Monday, August 29, 2011

Last Friday Night

8th and Luzerne.

A simple cross street located in the northern regions of Philadelphia. A section of town where the reasons to avoid it outnumber the reasons to go, judging by crime statistics, about 20-1.

On this evening, however, our one reason wore black slacks, thick rimmed glasses, and a warm smile...

Which is where the story of last friday night begins...

Mike P stands, shifting nervously from side to side outside of St. Johns Hospice, a small brick homeless shelter resting in the growing shadow of Philadelphia's famed Convention Center. He peers out onto Race Street, a pressed white collared shirt tucked into his pants, a thin black tie falls far too short upon it, revealing it was meant for someone much younger than the middle aged man before us.

We stand for a moment, organizing cars and working out logistics. Mike and his partner quietly warm up their voices, and rehearse their harmonies in the dwindling August sun. Each dab the tiny beads of sweat appearing on their foreheads with small hand towels, before we load up the cars to leave.

Cars pair off and begin our trek up north. We weave our back and forth across the now unfamiliar streets that lie only a few miles from the portion of town we call home. We watch as the landscape slowly begins to change. Sky scrapers fade into abandoned factories. Grocery shops shrink into corner stores. And business suits towing briefcases morph into oversized down coats pushing shopping carts full of aluminum cans.

We park along Hunting Park, and make our way down the cracked and forgotten sidewalk pavement that may serve, symbolically, as the last in the series of signs that these were not the safest streets to tread. We approach the church, passing a parked Police  SUV along the way. We find Mike and his partner standing at the base of the small stone staircase leading up to the entrance. They continue to practice and we do our best to cover our ears in fear of spoiling the performance as we pass by.

We enter the church and ascend a small set of steps, turning into the main room. The ten of us slip down the walkway separating the rows of dark wooden pews. We make our way towards the front, greeted by a cloud of heavy, humid air, and welcoming smiles and head nods. As a group we line a few rows of pews to the right of the stage before us. We sit, gathering our surroundings and attempting to adjust to the heat.

I scan the crowd of faces of those in attendance for the Friday Night Musical Praise service about to commence. An african american woman in a long black skirt and stockings makes her way around to us, handing us programs for the evening, detailing the list of performers to come. I once again survey the bodies patiently awaiting the start of the service. I can't help but note the differences between us, the obvious ones, age, skin color, and attire. Lost for a few moments, I notice perhaps the most subtle one of all, that for all the clear differences, I seemed to be only one paying attention to them.

I lean back against the hard wooden backing of the pew behind me, and face forward, once again looking at Mike seated a few rows ahead of me. He sits patiently, bopping easily against the quiet music playing through the speakers.

"Who is ready to praise, Jesus?"

The booming voice of the slightly overweight, african american man, and our MC for the night echoes against the high walls and ceilings. A chorus of responses fly back from various sections of the pews, as I resist the rising urge within me to crack a few jokes.

The first song begins, slowly the hall of the church is filled with music rising steadily with each voice joining in, and somewhere inside me I forget the multitude of reasons why I shouldn't be a part of this, and something unexpected happens.

My hands start clapping.

And just like that, I transform from spectator to participant.

I look ahead at Mike, the white sleeves of his shirt clapping and bouncing in rhythm. I rotate my head slightly to find his gently closed eyes, and lips moving in unison to the words the rest of the audience is singing.

Song after song roll on, as I learn the meaning of words like "Soloist" and "Praise Dancers", and little by little the spirit of the night washes through us, as we exchange dropped jaws and other impressed expressions.

And while I could easily sit here and write an eloquent tale of how I left, touched by maybe not the specific nature of their beliefs, but rather that a belief in anything that strong exists in this world. That for all the differences between our specific faiths, the unifying fact that we both had faith in something, on this night, outweighed any difference. And while this could easily be a story of ten or so affluently raised white kids attending a predominantly black baptist musical service in the heart of one of Philadelphia's worst neighborhoods, but it's not.

And I realized this, as the man in a pressed white collared shirt, with a tie a few sizes too small made his way to the front of the stage.

The crowd hushed, as Mike's partner's voice raised out into the church, joined by Mike's a few moments later. And just like that, the two homeless men from St. John's Hospice, without any instruments, or music brought every member of that audience to the edge of their seat. And with my eyes glued to my soft spoken friend, I watched the subtle hints of nervousness leave his body as his tenor voice echoed off the walls of the church. I joined the rest of the listeners on their feet, as Mike and his partner's song grew in volume and intensity, my eyes still locked on the man transformed before me.

A raucous round of applause and cheers greet the two man group as their song comes to an end. A series of other collections of musical acts round out the night, and we say our congratulations and goodbyes on our way out of the church. 

I spend the rest of this friday night replaying the performances in my head. Recounting the various lessons learned, everything from appropriate times to yell "Amen!" to the fact that I was probably not born to play the tambourine. But one thought seemed to stick, the thought of Mike up there on the stage and the idea that lingered as a result.

The idea that, maybe, we all need a stage. That maybe we all need some place, some spotlight where we can step out and say this is me, this is who I am. And that maybe for as beautiful as Mike's voice was, perhaps the true beauty lay not in the tone or the pitch, but rather in the volume and pride in which it came out. That maybe the greatest service we can provide those with the least among us in this world is not to teach or talk to them, but rather to listen. That no matter what, we all need a stage.

And while I can't say which stage will be next for Mike, I can guarantee one thing...

I'll find my hands clapping again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fearless

It's funny, sometimes, to think back at the decisions you've made in your life, or rather the thinking that lead to the decisions you've made in your life. And if you are anything like me, you'll find that your perception of how these choices, or decisions will transpire or work out, are so rarely accurate. In fact, they are almost never accurate.

I can remember this "idea" of what running a marathon would be like. Everything from how it would feel, to what it would take to finish. I can remember somewhere around around mile twenty of my first, realizing that all of those thoughts and ideas were not reality. I remember having this realization that running a marathon is just that, it's just running for 26.2 miles. You run it the same in mile one as you do mile twenty five. They don't throw hurdles at you after twenty, and they don't have snipers on the rooftops trying to stop you. It's just, I don't know, running.

And somewhere within that story there lies a lesson. Not about running a marathon, or really even running in general. To me, it's really just a lesson about what I base my decisions on, and what I allow to fuel my perception of the future.

You see, that even within this small story about a marathon, there is a greater window into myself. That being that this story illustrates how easily I can let fear influence my vision of what lies ahead. That, having never run more than twenty miles before, I was able to concoct in my head the certainty that what lay behind the twenty mile mark was both scary and terrible. Now having taking those strides beyond it, I can tell you, it's not. But that in those moments, when I was alone, where it was just me and the unknown, that fear took hold. And I wish I could say that fear was isolated to things as simple as running, but I can't. Because that fear always lives inside of me.

That fear that that girl wouldn't like you. Or the fear that the job you want, won't want you. Or the fear that these friends of yours, if they knew the real you, would fade away. Or simply the fear that if you told the those you love the most the truth, no one would understand.

So you don't talk to that girl. And you don't apply for that job. You don't let people get too close. And, maybe most of all, you keep those thoughts, the ones that come from that voice all the way in the back of your mind, to yourself.

And you live in that fear.

Or...

You don't.

You see, there's one common aspect to this train of thinking. That for as powerful as this fear can become, it has a weakness, a fatal flaw, a backdoor. One thing, that without fail brings it to it's knees.

It's not real.

And I've learned that because these fears, these fears that loom so large and run rampant inside of me, end up being so small when I let them out. When I allow someone else to hear that voice from the back of my mind, it ceases to sound so reasonable.

And look, this is the day to day struggle. The game of tennis that takes place in my head, whether I'm serving from the side of that fear, or from the opposite side. And I will say this has been an ongoing struggle for some time, but I will also say that I've gotten much better at it.

And I guess what I've learned can be boiled down to one basic idea. That, for me, fearless is not the goal, at least in it's accepted definition. I will never be without fear, and in many ways, I never want to be. Simply put, in my opinion the opposite of fear, is not being fearless, it's faith.

And the funny thing about faith, it doesn't take much. But it always starts the same way, with one tiny step.

And if you've been where I've been, and seen what I've seen, you'd know where it goes from there...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Surrounded by Crazy

Have you ever had one of those conversations? One that usually takes place in sets of three, where two people are like on the same exact page, and agreeing with each other, and you are sitting there kinda shaking your head?

Person #1- "Hey, you know what movie looks good? That new one with Justin Timberlake."

Person #2- "Oh my god, I know1"

Me- "What are you fucking nuts?"

or...

Person #1- "Ugh, Tony Danza is so hot"

Person #2- "I know."

Me- "Wait, like 'Who's the Boss?' Tony Danza?"

Well, I've witnessed that running, and more accurately, discussing your training, can extract a similar reaction from others. Something about throwing out the words "twenty" and "miler" in succession can bring a series of cockeyed looks and head shakes. Which is understandable, let's be honest.

And don't get me wrong, I am not in denial about the perceived insanity of being a distance runner. Though I will admit that I am somewhat insulated from it, mainly because I am surrounded by other distance runners. It's not entirely clear to me if that is by choice, or rather by some kind of gravitational insanity pull that attracts us together. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter much to me, because to boil it down...

I'm surrounded by crazy and I love it.

You see, I'm not looking for sanity, because, to be honest, I don't think it exists. And if it does, I'm sure it would be pretty boring anyway. I'm sure there are people out there who would consider themselves to the sane, they also happen to be the people I trust the least.

No, I'm really just looking for compatible forms of crazy.

So challenge for the week, share with someone your particular brand or flavor of crazy.

Share about that random thought you had that you would make a great meteorologist. Or that bizarre car ride where you were talking in an irish accent the whole time. Or that you may be the only 27 year old male with the Mulan soundtrack on your iPod. Or that three marathons in three months is something you would actually PAY for. Or that dream you had where you invited Fergie to watch your brother's basketball game. Or about why you've decided to still have six year old sets of underwear that more resemble loin clothes than boxer shorts. Or that you MUST turn off the hot knob first and THEN the cold one before you get out of the shower. Or how you have actually watched the movie "Anaconda 3". Or why the idea of spending every friday night doing a sprint hill workout is not only fun, but the highlight of my week.

To put it simply, own your crazy. Now... go let someone else borrow it.




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Progress and the challenges in defining it...

So if there is one thing running offers us it's a clear measure of progress. I used to run a mile in X and now I run it in Y. Faster, slower, longer, shorter, each of these is rather easy to calculate because, simply put, a mile is always a mile, and 60 seconds is always 60 seconds. So this idea of tracking our progress as runners might be as easy as that. 

Or at least so it would seem.

Don't get me wrong, it really is that simple in it's basic form. If your goal is to run faster seven minutes is faster than eight and always will be, just as two miles is always further than one.

But what about everything else. What about the stuff running teaches us, or gives us beyond the distance and pace. How do we track that progress?

My short answer is that I don't know. And maybe more accurately, I'm not sure that we can. I mean, I never remember waking up one morning and feeling taller, but the doctors assured me I was growing. I'm not sure we as humans, have the ability to see the changes that take place inside us. At least I don't think we are able to without the awareness that comes from those around us. Those closest to us.

This question, of how we track our own internal growth has been lingering in my head for the last few days. It all seemed to start two nights ago, where I found myself witnessing these small moments that for whatever reason, on that night, seemed to stand out to me. Moments at first glance that held little importance, until given a second look.

Moments like a homeless man, who spent an entire car ride asking for advice to run his fastest in a race he was truly looking forward to, slowing down to let a small boy finish ahead of him.

And as simple as that action may have been, as simple as letting a young boy finish a race ahead of you may be, it's says so much more. That at it's core, it was something so much more important. Because an act like that, a selfless act like that may be the greatest display of this progress. And that maybe it's simplicity, is what makes it so noteworthy. That when push came to shove, no one had to tell this man to slow down, he just did.

Now I can't say I've known this man for very long, and I'll be honest, I don't know what he was like even a few months ago. But I'd like to think I know enough about homelessness, and living in a shelter to know that acts like these, selfless acts, even in these small forms, are not the norm. That in that world, putting yourself first isn't just the usual way, but it may in fact be the accepted way.

And yet, in this instance, it wasn't.

And just like that, after watching that finish, these little examples seemed to keep coming.

It was there in the way they screamed halfway across the track for one another, and in the way they faces contorted in pain as they raced to pass the baton to a teammate. It was in the way they greeted one another when they finished their races, and in the way that compliments seemed to come before than their breath returned.

And, I don't know, maybe I'm the only one who would define that as progress, as growth. And maybe that's because these moments of selflessness don't come so easily for me. And maybe I am making all of this up and it only exists in my head. And maybe letting a small boy finish ahead of you isn't really selflessness at all.

But to me it was, cause I saw it.

And hey, for someone who struggles with selflessness as much as I do, just noticing it others is a big deal.

And who knows, maybe that's progress.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hey, I'm walking heeeere!

So most of us know the feeling. You're walking, or running down a sidewalk, when some ass clown usually driving a Suburu with New Jersey license plates comes swerving right at you. Possibly slamming on the brakes, or pumping them. They charge right at you, neglecting that whole "right of way" thing, the laws of traffic, or, whats the phrase, oh yes, human decency. And as infuriating as that may be, it's not the best part.

The best part comes when you finally make eye contact with the driver. You lock eyes with their apoplectic face, shocked that you would dare obstruct their way, on a sidewalk no less. They stare at you with contempt and disbelief, insulted at the dent or potential stain your cracked and ruptured body might have laid upon their two ton hunk of metal. This is usually followed by a head nod, shaming you for the near seconds you have cost them on their quest to enter the McDonald's drive thru. Oh, the precious seconds of extra wait time till that sweet Big Mac is their hands.

So, sarcasm aside, there has been a conflict of man vs. car, and I say conflict though it has been about as one sided as Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner. Anyway, I figured I would put forth a few suggestions to motorists about how best to deal with runners.

1. The Stop Start Wave

Okay, look, I'm gonna break this one down for ya, it's a real easy rule to follow. If the runner stops, you should not wave him or her on. The only thing worse than making break stride, is if you make me break stride for no reason, only to wave me on.

2. The Slow Down.

Don't slow down trying to make sure we see you coming. You're in a huge fucking car, we see you. Not to mention that we aren't sure if you are being cautious, or just lining us up waiting for the best time to strike.

3. The Fly Out

The only thing worse for a runner's ego than being hit by a car is to actually be the one who hits the car. People are watching, and we look like idiots. Not to mention that it hurts.

4. The Curse Off

Do not curse at us even if it's our fault. A. It's rude. B. You never know where our blood sugar levels might be, I'm just as likely to hurl back obscenities or my shoe as I am to keep running. and C. You are in a car!

5. The Beep.

When I hear a beep my first instinct is to check and see if you are a cute girl honking at my nice running form, not alerting me to your dangerous presence. I imagine it's the same thing going through a fly's head as it veers into a giant light bulb.

Anyway, that's all I have for now. I understand it's an annoyance trying to avoid committing vehicular manslaughter, but we really should be able to share the road, or at the very least, the sidewalk.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today

"A training plan is more of a suggestion than a plan"


So I've never actually met anyone who has been able to say that they have successfully completed a training plan to it's exact specifications. I'm talking about never missing a day, and always hitting the pace and mileage listed. If you are one of those people and you are reading this blog, I will ask you to leave immediately and google "ugly men's bare asses", cause I hate you.

Anyway, if you are like me and you are attempting to follow a training plan there will be those inevitable days. Days where that random swelling won't go down, or days where that family function takes precedence. Days where 18 miles quickly turns into 14, or where 7:10's drop to 8:10's. And that's okay.

No, really, it's okay.

For real.

It's fine.

No big deal.

It's okay.

I'm being serious.

Okay, so as you might have been able to guess, it's not exactly easy for me to come to grips with those days where I fall short of the training plan. It's not hard for my brain to jump from being fifteen seconds off pace, to ruining my chances of hitting my goal time in the race I'm training for. But, I'm a little off.

I do my best to try and give myself the advice I would give anyone else. That a training plan is a suggestion. And that a training plan and it's momentum only exists in one day, today. And it's maybe in that last portion that I find any kind of solace.

That today may have sucked. Today when 18 became 14, sucked. Today, when the number of times you puked (4) outnumbered the number of miles that you felt strong (3). Today, when you found yourself ready to kick a fence, furious that you stopped to walk again. Today sucked.

But then something else happens. Tomorrow happens. And tomorrow, becomes today, and we get a whole new chance to fight.

I was once told by someone that the greatest thing we can ever ask for is a another chance to try our best to do better. And it seems to me, we always have that chance.

Today.


Monday, August 8, 2011

My Friend John

So, as the title of my blog would have you believe, this is a blog about running. Though, I guess I would like to think that it extends beyond the boundaries of running and enters into some place within all of us where, regardless of whether or not you run, you can connect. My hope being, regardless of specifics, you can relate.

That the concepts we talk about here, aren't cemented in running but rather somewhere within the human condition. That these ideas are larger than running.

And I guess chose to introduce this entry in this way, because it's where this story begins. The story of my friend John.

I first met my friend John, naturally, before he was my friend John. I was standing at the start of a 5K in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and this tall, pencil thin teenage kid stepped up to the starting line a few yards in front of me. I instantly recognized him from a previous shared place (we both worked at the same pool) and recall thinking that I had no idea he was a runner. I can remember the gun going off, and he and a few others charged down the street, myself included.

This was my first mistake.

You see, I learned something very early that morning.

John is fast. But still, I did my best to keep up.

Annnnnd that was my second mistake.

You see, I learned something else that morning.

John is very fast. John is very, very fast.

Over the few years I got to know John much better. We connected in the way runners seem to, understanding each other on a level that requires no explanation. That gray area that exists, one left undefined by paces, and distances. I think it's in that gray area, that I found my friend John.

So time and races pass by, we keep in touch, and spend yet another summer together. And a few weeks ago, John tells me of his plan to run in a ten mile race this past weekend, and my friends and I decide to come down and watch.

We make our way down a little late to the 1,600 person race, and position ourselves on the right side of the course, as promised, at the five mile mark. A man with a bullhorn alerts the spectators and other boardwalk inhabitants to clear out because the leaders will be coming soon. And in the distance I can make out the blue and red lights of the pace car. It grows closer and closer, finally revealing the leaders running in astonishing unison in a line four wide. Three random faces of people I've never met, and one, all the way on the right. The familiar face, the kind face of my friend John, keeping stride right next to them.

He passes by us, yet somehow acknowledging our cheers without breaking his trance like focus on the course before him. And just like that, he's gone, flying down the course.

We shift our position, and slide down onto the beach joining a growing crowd to watch the finish. Minutes pass by when familiar red and blue flashing lights appear along the coastline. It draws closer, revealing the runners no longer in a four wide row, but rather lone running figures dotting the course chasing after one another. My eyes strain to make out the figure in the lead, and for a second my mind allows to me think it's John. I whip my head back and signal to my other cheering partners. My focus shoots back down the coast, where slowly, the unmistakable features of John's long, sturdy stride draw closer and closer. The pace cars slows to a stop and a lone arm exits the drivers window, waving along the leader. And just like that, John's full frame comes into view. A quiet fury in his face, as his controlled sprint drives him past us to the finish.

And there it was, amidst our leaping and screaming.

First place.

Now, I could sit here and explain the congratulations that were given, and the general incredulity of the moment, watching him win the race. And I could even sit here, and talk about my own feelings, feelings of amazement, and joy. But, in an odd way, those weren't the ones that lingered.

You see, I started about how this blog, I'd like to think, extends beyond the boundaries of running. And in so many words, the lasting impressions I had from this race reside beyond those boundaries.

That for every part of me that wishes I was as fast on John, I found myself most envious not of his speed, but the humility in which he inhabits it. I found myself more in awe of the manner in which he finished, than the overall position of it. And maybe most of all, I found myself looking at the same skinny kid I met a few years ago, impressed not by how much faster he's gotten, but rather, impressed that this skinny kid before me really wasn't a kid anymore at all.

And that for as great of a runner as my friend John is, he may yet be a better young man.




Friday, August 5, 2011

When you say you are

"He's a certified runner. What does that even mean?"

This was a text message I got last night from a friend of mine. We had just been discussing a group run, and one runners insistence that he was a "certified" runner. Which got me thinking.

I started to think about the large number of people I know, the ones who would be considered runners and the ones that wouldn't. I attempted to locate a specific characteristic or similarity that would unite us runners as "runners" beyond the obvious truth that we go run. I considered distance, I considered entry into races, I considered frequency of runs, but there was always an exception to each of them.

And then I realized my very premise was flawed. Trying to find a line of demarcation that you cross to become a "runner" is impossible if no such line exists. So after pouring over ideas and specifics, a simple answer began to take shape.

You're a runner, when you say you are.

And simply put, that may be one of my favorite aspects of being a runner. That it can be done in so many different ways, with unique set goals of distance, weight loss, pace, or no goal at all. And yet, under that large of umbrella, at it's core running is as basic as that, it's just, well, running.

You don't need a membership or certification. You don't need a machine, or even shoes. Hell, go watch the Marine Corps Marathon in late October and you'll learn you don't even need legs.

It's available to us all.

So throw out those standards of marathon finishes, certifications, and Boston Qualifiers. Because if running were all about where we finish, we'd lose sight of the part that makes the finish worthwhile. We'd lose sight of, possibly, the most important part.

Where we started.

I'm a runner not because of the distances I've covered, the times I've achieved or the number of used Brooks Glycerin 8s in my closet right now. I'm a runner for one reason.

Because I said so.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mornings on the Bridge

Sneakers clap on the sidewalks ahead of us, figures bouncing in unison through Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Our fifteen or so teammates slip further down into the distance in pairings of twos and threes, leaving the four of us in their wake.

“The Two Live Crew”

“I’m not sure how lively we are, Dan”

Ron’s deep, booming voice seemingly built for narration responds with it’s usual impeccable timing. The four us step up to the end of the sidewalk.

“Okay, let’s get it.”

“Beep”

A tap of my watch and we are off,  a cluster moving in a slow, yet steady pace. My ears are filled with the familiar sound of Ron’s breathing, slowly growing in intensity. One block down, one to go. Ron’s stride begins to break down a tad as Bob, the man in his mid 50’s, slows to a walk. A few yards left to go and the remaining six shoes reach the end of the second block. We begin to walk, and I do my best to inconspicuously check my watch. 

“2:04”. 

I glance back at Bob, his stylish, thick framed glasses contrasting against his silver hair. He walks a few steps behind us, seemingly content to stay that way for a few moments. I turn back to Ron, already a few deep ones away from regaining his. We traverse the next block, before jogging again off towards our destination, a colossal, light blue mass of steel, and cable climbing high into the early morning July sky. 

“Beep”

Our feet shuffle along as our legs begin to feel the first signs of incline as we make our way up Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Bridge. Ron pulls out a bit in front of us, his kelly green shirt revealing the initial hints of sweat. Bob begins to fade of the pace again as the incline grows. We continue to flank Ron, step after step, until his body slumps a bit phasing into a walk. 

“1:47”

I turn to locate our fourth member of the group, John, a tall, thin 21 year old boy with a face dripping with humility, but find only Ron. My eyes dart around and find the young collegiate runner standing atop a short ledge, taking in the view. 

We spend the remainder of our recovery walk joking, laughing and perhaps praying that ten seconds lasts longer than the five seconds it felt like. And we are off again, climbing deeper into the morning sky and further from the weight of the ground below us, feeling every step along the way.
John remarks about the pending sunrise, and I raise my head to a sea of strawberry banana yogurt leaking out over the horizon. Each of our eyes trail off into the distance, witnessing it in our various states of distress.

“Beep”

We continue our run/walk intervals, each sneaking the occasional glance at the city slowly fading behind us and the one growing ahead of us.  

Camden.

Ron reaches the base of the bridge first, resting his arms on the top of a pole, mouth opened as wide as it can, willing the air back into his lungs. Bob follows close behind having left us a few yards earlier. Before John and I are able to speak, Ron stretches back up and walks by us, signaling the end to our break. Streams of sweat now drip from his royal blue baseball cap and down his brown skin. 

We all follow suit, Bob, John, myself, and Heather, a slender, blonde with a running form straight out of a runner’s magazine cover. Our feet once again begin to propel us forward, flirting once again with the familiar incline leading out of New Jersey.

Somewhere in the midst of a conversation where Heather and I attempt to trick John into telling us just how fast he is, my eyes catch sight of something to my right. The sea of pink trickling over the city below it, and there, burning in the center of it…

Wednesday.

I curse myself briefly, having missed the sunrise, wondering how it happened so quickly without me noticing. 

“Beep”

The next twenty minutes blur together, stops and starts, sweat dabs and laughter. Ron dictating the pace, and Bob doing his best to keep up.

Our legs take their final paces as we step back home onto solid ground. I listen as Ron’s breathing slowly returns to normal, as Bob once again catches back up with us. We navigate our way across the intersection, allowing ourselves a prolonged rest. Heather, John, and I walk side by side, discussing which shoes Heather plans to buy next when my ears perked up again.

A conversation lasting only a few seconds. A quick flash of words between two men, one so brief if you blinked you would have missed it. Only this time, unlike the sunrise, there it was.
A 60 year old homeless man, telling the man with the expensive glasses that he did a great job, and to stick with it, cause it gets easier.  

And just like that, it was over.

I think over the hour long run, of the inclines, the sunrise, and everything in between. And I think of those words, those simple words passed between two people. And I can’t help but conclude that maybe the sunrise wasn’t the most inspiring part of the morning.

That maybe, witnessing a moment where a man who by all accounts has little to give, was able to lend what he had to another man, a moment that lasted all of ten seconds was worth more than the previous 60 minutes. That maybe, this thing we do in the mornings, has little to do with miles or races, or pace. That maybe, it’s in moments like this where allow a chance for people with very little to give us something back, where we all find our way. And that maybe the greatest gift we give each other is not the gift itself, but rather the gift of having something to give away.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Running Snob


Hi, my name is Dan and I am a running snob. 

There I said it. And frankly, I’m not exactly ashamed to admit it. Below is a list, a checklist really, to see if you are a running snob like me.

Category One- Bikers
If the words “On your left!” bother you as much as they bother me, you may in fact be a running snob. There’s just something about being passed by a middle aged couple in khaki shorts that makes my jaw tense up. 

“Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Dipshit, how about you get off that bike and we’ll see who’s faster!” 

And quite frankly, I don’t get the outfits. Okay, okay, I understand a little bit if you are a serious, serious biker. But let’s be honest, spandex, much like welfare, was not invented for the entire population for a reason. And after seeing the quantities of spandex needed to cover some of these bodies, I would totally buy stock in it… that is if I knew how. 

And it’s not that I hate bikers. Some of my best friends are bikers. But sometimes I just can’t help it.
And if you don’t agree come down to the Kelly Drive loop and see how long it takes for you to get buzzed by 59 year old on a bike.

“Hey! Lance Armstrong take it easy, the flat 8.4 mile loop isn’t exactly the Champs Elysees.”

Could be worse though, they could be on roller blades.

Category Two- Barefoot Running

Okay, so apparently, according to certain people, running barefoot is the most natural way for us to run. To those people, I would suggest they come out with us one Wednesday morning and run through the streets of Chinatown on trash day. 

And I don’t know who designed these things people put on their feet, but gloves were meant to go on people’s hands, not feet.

So it may be the most natural way to run, but I’ll keep my shoes, thanks.

Category Three- Trail Running

Not for nothing, but the only way I am hauling ass through the woods is if there is a bear chasing me.

Category Four- Water Belts

We’ve all been there. Lining up at the start of a race only to look over and see one of these water belts. You are confused because the race is a 5K and this thing is packed to the gills like he is about to invade Poland.

Category Five- Walking a Half Marathon

Let me be clear, I am all about letting anyone regardless of pace try to complete a race, I don’t care if it’s a 5K or a Marathon. Good for you, way to get out there and give it a try. Just do me a favor, when you are out there, get the hell out of peoples way.

Category Six- Race t-shirts

Four words that should never, ever go together… “Race Shirt” and “Mock Turtleneck”. 

Category Seven- People who hate running

Nothing exemplifies my running snobbery like the way I interact with those who hate running. Those people who think it’s not a real sport or activity cause there’s no ball or a need to inject your friends with steroids in their butts.

“Hey, meathead, why don’t you put down the muscle milk and see how long you can keep up with us?”

Category Eight- Misc.

Coming at you quickly…

Loose wrists? WTF

Ultra-Marathons seem to be a culturally accepted form of mental illness.

Mesh shorts, really, really? 

Black running shoes… I know, I know… THEY WERE FREE!

5K training plans. Day 1- Go run 3.1 miles. 

People who can’t spell Gatorade.

People who wear their finisher medals around all day. Unless you are Michael Phelps, that medal comes off once you’ve showered. (Until obviously, you are alone later that night in your bedroom, at which point you are allowed to sleep in it.)

“Half a Marathon”

8Ks. Can’t we just call it a five miler?

Drivers who slam on their brakes, then give you a wave to jog out in front of their car. Oh, absolutely, let me just step out in front of your car after that display. Not exactly reassuring there, Mario Andretti.

Category Nine- Other Running Snobs

So, here’s the deal. I am a running snob, but there are plenty of others. Plenty of others who take exception with many of the things that I do, like listen to music, run in the city, run in the afternoon, and refuse to wear short shorts.

And honestly, I’m okay with that. Running, as I see it, is just that, as I see it. I love running, and I love people who love running, even if it is barefoot on a trail, during a 50K, in short shorts, with a water belt, loose wrists, and rocking a mock turtleneck.