Thursday, June 28, 2012

Prayers, "Fuck it"s, and Answers

So a couple years ago I found myself in a conversation with a bit of an odd duck. I was standing there with my friend Derek, listening as this older gentleman was talking to the two of us about a variety of things including, for the most part, prayer and meditation. It was one of those conversations that I think we are all accustomed to having. One in which we spend the majority of the time nodding, all the while, our brain is desperately trying to come up with a way to pretend that you are following/keeping you from laughing right in this guys face.

I remember he was going on about the God he prayed to. He was explaining that each morning, or at some time during the day he spends an hour or so, in a prayer like state, where he asks God to guide him.

The smiling and nodding continued.

He went on about the nature of this entity that he believed to be God. He described how this God talks to him, though the voice has never revealed itself by name.

Now at this point, I think I let a smile slip, and in an attempt to gain a laugh from my friend Derek, I decided this was a solid opening to ask a question.

"So, God talks to you, and answers your questions?"

The man looked back at me, his dark eyes set deeply back into his tan, early sixties complexion, either missing or ignoring the implied sarcasm of my question.

"He always answers my questions, just never when I want him to. He always gives me the answer, it's just that sometimes it takes weeks, months, or years for it to be given."

The discussion continued for a few more minutes before the gentleman excused himself, leaving me alone with my friend. And once he was out of earshot, I let out a laugh, shaking my head and turned, expecting that surely I would find Derek to be doing the same.

I was wrong.

I must have said something along the lines of "That man is nuts", or something to that effect. And I remember Derek looking at me for a moment, and in his own kind, accepting way he said.

"You know, I used to think he was nuts, and I could never follow anything he said. But the older I get, and the longer I stay around him, the more sense he makes."

Because, you see, Derek had known this gentleman for a number of years. But I remember at that moment, being pretty sure, that this would not happen to me, that I would ever find myself thinking that this man made sense.

I was wrong again.

Which is not to say that I am writing this, having had some kind of epiphany or awakening where I believe I can now talk to God.

No, what I am saying is, that looking back on that conversation, I realized that my immaturity wasn't in the way I had to stop myself from laughing, it wasn't in the way I shook my head, or cracked a joke when he walked away. No, the immaturity wasn't in anything I was doing, but rather, what I wasn't doing, listening.

And I think about this conversation often. I think about the way the man looked at me, and in the face of my blatant childish skepticism and gave a response that he knew to be true. That this entity he called God, always provided an answer to his questions, even if it took a long time.

And I don't know, I guess I remember it as much for the way he said, than what he actually said. The quiet certainty in which it came out, that he wasn't saying to try to make me believe him, he was merely saying it cause it was the answer, his answer to the question.

Now I'll never be confused for a very religious person, and I can't say that many of the other beliefs he mentioned have had much resonance in my life. But I can tell you that this one part that he said, has always stuck with me.

This idea that all answers come eventually.

And it was one such answer, an answer to question asked months ago that once again had me shaking at this man my head for an altogether different reason.

Though, in this case, this answer came not from a booming voice, or ray of sunshine parting through the clouds, it wasn't from a burning bush or holy book. This answer came from possibly the unlikeliest of sources.

One who wasn't speaking about God, or religion, but of Judges, and a prison cell awaiting him in the morning. And yet, in his words, I couldn't help but find this unintentional answer to my own unrelated question.

Cause, you see, he was telling a story, one that I can't say I could relate to specifically. A story of a series of bad decisions, followed by worse decisions. Ones that had brought him to this point, sitting, telling this story, a mere hours from it's final chapter, the inevitable conclusion.

And while I can't say that I could relate to that specific feeling, of knowing with all certainty that all that was waiting for me in the morning was a courtroom and a trip to jail, I could relate to this idea of coming to the end of a road, one that you aren't exactly proud of, where you are at the point where there's nothing left to do but finish it.

But maybe that is something that we can all relate to, whether it's the end of a rough day at work, a long race that went terribly wrong, or the end of a few years of bad choices.

But my question wasn't about the race, or the path that brought you to this point, but rather, what you do at that end. What you do when there is nothing left to do, when there is nothing left to redeem the road that lies behind you, when all that's left to do is to meet your sentence, your finish line, your final chapter. What do you do during these moments where it's so easy to say "fuck it", because what could it possibly matter how you meet such an end.

And it was in that moment, as this man was speaking that I recalled one of my favorite lines, one that I hadn't thought of in quite some time.

One that comes after the question, of how it could matter how we meet the end of such a failure?

That when the fall is all that is left, it matters a great deal.

And I like that.

I like that idea that no matter how bad, how slow, or how ugly the road that lay behind us is, that it still matters how we finish, it still matters how you meet that end.

That it matters if you meet it with your head held high, to run across that line instead of walk, to walk across instead of crawl, to crawl across instead of quit.

And, I don't know, maybe it's not entirely the answer I was looking for, and maybe I still have plenty of questions.

But I do know one thing, after a night like this...

I think I'm okay with waiting.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Five Stages

So when I chose the title for this blog "Running as I see it", it was for specific reasons. The main reason is that I am a pretty lazy individual and it was the first "bloggy" name that came to mind. It does, however, serve one purpose above others. Which is to say, that it should give the reader a heads up as to what he or she is about to read.

This is not a blog that seeks to teach you about running. It's not a blog that I attempt to write as some kind of self pronounced running expert, preaching some kind of advice for better running form, training, etc.

No, this is really just a blog that I write, as I attempt to define for you and, more often than not, for myself this thing called running.

And I feel very strongly about this because, quite frankly, I don't own any of this information. I don't own any of the running knowledge that I may or may not have. Everything I know about running, is just that, everything I know, an odd assortment and collection of what others have given me along the way.

The obvious point being that if someone else gave me this information, how could I ever claim to own it myself.

Cause in my opinion when it comes to this knowledge, none of us own it, we merely borrow it.

Which is not to say that I don't have opinions on certain things, which actually brings me to this particular entry.

An entry that begins with one such opinion.

Running really isn't good for you.

Okay, okay, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Hey, fuck face? If running isn't good for you, then what in sam hell have you been writing about for the last 14 months?"

So let me explain a little bit.

Running, in my opinion, is incredibly beneficial and can add a lot to a wide array of aspects of your life. The ways in which it can enrich your day to day existence stretch across many different facets, from improved sleeping habits to improved concentration, from weight loss to general well being. In many ways it will touch parts of your life that you wouldn't have ever thought before you began, ways that are harder to define in simple terms.

No, when I said "Running isn't really good for you", I meant that, literally speaking, running isn't really good for you.

The repeated pounding of your joints stretched across long distances on frequent intervals, isn't exactly an orthopedists dream scenario. A prolonged running career, especially for avid marathoners, can eventually lead to a multitude of leg, hip, and back issues.

And on the short term, this practice of running will eventually lead to other injuries. Because the bottom line is that, as a runner, you are asking your body to do things its not accustomed to do. We all do it, whether it's asking your legs to go farther or faster, at some point we have all done this. And invariably, when you are pushing the status quo, injuries can and will pop up.

But this is not new to any of us.

It only takes a few visits to running websites for you to be inundated with links and articles advising you how to avoid injuries. You'll read about proper ways to increase your mileage, and finding the right shoes. You'll also find an array of recommended treatments for your typical running ailments, how to avoid shin splints, or recover from muscle pulls.

But despite the plethora of advice on injuries, the one aspect that they never tell you may be the most important that you'll need.

The advice, not for how to deal with your injuries, but how to deal when you are injured.

Cause if you are like me, you know that the worst part of being hurt has little to do with the pain of the injury, and everything to do with the discomfort of not being able to run. The discomfort that comes when that time you block out for yourself, in the middle of a hectic day, the time where it's just you and your thoughts, the time you get to relax, to cope, to push back, to work towards a goal, to take a deep breath is no longer an option.

Because, in my opinion, that is the more important part. Cause as I see it, most of the injuries that I've had or seen others have, tend to occur or be prolonged, not entirely by our ability, but by our ability not to run.

And honestly, I've never been able to come up with an answer to this question myself.

It was actually in the course of talking to another runner about this topic, that a completely unrelated concept seemed to suddenly make a lot of sense to me. It was in the process of talking to this runner about her injury, and the process by which she was remaining injured that it reminded me of something we have all learned in a completely alternate, non-running related subject.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is credited with coming up with what have collectively come to be known as the "Five Stages of Grief". Originally written about those suffering with terminal illness, these five stages have come to be used in a wide breath of other avenues, in everything from divorce counseling to substance abuse treatment.

It describes the five stages that we go through mentally, and emotionally beginning with denial and eventually ending with acceptance.

And, in my opinion, this is how it goes down for runners.

Stage One- Denial

Upon first signs of an abnormal pain, virtually all runner's will continue to run on it. In my case, I may cut the initial run short, then in an ingenious decision will pretend the pain never existed and run the next day. I'll continue to run, denying the pain, even as it gets worse and worse. I'll keep it to myself, deciding if I told anyone they would tell me that I'm injured.

Stage Two-Anger

Thiiiiis is usually when something gets thrown across my living room, it's usually my watch or iPod, and on rare occasions, a shoe. It's usually when the pain has grown to a point where I can really no longer run, when the pain has become great enough that I need to stop.

Stage Three- Bargaining

At this stage, I've reached the point where I've told a few friends about the injury. And invariably, their advice is exactly what you would expect, and we engage in that negotiation. They say "take a whole week off", and I say, "weekend".

Stage Four- Depression

This is the point along the way where I begin to miss my friend. To miss all of those undefinable things that running does for me.

Stage Five- Acceptance

This one is a little trickier. For me, this is not the moment where I admit or accept that I am injured, but rather accept the reality of what needs to be done to no longer be injured. To accept the actual amount of rest needed, to accept that the race that's coming up might not be the one you dreamed it would be, and to accept that the road back might be long and slow.

But I don't know if this entry classifies as advice. I don't know if this is crossing that boundary that I had set, not to giving running advice.

But I don't think it does, cause the portion of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages, that I left out was the way in which they are used. They are simply used in the hopes, that after giving you the awareness of the stages you'll pass through before reaching acceptance, that you won't spend as much time stuck within the stages like anger and depression.

So in many ways this blog entry was less about me teaching you, and more about asking you to remind me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last Night at the Track

My fingers interlock, resting on the top of my head. The warm remnants of water previously dumped slips out of the locks of hair beneath my hands. The low bass drum of my heart harmonizes with the music blaring from the white headphones nestled in my ears. I attempt to relax my lungs, as the anxiety rises at the lack of oxygen my mouth can suck in. Panic begins to creep through my mind, I continue to gasp for air, while I attempt to tell myself that this happens every time.

A thin strip of sweat and water drips its way down from the tip of my nose. My lungs kick with a deep breath, the pace of my breathing finally catching to the pace of my heart. I glance down at my watch, the curved black digits glare back at me. I turn down the volume of my iPod, my body slowly begins to calm, allowing me to notice once more the engulfing feeling of the hot, still air that envelopes around me.

I continue along the outer lane of the red, rubber track. The sun still sits, perched atop of the suburban tree line off in the distance. The lack of any breeze, allows the heat to climb even higher as though someone somewhere was cranking up the oven dial. I scan the outer rings of the track, I note the emptiness, despite the stray bottles of water and Gatorade that show signs of earlier usage.

I bend down and collect the orange tech-tee shirt, wrapping it around the back of my neck as it transforms from clothing to towel, dabbing it along my forehead. I fumble with the set of car keys from the pavement, the metal of the keys burning the interior of my hands ever so slightly. I pass through the fencing surrounding the perimeter of the eight lane track, tracing my way along the sidewalkless suburban street to my car.

I open the door, as the lingering remains of air conditioning float across my still soaked chest. I flop down onto the seat, attempting to avoid contact between my sweaty skin and car seats. And as the muscles in my legs begin to exhale I shut the door behind me.

So that was the story of last night. A story of the last few moments after my track work had ended, on the first truly hot night of the 2012 summer.

This was not, however, a story to brag about.

Cause I guess, from the outside, from the zoomed out perspective there are elements to this night that could pass as admirable. Succeeding to run despite extremely hot temperatures.

Though, this really isn't a story about succeeding over anything, but then again, it's also not a story about failing at anything.

Instead, it's a story about me, alone with myself on a track. And while, by chance, I was actually the only one out there, that's not what I meant when I said alone. No I meant that, on this particular night, I was alone with myself, with both the best and worst parts of me.

Cause on this particular night, it wasn't about the time on the watch. It wasn't about the number of miles, or negative splits.

It wasn't about the triumph of overcoming the heat.

In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Cause you see, the reason this isn't a blog entry bragging about running through this heat is, simply, because I feel anything but proud of it. Though the reason may be hard to describe.

You see, in many ways, I wish I didn't have to run on nights like this. I wish that, when that heat advisory pops out, I could pack it inside the air conditioning and save it for another day.

But, I'm afraid for me, it's not that simple.

Cause it was somewhere in the middle of one of those mile repeats. In the middle of one of those laps, as the sun beat down on me, and my lungs burned with each breath. In the middle of asking myself "What the hell I'm doing out here?", that I realized I already knew the answer.

Because, the truth is, I wish I could be that person who can take a day off, but I'm not. Because, quite frankly, I'm not that person who can stop, and start again tomorrow. I'm not the guy who can slow down, and speed back up.

That's not my story.

My story goes a little differently.

My story is that when I stop, I stop.

I stop as the rest of the world, that I used to love so much, passes me by.

And maybe that's an aspect of the worst of me, but then again, maybe the best of me is that I've fought enough battles to know this about myself.

That I know, that I don't have the luxury of avoiding the tough fights. I know that, for me, if I duck out when it gets hard, that I'm not one of the lucky people, like so many of my other friends who can jump right back in.

I know that when life shows up, whether its a 96 degree day, or the loss of a friend, that I have to show up to.

But I guess if I've learned anything, it's that not every battle exists for you to win. That not every fight is one that you will end up on top.

So normally, this is where I would talk about how each mile I ran was faster than the one before, and that the courage to run through this heat, and to fight paid off for me with these great splits.

But that wouldn't be true.

Cause the best thing I could hope to say about this particular night, about last night, is that I fought it to a draw.

But then again, maybe that's not entirely true.

Because as some of my best friends have taught me, fighting to a draw may not give you the benefit of a victory, but it does give you the benefit of one other thing...

The chance to live to fight another day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birthday Fun

So this past Friday was my birthday. And growing up, June 15th, was always an interesting birthday to have.

It was a day that almost always (and still does) coincide with the end of school, adding a little extra sweetness to that magical day/week. It made for some excellent birthday parties, as that mid-June weather left for a wide variance between pirate, pool, and Double Dare parties. It would, however, on occasion fall victim to certain scheduling conflicts, the heart of wedding season, or those dreaded years where it would fall on a Sunday, forcing me to bite the bullet and share in the glory of the day with that prima donna known as "Dad", and Father's Day.

Though, for the most part, being born in the middle of June made for some pretty awesome birthdays, as well as the impetus for a mildly schizophrenic former hippie babysitter to break out in random outburts of mania as she would scream "Gemini! Gemini!".

But for some reason, as I grew older, my birthday began to lose a bit of significance. And maybe that's just the natural progression of getting older, and I'll find out that I am once again not nearly as unique as I like to tell myself. But regardless of the reason, it is worth noting that for some reason on this one particular day out of the year I could do without any special swells of attention. The irony being that for the other 364 days, for those of you who know me, I can't seem to get enough.

And that is why, each year, amongst the various birthday traditions that have come to exist in my life, the one that seems highlighted the most is my general awkward responses to that phrase we all hear on our special day.

"Happy Birthday"

And I guess, it should be as easy as saying "thank you", but for me, I rarely let things remain that easy.

But somewhere along the way, I decided (mainly for joking purposes), that saying "Happy Birthday" was essentially the same as congratulating someone on not dying this past year.

So here, to highlight my 28th birthday, is a list of 28 things, in the same avenue of saying "Congrats on not dying", that I do not understand.

1. Why Joe Buck is still on TV, I don’t a single person who enjoys this man. Cause let’s be honest, have you ever heard these words  come out of someones mouth “Boy, you know who I really find likeable and ensightful, Joe Buck.”

2. Receipts. For starters, why are you always asking me if I want one. And secondly, why after you print one out for me anyway is it longer than the fucking dead sea scrolls.

3. Button up flies. Most guys have been there, you go and buy a pair of jeans as quickly as possible, only to get home and realize they have a button fly. Why in sam fucking hell do they even make button flies. It can’t be fashion oriented cause no one even sees them. And it certainly is not convenient. Not to mention all the awkward stares you get at the urinal when you’re twisting and prying trying to get that last button hooked in.

4. People who keep their hospital ID bracelets on their wrists for days and weeks after they’ve exited the hospital. Those things aren’t comfortable, take them off and throw them out.

5.Vanity plates. Hey “RCKSTR3”, I don’t give a shit. 

6. Why someone hasn’t started a company that holds “Adult Field Day”, cause be honest, you’d definitely get down on that.

7. Why they don’t re-word the “Check Engine” light, cause we all know no one listens to that. If they changed it to “Certain Death if You Keep Driving”’ that might get our attention.

8. Why I start so many sentences with “I’ll be honest..” thus giving the impression that everything else I say is completely full of shit.

9. Why the phrase “Shit my Ass” so perfectly gets the point across.

10 Why Americans can’t institute a citizens arrest for those who cut in line at the deli counter, cause those mother fuckers deserve that shit.

11. Why Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole. I mean seriously, the best plan his advisors could come up with was to put him in a hole. I would have loved to have been at that strategy meeting “Well Saddam, the boys and I have put our heads together, and boy oh boy, have we come up with a great plan…”

12. Why emptying the dishwasher is my least favorite thing to do on earth.

13. How to get all of those peanuts I spilled in my car cleaned out.
14. Why I love the movie “Newsies” so much… oh wait, yes I do, cause it’s the best movie ever. #NeverFearBrooklynIsHere

15. Why every single wedding DJ has a weird goatee.

16. How a blueberry bagel is sometimes harder to find than a Toyota Prius with a 'Romney for President' bumper sticker.

17. Where the musical group City High went?
 (Addendum- I googled it, apparently some shit went down between the three singers (two guys, one girl). It seems as though the one dude, Robbie Pardlo was dating the female, Claudette Ortiz, but she dumped him for the other member of the group, Ryan Toby. Turns out, Mr. Pardlo didn't take it so well. At which point we finally got an answer to the question posed in their hit song "What Would You Do?". The answer appears to be, make several physically threatening phone calls, and appear on A&E's show "Intervention" due to rampant alcoholism.)

18. How I am supposed to feel after you "Poke" me on facebook?

19. Why bread crumbs are the hardest thing to find in supermarkets. 

20. Why election ballots have an option to "Choose Not to Vote", as if someone is going to wait in line, sign in, wait for a booth, only to officially abstain from voting.

21. How I completely just forgot to tie my bathing suit and gave a couple people a decent show.

22. Why I just told you that.

23. Why people think I want to hear about their grand kids.

24. Why I can't wink without looking like a moron. 

25. How my biggest regrets from past relationships are almost entirely limited to sweatshirts I've lost.

26.  Why cashiers always give me dirty looks when I tell them, "No, I don't have a CVS rewards card and no, I don't want one". Yes, I know I could be saving five cents on this tube of Crest toothpaste, but damnit, it's my fucking choice if I feel like it, so quit judging me.

27. The ending/moral to the movie "Crash". Seems like the final message of the movie is, no matter what you are racist.

28. How we watched football before they created that yellow line alerting us where the first down marker is. I mean, how did we know before hand? God bless that yellow line.

And one for good luck...

29. That you don't always understand me.

I guess it bears noting that for as hard as I work to understand myself, it's only really useful when I tell you. That just because I know I feel a certain way, doesn't mean you do. That just because I think something, doesn't mean you can read my mind.

So while there are many goals that I will try to accomplish in my 28th year, both large and small, it's this simple one that I think I'll try to start with. 

To tell you the truth about how I feel... even if I don't understand why.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thanks, But No Thanks

So there I was, perched gently in a sleek, black plastic folding chair, vowing for the third time never to return to the tailor that always seems to hem my pants shorter than I want. The speakers voice echoing from the podium at the front of the modern conference area. I take a second to glance around at the faces in the crowd, attempting to figure out which belong to the nine nominees out of ten that we invited to this awards ceremony.

I scan a few faces of the nominees, I note the smiles across their lips and the ones on the family and friends seated around them. I note their smiles, and sense the contrast sitting to my left. The red head with kind eyes, the tenth nominee, and the girl I've come to know well enough to feel the discomfort that lies behind that smile.

So for the sake of that discomfort, I will attempt to keep this blog entry rather brief.

Cause you see, I was lucky enough to be invited to the awards ceremony for the Philadelphia Eagles Community Quarterback Award, an honor bestowed upon someone each year who exemplifies service to their community.

And while I am proud to say that my friend Abby was awarded a $4,000 check to be given to Back on My Feet in honor of her service to this program, I can't say that that is why I felt so lucky to be there.

To be honest, in a strange way, the reason I felt so lucky to be there was because Abby felt so uncomfortable.

And if you don't know Abby, that won't make a lot of sense to you. Why on earth I would enjoy being around her when she feels such discomfort.

But if you do know Abby, I'm guessing you won't need me to tell why an occasion such as this would cause such feelings on my part.

You see, as I said before, this is an award given to honor those who do so much for our community. In this specific case, the service that Abby gives to Back on My Feet. A ceremony where her actions, deeds, and selfless charity are recognized and acknowledged.

The problem is, after listing the amazing things that she does, Abby will admit to none of them.

And that's my friend Abby.

And that's what makes her so special.

Cause you see, for all the beautiful things Abby does, what makes them most beautiful is that she does them all without any desire for attention or credit. She simply does them, cause that's who she is.

So it's a rare occasion for us, as her friends, to be able to thank her, cause usually she's so quick to thank everyone else.

But as I was sitting there listening, I found myself thinking of the same thing over and over again.

I found myself listening to the speaker announcing the finalists, announcing the very impressive figures of money raised, board positions held, and the programs they founded. I found myself listening to the speaker describing their stories, and magnitude of their work. I found myself listening to the speakers carefully crafted description of the nominees and the service they provide to the community.

I found myself listening to the speaker and thinking, "this is so silly".

Cause, there I was, surrounded by these people who do truly beautiful work, these people who picked up a shovel to help, who jumped down in the hole to help someone else out, these people who fight the good fight.

And there I was, listening as the speaker tried to equate a value to it. To assess one mans service in comparison to anothers.

Because the more I thought about it, the one common thread beyond any, beyond the money they've raised, the leadership they've spawned, or the the positions they've held, the one common thread that laid in each of their stories was simply how they affected another persons lives.

And while it's fantastic to hear the stories of the grand things they've accomplished, I'm guessing if you ask the individuals they've helped, they would tell you a much simpler story.

That of one person helping another.

The greatest service of all.

And as I sat there thinking about this, I couldn't help but feel a little bias.

A little bias for the red head with the kind eyes sitting next to me.

I couldn't help but feel as though she was the most deserving, even if she would never admit it.

But to be honest, for all the many reasons I've witnessed as to why she would be the most deserving. The men I've watched her care for. The sacrifices she's made when she thought no one was looking. The example she leaves along the way. The lives she's touched.

I couldn't help but feel that she was most deserving not for all the lives of the homeless men that she has touched, but rather a different life altogether.

Mine.

So even though it doesn't come with a fancy ceremony, professional football jersey, or big check, here is a "thank you" of my own.

Thank you for always showing up. Thank you for never letting me forget. Thank you for surprise parties, birthday cakes, and birdmen. Thank you for listening to stories over and over again. Thank you for late night phone calls. Thank you for Christopher George in my shower. Thank you for the lessons you've taught me without even realizing you were teaching. 

Thank you for being my friend, and everything that comes with it.

And even though you don't know what we are thanking you for...

Thanks for that too.

You're the best, Coodes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Head Down to the Finish

So, if you ask me, one of the greater misconceptions, when it comes to distance running, comes down to the question of it's difficulty. I find, many times, that people who haven't run longer distances tend to make assumptions that would seem to make sense. Assumptions that I am pretty sure I too made, before I began running.

Chief among these assumptions, in my opinion, is the idea that a race gets harder as it goes on. That mile three is a little harder than mile two, and mile four is a little harder than mile three, and so on and so on.

I can tell you from my experience, that this hasn't always been true for me. Because, in reality, on any given mile, I can fluctuate between feeling great, and feeling like death on a stick.


Which in some ways is one of the more comforting and discomforting aspects of distance running.

Comforting in those times when the anxiety begins to rattle around your brain when, at mile three of twenty six, you start to feel like crap. When the thought, that you might feel better in a mile, is the best hope that keeps you from hyperventilating.

And not so comforting in the inverse of those instances, when you find yourself feeling surprisingly great towards the higher miles, causing you to wait nervously, for the other shoe to drop, for when you'll feel like shit again.


Cause it seems to me, that there are only three certainties when it comes to distance running, at some point you'll feel great, at some point you'll feel like shit, and when it's all said and done, you'll forget just how bad/good it was.


Shout out to my friend who so eloquently put that if we were ever truly able to remember just how badly it hurts during these race, we would never actually sign up again.


But in truth, it's not the initial miles, or the final miles that I set on in this entry to talk about it. It's not the first steps or the last steps, but rather a series of other steps, anonymous steps that exist in between, a series of steps that exist within a type of long distance black hole.


They are the steps we take in the miles that fall amidst that gray area. The gray area that comes after we've run far enough, just past the point where we know we can make it to the finish, but not yet at that point where we can truly feel it approaching. The miles where time seems to slow, where the pavement beneath your feet seems to magically morph into an airport conveyor belt running in the opposite direction. Where the weight of acceptance is laid upon your back, as you register the knowledge that whats to come will be difficult and arduous, that stopping is not an option, and that the only thing left to do is but your head down and push through.

Though, to be honest again, the origin of why I wanted to talk about this notion of putting your head and soldiering on to the finish had nothing to do with running. It wasn't until after I had spent some time thinking about this concept in real life circumstances that it drew any correlation to running.


Cause I think, on a broad scale, we can all relate to this idea. We can all relate to staring at the task ahead, to looking it in the face and knowing that there is no other option but to push through. Whether its the last six miles of a race, a blank Microsoft Word document, a taunting to-do list in your e-mail window, or just the sun peaking over the horizon on a Monday morning, sounding the starting pistol to a five day climb to the weekend.


And that's where it started for me.


On such a Monday morning.


Which got me thinking a little bit about finish lines, or maybe more accurately, got me thinking about how it seems possible that, for as much as I talk about the various misconceptions non-runners have, I may be just as guilty of a misconception of something I claim to understand so well.


The misconception about what makes a finish line.


Cause it seems to me, that it's possible somewhere in my infinite, self-assured ignorance, I've actually got the whole thing backwards.


Cause by all logic the nature of the finish line should set the race that comes before it. That the grandeur that awaits finish lines in Central Park, Boyleston St, and The Olympic Stadium should speak to the race that leads up to them. That the prize money, endorsements, and victory podiums should dictate what goes into reaching them. That by all conventional thinking the finish line, and how we finish should define the journey that led to it.


But then again, I've never been one for conventional wisdom.


Because, quite frankly, I don't think that's right anymore.


Because, as I sit here, I hear the voice of a wise older man telling me that "you get out what you put in". That it's not the accomplishment that makes the struggle worthwhile, but the struggle that makes the accomplishment. That it's not the hard work that highlights the triumph, but the triumph that can only be highlighted after that hard work. That victories cannot be given, cannot be faked, or awarded through luck.

That victories are only truly defined not by what you get at the end, but rather what it took to get you there.


This blog is dedicated to those who wake up on a Monday morning, and push themselves through the days that follow not to arrive at their own finish, but to help others achieve their own.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Something to think about...

So I'm not sure if you any of you can relate to having this experience, but I'm guessing I'm not the only one. You might be out with a group of people you don't know extremely well, maybe a collection of co-workers where you get introduced to people you haven't met. You'll be shaking hands and saying "hello", when an exchange like this will happen.

"This is my friend Dan, the runner."

"Oh, this is 'Runner Dan'..."

I'm guessing many of you have been introduced to someone else as 'Runner (insert name here)' before. And believe me, I take no offense, for it certainly beats nicknames I used to have like 'Short Dan' aka 'Danielito' (Thanks Doctora Diaz, cause Middle School wasn't hard enough without you reminding everyone each class that I'm short) , 'Kate's Brother', 'Where the hell is Dan? He said he's be here.', or 'Can' (Shout out to Radnor School District on this one. I mean I know my handwriting isn't the best, but 'Can'? Really? That's the best guess you can make as to what my name is?).

But either way, after you are labeled as a runner, the conversation tends to drift to it, at least for a little while. And if you are like me you'll end up spending some time answering a familiar set of questions. Now invariably there will be someone who claims that they could never do what we do, that they would be too out of breath, or too out of shape, or too clumsy, or, in the case of my mother, too osteoporosistic.

Frequently though, I will get a question that does make some sense.

"How do you not get bored, running for that long?"

And in fairness, they have a good point. Cause if you are like me that was one of the most challenging aspects when I first started, cause rather often it was my mind that tired long before my legs.

I usually answer the same way, that eventually you train your mind to be able to run, just as much as you train your body.

But for the sake of this question, and the sake of an easy blog entry, here is a list, a quick list of things to occupy your thoughts and mind during your next run.

- Can you honestly tell me there is a life decision worse than getting a neck tattoo?

- Do the people who come up with Security Questions to log into your online banking purposefully try to make you feel guilty? Don't they know the embarrassment that arises when you don't know the answer to something you should? Cause thanks a lot Citizens Bank, I don't know what my grandmothers maiden name is... thanks for making me feel like the worst grandson ever, I didn't really want to sign up for paperles bills anyway... assholes.

- Sometimes the greatest gifts you get, are the gifts you never thought you wanted.


- Why, when merging in traffic from two lanes to one, do the people in the non merging lane feel as though they are morally superior to those needing to get over? Just let me in the fucking lane without rolling your eyes, like I'm the young blonde trying to con my way into your fathers will. It's a highway, not your birthright.

- Showing up is, in many ways, half the battle.


- Can you legitimately say that since they age of 12, you've enjoyed when someone has tried to tickle you?

- Be honest, nothing on TV fucks you up as much as those mouthwash commercials that show those cartoon bacteria growing between your teeth.

- The nature of the past is defined more by the nature of your present more than anything else.


- Who would you rather punch in the face? The guy waving to the camera behind home plate on his cell phone, or the guy in front of you in the barbershop?

- There is a movie coming out where Abraham Lincoln fights vampires... Yes, the man who helped free the slaves, and won the civil war... fighting vampires... with an axe no less.

- Freedom is not something that is given, but something that is realized.


- What ever happened to "Phat" with a "PH"?

- Try saying "Apoplectic Epileptic".

- Of all the motivating factors, guilt may be the most over looked.


- Why do people who own car dealerships put themselves in their commercials?

- Why do bartenders get so worked up about people trying to have relations in their bathrooms? As if what goes on in there on a normal basis is so noble or sanctified.

- Sometimes asking for help is more important, in the long run, than whether or not you ever get it.


- If you were incredibly rich, what kind of shenanigans would you pull? If it were me, I'd buy the rights to a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop, and replace it's name with a personal attack on an enemy of mine. "The Jonas Fitzpatrick Doesn't Wipe his Ass All the Way Memorial Rest Stop".

And lastly,

- Why you do this thing called running?

(Disclaimer) If you are like me, you will never really get an answer to this question, at least one that is ever permanent. But I think that brings me to the real point.

That sometimes the question, is more important than the answer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Perfect

In baseball it's done by recording 27 outs without allowing a base runner. In mathematics, according to the Greeks, it's the number 6 and the number 10. In chemistry it's a gas or liquid who's molecules don't interact with any other molecules. And in religion, it's God.

Perfection.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So it bears noting that over the last few weeks, my blog entries have seemed to have been less and less running related. And I'm okay with that. And the reason for this, could be quite simple. It could be simple as saying that the less I run, the less I seem to write about running. But I'm afraid the amount I have run has very little to do with why running hasn't been a main focus of this blog lately. Because, as I sit here, I know that the real reason I haven't been has nothing to do with running, and has everything to do with someone else.

It has everything to do with perfection.

But now I am really getting ahead of myself.

I guess I should go back to the beginning of this story, back to the middle of April, to the start, which ironically enough, was actually a finish line.

There I stood amidst the finisher's area, having just crossed the finish line. And please note the deliberate use of the word "crossed" instead of others like "sprinted", "raced", or  even "ran". Because none of these words would have been used to accurately describe the manner in which I passed over the finish line. Words like "stumbled", "hobbled", or "limped" would certainly be more accurate.

But there I was, at the end of a long race, with both mentally and physically no where else to run. I had suffered an injury weeks before during training, and spent the weeks leading up to the race desperately trying to run, to run the necessary miles, and to run away from the reality that pulsed with each stride of my right shin. And somewhere along the 26 miles that stretched through the streets of Boston, that reality came face to face with the reality of a marathon, and the acceptance of being injured could no longer be avoided.

The next few days were a series of conversations straight out of the TV show "Intervention", where family members, co-workers and friends, exerted their influence over me to prevent me from continuing to run.

And after three weeks, two doctor's appointments, and two bottles of chlorine removing shampoo, I reached a point where I was allowed to run again, with the promise to all those, and myself that I would take it slow, and ease back in.

So that's what I did.

And did.

And did.

And did.

And that's how I've been ever since, like a sailor in the middle of the water staring up at a tall white sail, bouncing gently against the mast, waiting to for a gust of wind. That's been me for the past few weeks, bouncing between the runner waiting for that allusive gust of motivation, and when it does come avoiding the pitfalls of overtraining that leave you capsized.

But all in all, I'm okay with that. I'm okay with the knowledge that one day, after keeping my head down and plugging away, that the momentum that comes from following a training plan will return. I'm okay with the knowledge that these lulls in training are part of every runner's careers, and the likelihood that I probably forget this even happened in a few weeks.

But, in fairness, this was never really a blog about my current struggles with running.

No, this blog is about something entirely different. It's about the lesson that I wish I could say I stumbled upon for the first time, but that would be a lie. No, instead this blog is about a struggle, a familiar struggle has nothing to do with running. This blog is about a defect, a shortcoming that I have come to know all too well.

Which brings me back to perfection.

Because, in all honesty, the reason I wasn't writing more about running had very little to do with the amount that I was running, and everything to do with admitting that to you. Because it seems that I fell into that same trap, that same hole that I have stumbled in so many times before. That same trap that tells me that I can't tell you when I've fallen down, or when I've come up short.

A trap that, in truth, has never been reserved only for running.

That same trap that I've been struggling with all my life. The one that tells me that I can't tell you that I did poorly on that test. That I didn't tell the truth. That I didn't make the team. That she didn't say "yes". That I totaled the car. That I stole the money. That I'm not as smart as I pretend to be. That I didn't have a 'college experience'. That I don't like cantaloupe, or tuna fish. That I think I sound stupid when I read out loud. That I haven't always been a good friend to people. That I'm afraid of what might happen next. That if you really knew me, you wouldn't like me.

And I can sit here and know that perfection doesn't exist on this planet. I can sit here and understand, like all of us, that perfection, or this idea of being perfect is a myth. But, in truth, it's not this myth that I get tripped up on.

Cause, you see, it's not that I don't know that I'm not perfect, it's that sometimes I forget you don't need me to be.

Sometimes I forget that it's actually more important for me to tell you the truth when I'm doing poorly, than when I'm doing well. I forget that I need to keep you around me during the times of struggles, more than the times of success. I forget that friendship, true moments of friendship exist more, not during a pat on the back, but when a hand is offered to help you up. I forget that being a friend is about embracing not just your triumphs, but your shortcomings as well.

Cause it seems the main thing that keeps me progressing towards that goal, that horizon of "being perfect", is forgetting that lesson that you never needed me to be in the first place.

Friday, June 1, 2012

4 Stony Brook

It was built in 1796.
A light blue farm house, perched at the top of a hill, nestled back in the quiet Connecticut town of Westport. The family that built it owned the small farm encased by a stone fence. And there it sat for years, a picture of colonial New England.

The house would survive the decades that passed by, the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a Civil War, an industrial revolution, a great depression, and two world wars.

Then one day, a young couple pulled in it's driveway.

And roughly 150 years after it was built, this young couple would be just the third family in a line to own the house. A husband and wife from Manhattan, with four young kids and one soon to join.  A mother and father. A business man and a social worker. A World War Two veteran, and a survivor of the Great Depression.

My grandparents.

And in this house they would call home for over six decades. A house that they would raise those five children in. A house that would see countless birthdays, christmas sing-a-longs, the passing of it's male owner, and the birth of his thirteen grandchildren.

Which is, I guess, where my part in the story picks up.

But I guess I should start by noting that my grandmother, after decades of ownership, has officially sold the house. And also as I sit here writing this, it's possible that after 27 years, and countless holidays and celebrations, I've spent my last nights under it's roof.

And while this could easily be a story about this, about this past weekend, or about the injustice of wealthy out of towners pillaging, and converting what once was a quiet town dotted with historically rich homes, into a developers wet dream, and one-upsmanships of who can build the next house the biggest. No, while this could easily be a story of any of these things, it's not.

This is instead, a love story.

A story about a house.

And though standard thinking tells me the only way to begin this story is to start by describing the house to you. To take you, room by room, through out it's interior, describing the decor and little details that give this house it's charm.

But to be honest, that's not the house I knew.

And, dammit, this is my love story.

But, I guess it's not entirely accurate to refer to the house I knew, because, in many ways, the house that I have known as long as I can remember, isn't just one house, but many. That despite the fact that this house was constructed 186 years before I was born, in my mind, in many ways, it's seems to have grown up along with me.

A kitchen that first began as a maze of legs and feet, where giants roamed around in the forms of my aunts and uncles. A kitchen that would later serve as the destination of covert missions to raid the contents of ice cream containers after parents went to bed. A kitchen that would one night, not so long ago, provide the setting for dinner at the table I once plunged stray cheerios into my mouth from a squeaky yellow topped high chair, the same table I now sat with for the first time with my girlfriend.

The pool out back, the light blue water that would taunt me with it's slight ripples while my mom would take, seemingly an hour to attach my swim floaties. The same water that would one day provide the arena for raft paddling, "sharks and minnows", and the perceived superhuman strength exhibited by my father and uncles as my cousins and I took turns being tossed into the deep end. The same white deck chairs, that would hold my increasingly pink skin, as teenage stubbornness repeated to my mother for the sixth time that I didn't need suntan lotion. A pool that heard the exhale of an entire family as an uncle, and proud New York City firefighter, having lived through the hell of 9/11, and the hell of all those days that followed, executed a flawless "silly dive", that in it's silliness told us all he would be okay.

The "toy room" upstairs, the converted bedroom, and the closest thing we had to the wild west. The frontier that was as far removed from the rule of law, and parental supervision. The room where anything could go. The playing field for knee soccer matches, pillow fights, and epic fort construction that would make Frank Lloyd Wright proud. The room where you had thirty seconds to calm down your younger cousin, before their silent wails and precursor to the screaming sobs that would prompt the heavy steps of Johnny Law trudging up the stairs towards you. A room that would slowly see the end of playtime, of make believe, and dress up. A room that once held the giggles of playing children, only to be replaced by the silence as teenage cousins slept long into the 11am hour.

The library that held the flickering images of baseball games, playing to a room full of adult male eyes, and one pair of kids, mine. I'd sit indian style on the carpet, doing my best to echo the cheers of a game too complicated for me to understand. This same library that just this past weekend held another group of adult eyes, as the sons of these men sat together in front of the images of an updated television screen.

A backyard that seemed to stretch for miles beneath my tiny legs, as I chased a bright orange foam ball that danced just out reach around my father's feet. A backyard that saw make believe punt returns, as I expertly dodged imaginary tacklers, perfecting my Desmond Howard end zone pose. A backyard in which I learned the value, and next day pain, of throwing pitch after pitch of batting practice to cousins. A backyard that hosted an amateur Olympiad, family wide wiffle ball matches, and an annual leaf raking that we have finally perfected this past fall.

A dining room table that seemingly saw it all. The Thanksgivings, the Christmas', and each breakfast, lunch and dinner in between. The table that held the birthday cake, as a man, body hijacked by Parkinson's, blew out it's candles, as damp eyed onlookers clapped, while the young onlooker in the corner, knew deep down he would never forget this moment. The same table that sat amidst the room, while cramped in bodies lost focus of humid temperatures as they hung on each word of the warm, familiar smile of the white haired lady as she recounted a first meeting with a young naval veteran from Manhattan, on the corner of 43rd and Lexington.

And the details in between these rooms, details you only notice after a house becomes a home. Details like a mirror that you once needed to jump to achieve it's reflection, on that you now need to duck for the same access. A bathroom door that never could stay shut, and hasn't to this day. A rocking chair with a blue padded seat, one that will always elicit a reverence for the man who used to occupy it. An office that once served as a kind of purgatory for love sick teenagers, as they suffered through "family time", and distance from their significant other. A back porch that, despite it's enclosed roof, always seems to have a wet floor.

But I guess I should apologize, for I know that most of you reading this will have very little idea what I am talking about. I'm guessing that these rooms and objects I've described will have little relevance to you, as they are not exactly a descriptive tour of the house, but if you will bear with me for just a tad longer, there is one last part of this house that I'd like to talk about.

The part of the house that I think tell the story of it's nature better than I ever could hope to.

Which is that after you passed through its various entrances you will eventually come to center of it. You'll notice as you approach the flat, rectangular stones that serve as the sides of three different walls that wrap around the heart of the house. And once you're eyes have focused back off of these stones you'll note that what you are staring at isn't a wall at all. You'll note that what you are looking at is isn't a wall at all, but actually a giant fireplace. One with three separate openings, and one that stretches to the second floor to do the same. You'll note a fire place, that in 1797 was built to heat the entire house.

You'll note that at the center of this house, you'll find it's heart that was built to spread it's warmth as far as it could.

So I should probably admit that over the course of this weekend, over the course of this final weekend at a house that I've always known, I kept thinking of that old quote you hear from time to time.

That quote that says, "You can never go home again.".

And I kept thinking how I honestly have never understood it. How it's never made much sense to me.

And I guess I never realized why until just this second.

Cause I think I realized the reason that I never understood this quote because I could never relate to it.

Because how could I ever go home again, when from it's warmth, I'm not sure I've ever left.