Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Here comes the cold again...

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

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

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

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

When no one is watching.

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

What kind of runner do you want to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

But some things still remain.

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

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

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

I'm thankful for GU.

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

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

I'm thankful for baristas, past and present.

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

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

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

I'm thankful for people who read a blog.

I'm thankful for friends who bring signs.

I'm thankful for sequent gloves.

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

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

I'm thankful for Brooks Glyercin 8s.

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

I'm thankful for the blessings of utter desperation.

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

I'm thankful for neighbors.

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

I'm thankful for Gatorade Recovery.

I'm thankful for Major Lazer.

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

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

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

And...

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finish Lines

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

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

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

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

The place that we simply call the finish line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Images of my Father

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

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

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

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

An image of my father.

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

www.flickr.com/photos/colapics/

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

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

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

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

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

And my father was there for those too.

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

And that's anything but ordinary.

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Dad, I love you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Heroes

“Shhhh, Mom’s coming!”

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

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

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

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

And I was five. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I think that says it all.

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

And guess what?

That’s okay. 

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

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

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

We all can be heroes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Places I Run

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

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

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

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

Having said all that...

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was once his home.

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

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

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

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

That maybe the most important place I run is today.

And I think Ron would agree...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on the Weekend

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

1. Showing up is easy

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

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

That simple things, speak louder than words.

Things like showing up.

2. Marathoners = Odd Ducks

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

That's not even the crazy part.

Running 26.2 miles is reasonable.

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

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

3. Jackass is a universal language

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

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

Kenyans- I'll hate you forever.

Ethiopians- See Above.

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

Spanish- A bit testy...

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

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

4. Bloody Nipples

It is NOT a myth...

Sweet mother of Mary...

5. Name on your chest

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Speech

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well now we are talking about something much different.

So I’m gonna tell a quick story. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that thing is love. 

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

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

And that’s hard to fit in a pamphlet.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Five things Runners can learn from Halloween

1. Sexy Costume... ohhhh about that...

We all know what I'm talking about. You're at a bar or a Halloween party, and you find yourself questioning some costume decisions. Wondering things like...

"I don't know many female police officers, but that uniform can't be practical..."

"She must be cold."

And

"Since when did Mr. Monopoly become synonymous with sex?"

Look people, I love dressing up just as much as the next guy (well maybe a little more.), and I love a good skimpy outfit just as much as anyone else. But let's keep in mind there is a time and a place. Saturday night at a bar... skimp it up... Monday morning at a High School Halloween assembly... skank it down.

So what, might you ask, does this have to do with running?

Answer... Know your audience.

Girls this means, when you show up to the race in a sports bra and spandex underwear, be prepared for what awaits you. Which, let's be honest, is a whole lot of staring.

Look, black stretch pants may make you feel sexy and quick...

But that creepy dude on the corner will make you feel nervous and sick....

And guys this goes for you too... and if you don't believe me, take your shirt off and go for a job through the Gayborhood on a Friday night.

2. Know your group...

So when I was growing up in the rough neighborhoods of Lower Merion you had to be really careful where you went trick or treating. It was a dicey time to be a kid back then, you never knew exactly what was waiting for you behind every door. Because at that time in Lower Merion you never knew if you were going to get a trick or treat.

And of course, when I say "trick" or "treat", I, of course, mean a giant king sized Kit Kat bar or a gift card to Abercrombie and Fitch.

But it was always important before going out trick or treating to know who was coming with you. You had to know who's mom was gonna make them go home early, or who was allergic to peanuts. All of these tidbits of information would make or break your trick or treating experience.

The same can be said for running.

If you are going out for a group run it pays to know a little bit about the individuals who are running with you. This way you don't end up running next to a 5'9" Moroccan running "5:55"s after he promised to take it slow for you.

3. Leave some for the rest of us...

You remember when you would walk up to a walkway only to find a basket with a sign on it that read "Take One Please", only the basket was empty cause some jackass kid probably poured the entire thing in his bag?

The same holds true for Water/GU stations.

If you don't need it, don't take it.

Bad race Karma.

4. I hate coconut...

I remember as a kid staring down into one of those seemingly endless bowls of candy. Shiny wrappers of all kinds winked back at me. I'd attempt to do a quick census of the candy I had already picked out earlier in the night.

Crunch Bar- Check

Snickers- Check

Reese's- Check

I'd then catch sight of a fancy looking piece, a piece I wasn't familiar with. I'd pick it out only to take one bite of it a day or two later (who I am kidding, impulse control was never my thing, I'd eat that shit later that night), only to be thoroughly disappointed by once again learning that I hate coconut... even when it's in a shiny wrapper.

For me as a runner, this breaks down as simply as saying "Trust your instincts".

As runners I feel as though we get caught complicating things. My experience is that each of us knows more than we let on, especially when it comes to the runner we know best... ourselves.

So stick with what works, whether it's a crunch bar or old training plan.

5. Masks...

So if there is one thing I would change about Halloween as it exists for adults (yes, I am referring to myself as an adult), it's that I wish we would stop denying that it's not still fun to dress up and pretend. Maybe it's just me, but it's fun, and also oddly therapuetic.

And maybe this is the best lesson we can take from Halloween. That it's okay to let a different side out of you when you race.

I consider myself to be a pretty mild mannered guy. And that personality is one that I take with me out  into the world, to my job, to my family, and to my friends. But there's another personality that we bring to the race course. One that is slightly more intense. One that takes out some aggression and frustration on the competition, be it another racer, the watch, or in most cases, ourselves.

And who's to say which one of those personalities is the mask, and which is my real face. If I had to guess I would say that neither are the mask, that both are actually me.

And maybe it is just as simple as admitting that from time to time, it's fun to head out your door as someone else, someone not everyone can recognize.

So let's own our "masks" or "costumes", whether they are Occupy Sesame Street, Quarters, Davy Crockett, or.... a sweaty squint and race singlet.