Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Wump"

On November 16th, 1952, newspapers everywhere ran the latest strip from the comic Peanuts, by Charles Schulz. This particular strip begins with Charlie Brown, the iconic loveable loser with the heart of gold, strolling outside in the autumn air. He encounters, Lucy Van Pelt, the crabby and cynical bully of the gang, who entices him with a football. She convinces Charlie Brown to run and kick the football as she holds it. She encourages him to take a long running start, and at the last second, when Charlie is about to kick the ball, she pulls it away, sending him flying through the air and landing painfully on his back.

"Wump"

Now unto itself this is a rather funny series of events if you ask me. But what takes it to another level is what Mr. Schulz decided to do next.

Mr. Schulz brought it back the next fall and each fall after that. Only these subsequent times, Charlie Brown was hesitant to trust Lucy, after what she had done to him the year before. And therein lies the genius. That each year, Lucy in some capacity would manage to trick Charlie Brown into trusting her one last time, and attempt to kick the ball, only to have her pull it away again at the last second. Sometimes she would play on his conscious, guilting him into trying. Sometimes she would quote the Bible. Sometimes she would guarantee it in writing, only to claim it wasn't notarized. Sometimes she would appeal to his faith in the ability of humans to change. Sometimes she would even have her younger brother Linus do it for her.

And yet, each and every time...

"Wump"

Personally I love this particular strip. I love that somehow each time you read it, you almost believe that this might be the year that Lucy lets him kick it, despite your better thinking. I love that even though Charlie Brown lands on his back in pain, he is endeared to you a little bit more for having failed yet again. I love the lengths that Lucy will go to trick Charlie Brown. But most of all, I love that, above all else, I can absolutely relate to each character.

Because although I am currently seated in a chair, typing away on my computer, for all intents and purposes, I might as well be laying on my back in the cool fall grass, clutching my back.

"Wump"

And much like I imagine Charlie Brown would (yes, I know he is a cartoon), I'm sitting here shaking my head out how I got here. How I've been unable to run for the past few days. How a tiny few inches along my right shin muscle can affect me so much. And how I've managed to fall for victim to something that I clearly knew better, and should have avoided.

But this isn't a blog about a mild amount of shin pain, or being injured. This blog isn't even about the times in which I play the role of Charlie Brown falling on my back. This blog, instead, is about the times I play the role of Lucy, pulling the ball away at the last second, from the person I always manage to trick the most.




Myself.

Because if you are anything like me, you can absolutely relate to eying up a football in the distance, and shaking your head, worried about the potential pitfuls and pain that you know await you. You can relate to staring them down and somehow talking yourself into taking a run at them, giving them a try, only to end up on your back.

And it's in that instant, that moment when I'm flat on my back when I'm afforded a opportunity, a moment of clarity to look back, and realize that the person most responsible for me to be there is, in fact, me.

And while there are certainly circumstances in this world where you play little role in the problems that await you. When someone backs their car into yours in a parking lot, or you are late to work because the subway or train was offline. These aren't the problems I'm talking about.

I'm talking about running too many miles, or hills, when you know better, ignoring all aches, pains, and warning signs along the way. I'm talking about engaging in an argument with a nine year old over what constitutes "tattle tailing", only to seek the nearest wall to bang your head into. I'm talking about picking Harry Potter to win Best Make-Up in your Oscar pool when you know damn well they don't give Academy Awards to movies about wizards.

And I'm talking about those times when the pain of life creeps in, the times where the shadows of loneliness, doubt, insecurity, settle upon us. The times when we look at the phone, knowing help from a friend, from someone who has been there before, is only a phone call away, and in our wisdom, decline to call them.

But maybe the hope lies in acknowledging that I make some really stupid decisions sometimes. The hope that if I can acknowledge that then maybe I can continue on my life's goal of not avoiding mistakes, but avoiding making the same ones all over again.

So maybe the rest of the world would consider it foolish that I am about to lace up my shoes in a few a minutes and head out for a run on an injured leg, but I'm gonna do it anyway.

And who knows if all that is waiting for me at the end of these few miles is a girl in a light blue dress holding a football, but just for tonight, I'm okay with that, I'm okay with being Charlie Brown.

But I've made up my mind, and that's Mr. Brown to you...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

And the award goes to...

So it's Oscar Sunday here, and in recent years that can only mean one thing in my household. No it's not the fashion that interests me (I'm currently wearing two pairs pants, yes, I said two), and no, it's not even to see if my favorite movie wins big (I haven't actually seen any of this years nominees). No, in my household the Oscars provide an opportunity older the cinema itself, an opportunity for degenerate gambling.

So here's to "Harry Potter and the (Endless Sequels?)" winning Best Make-Up, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for Sound Editing (I read the book and it sounded edited), and, of course, "A Separation" bringing it home for Best Foreign Language Film (Do I really need to explain this one?).

But while we wait for the action to begin, here are, for shits and giggles, my own awards that I would like to give out. And yes, I know that not many of these are actual Oscar awards.

Best Set Design- Biddle St, Baltimore Running Festival


My friends and I were treated to the picturesque scenery as we made our way to watch a few of our friends running in the Baltimore Running Festival, past the quaintly boarded row homes, cracked sidewalks, and eerily quiet blocks. So this award goes to Biddle St. in Baltimore for it's uncanny re-creation of the set, and altogether creepy feeling of "The Wire" (an HBO series about the drug trade in Baltimore)... Oh wait, that is where they shot The Wire?.... Oh.

Best Original Musical Score- Philadelphia Eagles Pep Band

Congratulations to the Eagles Pep Band during the Philadelphia Rock N' Roll Half Marathon for playing the most irritating 8 bars in the history of music. Nothing makes you want to run faster than trying to escape the incessant clamoring quartet led by a banjo, playing their one and only song "Fly Eagles, Fly". A song that, if you are not from Philadelphia, is only reserved for the most rare and important of football occasions like, Eagles games, Eagles practices, Phillies games, Sixers games, Flyers games, high school graduations, Mayoral debates, your neighbor's Bar Mitzvah, bed time, and pretty much any time someone gets drunk in a South Philly bar.

Best Foreign Language Film- My Friend Chakir

This award is reserved for my dear friend Chakir, the only crazy Moroccan I know who will run a 15 minute 5K and somehow smile the entire time. A smile that never seems to go away, and moreover that seems contagious. This award is for my friend who left his family in Morocco without knowing a soul over here in Philadelphia, and started a life for himself. One who is never slow to offer help, even if it is offering to run with you (as if any of us could keep up), or cook a traditional Moroccan dinner for you (please note that light green smoothie he hands you is avocado, not mint chocolate chip, trust me, you'll thank me later.). And while I cannot always claim to know exactly what he is saying, I can tell that all I ever need to hear is said by the smile on his face.

Best Make-Up- Me

I humbly accept this award, though I must say I could not have won it without the help of The Via Lehigh Valley Marathon, and their decision to pass out fruit punch Powerade. Without this dark red sports drink I never would have been able to spill and subsequently stain the front of my white singlet giving the impression that I had the worst bloody nipple in the history of bloody nipples. This one is dedicated to nipples everywhere and, of course, to the countless sympathetic looks given by those I ran by during the race.

Best Supporting Actor- My Friend Owen

This award goes to my friend Owen, not only for being available on the sidelines with a well timed GU, or waking up at 3am to drive long hours to be at the start of races, but for actually putting more miles running with/pacing his friends in races he wasn't signed up for than those he was. Which is to say that Owen has won this award for being, well, Owen. A guy who does the right thing for his friends and anyone else, not for the accolades, or rewards, but because it's, simply put, the right thing to do.

Best Art Design- The Penis Sign 

This award goes to the people who realized that the Marine Corps Marathon's course is actually in the shape of, well, a giant penis, and put it on a sign.

Best Director- My Friend Abby

This award is presented to the girl who organized race cheering trips all over the east coast. From Washington D.C., to Scranton, and from Baltimore to New York. Providing her friends with transportation, signs, hotel rooms, and above all else, a familiar, smiling face to cheer you on.

Best Animated Feature- 20in24

This year's Best Animated Feature goes to the race that took place over twenty four hours this past July 16th. A race that, either due to the mid-90s temperatures, the pervasive dehydration, or the two entire Little Caesars pizza's I ingested, will always seem animated in my memory.

Best Picture- Friendship

So this particular award year will always remain to me the year of friendship in all it's forms. From the most likely of partnerships, of roommates and brothers, to the most unlikely, of fifty year old, African American homeless men and twenty something, white females. In images of triumphant celebrations, and tear-filled embraces. In moments of great fanfare, and quiet exchanges. In fantastic displays like surprise parties, and as quiet as text messages. In scenes amidst the huge crowds of big city marathons, and late nights over pizza boxes. In laughter and frowns. In six mile routes through crowded parks, and short sprints up a desolate hill. In ballrooms and North Philly churches. In the words we say and the words we feel. In the dark and cold of January, and the heat and humidity of August. In the places we were never meant to go, and the places inside of each of us that we feared the most. In starting lines and finisher medals. In the friend who went before you and of course, the ones behind you.

This award is for the people this year that crossed a finish line, set an alarm for 5am, made it to the top of the hill, set a PR, won a medal... but dedicated to the person next to them, cheering the whole time.

Thank you, and goodnight.
 

Friday, February 24, 2012

60 Degrees

So if there is one thing I don't understand in this world, it's the local news. I guess you could argue that I am merely a product of my generation. One that seems to prefer to get it's news from sources that don't attempt to keep you tuned in between commercial breaks by touting the upcoming segment on a "Kitty Easter Fashion Show".

And these "Kitty Fashion" segments are just the tip of the iceberg for me. Between under reporting stories that, ya know, have some actual news value, to failed attempt after failed attempt at witty banter, to insisting on having someone live on site to cover even the most irrelevant of stories (Do we really need someone live at the road salt depot to tell us that they are salting the roads?).

Honestly, I just don't get it.

But by far the worst of these offenders within the local news community, are those associated with that little segment called the weather. And aside from the most obvious reason to loathe them (the fact that they are wrong quite consistently), there are other objections to lodge against these people. For starters they hoard the information over you as though they have uncovered the lost books of the Bible, making you wait segment after pointless segment to hear it.

Then, of course, there are the meteorologists themselves. These men and women, who despite there assertions that they are "Meteorologists" seem to dumbfounded, miffed, and altogether shocked by seemingly the most obvious of weather phenomenon, like, ohhhh I don't know, summer. And if you don't believe me I encourage you to tune in this summer to one of their pre-commercial weather teasers in which they say, "Boy, another hot one out there today, stay tuned to find out when this heat wave will end!", oh I don't know, maybe September?

I also enjoy the final segment of the weather, when they show the current weather conditions across the screen against a back drop of a park, or city skyline. They go through each, one at a time, current temperature, wind conditions, humidity, etc., until eventually they get to the last one when they tell you what the barometer is doing, as if anyone has been waiting all segment to find out what's up with the barometer. As if there is a man at home screaming for them to hurry through the ten day forecast, "Screw all this, I wanna know what the barometer is doing!".

But I guess in some ways I am complaining about this cause in my previous life as a non-runner, none of this weather stuff seemed to matter to me. Rain just meant it would be a pain walking to and from my car, and snow meant snow days. Now they have much impact on my life, and words like "Wind Chill", "Humidity", and my favorite "Feels Like", are now a staple of my day. And as I look down at my Weather Channel app on my phone, the following two words, bring me to my next point, and without further ado to the point of this blog.

60 Degrees.

And though the calendar still places us in February, a month more known for snow storms than short sleeves, my body can't help but begin to feel the endless night of winter slowly giving way. Whether its been this unusually warm weather, or that feeling you get after checking the clock, noting the sunlight pushing back against the night, like a younger sibling fighting against a door that an older brother seeks to close, something, some kind of energy seems to be about. Or maybe it's just because I keep hearing in passing conversation, "did you hear it's gonna get all the way up to sixty today?"

But I guess, like most things, there are two sides to this coin. Because I can't help but think that while sixty degrees is a very pleasant and nice temperature, if we were to turn the clock back 5 months, to September, well 60 degrees might feel quite differently.

Cause it seems then that 60 degrees is relative.

Which then got me thinking about this whole idea of optimism. Standard thinking would be that the optimistic view of a 60 degree day in February would be to say that it's a pleasant temperature. The pessimistic approach being the inverse that a similar day in September would be to state that it wasn't. But I'm not sure that tells the whole story.

And I guess this whole train of thought began with the previous blog and the few apologies I issued for it's somber nature. Though in many ways I think I was attempting to apologize to myself for somehow violating what I always hoped would be an optimistic tone.

But it seems from speaking with others, and my own train of thought, that it appears that I've gotten this idea of optimism all wrong.

Cause yes, it is optimistic to look at a glass as half full rather than half empty. But it's not optimism to look at a glass with a few drops in it and say its half full. Or to look back over a day of sadness and mourning and say it was a happy day when it wasn't.

But, and here may be the place I get tripped up the most, neither is it necessarily pessimistic to say that glass only has a few drops in it is, or to admit, out loud or to yourself, that today was a bad day.

Cause optimism, as I'm coming to learn, has less to do with how you view something in front of you, but rather how you view what will happen next. Optimism isn't about ignoring truth with positive spin, it's acknowledging truth in the context of a greater one.

That it's less about whether or not today was a good day, and more about the possibilities of tomorrow.

Cause for me to sit here and say to you that Wednesday was a good day would not be optimism, it would be a lie. Because it seems optimism doesn't fly in the face of truth, but rather as a result of it.

Cause it's possible that's what it's all about. About looking tough days in the face and acknowledging, not only their flaws, but the possibilities of tomorrow. Cause it seems that optimism can be as simple as telling the truth.

And the truth is, today was a good day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Say Something"

You know that thought? That thought that bounces between your ears in a volley of emptiness, as it attempts to will your brain to speak, to say anything. And as each second passes by, the panic grows.

"Say something"

The words repeat on a loop, but nothing comes.

And while I could, in attempt to keep up this air that this a running only blog, immerse it around stories of talking to friends after bad races. Of looking into their tear filled eyes, and being unable to summon the correct words to soothe their anguish. But in all honesty, the circumstances that have led me to ponder this idea of not knowing the right thing to say, of not knowing what to say at all extend far beyond the realm of running related topics.

Because while those post race tears are genuine, I guess it's in all of our best interests to keep in perspective that they are in some ways tears of privilege. That they are the price we pay, or the risk we take when we choose to roll the dice within this gift that we call being a runner. And while there are seemingly tough questions and harsh realities that await us at finish lines, or mile markers along the way, they pale in comparison to those that we face in real life.

And it's within that thing we call real life, today where I found myself repeating those familiar words.

"Say something"

But despite my best efforts, nothing seemed to come.





And that's how the day within the generic walls of this suburban high school went. Maroon lockers played the backdrop to a series of conversations punctuated more by silence than anything else. Cafeteria tables dotted between a string of long stares, and forced, sympathetic smiles. And maybe more than anything images of kids, in the face of tragedy, trying desperately to be anything but kids.

And maybe that's where the true nature of the sadness exists. Witnessing these kids, these kids who seem just old enough to wrap their minds around the event, but not yet old enough to know what to do with it. And from my shoes, being able to witness the tragedy run it's course, like watching a tiny chink in a car windshield that starts as such an isolated crack slowly extend out, slowly consuming it.

"Say something"


But as I sit here, roughly twenty four hours later, I've still got nothing. No profound thoughts or heart warming happy ending. No alternate perspective or new found wisdom.

Nothing.

Just the thought, or loose assurances that hard answers come from hard questions, and the courage to ask them, or even just to look at them.The fleeting hope that somewhere, all of this makes sense. Cause while I'm not exactly one who believes in a greater design or plan, it's moments like these where I'm not opposed to them. And at least a glimmer of faith that one day soon, for those dealing with a pain much closer to them, a moment of quiet or peace for scars to begin to heal.

But mainly, as I gaze blankly at the blinking cursor before me, I come back to those kids and that other thought that's been running through my mind all day. The thought that as kids of all of 15-18, they haven't learned the secret yet. The thought that comes as you watch them attempt desperately to meet this tragedy as adults.

Never knowing that truth, that when it comes to the death of a child, there are no adults, that we are all children.

And I guess this is normally where I would sum up this entry with some kind of conclusion or message, but for the life of me as I try my best...

I got nothing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

And now for something completely different...

So there I was, seated with a group of friends discussing my father's favorite topic, Quadragesima, or for our Latin impaired audience, Lent. We each took our turns discussing or in some cases lampooning this practice of abstaining from something for forty days.

Some lamented on how it seems to be more of a religiously observed diet plan, something spelled out in Atkins 23:18. And others expressed their own version of "retrospective lent", where at the end of the forty days you look back and pick one thing you happened to refrain from and declare that to be what you gave up for lent (and when I say others, it's possible I mean me.).  Though the more knowledgeable on matters of catechism assured me that, "retrospective lent" isn't exactly allowed.

But as our conversation shifted from our feelings on lent, we each began to put forth ideas for what we should give this year. And that's when one of my friends suggested that I give up running for lent.

(laughter ensued)

And while we discussed the potential pitfalls of giving up running for forty days ending two weeks before a marathon, it was another thought entirely that seemed to stick with me.

While it's no secret I take this running thing semi-seriously (Maybe I should give up drastic understatements for lent?), sometimes it catches me off guard that other people notice as well (okay, okay, maybe wishful thinking as well. Are you allowed to double dip? Double the lent, double the fun?).

So in an attempt to fulfill one of my lifelong goals of never taking myself too seriously here is a list of highlights of all things embarrassing, funny, and mildly pathetic that constitute my running life.

"The (Other) Walk of Shame"

It's been a few months since I last took the walk of shame, though I've had quite a bit of experience with it. I can remember going out that Saturday morning for an easy few miles, and the first two felt pretty good.

Feet- Good
Shins- Good
Quads- Good

And then... you hear it, like an alarm sounding at a nuclear reactor. The low gurgle emanating from your lower intestines that remind you once and for all that "Friday Night Wing Night", might lead to (throat clear), issues the next morning.

So you take that two mile walk home, all the while pretending no one notices that you are breathing like the Lamaze instructor from the Cosby Show.

"Limp This Way"

This one happened more recently to me, but again, is by no means a lone occurrence. This is also one that I'd like to imagine those around me watching derive the most amount of pleasure/laughter.

I was jogging down Market Street, when I made a quick right hand turn onto 21st St, when it happened. I landed awkwardly, twisting my ankle.

Now, unto itself this is not exactly an incredibly embarrassing moment. We all catch awkward landings, we twist our ankles from time to time. No, what made this night so embarrassing was not the odd step, but rather the feminine "yelp" that flew out into the night. Compounding the embarrassment was the hasty decision made in my brain to attempt to run it off, and flee the scene. Which I can only imagine must have been quite a visual experience for those walking by.

I imagine it looked a lot like the damsel in distress fleeing her capture from some silent, black and white film in the 1920s.


"Too Legit to Spit"

If there was an Olympics for spitting, I wouldn't be in it.

If there was, however, an Olympics for spitting and having half of it land on your shorts, shirt, and/or side of your cheek, then I'd be Michael Fucking Phelps.

"Pump up the Jams"

 Nothing makes you feel quite as good as when the convergence of a solid running song, meets a great training run. Having said that, nothing makes you feel quite as self-conscious as when that same convergence leads you to crank up the volume, only to be stopped at a red light causing you to realize that your earphones are playing so loud that you are treating those pedestrians around you to that Rod Stewart song you are rocking out to.

"I Like the Way You Move"

I'll close with this one. For I guess as silly as these random bits or examples are, there is one that I feel as though might top them all. For as embarrassing as spitting on your face, or listening to Rod Stewart may be, they are rather easy to admit in comparison to this one.

Because despite all the others, this one is actually mildly difficult to say out loud, which from experience tends to mean it's also the most important to say out loud.

And in the interest of avoiding trying to justify or rationalize the rather bizarre nature of this example, I'm just going to come out with it.

Sometimes, I think you will like me better if I am faster.

There it is, crazy I know, but true nonetheless.

And don't get me wrong, rationally I know it's not true. Rationally I know that no one chooses their friends based on 5K PRs, and in all honesty, I know that no one really cares. But all the same, sometimes I can't help but let that thought cross through my mind.

And I guess that is the whole point of this blog. 

Cause someone once told me that shared embarrassment, is embarrassment lessened, that shared craziness, is craziness lessened.

Because I guess my point is, that maybe the only embarrassing way to laugh at yourself, is to do it by yourself.

So if you like that one, make sure you ask my Dad about the time I forgot to wear socks to a soccer game...

Annnnd when I say socks... it's possible I mean shorts... 

Your turn...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Little About Elephants, and a 100th Blog Entry

So next to humans, dolphins and primates, elephants are said to have the highest intelligence in the animal kingdom. Their brains, at a weight of 11llbs, are the largest of any land dwelling species. And aside from their impressive brain size, it is also believed that elephants can feel complex emotions such as grief, altruism, and even compassion to name a few. Elephants are also one of only four other species to possess the ability of self-recognition, the test for which was created based on the workings of Charles Darwin.

In this test, a scientist places a mirror in front of the animal, having placed an odorless dye spot on an accessible but not readily visible part of the body (i.e. under the armpit, behind the shoulder.). If the animal is able to make the connection between what it sees in the mirror to find the dot on it's own body, it is determined that the subject knows the image in the mirror is its own.

In addition to this, Elephants also live up to the legend of having an incredibly skilled memory. A female elephant, it is said, can remember an entire lifetimes worth of feeding grounds, and places to find water during times of drought. Something that becomes critical as female elephants mature, and take their role as leader of the herd.

But, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the elephants memory is the way it is utilized by the male gender. Male elephants stay with the herd for the first years of their lives until they reach adolescence and head off into a solitary lifestyle. They remain out on their own until they reach the age of maturity and look to mate with females. This mating process is complicated by the fact that female elephants are only able to conceive a few short days out of the year, causing a high level of competition amongst the male population.

This competition, as males square off against one another for the right to mate with the fertile female, can become quite violent, and in some cases even deadly. However, it said that one of the evolutionary reasons behind why elephants have such tremendous memories is due to this mating practice. You see, as children in the herd, these male elephants "play fight", sparring off with each other. It is said that a male elephant can recognize up to 200 other elephants. And because of this, when confronting another male, they can recall from when they were children whether or not they are able to overpower the opposing elephant. This way the elephant can avoid dying or being injured by another male that they already know be to a stronger adversary, unless, of course, one thing happens...

They forget.

Now you may be wondering what the hell any of this has to do with anything, but if you'll bear with me for a moment, I think I can loop it back.

As you read above in the title, this entry constitutes my 100th blog post. And as a result it got me thinking about not only the preceding 99, but the journey in general along the way. When I started this blog I had little intention of sharing it with many people, let alone posting it to facebook. But I must say, the more people seem to read it, the more I get to have these very nice conversations, discussing some kind idea or memory that I've written about here, which I love.

But truth be told, as wonderful it is to have people care enough to take the time to read these entries, in all honesty this blog serves a rather different undertaking. And as nice as it is to hear people to say that they liked a particular post, or that in some small way it might have helped them to look at something a little differently, the bottom line is that no matter what this blog has served to help one person above others.

Which brings me back to elephants.

Cause you see, its not that these male elephants don't know that they are about to engage in a fight that they can't win, cause they do. They can recall from previous experience from their "childhood" when a particular elephant is physically superior. The problem isn't that they don't know, its that they forget. They forget.

And I think, in that sense, they are a lot like us.

Because, I guess, sometimes the advice, the insight, that we need on any given day, aren't aren't new lessons we need to learn, but rather old lessons that we need to remember.

And that's what this blog is. It's my way of talking to the one person who is most likely to forget, the one person who needs to hear all of this stuff the most.

Me.

So for my 100th blog entry, instead of trying to come up with some kind of exaggerated, extrapolated (and likely full of shit), new life lesson, I've decided to attach the links to five of my previous entries. Entries that may not be my favorite, or the most poetic, but ones I've found to be the most important to me.


http://runningasiseeit.blogspot.com/2011/07/toilets-self-pity-diving-board-and.html


http://runningasiseeit.blogspot.com/2011/07/icarus.html

http://runningasiseeit.blogspot.com/2011/08/last-friday-night.html

http://runningasiseeit.blogspot.com/2011/08/mornings-on-bridge.html

http://runningasiseeit.blogspot.com/2011/12/of-underdogs-long-shots-and-dark-horses.html

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and gives me an excuse to write it....

Catch you all in 101...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And now... A Valentine's Day Message

Happy Valentine's Day everyone, on this the highest of holy hallmark holidays.

So I guess it's no secret that this holiday was born out of the greeting card/flower industry, which seems to be an oft repeated line by those who aren't filled with the Valentine spirit. And it is true that Valentine's Day as we know it has been a day known more chocolate and roses than anything else, since the 1950s. But it is also true that this holiday was around long before this time, with it's own history.

For starters, you may know, or have guessed that Valentine's Day refers to St. Valentine, but you may not have known that it actually refers to multiple St. Valentines. Two to be specific, St. Valentine of Rome, and St. Valentine of Terni, hence why it is called Valentine'S day, and not Valentine Day. They were both martyrs killed for the faith during the time of the Roman Empire, not exactly the most romantic of events.

However, it was in the legend of Valentine of Rome that the seeds of what we celebrate each February 14th began.

The story has it that St. Valentine was jailed and tortured under Roman rule by Emperor Claudius II himself. As legend goes Valentine was tortured in an attempt to coerce him to recant his Christian faith and convert to Roman Paganism, to which he refused, and was sentenced to death. During his imprisonment, as he awaited his execution it is said that he performed a miracle healing the blind daughter of his jail. The following day, prior to his death Valentine sends a letter to the young girl who can now see. It is a brief note, and at the bottom it is signed, "From your Valentine". And was, if you believe in history, the first Valentine ever to be sent.

From there, the tradition of sending a letter or Valentine to those close to you was born. And several centuries later during the renaissance of poetry and art, it took on the romantic feel that exists to this day.

And I'm not exactly sure why all of this is relevant, but I guess I just like the story. I think I like that this holiday that so easily gets boxed into a corner of a box of chocolates actually has some greater significance beyond what they sell in the greeting card aisle. I think I just like that the roots of it run deeper than just an Ashton Kutcher movie. Maybe I just like the story.

Either way, it got me thinking.

I started thinking about the relationships I have in my life, and do my best to block out the visions of Zales commercials that bombard ESPN through out the month. And I kept coming back to one thing that seems to be applicable to runners, and maybe to everyone really.

I kept coming back to one relationship that I tend to overlook.

I'll be honest, I am very lucky to have a wide array of relationships. I'm a brother, son, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, co-worker, etc... And on any given day, my performance with each of them fluctuates, but I'd like to think for the most part I do reasonably well. But it's not any of these relationships that I was referring to above.

Instead I was referring to the person I can be the hardest on. The person that I judge the harshest. The person that I cause the most pain.

Myself.

So there it is, my Valentine's Day message in a nutshell.

Because I think we as runners can frequently overlook potentially the most beautiful aspect of this hobby we have. That just what a truly incredible gift it is to give ourselves, this gift of running. Cause it seems we, or at least I, can get caught up in this quest to run faster or farther, and lose sight of beauty that exists in caring about your own health, your own body enough to just run at all. Cause maybe we insulate ourselves with other runners, and forget lacing up a pair of shoes and heading out into the morning or night is something rare, and something to be commended.

And maybe the greatest love letter, the greatest display of love doesn't come in a box of chocolates, bouquet of flowers, or hallmark card. Maybe it comes in a form not so easily packaged, maybe the greatest display of love we give ourselves as runners, is to love ourselves enough to run.

Love always, your Valentine...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Biggest Fan

"Nice play, Daniel!"

My ears perk up at the familiar voice calling out from the sidelines. A voice that I had heard so many times on that same soccer field. A voice that would carry clear above the others in the crowd and straight to my ears. Always using the name "Daniel", and occasionally followed by a faint whistle.

And this particular cheer was no exception.

(Whistle)

There it was, the soft airy whistle, that I heard a thousand times before. I look over at the sideline, and scope out the face from which these cheers had emanated. I pick out the proud smile, glowing amidst the others. I draw my focus away from the game for a brief moment, and as I had done many times before, let my own voice, and familiar words ring back to her.

"That was Matt, Mom."

I glance back across the field to another blonde haired player on my team, my friend Matt, who had just expertly won the ball back for our team. With a sigh, I shrug and continue to play.

Now I don't bring up this story to embarrass my mom, to critique her "finger whistle", or comment on her ability to tell her son apart from others. Instead, I bring up this story for a much different reason, a reason that might best be summed up in the words of Matt, himself.

"Dude, I love your Mom." 

Though I must also note, in her defense, Matt and I did look a lot alike, I wore #13 and he #12, and played a similar position. And in the interest of full disclosure, his mom did her fair share of cheering for me on accident as well.

But like I said, this really isn't a blog about my mom cheering for me (or Matt) at a soccer game. It's instead a blog about cheering in general, about what it means to be the fan on the sideline, and if you/she will allow it, a little bit about one fan in particular.

My mom.

You see my mom has always been a great fan on the sideline, a job she takes very seriously. Her role as chief organizer in the family has earned her quite a distinction. And the longer my running career has transpired the more seasoned she has become, boiling the road side cheer down to a science.

I recall the first few races I ran, she would have a long list of questions. Where I wanted her to stand, if I wanted her to hold a banana, or if she should wear her infamous bright, orange "hunting" jacket so I could spot her more easily. Today her questions aren't even questions, she merely picks a few mile markers, and a side of the road (left or right), then gives me a heads up.

But, I guess since you've already read the title of this blog you've probably been able to figure out where I am going with all of this, though potentially not in the way you might think.

You see, it's not these specific cases that make my mom my biggest fan. It's the not signs that she has held during marathons, or the fact that she manages to put a personal message on each, in a way that only I can appreciate. It's not the number of times she watched my 5th grade play. It's not the basketball games she witnessed as I worked to defend the opposing point guard, all the while fighting off heat stroke in that turtleneck I wore under my jersey. It's not the soccer tournaments, tee ball games, or even the various graduations or commencements.

No, it's not the times when her voice or applause were part of a larger crowd, but rather the times when they weren't a part of any, when the crowd was much smaller, when the crowd was just her.

Cause it seems to me the measure of any fan comes not during the bright lights of soccer games or marathons, but the times in between. The times or moments after the crowd has left, or maybe more importantly before the crowds showed up at all.

Because it's simple to cheer for the boxer after he has won the fight, that's the easy part. It's much harder to cheer for the other guy, the guy laying flat on the canvas.

And that's my mom.

My mom is the one who roots for the underdog, the one who never gives up on the guy who is about to be counted out. The one who stands with a team in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, for those without a voice, be it the uninsured children or families who need food stamps.

The one who stands next to a boy, hopelessly lost on his own journey, laying flat on his own canvas, after the crowds have long since gone, cheering for him to get up.

This blog is dedicated to my biggest fan, my mom, and the woman who got me up.

Happy Birthday Mom.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Of Football, Shoe Laces, Alarm Clocks, and Scars

Chapter One- The Man in the Khaki Hat

"You mind if I run with you, today?"

My question takes the elevator seven inches or so up to the waiting ears of Harry.

"No, not at all."

His trademark deep, professional voice responds. He continues to bounce in places, his arms swing around from side to side. We stand amongst the rest of the group for a few more moments on this morning that can't seem to make up it's mind between cold and pleasant, in this winter that seems unwilling to do the same. I explain to him that I'll link up with him around the two mile mark, and he nods back to me in his light khaki colored hat bearing the cursive red lettering spelling out "Saint John's Hospice".

As a group we head off down the narrow paved path that winds around the Art Museum. Runner's begin to section off into smaller clusters, a natural selection of sorts where individual paces pair people off like an athletic version of speed dating. I linger in the pack behind the leading group, serving as navigator to the beginning of the eight mile route.

Our clump of runner's thins together, snaking along the precariously lacking sidewalk of the Spring Garden bridge. I peak my head back at the staggered segments behind me.

A series of females in vibrant, matching zip-ups engage in a light hearted conversation. A wiry man with wide hazel eyes jogs next to a smiling brunette in a glowing pink top. And between them in this train of runners in the lone figure of Harry, his height distinguishes himself. He climbs the short incline by himself, his arms moving calmly at the sides of his black on black sweatsuit. His stern gaze elevated slightly, a quiet determination fixed across his aged and tan skin.

I fall back in line into the current of runners, letting my attention slip back to the topics of discussion at hand.


Chapter Two- "Mhmm"

"Keep it up guys"

I throw a few words of encouragement as another pair of runner's slip between the exiting grocery store customers and a small dog tied to a bike rack. I stand on the corner of 23rd and South St., soaking in the sun peeking over the city blocks, and the couple of stares from a collection of people waiting at a bus stop.

Another few runners pass by me as my eyes catch a glimpse of a khaki hat steadily descending his way towards me. He tips his head slightly, acknowledging me, and like a car merging onto a highway, I pull up aside him.

"Sorry, I wanted to make sure everyone knew where they were going."

"Mhmm."

He extends his left fist, wrapped in a black fleece glove, and I meet it with my own. Harry speeds up ever so slightly, and we make it through the yellow light that loomed in front of us. He glances back at me and we settle back into a steady pace.

"It's nice to be out this early, a couple more hours and these sidewalks would be packed."

"Mhmm."

"This is a tough street to run on unless you like weaving in and out of people."

"Yeah."

"I do this run a lot though, considering I only live a few blocks back that way."

"Mhmm."

Silence hangs for moment, pierced only by the patter of our shortened strides, and the focused sound of Harry's breathing.

"Guess that's the benefit of getting up this early, though I can't say I was thrilled when that alarm clock went off."

"Yeah."

"You didn't like your alarm clock either?"

"I was up already."

"Gotcha."

I sneak a look at the street sign as we pass over 19th street.

"I'm not sure I tied my shoes tight enough."

"Mhmm."

"I read in a running magazine that you'd be surprised how often we tie our shoes incorrectly."

Silence.

A sinking feeling begins to knot in my stomach, as I begin to foresee the prospects of six more miles of strained conversation. My memory flashes back to a grey skied day in early fall, and Harry. Where huddled in a crowd on a clanging metallic set of bleachers, Harry screamed out at a football game being played before us. Harry scoffed at the play selection, and coaching decisions, and offered his own unique brand of encouragement by exclaiming "Suck Mud!" to the tired and weary team a few yards away. "Surely" I think to myself, "he will talk about football."

"Any interest in the Super Bowl tomorrow?"

"Not really."

"Oh boy", my brain leaps into calculator mode, assessing just how long it will take us to finish the remaining miles, and be released from this exercise in futility. Quiet reigns over the next block or so, when something registers in my brain alerting me that something isn't right here. Another few steps and I note the audible inhales and exhales of my friend. I peer over at him, and there is it. Harry's lips pursed together, his peppered black mustache barely moving.

"He's breathing with his mouth closed.", I note in my head.

"Harry, I notice you are running with your mouth closed, are you doing that on purpose."

"Yes. I'm preparing for the race next month. I'm keeping my mouth closed in the early miles to keep my breathing calm and steady. I'm waiting for the second half of the run to open it"


Chapter Three- The Second Half

The combined laughter from the two of us startles a man walking to his car as Harry and I make a left turn onto Front St. Our strides quickly adjust to the bricks that now serve as the terrain beneath our feet.

"But since I've lived at Saint John's, I've never spent a whole day inside."

Harry's deep voice cuts out as he finishes his thought. And before the second thought crosses my mind, a joke of my own slips out.

"Harry, that's pretty cool. And that's coming from someone who used to not leave his house for weeks at a time."

My words hang in the air. And in this pause, Harry's voice cautiously slips through the window I've inadvertently left open.

"When was that?"

And as we wind our way north, with the view of the Delaware River to our right, a voice within me wills me to tell the truth. And for the second time on this six mile trek, I monopolize the conversation. The sparsely populated section of Front St., ever so slightly bends upwards, as I begin to weave a story of my own. Of days and nights past, eventually settling on one particular day, May 31st, the darkest of days in a series of once darkest days preceding it.

The final syllables of my monologue make their way to Harry's ears, before a brief pause is punctuated with a familiar response.

"Mhmm."

We jog side by side for a few moments, making another left turn onto Race St., in the shadow of the light blue beams of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Our legs fight back against the hill that leads us back west, and I wonder if the silence that now envelops us can be blamed so easily on the incline, or the story that led to it. And as my mind struggles to find the appropriate joke or segue to another topic that sound returns.

"Mhmm. You know..."

And just like that it began.

And for the next three miles, a conversation plays out. Harry's voice delves into his own story, an emotional tale of different similarities.

And as we run with the trappings of homelessness as our backdrop, Harry traces his way through a life that led to his own. His voice strong and sturdy as we pass men and women wrapped in down blankets, warming themselves on steam grates. He catches me off guard with words like "Forgiveness" as I stare off at a line of hooded sweatshirts and coats leading back from a soup truck across from Logan Circle. And I note the increase in pace as we pass by a nondescript brick building with a large green steel door, an altogether unremarkable structure hidden in the heart of Chinatown, a building, a shelter that also happens to be his home.

We wrap our way down the back side of the Art Museum path, completing our eight mile run with a solid burst of finishing speed. Harry's chest heaves beneath his zip-up, as he offers me one final fist bump.

"Great run."

"Mhmm."

Epilogue- I'll Show You Mine

So in the course of writing a log there are certain runs, or moments that seem to stick out to you as worthy of further review. This morning seemed to have a few.

This could have easily be a blog about Harry running eight miles, three miles further than he had ever been before. And training for a half marathon, and a homecoming to the place and city where he grew up. But it's not.

This could very easily be a blog about Harry, and his story. His story of heartbreakingly cliche abuse. Abuse at the hands of those who were supposed protect him, abuse by those who he should have been able to trust, and eventually and possibly most tragically, by someone who couldn't possibly have known any better, abuse by Harry himself. But it's not.

It's not about any of these.

Cause, if I'm allowed to make an assumption, I think we all wince in the face of these stories, these scars. We hear them, or see them, and can't help but feel as though we have little right to. We can't help but hear these stories, and feel the gross injustice and the discrepancy between the lives we led, the lives they have.

And while I'll admit that everyone has scars of their own, it's almost impossible not to notice that some scars are cut much deeper.

And while this blog could be about these discrepancies, these differences, it's not.

Instead it's about the similarities, and the lesson Harry taught me.

Cause I was right, some scars are bigger, some scars are scarier and deeper and uglier. But the funny thing about them, the tricky thing about scars is that we all have them. Because maybe what is important is not the type of scar itself, but rather that we have them at all.

And thats the lesson of that morning with Harry.

Because it seems the best way to have someone show you their scars, is to show them yours.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Runner's Prayer

Today, we seek to remember that the starting line is wherever we are standing, but the finish is wherever we choose...
Today, we strive to strengthen the most important muscle, the heart...
Today, we will run towards something, and not away from it...
Today, we vow never to run by ourselves, but to always remember those that are running with us, even when we're alone...
Today, we run not to lose anything, be it weight or finishing time, we run instead to find, to find ourselves...
Today, we run because we choose to...
Today, we focus on the most important step there is, the next one...
Today, we run not to feel free, but because we are free...

And Today, we run on borrowed strength, strength that cannot be killed, for it belongs to none of us. It is not ours to keep, but rather to pass between us, when needed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dreams

So every Wednesday at eight o'clock I have a commitment in Bryn Mawr, not far from my parents house. And rather than drive home around ten o'clock, I usually just bring an extra set of clothes and crash there for the night, and drive to work in the morning.

Now the room I stay in bears little resemblance to the room I once called "mine". The carpet has been replaced, it has a new paint job, the configuration of furniture is different, and as my mom would be quick to point out, you can actually see the floor, unlike the days when it was used as a de-facto dresser. And all of these differences are evident from the moment you walk in.

But sometimes, in the still of the night, after I've turned off all of the lights, and I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, I can suddenly recognize the room I once knew so well.

I can trace the subtle shadows left by the lines of wall paper above my head, the slight smudge on the light fixture in the center of the ceiling, and the miniscule errant brush stroke from a previous paint job in the far right corner.

Cause it seems for as many makeovers as this room has endured, the ceiling has remained the same as it was a few years ago. It remains unchanged from all of those nights I lay awake staring up into the late night darkness. Nights that were just a few years ago, but on any given day can feel like yesterday, or an eternity ago.

But regardless, it's never very hard to remember what those nights used to feel like. I can very easily summon the feelings that were associated with the pain that existed in just being me. The pain of the day, and the pain of laying there having spent, or in my case, wasted another one. The pain that can be defined as easily with words we all know like "loneliness" and as impossible to define as words we may never understand like "loneliness".


And it was in the cascade of that pain that these moments laying in bed would exist. Moments where I would lay there and daydream of the dreams I would have that night. Dreams that had little to do with the reality, the personal prison that I had lost myself in. Dreams of girlfriends and parties. Dreams of Academy Awards, and World Cup Finals.

Dreams of friends, success, respect, and achievement, which would last until I woke up, and maybe, if I was lucky, for those first five seconds or so that we all need before we realize we were just dreaming.

But I guess dreams are tricky like that.

I recently overheard someone use a phrase that I've heard relatively consistently over the past few years. The phrase or term "Beyond your wildest dreams...".

This is a pretty bold statement, referring to something beyond my wildest dreams. Clearly the person who said this hasn't been privy to the recurring dream I have where a kangaroo with boxing gloves is trying to break into my bedroom and attack me. And they probably weren't there last night when I was standing in the White House as Obama was passing out a Thanksgiving Turkey he had cooked (though he confessed to me that he thought he overcooked it, to which I responded "I'm sure it's okay Mr. President.").

But you and I already know that when this term "Beyond your wildest dreams" is used, that they aren't talking about wildest as in craziest.

I'm also guessing that you are assuming that I brought up this whole notion of dreams for more than just talking about Obama's ability to cook a turkey. And you'd be right.

Cause I guess I've had a different experience with dreams since those days of staring at light fixtures, and brush strokes. Cause I guess I've learned a few things about dreams since then.

I've learned that dreams are like popcorn, best shared with those around you. I've learned that dreaming of kangaroos attacking you means that I think someone is attacking my character or reputation (thanks dreammoods.com). I've learned that dreams aren't something to be afraid of. I've learned that having dreams, was once something that was beyond my wildest dreams
And I've learned that greatest dreams we have, come not when we are asleep, but rather when we find the courage to have them when we are awake.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Other Friend John

"When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life...

 I can still hear the rap of his knuckles banging on my first floor window. And I can still hear the voice in my head, screaming "Fuck!". I'd summon the strength to lift myself off the couch, walk over to my front door. And there he'd be, smiling, bouncing with his trademark headband. I'd invite him in for a few minutes as I finished tying my own running shoes, and fighting the urge to make up some excuse to avoid our Friday night hill workout.

My intent would continue to waffle, as my friend John would pace excitedly through out my apartment, smiling all the while.

And this is how he will forever remain in my mind, bouncing in excitement in the face of a hill workout.

My friend John, the consummate optimist.

And while I can't claim to have known him for a very long time, I can say that we shared a striking bond. A bond that seems to exist when you meet someone, someone just like you. Someone who shares both the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and doubts. And while I can tell you the exact address where I met John, I can say without much hesitancy that it's within these similarities, where we found each other as friends.

And while John has moved to San Diego, and despite the fact that we don't see each other, and we speak less than we used to, it only takes a few words for us to be right on the same page again.

...When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up...

My knuckles knock on the light blue painted door. I take a small step back from the door, and glance briefly down at the quiet Washington Square neighborhood behind me. My partner down at my ankles leaps, smacking his small paws at the front door as though to show me he recognizes who is coming down to meet him. Inside the door I hear a set of hobbled footsteps clogging down a staircase.

The door opens and Mr. Finnius, the yellow lab begins to claw at his owner. John's smile beams almost as bright as the neon yellow race shirt he is wearing, as he cautiously bends down to meet his puppy. We exchange hellos, and John lauches into another round of thank yous for pet sitting. John gingerly marches his way back up the three flights of stairs to his apartment.

Mr. Finnius bursts in the door and takes a few laps around the living room. John and I take a seat in the living room, and I begin to ask him about the race. The smile never leaves his face, as he begins to recount the 26.2 miles he had just completed. And somewhere, as he went through the race, I sense something beyond the description he is giving. I sense the disappointment that we can have when we know it wasn't our best race, the disappointment we rarely share. He finishes the account, and then bluntly states what I already knew, having had the same experience myself.

And then he smiled, and said he would go back and do it again.

...I wrote down 'happy'....

The joints and muscles in my legs yelp with each stride as I make my way down the final hill of this race. I check over at my watch, reasonably optimistic about the time, and weary of the 25.7 mileage update that reminds me that I'm not there yet.

I lift my head slightly and catch the sight of a familiar yellow shirt at the base of the hill standing next to another one of my friends. They bounce in their running shoes, and wave their arms as they see me coming. I shake my head, and for a second a smile manages to break through the cemented wince that has taken hold of my face. The two of them jog next to me.

"You got this man, you got this."

John's voice wills me on, as I make my way onto a taunting 400m out and back before turning to the finish. He jogs along side of me offering encouragement, as I recall only a month earlier how he was the one who found this race for me in a hastened attempt to qualify for another race.

He lets me go, and I make the final turn towards the finish, waving to the other two dear friends who wave their famous handmade signs.

"You got this man!"
 
...They told me I didn't understand the assignment...

These are just a few of the memories I have with John. And I could certainly go through others. Ones of him racing down the Kelly Drive path in 90 degree weather to hand off the baton to me in a mid-July relay race. The kisses he blew to our friends as he wound around the curves of Central Park on his way to an incredibly impressive New York City Marathon finish. And the countless other runs in between.

But the last one I'll share is not from a race, it's actually not from a run at all. It's from yesterday.

I sat at my computer, and the two of us began one of our mini catch up sessions through gchat. We cracked a few jokes back and forth, and I commented on his latest blog post and he mine. And then, in a way only John could, he laid out his plan for his future.

He laid out his bold plan. And while it's not my place to detail it on this blog, I can say it is anything but the ordinary choice. I can say that for anyone else, I might question it, question how safe it might be. I can say this plan is not void of risk. I can say that this plan is anything but cautious, anything but easy.

And though we had this conversation entirely over the computer, and I could not see his face, I can tell you one thing, that in the face of the fear that must exist from a plan such as this, I know he was smiling as he said it.

...I told them they didn't understand life." - John Lennon