Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dialouge of a long run

May 29th start time 11:15am 91 degrees


"Oh, it's not so bad out. It doesn't feel that hot.

Fucking Garmin takes forever to find a satellite. Let me find a good song to start with.... hmmm.... here we go....

Phil Collins- Against All Odds, I love this song!

Garmin is finally synced, okay lets do this thing....

Feels good so far. Well, hello ladies walking down South Street... oh! Scratch that, ladies and gentlemen walking down South Street. Gotta love the diversity here. I feel great, and I have successfully kept from staring down at the Garmin which is currently telling me I am running a... what the fuck?!? A 11:37 mile pace... awesome... oh wait... now I am running a 3:49 mile pace.... I thought I felt strong. I can't wait to get out of the city so this watch settles down. Should be a nice jog through West Philly to Drexel Hill and a cool, refreshing dip in the pool....

Innnnnnn West Philadelphia born and raised!!! I feel great, legs are nice and loose, got some nice music to listen to. Gotta love the Penn undergrads walking down Chestnut here in University City. Okay, little hill here at 32nd or so. No big deal, it'll make this little bit of sweat I've worked up worth it. Okay... just remember the proper technique. Head down, short stride, don't look up... should be done in no time. Whew, next song... short stride.... next song... next song... Annnd we are up the hill.

So long University City, you've been fantastic to me, except for that little hill there. No problem though.... although it's kinda warm, wish there was a little bit more shade. But the good news is that there is only... oh fuck... 9 more miles to go... Maybe I should slow down. NO! Just keep this pace, you'll be fine, ah see... look, a red light, this will give me a chance to catch my... oh fuck you green light!

Well at least there is a decent downhill here... definitely wish there was a little more shade. Gotta love the West Philadelphia sidewalks, really would like to shake the hand of the crew that last paved them during the Eisenhower Administration. Okaaaaay, so this sucks, but whatever, you knew it would, it's making you stronger. Think about lining up in Steamtown, you'll remember this run as being hot as shit and totally worth it. Steamtown is gonna be awesome, all of your family and friends are coming, plus a bunch of you are running in it, it's gonna be awesome.

Oh what the fuck is this? I really don't rememeber this hill being here. Shit... next song... shit... next song... shit.... next song... shit... next song... shit...

Fuck I hate hills... I don't know what the fuck I was thinking signing up for Fairfield, there's no way I'm running a 1:22:00. I am so slow up these hills, I really need to stop thinking I even have a chance at that time. It's fucking death. I doubt I could even run that on a fast flat course, let alone at the end of June with hills! Fuck I'm slow. Yes, I know Garmin, shut up! Did I mention how much I hate you!

Okay, flat spot, thank god. Beautiful area, love the scenic nature of the row homes and the locals who look at me like I am nuts. I am nuts. And I'm fucking proud to be nuts. Approaching my favorite little section of town, 52nd and Chestnut... BEAUTIFUL, JUST BEAUTIFUL... Busy day this morning, lot of big, muscular guys hanging out on the corner... Annnnd awesome time for Justin Bieber to come on the iPod, should probably turn that down a hair... Speaking of which, should probably consider why I hve so much Justin Bieber on my iPod.

Are you kidding me another hill?!?! Fuck West Philly! I think I am going to pass out before I hit 69th St. I could totally text y brother who could pick me up. He's not that far, I'll just lie and say I pulled a muscle or some shit, he'll believe me. Fuck, just keep going.... next song...

Here it is, 69th St, about fucking time I got here. I am so slow, this is awful, I can't believe how slow I feel right now. I'm gonna let so many people down during 20in24, it's gonna suck. I need to get here and run more often.

Holy hell, what is this hill??! I can't make it up this hill, there's no way. I need to walk. I need to walk. It's so fucking hot! There's no way. Next song...

Phil Collins- Against All Odds!!!

I fucking hate this song.

Short stride, short stride, don't look up. Come on, fucker. Think about people, they are with you right now. Think about someone. Someone.

Where you at, Ron? Come on man, I need your help right now. Help me out a little bt here. There we go, come on legs, keep moving. Come on, Ron. That's it. I can't do this. Come on. Where you at? I need you Ron. You with me? I need to walk. I need water. Don't look up! Fuck you KFC sign, I know that means halfway. Fuck. Come on, you know if he were here right now he's be yelling at you to get up that hill. You can do it, come on. Go legs.

Fucking hill, I AM NEVER DOING THIS ROUTE AGAIN!!! And fuck! 4 miles to go!

Settle down, you got this. You've been through this hell before. Remember Marine Corps, this is nowhere near as bad. It's just fucking hot, you'll be fine once you hit that pool. It's all temporary. You chose this, now own it.

Three miles left. Okay, keep this up, you've got a nice rhythm now, you know where you are. Who cares about the watch, this isn't a race. Fuck me, let's go.

Two miles left. I need a good song. What do we have.

Florence and the Machine- Dogs Days are Over

Nice, I can stay with this. Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father, run for your children and your sisters and your brothers. Come on, stay with that, they are watching right now. They know you can do it. Just keep them in your mind. Don't lose that image. Mom hugging you after Boston. They know how hard you work. You can't quit, you can't give up for them. Keep going. Yes, Garmin, yes, you are fucking right I picked up the pace.

One mile left.

Ouch! It is so fucking hot. I am never doing this again. Am I even listening to music? I've never heard this song before... oh wait... Fuck, I am never doing this again. This is awful, NEVER EVER AGAIN! Ouch! This is the longest mile ever.

Finish, just finish, you can see it now. Keep going, keep going.

Fuck I'm done. That kicked my ass, OH MY GOD IT'S HOT. That kicked my ass...

I'm doing it again next week, we'll see who wins that time."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The art of low expectations

"Shhh..."

The initial thought...

"Don't tell them."

The familiar voice tells you to keep it to yourself. That goal, that race you wanna run, that time you want to hit. Don't tell them that, it says. It speaks to you, telling you that those dreams are best kept, are safer kept to yourself. You can't tell them that, it says. And it speaks all of this to you in the voice you know above all others.

Your voice.

My voice.

I have been lucky enough in my life to have someone teach me that that voice, amongst other things, is wrong. And that the most loving and caring question I can ever ask myself is as subtle as it is profound.

"What if I am wrong?"

What if that idea I have, is shit? What if my initial reaction to something is incorrect? What if what I perceive isn't accurate?

And what if, that voice that tells me no one will understand, that no one cares, and that not only will you fail, but you'll fail with everyone watching... is a lie?

It's in the wake of this question that each of us, or at least I am left with the inevitable option. Listen to that voice, and that fear and remain seated, or stand up and fight. Do I do what I am best at? Set low expectations, tell my friends I am just happy finishing, or add a few minutes to that PR I am shooting for. Or, do I tell them the truth, knowing full well that I may not succeed, and that I am may not be capable, and risk that public failure?

On any given day I can go one way or the other...

But just for today, here goes nothing...

 Fairfield Half Marathon- Sub 1:23:00
Steamtown Marathon- Sub 2:55:00
(Both NYC Marathon Qualifiers)

So there it is, despite the voice.

Now you know.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hot Dog

Sunlight washes over the mid morning lanscape disguising the still cool air of early Philadelphia weather. A steady breeze passes down the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, whipping through the throngs of runners bouncing to stay warm or at least loose.

I stand somewhere in the midst of the crowd awaiting the start of the Run Against Hunger 5K, holding onto the fleeting moments when the wind gives way to the sun's warmth. To my right, casting a shadow over me is the wiry built Tyrone. He paces around bowlegged as though he had been riding a horse all day. The two of us exchange a volley of jokes, and pick out our race motivation (girls butts). He lets out another round of his uniquely deep toned laughter as I try to remind myself of what I doubt anyone around us is able to tell.

That this is my friends first race.

I pause for a moment and attempt to scan Tyrone for any hint of nervousness. I give up. "Fitting", I think to myself, yet another aspect of this man that is hard to read.

Tyrone's strong facial features, and firm black skin belie the fact that two short months he celebrated his 50th birthday. A man of exceptional charisma, with a seemingly endless supply of stories he wields with tremendous ability to captivate you. In the months that I had gotten to know Tyrone, he had showed a breadth of knowledge on a wide range of topics, from music to carpentry, and architecture to movies. Rarely quiet, I knew him to walk around with a confidence more impressive for it's consistency than it's size. Many, if not all of these qualities may be surprising enough to exist in a man. But all are most certainly surprising when added to the other fact about Tyrone that I have yet to mention.

The fact that Tyrone is homeless.

Tyrone and I are both involved in a something known as Back on My Feet. A program for homeless men living in shelters, that seeks to engage them through the practice of running with a group, and eventually hopes to lead them to a life of self sufficiency. Tyrone was a member, and I the volunteer, though on any given day those roles seem blurred.

We step to the starting line, a sea of runners fill in around us. I offer Tyrone a few last bits of advice, mainly not to get caught up in the initial sprint from the start. He nods at me, and I swear I catch a hint of apprehension cross over his dark brown eyes. The gun goes off and we do are best to navigate through the turbulent flow of racers around us, eventually settling into a steady pace heading down a stretch of road known as "West River Drive".

The sun hangs on our backs as we make our way along the scenic Schuylkill River. Tyrone's bowlegged stride is relaxed in contrast with his face that grimaces as a slow trickle of runners make their way past us. A soccer mom in pink spandex shorts, an early teen in basketball shorts, and a middle aged man with a gut and a white visor. "Just wait", I say to him, "Just wait".

We hit the turn around point in this out and back race, his stride begins to quicken as he stays on my hip. Steady at first, we hit the second mile marker, no longer relying on my pacing his long legs stretch out a bit.

We find the middle aged man first...

The teen...

The pink shorts...

Tyrone comes around the final turn, the finish line now in sight, lined by wall of cheers. And for the first time we witness what came to be known as the "Tyrone Finish". A sea of runners part in front of him as the 6'3" african american freight train breaks out into an all out sprint.

This time, I stay on his hip.

He peers back at me one last time, before the two of us descend upon the orange and blue finish line. His first race in the books, we share a quick hug as he fights to regain his breath. We continue walking through the race shoot, and are met by a young brown haired male, who cups in our hands two small white pieces of paper. I unfold mine to find the words "5K Finisher One Hot Dog" typed in plain black font.

The two of us continue on, cheering for the rest of the Back on My Feet racers. Tyrone recaps the race for all those around to hear, highlighting the part where all the white folk fled for their lives when he started to sprint in to the finish. As the race hysteria winds down, Tyrone turns to me and announces that it's time to go get his hot dog. I agree, though I had already handed mine to someone more interested in a pre-10am dose of processed meat.

The Run Against Hunger 5K is part of a larger event taking place prior to a massive walk, not surprisingly known as the Walk Against Hunger. Which, by now, is beginning to take shape. Tyrone and I head south from the famed steps of the Art Museum and wade into the mass gathering of walkers getting ready for their trek. Tyrone points in one direction and we weave through the throngs of people eventually coming to a vendor who points us back in the other direction. We zig back across but find no hot dog. This continues, we criss cross from tent to tent in search of this hot dog, all the while I look over at my friend, clutching the white ticket in his right hand.

At last we come to a small cart at the northeast of the crowd, and we take our place in the back of a short line. A sign hangs above the open window "$2.00". I check to my left, the ticket still firmly held between his long dark fingers. We stand for a few moments when I feel a tug on my shirt. I turn to see a hand poking out of a frayed grey sweatshirt sleeve attached to a young red headed boy standing next to his mother.

"Excuse me, sir? Where did you get that ticket?"

"Ohhh, they were handing them out at the end of the run that just ended", I reply.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I don't think we can get one"

Her voice drips with softness, the way only a mothers can. The boys head dips, revealing more of his curly red hair. I turn to face front, attempting to allow for a private moment between them when a familiar deep voice hits my ear.

"Oh, here, you can have mine."

And a thin set of fingers passes a small white piece of paper to the hand poking out of the frayed grey sweatshirt.

Tyrone turns to me and with a shrug says,

"I'll just get a banana."

They say one in four children living in Philadelphia go hungry on a regular basis, and close to 30% live below the poverty line. Though I have to admit, these statistics were not on my mind as I stood there frozen in this moment.

There are moments in life, moments in which we play no other part than as a witness. And that is what I was, as I watched Tyrone bounce off back into the crowd with no hesitation. I shake out of my daze and follow after him.

I've had the priviledge to be witness to some truly awesome events in my life. Weddings and funerals, graduations and anniversarys.

But there is something different, something about a moment that lasted all of thirty seconds. The moment I witnessed the most selfless act I've ever seen.

The moment that a man with nothing, gave away a hot dog.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hope or something like it...

So I'm not sure if everyone has a "time of year" in the same way I do. A section of the year that is so closely tied with a specific time or moment in your life. I do, and it just so happens to be these last few weeks in May.

The way the sun beats down on the skin still pale from winter. The way the rain casts a muggy haze over everything as it fades away. The way the night is ushered in by a subtle, yet cool air.

I mention all of these things because at the time in my life that they were cemented in my subconscious I wasn't aware of them. These hallmarks of spring went unnoticed, or at least ignored. An unwelcome reminder of the painful, and abstract passage of time. Time that I watched pass by out of a second floor window. Neon green numbers would spell out the early morning time, and I would gaze out the window at the distant trek of those walking to work or wherever they might be headed. Distant not in the measure between us, but rather, distant as to defy comprehension.

Where were they going?

I'd ask this simple question, utterly baffled. Puzzled as only someone without a destination in the world could be by those with one.

Now, you may be expecting me to transition and discuss how running has given me a "Destination", or perhaps, write an eloquent story of crossing my "finish line"

Neither will happen...

So what is the point?

The point is, that in many ways running has taught me something seemingly counterintuitive...

That there are no finish lines, only mile markers, and the blessing of opportunity.

That more important than achieving any goal is having one, and saying to yourself that "Today, I choose to do what's hard. That I choose to take one step forward, even if I don't know where it will take me."

And I know this because there are some scars that I have that will never heal. Scars not from falls of the literal and figurative, not from failures or missteps. Scars that won't win medals, but maybe more recognizable to those who share the same branding. The scars of the hopeless.

The hopelessness that brought me to my knees, then lower.

And then, a hand that helped me stand up, and a voice that said "Follow me".

One step... and then another.

And somewhere, somewhere in my mind, I said to myself "Maybe, just maybe I can take another."

And in that phrase, though only a glimmer, was the one thing that saved my life.

Hope.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shit I've seen during races...

I've seen a man puke... scratch that... I've seen many men puke. But only one who attempted to catch it in his hand.

I've seen my mother holding signs I can't read.

I've seen a lead pack full of 6 feet tall, pencil thin runners chasing the early leader of a 7 mile race, a homeless man named Victor, wearing long red basketball shorts, basketball shoes, a Puerto Rican flag tank top, and a flat brimmed Phillies hat.

I've seen the Citgo sign, and one mile left to go.

I've seen the flash of my father's camera.

I've seen red Gatoraid fly up my nose.

I've seen friends cry in triumph and in sadness.

I've seen a man with one leg charge up a hill.

I've seen my watch telling me to slow down.

I've seen my watch telling me to speed up.

I've seen mile marker 26.

I've seen the backs of fifteen year olds slowly disappear from my view.

I've seen a man teach me everything about determination with just the look on his face.

I've seen a sea of lights reflecting off the water on a magical summer night.

I've seen safety pins, and vaseline.

I've seen the smile of a man who didn't know any better.

I've seen Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland.

I've seen a smiling Moroccan running sub six minute miles at mile 24.

I've seen the US Capital (well that's what they tell me).

I've seen the inside of an ambulance.

I've seen empty GU packets, and crushed green cups.

I've seen an amputee in a wheel chair, flanked by 8 marines running along side him.

I've seen a frozen pickle.

I've seen my mom, smiling, and that's all the sign I need.

AND

I've seen some of the best moments of my life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Video

So, aside from a few poorly chosen shots of steroid users, and that this song has nothing to do with running, this video set to Train- Finish Line, is a great little bit of inspiration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkOEoa3lbcs

I promise if you stay through to the end, that it'll get you too...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Surprising the Most Skeptical

There's something about racing. I don't care what the distance is, or what the course is like or any of that. There's just something about testing yourself. Because, in my opinion, the truth is, you never know when you step up to that starting line. You never know what the outcome might be, and perhaps most unique to racing, you never know if you might just surprise the one person who never thought you could surprise.

Yourself.

If you are like me, and when I say like me, I mean crazy like me. You spend a disproportionate amount of time dissecting, and analyzing your runs. You examine your track splits, your early mile pace, your finishing mile pace, your hill times, your long runs, etc. And that's after a good run, the bad runs... well, we won't get into the bad runs. And once again, if you are like me, you know what you've got in you. You know what you are capable of. And then you race and something strange happens.

You're wrong.

Running can teach us all sorts of lessons that we can take into our "normal" lives (those who know me, will understand the use of ""). We learn discipline, we learn perseverance, we learn patience. But maybe, overlooked in all of this, is the lesson we learn after we are wrong.

That we have no idea just what we are truly capable of.

This blog posting is dedicated to the girl who just killed the Pittsburgh Half Marathon today. For not only surprising herself, but always being there to celebrate the best moments we have as runners. The moments when we are wrong.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The friends we have, and the friends we choose

It always starts the same way... a text.

"Hey man, wanna do hills with me tonight?"

FUCK!

Response.

"Yeah, why not? When and where?"

And then my brain does what it does best. It begins to make a long list of "rational" excuses as to how I can get out of the workout I just committed to. On any given days these can range from getting back late from work, to having a long day, or just the always plausible excuse of having dead legs. Yesterday, it just so happened, they were all true. And yet, at 7:45pm, somehow my Brooks Glycerin 8s made their way onto my feet.

And all it took, most amazingly, was a tap on my window.

I've had a lot of really amazing friends over the course of my life. Friends who have done some really extraordinary things for me. I could sit here and write for days about these things, these actions that I hold very dear to my heart. Some that any stranger on the street would acknowledge as a heroic act of friendship. And others that may be harder to understand.

Other things, like tapping on my window.

You see, the end of the story of last night is that despite getting home late from work, and despite having dead legs I had a great run. And why is any of this relevant, and what could it possibly have to do with friendship?

Because, in my opinion, there are the friends we have. The ones we work with, or, I don't know, the ones who live near to us. Then there are the other ones, the ones we choose.

The ones that, for whatever reason, believe in us. And who perform maybe the most loving act a friend can, expecting more of us than we expect from ourselves.

So they knock on your window...

Friday, May 13, 2011

The man in the red bathing suit

Stuffy air laced with the scent of chlorine wafts around me as I take my seat next to a few of my students in the pool balcony. I lean forward on the long wooden bench and stare down at the venue before me. Sounds of splashing echo off the white bricked walls pair with the familiar sights of small puddles, clumps of towels, and choppy water. Around the perimeter of the pool a host of swimmers mill around in their bathing suites and goggles, their faces a mix of smiles and nerves.

The Radnor High School Special Olympics Swim Meet is an annual event put on at the high school where I work, though this was my first time in attendance. To my left and right a few of my students sit quietly, clinging to the signs they've crafted in the preceding period, anxiously awaiting the action to begin. A warm female's voice rings through the crude pa system, welcoming us to the event. I scan the crowd below for the voice as she begins to call the first competitors to the starting blocks. As each name is read a new swimmer weaves through a crowd high fives and cheers.

A loud beep sounds across pool. A chorus of cheers erupts from the balcony around me, drowning out the feverish splashing from the action below. Four bodies in motion glide across the surface of the water, their faces an even wash of excitement and determination. Two push forward ahead of the rest, their arms stretching ahead and plunging back through the water driving them towards the finish. A lone hand launches forward, searching for the finishing wall, reaching it's destination. The swimmer leaps up out of the water, both arms exalting over his head. He bounces for a moment, before letting out a cry which is soon matched by the raucous crowd that surrounds me.

Race after race continues this way, a few minutes of fury followed by celebration as each member wades back into their glory. I sit, witness to it all, hands clapping, their smiles contagiously pass to my face as well.

The female voice announces the last race of the day, as my eyes fall to the final two swimmers. My focus is drawn to one swimmer, a tall, eerily thin black man, clad in a red swimsuit two sizes too big, crumbled around his waist fighting to remain there. He moves slowly, an uneven and jittery limp. His right arm contorted tightly to his chest. A volunteer fastens a light blue flotation vest around his slender waist, and ushers him over to the start. The man stands briefly on the edge of the pool, before stepping over the edge, submerging himself. His left hand raises, and locks onto the edge. Catching his breath, he turns his head towards the finish, anticipating the familiar beep.

Beep.

The man lunges forward through the water, his arms and legs work in a spastic unison. Water thrashes around him, as he slowly maneuvers towards his finish line. His body seems to defy the laws of physics. Despite the furious kicking and flailing his body seems adrift in the water with no sail. His teeth are clenched tightly, opening only to suck in a breath above the water. The crowds initial exuberance begins to wane as a concern permeates the group. Painstakingly the man advances down the lane, approaching the shallow end of the pool.

30 feet, 20 feet....

The man crosses under the maroon and white triangular flags, signifying his close proximity to the finish line. I notice the man eyes lock on the wall just a few feet ahead of him, as his body raises up out of the pool. His legs fall under him, propelling himself upward, he stands. A wave of relief falls over me, as I reason that the swimmer is now able to walk to the finish.

He stands there firm footed, his chest heaving with each breath. Seconds pass, but still the swimmer remains locked upright. Suddenly, with one last deep breath, the man in the red shorts dives back down into the water and with another few flawed strokes reaches the finish line.

A lone working arm shoots into the air, hands closed in a fist.

As I file out of the balcony, my mind flashes through the various races of the day. Of smiles, and fist pumps, high fives, and chest bumps. And that of a man, a man in red shorts, who chose to finish the hard way. And though many swam faster, none finished better...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Humbling Run


If there are two words in the English language that I have been conditioned to hate they would definitely be “Ronald Reagan” (my parents are raging liberal hippies), but if there were a second place runner up, I would have to say that “Runners Stitch” is up there.

To me, nothing quite compares to the painful, irritating, altogether mystifying occurrence known as the runners stitch. It usually begins slightly under my ribcage, where it hangs out, taunting me for at most a mile before descending in a blaze of pain straight down the side of my abs. While I don’t consider myself to be the toughest man on earth, I do pride myself on being able to put up with a decent amount of pain. Now, having said that, I’ve never been able to take more than a few steps once the intensity of that dropping cramp hits.

If anyone has seen the movie Alien, where the little baby alien breaks through the human’s abdomen, then you will vaguely understand the experience I had on my tempo run this past Thursday. The first two miles went well (well, that is to say I hated every second of it), and then I think I entered a third trimester pregnancy. Needless to say the run did not end well, it in fact didn’t even end as a run, as I had to walk back the three miles to my apartment.

The point of this story, however, is the fact that on the walk home I was greeted by the reality that I had just had a terrible run. A three mile walk back, all the while being passed left and right by anyone and everyone was quite a humbling experience. And one that I can say, was very much needed.

In retrospect, I am quite glad that it happened. There is something very nice about being reminded that as many races as I run, or miles I log, I am still vulnerable to the pitfalls of running as everyone else. How boring it must be to have something completely figured out and conquered. For as simple as the act of running is, just putting one foot in front of another, it frequently amazes me just how complex and mystifying it can remain. Why x+b=c one day, and x+b=soul crushing pain.

To this day I can’t figure out what exactly caused this runners stitch, and in some ways I don’t really want to. Feel free to remind me of that if you ever catch me walking down by the river.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Music to run to

I know some people consider running while listening to music "cheating" or "amateur", but I always do. It's just what I've done since I began running. I spent some time thinking about why I like music while I run, and I think the answer is that it really helps focus my thoughts. At the time I was thinking of this particular song that I enjoy listening to currently.

The song is called "This is Why We Fight" by The Decemberists

"And when we die, we will die with our arms unbound. This is why we fight"

If running has given me a lot of things, confidence, goals, accountability. But when I think of the greatest gift it has given me, I think of that first time I went for a run and got that feeling that I could keep going forever and I was bound by nothing.

That day, running was about freedom...

This song to me is about freedom, and what we do to fight for it... I dare you to watch this video and not feel inspired...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pN_vrJah3k

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tears of a runner

Philadelphia's Broad Street Run is a ten mile race through the center of town that takes place the first Sunday of May each year. If Philadelphia has a must run race this would certainly be it. The race itself attracts everyone from Kenyans who run a 4:40 split, to your twenty something hung over former frat boy, to your forty year old soccer mom out for her first run. My friends and I fall somewhere in the middle.

I have a wide range of friends who run, some are incredibly fast, some not so much. This race, in particular, brings everyone together. For some the goal will always be just to finish, while some others will attach a desired time. The following story is about one who would fall under the latter.

I have a friend, a female runner whom I have gotten to know pretty well, and her me. Now I won't spend too much time describing her, except to say that she is very dedicated, and has no idea just how talented of a runner she is. Which ironically, maybe one of my favorite things about her. Anyway, this girl had confided in me that she had a specific goal in mind for the ten mile race a few weeks before the race.

Fast forward to the day of the race. I am walking around the post-race finish area, having just completed the race myself. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her blonde, slender build walking my way. As she approached I ask her "How it went?". Her response was inaudible, she quickly laid her hands over her face shaking her head before deposited them both into my chest. I slipped my arms around her toned shoulders, feeling her chest bouncing beneath. They rested there long enough for me to discern that what I had initially registered as laughter were in fact tears. We remained like that for a moment or two as race finishers circled around us, a wash of sweaty smiles and dazed, hazy stares. I mustered my best attempts at an "It's okay" speech, though it couldn't have been very good as I don't remember a bit of it at this time.

We lingered in this dance for a little while longer, her tears began to subside, and my attempt to console her no longer seemed necessary. She eventually wandered her way through the rest of our friends, offering congratulations and sharing her own disappointment as she went. A few minutes later we engaged back in a conversation where she broke down how she perceived the race got away from her. A nexus of poor training, pre-race distractions and self-admitted poor race strategy. She then looked me in the eye and apologized for crying as she ran her index finger beneath her eyes as if in an attempt to wipe their previous transgressions away.

I couldn't help but feel differently about those tears.

She must have repeated this apology to me over the course of the next few days four or five times, and I did my best to offer my alternate perspective, that those tears were probably the most inspiring thing that I saw that day.

At quick glance, tears of that nature would seem to point to failure. And in some ways that may be true, after all my friend was crying because she did not meet her desired time goal. But I believe that only tells half the story, half the truth.

That truth being that behind every "failure" is an attempt. And fuck if it isn't harder sometimes just to try, than it is to succeed. And fuck if those tears didn't reveal more about the spirit of this runner, and competitor than any "official time" could.

The strength that it takes to look at yourself in the mirror and dare yourself to try is inspiring enough, but to actually love yourself, and believe in yourself enough to then let out that kind of raw emotion because deep down you know you can do it, is beautiful.

I don't know, it seems to me that the precursor to disappointment is always believing in yourself. If I never believe I can do something, I don't think I would ever be disappointed if I failed.

I can't say one way or the other if she will ever reach her Broad Street goal. I will say that less than twenty four hours after the race, she was already texting me, breaking down the 5k we are racing this weekend. And look, once we cross that finish line I don't know if I'll be talking with her about a new PR or a new training regimen. I don't know if she'll be showing me a medal, or a pulled muscle. And I certainly don't know if I will see tears or smiles. But I do know one thing, that I will see my friend.

My friend, the runner, who dared to try.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Head up

So, I was sitting here attempting to tackle a subject worthy of an initial blog post. This did not seem to work. I found myself examining the most cliche of running topics, all centered around the question frequently posed to you by many people...

"Why do you run?"

The answer, though much more complicated than this, is that I don't always know, and probably most importantly, don't entirely care. In my experience definitions tend to be more limiting than illuminating, and above all else temporary...

So needless to say, I decided to write my first blog about one of my more recent experiences, and the thought it led to...

A few days ago I went out for a run, in an attempt to meet a few friends I ended up taking a different route than my usual set. As I weaved through the city pedestrians I suddenly caught a wave of deja vu. In my haste to cut across Center City Philadelphia, I had stumbled upon a strip of town that was quite familiar to me, though it had been years since I had been there. A random section of the city, from another lifetime it seemed. I couldn't help but be transported back to those moments when my travel down Chestnut between 9th and 6th wasn't a jog at all, but rather a walk.

It was only a few years ago that I would board an R5 train destined for Market East station and head out into the unforgiving winter air of Philadelphia. I would exit the station wrapped in some loose fitting clothing, a hand me down jacket, and a loneliness that seemed as endless as the bitter wind that whipped around the city streets I walked down. I would find myself winding down the same sidewalk, contemplating the oft repeated thought that this time this trip would be my last. Though only a few blocks, each journey seemed to grow with each journey. The images that replay in my head are ones of white steam rising from street vents, crushed white soft drink cups bouncing in the wind, and most notably a stretch of white stone sidewalk dotted with plaques dedicated to each signee of the Declaration of Independence.

It was these plaques that initially caught my attention, sending me spiraling back in time. As I continued jogging down this stretch of my past, I couldn't help but survey the various elements of it that resonated with me as familiar. I noted the trash, the street vents, and the same white stone beneath my feet. It was in that last part that I realized that these images causing my heart to quicken all had one thing in common. They were all down around my feet. I couldn't help but picture myself walking down that street years earlier, twenty pounds lighter, dark circles beneath my eyes, shaggy blonde hair matted over my forehead. But one image stood out above all others...

That of my head bowed, and eyes down,succumbing to weight of my unrelenting shame.

My eyes slowly rose, scanning the bright blue sky as I jogged into the sunlight breaking through the passage way of Independence Mall surrounded by the high city structures.

A smile crossed my face... and I picked up the pace.

A few days later I couldn't help but contemplate if I am ever running towards anything, or simply running away from those moments in my life. I'll be honest, I never came up with a real answer. I can tell you that I did rest easily once I came to the understanding that I'm not sure it matters. As much as I would like to think that a 5K PR, or a marathon medal equates to a "mile marker" of healing or progress, I'm not sure they hold a candle to being able to walk or run down a street with your head help high. I can't say I know much more than that, but I do know one thing...

I'll be running down that street again...