Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saxophone on the Corner

Right on Lombard.

The uneven red bricks, displaced slightly by time, weather, and attrition mark the path of the early strides of my run. My hands fuss with the sleeves of the two layers that serve as the only defense between me and the January night air. Wind whistles through the bare trees that line the one way street, whipping from the nearby river. My arms drop back to my side, the early hints of a comfortable rhythm set in.

Right on South.

My ankles cut quickly around the hairpin turn on the fresh cemented sidewalk. My eyes wind up the steady ascent before me, locking onto the bright neon colors of the newly refurbished South Street Bridge. Heaviness sets in, my legs fight the incline, climbing higher into the night and wind. I turn to my right, light glinting off the small ripples of waves flowing down the Schuylkill River. Ahead of me, a couple clad in matching, dark pea coats, and scarves huddle closely together. I slip closer to the metallic lining the edge of the bridge. Their eyes squint with the hint of tears as another gust bears down on us. We squeeze to either side, slipping by one another. Relief slowly washes over my legs as I find the apex of the incline. I slip by a few shorter nurses heading in the same direction as myself, startling one. Two commuter bikers pass by me, carefully navigating the small strip of road allotted them. The red glow of the traffic light greets me in the approaching distance. My feet patter to a stop and I stand amongst a collection of messenger bags and trench coats awaiting the "walk" sign, as cars exiting the highway speed by us.

Left on Spruce

A car making a hasty left turn stops abruptly, it's driver stares me down through the glare in the windshield as I cross the street. The lights of The University of Pennsylvania Hospital Emergency bleed out onto the sidewalk and I near the second incline of my predetermined course. A clamoring of bodies weave through each other. Young, old, and in between stride purposefully through the cold, or bounce in wait for a bus. A small line stands beneath the plume of smoke emanating from a shiny metal food truck. I slip through the crowd on my way up the hill, passing various gym bags and textbooks. The noise of 38th Street fights it's way into my headphones, a cluster of laughing maintenance workers cross the street to my left.

Right on 38th.

A wave of winter dryness begins to wash it's way beneath my zip-up, the unwelcome sign of the first hints of sweat. Pairs of Penn students pace down the shared sidewalk, as I sidestep them and an impatient couple waiting on a parking kiosk. My legs warm ever so slightly, and I pick up the pace, anticipating the downhill stretch up ahead.

Right on Walnut.

Storefronts blend into one another to my left, my feet turnover in a quickened stride as gravity aids my descent back east. And like a running back, I maneuver my way through the stream of errand runners, gym goers, and happy hour patrons. Eye contact increases in the well light sidewalk, I do my best not to sniffle too loudly as the chill invades a little deeper into me.

My feet drive my back up the quick incline that lifts me higher into the jet black night's sky. My muscles grow tired of these first initial miles, longing for the upcoming flat expanses that lie ahead for me on this course they've come to know so well. Four slender students appear in the distance in front of me wearing unseasonable shorts, tossing a basketball between them before disappearing into a doorway. I skip further on, turning to my right to see the reflection of the South Street Bridge now seeming further away than it felt. My head shifts back in front of me, my gaze falling up to the skyscrapers of Center City rising, blindingly into the night.

The trappings of the city that once loomed before me now draws me in. My strides carry me down the far end of the Walnut Street Bridge, welcoming me to the perpetual flat expanses of Center City. The sidewalks bustle with mid-evening activity. Couples, parking attendants, and nondescript entities clog the pathways. I push on, blocks in sets of fives and tens pass by, as do the lights of Broad Street. I navigate through the swell of faces, through Rittenhouse, Washington Square, and Society Hill. And as I swing past a line of patrons in the glow of the Ritz Theater, I say goodbye to Walnut street.

Left on 2nd.

Small orbs of light hang above my head, strung along the top of a scaffolding covering the thinned section of sidewalk on 2nd Street. The slight incline gives pause to my spoiled legs. Slow moving traffic frames Chestnut St, and I continue to dodge the exiting patrons of the over priced restaurants that inhabit this block of Olde City.

2nd and Market.

I bend cautiously around the friday night crowd pouring from the subway staircase. A yellow light flips to Red, my feet come to a rest. Yellow cabs crisscross before me, as my eyes catch sight of a figure behind me. A man in a black leather jacket leans up against the back wall of the subway exit. A black knit cap leads down to a kind, yet weathered face with the hint of graying stubble. His eyes pressed shut, and his mouth curled around the black mouthpiece of a shiny brass saxophone. His fingers dance up and down the instrument, his black jeans tucked into the same colored boots stand before an open felt case dotted with a litany of coins, and crumbled bills. The South American lays into one last note, as my index finger knocks the white buds from my ears. I linger for a moment, listening to music softly filtering through the corner as anonymous figures in winter coats pass between us.

Left on Market...

I spend the next twentysome minutes continuing to trace my way home. Passing along several more streets, cutting through bands of friends, slipping by those working late, and interrupting several sit down dinners. I reach my apartment, and fumble with the rear pocket of my zip-up to release my keys. I step over the threshold of my doorway, met with the warm cloud of air rising through the heating vents.

Six miles down, I set my gloves down on the top of my kitchen counter, lowering the volume of the music blasting in my ears. My pulse begins to relent, and my mind turns back to the run that was. Something draws my thoughts to the sheer number of people I encountered on the way.

The basketball players, the happy hour'ers, the trench coats on their way home, the students on their way to the library, the faces in line for a movie, the couples out to dinner, the nurses at the food truck, and all those in between. I recount the faces like mine, and the faces less so. And of all the likely ones to have recognized, of all the faces of those seemingly so similar to mine, I think of the lone one I recognized.

That of a South American Saxophonist with the graying stubble. A face I have known for years, a face that has spun through the revolving door of my life, entering and exiting in the same way. Someone as kind as the brown eyes set his face, and with demons as low as the notes he bellows on his saxophone. A man that I know very well, yet one I scarcely understand. A man for whom I can't begin to define our relationship except to say that I am always happy to see him.

And I think of all the gift this running thing has given me. The ones I signed up for, the running medals and race shirts, the stronger legs and improved fitness. And I think of the other gifts, the ones I would never have expected. Gifts so simple they never would have crossed my mind.

Gifts like a well timed red light, the sound of a lone saxophone, and as it would seem... a revolving door.

This blog is dedicated to the man with the saxophone on the corner on 2nd and Market, wherever we may find each other next.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mud Stains

There were five of them. Five boys. Five brothers. Joel, Jeff, Steve, Dan and the youngest Tim, or as they were collectively known, "The Rodgers". And for the boy living across the street they were about as cool as one could imagine. A cast of characters perfectly written for a story of growing up, two older and wiser brothers, two warring twins Dan and Steve, and Tim, the last of five, and my best friend.

And with two other brothers, Jay and Steve Brennan, we combined to form our neighborhood group. Eight boys, a tight collusion of a natural, yet regimented order. The abiding principal of seniority taken with dire seriousness in ways only eight, nine, and ten year olds could. We watched as these giants of pre-adolescents, these mountains of age twelve roamed among us, and me, I was seven, and the youngest of them all.

And life was good. Car doors would slam shut, and my untied nike sneakers would carry me in through the backdoor of my house. A school bag would swing from my shoulder, crash landing into the first open kitchen chair available. And with the choreographed deftness of a gymnast I would propel myself, knees first, up onto the counter. Once perched atop, I would meander my way through the now reachable cabinets scanning through the colorful boxes of Fruit by the Foot, Shark Attacks, and Pop-Tarts. And with selection in hand I would leap down the three feet back to the white tiled floor, and race back out the door. My Nike sneakers once again scampering down my short walkway, and traversing the ten yards of School Lane that separated my house from Tim's front door.

I'd usually find him doing the same, and I'd curse the heavens once more for my Mom's refusal to buy cheese curls like Tim's. And once each of us had taken in these vast quantities of nutrients, we'd march back outside, linking up with the rest of the squad, and then we'd cross back over those ten yards of paved road together.

We'd walk over together to the area behind my house, to an open field dotted in the middle by a lone cherry blossom tree, which depending on the season would double as the green grass of Yankee Stadium, or the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. You'd glance over at Madison Square Garden, a small basketball hoop nailed to the top of a wooden swing set. And we'd pass the long driveway adjacent to my house, a straight away of the Indianapolis Speedway, and for a few weeks one icy winter the Lake Placid Olympic Hockey Rink.

You'd wait patiently, offering preference or suggestion to the game of the afternoon, though never dreaming of second guessing the final verdict issued by the oldest member. The game would change from day to day, but usually rotated between a few of the standards.

"Run the bases", played in the driveway. Where two people were "it" and would stand apart tossing a tennis ball back forth, the rest of us would wait on the two bases behind each of them. It was a game of timing, speed, and mostly courage. To leave the base when the ball was in the air, darting to the other side while the two who were "it" attempted to peg you with the ball. You'd swerve and stagger your sprints, daring the one with the ball to throw it, before making your final bee line for the back of my dad's car, and the safety of the base.

"Rough House", a never ending basketball game of sorts. Where each player was on his own team, and there were no fouls. I'd spend much of the game desperately trying to hurl myself high enough into the air to grab a rebound, only to have another taller competitor steal it away before it dropped low enough.

"Kill the Cow", our neighborhood version of football, minus the end zones, teams, and rules. Where the one who had the ball was the cow, being chased by the rest until tackled, at which point he would toss the ball into the air, allowing someone else to pick it up and the whole thing would start over again. Personally, my favorite if not shared by the member of my household that would have to clean the mud stains off my sweatpants and turtlenecks.

And I guess despite the various schools I've attended, books I've read, and things I've seen, sometimes I wonder if those afternoons behind my house didn't shape me more than anything else. I wonder if it's possible that these lessons that took place between driveways, sidewalks, tree lines, and kids who didn't know any better don't still affect me to this day.

Because as I look back on that time, on those afternoons, I can't help but think we had a few things figured out. That despite our part Sandlot, part Lord of the Flies, thing we had going on, I can't help but find a certain thread of nobility, and wisdom, even if it only existed by dumb luck.

That there is something to be said for these games we played. Something honorable about them, about the way they were played.

Something honorable about having the courage to step off of that base, and risk the wrath of the tennis ball. To put yourself out there at risk, and invariably drawing the attention away from your friends still on the base, allowing them to make a break for the next one. There was something about the way they cheered for the seven year old who stared down the twelve year old.

Something honorable about chasing that ball around, and picking it up once your friend had fallen, and carrying it as far you could. Something about knowing when you grabbed that ball, that it would end with you being tackled by bodies bigger, faster, and stronger than you, and doing it anyway. Knowing that the importance was not the finish, but the struggle to get there.

Something honorable about the code that existed, the code that never needed to be spoken. That everyone got a chance, no matter your age. And even if you were seven and the shortest by far, you got a chance to grab that rebound. That everyone played the game, everyone had an equal chance. And the rules applied to everyone, Dan and Tim got pegged with that tennis ball just like anyone else. And when you stepped out of bounds or crossed that line, justice was enforced regardless of age, of family, or anything else.

But I guess just like any other neighborhood gang, ours slowly dispersed. Joel, Jeff and Jay got older, and traded their roles as elder statesmen for jobs as busboys at the local deli. The twins became more interested in girls than games of roller hockey. And I guess at some point Tim and I joined them, and the day came where wiffle ball bats stuffed with newspaper, wrapped in duct tape were left in basements, and thin planks of wood once perfect for bike ramps were tucked back under our porch.

And while my days of sprinting from car trunks to lawn chairs, and being chased while holding a foam, Nerf football are long gone, I can't say they are ever really that far from me. Because despite the fact that my day to day life as a twenty seven year old is filled with games of a more mature or adult nature, I can't say the goals are that different.

That those things I longed for so badly at the age of seven, the courage, the respect of my friends, the honor of staring down steep odds, are all that different to this day.

And maybe it was easier to stare down a twelve year old with a tennis ball than it is to stare down the problems that we as adults face... or maybe it's not...

Because as I sit here the only difference I can think of between the two comes down to two words... "Mud Stains"...

So I guess that begs the question... How clean are your pants?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Different names for the same thing...

So this afternoon my friend John, sent me a message over the internet asking for my advice, one runner to another. He proceeded to outline his predicament, he described the past few weeks of high mileage weeks (90 mile weeks), recent race times, and a choice between two meets coming up. He explained that he is trying to qualify for another meet, and was worried that if he tried to race too soon his legs would be tired from the high mileage training he was doing, the upside being that if he raced in both the early and later race, he would have two chances to qualify.

I responded by telling him that the only time I had ever put in 90 mile weeks was in the driver's seat of a car, and any advice I gave should be taken with that in mind.

But once I got out that disclaimer, I did my best to offer my perspective. We talked about trusting his training. We talked about how deciding to race too soon, would be making a decision from a position of slight panic.

In the end, my friend agreed, citing that this was the decision he had already made, to wait and follow the initial training plan. And with that specifics of this instance out of the way we were able to share in our own experiences with the frenzy that can exist between our ears, the "crazier" thinking that can consume us as runners, as humans at any given point.

I attempted to explain my theory that none of us really has the ability to turn off our own "off" switch, once our minds start going. That we all, in some way, need someone/something else to calm us down when we descend into murky obsession about a rapidly approaching race, sore foot, or when we lock our keys in our apartment. We all need something else, a friend to give you the advice you already knew, an x-ray or MRI, or just someone to ride next to you in the cab at 11 o'clock at night.

John went on to remark about this particular vein of thinking, and I found myself running through this idea that sometimes we have a tendency to over define things, or at least attach a judgement on things too quickly.

Cause it seems to me that we label things as good or bad, instead of maybe good AND bad. Cause who's to say that the character trait that produced this mild level of obsession that had enveloped my friend John, wasn't the same trait that produces the obsession or determination that allowed him to boldly attempt 90 mile weeks. Who's to say where the line between stubborness and perseverance exists. Who's to say what the difference between being a control freak, and being effective is. Who's to say when bravery is too risky, and when recklessness is courageousness. Who's to say that your worst defect, can't also be your greatest asset?

Different names for the same thing...

The glass is half full or half empty.

And look, I don't know the answer to any of these questions, of my own questions. And maybe I'm getting better with these character traits, or maybe I'm just getting better at not spending too much time trying to figure it out. But in either case, just for today, for this moment, I'm okay with that...

Because as I sit here now the glass is half full... though sometimes it's full of shit.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons from the sideline

It's sometimes said that the finish line is a great place for reflection. Though, from my experience, it rarely seems to work out that way. These finish lines, both running and other events, lack the breadth of hindsight that this statement would assume.

After graduations you tend to hear less about the last four years and much more about how bad the commencement speaker was, or which asshole decided to write "Go Flyers" on his cap.

In the case of running, you are more likely to hear stories of monster hills, blood sugar, and cramps. Or in my case you might hear me say things like "Oh, you mean we were supposed to turn left?" or, "Remember when you said bring water?... Yeah, I should have brought water.".

My point being, that although we might say the finish line is a great place for reflection, reflection on anything other than the most recent of events rarely happens. For me it takes a little longer. For me it usually happens far from the fanfare of a finish line, or a celebratory car ride home with friends or family. It usually happens for me in more quiet moments, solitary moments when the noise of the finishing area has begun to leave my ears. It happens when I am alone with myself, usually after I catch a glimpse of myself in a bathroom mirror, as the steam of a running shower begins to cloud around me.

And at that point, somewhere, something hits me, the magnitude of something beyond the events of that morning, the magnitude of the mornings, and afternoons, and evenings, and nights, that lead up to it.

And I think we can all relate to that feeling. Where the emotion and gravity of hard work or in some cases just time comes flooding in.

I recently was lucky enough to have someone close to me reach one of these such points. And on that day I heard him using many terms that I have used, still use. One of them stuck with me, when I overheard him say to someone...

"I couldn't have done it without you."

But as my mind moved past the sincerity of his words, I couldn't help but wonder if they were accurate. I couldn't but wonder, having had a front row seat to this boy's "race", his past 365 days, if his statement was true.

And I guess that's where the trail of thought began. Because I have experience on both sides, as spectator and racer, as the boy in the room who said "thank you", and the voice who says "you're welcome".

Because as I watched this boy, as I watched him speak I saw his journey laid out before me. I saw his hair, styled and longer. I saw his eyes meeting those around him. I saw his shoulders, relaxed and calm. And with these traits, I saw a little less of the boy I met one year earlier, if only one day less.

And with all of that, I couldn't help but think of what little I had to do with it. I couldn't help but see the work he had done, and my role as the guy on the sideline. That each step he took, was his. That each day, was his.

Which makes me wonder how this sideline thing works. How a boy like my friend, can make this far, and feel as though he couldn't have done it without others.

And I guess that's actually the answer. I guess the answer to this question has less to do with the final steps, and more to do with the first ones. That none of us carry you from the sideline, but rather point the way. That none of us will finish the race for you, but we will always be there at the start.

And maybe the simplest truth of all, that maybe you could do all of this by yourself... but who would want to.

This blog is dedicated to those people whom I would never want to do this without, and those who would never admit that they got me this far.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here's to...

Here's to ".2", the most forgotten distance around.

Here's to well placed mile markers.

Here's to Moms who hold signs, Moms who walk/run, Moms who check weather reports and call you crazy, and Moms who will see you on the beach.

Here's to running through yellow lights, both literally and figuratively.

Here's to 2x Caffeine.

Here's to those who understand the need for double pants.

Here's to friends who move away but never seem far.

Here's to the unrealistic.

Here's to taking a second to tie your shoe.

Here's to pretending that cute girl is watching.

Here's to the voice that tells you to quit.

Here's to telling that voice to shut up.

Here's to "shuffle".

Here's to losing your way, and to friends who help you find your way back.

Here's to holding the door for the next guy.

Here's to race medals, even when they fall on the floor.

Here's to the blessing of utter desperation.

Here's to friends who were there when you needed them, and for a chance to be there when they need you.

Here's to being the change.

Here's to making the decision to try and be the person you've always wanted to be... even if you never get there.

Here's to running when no one is watching.

Here's to those going up the hill, as you go down.

Here's to double knots.

Here's to having all ten toe nails.

Here's to leaving the watch at home.

Here's to extra safety pins.

Here's to second chances, at second chances.

Here's to out stretched hands.

Here's to church basements.

Here's to hands in a circle.

Here's to legs that run on dreams.

And...

Here's to believing in what you have, not what you want.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

72 Steps

Seventy two steps, our sneakers tap the stone beneath our feet. A cloud of white plumes in front of our faces, and slowly dissipates into the pre-dawn sky. With one last push, we reach the final stair. My hand pats my friend's back, the dampness of his oversized black zip-up jacket awaits it. A small gust of wind slips around us, reminding us of our current elevation. My friend continues to catch his breath, and I turn back to gaze down at the direction we just came. My eyes segue, then pause at the moving, painting before me.

45 Minutes earlier...

I'm greeted with a light breeze that chills my bare hands, as I exit my apartment. I adjust the three bags on my back for the day to come, and set off down the deserted, neighborhood sidewalks of 5:15am. The cold air slowly begins to seep in through the multiple layers of running attire that protects me. A short curse runs through my head, as I recall the decision to leave my gloves in my car the night before. My eyes trace the light pole before me up to the sky.

My stare falls beyond the lamp and at the the high definition moon, and crystal black sky. My thoughts turn briefly from the cold and early morning hours, to the question of the last time I really looked at the moon, and if I had ever seen it seem so clear.

20 minutes later...

I step out of my car, shutting the door behind me and my feet shuffle into a slow jog. I head in the direction of the six or seven figures that bounce quietly a block and a half ahead of me. The short trip ends at the small side street sandwiched between two brick buildings reflecting the soft glow of the artificial street lamps that hang above us.

Gloved hands meet, greeting each other with quick hugs and fist bumps. I locate my running partner, my friend in his standard black on black. A black knit cap tops his head, matching the black zip-up jacket, and black running pants that round out his outfit. His arms bent as they rotate backwards in a circle. I extend my right hand, and he does the same.

"Sir."

"Coach."

The familiar two word exchange passes our lips, and we join the rest of our teammates in the circle for the pre-run routine. Our arms link around each others shoulders, I note the slight shiver of the teammate to my right.

Jokes pass between us, then silence as we await the route for this mornings run. The soft voice of the brown haired girl in a pink vest passes around the circle.

"And for runners, three miles to the Art Museum and back."

The circle breaks, running jackets and vests pair off and begin to jog west on Race Street. Ron adjusts the black knit cap one last time, and the two of us take the first strides of our slow trek. We pass in and out of the glowing lamps above us, and slip through the damp steam that pours up through the cracks of manhole covers and subway grates.

And Ron's exercise induced asthma makes it's first audible presence of the morning.

15 minutes later...

The colorful international flags that line the Ben Franklin Parkway hang above our heads. The two of us break back into a walk, as Ron gasps against the gravity of forty years of cigarettes. Our stride continues along the quiet sidewalks of the still early morning. The shadows of our teammates that disappeared a few moments ago, are now growing in the distance as they make their way back towards us on the return leg of their run.

A couple jokes pass between us, and our legs bounce back into a run. Our feet carry us across the street, and past the illuminated statue of an unknown war hero.

"So, the steps?"

My voice barely hiding the lack of enthusiasm I'm feeling.

"Yes sir."

A silent sigh emanates through my head, as the fatigue in my legs from last night's run tugs at me.

We slow to a walk, approaching the steps that loom in front of us. Ron's breath returns once again, and our toes find their way to step one of seventy two. Without a word, our bodies in agreement, our sneakers tap the top of the first stone stair in front of us.

45 seconds later...

I stand atop step seventy two, facing southeast peering out onto the City that begins to show the first hint of waking up at this 6am hour. Red dots of brake lights dot the streets. Blue and yellow lights bounce from the windows of skyscrapers that rise into black anonymity. Flags below wave gently in the breeze. Shadows of trees extend across pale sidewalks. Green and Red traffic lights play to empty intersections. And the warm light of the moon reflects atop the white steam rising from the black knit cap of my friend.

My mind takes in the last fleeting seconds of this scene, as Ron's wind returns. I replay the images of Rocky Balboa, the iconic Philadelphia cinematic figure, bouncing with his arms raised above his. My brain replays the theme of the movie. Of Rocky Balboa the quintessential underdog, the down on his luck South Philadelphia boxer, who with a neighborhood and City behind him triumphs in the ring and life.

And for a moment, I turn back to my friend. My friend Ron, and wonder where his old cranky Italian trainer is, where his neighborhood of supporting fans is, where his theme music is. I wonder where his movie cameras are.

For a second, my eyes glance over the man before me, the man who bears little resemblance to the movie legend. I can't help but see the man before me in contrast to the chizzled figure of Rocky Balboa, of Sylvester Stallone, Philly's favorite son, who just so happens to be from New York.

I can't help but wonder if the true the Philadelphia underdog isn't standing next to at the top of the Art Museum steps, and not immortalized in a brass statue at the bottom.

I wonder if Ron, the man from Northern Philadelphia, who went to, a since closed down, Thomas Edison High School, who has lived his whole life in this city, who helped build the USS New Jersey at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, only to become, at age 61, another statistic of homelessness in this city, isn't the real Philadelphia underdog.

And as we descend back down the seventy two steps, back into the city we call home. I wonder how this happened. I wonder how in the city where the words "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were written, this could happen. I wonder how in the richest nation on earth this man's story is depressingly common.

And as we reach the bottom of these steps, these steps that act as a platform for a fourth of July firework celebration, a stage for performers like Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen, and a tourist attraction.

As our feet lift off step one and back onto the ground, I wonder where the cameras are.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

And the wisdom to know the difference...

So each morning at Back on My Feet we before we start to run, we come together in a circle and say the following....

"God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference..."

And most of you will know these four lines by it's accepted name, "The Serenity Prayer". It will most likely sound familiar to you, having seen or heard it on tv shows, movies, or maybe even real life, in twelve step fellowships like Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous. So no doubt when you hear these words, you have visions of substance abuse/recovery orientated connections, since these organizations have adopted this prayer as a major staple of their message.

However, this prayer doesn't actually come from Alcoholics Anonymous, or really from anything that has to do with addiction of any sort. The oral history of this prayer can be traced loosely through  Christian religious literature. But the first time this prayer was written down, and used in a larger scale was when it was included by the U.S. Armed Forces, in a book given to Army Chaplains to use in the field during World War II. 

So I guess it begs a second of pause or thought to consider, that in 1944, "the things we cannot change" could have been as basic as another cold meal, or as grave as a fallen friend. And I'll leave that word "courage" alone, so as not to insult those who know it's meaning beyond what I can imagine at this moment.

And I find this back story to this prayer that we have all come to know so well, cause I think it speaks to a nature of it that I find important.

Cause you see, I'm not exactly an expert prayer. My history with prayer is hardly a storied one. The prayers of my best were more like...

"God, I hope she doesn't check the math homework."

"God, I wish I had the black and orange Nike Pumps"

"God, I hope we win."

And so on...

And then someone taught me "The Serenity Prayer". They taught me the words, and I knew them by heart. But as I came to learn, knowing the words, and knowing the words, were two very different things. 

Because the spirit of this prayer hardly seems like what I imagined a prayer was.

And I guess that's when the lesson of the serenity prayer became relevant to me. Because as I reviewed my own history with prayer, I couldn't deny it's rather unsuccessful track record. My math teacher usually checked the homework, I never got those black and orange Pumps, and so on.

The lesson being... You're doing it wrong.

Cause it seems to me that the problem with what I was praying for was just that. The problem being that I was praying for something.

Because in our circle we don't ask for new shoes, but the patience to run on old ones. We don't ask for good weather, but the strength to run through it. We don't ask for answers to life's question, but the faith in friends by our sides.

And while I won't presume to comment on the destination of these words as they rise into the early morning Philadelphia sky, I will be so bold as to say this...

That choosing to pray not for specific things, but rather the strength to deal with them... Well, if that's not the beginning of the wisdom to know the difference, I don't know what is...




Saturday, January 7, 2012

Round One

So I plan to make this one a short entry. But since I've found myself surrounded by people attempting to start various ventures or undertakings, whether they are a new training plan for an upcoming race, a resolve to quit smoking, or to, in some way, begin anew, I couldn't help but try and comment in the best way I know how.... which is to say copy someone else's words of wisdom and attempt to pass them off as my own.

So here goes...

To give a set of context, this particular bit of wisdom was given to me at a time in my life when wisdom of my own was hard to come by. Where my own self-destructive thinking was disguised as my best. Where paralysis was hidden by the sincere, yet insidious, intention to start anew the next day, only to have that day always be one away. Where a stalemated tug of war existed, taunt between the need to change, and the swelling fear of how.

It was in this state when a man with short graying hair, a speckled goatee, and knowing eyes passed to me these words...

"When the bell rings, come out of your corner and throw the first punch."

And it was that simple.

To throw the first punch.

Then he looked at me and said, "And I think I just heard the bell.".

And looking back on it, the genius of the message is it's simplicity. Because we can't fight two rounds at once, we can't even throw two punches at once. We can throw one, the first. And who knows, maybe after that we will get our ass kicked. But if my experience has taught me anything, it's that the greatest fights that I've lost are the ones I never bothered to start.

Because with a host of people in your corner, it seems to me that the only way you can lose round one, is when you forget that there is a second.

And there it is... short and sweet...

Oh, and one more thing...

Ding.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Moments I won't forget from 2011

The following is a list of moments/things/lessons from 2011 that I won't soon forget...


"Rolling Hills" in Olde English means "big fucking hills".

The words "No Dan" will never sound the same again, no matter who says them.

When seeing a former football raise his arm for a forearm bump, thinking "How bad could it hurt?", is in fact, the wrong thought.

I love running in the rain... my iPod less so...

Finish lines are a great place to meet friends, but nothing beats seeing them at the start.

Biddle Street in Baltimore is... uhhh... scenic.

If you tell someone you are running with to leave it all on the course, don't be surprised if he stops before the finish line and pukes his guts out.

Inspiration is all around us, we just need to open our eyes.

The hardest person to forgive will always be ourselves.

I'm not great at making signs... and even worse at holding them...

One night in January, when faced with powerlessness, I chose to tell the truth... and (for my mom), I didn't get arrested.

I'm a terrible swimmer.

I'm a really terrible swimmer.

Friends show up to Allentown, Scranton, Baltimore, New York, Washington DC, Annapolis, and maybe most importantly, your front door.

Of all the medals I've put on, the memory of the medal I got to put on another runner may mean the most.

Of all my regrets, never organizing a 2.5K may be at the top of the list.

A smiling Moroccan makes me smile.

The only thing better than the pictures my father takes during the race, are the ones he finds a way to capture afterwards.

It's easier to run in a yellow dress than you would think.

Hills are easier to run up when you've got friends behind you.

Two marathons, four halfs and a 16.8 mile relay can't compare to four 5K's with my favorite 16 year old running partner.

Roast Beef sandwiches are a perfectly reasonable mid race snack.

Don't fuck with the girls from NYAC.

The words "He would have loved to watch you run."

When someone tells you to take water, cause there's not enough on the course.... take water.

That despite the fact that my mom weighs 75 pounds soaking wet, she will still follow me around after a race just in case I pass out to try and catch me...

Four words... "Sam Cooke Mash Up".

Faces of friends who knew before I needed to tell them.

Bieber and Mistletoe makes for one hell of a party.

Failing is absolutely worth it.

The gifts of running don't belong to me... but I'm good with borrowing them for a little bit.

That the best part about talking about running as I see it, is that it leads to hearing about running as you see it.

And...

That within each memory, each memory of triumph and tragedy, each smile and each tear, each race I ran, and each mile I trained, in each of them the truth I will remember the most...

I was never alone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For Auld Lang Syne...

"For Auld Lang Syne"

Yes, those words that get sung each New Year's Eve have some meaning.

...And yes, I had to google search for them to find it.

But it's 2012, and depending on how you look at it's either a new year, or if you are a big John Cusack fan, it's the last year. And aside from the champagne, the party hats, the noise makers, and the ball dropping in Times Square, this holiday is known primarily for the practice of creating a "New Year's Resolution".

So for the next few weeks we'll notice more commercials toting revolutionary diets, 300 in 1 home gym apparatuses (apparati?), and deals to your local gyms. And for runners, we'll notice an increase in traffic on our usual running paths.

And invariably you will find yourself answering the question as to whether or not you have a resolution. I've already had several, in fact, I've initiated quite a few. I've found that the answers I've received have fallen into two categories.

The first is a simple explanation of what they plan to either start or change. Most fall into the basic line of self improvement, exercise or not to eat so much candy. Some have had a very specific goal of running a distance, and some are as abstract as "getting back in shape". And to be honest, I love hearing these. It always seems interesting to see which person thinks they are "out of shape", and who wants to take hip hop dance classes (he does have two thumbs). 

The second of which is an explanation as to why they don't do resolutions. Usually they range from a disbelief in the idea of using the "new year" as a spring board, citing the idea of having goals through out the year, instead of the start. And in other cases they note the stat that I've seen online that over 88% of all resolutions end in failure.

Now, I have no idea where anyone gets that statistic. I mean, I don't know who is doing polling on resolutions, and even if I did I would take exception with their numbers anyway. Because I can resolve to quit smoking on January 1st, 2008, and then smoke one on January 2nd, 2012, and technically you would say I failed, but that's neither here nor there.

Cause honestly, this isn't a blog entry attempting to comment on anyone else's resolution, or even resolutions in general. It's actually just a blog entry specifically about one person's resolution.

Mine.

Though mine isn't exactly a standard one. I won't be attempting to get in shape. I won't be signing up for a gym. I won't stop smoking (though that would involve starting). I won't be going on any diets. And I won't be giving up any vices (the Philadelphia Swedish Fish industry just took a sigh of relief).

No, my resolution for this year actually has less to do with the new year, and more to do with the previous ones.

And if that doesn't make much sense to you, I'll turn your attention back to that little song that we sing each year at midnight.

"For Auld Lang Syne"

"For Old Time's Sake"

Cause, you see, that song wasn't written for a bunch of drunk people to sing in Time's Square. In fact, it wasn't a song at all, it was a poem. A poem that was written to weigh the idea of looking back at our past, our path to this moment in time.

The poem begins by asking that rhetorical question, "Should old acquaintance be forgot?", asking if the past should be forgot. And then, as the lines go by, the poet answers his own query by continuing "And there's a hand my trusty friend. And give us a hand O' thine. And we'll take a right goodwill draught for Auld Lang Syne".

And maybe there was something about hearing that song, and actually, for the first time, understanding it that caused me to take pause. To take a second from staring ahead at a future year, at 2012, a year that as I sit here now seems lit with possibility and promise. To take a moment, from the path ahead, to stop, to feel where I stand now, on solid ground surrounded by the warmth of love from those around me, making words like "wind chill", seem irrelevant. And to close my eyes, and against better judgement, turn back and glance at the road that led me here.

And when that road comes into to focus, I note the uphill nature of it, and above all the faces and the names of those who line the sides of it.

So while there are goals, peaks I've yet to, and hope to reach. Tonight, as I sit here, my resolution is not about taking another step forward on my own path, but rather to be a face, and a name on someone elses.

"And we'll take a cup O' kindness yet, for days of Auld Lang Syne"

Happy New Year, everyone.