Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dear Philadelphia; A Runner's Confession

There comes a time in every man's life when he must face the music. When he can no longer continue to live with the weight of what he has done. When he comes to a crossroads, and must decide where to go next.

It is at such a crossroads, that I find myself.

So here I stand, glancing back at the road I have taken. A road marred by the sins of my past, betrayal, pride, lies, the list goes on. And so it has come to pass that the weight of such crimes has become too great, too much for me to step forward.

At such a time, there is but one thing to do.


So here, in no particular order, is my confession.

My running confession.

Forgive me Father (Bob), for I have sinned.

1.) That time I stopped at the yellow light, and made a face as though I was mad that I had to stop... that was lie. I wasn't mad... I wasn't mad at all. The truth is that I saw it was green half a block before hand, and slowed down to make sure I wouldn't catch the green light.

2.) Those times I looked down at my watch as though I were checking my pace... I don't know why I did that, I wasn't even timing myself, I just do it cause I think it makes me look legit.

3.) I've never admitted this out loud to another runner... but I'm thinking about doing a triathlon.

4.) Sometimes... Sometimes I listen to music when I run... and sometimes it's Jay-Z... okay... Beyonce'... okay... Glee... okay... One Direction... happy now?

5.) It's possible that I don't wash my running shorts EVERY time after I run...

6.) That time I almost ran into someone, and said I was sorry... I wasn't sorry. I was the exact opposite of sorry... dude needs to stop texting and watch where he is walking.

7.) When you asked me "how long that marathon was?" and I said "26.2". And then you asked me "how long that other marathon was?" and I said "26.2". And then you said "Duh, I'm a dumb, idiot" and I said "No problem", what I really wanted to say was "Correct, you are a dumb, idiot".

8.) I don't want to do a "Zombie Run" if I wanted to run away from creepy, pale, odd looking people, I'd run in Northern Liberties.

9.) On rare occasions I give the middle finger and use profanity towards ignorant drivers.

10.) On occasion I lie about how ofter I give the middle and use profanity towards ignorant drivers.

11.) Those times I clear my throat as I run by you... I didn't need to clear my throat, I was just making sure you knew how I felt about you and your girlfriend's decision to take up THE ENTIRE sidewalk.

12.) Half the socks I wear do not belong to me... and quite frankly, I'm not even sure where they came from, or how I got them.

13.) Nothing shows my laziness like my laziness to make a new playlist.

14.) When I say "I'm sorry, I can't. I have a lot of work to do.". What I am really saying is "I'm sorry, what you're suggesting is stupid, and I'd rather go run in 90 degree heat.".

15.) When I get home from a run, I eat... a lot... yeah... a lot.

16.) Blood doping sounds interesting.

17.) Stretching is stupid.

18.) Sometimes when I spit I aim for a sewer grate, and I sometimes I...

19.) When that biker yelled "On your Left"... what I wanted to reply was "How bout you get your fat ass off that bike and we'll see who is faster. Until then Lance Armstrong, learn how to steer your bike out of people's way".

20.) I don't care, that I don't care.

And for that... I am sorry...

Well... kinda...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Weather, Principals, and Kangaroos

So a few years ago I had this dream, a nightmare really.

I dreamt that I was in the apartment that my brother and I were sharing at the time. It was the middle of the night, but I knew it wasn't just the two of us inside. There was an intruder. An unwelcome guest who wished us harm. A dangerous assassin who's sights were squarely set on me. An enemy hell bent on destroying me.

And that's when I saw him.

That's when I saw the kangaroo.

And just like that he sprung to life, hopping furiously towards my bedroom door. I threw it shut just as he arrived, slamming my weight into the door, pushing back kick after kick from the wretched marsupial, each blow stronger than the one before. And just as his last kick knocked the door off the hinges... silence.

After a few seconds I peered out into the darkness, spotting the furry bastard bouncing around the kitchen. Then, in an instant, I noticed my brother sleeping soundly, his bedroom door wide open. I surveyed the situation quickly, his vulnerable state, a miracle that the foul beast hadn't noticed my brother the sitting duck.

My first thought is that I knew what I must do. I must leave the safety of my room, risk the open hallway, and secure his door.

And then, my second thought...

"Fuck him"

And with that, I shut the door.

I woke up the next morning with two lingering feelings...

The first being, no more swedish fish before bed.

And the second being this odd feeling of guilt at the way subconscious so quickly abandoned my brother in the face of this Australian assassin.

Which brings me to what I've been thinking about over this past weekend, and the point of this blog.

Cause the more I think about it, the more it seems to be true.

That it's not that from a lack of principles that we get ourselves in trouble, but rather from a lack of using the principles that we already have that gets us in trouble.

But I guess I should explain.

You see, this weekend didn't exactly go as many of us had planned. A Saturday morning that was supposed to be filled with hydration, and pre-race meals turned into a lazy morning of snooze buttons and cold pizza. An afternoon run, once destined to be a 17 mile tempo race, instead became a 17 second mental debate that ended with "Eh, I'll run tomorrow".

Such was the case of the race that wasn't.

As threatening thunderstorms and record heat indexes caused the City of Philadelphia, in consultation with their Public Health Board, to conclude that this year's 20in24 race could not go on due to safety concerns. And there it was, removed from the hands of the men and women of Back on My Feet who had spent a years worth of time, energy and so much more into planning this race. And just like that, the race was cancelled.

Thus beginning our lesson in disappointment, or rather, our lesson in dealing with disappointment.

And while the cancellation of a race is hardly near the top of a list of tragic occurrences, it did get me thinking about how I, and I guess the rest of us, face such disappointments, or bumps in the road, be them loss, crisis, or even kangaroos. It got me thinking about the ways in which practicing what we preach can fly out the window at the first sign of resistance.

And, somehow this seemed like a relevant topic to discuss, as disappointment of a race that was cancelled spilled over into the realm of social media. As people took to their keyboards, typing posts ranging from understanding and gratitude for a difficult decision, to out right anger and blame. Some posted about returning to run next year, while others resolved to congregate and run as planned.

And somewhere in this dizzying pinball exchange of facebook posts (posts I should know by now are best avoided) about the spirit of a runner, as one that can never be stopped by weather or anything else. I couldn't help but wonder if in this bravado we had somehow lost sight of what so many of us believe running is, and what it can be.

I guess I'd like to think that running isn't merely about risking, or fighting, but rather about something positive, and more over, something that is greater than just one person. I'd like to think that the gifts one gets from running, are gifts that are meant to be shared for a collective good. I'd like to think that races are just as much about the person who crosses the finish line last, as much as the person who crosses first.

And its for those reasons that my better angels tell me that the decision to cancel the race was the right one.

So with that, I'll choose to end this blog, the same way that Back on My Feet ends each of their morning runs, with a prayer who's words I too often say, instead of hear.

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

And to say "thank you" to Back on My Feet's staff, in the face of resistance, for their care, efforts, and above all, their wisdom to know the difference. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Brother Can You Spare a Dime

I’ve never been great with money.

And I don’t mean that in the conventional sense (cents?) of spending too much or making bad investments. I mean that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been bad with money.

I was the kid in 3rd grade losing points on a quiz cause I forgot to include the “$” in front of the answer. The kid who’d blow his whole allowance on “Sour Cry Babies”, forgetting that eating any more than four leaves your mouth painfully unable to eat the remaining twenty. And the kid whose last move in Monopoly was not with the die, but rather with a middle finger and vow to “never play this f$%@ing game ever again”.

So it should be no surprise that, in light of these examples, I’m not very good at talking about money. And even worse than talking about money, I’m infinitely worse at asking for money. But unfortunately in this case, it cannot be avoided.

So here goes my best attempt to talk about money, without talking about money.

To get the basics out of the way, in three weeks four of my friends and I will be competing in a five person relay event. Each of us will take a turn running 16.8 miles, as a team covering a combined distance of 84 miles. The race is called the 20in24, and it is both organized and benefits Back on My Feet Philadelphia, a program that seeks to engage those experiencing homelessness through running. A program I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of for the last three and a half years.

Which is why, before I ask you for money, I want to talk to you a little bit about where that money goes, though not exactly in the way you might imagine.

Cause I feel like this is the part where the salesman begins to breakdown dollars and cents. This is where he or she would start to tell you that X amount of money goes directly to supply Y for the program. And I could do that. I could tell that you  $50 is enough to buy one member winter running gear, a necessary component when you run at 5:30am in January and February. I could tell you that $1,800 is enough to put a member through the entire program, their shoes, their grant money, and everything else that falls in between. 

I could do all of that, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t begin to tell the whole story of what these donations really buy.

Cause the whole story is a story that isn’t so easy to tell. It’s a story that doesn’t always add up.

Cause, from my experience, when it comes to Back on My Feet Philadelphia, the X we give very rarely equals the Y. Somehow, the monetary value of what we spend very rarely equals the value once it is given.

A value that’s much harder to define.

Cause $100 dollars can buy a couch, but it also buys a place to invite your friends to sit. Ten dollars can buy a shirt, but it also buys the name of a team that sits upon your chest. Two dollars can buy a bus ride, but it also buys a trip away from the front steps of a shelter. And five dollars can buy a “50 Mile Medal”, but it also buys something to wear around your neck.

And these values are much harder to define.

Cause now we’re not talking about money.

We’re talking about the dignity that comes with having a place to sit down, a place that’s yours and no one elses, a place where you decide who is welcome, and a place where you can sit with the freedom of what to do next.

We’re talking about the sense of belonging that comes from being on a team. A name on your chest that says you are a part of something bigger, that you are not alone. That you are a member of a family. 

We’re talking about the freedom of a bus ride, a ride that can take you anywhere you want to go. A ride that means you are no longer bound to a shelter, or city blocks that held you back before. A ride that cuts the chains that tethered you to old ideas of where you were destined to stay. 

And we’re talking about the pride that comes with being able to wear your accomplishments around your neck. To being able to walk around with your head held high, and saying this is me, and this is what I’ve done. 

We’re talking about a man named Steve, who received his “50 Mile Medal” in March, and has worn it beneath his coat, around his neck for every single run since.

Now you tell me, you tell Steve was that $5 dollar medal is really worth.

So here is where I ask for money… sortive.

Because, in truth, I can’t ask for money to buy these gifts. I can’t ask you to donate, because these gifts, the pride, the freedom, the belonging, and the dignity, are not things that can be purchased, or even given. They are things that these men and women must make for themselves, an undertaking that, if you know anything about homelessness, is by no means guaranteed. 

So instead of asking only for your money, I’m asking also for your faith.

I’m asking you to donate your money, not simply for the reality of what it will buy, but for the hopes of what it may become. I’m asking you to donate because you believe, not only in the potential of these men and women, but because you believe that such longshots are worth believing in. 

And I’m asking you to donate, to teach someone else the lesson Back on My Feet Philadelphia has taught me, that five dollars doesn’t seem like much when it’s folded up in your hand. But when it’s a medal, attached to ribbon around a man’s neck… five dollars is enough to change the world. 

Thank you.