Thursday, September 29, 2011

Race Photos

Uh oh...

There you are, sitting at your computer innocently checking your e-mail, when you see it.

"Oh fuck."

And there in your unread inbox, it winks at you, begging your attention.

"Your Race Photos are Ready"

And with a deep breath and a quick "maybe they won't be so bad." thought you click on it.

"Congratulations, you've just completed the (insert race name here.)"

You're eyes bypass the standard headings, and scroll down the screen.

"Oh no."

The first picture is displayed on the screen. Your head cocks to one side, and a confused frown begins to materialize on your face. Your brain goes into reassuring mode, "well they can't all be that bad.". And then, in succession, they are.

You pour through each one, wondering things like "Where the hell was this cameraman, a camouflaged bunker?", "Why does it look like my face is melting?", "Jesus, I don't even remember that building.", or "What the hell is that red stain on my shirt?".

And with that, you exit the e-mail, never to look at them again.... well, until they send you 30 more e-mails announcing that this is really, like really, the last chance to buy them (but no seriously, this is THE last chance.).

And so the question remains, what do you actually look like when you are running? Cause if you are like me, the image you have in your head never seems to materialize in these photos. I usually conclude that it doesn't really matter. I mean, I think we all have had the experience of seeing the photographer up in the distance, and attempting to prepare yourself with some kind of wink, smile, hand gesture mixture. Only to have said photo of you turn out to be a cross between some kind of facial tick, and a body position that looks like something your drunk uncle would throw down at a wedding.

The bottom line, as it seems to me, is that we don't look our best (a diplomatic way of saying we look like death on a stick), because we running hard. And running hard, especially over long distances, hurts. So naturally, if you are doing it right, you'll look... a little off.

And so there are these pictures of me that make me look as though I've escaped some kind of internment camp, even though I don't remember feeling that badly.

And maybe that's lesson in all of this. That there are times in running, and in life that we may look worse than we feel.

That there are times, when the outside may be a little rough. Those days at work that kick your butt. Those days when your girlfriend (if you have one) is mad at you. Those days that, for lack of a better term, you are just not feeling life. That those days, you're still doing better than you might look, or even feel.

That whether the storm is outside, or the storm is within, you're still okay. And that maybe, doing good, is actually more important than looking or feeling good.

And that maybe these snap shots are not flawed by the lens or the angle, but rather that they are flawed cause they can only tell half the story.

And I can say that as a guy, who, for a good chunk of his life looked great on the outside, and felt like shit on the inside.

So basically, what I think I am saying is, given the option between looking good, and doing good...

I'll take the bloody nipple pic, every time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Man and the Mountain

Collapsed and hollow neath life’s entropy
On bleeding hands and skinned knee
With heavy breath from tearless cry
A gasp, a prayer of courage to die
“Help me, please” a wounded plea
“Lost, am I adrift this sea.”
“Get up” a voice, of booming bass
Of graying hair and weathered face
“Get up, you shall and start your quest.
To climb the mountain, and meet your test.”
“Mad you are, the mounts too high and rough to scale
For these wounded feet, and hands would fail.”
“It’s help you’ve sought and help you need,
So here it is, my words to heed.
Get up, my boy, from wearied state.
Atop the mountain, answers wait.”
“I cannot dear sir, my soul, I fear…”
“Get up, my boy and my voice to hear.
I believe in you, if only one I may,
For one is enough, on this today.”
Tired muscles strain to stand
A grasp, then clutch an outstretched hand.
“And now you’re up” his voice of care,
“And when you’re lost, I’ll too be there.”
And with that word, he disappeared.
The kind eyed man with graying beard.
The young man steps on hobbled stride,
With lonesome pain and doubt inside.
Upon the sand and dirt he walks,
Neath beating sun and circled hawks.
He steps and steps on bare skinned feet,
When dark, dead end he comes to meet.
The advancing path the boulder blocks,
Entrenched in mud and jagged rocks.
His legs give way, he hits the ground,
The old man’s voice fills all around.
“Get up my boy, get up right now.
And to this rock, we shall not bow.
Ask not for roads without these walls,
For in their menace glory calls.
Now, climb that rock, you must press on,
Your trek, your path, your fate anon.”
The boy took hold, and clasped the stone
With blood soaked hand and brittled bone.
And up he pulled and up he pried,
The urge to quite, did not abide.
With one last lurch, atop he flew,
And there first glance at sky of blue.
“Get up my boy, get up and go,
This is no time for pace to slow.”
“I’ve come so far, please let me rest.
I swear in morning, I’ll regain my quest.”
“Get up, my boy, for that’s a lie.
Only one knows you, and that is I.
So, to your feet, you are not done,
But forget not, this fight you’ve won.
And when in need, you’ll call on me,
For by your side, I’ll always be.”
The boys mouth opens, and frustration flies.
A rush of screams, and muted cries.
But still he rises, from surrendered state,
Back up the mountain, and to his fate.
On and on, through darkness he treads,
As sunset gives birth to purple and reds.
A glowing moon as night sets in,
Bringing crisper air and chill to skin.
His stride is stopped as path divides,
A lingered pause, as mind decides.
“Please help me sir, which way to go?
The right path to take, I do not know.”
I'm here my boy, the one you draw
But in your question this fatal flaw
For none can say the right path to toe
The choice is yours for you to grow
Either road you choose in this new life
Few things assured, a pain and strife
So ask not of me, this right and wrong
But only words to remain strong
So take a step, and pause no more
For greater gifts of life in store"
The boys eyes closed, and forth he went
And with blind choice and faith he spent.
The road got steep with heightened track
O'er sticks and stones and fated crack
But on he sped, with quickened pace
UpOn lifes journey a new embrace
"keep up, Old man, keep up with me"
With hastened breath, his gentle plea.
And Blue eyes open to the stars
As focus shifts from fading scars
He climbs and climbs, their hearts ally
While moonlit orbs and clouds pass by.
And to the top, he draws so near
When bitter cold and wind appear
They drive him back then to the ground
Their rippling force and brute abound
His eyes cast low, "I'm down once more"
"this foolish climb, a failures chore."
When echoed low beneath the storm
An old mans voice, in whispered form.
"get up, my boy, and fight this wind.
For on those legs, our hopes be pinned
And when chill sets in, let I surround
 The strength you've sought, the strength you've found.
Get up my boy and fight this weather,
And to the top shall strive together."
The silence stills, a violent gust
A thought, a choice of words to trust
"get up, you boy, get up right now"
The young mans words, a solemn vow.
And one last time, a fight to rise
Gainst ardent fear, and darkened skies
One leg to plant, and then one more
And sinew torques with muscles sore
One stride, a step into the gale
A fire inside, as doubts derail.
And the trek goes on, embattled through
When soaring hopes, and pace renew.
And eyes cast high, the top they seek
As triumphant legs to summits peak.
And there, at last, the sight to see
The boy that climbed, the boy that’s free
And with no sound, he then appeared
The kind eyed man with graying beard.
Boy’s tears and knee do strike the earth
And sobbing cries, do fill words dearth.
“Get up, my boy, you’ve climbed the mount
So to your feet, and so account.”
“But, sir, I know not what to say
To stand atop, ‘fore breaking day.”
“Get up, my boy, you are not done,
So stand up tall, neath rising sun.”
“But I must ask sir, how do I stay,
Atop the mount, your heed to obey?”
“You ask the way, of how to remain,
My reply, short and quite germane.
To stay atop, you must descend
And leave the mount, and arms extend.”
“You joke, kind sir, you joke indeed,
To leave this place, with haste and speed?”
“You’ve asked me, once, and I have told,
Get up, my son, and hence behold,
These truths imparted unto you,
Take heart in them, though be they few.
To stay among this mountains face,
A trek you must, unto the base.
And there you’ll find your duties call
A man, or boy who’s left for fall.
And to the top, you’ll help him too,
Just as I have done for you.
And when he has, to him you’ll say,
The greatest gift, to give away.”

This blog is dedicated to those that have climbed their mountain, only to return to help someone reach the top of theirs.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Because I run...

Because I run...

I know where every slight incline is in this city (which isn't saying much).

I know that nipple chafing is nothing about which to joke.

I have redefined my definition of short shorts.

I know how to spell words like Gatorade.

I realized that toenails are more of a luxury than necessity.

I figured out that insanity is a relative term defined by sections of society, and to avoid them at all costs.

I learned that telling stories about throwing up while running tend not to impress in the way you'd imagine.

I've been topless in this city more than most strippers.

I've witnessed the impossible.

I've spent more money on (running) shoes than any straight man should.

I've learned the practical value of that underwear liner you get in running shorts.

I've lost what little butt I may have been born with.

I've met people I would have never met.

I've learned that people, regardless of what you might think, are worth meeting.

I've been through more iPod headphones than an Apple Store.

I've learned that my sole mate may be carbohydrates.

Friday nights that don't include a hill workout seem to be lacking.

I feel more naked without my watch on than I do when I'm actually naked.

I shower twice a day.

I plan to vote Republican (Kidding, just wanted to see if you were still reading Mom and Dad)

I learned that it's not always about me.

I see that love is sometimes as simple as showing up.

I have a larger collection of safety pins than I ever had baseball cards.

I've offered Vaseline to complete strangers.

I've peed in many public places.

I've learned that life and happiness can exist both at the base and the summit of every hill.

I know that it's okay to wear two pairs of pants.

I've found that pain is temporary... except when it's not.

I think that limits are usually a lack of willingness, not ability.

I know that if you accidentally run into a parking meter the pain you feel is secondary to the embarrassment when it makes an INCREDIBLY loud noise and the staring of pedestrians ensues.

I give the middle finger to drivers... a lot.

I'm bad at basketball.

I have realized I use running to make excuses, like why I am bad at basketball.

I've become decent at playing it off like I didn't just trip.

I've really tried hard to remember to wear deordorant.

I have an excuse to blog about things I disguise as running related.

I've found that the road to achieving your dreams, can actually be a dream in itself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Four Races

Prologue

There are times where 23,000 people don't look like 23,000 people. When strewn through out a ballpark or passing through an airport. Then there are times like this past Sunday, where 23,000 feels like 23,000. When 23,000 registered runners and countless more friends and family lined the Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Art Museum for the Philadelphia Half Marathon, a race that seems to have more names than water stops (ING Rock n Roll, Philadelphia Distance Run, etc.).

The hoards of runners made their way into strained white metal fencing, collecting into their various corrals staggered by expected finishing times. Scattered through out them, amongst the throngs of tank tops and tech tees, stood four runners. And as the first rays of sun slipped through the early morning cloud cover each of them prepared themselves.

And in the instant that one race's gun sounded, four races began.

They stepped forward set to cross the same starting line, the same mile markers, the same water stations, and yet, at the end of the same 13.1 mile course, a different finish line lay at the end for each.

Chapter #1- "The Smile"

The wiry built male, in the red and black singlet, arms pump effortlessly as his long coffee colored legs stretch out in front of him. They strike in rhythm, as the red and white racing bib with a number so low it seems to be missing several digits, whips back and forth.

His small white shoes seem to barely tap the surface of the pavement as they scamper along the course, legs churning over with ease, belying the blistering pace they are keeping. His soft facial features stay relaxed, eyes fixed on the road before him.

"Chakir! Chakir! Go Chakir, go!!!"

"Go man, Go!!!"

Cries trumpet out from the sea of people to his right. His eyes flash over, scanning the crowd for the voices. A smile washes it's way across the face of the mid-twenties racer.

The voice fades back, and he turns back to the race ahead, passing mile marker four. He glances for an instant down at his watch, his mind becomes a calculator, crunching numbers.

In a little over 48 minutes he will be done. He will begin to cool down with the hand full of other finishers, among them collegiate champions, and Olympic hopefuls. He, along with a hundred or so, will enter a post-race area still setting up and bracing for the 22,000+ racers set to descend upon it. He will be greeted by friends with hugs, and congratulations, and in a quiet, and humble way he will thank them for their support for this, his third to last training run.

Chapter #2- "The Father"

The early forties runner bounces slightly within the first corral. A starters gun goes off, and he watches a the "elites" in front of him sprint off away from him. The mass of racers around him stride up to now empty space before them. A few seconds and words from the race announcer pass by.

A flood of memories wash through his mind. A collection of memories, once thought to be packed deep down in far off locales of his mind, now bubble just under the surface, having lived all along in the muscles that now tighten with anticipation.

The announcers send of the first corral, and the man joins the swell of runners descending into the sea of pavement flanked by smiles, white fencing and the occasional cowbell.

In 13.1 miles he will wrap around the base of the Art Museum, thrusting his tired legs against the final incline. He will catch a glimpse of his wife, his daughter, and his young son as they will him towards the finish. He will glance over at the red digits clicking over on the official timing clocks. He will smile to himself as his final steps crash across the finish line. He will slow to a walk through the finishers shoot, as that smile contagiously spreads through out his body. And a few hours later, he will learn the definition of a New York Marathon qualifier.

Chapter #3- "The Linebacker"

"We'll be like your secret service detail."

The late twenties male jokes to the man standing to his left who's broad chest bounces with laughter beneath his black tech racing shirt. The other members of the "secret service" team take their positions around him. Far in the distance, the racers of the tenth corral begin to see the first hints of movement of the throngs of tank tops and visors ahead of them...

Sweat cascades down the muscular runner's light brown skin, soaking the black tank top that now replaces the tech tee that was discarded a few minutes earlier. The pack of five make their way into the shadows of downtown's sprawling sky scrapers. They jog slowly, across the road the male in his late twenties catches sight of their friend, blazing in the opposite direction.

"Hey! There's Chakir!"

Their voices echo off the buildings, as they scream for their friend.

"Chakir! Chakir! Go Chakir, go!!!"

"Go man, Go!!!"...

The late morning sun breaks through the tall trees that protect West River Drive.

"A 5K to go. You can do it."

Words of encouragement bounce amongst them, as they feet trickle past the signs for mile marker ten. The muscular man's breathing continues to labor, while a few low groins are heard.

"It's happening again."

The words parachute through his lips, weighted down with frustration. He banks quickly to his left, limping to a nearby tree, leaning against it. The two male members of the team take turns lifting his heels back up to his rear, attempting to provide relief to his cramped quads. He hobbles back onto the black road, carefully re-entering the traffic.

In 3.1 miles he will jog gingerly jog along the wide stretch of road nearing the end. He will wince with pain, as hundreds of onlookers will attempt to spur him on. He will cross the finish line, a hair under his predetermined goal of two hours and thirty minutes. He will take a few steps and then bend over, soon to approached by finish line medics, checking if he is alright. He will shake them off, and weave his way through the now crowded finisher's area. His eyes will fill with a few controlled tears, before giving way to an accomplished sob, as he buries his head in the shoulder of his late twenties race partner. He will be greeted by a young, high school volunteer who will place the silver race finisher's medal over his neck. And over twenty four hours later, on a set of stiff and sore legs he and that medal will attend a baseball game.

Chapter #4- "The Stranger"

The twelve o'clock sun hangs high in the air as the red digits of the race clock rounds closer to four hours. The surroundings of mile marker 13 seem to be letting out a slow exhale as the race begins to wind down. A stream of racers, clad in sweatshirts, and finisher medals disperse along the various paths leading away from the Art Museum.

A slow trickle of runners make their way to the base of the small hill separating them from the still functional finish line. One participant in particular zeroes in on the hill as two onlookers clap on the same sidewalks once packed with cheering fans. The woman seemingly in her late forties, bounces slowly across the pavement, her stride lingering in that gray area between a jog and a walk.

She smiles warmly to the pair on her right, acknowledging their support as she continues past them dodging a few other racers on their departure. She ascends up the hill and disappears from sight of the two onlookers.

In a few short steps she will finish. She will steadily cross the now subdued finish line. She will say "Thank you", as a finisher's medal is laid over her neck. She will walk for a bit, eventually departing the race area clad with a few bottles of water, a banana, a drawstring bag and the same smile worn by 22,000 other runners who came before her.

Epilouge

Two friends stand on a raised sidewalk, Philadelphia's famed Art Museum blankets the horizon in front of them. The female turns to her friend, a young male in his late twenties.

"God, can you imagine doing this to yourself?"

She adjusts the large white poster board signs she clasps under her arm. The male shakes his head, the heavy metallic finisher's medal swaying slightly as he does.

"No way."

In the distance a woman in her late forties slowly shuffles her way towards the pair. They clap as she approaches, she nods in return.

"God, I cannot imagine being on my feet for that long."

"Me neither, more power to them."

The woman disappears around the bend, and the pair turn their attention to the next set of participants making their way closer to their own finish. And in a few more minutes they will walk home to their respective apartments, leaving this race behind.

And as this early fall morning transitions to afternoon race officials will begin to break down the start and finish line. Vendors will close their tents, and pack up their merchandise. And designated crews will take to the 13.1 mile course, picking up lose articles of clothing, gel wrappers, and the thousands of empty cups.

And later that night, four runners will lay their heads down to sleep. Their minds gently recapping the day that was, in it's various forms. Of a sub-six minute per mile training run and  a New York Qualifier. Of the furthest distance they'd run and a goal of finishing achieved.

And as they lay in bed, somewhere, perhaps on a nightstand, in a drawer, or even still on their chest, a similarity. A piece of metal attached to a thin blue ribbon, one of 23,000, given to those who earned it.

Those who crossed the finish line.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Relationships

"Relationships are hard, and even tougher when they end."

This line played in my head today as I spent some time with a partner of an old relationship today. And I'll be honest, despite how well we had come to know each other, and the many things we had been through together, it still felt quite odd to link up again and try and rekindle what we once had, even if it were only for a short period of time.

You see, it's not that I would say this relationship ended badly, it was actually a very healthy, and natural end. In fact, it was a much better ending than many of the past ones I have had. Ones that left lingering pain, and unresolved feelings.The truth is, that before it ended, we had a fantastic time together. And above all the terrific times we had, afternoons, nights, weekends, the best thing that we had was a natural fit, a natural connection.

But like all of my previous relationships things began to go south. At first it was the little things. Tiny little things that started to wear on both of us. Things slowly changed, and, in all honesty, I started to feel differently about them than I used to when things were new and full of bounce and excitement. This slowly continued until eventually the very scent of them began to make me sick. That is when I knew it was over.

That is when I knew, it was time to buy new running shoes.

You see, as a single man, I still have many relationships. Son, brother, friend, etc... but possibly one of the most intimate ones that I have is with a pair of Brooks Glycerines Size 10. It's the relationship I spend the most time alone with, through pain and pleasure, rain and cold, heat and humidity. And call me crazy, but I love those shoes. And maybe the best way for me to explain why, is to explain the story, the story of how we met.

Our story, actually, begins well before our initial meeting, and much like finding the right girlfriend is merely about surviving the wrong ones, so goes this one.

The tale starts much the same way you would expect a young, naive man to. A runner who led by his eyes, not his heart. A runner who sought flash, and looks over substance, when he found them. The best looking shoes he could ever hope to find, and a hundred or so dollars later they were his. A fresh, attractive pair of Nike's. And the two of them got very serious very quickly, ignoring all warnings of those around him. His brother even staging an intervention telling him that the two of them were not meant to be together. But still, the heady runner pressed on. Pressed on until he could no longer out run fate, and with the utterance of two words, their relationship ended forever...

"Shin splints"

 Though he did not stay single for long, he even sought professional guidance from a running store who encouraged him to begin a new relationship with a pair of Sauconys. But, much like the Nike's things began to fizzle out once things got serious, and larger mileage proved to be too much for the pair.

Distraught, he turned back to what he knew.

They say insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again, expecting different results. And it was that insanity that led him back to yet another attractive pair of Nike's. But we all know how that turned out.

In a state of desperation, one spring afternoon, he made his way into a local running store, hopes dashed that he would ever find the right match and (dare I say it) sole mate. And then, smiling at him from across the store, there they were. An odd, relatively ugly, mesh of navy blue, silver and black. At first he was turned off, after all, he had never been with a pair of shoes of that (throat clear) color. But his new found friend at the store insisted he go over and give them a chance.

And with wide apprehension he slide his foot inside them...

And the rest, as they say, is history...

This post is dedicated to a worn down, ripped, smelly pair of Brooks Glycerine 8s. Thank you for the first step, the final race and all the miles in between.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Words...

Okay, so, it's possible that as a child, I had a little bit of energy...

Annnnnd when I say "a little big of energy", I mean a shit ton of excess energy. Annnnnd when I say "it's possible", I mean it's well documented. Annnnnd when I say "as a child", I mean (throat clear) right now.

Put it this way...

At the sleepover birthday party, I was the one laying awake in the sleeping bags when the lights had finally gone dark...

"Anyone still up?"

To which the response was usually something along the lines of, "Do you ever shut up?".

To say the least, I've always been a bit of a talker. Annnnnd when I say "a bit".... well you get the idea.

So you can imagine the frustration that accompanies this strange occurence I have sitting here, with no words to explain just how I feel about the weekend that was. The uneasiness that exists when words, your words, seem to fall short of the sentiment you want to share with someone else. When the story of what happened, barely scratches the surface of what happened.

How do you tell the story of a weekend when the many highlights were less noteworthy than the moments in between those highlights. When the constant, was more remarkable than the remarkable. How do you thank those in words, who gave you so much more? How do you thank those closest to you, your family and friends, when words are just words, and the wrong ones at that?

So I'm afraid this will be a rather short entry.

Because I feel as though that may be the answer.

The answer to the question of how you find the words, seems to be that, simply put, you don't.

For as beautiful as those three words are, "I love you", they seem to be said the loudest in the silence of those moments like this weekend. Moments where you realize that those three words have lived in the actions of those people closest to you, in not only the grand gestures, but the smaller ones as well.

And maybe this frustration I feel isn't frustration at all, but rather an acknowledgement that maybe you need to be louder in the way you say those three words back.

Even it means being silent...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Finding a Balance (whatever that means)

So in the days leading up to a race, a familiar pattern seems to emerge. And much like a dog my emotions seem to spin around attempting to catch their tail.

The nervousness flows into acceptance, which descends into obsessive planning, which then slips into impatience for the race to start, which engages back into nervousness.

And somewhere in this spiral, in between glide and GU planning, a distant thought begins to creep in. A thought that is met by a battalion of other thoughts, attempting to drive it from your mind. The thought about the finish. And though it settles into your line of thinking rather easily, it seems an uneasy partner along side of pacing and other logistical information.

But one aspect seems to remain constant. As soon as "the finish" enters your brain, it's almost impossible to drive it out. And just like an good runner, this question of how you define a successful finish takes hold.

And just like that, the new obsession begins.

And just like that, I attempt to find this thing called balance.

Numbers and paces run through my head, colliding with the oft repeated childhood dogma that "Trying your best" is most important. And this idea of success grows more complicated. And the balancing dance gets trickier.

Swaying to one side, as the desire to not let my friends down tugs at me in one direction. Then the thought, the memory of how far I've come pulls back in the other, only to be tipped off kilter by the idea how far there is left to go.

And the monkey called obsession, swings from branch to branch across my mind chasing the still unanswered question.

How will I define success in this race?

And somewhere the voice of a wise man speaks up from high above the jungle I seem lost in. The voice of that person who was there when your path stalled at a fork in the road. The person you looked to for direction, and in their own wisdom, offered you no direction, but simply a light for you to find your own.

His voice, simply saying...

"If you don't like the answer, maybe you should change the question."

Because, maybe balance isn't what I'm looking for. Maybe the question of how I define success in a race, is actually, exactly what is out of balance.

That whether you are balanced or unbalanced matters very little if the weight you are attempting to carry is too heavy. That the mistake may not be in the actual definition of success in this race, but rather that I would limit the definition of my own success to a race.

For as much as I love running, I am more. For as much as I love being a runner, I am more.

That "runner", comes second to son, to brother, to educator, to friend.

And that maybe the best way to define success in those areas, comes not from how you perform in them, but rather that you perform as them at all.

Because, as I sit here now, the contentment I feel comes not from running or racing, but rather from the relationships, the people in my life.

The people who stand on the side of my path, not giving me direction, but shining some light on it. And that all you have to do is look at the smile on my face to know that, today, on my path I've got a lot of light.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

The following is a blog that ventures into one of the more treacherous places, my own mind. Please proceed with caution...

Five Days Out.

A simple three word phrase to some, a diagnosis for others. The gun has sounded, the horn has blown, the flags have waved, the timer has chimed, the bell has rung. The race has begun.

No, not the actual race, the other race. The one that begins with something that moves much faster than my feet and legs could ever dream, my brain. For with five days before the Via Lehigh Valley Marathon, my brain is already off to the races.

Now you might ask, "Gee Dan, what does that look like?"...

And I might answer, "Have you ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckcoo's Nest?"

But seriously, it's not that bad.... all the time.

Anyway, in an attempt to provide a window into, what I hope to be, the universal runner's pre-race insanity, I invite you into my own by breaking the aforementioned craziness down.

Aspect #1

The fast forward button.

Example-

I stub my toe. And in less than the amount of time it takes me to look down at it, my brain has already put me in a giant ankle cast, and 4-6 weeks of forced rest, bypassing any actual injury, medical opinion, X-rays, and rational thought.

The fast forward button zero's directly onto the most catastrophic of scenarios. It starts with step A and shoots straight to step Z. This is the portion of the insane runner's brain that diagnoses sneezes as pneumonia, coughs as Ebola, and a poorly timed red light as a sign from God.


The Dream Reader

Example-

You wake up from a dream where you're marathon takes place entirely on rooftops, and requires you to not only leap from roof to roof, but open doors and run through clotheslines.

The portion of the brain is responsible for not only these rather bizarre dreams, but that lingering feeling that lasts for a few hours once you've actually woken up. That voice that tells you, "Maybe I should check the course map again", as if there was a chance you missed that section of the race that takes place on rooftops.


The Witch Doctor

Example-

All tiny rituals, including but not limited to, turning the cold knob off first in the shower, shaving two days before, avoiding the unlucky socks, eating only cold foods for lunch, etc.

The Witch Doctor in your mind is the entity that encourages, or even mandates that you stick to these odd rituals in the face of all scientific fact that they could not possibly make an difference. Yes, I am absolutely talking about the "Lucky Underwear" that I believe we all have.

The Microscope

Example-

"Beeeeeeep"

"Shit, how long has the light been green?"

The microscope is the part of your brain that is responsible for the obsessive thinking about your race. It acts as the default setting. When the normal mind clears, yours defaults back to the race. Where the normal mind looks up at the sky and thinks "What a beautiful day." yours says, "Wow, I wonder if it'll be like this on race day.".

The Blindfold

Example-

"Hey, maybe this marathon will be a lot of fun."

This aspect of your insanity is actually equal parts good and bad, depending on how you look at it. It's great because it prevents you from remembering the outrageous, immense, soul crushing, pain that you feel while racing a marathon, allowing you to do it again. And on the other hand, it's bad, because it prevents you from remember the outrageous, immense, soul crushing, pain that you feel while racing a marathon, allowing you to do it again.

So now you know that we are all nuts. And at this point there is only one thing left to say with the race taking place on Sunday.

If you think I'm crazy on Tuesday, come talk to me on Saturday...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Tapers

I believe it was Shakespeare that said...

"A taper on both your houses!"

or maybe it was...

"Now is the taper of our discontent..."

If you do a google search for Marathon Training Plans, you will receive 1,620,000 hits. And, I'm assuming, that within those 1,620,000 hits you could find a wide range of plans. Plans for every type of runner, the high mileage runners, the beginners, and everyone in between. You could find plans heavy on cross training and plans that exclude it altogether. But, despite the wide variances that you will find, one of the constants you will find, is a five letter word, that will encompass the last 2-3 weeks of your plan.

The taper.

The taper is designed to occur right after your peak training ends, and scale you down to give your legs (and soul) a chance to recover leading up to the race. And if you are like me you spend those peak weeks, praying for taper to begin. And when it begins, in the same vein as finishing off eight slices of pizza, visiting the state of Delaware, several of my past romantic relationships, and seeing the movie "Quarantine" in theaters, a familiar thought comes to my mind.

"It seemed like a better idea at the time"

Okay, so, I don't do well with the taper. The taper requires this thing called "Moderation". Now, personally, I've yet to meet this so-called "Moderation", but I've heard it can be useful. Yet, this tricky siren, always manages to elude me.

But, my never ending Wyle E. Coyote/Road Runner chase of moderation aside, the taper and my struggles therein seem to speak more broadly to the aspects of my self that I struggle with.

You see as much as I would love to say that the taper is difficult for me because I have an overwhelming compulsion to go run, I know that would be a lie. Because my issue with the taper, has little to do with the actual running, and more to do with deeper window into who I am.

Which is to say, that I don't do well when asked to let go and sit still. Which, in essence, is what the taper is asking of you. You've spent the last fifteen weeks fighting, and training to prepare for this marathon, and now, we wait, as the die is cast. To know that I've done all I can do, is a difficult thing for me to accept. And possibly more difficult to accept is what that asks of me.

You see, in my opinion, acceptance is useless if not immediately followed by this one thing.

Faith.

That acceptance without an element of faith, is akin to something else entirely. That acceptance without faith, is, in actuality, merely quitting.

I can look back on various times in my life, where I accepted things without faith. I accepted that I wasn't born to play baseball and I accepted that that girl would never be interested in me. I accepted that playing the trumpet wasn't a skill I needed, and one May night I accepted that happiness was something destined for some people in this world, but not me.

And then, there are things I accepted with faith.

I accepted that a running marathon would be hard as hell, but the image in my head of me crossing the finish line seemed worth it. I accepted that my chosen profession wouldn't always be full of laughter and smiles, but I trusted people when they told me I was good at it. And one June morning, I accepted that life was worth living, and believed that maybe, just maybe, you could help me.

So I sit here, mid taper, the game of ping pong going on between my ears. The argument playing back and forth. Did I put everything into my training? Did I push myself hard enough? Could I have done anything else?

And while the responses vary, going back and forth, between yes and no.

The answer to these questions, are neither yes or no.

The answer, instead, is not to answer.

But rather to stop listening to the voice of self-obsession and self-doubt.

Yours.

And instead, open your eyes to the people around you. And realize that you've forgotten possibly the most important thing about the past 15 weeks of your training.

That these people were with you all along, because they believe in you.

And if they can believe in you, maybe, just maybe, I can believe in me.