Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Faster, a debate

So if my latest trip to Starbucks is any indication it's still Christmas time, and as a result we are still squarely in that bubble of time where you spend time with/run into people whom you don't normally see, and as a result have a lot of these types of conversations....

"So, you still running?"
"Yep."
"Nice."

And that's cool. I mean, I kinda ask for it, let's be honest. If I didn't like talking about running, I should probably stop having a blog dedicated to it, wearing running clothing all the time, and, I don't know, running. It just so happens that being a runner, is a lot like being a junior in High School, which is to say you end up being asked the same question over and over again. Though instead of being asked about College, you are asked about running.

But honestly, I'm cool with that, cause I like talking about it, plus it beats having this conversation with certain great aunts and uncles...

"So Christopher, how's that winter up in Syracuse?"
"Yeah, I'm Dan. Chris is over by the smelts."

But anyway, my reason for bringing this up is not to complain about these conversations, but rather the thoughts that I've had after having several of them rather recently.

So in the process of these conversations, I've spent some time discussing this past fall and the races that I ran. And while my times are by no means world record material, they happened to be faster than my previous times. And as people began to give me credit for running faster, I noticed that this idea of "faster" might be more complicated than we all may assume.

Cause it seems we do faster an injustice by assuming "faster" is better, because I don't think it's that simple, I don't think it tells the whole story. And in this case, at least on this blog, I prefer the whole story. So the following is a debate, the debate of faster.

The Pro's-

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, let me thank you for taking the time to hear this case.

I will start by saying that, running, for all of it's intricacies is at it's a core a competitive activity. Whether it's a race against others, or merely with yourself, at it's basic nature there is always a level of competition. As a result there are only a limited number of ways to measure it.

Faster, or further.

And what is so fantastically unique about running, is that it can be so personal. And the beauty of running lies in the fact that, despite the only two ways to define progress, faster and further, within these two categories there are infinite possibilities. Because, simply put, your faster is your faster and no one else's.

And as I sit here at the computer, the line that keeps repeating in my head is one I have used before, one talking about the idea of having goals. Which is that the lowest points in my life have always come not when I failed to reach a goal, but rather when I had no goal at all.

So I guess, in that sense attempting to break a 13 minute mile, or a 4 minute mile, is essentially the same. Cause if you ask me the most important part of trying to be faster, isn't the "faster" but rather the "trying". That the desire to reach a goal, is infinitely more important than the goal itself.

Thank you.

The Cons-

Good evening Jury, the argument before us is a simple one.

We are hear to discuss whether or not, this concept of being faster is always a good thing. And I need say no more than to encourage you to download any Vin Diesel movie to prove my point. But since we have a few minutes to kill let me delve a little further into it.

Sometimes, in my opinion, we only see the short sided nature of faster. Sometimes we simply look at the man atop the podium, or the smile plastered across a finisher's face, clap at the accomplishment and move on. Sometimes we neglect to investigate any further. Sometimes when looking at that podium, we see a great race, and miss the more important aspect, what it took to get there.

Because, ladies and gentleman, faster does not occur in a vacuum. As anyone who has ever improved their times will tell you, getting faster has taken effort. And with effort, there will always be sacrifice.

So where does that line exist? When does sacrifice go from admirable to harmful? At what point does the time, the effort to reach your goal become just that, your goal? At what point does your goal become so important that you begin to neglect the goals of those around you?

Because in a perfect world, track work would never overlap with family dinners, and work parties, and long runs would take place on a magical 8th day of the week, leaving Sunday open for friends and football.

But we don't live in a perfect world.

And at some point to say something, to say a goal is important to you is to say that it is more important than other things.

Thank you.

Closing Arugments-

I'll be honest, I'm not sure where all of this came from. I can say this thought has lingered with me, as I sit in gray area of old goals achieved, and new ones peaking on the horizon.

I can also say that this idea of "faster" has always been more complicated in my life, and I don't just mean in relation to running. Because the speed at which I live my life is by no means a recent question.

From second grade teachers telling me to slow down when I read to Delaware State Troopers unhappy with my little Toyota. From soccer coaches critiquing my kicking form, to the fact that whenever I try to spell the word "pick" on my phone I end up spelling "lick" (which as you can imagine gives a rather different sentiment).

But even within these examples, slowing down hasn't always been the answer. Because, quite frankly, I've always been one to make my own mistakes. I'm the kid who when told the stove is hot, will decide to see just how hot, hot really is. And while that may not be the best character trait I have, it's just who I am (though I'm working on it... fucking stoves).

But, honestly, when it comes to my ability to make really stupid mistakes, mistakes that might be avoided easily but 99% of the population, sometimes the best I can say about them is that at least I make them quickly.

And sometimes it's better that way. That maybe I get burnt when I touch that stove, but at least I touch that shit quickly, and learn that lesson (most of the time, there are a few stoves out there that can testify to repeat offenses), Cause maybe, when given the keys to the car, I'll take the wrong road that leads to a ditch that I'll crash into, but at least I'll take that wrong road at it's max speed and get that crash over with.

Cause sometimes the crash at the end is actually better than being on that wrong road forever.

And look, maybe I set this blog up incorrectly. Maybe one of the shortcomings of this blog, in general, is that I frequently try to end each entry with some kind of conclusion, or resolution. Because maybe not every question has an answer.

So if asked whether or not "faster" is better, I'll have to respond with one of my least favorite answers.

I don't know, but I'll let you know when I figure it out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Re-gifting

"Regifting or regiving is the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes in the guise of a new gift." - Wikipedia

So it's 9:15 on Christmas Eve here in Westport, Connecticut, and the ritual and magic of the night are slowly giving way to the realities of a week of waking up early. I sit here at my computer, as family criss cross around me, searching for coats, and keys on their way to 10:00 mass. The voice of Jimmy Stewart hums in the room next door, as "It's a Wonderful Life" plays to an empty room.

It's Christmas Eve, three words that when strung together, once carried with it a punitive reality of sorts. "Bedtime", the annual sentence of a night destined without sleep. Where minutes and hours ticked by painstakingly slowly, as it would seem as though "8:00 am", and the agreed upon "wake-up" time would never come.

Though tonight, at this age of 27, it's quite different. And this idea of "bedtime" seems less like a penalty and more like a prize. Yet the last few touches of wrapping call to me from the rear office reminding me there are still a few things left to accomplish before I can call this one a night. And despite that voice in the back of my head telling me I should get on with it and go to sleep, I find myself, instead, sunk into a small red couch, attempting to soak in a few last fleeting moments of this night. And as I stare of at the series of stockings hanging from the large colonial fireplace in my grandmothers house, I find myself replaying the day that was, and of all things this idea of re-gifting.

Wikipedia defines re-gifting as simply taking something that was already given to you, and presenting it to someone else as a gift. It traces it's origin to a Seinfeld episode, and describes the various things that it has spawned, including a holiday known as "National Re-gifting Day", a promotion of sorts that seems loosely associated with Ebay. It discusses the etiquette of the practice, and notes the complexities attached with it's social acceptability.

But, as I sit here now with the backdrop and trappings of this night laid out before me, I find myself following this idea of re-gifting down a path maybe less traveled. And as the soft glow of the few remaining lights bounce in this room of low ceilings (note the time of 10:12pm), moments of this day play through my mind with a clarity that seems to come only after staying up too late.

Moments like a father discussing with his daughter, his mother's macaroni and cheese recipe. His face lighting up as he recounts, with a finger to the side of his temple the words "secret ingredient", while she hangs on every word.

Of my aunt slipping into a story of my cousin, and his odd, yet devoted, friendship/connection to random items like a pull-out couch, an empty kleenex box, and smelly, rotting hamburger hidden under a desk known as "HamAlien". Her words sputter through the fits of laughter that wind around the dinner table, causing small tears to well up in her eyes. She strains to catch her breath in the midst of the story, as I peer down at my cousin, and note the absence of the child I once knew, and the young man who seems to have taken his place overnight.

And of my grandmother stepping gingerly onto a small, white footstool, at the base of the newly decorated christmas tree. And with weighted silence, her family watches as she extends her arm and places one last ornament on the tree. The colorful, painted face of a clown, swings every so slightly on it's branch as she steps back to the floor. Her eyes fall back up to the smiling clown that has spent the last eight decades of Christmases atop one tree or another. One or two subtle deep breaths slip through the cracks in the silence as three generations of family stare at our grandfather's, our father's, our husband's childhood ornament.

I was twelve when my grandfather passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. And though it's sometimes hard to admit, I can't say I knew the man very well, due to the debilitating nature of the disease, though stories of the man seem to follow me. And though he has been gone for many years, it seems each of us, his grandchildren get to know him a little more each year.

And as I sit here, tonight, in his house, I can't help but feel some kind of connection to this idea of re-gifting, and think that maybe we have it all wrong.

Because maybe re-gifting gets a bad wrap. Maybe we pay too much attention to the origin of where these gifts begin. And that maybe all I have to do is look at an eighty year old ornament to understand how.

Cause maybe the connection that I have always wanted with my grandfather was there all along. That maybe the lessons, the love that he gave to his wife and children is the same love they give me today as parents, aunts/uncles, and a grandmother.

And although, today it may come second hand, it feels anything but.

Merry Christmas to all who read this blog, friends and family. I wish for you on this Christmas the same love that I feel today, be it a macaroni and cheese recipe, a story of "HamAlien", or a grandmother as she steps on a small white footstool, holding tight to a small ornament.

And if no one has said it to you yet today, let me be the first.

I love you all.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I may need help...

So I don't really recall what I was expecting when I began running. I know a lot of people set out with very specific goals when they start. Some want to lose weight, some want to run a marathon, some want to escape the police.

Personally, I don't really remember having much of a plan, and somewhere my father is reading this and saying to himself, in his typically loving and eloquent way "No shit, Daniel". You see I've never been one for foresight, and come to think of it, I'm not really great at hindsight either. But either way, I don't really remember what I was expecting to happen once I started running.

But needless to say, over the years, running has changed me.

Running has changed me in very obvious ways. Everything from being a few pounds lighter, to the fact that I wear a watch. And it's also changed me in ways not so obvious, ways that aren't visible on your wrists, ways that, for the sake of keeping this blog reasonably short, I will choose to keep to myself.

And maybe the aspect of this occurence that I love the most is the fact that it's actually quite hard for you to notice the change in you. It's almost impossible in fact. And in my opinion it usually takes some kind of outside entity to either show or flat out tell you that you are different in some capacity.

Which brings me to last night.

When after a round of christmas shopping, I noticed something was different. I noticed that running had changed something about me that I maybe hadn't realized before.

You see, I can't exactly say I've always been the most rational, or sane member of this planet (again, cue my father's voice "No shit, Daniel"). But it seems, if possible, running has made me crazier.

The following is a list of crazy thoughts I have had as a result of this thing we call running, that on any given day bounces between on hobby, passion, and obsession.

1.) "Psssh, girlfriend should not be wearing those shoes..."

Now, I will never win awards for the Most Manly Man on the Planet (yeah, Dad, we get it.). I was told recently by a few co-workers that I would need to turn in my "Man Card" by the end of the day, leading me to divulge that I had turned that shit in a long time ago, if I was ever even issued one. But if I was, I'm guessing it was confiscated as a child after trying on my sister's Snow White halloween costume one too many times to be considered normal.

Having said that, I am not exactly the most fashionable man in the world either. I actually couldn't tell you much of anything about fashion. So you can imagine the how strange it is to be walking down the street and staring at the back of a females footwear only to hear my brain say...

"Oh, she should not be wearing those shoes."

And before you think I am talking about some young professional female walking in a pair of high heels that don't match her stockings, I'm not. It's usually a young female runner jogging in a very stylish pair of neon Nikes that clearly don't support her arches the way a solid pair of running shoes do.

Though as I type that, I'm not sure which is worse.

2.) "Don't eat that..."

I guess this thought floats around each of our heads, especially around this time of year. I'm sure most of you are sitting there reading this, and recalling the various times you have recently had this thought. You might be thinking about that extra slice of pizza, or that cookie with the M&Ms on top that you may have consumed over the weekend.

But I'm not sure how many of you are like me, recalling the recent times I've had this thought, only instead of pizza and cookies, I'm remembering apples, and whole wheat bread.

Yeah, that's right, I said apples and whole wheat bread.

You see, I have a slight problem with runner's stitches, and the random increase in foods high in fiber like whole grains and specific fruits are enough to give me one painful night.

So if you ever find yourself asking yourself, "WWDE?" (what would Dan eat?), I'd advise you seek immediate counsel from a friend or medical professional. But if you insist, the answer is as follows...

Pizza- Yes.
Cookies- Yes.
Applea- Fuck no.

3.) "How are my nipples feeling?"

If you need this one explained then I'm not really sure what to say to you...

4.) "A new PR..."

We use this term PR, which stands for "Personal Record", as a simple way to refer to our fastest times. And unto itself, there isn't much wrong, or crazy, about knowing your 5k PR, or your Marathon PR... but your Shower PR... that may be another story...

"1:27"

For the record that includes full soapage and shampoo... I may need help.

5.) "..."

So this last one speaks not to one specific thought, or phrase that plays in my head, but instead one that lays on the periphery.

You see, most of my friends are runners. And in the process of our daily lives and training plans, running becomes a frequented topic of discussion. Especially when things don't go as planned. And invariably, whether due to injury, fatigue, or just life circumstance, I end up in conversation with my close friends as they let out their anxiety, or frustration.

And usually I listen to them be quite hard on themselves, as they chastise themselves for either not running up to their potential or sometimes not running at all. And when they are done, I finds myself telling them, as best I can, to give themselves a break, and to stop beating themselves up.

Now that may seem very sane.

In fact, it is quite sane. To be able to look at friend, as they doubt themselves, or expose those darker thoughts/feelings about themselves, and tell them, simply, it's okay. To just be that friend, and say, I have faith in you, I believe in you. That's quite sane, and it may be one of the best expressions of what friendship is about.

And yet, when I listen to another runner cycle through the various inadequacies and fears that they believe about themselves, I don't offer the same positive outlook. I don't chime in by saying, it'll be okay.

I don't treat that runner the same way, with the same love and care.

And I don't treat that runner the same way, when that runner is me.

And I think that's what makes it a crazy thought. That in one breath, I can tell my friend they are being to hard on themselves, but I can't tell myself when I am doing the exact same thing. And maybe this crazy thought boils down to one simple idea.

That maybe the person we need to be a friend to the most, is ourselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Dodo

This piece is from a blogger in Westport, CT, saluting the spirit of a woman named Dolores Bacharach, or as I know her Dodo. It's a blog dedicated to my grandmother, and rather impressive life she has led, and leads to this day...

http://06880danwoog.com/2011/12/20/saluting-dolores-bacharach-hwh-logo-tk/

I'm not gonna lie, I'm a pretty proud grandson right now...

Lessons From a Talent Show

"Talent Show"

The words alone elicit wondrous possibilities, as well as the memory of a middle school assembly, and a boy named "Martin" as he strained to hit the high notes of Ben Folds Five- Brick (a bold choice for a 7th grader). Yet as I stood amongst the stuffy air and contagious smiles of Back on My Feet's Holiday Party/Talent Show, I seemed focused on the former.

I mill around the sea of Christmas sweaters and familiar faces. Hellos and small talk ensue, before shifting to the inevitable topic of the impending talent show. Anticipation grows as the night continues, and the upstairs bar at Milkboy fills a little more, driving the temperature ever so higher. I make my way deeper into the swell of onlookers, giving out a few more man embraces, one part chest bump, one part handshake, two parts hug.

I lean against a small wall lining the stairway to the second floor bar, as our MC for the night steps into the soft spotlight of the modest stage at the front of the room. His voice echoes through the sound system, and steadily the roar of conversation dies down.

Our first performer is called to the stage, and weaves his way through the swell of people clearing a path for him. He walks by me, clutching a small undersized guitar with plastic strings. His introduction by the MC ends with a few words that will become a staple of the night.

"An original piece"

Kenny confidently sets himself down on the black wooden chair, and rests the guitar over his knee. He cocks the microphone down to a comfortable level and announces the title of his song to the delight of the audience before him. His fingers work over the repeating vamp of the song, and the audience adds their own rhythmic clap. His baritone lyrics elicit a series of laughter, as shared experience meets witticism.

Kenny's smile, which seems as bright as the spotlights above the stage, glows once more, thanking the sea of faces before him. A steadily rising round of applause is intermittently drowned out by cat calls, and whistles, and Kenny descends his way down the precarious two steps at the front of the stage.

And the night goes on.

Our ears, eyes, and parts of the heart yet to be named, are treated to performance after performance. A Sam Cooke Mash-up that reverberates along the hard wooden floor and up the legs of the mass still recovering from a "Musical Climax".

And the night goes on.

Impressive acts of song and skit, parody and poetry. And between them all, the repeated track of clapping hands, piercing whistles, carefree cheers, and smiles seemingly just as loud.

And as I walked back to my car, as the volume of the night slowly left my body, the act that spoke loudest was the last to leave my mind. For all the talents and displays that took place on the small stage that night, perhaps the most noteworthy was the one that never made it onto the stage. That for as impressive as the talent up on stage was, perhaps the most impressive element of the night was that that talent had the ability to exist at all.

Because maybe we miss the point that having a talent is the most important thing. Maybe we assume incorrectly that having a beautiful singing voice matters more than having an audience to listen to it. Maybe we forget that words exist on paper, but poetry exists in our hearts.

And maybe we lose sight of the fact that of all the things you need in order to share your talent, your work, your voice, yourself one, above all else is required...

Someone to be there to listen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Christmas Shopping Can Teach Us About Running...

Tis' the season!

And for me that means, I get to use words like "Tis'", quote great movies like "Elf" and "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation", and it's finally acceptable to listen to Justin Bieber's Christmas Album (well, as appropriate as it's gonna get for a 27 year old male.).

And for Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin runner's it's the season that we become each of our family members dream come true. Cause after all, runners are like the cookie monster for gift giving, it's pretty easy to figure out what to get us. I mean when you're hobby includes excessive sweating the way ours does, one can never have enough running clothing.

So this whole Christmas shopping thing got me thinking, as I broke it down in my head, about what we as runners might be able to take from this annual activity.

Lesson #1- Stick to the list...

In the Colameco household we have, what I would imagine is a pretty standard practice of exchanging wish lists. A series of items that we would like for Christmas.

And we Colamecos' take these lists very seriously. And we take them seriously, after hard won experience. There are only so many Christmas mornings with a certain family member locking themselves in the bathroom, that we vow once and for all to stick to the list.

So yeah, maybe it takes a little bit out of the fun of gift giving, but at least we avoid conversations where we question "When was the last time I wore purple?" or "Did you seriously buy me a quart of Tobacco?".

The same advice can be applied to runners. Very few of us embark on training for a race without some kind of plan. Usually a plan that we have sought out from some source that we trust, or at least consider to be more expert than us. And yet, invariably, we find ourselves amending or alternating this plan. We feel compelled to increase the mileage or pace at the first onset of pre-race anxiety.

But if we listen to the lessons of a Colameco Christmas, we would hear a deep voiced and bearded hippie (my father) saying, "Stick to the list, son."

Stick to the plan.

Lesson #2- Wrap them...

Now I can't prove it, but I am almost positive that being a skilled gift wrapper is written in your genetic code. It seems to be one of those things that you were either born with or without. In my case, the latter is true.

I can't wrap a gift worth shit.

I know what you are thinking, you are thinking that if I just take my time, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, no, I suck at wrapping, and if you don't believe me I am prepared to give out phone number Ms. Berger, my second grade teacher, who will recount the mangled attempts I made to cover my fucking math textbook.

Having said that, I still do try year after year, despite that voice inside my head that tells me it's okay to just hand it to them in the plastic bag. Because let's face it, it's always better as a surprise.

And sometimes the same can be said for our daily training runs. Sometimes I can be 99% sure as I am lacing up my shoes that this run will be awful, only to head out and feel great, and the opposite can be true as well.

Which makes me believe that if I can block out that voice that seems so sure of how the run will go one way or the other, then maybe I'll be able to get out of that door a little easier.

Lesson #3- Don't go with my Aunt Mary Louise...

This isn't an analogy.

My great Aunt Mary Louise is out of her mind.

Don't go shopping with her.

Don't go running with her.

Lesson #4-The Bowling Set...

So the Colameco's were just beginning their Christmas tradition of a group shopping outing that exists to this day. I believe I was somewhere around five, and standing in the greatest place on earth as far as I was concerned, "Toys R Us".

I was walking with my mother down the aisles of endless possibility, tasked with the job of picking out the perfect gift for my big sister Kate, when I saw it. My eyes narrowed in on a mass of colored plastic bowling pins, and small black bowling balls.

And just like that, I knew...

Fast forward a few days to Christmas morning. My sister sat patiently next to the tree, eying up the plethora of packages before her. She scans over the various shapes and figures underneath the red and blue wrapping paper that disguised their identities. Her heart flutters a bit, the dream of a Cabbage Kid's stroller dancing in her Christmas morning hope.

Mom gives the okay for the present attack to begin, as Dad turns on the home video camera. Kate bursts straight for the large rectangular gift towards the back of the pile. "Surely" she thinks, "this must be the stroller I have been dreaming of...". Three full handfuls of Christmas tree wrapping paper later, her hopes are dashed, as no stroller lies beneath.

"A bowling set?"

Her incredulity is short lived, as she is knocked the side, as my five year old self pushes her aside.

"A bowling set!"

My eyes widen as I meet my old friend, after weeks of waiting, it was finally mine. And in the wake of my sister's disappointment, I bowled my first set.

I put this one on here, and much like this story Christmas past, I may be the one with the most guilt. You see, sometimes I forget that not everyone wants what I want. I guess, though not an excuse, I love the array of gifts so much that running has given me, that I forget that gifts are not judged by how great you think them, but rather as the one receiving them judges them.

I'm afraid, to this day, try and give bowling sets.

Lesson #5- Tis' better to give than it is to receive...

I can't say I have always been great at giving gifts (please see the bowling set, and ask my sister about the Christmas she got a door knocker.). To be honest, I remember the whole idea of giving a gift as kind of this necessary obligation. I give you one, so I get one.

But I can say now, that my opinion on giving a gift is much different. An opinion that was gained in a way that I probably wouldn't have guessed.

And maybe it's the nature of the world we live in now. Where holiday commercials tout the ultimate gift in diamond necklaces and shiny luxury cars, with over sized red ribbons.

But I'm afraid my realization on gift giving came not from the ability to give lavish and expensive gifts, rather it came from the quite the opposite. It came from a time when I had nothing to offer, when I had nothing to give.

Now I won't say that "running" changed all that. It's not that simple. But I will say this...

Today, I have something to give, though it may not be as shiny as a BMW with a red ribbon, but it might be something more valuable.

Cause I think the greatest gifts we have to give aren't things we wrap, or even things we can give in one morning. It's showing up. It's listening. It's letting them listen to their iPod in the car. It's speaking your mind and it's letting it go. It's offering a hand to help you up. It's emptying the dishwasher. It's telling your story. It's saying nothing at all. It's giving a hug.

It's love.

And maybe that doesn't have a lot to do with running, or maybe it does... But I'm okay with that.

Johnny Mac

Our friend Johnny Mac, who from 30,000 miles away still feels very close...

Here is the link to his blog...

www.themotivatedrunner.com

Friday, December 9, 2011

Carried with You

So we now live in the age of cell phones. We now live in the age where home phones have been reduced to something you use in an emergency, where I'm more likely to walk out the door without my keys than I am my phone, and where an answer to any question is resting in your pocket, only a google search away (Yes, you can deep fry pudding).

And while this cellular revolution has touched pretty much every avenue of our lives, running seems to be no exception. Everything from new applications with satellite capabilities that can track your mileage, pace, and route at any given second, to the security that comes with having a phone to call someone in the case of an emergency or unexpected hail storm.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of this new technology is not quite as hi-tech as you might imagine, and it can be boiled down to one simple phrase, "the pre-race text".

You see, though I haven't been at this for very long, I believe that the emergence and prevalence of text messages has provided runner's with an easy, and minimally disruptive way of communicating with another runner before his race. Considering that so many of our biggest races begin so early in the morning, and the importance of good night's sleep, a phone call becomes tricky. And let's face it, an e-mail might not be checked, and hand written letters, while touching, are harder to facilitate.

And there's just something about a text message, something about being forced to limit your thoughts to 160 characters, that causes you to refine and focus what you want to offer to your friend or family member before they run.

I've been lucky enough to have received a few of these texts, probably more than I ever really could have hoped for or expected.

And they mean the world to me.

And while the specifics of them have varied. You know, the one from my mom is always slightly different from my closer guy friends. But when boiled down, they usually share the same basic idea, the same one that I try to impart myself that, even though you are out there racing by yourself, we are all with you.

And that is an image that I try to hold onto as best I can as I am racing. I'll do what I can to hold onto those words as I'm running. But I'll be honest, as that race goes on, and the miles get rougher and rougher, it's hard to keep any thought in your head that doesn't begin and end with the word "Fuck". It becomes very difficult to try and keep those people with you.

So I was out for a run one night, a few weeks back, and while it was not a race, my brain was repeating that word "fuck", quite a bit. And it was at that point that I attempted to summon those friends/family, and text messages to my mind, though I can't say it worked very well.

It wasn't until I got home, and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that a thought occurred to me. And as I stood there, I began to take note of what I saw in front of me.

I noticed a white singlet, with black lettering, one of four that belong to some of my closest friends and relay teammates. I noticed a small iPod clipped to my waistline, a birthday present from friends who get me. I noticed a pair of my "lucky" black shorts, given to me by the woman who'll "see me on the beach.". I noticed a small blue wristband inscribed with four words that given me more than I could hope to give it. And I notice a nose like my fathers, eyes like my grandfather, and even a small scar in my eyebrow from an accidental headbutt from my brother.

And I guess the thought that occurred to me was one that was so simple that it was almost hard to admit that I had missed it all along. Cause it seems my problem was not with forgetting how to keep people with me as run, but rather in forgetting that simple fact that was as obvious as the clothes I was wearing.

That it wasn't about remembering to keep them with me as I went, but rather to remember that it was them that got me here in the first place.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Out and Back

"Out and Back- A running term that describes a type of run/race, whereby the runner runs directly out and follows the same course back to where it began." - Runner's World's Running Glossary

So when I first began running I didn't exactly have a plan. You see up to this point, I was a soccer player first and foremost, who was only running to get in shape. And those guys in short shorts and singlets, well they didn't have much in common with me, or so I thought.

Having said that, after about a month and a half of consistent two or three milers, someone suggested that I consider running The Broad Street Run, a ten mile race that takes place the first Sunday in May. And the deal was sealed when, for those of you who know me, they mentioned the part about getting a t-shirt.

So with this goal of running ten miles in my head, I set out on this particular morning with the hope of running five (my previous max distance had been four.). I had a plan in my head of the route I would take. I would leave my house and head a few blocks to a main street where I grew up, and take that all the way out until I hit the 2.5 mile mark, and then I would run straight back.

A simple out and back.

And as "Usher and RKelly- Same Girl", blared in my earbuds I realized that something strange seemed to be happening, I was feeling good, really good actually. So when I glanced down and I saw that little 2.5 next to my mileage meter, some part of me told me to keep going.

And just like that, 2.5 turned into 3, then into 4, and then, standing at a red light on Lancaster Avenue I stood 5 miles from my front door. Five miles from where I started, and a whole mile further than I had ever gone before. And as that light turned green, I smiled to myself, and turned the volume up in my head phones, and took another few steps, the first ones of my next run, the five miles home.

Now two things have been true since that day. The first of which is that I am not ashamed to admit that I will always rock out to "Same Girl". The second is that after that run, I looked at myself in the mirror, and saw many things looking back at me, and for the first time, I also saw a runner.

And ever since that ten mile out and back, I've called myself a runner.

And I found myself thinking about that run the other day. I was done having a conversation with someone, the nature of which had turned to this idea of relating to others, and how you do that when you've never been where they've been. When you've never gone as far as they have.

Only in this case, we weren't talking about running.

Where terms like "pace", and "mileage", were replaced by others like "prison", "addiction" and "homelessness".

So that question hung in the air, the question of how you relate to someone who maybe had a different turn around point than you. And I did my best to answer, though I'm not sure I did a very good job.

But as a result, this question stuck with me. And it stuck with me because, quite frankly, I guess I felt some kind of responsibility to answer it. I felt some kind of obligation because, to be honest, I'm someone who has a turn around point that's further than most. And I guess it was when I started to weigh or debate the degree of mine, against that of others, that I began to settle a little closer to something that could be considered an answer. Because somewhere amidst my attempts to compare the points at which so many of us have turned around, or stopped, I remembered something.

Maybe, it doesn't matter.

Maybe the problem with trying to relate to someone who has been through prison, or addiction, or homelessness, or just shit in general, is just that. Because maybe we spend too much time focusing on that. We spend too much time looking at those things, those points along our journey, our course that brought us down.

Cause maybe you turned around at mile two, and maybe I turned at mile twenty. And we could spend all day and night talking about the differences that existed in those eighteen miles, and I could tell you about the different places I saw, and the different things I did on the way, but that's just what they would remain as, differences. And in that discussion of differences, and mile markers that you'd rather not imagine, we'd lose sight of the one similarity that we had in common.

That despite the differences, despite the fact that you turned around at mile two and I turned around at mile twenty, we share one thing. The fact that we both turned around at all.

And maybe the greatest disservice we do for one another, is to focus on those miles, those decisions that took us out, and in doing so we neglect the most important part...

The journey back.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of Underdogs, Long Shots, and Dark Horses

"Tweet"

The final whistle blows.

My cupped hands instinctively began clapping, "Great game guys, jog it in.". My gaze shifts to the team in white, as they bounce atop one another as they make their way to the opposing bench. Each player is greeted with a firm, almost professional, handshake from their coach, clad in his clean white soccer shorts, and navy blue Nike zip-up jacket.

I peer down at my own attire, a loose pair of jeans, and extra large soccer polo shirt which could have doubled for a night gown. "7-1, We did it!!!", I think to myself. My team begins to weave their way through their opponents, and I note for a second the wide, brimming smiles of my players. I go to cheer once more and then...

Whoosh.

The corner of my eye catches the quick flash of orange plastic. My legs and body lurch forward as the wave of ice water cascades down my neck, and back. A chorus of laughter and cheers cloud behind me as I turn around to see two of my players standing with the now empty Gatorade jug...

So this was a story of the end of a soccer game that I coached a few years ago when I was the prestigious Head Freshman Soccer Coach of a local high school team.

And for those of you unfamiliar with soccer, I should point out that 7-1 isn't exactly a typical score. It's in fact, what most people would describe as a blowout. And to be fair this game was just that, a blowout. The two teams were not evenly matched, and probably had no business being on the same field with one another. And it was quite clear, in those first few minutes of the game that score would be ugly, there was never any doubt as to who would win.

So you can imagine the shock in the opposing coaches face when he saw my team dump the Gatorade jug on me in an over the top celebration.

That shock was there, not because we were breaking all rules of sportsmanship by celebrating a 7-1 victory and ass kicking of a lesser team. No, the shock existed, because we were celebrating a 1-7 loss and ass kicking of well... ourselves. You see, we were the team that lost, something that, at this point in the season, we had become quite good at.

Now if this were a Disney movie, if this were "The Little Giants", or one of the "Mighty Ducks" movies, I'd be writing about how, after a brief period of ineptitude and shenanigans, this team of misfits came together and rode a wave of momentum to victory.

But that's not exactly how it went down.

I've been lucky enough to coach a variety of different soccer teams. Teams of tremendous talent, and success. Teams that I will always remember for their incredible feats of skill.

And then there have been other teams, teams like this one.

A team where we invented new positions like "Out of shape". A team that may have broke the world record for number of missed practices due to orthodontic appointments. A team that I once had to confiscate iPhones mid bus ride and utter the phrase "No more porn on the bus!". A team ravaged by "Swine Flu", piano lessons, and winter musical rehearsals. A team that passed collectively on "Coach" and called me "Dan". A team that lost just about every game we played.

And a team that I will say is by far, my favorite team I've ever coached.

Cause I guess I have a soft spot for the underdog, for the long shot, and perhaps we all do, I mean why else would Disney make four "Mighty Ducks" movies (if you are answering "because they are awesome", you are correct.).

But I think it's possible Disney, and the movies have it wrong. Because I think the endings of these movies, of these bands of unlikely victors hoisting trophies, might have skewed our perception of just what winning actually looks like. That what we define as an upset, of these dark horses and their improbable triumphs aren't reserved for the bright lights and big stages of championship matches. That, in actuality, winning looks much different.

It's the eight year old with a processing disorder sprinting across a parking lot, waving a 20/20 perfect score on his spelling test. It's the 50 year old man who raises his hand to accept a coin, a glow in the dark key tag and a hug after making 365 good decisions in a row. It's the boy with Autism asking a random student in the hallway "How was your Thanksgiving?". It's the 1:15 minute five mile race, the 3:08 half marathon, and the 100% attendance at 5:30am runs. It's the soccer team that celebrates scoring one goal in the face of seven scored against them.

And simply put, it's you and it's me. Because we are all, in some way, the underdog. Because we

And I learned this lesson that from sources as unlikely as third graders, and homeless men, drug  addicts, and autistic students.

This lesson that long shot triumphs, dark horse upsets, and underdog victories might actually happen  all around us every day.

And that winning, much like a Gatorade Ice Bath, can happen when we least expect it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Running is life?

"Running is life."

Yeahhh... I don't know what that means.

It's a phrase I hear uttered on occasion. And when I do, the only thing I can think of when I hear it is the memory of those t-shirts that were popular when I grew up. I'm pretty sure you could find a "______ is life" shirt that said just about anything. I think my brother and I had matching "Soccer is Life" shirts, and to be honest that wasn't entirely accurate, but I doubt the clothing makers had printed a "Pretending to be Davy Crocket with a yard stick cause your hippie parents wouldn't buy a real fake rifle is Life" shirt just yet.

But despite the fact that this slogan had become popular to spawn a t-shirt revolution, I can't say it makes very much sense.

Now, don't get me wrong, clearly I believe there is something profound about running that deserves a second look. I mean, I have a fucking blog dedicated to running after all. But running is not life, life is life, running is merely what those of us do when we lack the ability to sit still.

So for the sake of this blog post, I've decided to take a rather different approach. Though many past entries have attempted in some ways to define "Running as I see it", or offer some kind of life perspective as a result, this blog will be talking about the things I have NOT learned, or those things that running, and life do NOT have in common. So here goes...

In life, sometimes the finish line you dreamed of at the start ceases to be the finish line you want in the middle.

In life, GU is rarely the sound choice.

In life, if you try and run up and attempt to give the Mayor a high five, you probably won't get what you are looking for.

In life, the right direction is more important than the speed at which you travel it.

In life, you can't always seen the top of the hill.

In life, when you are in the street, those people yelling at you aren't fans/spectators, they are most likely angry drivers from New Jersey.

In life, a journey covered by yourself is rarely one worth covering.

In life, having a bib on your chest... not so cool.

In life, running in circles doesn't get you anywhere.

In life, it's better to shower before rather than after.

In life, what you wear won't make the difference.

In life, it's really never okay to pee your pants.

In life, mile markers are subjective.

In life, those people on the street offering you things to eat and drink.... yeahhhh you don't want that.

In life, sometimes slowing down hurts more than speeding up.

In life, your race can start without you signing up.

And...

In life, the course is not marked. There are no arrows pointing you along through every turn. Your path is yours, slower or faster, left or right. There are no wrong turns, only the one in front of you and the chance to make the right choice. To tell the truth, to ask for help, or to put on a pair of soccer shorts one morning and for a jog. And just like that, your life, your course, can change forever. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Here comes the cold again...

It's the Monday after Thanksgiving, and those last few anonymous days of November are ticking by. No longer fall, not yet December and not quite the "holiday season". And this seems even more true this year, as the temperatures outside are hovering around 65 degrees here in Philadelphia. Though when you are outside, you can't help but notice the signs of the impending winter.

The bare trees that line the older city streets, providing little cover to the green, white and red dots as they begin to crop up in my neighborhood. The early hint of a winter's wind that comes off the river early in the morning. And of course, the curtain of darkness that seems to drop earlier and faster each year.

And aside from the obvious effect this will have on runners, wearing more clothes, and heading out into the dark, it left me thinking what else it may mean to us, as we head into winter when the bright lights of the sun and fall marathons are both figuratively and literally packed away. When howling crowds, are replaced by howling winds, and the sights of orange, yellow, and maroon foliage are traded for the solitary sight of your breath as it dissipates into the night air.

And I guess it got me thinking about what this means for us as runners, or rather, what it says about us as runners. When confronted with the cold fingers, burning lungs, when an excuse to take a day off is as easy as a warm bed, and maybe most interesting of all...

When no one is watching.

I guess that's element of this thought process that stuck with me. What kind of runner we want to be, when it's just you out there. When there are no big races. When the group runs are few and far between. And fuck, when you are baring showing an inch of recognizable skin cause you are wearing everything you own.

What kind of runner do you want to be?

Cause this is hardly the easy time. This tunnel of winter that we disappear into between the scenes of fall and the energy of spring. These are the hard months. These are the months that I'd like to think define us as runners. It seems easy to kick in those last few miles at the end of the race, with cameras and cheering spectators. Yet infinitely to kick in those last few when all that is waiting for you at the end is the task of attempting to turn on the shower as your fingers slowly return from numbness passing through various stages of pain along the way.

I really don't mean to be Debby Downer on running in the winter. Quite the opposite in fact, I love running in the winter. I love the quiet, those odd snowy nights, and the astonished stares of those in warmer refuges.  But above all of that, I think the aspect I prefer above all of those is that it is hard.

Cause there was a time in my life where the path of least resistance was the only path. And that is if I chose a path at all. So to stand in the face of something challenging, and to look at it, and I mean really look at it is in itself an accomplishment. Because the old Dan had become an expert in clenching his eyes shut tight, and pretending with all the might he could muster to ignore what challenges lay before him.

Now I should be honest and point out, that on any given day Old Dan can pop up on those days when life shows up. And if I am even more honest, I'll add that it even happens more than I'd like to admit. But that's okay too, cause all I can really ask for is another chance, another challenge.

So this is me inviting winter, inviting the cold, and the wind, and whatever else it chooses to throw at us this year. And I don't know, maybe in two weeks I'll regret saying this, as I pray for spring, but for now, for whatever reason, this is me inviting the challenge.

A challenge that I can't promise won't kick my ass, but I can promise that, with my eyes open, I'll be the one throwing the first punch.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving

So I guess we all have our Thanksgiving traditions. In the Colameco household, our tradition, though evolved over the years, has always included Thanksgiving in Connecticut at my Grandmother's house.

For years we would climb into one or two cars, and beg my mom to put on a CD so we didn't have to listen to yet another NPR segment on "Vegan Thanksgiving". And I still remember the day that I was deemed old enough to go into the Men's room by myself at the rest stop, instead of the ladies room with my mom, sister and little brother. But those three and a half hours packed into the minivan were always made worth it by the promise of a box of Cracker Jacks, and to a kid who had a mild love affair with sugar, it didn't get much better.

And after we arrived in Westport, we would say our "Hello"s to my extended family, only to pile back into the minivan and head to the Thanksgiving Day touch football game played between family friends at local park. A competition, as an eight year old, I took very seriously. So you can imagine the honor I felt when the job of rushing the quarterback was bestowed upon me, the words "One Mississippi, two Mississippi" were never uttered with more weight, and ardent obligation. And to this day I don't know why they only limited my offensive plays with the ball to one a game, since at the ripe old age of eight, I somehow always managed to allude the swarm of adult tacklers.

The rest of the day would be spent avoiding my mother, and her persistence in attempting to get me to change out of my glory and mud stained sweatpants and sweatshirt (turtleneck assumed), fighting with my little brother, and watching more football with my uncles.

Then finally, when dinner was finally ready, I would take my place at the head of the kid's table, and watch as my younger cousins would have their parents cut their turkey for them. I'm not sure I've ever felt so mature as when that plastic knife and fork were in my hands. Then, at some point, Dodo (my grandmother) would have us all go around the table, as many families do, and say one thing we were thankful for.

And that was Thanksgiving. That was Thanksgiving in the early nineties. And today it looks a little differently, the dark green minivan is now my own car, half of my cousins are now a foot taller than me, and my mom's glasses can no longer pass as lenses for the Hubble Telescope. We all cut our own meat, wear far fewer turtlenecks, and the last couch cushion fort was deconstructed years ago.

But some things still remain.

I still kick it at the "kids" table, the dessert table still takes almost as long to prepare as dinner, and Dodo is always good for at least three "Dodo Moments". But maybe the aspect that has remained most consistent is the air of "Thanks" or gratitude that perpetuates around the house, usually capped off by a soft spoken toast by the legend, Dodo, once she has been corralled by my aunts and uncles and encouraged to finally sit down and eat.

And at eight years old that idea of gratitude was pretty easy to articulate. I was thankful for a big sister cool enough to own The Beach Boys Greatest Hits tape ("Aruba, Jamaica, ooooo I wanna take ya...), a little brother who could never finish all of his cracker jacks, and two parents who blessed me with some kick ass football moves. 

Though I have to say, that for some reason, this year we didn't get a chance to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. So in the interest in preserving a small tradition of my childhood, I've decided to do that now.

I'm thankful for GU.

I'm thankful for baggy running pants that hide running tights.

I'm thankful for the words "Justin", "Bieber" "Christmas" and "Album".

I'm thankful for baristas, past and present.

I'm thankful for inside jokes. And friends who don't mind hearing them over and over again.

I'm thankful for Birdmen, Roofies, and Banana Balls.

I'm thankful for B-tags, D-tags, and whatever else they come up with.

I'm thankful for people who read a blog.

I'm thankful for friends who bring signs.

I'm thankful for sequent gloves.

I'm thankful for lessons I never saw coming, from people and places I never expected.

I'm thankful for a cappella songs that put a smile on my face.

I'm thankful for Brooks Glyercin 8s.

I'm thankful for my two favorite words to hear in the morning "No, Dan."

I'm thankful for the blessings of utter desperation.

I'm thankful for second chances, and thankful for third chances too.

I'm thankful for neighbors.

I'm thankful for old friends, new friends, and friends I've yet to meet.

I'm thankful for Gatorade Recovery.

I'm thankful for Major Lazer.

I'm thankful for a family just crazy enough to love me, and sane enough to keep me reasonably grounded.

I'm thankful for TL4L, Nice View From Behind, and Maravaners everywhere.

I'm thankful for a time when I wasn't thankful.

And...

I'm thankful for the lesson taught to me, in her own way, by a grandmother so simple that an eight year old could follow. That being thankful isn't something that exists only on a November day in Westport. That gratitude exists in both the likely and the unlikely. Around dinner tables with family, and early morning circles of runners with differences as obvious as skin color and similarities not as visible. That it exists in moments of great triumph, and in moments of defeat. It exists in those moments when we feel it, and it exists even more so in the times we don't. For gratitude, as Dodo taught me, exists most of all in one place, the one place we can always find it... inside each of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finish Lines

It's maybe one of my favorite place to be...

The wide swath of open space of no specific type, be it grass, beach, or pavement. A place that is a whirlwind of bodies and emotion. Where visions akin to refugee camps play backdrop to airport reunions. Where sprains, strains and heartache intermingle with the pains and cries of cheeks stretching to unrelenting smiles. And the crinkle of tin foil, and clang of metal melt into the background of white noise of a thousand hands clapping. This place of both, frenzy and serenity, of both, curse and exaltation. This place of dreams and nightmares.

And forgive me if you think this is all tad dramatic, for all I know it might be.

But I was lucky enough this weekend to have been able to trade in my usual role as runner, for that of a cheerleader. And on two separate occasions, for two separate races, in two separate states, I got a chance to spend some time at this place.

The place that we simply call the finish line.

And while finish lines are hardly something I am unfamiliar with, the perspective of onlooker was. Cause I guess when I think of them I think of the varied ones that I have crossed. Ones in front of raucous crowds, and others in hushed park trails. And I guess it was that ratio that needed some change in focus.

I think the gift of this weekend wasn't watching one runner cross one finish line, it was the gift of watching many runners cross many finish lines.

Because one thing became clear to me, I think, became clear to me this weekend. Because as I stood at these finish lines, a singular voice surrounded by thousands of others, cramped shoulder to shoulder, straining for a view of the final steps of this race, something seemed off. For as inspiring as it was to watch these men, women, and sometimes even children cross that blue and orange line, I wondered if we may put too much stock into how we finish.

Cause I don't know about anyone else, but it seems to me that how we finish, only tells part of the story, and a rather tiny one at that. And it's that story, the story of how we get to the finish that seems to me to be the one worth telling, and worth cheering for.

For the story of how we get there, of the fight and the struggle is where the real beauty lies. Whether it's hitting the wall, twisting your ankle, low blood sugar, or a busted foot, it's that moment that defines the race.

And whether it's mile 26, or mile 2,  it's in that moment, when the weight of doubt descends upon you, when the bristling force of opposition stands before you, it's that step, it's that courage to take that next step that may be the most important step in the race.

And maybe that's why I can say that I actually the witness to more finish lines than the two that were erected this weekend. Cause it seems that finish lines existed in mile 12 where a man counted down from 3 to 1 and cast himself into one last jog. It existed in the way a runner wrapped around a corner and screamed for her pacer to "Go!" and dared to dare herself. It existed in the way shivering first time marathoners walked into their corrals minutes before their race would ever start. And it existed in the way, through tears, and pain a friend gave one last hug before throwing one last punch in a fight she's swore she'd lost already.

Congratulations to everyone who crossed their finish line this weekend, wherever it may have occurred...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Images of my Father

So the first race I ever did was a five mile race in a suburban town about five minutes from where I grew up. I'll tell you that I showed up to that race with little idea of what I was doing. I had been running for about a month and a half, which was quite evident by the cotton t-shirt, and soccer shorts, I had on.

And though it was a few years ago at this point, I still remember that morning very clearly. It was a Saturday in late April, and a pretty perfect day for a race.

I remember the gun going off and hauling ass down the street attempting to keep up with the leaders. I remember my first introduction to the burn of going out too fast. I remember nostrils full of gatorade. I remember the consistent mantra of "Fuck this hill. Fuck this hill. Fuck this hill.". I remember the wave of runners passing me on the final stretch of road as all competitive spirit had given way.

And I remember an image of a man standing near the finish, a stocky fellow in a grey soccer shirt, a graying brown beard, a bag over his shoulder, and a camera pressed to his eye, snapping a picture me as I passed by. An image of a man, I have seen in countless races I have run since.

An image of my father.

Now many of you have been lucky enough to have seen some of the amazing photographs that my father has taken of the years. And for those of you who haven't...

www.flickr.com/photos/colapics/

Unfortunately, in all of the breathtaking pictures you'll find on this website, the ones you won't find are of the man himself. Sadly as the families resident photographer, many of the photos of my father aren't preserved on film, but rather inside my head.

Images like the one from the race, camera pressed to his eye or of a coach in a backwards baseball cap passionately cheering on his soccer team on damp, muddy October mornings. Of a teacher in a shirt and tie standing in front of a captive audience of students as he speaks masterfully about the Vietnam War. And of a father in an eye patch, charging out of the location of the hidden treasure at my 1st grade pirate themed birthday party, scattering a screaming hoard of treasure hunting children in all directions.

But mostly just an image of a father who was always present.

Now it may seem a tad trite to acknowledge something so seemingly ordinary as a father being present in his son's life.

Except when you take a step back and realize that life, at least my life, hasn't always been as simple as road races and birthday parties. That in between the final whistles of soccer games, and the starting gun of a marathon there were other moments. Moments that you wouldn't break out a camera for.

And my father was there for those too.

He was there for tough conversations. For long periods of silence, when no words could be spoken. He was there at 5am before work, and 5pm when work let out. When I did my best to retreat away from life itself, he was already there waiting for me. And he was there for an hour and twenty minute drive that no father should ever have to take with his son, a drive that changed my life forever.

And that's anything but ordinary.

And I guess the only aspect of this blog that constitutes as trite will be the line that follows, which is to say...

Thanks, Dad, for in your own way being a coach, a teacher, a worthy wrestling opponent, a pirate king, and a crazy hippie liberal. Thanks for being there when I thought I didn't need you, and on the day I needed you the most.

And thank you for all the pictures, the ones hanging on my bedroom walls, and the ones in my mind.

Happy Birthday Dad, I love you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Heroes

“Shhhh, Mom’s coming!”

A fire alarm of sorts that I remember was issued that night. It was well past bedtime, and my brother and sister and I were up at my grandparent’s house. The door to our bedroom was shut, but we weren’t sleeping. And to be honest, we weren’t even in a bedroom. We were lost in a maze of giant blades of grass, being chased by deadly lawn mowers and evil scorpions.

For that night, that small bedroom in Westport , Connecticut was, in our imaginations, the backyard of the (in my opinion) classic movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.

We had returned earlier that night from the movie theater, buzzing from the story we had just watched. An adventure about a quirky scientist/inventor who’s experiment accidentally shrinks his two children, and two neighbors. The four kids are then cast out into the jungle that is their backyard, narrowly escaping death, finding every kid’s heaven in an oversized marshmallow cookie, and befriending a baby ant. 

The four kids navigate their way through the backyard as the movie unfolds. The teenage female character serving as the damsel in distress. The two younger boys take their turns providing comic relief and storylines. And the teenage boy, risks life and limb, saving his family and friends, leading them to safety.

And I was five. 

And that teenage boy was about as cool as it got. And there, that night in a small bedroom in Westport, Connecticut, I did my best to lead my older sister, and brother to safety. 

And I think that was my first memory of what a hero looked like, the big brother, who saved the day. 

And that’s where my relationship with heroes began, though clearly not where it ended. Stop by my parents house some time and my mother can cart out a series of photos of me dressed up as many of them, from Davy Crockett to Ghostbusters, to Robin Hood (all in turtlenecks by the way, but that’s topic for another blog.). 

But as childhood began to give way to adolescence, and my taste in movies/television too began to change and so did the nature of my heroes. And slowly swords gave way to baseball bats, and rifles to soccer balls. And those people I looked up to suddenly seemed much more human. Where Robin Hood could always be counted on to defeat the Sheriff of Nottingham, Cobi Jones and the US  Soccer Team did not win the World Cup, and Mitch Williams always gives up the home run to Joe Carter. 

But you get used to it. And you grow older, and you learn that even some of those heroes you worshiped as a child, may not have been so perfect after all. That Davy Crockett killed a lot of Native Americans fighting to keep their homes, that George Washington owned slaves, and there’s no such thing as a “shrinking machine”. 

And yet, despite this, despite the fact that we all have experience with our heroes not always being what we expected, we continue to believe, though our belief changes.

They become the protesters who take the streets in a corrupt country thousands of miles away, letting their voices be heard as they stare down the barrel of a gun and an army of riot police. They become the double amputee furiously pushing his wheel chair up a hill, propelling himself to the finish of a marathon. And they become a group of firefighters who run into the burning building, as everyone else runs out.

And I think that says it all.

Because you see, in my opinion, heroism lies not in the actor, but in the act itself. Each and every one of us, from the President, to folk heroes, to star athletes, to, I don’t know, football coaches share one thing in common, we are all flawed.

And guess what?

That’s okay. 

Because you see, it’s not the man who carries the flag that is most important, but the flag itself. It’s not the hero that makes the action, but rather the action that makes the hero. It’s the message, not the messenger. And because of that, if the man who carries the flag should fall, it’s up to those around him to pick it up.

And it’s in that idea that may lie the secret.

That whether you are a firefighter, a protester, a marine, or even just a five year old playing make believe in a bedroom, the secret maybe as simple as this…

We all can be heroes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Places I Run

As I made the usual right hand turn out of my apartment on my run the other night, a thought occurred to me. The thought being that I may be one of the most boring route runners around.

And it's not that I mind. I've just never been one for changing up the places I run, or creating new routes. I've got the ones I've got and that's fine by me. If I had to guess as to why I tend to stick to the same ones, I would guess it breaks down into two parts.

The first of which is that planning a new run takes something I've never been good at... preparation. Let me put it another way, I was the kid who never had a pencil. Planning a new route takes a decent amount of foresight. It will require a couple minutes on MapMyRun, to find out what the exact distance is and etc...

The second reason I believe stems from the fact that I just don't care. You know that guy or girl that says "Wow, what a beautiful tree"? Yeah, that's not me. I don't need beautiful things to look at while I run. Personally, I just need something to slightly hold my attention, basic things like pedestrians, lights, or oncoming traffic.

Having said all that...

I don't mean to give the impression that I don't care about where I run. The truth is quite the opposite. The truth is they places I run mean quite a bit to me...

So I was jogging with my man Ron recently during one of our Back on My Feet run.

We were running on this November morning, one of the first significantly cold mornings of the fall. And as we are making our way down Walnut St. we pass a man sleeping atop a subway grate, warming himself with the steady flow of steam rising up through it.

And for whatever reason that morning I felt bold enough to invite the uncomfortable and ask the question that happened to be on my mind. The question of where Ron used to sleep.

He responded rather simply, giving me the cross street and then briefly explaining the amenities that it offered. We kept jogging for a few seconds when suddenly despite the early morning hours, my brain was able to put two and two together.

You see that morning, Ron and I were out training for the Philadelphia Half Marathon to be run in a little over a week. A half marathon that will take him further than he has ever run before, past the many historic sights that this city has to offer. Ron will run past them all. He and the other racers will run by the Art Museum, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall. And he'll also run by a small stretch of pavement, a rather ordinary, unnoteworthy stretch of pavement, except for one thing.

It was once his home.

Now I can't tell you what will be going through Ron's head as we pass by that part of town. I can't even tell you that he'll be thinking about it.

I do know that I have those places too. And I think we all do.

Which brings me back to the question of "Where we run?".

And I think I've found my answer, though maybe not in the way I would have guessed. That maybe it's not as important where we go, or what we pass along the way. That maybe the most important aspect of where we run isn't even a place at all.

That maybe the most important place I run is today.

And I think Ron would agree...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on the Weekend

Five things I learned from watching the New York Marathon...

1. Showing up is easy

So a lot of the reasoning that went into starting this blog, was to make an attempt to take the feelings/thoughts/psychosis and try and put them into words. Everything from explaining my love/hate relationship with training plans, to admitting my running snobbery. And somewhere between are my attempts to explain the depths of gratitude for those gave to me without asking for anything in return.

And yet, despite my desire to find the words, the right words. I saw this weekend that sometimes the easiest way to say how you feel, is not to say anything at all.

That simple things, speak louder than words.

Things like showing up.

2. Marathoners = Odd Ducks

This may have been apparent to me before this weekend, but if any doubt remained surely this weekend put an end to it. And, believe it or not, but I'm not even talking about the actual running for 26.2 miles.

That's not even the crazy part.

Running 26.2 miles is reasonable.

Running 26.2 miles dressed as Minnie Mouse.... and you're name is "Brad"... now we're talking.

There are only so many bright pink wigs, Iron Man masks, and fake mustaches before you begin to question the logic of people who chose to do this.

3. Jackass is a universal language

So I was told beforehand that the New York Marathon had a slight international flavor. But after watching this race stating that it had a "slight" international flavor, would be like saying I have a "slight" crush on Kelly Kapowski (If you don't know who that is you should leave this blog immediately... and Kelly, I'll love you forever.).

So here in no particular order are my reasonably culturally insensitive generalizations of each countries runners...

Kenyans- I'll hate you forever.

Ethiopians- See Above.

French- Vive Le France! Not the fastest, but they sure know how to be identified.

Spanish- A bit testy...

Italians- They seem to have the market cornered on odd colored wigs and costumes. Thanks for the whole pasta/carbo loading thing Italy... but I could have done without that visual of Paolo's hairy chest popping out of the dress.

Sweden/Netherlands/Denmark- I can't say much about how you're countrymen ran cause I was too buys admiring your fans for their... uhhhh... cheering... yeah, that's it.... cheering. You ladies are welcome to come cheer down in Philadelphia any time you like.

4. Bloody Nipples

It is NOT a myth...

Sweet mother of Mary...

5. Name on your chest

So it's a marathon tradition/suggestion to put your name on the front of your shirt. It's a way to give the spectators of the race something to cheer. "Go Sheila" tranlsates better than "Go random brunette in the blue shorts.

I've always been hesitant. I've always been afraid to have a bad race and instead of, "Go Dan", hearing "Hey Dan, stop puking on my sidewalk". Having said that, there is something to be said for the names on your chest.

There's something to be said for watching a runner coming closer to you, as you're eyes strain to make out the name written on the front only to find it's not their name at all... When you see, that written in black marker, is not Frank or Jen, but "For Dad", or "For Mom". And as they get even closer, you notice a small picture resting over their heart.

And I think that name on the chest speaks for itself.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Speech

Below is the speech I gave at last night's Back on My Feet bash as it existed before overwhelming nervousness showed up...


Yes, so my name is Dan. I’ve been a non-res member of Back on My Feet for a little while now. I’ve held most core positions from Coach to Team Leader of the Brotherhood Mission Team and I currently run with the St. Johns team and I’m not sure what my official title on that core team is. I’d also like to take a second to apologize to all of you, while I have the chance for the display of dancing that myself and the St. Johns team will be gving you on the dance floor in a few minutes. 

Anyway, so a few weeks ago Cathryn asked me if I would be willing to speak at this year’s Bash about what Back on My Feet is to me. So for the past few weeks I’ve been struggling  to answer that question, of “What Back on My Feet is to me?”. And after a few hours staring at a blank computer screen and restarts, the voice of a man I have a lot of respect for came into my head saying “If you don’t like the answer, maybe you should change the question.” And that’s where I was able to start. So the first thing I’d like to talk to you about is not what Back on My Feet is, but rather what it is not.

Which is to say that Back on My Feet is not a charity. 

At some point tonight I am sure someone will get up and talk you the basics of how this program works. They’ll talk to you about partnerships with a shelter, getting the residents of the shelter to sign up. Getting them shoes, running their first few miles with the team. Their first race. Then the transition into the next steps program, everything that comes with it, from banking classes, to resume building to grant money. 

And while that may all seem quite charitable. It’s not, from my experience, how this program works.

And while you may be sitting there scratching your head, especially when you look at the list of things that are given to our guys. Shoes, running gear, race entries, banking classes, resume building sessions, grant money. Sounds a lot like a charity.

But what if I told you that this program works not from the things that we as an organization or volunteers give our guys, but rather, that this program works from the things they give themselves. 

Well now we are talking about something much different.

So I’m gonna tell a quick story. 

This story takes place with the St. Johns team this past August, on a Wednesday, or as I like to call them during the summer, “Baked Trash Day”. And if you’ve ever run through Chinatown at 5:30am on a Wednesday you know what I am talking about. So this particular morning we were on our way back from a 4 mile “Bridge Run”. I was jogging with two of my teammates when I overheard teammate A who was struggling to keep up with our 13 minute mile pace say to teammate B, “Hey that was tough keeping up with you today.”, at which point teammate B responded by saying “Well hey, you keep with it and you’ll see it gets easier. Trust me, you can do it.”. 

Now that seems like a pretty ordinary story. 
 
But what if I told you that the teammate A, the 14 minute miler, the one struggling to keep up was a non res volunteer named Bob. And teammate B, the 13 minute miler was a homeless man named Ron. And if we can take a step back from that, and we just look at it. That here was a man, Ron, who for all intents and purposes is someone in this life with very little, as society might suggest. And yet here, on this morning, it was the homeless man with very little who had something to offer, something to give away. 

And I’m sure somewhere in this room you would be able to get your hands on a Back on My Feet fundraising pamphlet. One that is full of the truly beautiful statistics that this program can put forward. Everything from the number of people who quit smoking, to miles run. From races completed to the number of members who have moved out. 

And for as beautiful as those numbers are, in my opinion, they fall short. Because, lost, somewhere between those number, there exist things or moments that are much harder to quantify. Things that don’t make it onto a brochure. Things that aren’t so easy to quantify. Simple things, like a smile. Because how can you quantify a smile that maybe didn’t exist a few weeks or months ago. And how do quantify the other moments. Moments that exist when you might not even be looking. Moments like that morning on the bridge.

You see, I started by saying how Back on My Feet is not a charity. But I left out the true reason that I know this to be true. Because as much as I would like to stand here and take credit for a piece of the many amazing accomplishments that these men and women have made, that would be a lie. Because, in all honesty, the truth is, I didn’t do anything. They did. 

The truth is, that I can’t even say that I’ve given this program much at all. And I think every volunteer in this room would back me up, when I say that this program couldn’t possibly be a charity because this program has given me more than I’ve ever been able to give to it. 

You know I have to admit that I signed up for this program thinking I’d meet cute girls. And I did, don’t get me wrong, but what kept me coming back, sorry girls, was something else. Something I didn’t expect. Because in my own skewed thinking I showed up expecting to teach some people some things. When in truth it was me who ended up learning. 

I've learned that the first step in believing that in yourself, is almost always believing that someone else believes in you. We say this each time we gather in a circle, each time we hug, and we say this every time we line up at a start of a race and look out at a distant finish line, be it 26.2 miles away, or 3.1. We say "You can do it, cause we'll be right behind you”, and maybe more importantly, that “we'll be right here when you get back”.

I've learned that redemption is the process, not the finish line. I've learned this by witnessing moments of generosity and selflessness when no one was supposed to be watching. Be it a member freely handing over his free hot dog to a young boy or as ordinary as someone passing up on a banana after a  Saturday morning long run, cause there are still people finishing who might need it more.

I've learned that friendship doesn't know race, that it doesn't know gender, and that it certainly doesn't know income.

I've learned that, in the dead of winter, in freezing cold temperatures, that 5:30 in the morning can somehow be the warmest and brightest part of my day.

And most of all, I've learned that what exists here, in this room right now, is the most powerful thing I've found on this earth. 

And that thing is love. 

I stated earlier that there was "something else” that keeps me coming back. And I believe that to be love. And it’s my experience that I don't know of anything stronger than a group of people coming together and saying, "No matter what, we will get through this" because we will do it together. Because just as you are there for me, I am there for you. And because out of many, we are one.

And that maybe, just maybe, because I have you, and you have me, I can feel bold enough to take that step forward.

And that’s hard to fit in a pamphlet.