Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Cards

I'm guessing that each of our families had at least one. One family that would send one of those Christmas cards with the folded up piece of paper enclosed. A single page of text, singled spaced, Times New Roman font of pure pretentiousness. A letter of eloquent quips about trips to Europe, and Ivy League acceptances. All of which gave you the impression that the author penned it beside a roaring fire place in a velvet robe, while sipping a snifter of brandy and smoking a pipe.

But, all in all, I like Christmas cards. 

There is something pleasing about the seeing them folded upon your parents mantle piece, opening the ones sent to you, and hearing mom mention names of childhood friends you haven't seen in decades. Not to mention that annual ritual of passing by your parent's refrigerator and catching a quick glimpse of a family photograph, and saying...

"Mom, who the hell are these people?"

Though, in fairness, this isn't an entry about the traditional Christmas cards I've received. 

Instead, it's an entry, a short one at that, about another card I was given this Christmas season that reminded me of a lesson that someone taught me a some years ago.

That the greatest gift to have, is the gift of having something to give away.

Even if it's a simple, white business card with a name, and a job they hold.

And while I'm sure I'll receive many other cards in the years, and Christmases to follow, I'm not sure one will ever mean as much to me as this one. 

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Batteries/Water's Edge

So it's Christmas time, and as a result, I think each of us will be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. That inevitable trip down memory lane as you recall the various childhood memories you have of the many Christmas mornings that have gone by.

If you are like me you'll have the similar recollections of quickened heart rates as you sat for what seemed like an eternity as your mom took her sweet time in the bathroom before granting you permission to rush downstairs. You'll remember the way your toes felt on the cold wooden floor because, in your haste, you neglected to add socks to your pajama bottoms and top when you got dressed. They'll be the sense memory associated with the smell of coffee and pine needles, and the sound of wrapping paper meeting it's final demise that needs no description.

But within these shared memories, each of us holds our own. Those memories that exist only for us, and our families, the ones we hold closest.

For me these memories range from the images of my father playing Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo as I sat there marveling at his ability. To the thump of my mother's stride as she carried me back up to my room that year I had a stomach bug. To the ones I'll keep only for me, ones that probably wouldn't make much sense to you anyway.

But if I may go back to, what I imagine, was more of a collective experience, it would be those universal things that put the brakes on the holiday fun. Things like a dog or cat knocking over the Christmas tree, or some kind of baking/cooking disaster centered around dinner.

Though, if you ask me, there was one thing above all others that caused Christmas day to come to a screeching halt. The moment shortly after opening that one toy or game that you had been hoping and praying to receive for weeks. Just after you politely opened the remainder of the gifts of less excitement and paid the appropriate 'thank you's to the deserving parties. And seconds after you gnashed through whatever box, or packaging tape lay before you and the hours of fun you were destined to spend with it.

The moment you realized it needed batteries.

There was nothing quite like the disappointment that followed the days and weeks of waiting for THE gift, only to have to endure another day when your mom or dad could go purchase the AA or AAA batteries it would need.

Although, in some good ways and bad, this particular issue seems to affect today's youth less than it did for us. Nowadays most of these toys don't require the same Duracell or Energizer batteries that our childhood demanded. Gone are the days where you had to ration your games of Tetris around your battery budget, or the conserve the volume of your Discman as you listened to that new Green Day cd.

 But it wasn't the though of Christmas that got me thinking about batteries. It wasn't the snowmen, the lights, or the 3,000 versions of Wham's "Last Christmas" playing on the radio. It wasn't any of those things.

It was the soles of my Brooks running shoes striding along the pavement beneath them turning to sand before they came to stop. A 'Forrest Gump' moment where it seemed as though I had run to the edge of the Earth as my toes stopped just short of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the feeling that somehow, somewhere I had run clear off the pages of my own story and onto somebody elses.

That, as I stood there, with the small waves splashing onto the white shore, I couldn't help but feel as though this wasn't supposed to be, that it wasn't meant to happen to me. That the true final pages of the story written for me was supposed to end long ago, and some thousands of miles away. That my own original story never included moments or views like this.

And I guess this is where I intended to loop the idea of batteries back in. Where I'd weave in the fact that there are two types of batteries, the ones that run out and die, and the ones that can be re-charged by an outside source of energy.

And while that would have been a reasonable place to end this blog, it seemed slightly disingenuous to the way I am feeling now.

Because, the truth is, that there were many parts of me, parts of my original story that prevented views like the one on that beach and instead, accepted the ones from  my second floor, bedroom window as the world passed by.

And I guess I've spent a lot of time running away from those parts. Trying to outrun the loneliness, the sadness, the hopelessness. Trying to avoid the defective parts that brought me there in the first place, the dishonesty, the self-centeredness, the fear.

But as I sit here now, thinking back to the places I've been, and the views I've had, it seems entirely possible that in the end, the greatest thing that kept me down was something else entirely.

That maybe the greatest thing that prevented me from going anywhere, was doubting that I was ever meant to. Maybe the very thing that holds me back isn't the part that hasn't changed, but the part that won't let me believe I have. Maybe more importantly than remembering our scars, is remembering that they are scars because they healed.

And maybe I needed to run far away, a thousand miles away, to the edge of the shore, to where I could run away no further, to realize there was really nothing to run away from after all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Test this!

So education in the state of Pennsylvania has, like many other states, been begun to place a higher premium on standardized test scores. They have decided to base the majority of their educational policies on the results of these tests, everything from teacher pay, to graduation requirements. In order to do this, the state has come out with a series of exams known as "The Keystone Exams".

They are broken up into three parts, algebra I, literature, and biology. Each test consists of two, ninety minute testing blocks, spread over the course of three days. And at Radnor High School, where I work, the tests were given this past week. And if the reaction from the students is any guide to how well the school performed, we may be in for a long winter.

Which brings me to this point...

(Disclaimer, if you would like to avoid my political opinion, or are averse to profanity, I would skip the next line.)


Having said that, I decided that perhaps the most therapeutic way for me to deal with my distaste for these exams was to, in fact, make my own.

So whip out your number two pencil, head to the bathroom before we start, and turn off your cell phone, because here now, is The Running As I See It Exam...

1.) Mini 8oz water bottles are/were...
a.) Cute
b.) Easily packaged
c.) The perfect amount of hydration
d.) Completely pointless. Seriously people, buy the damn 16 oz., if you can't finish it, who gives a shit, it's just water.... dump it out.

2.) Naked men in the gym locker room are...
a.) A part of life
b.) Gross
c.) Just men changing, no big deal
d.) The most judgmental people on earth, because how dare you come with your bathing suit already on under your pants!

3.) Which of the following inequalities are true for all real values of x?
a.) x^3 > x^2
b.) 3x^2 > 2x^2
c.) (2x)^2 >3x^2
d.) How the fuck do you like it?

4.) Watching a marathon is...
a.) Like watching a mass death march
b.) More fun than running one
c.) A great opportunity to test your witty sign making ability
d.) A great way to be grateful to have healthy nipples

5.) Doing track work in the winter is...
a.) A great way to keep up your speed

b.) A good way to get mugged
c.) The most glaring example of your insanity
d.) All of the above

6.) Finish lines are...
a.) A great place to feel the weight of your accomplishment
b.) The place I've seen the most people throw up
c.) Where they hide the good snacks
d.) Never more important than the road that got you there

7.) "Dinosaurs would make great pets"
a.) A terrible idea, backed up by absolutely no factual evidence
b.) A conversation I had with a nine year old
c.) My life
d.) All of the above

8.) Saying your sorry is...
a.) A necessary thing we all must do
b.) One of the hardest things to say
c.) Only a word
d.) The least important part of being forgiven

9.) A BYOB Strip Club is a great...
a.) Way to beat a City of Philadelphia loophole
b.) Place to sell cocaine
c.) Way to get rich
d.) Idea in need of investors... just saying

10.) Praying is...
a.) Something you do at Church
b.) Something you do when you have to pee in traffic
c.) Something you do when you are in trouble
d.) Whenever you ask anyone for help

11.) Fighting with your girlfriend is...
a.)  An inevitability in any relationship
b.) A good way to sleep by yourself
c.) When you realize you don't know ANYTHING about women
d.) When you realize it's still worth having one

12.) Inspiration exists...
a.) At the end of the movie "Rudy"
b.) In the midst of a long race
c.) In that next song on your iPod
d.) Whenever we choose to look hard enough

13.) The most dangerous person to avoid while running on the street is...
a.) The taxi driver
b.) The twentysomething female texting while walking
c.) The street sweeper
d.) The Planned Parenthood lady asking for petition signatures who will NOT take no for an answer

14.) The key to having a good day is...
a.) Getting enough sleep
b.) Getting enough to eat
c.) Doing something for yourself
d.) Realizing that doing good is more important than feeling good

15.) That cute girl on the street who looked at you when you ran by is...
a.) Checking you out
b.) Hoping you'll come back for her number
c.) Secretly in love with you
d.) Staring at the small bit of spit hanging off your lip

16.) Understanding the road to redemption is when you realize...
a.) The road is the destination
b.) That your road, and his are actually the same, just one long road.
c.) That it's never about understanding.
d.) All of the above

17.) The correct response to the closing of "The Forum", Philadelphia's oldest porn theater, is...
a.) Worst news ever
b.) Worst news ever
c.) Worst news ever
d.) Worst news ever

18.) The answer to a bad day is...
a.) Otis Redding
b.) Booze
c.) Friends
d.) Going to bed

19.) Running is...
a.) Life
b.) What we do when we can't sit still
c.) Best understood after you stop
d.) Whatever we chose to make it

20.) Correct answers are...
a.) The agreed upon answer to a particular question
b.) The goal
c.) Most important
d.) Reserved for those narrow minded individuals who foolishly think that there is only one answer to each question.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Unofficial Philadelphia Marathon Results

One of the joys of running a marathon, aside from the general feeling of impending death, are the brief yet timely moments of levity. Because, although the majority of the 26.2 mile trek is spent contemplating if anyone would really notice if you took a taxi cab, there will also certainly be times where you can't help but laugh.

These can come in a variety of forms. The male (and occasional female) runners who attempt a nonchalant jog off the course, only to post up against the nearest concrete wall, or bush and... ummm... lighten their race weight. Occasionally they will come from witty banter between runners and those drinking on the sidelines, and of course the inverse, those on the sideline, and those drinking on the course.

But for the most part, the quick bits of laughter or smiles come from a well positioned and authored sign.

It seems to be one of those topics of conversation that permeates the post-race discussion, the same way Super Bowl commercials are discussed after the game. Which sign the runners and spectators thought were the funniest. This years Philly Marathon was no exception, as many signs sought to capture and distract the 22,000 runners who participated.

You had the old favorites, the staples that live on from year to year. Signs that survive in their variations, most notably the highbrow humor of "shitting your pants", otherwise known as my personal favorite.

"Smile if you've pooped your pants", was well positioned in the early miles, written beneath smiling pictures of two runners, whom I can only assume were the friends these spectators came to support.

Then there are the topics of signs that pop up for one year only, usually capitalizing on a current bit of pop culture humor. This year's bit of mockery came to us courtesy of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan who was just a TAD off when he told a radio host that he had run a sub 3:00 marathon, only to have it be revealed later that his sub 3:00 was more like a 4:15.

"According to Paul Ryan the last hour doesn't count. You're almost done!"

And there were others...

"If Marathons were easy, they'd be called your Mom"

"Do it faster. That's what she said"

This is to say nothing of the men and women in costume, Ghostbusters, Greek warriors, pirates, giraffes, and even, Jesus.

But there was one other sign that caught my attention, a play on an old line...

"Pain is Temporary, Online Race Results Last Forever"

And that is true, cause in this day and age, results of the race are almost immediately available online. All you need is a last name, a bib number, even just a first name, and you can see how you or someone you know did. Hell, you can even see out of all the 'Dan's that you ran that day, where you finished.

But, as I would like to believe, the results of these races aren't merely numbers or splits. So, for the fun of it, here are my highly unofficial race results from this weekends Philadelphia Marathon.

1.) Cowbells Revisited

So this may just be me, but I don't get the cowbell.

I mean, I get it. I just don't get it.

I guess it's just that at moments when I am looking for some kind of external motivation, the first I think of is not a loud, clanging noise.

But having said that, I've found something worse. Cause it seems that there may be some kind of cowbell manufacturing shortage due to the recession cause at this years race, instead of incessant banging of cowbells, there were more than a few incessant banging of pots and pans.

Yes, there were more than a few pockets of spectators standing outside with wooden spoons and pots banging their little hearts out.

But I'm not trying to judge (I mean I am a little), cause look, over the course of 26.2 miles, there is certainly a large need for crowd support. I guess I'm just asking you to reconsider, if you are thinking of bringing your cookware with you to the next race.

I want you to just think about the next time you are doing something difficult, say moving a couch. I want you to picture the next time you are moving a couch or a bed up a flight of stairs. Then I want you to think if you think it would be helpful or less than helpful if I were to stand next to you with a wooden spoon beating out a not so rhythmic beat on your frying pan.

Just saying.

2. Everybody Poops

Seriously, next time your in a long line at the port-o-potty check out just how long each person takes once they are inside.

You'd be surprised just how long some people take...

3. The Hottest Part

So there was something I didn't know about a flame. I didn't know that there is a common misconception about flames.

Let's say for the sake of this example, that we are looking at the flame on the top of a candle. Picture the flame bouncing atop the small black wick. The way the tip of the flame bats around, it's yellow glow descending down, slowly morphing into an orange, then finally, just before the dark mass atop the wick, there is a tiny slice of blue.

As it turns out, the hottest part of the flame is not the yellow or orange areas, but rather that blue streak that lies just underneath.

Now maybe I was the only one who didn't know that, but it seemed worth bringing up in the context of this weekend.

Cause you see, I used to think that the hottest part, was the tip of the flame. The tip that extended upwards from the match, or candle that I was using to lite something else.

But I was wrong.

Cause, as it seems, the warmest place is not the brightest, or the flashiest part, but the part you can barely see unless you really try.

Which brings me back to this weekend.

But not everything needs explaining.

4. Point to Point

There is a strategy in racing that frequently gets lost or overlooked by many runners. One that the leaders and elites employee that the masses seem to ignore.

 And that is this idea of running point to point.

If you watch the elite runner's race, you'll note that they attempt to take the most direct route from turn to turn. They'll memorize each turn of the course, hug the inside of every turn, and run directly to the next one. This is done for obvious reason, that the most direct route to take to the finish line is ultimately the fastest (think running around lane one of the track versus lane eight).

The same, however, is not true if you watch the racers behind them. Instead of watching what you would picture a NASCAR race looking like, you observe what looks more like normal lanes of traffic. Where each racer sticks to their own lane, even if that lane takes them widely around a turn or corner. This is frequently why those who wear satellite watches, tracking their speed and distance end a race with a watch reading a longer distance than the race (26.9 miles instead of 26.2).

But while I usually try my best to run a point to point race, I couldn't help but gain an appreciation for the not so direct route this past Sunday running with Troy, both in the literal and the non.

Cause I guess you would say that the two of us didn't take the most direct route, be it in the race, or in the path that led us to it.

Troy, the homeless man, and me, the with the scars I try best to hide.

But if this Sunday taught me anything, is that maybe taking the direct route is the preferable way to go, but that a path that ends in a finish, no matter how many detours you took along the way, is a finish nonetheless, and maybe one worth celebrating even more.

5. The Shit We Get/Charity Bibs

Someone once had a line  that said that we only do the races for the t-shirt. That all the training, and the sacrifice is simply so that we can walk around with the t-shirt that says "marathon" or some other race distance.

And that holds some truth. Cause for those of you who don't know, you actually do get quite a few things for running a race.

Before each large race, you usually have to attend an Expo, where you will pick up your race bag. A bag that is stuffed with all sorts of things, your race bib, your chip timer, a thousand coupons for various things, a race shirt, sometimes sunglasses, breath mints, and on at least one occasion, a harmonica.

But for many people, Troy included, this past Sunday, what many lined up for wasn't something that was given before the start of the race, but what was waiting for them at the end.

The finisher's medal.

There are some things in life that require no words at all, and some that exist beyond word's capabilities, seeing Troy wearing that medal would qualify as both.

But as I sit here now, thinking back on it, I find myself thinking of the most important result of all from this man's Philadelphia Marathon.

Cause you see, there are some that would say that there was a lot that has been given to Troy.

And I guess they'd be right.

But while I wouldn't argue with you that Troy had been given many things, I would argue over the question about which of these things was most important.

Cause you see, that while Troy was given many things, everything from a bed at St. John's to the shoes he ran in, to the finisher's medal itself, I would argue that the greatest among them wasn't given to him by anyone from St. John's Hospice, or Back on My Feet.

I would argue that the greatest gift Troy received was given by someone else entirely.

By Troy himself.

Because I believe that in life there are many things we need, things that we need from others, things that lead us to the starting line of a race, but then there are other things, things that we can only give ourselves, the very things that get us to the finish line.

Things that we can only give ourselves, the very same things that no one else can ever take away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Long Shots

Long Shot (noun): "A venture unlikely to succeed."

So for this blog I'm going to try something a little different. Instead of writing about a race or experience that has already happened, today, I am going to write about one that has yet to. Cause while I normally sit down to write about these races, with the sights, sounds, and sentiments of the ending or finish still fresh in my mind, this entry centers around one possibly in doubt.

One that hardly seems like a safe bet, which, ironically, seems like an appropriate place to start.

Like many of us, I think, my father taught me how to gamble.

No, he didn't take me to the race track, or hand me wads of cash to take to the blackjack table. No, my father chose instead to teach me in other ways. Ways that began when I was quite young. 

The setting was an old tan couch in my parents living room. I would sit clad in my pajama top and tighty whities underneath a fleece blanket watching Saturday morning cartoons, as my brother would maneuver his Playmobil action figures across the carpet in front of me. And invariably at some point, either during Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my father footsteps would come creaking down the stairs.

"Anyone want to bet a dollar on last night's Phillies game?"

Of course the question was unnecessary, as the temptation of how many Sour Patch Kids that dollar could buy always proved too much to turn down.

"I will!"

"Okay" he would say through his thick, brown beard,"I'll give you the Phillies and six runs."

Then he would explain again to my brother how that works. How you added six runs to whatever the Phillies scored in real life and after that, whichever team had more runs won.


The obligatory handshaking would ensue to seal the bet. 

"Ahhh too bad son." He'd say as he would plop down on the couch beside me, drawing the sport's page from his back pocket to reveal the box score, "Phillies lost by seven."

From these Saturday mornings I learned quite a bit, first the finer points of gambling, and second, that my father is full of shit, and not above betting his young children on sporting events he already knows the outcome to.

But I'll get back to that first lesson, and what I learned about gambling in a little bit.

So this weekend, for those of you who are not from Philadelphia, or those who don't run is the Philadelphia Marathon weekend. A weekend that consists of the marathon, a simultaneous half-marathon and an 8k that is held on Saturday. A weekend that will draw thousands of runners from all over the globe, runners of varying ages and race, skills and stature. 

The weekend will feature some 200 elite racers, former Olympians, and returning champions all striving to be the first to break that finishers tape.

And just behind those elites will wait a sea of 18,000 registered runners, calibrating their state of the art GPS watches, and bouncing on expensive footwear, with hopes of personal or course records.

And still within that sea of 18,000, there will be one, one runner with a watch with a minute hand on it, standing on donated sneakers, with the hopes of crossing a seemingly unlikely finish line 26.2 miles away from where he stands.

One runner, in short, a long shot.

And I'll be standing next to him.

His name is Troy. A man I met some two and change years ago outside St. John's Hospice, a converted homeless shelter for men here in Philadelphia. A shelter that drips with irony, as it sits each and every day resting in the shadow of the Philadelphia Convention Center, the site of some of this City's largest revenue generating events.

Troy wouldn't stand out to you immediately if you came to visit our Back on My Feet team. He's a shy man, with mild manner that matches an equally gentle disposition. He's caring and trusting, and despite his four decades on this planet, seems to approach his days with a youthful amount of wonder and innocence that you can't help but find endearing. 

I've watched as Troy has grown into a runner that even he admits he never expected to be. I've watched him with his wholly unique running stride (think cross country skiing meets trampolining), trot his way over two half-marathons, numerous 5ks, and countless training runs in between. I've watched as Troy has moved out of the homeless shelter, out of St. Johns, and still despite living quite far from where we as a team meet, continue to come out in the morning to train. 

But when we line up on Sunday, those other runners around us won't see any of that.

They'll see a long shot in donated sneakers.

And who knows, maybe they are right.

But one thing I do know is that despite the races I've run, and despite the fact that I've been doing this long enough to have accumulated enough stuff to look the part of a "seasoned runner", I'm not that far removed from being a long shot myself, if removed at all.

But when I think back not that long ago at the moments in my life where faith was hard to come by, there was one person above all others who cast me as a long shot. It wasn't the teachers, the coaches, friends or family. It was one person, one voice that never believed I could make it to the end.

My own.

Which leads us back to gambling.

Because there's a funny little thing about gambling. There's a funny little wrinkle that I think is best described through horse racing. A funny little thing about odds.

Most of us are familiar with the odds given at horse races; 10-1, 2-1, 17-1, etc. But for those who are not, these odds represent the amount of money you stand to take home if your horse wins. So if I bet one dollar on a horse with 17-1 odds, if that horse wins, I take home seventeen dollars, and if I bet one dollar on a 2-1 horse, I would get two dollars. 

The odds also speak to which horse is most likely to win the race. Obviously, the 2-1 horse has a better odds of beating the 17-1 long shot.

But here is the funny thing about those odds.

You see, these odds aren't set by experts or analysts. They aren't set by race track personnel or horse insiders. In actuality, they aren't set by officials of any kind. 

They are set by the bets that are wagered. 

You see the odds move with the money. So if the majority of the bets are being put on a specific horse, that horse's odds of winning will go up, becoming the most likely to win. 

In other words, the more people who believe he will win, the higher his odds to do so become.

Which brings me back to Troy.

Back to the man in the donated sneakers, and back to the point of this blog.

Bet on Troy.

Bet on Troy by liking this link.

Like this link if you believe that there is more to a man than what you can see on the outside. Like this link if you believe that helping someone else, and helping yourself are not two separate things. Like this link if you believe that it's never too late for the human spirit to re-ignite, no matter how small the spark may be. Like this link if you know Troy, even if you have never met him. 

Like this link if you believe that the first step to believing in yourself, is believing that someone else believes in you.

And like this link to show Troy that he's really not such a long shot after all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

Election Day!

(Cue witty joke about annoying Facebook posts, or political TV ads)

The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the day initially chosen by our founding fathers to be the day that we perform our one true civic duty. It's the sacred task that is as it was all those years ago, the beginning, the heart of this society. It's the principal of one man, one vote, and the best embodiment of those words "a more perfect union", that saw that word "man" extend across race, gender, and discrimination. And it's the paint brush that we all use, with each stroke that creates this never ending portrait of this country.

But this blog isn't about about elections, or Election Day.

Though, in many ways, elections share similar properties with those of running and training. They both set a course across long stretches of time, slowly building and gaining in intensity. Campaigns and training plans begin in earnest with the hopes of of making it to that final destination or finish.

And then the day comes, sometimes months or years, after the start. The day arrives and all the preparation and emotion that went into take hold as the die is cast.

The polls open.

The race begins.

And then, just like that, it's over.

Though for all the words written about the great battles, elections, and competition, few are put to paper about the days that follow. Few are captured about the subsequent moments as the sting of defeat and luster of victory begin to fade. When such events descend further into the past, slowly being rewritten by history's subjective gravity.

But I guess this all became apparent to me in this last week or so, the contrast that exists between the lead up to these elections, battles, or races, and the days that follow. The fury and the urgency in the run-up, and the quiet that follows.

Though, in many ways, this contrast became even more apparent to me after such a contrast didn't occur.

Because, like so many of us, I spent the summer and early portion of fall training for a race to come later in the season. I rose and fell on the ups and downs of training, the good, the bad, and all that lay in between. And just as designed, I ramped up as the race day approached. The tickets were booked, the GU was bought, and the plans were made.

And then... my phone lit up.

"We regret to inform you that the 2012 ING New York Marathon has been cancelled"

But this isn't a blog about that.

Cause as I woke up the next day, the after nothing happened, something else began to sink in. Something that seemed analogous to these campaigns that we have watched over these past few months.

That, perhaps, more important than the outcome of these competitions is what takes place the next day.

Cause it seems to me, nothing is changed from a campaign. That no lives are changed or made by the words or speeches of a candidate, but rather, the governance that follows.

The same, I believe, can be said about running. That while running a marathon can change your life, that change does not occur over the course of three, four, or five hours on race day. The change comes from the principals gained, the dedication, the faith, the commitment that are practiced along the way.

But this isn't a blog about the marathon.

It's a blog about the morning after.

It's a blog about whether those principals, those invaluable principals, carry on with you after the race, whether they continue on into the rest of your life.

But maybe I need to be honest with you. Because I'll admit to you that this blog was never meant to educate anyone, and it wasn't meant to provide some roundabout way to convey a message or conclusion about President Obama's re-election. No, this blog really only ever meant for one person.


A blog written to challenge myself to live up the words I write here on this site. To call myself out, in the face of marathon plans that didn't exactly go my way, to see if I will practice what I preach, or if this blog is just a place for me to try and sound good.

So, in a selfish way, this is my way of sitting here, reminding myself of the funny thing about the morning after. That despite whether campaigns or training plans lasted  three months or three years, that regardless of how they end, one thing is true.

That on the morning after, it begins again with Day One.

So get started.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mike and Chris, and a Trip Around the Moon

They don’t look like astronauts.

Wrong size. Wrong age. Wrong skin color. Wrong haircut.

Mike and Chris won’t ever be confused for the classic, crew cut All-American look that we have come to associate with the NASA pilots who hurl themselves into space. The twin pillars of the St. John’s Hospice running team, “MikeandChris” (as they are collectively known), since one is rarely seen without the other.

You meet them as a pair, then you begin to get to know what makes them individuals. The way Mike always leans back, and tilts his head when he laughs. The way Chris gives a firm handshake, extending his pointer finger across the inside of your wrist. Then as more time goes by, you begin to learn a little bit more. How Mike tells a story, and the way Chris seems to remember every conversation you’ve ever had with him.

Then after being introduced to you as “MikeandChris”, after seeing what makes them individuals, you find yourself learning what makes them so similar. The kindness in their voices, the gentle nature of their persons, and the way they can speak so easily and reflectively on what led them to, and their experience with being homeless, and ultimately what lead them back.

These are the men I’ve come to know for the last 18 months, and over these last 500 miles.

And still, I can’t stop thinking about astronauts.

But maybe I should explain.

After the successful moon landing of Apollo 11, NASA had planned for additional lunar trips eventually leading to five more visits to the moon's surface. Apollo 12 had been a success, which paved the way for Apollo 13, only 13 would never make it to the moon.

After a rather turbulent training period for the mission, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise departed the Earth's atmosphere heading for the Fra Mauro highlands, a crater on the surface of the moon. The mission was going according to design until, roughly 200,000 miles from Earth, trouble began. After being asked to "stir the tanks" by Mission Control, Jack Swigert and the crew heard a loud bang, a bang that would later be identified as an explosion in the number two oxygen tank.

The damage was noted, almost instantaneously by the crew. Oxygen and electrical power began to fail in the Control Module, and the crew was forced to move into the Lunar Module, the portion of the spacecraft designed to land on the moon. And just like that, after the mere flip of a switch, the mission to the moon was aborted, and the mission to get these men home safely began.

It was a mission that would prove to be extremely difficult, and require the ingenuity, hard work, and genius of NASA personnel on board and back at Mission Control, as each combined to overcome challenges of rising carbon dioxide levels, trajectory, and power conservation. A mission that would use the moon’s own gravitational pull to slingshot the spacecraft back towards Earth.

And so it was that five days after its launch, the Apollo 13 crew passed back through the Earth’s atmosphere. Then after four minutes of radio silence, splashed down in the South Pacific where they were retrieved by the U.S. Navy.

Years later Jim Lovell, the commander of the mission, referred to Apollo 13 as a “successful failure” in a book that he would co-author called “Apollo Expeditions to the Moon”. It appears in chapter 13, “Houston We’ve Had a Problem”, the actual phrase uttered after the explosion, as opposed to the line made famous in the movie “Apollo 13”, “Houston, we have a problem”.

“A successful failure”

But Mike and Chris don’t look like astronauts.

Though, I guess if I had to identify the lesson these two men have imparted upon me somewhere over the 500 miles we are currently celebrating, I think it would come down to a new appreciation for this phrase.

I’m guessing if you asked the remaining crew members of Apollo 13, they would probably state that given a choice, they would choose the moon over being known for a historic mission back to Earth. I’m guessing that they would tell you that the hardest part of their journey wasn’t the cold, or the limited oxygen, but the view from their window as they passed tantalizingly close to the moon’s surface, and their dream to set foot on it, with the knowledge that they were still so far.

But I’m also guessing that if you asked those back on Earth at that time, the members of Mission Control they would say that it was far more difficult working to bring these men back from the brink of disaster than it ever would have been to simply land on the moon.

And that’s what I think about when I think of Mike and Chris. Not so much about the path they were on when their own disaster struck, but the mission to get back.

The mission to get back.

A mission that I think we can all agree is far more difficult.

And I guess it’s been within that journey, the journey back from the disaster that is homelessness, an experience that only they can tell, that they’ve taught me the most.

That while all successes occur in the face of failure, some begin in the wake of it. That those who get second chances are much quicker to forgive your first. That kindness can never be quantified. That having a song to sing is great, but having people around to listen to it is infinitely more important. That people heal people, then take their turns and do it all again.

And that, sometimes, failure is a beautiful place for the story to begin.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Speak Back on My Feet Philadelphia

Wrote this one a while ago and tucked it away for a rainy day... well...

So one of my favorite aspects of being a non-residential member of Back on My Feet Philadelphia is that, since the moment we signed up, each of us had a unique experience. Some of us joined in the dead of winter, while others registered in the oppressive heat of summer. Some of us have run 5k’s in Avalon, while others have run Half-Marathons in Delaware. But despite all the differences that exist within each of our experiences after there is one similar story that we all share. One story that unites us all.

The story of our first day out.

And for some, myself included, that first day was rather intimidating. Many of us woke up that first morning in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning, without much of an idea of what to expect.

We ran,  biked, or drove down to meet the group, armed with the information provided to us during our volunteer orientation, reminding ourselves of the kind warning imparted to us, “We hug!”.

So needless to say, our first morning out can be mildly overwhelming, and that is why I decided to try and do my part to make that initial run a little easier. Cause for all the challenges we might find on that day, navigating to find the group, difficult weather, or the fact that you haven’t been awake that early since that time you ate that questionable Mexican food, surely the challenge of language shouldn’t be one of them. 

So it is for that reason that I have decided to take it upon myself to teach you a small lesson, to teach you how to speak Back on My Feet Philly. The following should serve as an unofficial glossary of terms to get you through those first few mornings out with the group.

Morning Runs- The most likely cause of you falling asleep at your desk at 3pm.

Leg Swings- A series of exercises that will make you feel like an idiot for losing your balance.

The Serenity Prayer- 1. The prayer we say before each run.
                        2. The moment you are glad you remembered to brush your teeth.

Sleeping in- Refers to setting your alarm clock to 6am.

Tall Guy- Evan

Short girl- Caitlin

Ruth- Cathryn

Cathryn- Ruth

Beth- ???

Josie's Mom- Jill
Double Pants- The practice of wearing two pairs of pants in the winter to fight the cold morning runs.

Team Leader- The person who sends you those e-mails you never read.

Coach- The person who takes credit for most of what the Team Leader does.

Volunteer Coordinator- The person most likely to hunt you down and find you after you miss a week’s worth of runs.

“Let’s circle up”- What we say when we mean, “Okay, shut up, it’s time to stretch”.

Car ride to the race- Where you wish for a good race.

Car ride home from the race- Where you wish you had remembered to wear deodorant.

“Can you go inside and see if (insert name) is coming out this morning?”- Translation: “Can you go inside and drag (insert name)’s a@$ out here.

OBP- Our Brother’s Place

RWA- Ready, Willing, and Able

St. John’s- Late.

Routes Take One- When the coach/team leader gives the turn by turn direction of the course for the day.

Routes Take Two- When the coach/team leader repeats the directions cause no one was listening the first time.

Morning Announcements- The forty five seconds before each run when you learn what ’22 degrees, feels 8 degrees’ means.

Broad Street - Fun

Cesar Rodney- Hills.

Walk-Run- The practice where we walk for three miles, only to reach the end and realize we forgot to add the run part.

“Try not to throw up”- Good advice.

“Leave it all on the course”- Bad advice (see above), as we know now, ‘puke’ technically falls under “it all”.

“I like your pace…”- A pick-up line/excuse to run next to a cute male or female.

Wind Chill Factor- The number that will tell you how many hours it will take to feel your toes again.

Lloyd Hall- 1. The place along Kelly Drive where we meet for Philadelphia Chapter wide long runs.
                     2. The site of Back on My Feet’s 20in24 race.
                     3. The location where the bathrooms are always locked when you have to pee.
Winter Hug- A quick way to warm up.

Summer Hug- A quick way to get sweaty.

Shower Burn- The burn you feel when the hot water of the shower meets your frozen skin.

Each of these terms will serve as solid beginning in learning how to speak the language of Back on My Feet Philly. It serves as a beginning not because the list has been shortened, but because it is a list that cannot be completed. Cause, you see, the real language of Back on My Feet Philly, is one that is never spoken. It’s not the words we use, the phrases we utter, or even the sentences we recite together. 

No, the true language is the one that we hear when no one is speaking.

It’s heard in the moments when you watch someone cross the finish line of a race, then promptly turn around to run back into the fray to help someone else finish. It’s heard in the silence between strained breaths as two people run side by side up a hill. It’s heard in the times when one sweaty hand reaches for a water bottle only to hand it to the person next to them. It’s heard in the smiles, and the hugs, the tears, and the fist bumps. It’s heard in the way a finisher’s medal bounces around ones neck. And it’s heard on those mornings, those dark mornings that we all have when we think we don’t want to hear it, on those mornings that we need it the most. 

It’s the language that we feel before we understand it. It’s the language that finds us on that first morning out, the one that makes us want to come back for a second.

And it’s the language that challenges us all, each morning, to ask ourselves the most important question of all…

“Am I listening?”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts for a Tuesday Afternoon

The following is a collection of thoughts on this October 23rd, 2012.

-Some questions can't be answers longer than two minutes.

- My friend Joe spent the summer in Africa trying to turn shit into electricity... #likeaboss

- "Someone painted the trees, Mr. C.".... Not sure I could say it any better.

- Knowing where to start seems less important than knowing when.

- If you want to increase voter participation, consider putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot outlawing black leggings and boots of any kind... that'll cause an uproar... Occupy JCrew.

- There's no greater test for what kind of person you are than how you dealt with this situation on Halloween....

- In running, nothing kills the mood quite like your iPod dying. In life, nothing kills the mood quite like a Jerry Sandusky joke... See.

- Current teenage generation fail...
"Mr. C, what are you going to be for Halloween?"
"Not sure yet, what about you?"
"I'm gonna be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle."
"Nice, which one?"
"I don't know, the blue one. I don't know his name?"
"(Student Name), that's my childhood you are insulting. That's like me walking into a church on Sunday, being asked who my Lord and Savior is and me saying... 'I don't know, that guy nailed on the wall up there... I don't know his name."
(awkward and confused laugh)

-Most of the best things that have happened to me, happened after I ran out of great ideas.

- To the lady in the black BMW with the bumper sticker "Spread my work ethic, not my wealth". How about you take your overweight ass and spread your work ethic on a treadmill THEN we can chat about your wealth.

- "If (Presidential Candidate) wins it'll be the worst thing ever."
"Why is that?"
"Cause if he wins, I won't get as much stuff. And I really want a game room."
Sometimes the complexities of politics just need to be broken down by a nine year old for you to truly understand.

- The thing about sounding good, looking good and doing good, is that the latter almost never occurs if you are interested in the former.

- The only difference between watching freshman boys interact and watching the monkeys at the zoo is the distinct smell of axe body spray.

- It's time to admit that my lifelong goal is to never be in charge of anyone else.

- My day to day...
"Hey (student name), how was your birthday?"
"Not great, Mr. C. I really wanted to go to this party but it got busted by the cops before I got there."
"Well... uhhh... at least it got busted before you got there and not afterwards."
"Good point, Mr. C."

- As far as I am concerned as long as you make it home at the end of the run, we can call it a success.

- I wish I had a sidekick.

- How many bagels is too many bagels?

- Tapering before a marathon is a lot like being lost at sea... you want to drink the water so badly, but you know it'll kill you.

- If tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Similarly, if you take enough Advil and can't feel the injury, are you really injured?

- When my bib number is even, I always have bad races.

- If you had to bring something in for show and tell at work, what would you bring? I think I'd bring my tambourine, or vacuum cleaner. 

- The only thing crazier than sharing the bizarre thoughts that go through your head, is how crazy you feel when you keep them to yourself and convince yourself you are the only one who is.