was too tired to try to coax it so when the wool escape artist tried to get past me, I tackled it. I ended up dragging the thing back into the barn (with Steph laughing the whole while) where we locked them up for the night.

The sheep are now in the barn.  We’re hoping that whatever happened was an isolated incident and some dog doesn’t find its way into the barn.  If so, that would be a disaster.

I can’t say I’m fine with it.  I’ve lost a sheep once before, two winters ago, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected.  It was the oldest sheep in the flock and its time had just come.  This was different.  Something jumped the fence and killed two newborns.  Quite frankly, I”m a bit pissed off and nervous.

Tonight, I went from a temporary caretaker to a sheep dog and now, a bit of a shepherd.  Let’s see what the morning brings.

Artist representation of Sheep
Artist representation of Sheep

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon by DreamWorks Animation

The Pros : Good, fun flick and that’s what really matters.  The 3D effects weren’t overwhelming and simply fantastic during the aerial scenes.  I enjoyed it immensely.

The Cons : Now I want a dragon.

Today’s Office

Being that Luther is a somewhat religious college, we get Good Friday off.  Being that Steph works for a corporation, she does not get Good Friday off.  Thus, I have been banished to my secondary office.

Oh, woe is me.