Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Drop

My oldest daughter has discovered a few shows she likes on the internet. If it’s a game show or a show where they build houses for poor people, she is there. One of her favorites is “Million Dollar Drop”. The contestants, husband and wife, start off with a million dollars. There are given questions with multiple choice answers. They can place the money on one or more answers, but not all. Whatever money is placed on a wrong answer drops away. They get to keep any money left over after the tenth question.

I am not a big New Years guy. As a teacher, my school year starts in September. Rosh Hashana falls out at that time of year as well. Still, with 2010 coming to a close, I find myself reflecting on my year as a runner.

I had big plans for the year. This was going to be the year I qualified for Boston, in the fall if not the spring. Then life happened, or the end of life, in my mother’s case. Running a race was hardly on my mind during shiva (the week of mourning). I almost didn’t run at all. When I did, I came up short, by over ten minutes. Still, I had another chance in the fall in New York.

Then I hurt my knee. I didn’t think I would get to run at all. It was a blessing that my injury gave me enough time to get ready. Just barely though. For me NYC was a fun run, not a race.

Every time money falls away on “Million Dollar Drop”, the contestants seem devastated. The host reminds them to keep things in perspective. While it is true that money has dropped away, there is a lot left for them to win. Perfection is gone, victory is not. $120,000 is not a million, but it is far from zero.

I didn’t qualify for Boston this year. I can’t deny that I am disappointed. Still my running year was not a waste. I stayed thin. I ran two marathons. I got faster. I raised thousands of dollars for kids who have cancer. I made new friends. I helped get a great organization off the ground. I crossed the finish line with my wife in her first major race. I ran with my kids. I ran with my brother in Israel. My sister started running.

I didn’t qualify for Boston. Still, the year was far from a waste. Bring on 2011.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

I have started a blog. Pass It On! http://middleofthepackrabbi.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bear Neccesities

Running Thoughts #27 Volume 4 -Thoughts on the Road to Boston

I have always looked at the pictures of polar bears (the winter swimmers not the polar animals) with the thought that they were crazy, as well as with a little envy. I wondered, given the choice, whether I would ever try it.

This past Sunday was almost my chance. A friend invited me to join him for a race by the boardwalk in Asbury Park. I checked out the website and saw that after the race there would be an optional polar bear swim. Immediately I started going through an internal debate. On the one hand, I've always been curious to try this. On the other hand, it is freezing and only a nut or a real polar bear would enter the water in that kind of weather. On the one hand ice baths are used to help sore muscles recover. On the other hand, said baths are taken in the comfort of your home where you can warm up immediately after you are finished. On and on it went. In the end, I'll never know what I would have chosen as, for various reasons, I didn't go to the race.

Since then, I have wondering about the attraction of artificially created adventures of this kind. Why is it that things like this never took place before the 20th century? Were people just too busy? Too conservative? More content with the ordinary than we are? Of course, one could ask the same thing about marathons, which, myth aside, are also a recent invention. Some of us, and I count myself among them, seem hardwired to avoid the humdrum of everyday life, seeking something more exciting. This can be a blessing as well as a curse; a blessing in that it spurs me on to try to accomplish new things, a curse in that much of life is just ordinary. While it is easy to get caught up in a book about war, or Shackleton's trip to the South Pole, Judaism, like many religions, demands that we sanctify the mundane.

There are many places I would like to go, things I would like to see. No matter where I go the journey begins inside of me.


PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stuff

What follows are a bunch of random events from the past few weeks. I am sure with enough effort a common thread can be found.

Last week while running, some sort of bird of prey (no, it was not a duck) swooped in right over my head. I spent the rest of my run wondering why. Did he mistake me for a fast animal that he planned to eat? Based on my pace, perhaps, he thought I was turtle. I once read, although I can’t find confirmation of this on the internet, that one of the Greek philosophers died when an eagle dropped a turtle on his bald head. The theory went that the bird mistook his head for a rock. Apparently, birds drop turtles on rocks in order to break the shell. I was running in a cap, so there goes that possibility. I am fairly sure it was not a vulture mistaking my pace for that of a dead man.

Bob Feller, the hall of fame pitcher, died recently. I met him at a card show with my dad when I was a kid. I never asked my dad, but I think it was the one time that I saw my dad in the presence of someone famous where he was impressed. I never could have imagined at the time that Feller, who was a big league pitcher by the time my dad was three, would outlive my dad by almost five years.

I had a situation this week with a student where I had to make one of two difficult choices. I think I made the right one, but I still feel really bad.

A veteran teacher from our school died yesterday. Today the hearse drove past the school so that we could show our respect. She died of the same set of illnesses as my mom. Like my mom, she taught for many years. There is something to be said for quietly doing your job day after day in a simple, serious and understated way.

After I injured my knee this summer, I was in a panic. Only after I learned that the injury was not as serious I first thought, was I able to get philosophical about it. Recently, I started having knee pain again, and I became quite scared. Last night, I went to a PT, who told me it was only minor tendinitis. The more things change…

A friend invited me to join him and an acquaintance for a race this coming Sunday. Between my injury and the uncertainty about the weather, I hesitated to sign up. Yesterday, I discovered that it was a walking race, not a running one. I saved $20. Sometimes the race is to the swift. Most of the time, in fact. This time, being patient paid off. I hope I learn something from that, although I doubt I will.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, December 20, 2010

Welcome to the Club

Theirs a picture from a number of years ago that I love. In it, are my parents, my brother and sister and me. We were on a family trip in Connecticut and everyone in the picture looks genuinely happy. There’s only one problem, with the exception of my mom, to varying degrees, we look like contestants on “Biggest Loser”.

A lot has changed since then. Both of my parents are gone. None of us knew at the time that this would be one of the last times that we would all be together. There has been anther change, this one for the good. My siblings and I have lost a lot of weight. One by one, we have started to exercise and change our eating habits with amazing results. So far, between the three of us, we have lost close to 200 pounds. As I might have pointed a few thousand times, I took up running. My brother who was already a runner, became more serious about his running. Along the way, some of our kids as well as our wives joined in. Little by little we became a running family. My sister’s husband joined in as well, and reached his lowest weight in years. As my sister biked, spun and swam the pounds off, I wondered how long she could hold out as the last non-runner in the family.

Yesterday, as I sat in a restaurant along with my family as well as my sister-in-law who is visiting form Israel and my brother-in -law from Texas, we got a call. My sister had gone out for a little run. What was supposed to be a one miler soon turned into two. Once she had gone that far, she figured she might as well run to the turn around point which was 3 ½ miles. You know what happened next. She had to get back to where she left her car and realized that running would get her there faster. Before you knew it, she had a SEVEN miler in da bag! There was only one response on our part.

Welcome to the club. Want to join us for the ½ Marathon in Miami?

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579
I have started a blog. Pass It On! http://middleofthepackrabbi.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh Man!

It has been painful to watch Brett Favre’s effort this season to keep his streak of consecutive games played alive. As he has grown less mobile he has taken quite a beating and until this past Monday’s game when it got to be too much, he played through extreme amounts of pain and injury. I was reminded of the knight in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” who, as he has each of his limbs cut off by an opponent, shouts out “just a flesh wound”. What makes a man keep on going when it is clear to all those around him that it is time for a break?

That question is deliberately worded. I specifically wrote “man” because in our culture, as well as many others, there is a belief that when a man gets hurt he should keep on going. Quitting, under all circumstances is seen as cowardly, no matter the degree of injury. Famed boxer Muhammad Ali literally kept on fighting until his brain was damaged. Even taking a much needed day off is frowned upon.

Recently, a friend of mine was injured 16 miles into a marathon. His injury was bad enough that he had to walk the last 10 miles. Still, rather than taking a break from running, or going to see a doctor, he decided to tough it out. He figured he could keep on running and the injury would go away. I was not the only one who advised him against this. Many of us pointed out that it was not it to risk long term injury for short term running. Still our pleas fell on deaf ears.

The amazing point about all this was that while I was dealing out this obvious and sensible advice, I too was trying to run through an injury. While it seemed crazy for my friend to ignore our suggestion, was it not outright insanity for me to do so?

Well, I might be crazy but I am not nuts. I finally decided to heed my own advice. I took a few days off from running. I went through a few days of pool running and riding the stationary bike, two activities that I fear one day might literally bore me to death. I have just started running again, more slowly and for shorter distances than usual. I am hoping this injury is behind me and that I can ratchet up my training again. Backing off from running might not make me less of a man, but, oh man, it drives me crazy.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, December 13, 2010

Going Streaking

Will he play or won’t he? Everyone is wondering whether Brett Favre will play in tonight’s Giants-Vikings game. You wouldn’t think it matters. His play has been less than stellar this year, and his Vikings are hopelessly out of playoff contention. So what’s the big deal? Favre holds the record for consecutive games played and if he sits this one out, the streak is over. I remember when Cal Ripken went through the same thing. With him, as his skills diminished, the whispers started. There were those who felt that if he really cared about the team, he would take a day off.

I recently read an article where the author encourages runners to set new goals for the coming year. Among them is to run every day. Start a new streak. I found myself wondering why I should want to do this. Is a streak by itself worthwhile? Aren’t there times where it makes sense to take a day off? Is the person who runs when he shouldn’t a hero or a fool?

For the past 7 ½ months, I have tried to lead prayers at least once a day, as doing so is considered to benefit deceased relatives, in this case, my mom. I have made every effort to do so, even when it meant going to other synagogues or waiting for long periods of time for a service where I could lead. I have worried myself silly when I thought I might miss a day. When I lead the prayers, I find it very hard to concentrate on the words. I am too busy worrying that I will take too long and make people angry. Curmudgeonly old men have complained when services have run 90 seconds too long. Does it benefit my mom if I pray this way, even if I am leading services? Does all this worry reflect concern over one of the last kindnesses I can do for my mom or is it, perhaps, something darker? Perhaps, I am obsessed with keeping a streak alive. I sometimes wonder whether missing a day might be the best thing I could do. Perhaps freed of the streak I could pray again. Maybe acting in a neurotic manner is not the way to honor my mom.

Of course, that said, I can’t do it. I can’t miss a day, at least not by my choice. I doubt that I will make it through the next three plus months leading prayers every day. I am fairly sure that the day is coming when I fail in my quest. It won’t happen by my decision though. I will keep on trying, hoping to somehow connect with G-d and my mom as I keep the streak alive.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Perspective

I didn’t run a race on Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that I loved the ‘turkey trot’ I ran in last year, despite the fact that I loved the shirt they gave out last year, despite the fact that the first thing I did when I was able to start breathing again after last year’s race was to promise to make it an annual event, I didn’t do it. Instead I went to school with my son.

For good and for bad, running is an activity that focuses on the self. At its best, running allows me to think and achieve a balance in my life that does not always come easy. At its worst, running takes me away from my family more than I already am, more than I should be. Particularly with a goal of running a fast marathon, my running is training intensive. For me at least, this comes with a fair share of guilt and some questioning. I sometimes wonder whether I am overdoing it.

My son’s school had a father- son program on Thanksgiving. It was a chance to spend time together and see what he is learning. I missed out on a race. I missed out on a very cool shirt. I gained a lot more than that however. I got a chance to show my son how much he matters to me. I got a chance to prove that I have some self-control when it comes to my running. I got to remind myself that there are many things in life more important than my running. I got some perspective.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Unique Race Report

Although I do exist in two worlds, which often seem to conflict, this past Sunday I ran in a race that allowed me to see the two worlds grow closer together.

I have often wondered what it would feel like to be there at the beginning when a major business venture like Google or Microsoft gets off the ground. While it would be presumptuous to compare JRunners to those companies, I think that I am witnessing something great as I watch JRunners, the organization that is promoting healthy living and running in the Jewish community, take off.

While I could easily describe the race and make excuses for my slow time, what excited me the most was taking part in a Jewish running event which took the Jewish and the running part seriously.

Trying to hold an event that is open to all parts of the Jewish community from Chassidic to non-observant, while also being open to those from outside the community is no small thing. In a community that is sometimes divided, over issues from the serious to the absurd, it is a huge challenge to bring everyone together. JRunners took a huge risk by holding separate men’s and women’s races. While some people would not have participated had this been a mixed event, others might have been less than thrilled at what they considered unnecessary and out of date. Whatever ones own thoughts might be on this issue, I respect JRunners willingness to take a stand. Seeing the heterogeneous crowd that took part in the event was all the proof I needed to see that JRunners made the right decision.

On the running side, the event was about as professional as anything I have seen. From the use of chip time to the colorful shirts and finisher’s medals, everything in this race was first class. Having now witnessed two the first two events; this past summer’s 200K relay and this 5K, I know I am not alone in looking forward to what ever comes next. More than that, I am glad to be reminded, on Chanuka no less, that the physical and spiritual worlds can harmoniously coexist.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Runaka?

It is difficult to feel uncomfortable. Instinctively when pain or discomfort comes our way, we try and get rid of it. I make a point of encouraging my students to sometimes hold on to discomfort, as it can be instructive.
I live in two worlds.

One is a world of time, speed, marathons and PRs. A world where I am encouraged to not just “run to live” but to “live to run”. A world where ads have pictures of incredibly thin people with six-pack abs, where you are never thin enough, strong enough or fast enough. A world where Chanuka is commercial, a chance to buy new things, or wish that you could.

The other is a world of spirit, emotion and soul. A world where I am encouraged to remember that the physical side is not the side that matters, not the side that lasts. A world where I aspire to be a person of depth, to be more like my teachers and parents and not just like everyone else. A world where Chanuka is represented by the flickering flame of the candle, something that is somehow physical and yet intangible at the same time.

To be sure, I can talk about how these two worlds can meet. How in the view of Judaism the physical and the spiritual do not do battle, rather they work together with the former serving the latter. I can talk about it, bring all sorts of examples from Jewish tradition that back up my assertion, and urge my students to recognize the truth of my words. But can I live it? Do I live it?

For now I’ll let the discomfort sit a little bit, and try and think about where I am truly at home.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, November 29, 2010

Unbroken- A Story of Tragedy and Hope

What gives one person to survive in incredibly trying circumstances when another gives in? This is a question that has been asked in various contexts, among them the Holocaust. I have read attempts to try to figure out how some made it through the living hell of Auschwitz, while others did not, or could not.

I recently had occasion to think about this. I just finished reading "Unbroken", an unforgettable book about Louis Zamperini's life. Zamperini, at one time a favorite to first break the four minute mile, put his running dreams on hold when World War II broke out. As an officer in the Air Corps, he saw action in the Pacific theater. After a plane he was in went down, he survived in a lifeboat, with no food and little water for almost seven weeks , and then for two years as a prisoner of war in a hellish Japanese POW camp. Finally, after the war, having become an alcoholic in his attempts to deal with his personal demons, he managed to recover and continues, at age 94 to live a productive life. The author of the book, Laura Hillenbrand (who also wrote the bestseller Sea Biscuit) chose the title to describe the trait that got Zamperini through the challenges of his life. He was, it seems, at least in retrospect, unbreakable.

A former student of mine, a young women of only 20, was found dead yesterday after having gone missing on Saturday morning. I did not know her well, but I have been unable to get her out of mind since I heard the terrible news. Apparently, behind her quiet and sweet disposition, there was a world of pain. This bright and beautiful young woman, who seemed to have so much going for her, had struggles that were not clear to me and, perhaps, not to others. At moments like this, I am left only with questions. I do not know if other students will reach out to me, but I am unsure what to say; to them or to myself. For now, I watch from 3000 miles away as her family, friends, classmates and teachers try to figure out how to deal with this terrible tragedy. I wish I could be there; for them as well as for myself. I hope that now, belatedly, this young woman has found peace through her pure essence, an essence that is unbroken.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keeping It Real

Sometimes, in trying to write deep or philosophical ideas, the truth gets covered up.

I was reminded of this on Sunday during a 10 mile run. Despite the fact that winter is only a month away, the weather here in New Jersey has been fantastic. Although it was a little cool when I headed out to run, the cool air felt great as I breathed it in. As I fell into my rhythm, I passed a duck pond, surrounded by trees, some of which still stubbornly held on to their foliage. Later, a huge flock of birds, perhaps less appreciative of the good weather than I, flew overhead heading for a warmer local. Further on I passed some small waterfalls, no less beautiful for having been man-made. There were ducks in the water, which seemed to not mind the artificial lake anymore than I did.

For almost an hour and a half, I breathed in the air and my surroundings, feeling thankful and appreciative for the many kindnesses that G-d has given me. That might not be deep or philosophical, but it is real.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Long May You Run

Meeting someone who is among the best at what they do is pretty cool, but meeting a hero is more than that; it is inspiring.

At the NYC Marathon expo, I met two of the greatest runners of all time; Ryan Hall and Greta Waitz. I enjoyed meeting two people who made it to the top of the running world. Still there is a limit to what I take away from the experience. While I understand that good genes alone would not have led to their success, there is not much that I can learn from them. While I wouldn’t mind if Asics would offer me an endorsement deal to become a full time runner, I am not exactly waiting for that to happen.

I remember when I first saw the picture of Matt Long. It was not the picture one expects to see on the cover of a running magazine. While he was clearly in shape, his body was covered in scars. I opened the magazine curious to find out who this man was. Once I started reading I was captivated; captivated by the story of a fire fighter who was fit enough to qualify for Boston and to complete an Ironman Triathlon, and then had his life change when he was literally run over by a bus. As someone who sometimes allows life’s challenges to get me down, I was amazed by his comeback. Not only did he survive a near death experience, not only did he relearn to walk, but he ran the NYC Marathon, only a few years after his accident.

I got to meet Matt at the expo. He was there signing his book “Running Long”, which tells the story of his comeback in great detail. As much as I enjoyed meeting Ryan and Greta, I was inspired by Matt. I don’t know if I will ever qualify for Boston or complete an Ironman. I certainly have no plans to get hit by a bus. I do plan on being more resilient, of learning to keep on going even when I want to quit.
Gives new meaning to the term long run.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Family That Runs Together...

When I was growing up, there was a commercial that tried to encourage prayer. The commercial showed a family praying. It closed with the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together”. Leaving aside what I thought of the commercial, or the idea of selling prayer as a way to connect a family, the motto has stayed with me. Recently, as my wife and some of our children have joined me in running, I have been trying to think of a similarly catchy phrase. “The family that runs together, has fun together”? Definitely not a keeper. “The family that runs fast together, lasts together”? Obviously, I have a long way to go.

Yesterday, only one week after the marathon, I, along with four of our children, got to sit on the sidelines and cheer on my wife, as she ran a 5K. Then a short while later, I got to “pace” our 6 year old daughter in a one miler, while her older sister ran solo, not needing my help.

Although my wife finished in 28:30, a time that was disappointing for her, I enjoyed sitting on the sidelines for a change rooting her on. From the first time I ran three years ago (35:28 at the same race) Rochie has given me nothing but encouragement. She has put up with my obsession with running, and the costs, both monetary and time, that come with it.

After Rochie caught her breath, it was time for the one mile run. Maayan, the child who is most likely to run a marathon with me one day, has the makings of a great runner. She is thin, full of energy, and like her mom, very determined. In the past she has done the run-walk method; running as hard as she could, until she could no longer breathe, and then having to walk, before breaking out, once again, in a mad sprint. We decided (by “we” I mean me) that her goal for the race would be to go slower but to run the whole time. While we ran, she gave a running commentary (“Look at that little boy. His t-shirt is almost as big as he is”), while I tried my best to get her to look where she was going. Although her breathing was a bit heavy, and I told her she could slow down a bit, she kept on running. Without 1/10th of a mile to go, we saw her older sister up ahead, who was walking a bit. I called out that she better start running if she wanted to beat her younger sister. She broke into a sprint and managed to finish in 10:29 good for 10th in her age group. 17 seconds later, with a finishing kick of which I can only be envious, Maayan crossed the line, placing 6th in her age group.

As we drove home after the race, everyone was chatting excitedly, even our two youngest who are not yet old enough to run. I tried to work on my slogan (I couldn’t even figure out what could rhyme with “The family that races together”). I couldn’t come up with anything, but I am not worried. We have time to work on it.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NYC Marathon Recap

2:00AM I wake up… three hours early. I guess those two alarms I set were not necessary.

5:35 I leave for the bus with my wife and youngest son. I am glad to have the company

6:15 After getting on the bus, I am greeted by a friend and fellow runner, Martin. Apparently I am his good luck charm as he has run two races with me and set PRs in both. Maybe I should start charging him money to race with him?

7:20 We get to Staten Island. Instead of helping us stop, the volunteer at the bus drop-off waves us on thinking we are an empty bus. Amazingly, the driver gets back on the highway. After a mutiny by the 40 plus runners, she agrees to drop us by the side of the road rather than going around to the next exit.

7:25 I find a port-o-potty. This will be a common theme throughout the day.

7:30 I make it to the minyan (prayers) area 30 minutes late. Certainly not the best prayers ever. My mind is everywhere but where it should be.

8:15 Having checked my bags, I hang out with some of the runners. It is cold. We stand around the few warmer areas trying to stay warm.

8:55 We head to the starting area, although the race will not beginfor 45 minutes. What do I do while I wait? Put it this way. When I passed the starting area yesterday on my way to work, I looked fondly at the bushes on the side of the road.

9:40 The cannon goes off. Sinatra is singing New York New York. Everyone is cheering. Fighting the adrenaline, I start out slowly as planned.

I knew I would be thinking of my mom, but not his soon. I fight back the tears and run on.

Someone calls out “Go Team Lifeline”. It is Ralph, a guy I know who is running for Team Ohel. I cheer for him and say hi.

Mile 2- We get off the Verrazano Bridge and the good folks of Brooklyn are waiting and cheering.

We pass the “Marathon Bank”. I can not understand how they are not outside running some sort of promotion.

We pass all sorts of doctors offices including orthopedic surgeons and psychiatrists. I can not understand how they are not outside running some sort of promotion.

Mile 3- My bladder is getting bladder-er.

The crowd support is amazing, but no one is cheering for me. Desperate for some love, I call out the name of my charity to some Orthodox Jewish women. Scared, they ignore me.

Mile 4- The lines at the porto-potties are insane. There are no lines at the Dominican restaurant. I dash inside.

I hear someone cheering with a strong New York accent and think of my dad. I know he would be out here today cheering for me if he was still with us.

Mile 5- I see someone in a Red Sox hat. I call out “Go Red Sox”. I will do this four more times during the race.

I hear my friend Aharon calling me. Like me, he is running his second NYC Marathon. Seeing him gives me a boost.

Mile 6- The signs are great. Some of the funniest are rated R however, so what happened in New York stays in New York.

Desperate for cheers, I look for signs that are similar to my English name “Marc”. The closer the better, but I'll take anything with an "M". I smile when I see Mark, feel good when I see people rooting for Marco, am buoyed by signs for Madeline and am encourage by people cheering on Madeline. Hey, whatever helps.

Mile 7- It is getting warmer and I ditch my favorite ski cap.

I see students cheering for their teacher. My students are home in bed. I hope the students who were out there cheering get better grades than the ones my students will be getting.

Mile 10- I am looking for my friend Arie with whom I have reconnected through Facebook. I haven’t seen him in 25 years. He and his fiancĂ© are out there, along
with a million other New Yorkers. No luck, although he sees me.

I pass a sign that says “Run like a faucet”. I call out “more like a leaky toilet”. I have no idea what that means but desperate for oxygen, it seems awfully funny.

My bladder is now at its bladder-est. I stop again. Perhaps it is sacrilegious to say this, but I seem to be having my own modern day Chanuka “miracle”; every time I empty my bladder it immediately refills. I doubt they will make a holiday for my miracle.

Mile 11- I am in Williamsburg, home of one of the biggest Hasidic enclaves in the world. I recognize that that calling out “shalom” will mark me as a dweeb. Recognizing that it is the beginning of the new month, I start calling out one of the three possible phrases that might mean “happy new month” in Yiddish. This ensures that 2/3 of them still think I am a dweeb. Apparently some of the remaining 1/3 does as well. I do get a few smiles and waves.

13.1- 2:01 I am hoping to finish in less than 4 hours and will now have to push on.

I am now in Queens, the borough in which I was raised.

Chabad, a ubiquitous Jewish group used to give out Powerade because Gatorade was not kosher. Now that Gatorade is certified, Chabad’s sign says “free Glatt kosher snack”.Glatt kosher means the snack is some sort of meat. I am really curious as to whether they are giving out cholent or corned beef sandwhiches.

Mile 15- I reach the 59th street Bridge. I have no energy. Even when I hit 1st avenue, with its cheering throngs I struggle to pick up the pace. I start looking for signs that are blue and yellow, as those are Team Lifeline’s colors. Fortunately, those are the colors of some cheese company that is sponsoring the race. I pretend their signs are for me.

Mile 17- Someone cheers for me. It is my friend Steve. It really helps. I look up and see that I am by Lenox Hill hospital, the place where I was born. Apparently, good things happen to me there every 39 years or so. More frequent, if you include the birth of my sister four years after mine, which I sometimes do.

Mile 19- I am battling on. I see a guy with a yarmulke and say “shalom’. Yes, I am that desperate.

Mile 20- Somehow, I have gotten my second wind. I head off into the Bronx.
I pass runners who are wearing shirts that say Team Gimelstob. Justin Gimelstob is a former professional tennis player who has a bet with Andy Roddick for $10,000 to charity, as to whether he can finish the race is under 4:45. I am rooting for him. I like runners. Besides, his name sounds vaguely Jewish and when you are looking for Jewish sports heroes, you’ll take whatever you can get. I ask one of the runners, “Where’s Justin?” and he points to his right. I wish him good luck and I pass him.

I am in the Bronx and think of my dad, who grew up in the area.

While I am running, I hear the sound of someone spitting and then, you guessed it, I feel it hit me. I am grossed out. My first thought is” I hope he is not running for Team Dangerous Communicative Disease”. My second thought is “Hey, that’s warm”. It’s a cold day, what do you want from me?

Mile 22- I pass the point where my wife and kids cheered for me last year. This year, my wife is at a Bas Mitzvah. I miss them.

Mile 24- I enter Central Park. I am hoping to see two friends who are watching the race. Ehud, a new running friend, is one of the nicest guys I know. Despite being much faster than I am, he always offers kind encouragement. Melanie, works for Chai Lifeline and has offered kind words and deep thoughts since we met on the plane to Miami four years ago. I don’t see either of them, but I am glad to think of them.
I am pushing it as I realize I have an outside chance at 4 hours.

Mile 25- I pass the last water stop where a fellow Team Lifeline member is giving out water. I never stop that late in the race. I call out a quick hello.

I see a runner with an Israeli flag guiding a blind runner. Despite my desperation to get to the finish line, I go over and say “Am Yisroel Chai”. He smiles and I run on.

Mile 26- I am almost there and I am sprinting. I am going faster than 8 miles an hour. Moshe Turk, who does an amazing job running Team Lifeline cheers for me. I wonder if he thinks I have been running this fast the whole time.

4:01:10. I just missed my goal. My bladder did me in. Usually I would feel disappointed, but I am not. Four months ago, I had a knee injury that I thought would keep me out of the race. Three months ago I had surgery. Two months ago I started training. I only ran more than 15 miles once. I feel good. I feel proud. I am back. I will aim to qualify for Boston in the spring. For now I am happy. Happy that I am a runner. Happy to blessed with a great family and wonderful friends. Happy to be alive. Happy.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Letting Go

When I wrote in last year’s NYC Marathon recap how I almost threw away my watch, rather than wearing it for the race, people thought I was crazy. Would it really have been a big deal to wear an extra watch, weighing less than a pound, throughout the race? Later in the race, I came close to throwing away my empty belt rather than wearing it for the last few miles. It felt impossibly heavy.

A quarter of an ounce does not seem like a lot. Neither does three ounces. So why are running-shoe companies always trying to produce a lighter product? Carry around anything for 26.2 miles and it starts to feel like a burden. You might not be able to quantify it, but every bit makes a difference.

What do you do when you can’t get rid of something heavy? When you can’t just deposit it in a trash can by the side of the road? What happens when the extra weight is inside of you? When it’s not the kind of weight that can be lost by better eating or through exercise? What then?

Fear can be a powerful motivator. It can be the thing that spurs you on to push yourself that much farther. Without my fear of failure, of not reaching some self imposed time in a race, I would not train as hard. There are times when the only thing that gets me out of bed to run, is the fact that I am scared of “failing”.

And yet.

What if there is another way? What if I could somehow replace my fear, a fear that sometimes crushes rather than pushes me, with something better, something healthier? What would it feel like to cross the line in a time I have never before achieved, and wait more than ten minutes before asking myself “what’s next”? Would I run faster? Would I enjoy my running that much more? Would I feel calm during the days leading up to the race? What if I let the fear go? Can I let the fear go?

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, November 1, 2010

Touched by an Angell

As strange as it seems, the last week before a race is the toughest time for me. Although, or maybe, because, running is at a minimum and free time is at a maximum, I go out of my mind. To make matters even worse, it is hard to adjust my carbs-heavy diet during this time and with less running, there will likely be more of me to carry 26.2 miles. This past Shabbos, I found myself reading Roger Angell’s memoir “Let Me Finish”, at least partially, to distract myself.

For those of you who have not heard of him, Angell is a contributor and former editor of The New Yorker as well as baseball writer of note. I knew him as the latter before I knew anything of The New Yorker. My dad bought me a number of Angell’s baseball books, which I appreciated at the time for the baseball more than the prose. Now that I have belatedly discovered the other side of Angell, it is too late to let my dad know how much I appreciate the prose.

Angell, who is 90, writes with a fondness for the past. Although he writes with nostalgia for the people and events of his youth, he refrains from looking at the past as perfect. Although I’d love to feel a connection to my dad’s past as I read Angell, I can not. It is not just the 15 years that would separate them if my dad was alive. Angell’s upper crust Upper East Side childhood, bears no resemblance to my dad’s childhood in the Bronx. While Angell grew up with both a regular dead and a famous step-dad (E.B. White author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), my father’s dad was gone by the time my dad turned 12. Still, as I read through the memoir, I can’t help but feel a connection with my dad, wishing I could discuss this book to him. I dare to dream that I might lend him the book when I am finished, so that we could discuss its content more intimately.

As strange as it seems for a man of 90, each chapter comes across as a blog of sorts. Angell meanders through his past reminiscing wistfully, as he examines moments from his life, as one might examine an old photograph. Each paragraph seems to digress from the one before it, only to be tied together neatly by chapter’s end.

As I read his words, I compare them with my own, and, of course, mine come up short.
Just this past week, I found myself discussing Shabbos with my students. We talked of the real purpose of the day and why otherwise perfectly fine secular pursuits are put aside for 24 hours. Perhaps there was some degree of hypocrisy of reading this book, on the very first Shabbos after our discussion no less. Still, as I thought of my dad and grew nostalgic for a somewhat more innocent past, I felt as if I’d been touched by an Angell.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, October 25, 2010

A World Apart

More than any marathon in the world, the New York City Mararthon is known for the diversity of peoples and cultures one encounters during the race. Each neighborhood has its own sounds, sights and smells for the runner to experience. Still, there is only one neighborhood which tugs on my soul and conscience.

Years ago, long before I became a runner, I saw a great picture in Sports Illustrated the week after the marathon. Five chassidic girls in matching dresses, stood, in age order, holding cups of water for passing runners. Without reading the caption, I knew these girls were from Williamsburg, where there is a large contingent of chassidim. Each year, the marathon passes through the heart of the neighborhood.
Chassidim seem to make other Jews uncomfortable, even those of us who are Orthodox. While most Jews try to cover upp signs of their Jewishness, or at the very least minimize them, Chassidim are openly and obviously Jewish. They dress differently and speak differently, and perhaps most significantly, they choose to remain separate, while most of the rest of us try to integrate into society around us, at least to some degree.

As I enetered Williamsburg last year, I was struck by a change in the atmosphere and energy level. While in every other neighborhood, the runners are embraced by the locals, in Williamsburg, they are largely ignored (or at least given the feeling that they are ignored). It is not that the locals are rude, far from it. Children stand out each year with drinks and candys for the runners. Still, it is clear that, given the choice, the chassidim would love to be able to go about their daily existence, without the inconvenience that the marathon presents.

For me as an Orthodox Jew, I experinced various emotions and thoughts as I ran through Williamsburg last year. While I have clearly chosen to live my life differently, I have much respect for their way of life. There are moments in my life when, overwhelmed by the secular nature of modern life, I wish I could withdraw to a more spiritual and insular community. Converesely, there are moments when I feel embarassed by chassidim and their distinctive ways. Why can't they just try and fit in? I looked around, feeling at once a sense of kinship with the locals, while at the same time, more than most most runners, feeling the sting of being ignored. I watched as other Jewish runners tried to greet the chassidim in Hebrew and Yiddish, but I continued to run in silence.

Although it might seem strange, I welcome the mixture of feelings and even the discomfort I feel as I run through Williamsburg. With more than half of the marathon still ahead of me, I know I will be embraced and welcomed in a way unique to New York. Still, it is this small chassidic enclave with its silence, that speaks to me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Believe

Great minds are lightening rods. You might love what they say, you might hate what they say, but it is hard to ignore what they say. The great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a profound and enigmatic thinker, was one such individual. Recently I have been thinking about one his sayings; “if you believe that you can destroy, believe that you can repair”. Like much of what he wrote, there are many layers in this short phrase.

At first glance, Rabbi Nachman seems to equate destroying and repairing. If so, he is saying that if you can do the former, you can just as easily do the latter. Personally this does not ring true. I find that it is far easier to destroy something than to repair it. Recently, in a film about the Yugoslavian civil war and its effect on the national basketball team, Vlade Divac said “It takes a lifetime to build a friendship and a moment to destroy it”. Fixing something that has been broken is difficult. Even now, two weeks from the NYC Marathon, more than two months removed from knee surgery, I struggle t get back to where I was as a runner. Even more challenging is the fact that the struggle is more mental than physical. I have no problem putting in the miles I need to improve. What I am struggling with is the mental willingness to push hard enough to get back to where I was. It seems that during my injury imposed layoff, I lost something; something I struggle to regain.

So what was Rabbi Nachman saying? I believe he was encouraging us to recognize the strength that we possess within. We have, he says, the ability to change things completely; to go from one extreme to the other. Just as we can take something that is working and functioning well and destroy it, we can do the reverse. We can reignite the broken relationship, repair the broken heart and recover the passion and commitment we once possessed. It is not easy, no where as easy as destroying. Still, the choice lies within.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, October 18, 2010

Of Cleveland, Friends and Runs

We drove about 900 miles this weekend to attend my closest friend’s son’s bar mitzvah in Cleveland. Here are some things I took out of the weekend.

- There is a city in Pennsylvania called “Mile Run”. I was disappointed to discover that it is not a city of moderately fit people. A “run” according to Google is a creek.

- On the way there we passed a sign that must have been put up by the Department of redundancies department. It read “Mile Run- One Mile”.

- That was much better than the factually incorrect sign we passed on the way back. This one read “Mile Run- Two Miles”.

- My wife is even more competitive than I thought. During the ride she told me that if she trained as much as I do, she would be faster than I am. Mustering up all of the maturity I possess, I told her that if that happened I’d either stop running or get divorced. I was joking…I think.

- When one forgets to pack running socks, it is good to have a wife who also runs. Thankfully, they were not pink.

- It is a REALLY BAD idea to eat eggplant parmesan the night before a 15 mile run.

- It is REALLY, REALLY BAD to take doubles.

- It is just plain STUPID to do so, and get less than five hours of sleep.

- Thank G-d, Suburban Cleveland has many wooded areas.

- Fall foliage is beautiful, but there are some things for which leaves were not intended.

- It is good to have a good friend who doesn’t abandon you when a 15 mile run that should take two hours, takes almost three.

- A grandmother can never be replaced, but it takes a special lady like my friend’s mom, to try.

- Watching your children play with your friend’s children is priceless.

- True friends are special. It would have been worth the drive, even if it had been 9000 miles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gift

If there is one quote that is most commonly used by high school runners in their yearbooks, I would guess it is the famous quote from the James Dean of running, Steve Prefontaine. Pre used to run at the front of the pack in order to push the pace, and when asked why, he said “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”. Recently I found myself thinking about “the gift”.

When my knee injury required surgery and a two month break from running, I was extremely disappointed. I had been making progress and thought that I might qualify for Boston in the NYC Marathon. The injury made than an impossibility. Despite my best efforts to keep fit while I was recovering, I put on some weight and lost whatever speed I had. In the time since I was given the green light to start running, I slowly started adding on miles. This Sunday was my first big test. I ran my first race, a ½ marathon, which was by more than two miles, the longest distance I have run post-injury. Despite being more than nine minutes off my best time, I felt good about running well and pain free.

And yet…

A friend of mine decided to join me for the race despite not having run a step in almost three months. Without any training, he beat me by eight minutes. Without any training, never having run a ½ in his life, he just missed my PR, a PR I set with 55 miles a week of running. Although I joked about it with him afterwards, I would be lying if said that it doesn’t bother me. While I am naturally broad, even at my thinnest; he has the runners build. While I struggle to improve my speed, he was running sub-five minute miles in high school. Many would say he has “the gift”.

And yet…

I don’t know whether he will ever run a marathon, let alone qualify for Boston. It is not that he doesn’t want to; he freely admits that he just doesn’t have the level of commitment it takes, for now, at least. I, on other hand, will work as hard as it takes, to reach my goal. If I am less naturally qualified than others, than I choose to work harder to get to the finish line as quickly. Through all of this, I have started to apply this stick-to-itiveness to other areas of my life. Some people have told me that I am their inspiration for getting in shape. I have raised tens of thousands for charity and lost 100 pounds.

I will keep trying. To do any less would sacrifice the gift.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, October 11, 2010

Staen Island Half Recap

5:00 I wake up from a dream where instead of a bus taking me and a bunch of other runners to the start of a race, we are taken by plane. Only thing is, the plane is driving not flying. (Sadly, this is the fastest I will go all day.) I guess I am nervous.

5:25 About to head out the door, I eat two bananas and a pack of Sports (Jelly) Beans. Breakfast of Champions.

5:35 I pick up my friend who has chosen to run the race on the spur of the moment. He has not run a step in almost three months. I urged him to reconsider. I told him that I thought he would get injured. I am really afraid that he will beat me without any training.

6:15 I arrive in the parking lot, where 15 guys have gathered two hours early for a sunrise prayer service. As I am in the year of mourning for my mom, and need to lead prayers, I literally would not be there without their help. I am thankful beyond words.

7:02 The sun rises over the Manhattan skyline right as we get to the main part of the prayers. It is at moments like this where all seems right in the world.

7:15 An old man, who has been running for about 200 years, comes over and describes the course for me. Jewish tradition describes Elijah the Prophet showing up at moments of desperation to help those in need. Could it be?

Clark Kent time. I change from my prayer clothes into my running clothes.

7:45 I figure out the best porta-potty line. Best advice of running advice ever? Get on line right away. When you get back out, get back on line.

8:25 I go over my plan. I hope to run at 8:45-9:00 per mile pace. If I am feeling well, I pick it up at the end. I hope to finish in less than 2 hours. 1:55 if I am feeling great. I:53 if things go perfectly.

8:30 We are off. Adrenaline courses through my veins, or wherever it is that adrenaline courses. I try and slow down.

8:55 I keep on running too fast. I am averaging 8:35 per mile for the first three miles. Up ahead is the Verrazano Bridge, the starting point for the NYC. My heart skips a beat at the thought that despite my knee injury, I might actually make it to the marathon.

9:20 We hit a B-I-G downhill. What goes down must come up, at least on an out and back course. I am not worried. Elijah told me about this hill.

9:35 I spot one of the founders of JRunners, the group that is trying to get the Jewish community into running. I tell him how good he should feel knowing that the group has 20 runners at this race, many of whom would not be running without him. Throughout the race, we shout words of encouragement to each other. Maybe we should be known as the People of the Foot.

9:50 Back up THE hill. I take it nice and easy. I spot three runners helping a wheelchair racer up the hill. I offer my help, although they make it without me.

10:00 We enter Fort Wadsworth. In four weeks, this will be the area where 40,000 plus racers wait to start the marathon. It will feel more like a city than a fort. I think of my brother who ran the marathon with me last year. I wish he could do it again. I guess we’ll have to wait for Boston.

Mile 10 I am feeling good and pick up the pace.

10:05 Less than 2 miles to go. Time to throw caution to the wind. I cover the next mile in 7:20. I see him again. He is wearing all orange, including a huge floppy hat and giving passing runners high-fives. Elijah would never be caught dead in a get-up like that.

10:15 I start trying to pick off runners ahead of me. Hey guy in the all green, you are toast. Hey lady who passed me earlier in the race, it’s pay back time. I even pass the guy who won the race. Of course, he is walking in the opposite direction heading for his car, having finished over a ½ hour before.

10:20 I cross the finish line having run the last 1/3 mile at 6:40 pace. My lungs hurt, but I do not. 1:50:44. It is more than 9 minutes slower than my best, but so much more than I had hoped for.

10:30 I see my untrained friend. He finished in 1:42. It is his first half marathon. Did I mention that he did not train? I think I hate him. At least he is limping. After much inner debate and struggle I decide not to leave him stranded in Staten Island.

I am tired, sore and elated. When I hurt my knee this summer, I never thought I’d be running this soon. The marathon seems like a realistic goal. I wonder what Elijah will be wearing that day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Four Days in October

I will not use ESPN movies to come up with ideas for my blog
I will not use ESPN movies to come up with ideas for my blog
I will not use ESPN movies to come up with ideas for my blog

…starting next week

There are many reasons not to write about this past week’s ESPN movie “Four Days in October”. I call this blog “Running Thoughts”, the movie was a baseball movie. It is a stretch to write about a movie that I watched while running on a treadmill. Even more problematic, I already did this last week. Then at least, it was a running movie. Still, I can’t resist.

First of all, it’s October. As a red-blooded American, my mind is on baseball. Of course, my beloved Red Sox, whose miraculous come back victory was the theme of “Four Days”, are home for the playoffs. Even worse, the hated Yankees are still alive. Second, how often do I laugh, cheer and call out to the screen while running on the treadmill? As I watched the Red Sox comeback from down three games to none, down to their final three outs, scenes I have seen many times since their victory in 2004, I found myself doing all those things. Anything that makes me happy while running on the treadmill is connected to running. If I could have a pickup truck with a screen drive in front of me with this movie playing, I am convinced I could run a sub 3 hour marathon. It is that good. Third, there is pathos in watching the movie. Even though I know how the story ends, I found myself getting tense with every Yankees hit and every Red Sox out. Even more so, every Sox fan they interviewed had the same experience I had when I listened to the game as it happened live six years ago, a sense of certain doom. 86 years of futility can do that to a person, a city and even a region. Even if you are not a baseball fan, watching millions of us suffering fools finally taste victory has got to be pretty powerful.

After the Sox won the series, my wife told me about a short story she once read about a community that spent years futilely hunting a bear. After years, someone finally killed the bear. What should have been cause for celebration, led to depression. They came to realize that the failed hunt had brought them together. I fear it has become that way for the Sox. Real fans bemoan the fact that Fenway Park has become a place to be seen, rather than a place for real fans to watch a game, a place where people come to sing “Sweet Caroline”, rather than watch the Sox. It is hard for me to imagine that my youngest son, the only one who is a Sox fan (the others are Yankee fans, how is that for pathos?) will turn five tomorrow in a world where the Red Sox have won more World Series in the last ten years than the Yankees (note to G-d, please, pretty please keep it that way. I’ll be a better person, I’ll help orphans. PLEASE). The 28 years of suffering I went through before the Sox finally won, were worth it for moments of joy like I experienced while reliving “Four Days in October”.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fox the Phoenix

I have gotten used to not having a TV. I no longer know which shows are on, and other than occasional sporting events, there are few times, I wish I could watch. Only twice, in the 15 years since we got rid of our set, have I felt compelled to run in front of a screen. This past Tuesday was one of those times.

30 years ago, the idea of raising money through running was unheard of. Terry Fox, a young man, in his early twenties, changed that. After his cancerous right leg was amputated, he decided to run across his native Canada to raise awareness and money. Although he was a runner, prosthetics were not nearly as advanced as they are now. There was no internet to broadcast his run and he started out with little notice in New Foundland, with a goal of running over 5,000 miles.

Little by little, his countrymen and media started to take notice. People started coming out to cheer him on, run with him or donate. He found himself running a full marathon each day and then speaking to large crowds at night. All this time he slept in a van. Sadly he didn’t finish his journey. After 143 days and more than 3,000 miles, the cancer returned. A short while later, he died in his native British Columbia.

This past Tuesday, ESPN, as part of a series of sports themed movies, showed a documentary about Fox’s life. Although I had heard about his run, I found myself engrossed in the film. Watching him limp (it is hard to call it running) a full marathon every day, brought me to tears. As I watched, I realized that my “challenge” of running five miles on a treadmill was a joke. More than that I felt inspired; inspired not just to keep on running, but to use it as a cause for good. I found myself thinking of new ways to use running to help others.

Although Terry Fox did not finish his “Marathon of Hope” it would be absurd to view his quest as a failure. By the end of his run, he had raised 1.7 million dollars. Subsequently, over 10 million more was raised in a telethon. By the time of his death, the total had reached over 23 million. Fox’s story didn’t stop there. After his death, his family founded the Terry Fox Foundation, a foundation that continues to hold races, raise awareness and much needed funds. To date, over $500 million has been raised, all due to the efforts of this heroic young man.

When I finished my run that evening, there was still 10 minutes left in the film. I slowed to a walk to watch the rest. Although I had considered running for the rest of the time, it was probably for the best that I did not. It is tough to run through tears.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rain Man

While my wife was out for a run yesterday morning, it started to rain. I was concerned that she would return frustrated and dispirited. When she got back to the house, she informed me that I had no reason to worry. She informed me that she had found the rain refreshing. Friends often ask me how I have the will to run in the rain. Truth is, I find it much harder to run in the heat than in the rain. I still recall the first time I ran in the rain and how good it felt afterwards.

This week, however rain has another effect on me. We are in the midst of Succos (or Succot or the Festival of Booths). During this time, Jews leave their homes and dwell in Succas (temporary huts). This helps remind us that this world, with its physicality, is temporary, and thus, should not be the main focus of our existence.That is the goal at least. Although I have slept in a succa in the past, I find it hard to do so these days for various reasons. Practically, it works out that the main activity done in a succa is eating. During the first few days, when the family eats together, it is quite enjoyable. By midweek, the excitement starts to fade, for me at least. I find myself less than enthused about schlepping all my food outside. Which brings me back to the rain. If it is raining, one is exempt from the succa. I would love to be on the level where I would be disappointed to lose out on a chance to fulfill one of G-d's commandments, particularly one give on the holiday that is supposed to generate happiness. I am not. I welcome the chance to eat in my usual surroundings.

The rabbis of the Talmud saw rain at this time as a bad thing, a form of divine rejection. Thus, rain is not mentioned in prayers until the end of the the holiday. Furthermore, they waited two weeks after that to start asking for rain, to give the travellers to Jerusalem time to return to their homes in comfort. The day that prayer begins is the day that my firstborn son was born 14 years ago. Thus, despite my inability to fully appreciate the need for rain, this prayer has a fond association to me.

May this be a year where G-d literally and figuratively rains blessing down upon us in clear and obvious ways.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tree's Company

There is an old tree outside my house which serves as a starting and finishing point when I go running outside. I rarely gave much thought to the tree, although I appreciated its simple beauty and shade. Recently that changed. Starting last year, branches started to fall from the tree. After a while it became clear that part of the tree was dead. As more branches fell, we realized that we would have to cut off many of the branches if we would save the tree. Early this week, the deed was done. When I first saw the tree, I felt sad, although I was unsure why. Then it hit me. It made me think of my mom.

Growing up, I always had cancer on my brain. Not in a pathological sort of way, to the point of being a phobia, but certainly more than the average person. How many teenagers come home from school with a bump on their head and ask their mother to take them to the emergency room, convinced that they have cancer? (Of course, my mom, being who she was, was willing to take me there despite the unlikelihood of my fear). I suppose it was inevitable that I would have somewhat of an obsession with cancer. After all, it claimed my maternal grandmother’s life and struck my mother as well. On top of that, my father was a two pack-a-day smoker. My mother always warned him that he was going to get cancer. (There is some level of irony in the fact that when he died, he had many ailments and illnesses, but his lungs were fine).

As the teacher that she was, my mother taught me more than to be afraid of cancer, a word that she was hesitant to say. She taught me that cancer could temporarily slow you down, be a real pain in the tuches and cause a lot of pain, but it did not have to stop you, even as we knew that ultimately it would do just that. The first day after she got home from a double mastectomy, she took me and my sister to the movies, just to show us she was still the same mom we knew before. She might have had to visit the doctor more than the average person, but that didn’t stop from travelling all over the world and doing innumerable kindnesses for friends, family and complete strangers. Just last week, I ran into one of the guards from the school where she used to teach, who told me that as my entered the building each day, she would ask him if he needed anything. She had cancer, it did not have her.

The tree looks a bit strange, less than complete. Still it stands tall and, at least to mind, proud and unbent. As I aim to get back to running, (an activity that my mom always asked me about, even if she didn’t quite get it), I will try to run outside tomorrow for the first time in almost two months. As I stand under that familiar marker, I will recognize its new type of beauty and remember to keep pushing forward despite obstacles that might stand in the way.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whatever It Takes?

As crazy as it might sound, despite not having run for over a month and a half, I still hope to run the marathon in just over seven weeks. My approach has been one of "whatever it takes". During the time I was unable to run, I rode a regular and a stationary bike, used the elliptical machine and, having discovered an activity more mind-numbingly boring than running on a treadmill, "ran" in the pool. (Sadly, I was unable to locate a pogo stick).

Out of all of those activities, the most helpful was the pool running, as it gave me a chance to simulate running, keeping me somewhat in running shape. As part of my plan to get to the marathon prepared and in one piece,I plan to combine pool running with the real thing. Whatever it takes.

And yet...

As an observant male Jew, I do not go swimming with women other than my wife and daughters for reasons of modesty. The place where I pool-run has separate hours, but only three slots a week for men. Ideally, I'd like to be using the pool more often.

There is a true story about a rabbi who was about to enter a room, when he saw a man praying by the door. Recalling that it is forbidden to walk in front of a person who is praying, he waited for the man to conclude his prayers. When he was urged by his students to enter the room, he replied "I see a wall".

I wish I saw a wall. Knowing how badly I want to run the marathon, I came up with all sorts of reasons to pool-run during mixed hours. It would be good for my health; both mental and physical. Most of the women would be senior citizens. No one would know. In the end, I recognized them all as excuses.

I still believe I will get here doing everything possible, even if I can't do whatever it takes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Change?

Rosh HaShana, often referred to as the Jewish New Year, begins in a little more than 24 hours. I don't know about you, but I can't say that much has changed for me since last year. I am in the same job, same house and have the same flaws I had at this time last year, with possibly a few new ones thrown in for good measure. What reason do I have to believe that this year will be different? How can I stand before G-d and declare that I am willing to change, when the past year screams the exact opposite?

As a running junkie, I often preach with the zeal of the convert. It is not enough for me to be running, I want everyone else joining in. Often when I encourage those who are out of shape to try, I am turned down with a self-mocking comment. Something like "I can't even run a block". They are right you know. When I started, I couldn't either. I had tried to lose weight before with, at best temporary success. I had tried to exercise. Why would this time be different?

I could give all sorts of reasons why I was successful when I was, but I am not sure they would be correct. Bottom line is, I decided to hope against hope. To try when my track record told me that I would fail. To dream that things could be different.
That, I believe is what Rosh HaShana is about. A willingness to believe that I can be the kind of person I want to be. To undo some bad decisions I have made. It will be hard. Everyone, including me, has made peace with the imperfect me. Maybe things can be different. Maybe I can go back. Maybe it's not to late. Maybe this year will be different.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Father's Days

Growing up, I looked forward to getting married and becoming a father. ln particular, I looked forward to having sons. I had no idea how challenging it would be; how rewarding it could be, how frustrating it could be.

The other night, I watched a video about a boy who has become friends with an elderly man, due to each being amputees and running together. It was much more than that, including powerful Divine Providence/serendipity. What has stayed with me the most though, is the father crying, all these years later, as he describes the day when he accidently caused the injury to his son.

I took my oldest sons to Yankee Stadium, the other day, for the first time. It was the first time at the NEW stadium, not the real one. The one where Ruth, Dimaggio and Mantle played. The one where my father took me numerous times when I was a boy. The real one. It was like a Pixar movie. It looked really great, almost like it was real. The worst part was that they built it to look like the old one. A historical stadium knocked down in order to build a neo-classical one nearby. Capitalism run amok.

I felt my dad’s presence as I walked, with my two sons, past the place where the old stadium used to be.

He used to drive us through the neighborhood after games and show us the apartment building where he used to live. It took a lot to picture that, as the building was only a shell, only used by rats and drug dealers.

He was a Yankees fan, so I suppose there was something Freudian about me becoming a Red Sox fan. Of course, continuing the picture, both of my older sons are Yankees fans.

I remember Willie Randolph, the Yankee’s second baseman in the late 70s coming to the plate 0 for 3. My dad said to me “Willie is due for a hit”. Of course, Randolph got a hit. I think I remember that happening more than once, although memory is a tricky thing.

At Monday’s game, Marcus Thames came up against a fastball pitcher. I leaned over to my son and said “If he connects, it is coming right here”. He did and it did. Meir got the ball. I would like to think that he will tell that story to his sons.

I was down in Baltimore yesterday. A former student passed away and I went to visit with his parents and siblings. It was the kind of visit that made me cry, although I waited until after I left before I let the tears fall. I spent most of the time speaking with his mom, a former colleague and his siblings, all of whom I taught. I kept on looking over at his father, one of the kindest, most decent people I know. He wasn’t speaking much, and I found myself wondering what he was thinking, what he was feeling. I hope the family can make it through this with the love, warmth, humor and humanity I saw there yesterday.

I was struck by how much the oldest son, who is engaged, looks like his father. I hope he will be as good as a dad to his children as his dad has been to him.
I got home and gave my sons some cards I had bought for them. After a day like that, hugs weren’t enough.

My oldest son started running with me last week. Sort of. We go to a gym where I rehab my knee and he runs on a treadmill, looking over from time to time, looking for a little advice and a lot of approval. I hope he sticks with it. It will be good for him, both physically and mentally. Of course, it will be good for me. And us. Please G-d, us.

My dad would have been 75 next Thursday, the first day of Rosh HaShana.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great and Holy

“I’m not like you”, a person dear to me told me, “for you belief comes easy”. If only she was right.

The other day I was talking trash to my torn meniscus. I wrote on Twitter “If my torn meniscus wants to beat me, it will have to out to outwork me”. (If someone tweets and no one reads it, does it make any noise?) I wrote those words with a level of confidence and bravado that I did not feel. I often find myself wondering about people who have no doubts. Is it real or is it just a mask?

Of course, false certainty goes both ways. Those who are 100% certain in their non-belief make me wonder as well.

Six times a day, at the very least, I say a prayer asking G-d to make his name great and holy. What am I asking for? Is his name not great and holy already? The answer, it seems to me, is that as with many areas of life there is a vast void between reality and perception. G-d is already great. It’s just that we don’t always feel it.
A boy from a school where I used to teach is dying. His family seems to be handling this with tremendous faith. Me? I am a mess. I just cannot make peace with a boy so young leaving this world. I pray asking G-d to make his name great and holy. For the world, and for me, but especially for me.

I am a rabbi. Shouldn’t I be certain? I have often given answers to students struggling with these issues. Why don’t they work for me at moments like this?
There are those who offer proofs, as if G-d is some mathematical formula that can be proven. It seems to me that G-d can be found in the smile of a child, or in the tender moment when a mother comforts her child. In five step proofs? I have my doubts.

I hope my students will find teachers who struggle less than I do. For now, perhaps I can serve as a role model for how to search.

Please don’t write to that these words scare you. I am not falling apart. Just being real. G-d can be found in struggle at least as much as he can be found in proofs.
When I prayed this morning, it was the most connected I have felt in a long time. Great and Holy. Great and Holy.

Isn’t I possible for this boy, a boy who has lived so little of life to wake up this morning cancer free. Like it was all a bad dream, all of us wiser and more appreciative of life and its gifts? We’ve learned whatever lesson we are supposed to. Show us how great and holy your name is.

Please.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rushin' Roulette

The young woman, working on her PHD, was at camp using the campers to do research. “If you could have a quarter tomorrow, or a dollar next week, which would you choose?” Without a moment’s thought, I replied “The quarter”. She then asked the same question about a marker tomorrow versus a pack of markers in a week’s time. Impetuous in a way befitting the six year old that I was, I chose the marker. I don’t remember the rest of the questions, only that each time I chose instant gratification. The next day, the doctoral student showed up at my house and gave me the quarter, the marker and the other things I had asked for. I remember standing on my porch, filled with regret over my choices.

I started physical therapy yesterday. When the therapist unwrapped my bandaged knee, the contrast between my two legs could not have been greater. It looked like a before and after commercial. (“Are you sick of having fat legs and swollen knees? Then try running”) I know that with time I will get better and that I will get stronger. It has only been three days since the surgery, but I want to be back running tomorrow. No, not tomorrow, yesterday. The therapist made me promise that I would not do any extra exercises, other than the ones prescribed, before my next appointment.

There is a saying in Hebrew “Peri Hamehirut, Hacharata”, which means, loosely translated, rushing results in regret. The rabbis talk of taking the “long shorter way” instead of the reverse. I understand all of this intellectually, Still, in some ways, I am still the impetuous six year old I was so many years ago.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Let It Be

I had a great dream the other night. I was sitting around the table with the Beatles as John Lennon tried to work out his latest song. He sang “Speaking words of wisdom” and then he paused. I couldn’t help myself and I finished off “Let it be”. He shot me a really nasty look. I don’t know whether he was upset because he didn’t like my lyrics, or whether he was annoyed that I jumped the gun. Perhaps he just didn’t like my voice. Before I could find out why he was upset, I woke up. Either way, I was content, knowing in the end he would choose “my” words.

Of course, in real life, we rarely know how things are going to turn out. Although I plan on running the NYC Marathon in 2 ½ months, I know that today’s surgery and the subsequent physical therapy, will determine a lot. I am nervous. I am fasting. Not as a form of penance, just one of the rules that the doctor gave me. Still, in some sense, it feels like today is a day of judgment. I feel silly as I type those words, knowing people who are struggling with real issues of the most serious nature. Still my ability to run, not just someday, but soon, means a lot to me. I am in the midst of trying to raise $25,000 in memory of my mom for children with cancer, through running. I know I am a different person when I run, a better one I think.

I wonder whether I should write “right knee” on my right knee and “wrong knee” on my left. I wonder whether telling the doctor of my need to run will make him do a better job. I wonder what G-d has in store for me. As I sit here waiting, it is hard to “let it be”.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Detour

I don’t know why I started to give Running Thoughts, at least in the version I e-mail to people, the subtitle “Thoughts on the Road to Boston”. Of course, it is my biggest running goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I don’t know why I needed a subtitle at all. Still it is there. I hadn’t really thought much about it, until I found out last week that I had a torn meniscus. Suddenly, the road that seemed so straight, only days before, was now anything but.

When I felt the pop in my knee, I knew I was in trouble. I sensed right away that this injury would be a serious one. Oh, I hoped that it wouldn’t be. I accepted the comfort from friends and family, who told me that it would be fine after a few days rest. Still, deep down, I knew it wouldn’t be.

Running, as many of you, has become much more for me than a way of staying fit. It has become a big part of who I am. So when I thought I might be seriously injured, it seemed to me part challenge, part punishment and totally overwhelming. I was alternatively mad, sad and depressed. I found myself wondering why G-d would take away something so important to me. Especially now, with all the challenges I was going through.

I was somewhat relieved to discover that the down time would be six weeks and not six months, but either way, I knew that the road to Boston was taking a big detour.
It had already taken a detour when my mother’s passing compelled me to run the more challenging NYC Marathon this fall, so that I could get a Jewish service beforehand, rather than the easier marathon I had hoped would get me my Boston Qualifying time. Still, I ramped up the miles and figured I’d do my best.

That is still the plan, although in a much different way than I originally intended. I still plan to run the marathon, although I will not be racing it. I will pool swim, bike and elliptical machine my way to continued fitness and then have five weeks to get my running legs back.

Those of you who think I can’t do it should keep their thoughts to themselves. I plan on doing it and will give everything I have to my rehab and training.

This will not be my fastest marathon. Far from it. Still, perhaps it will be my most meaningful, as I take the detour that has appeared on the road, unsure of where exactly it will take me, sure though I am of where, with G-d's help, it will finish.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting Carded

There are times when I want to write about something, but struggle to figure out how to tie into running. Lat week, I took my son to the biggest card show in the country. I was trying to figure out how I could write about it, when, boom, instant inspiration struck. What follows are some random thoughts that occurred to me that day on everything from running, to cards, to my dad, to G-d.

My father used to take me to card shows when I was younger. He was not into cards but he took me because I was. I, on the other hand, still enjoy cards, and still have a small collection. I am sure this says a lot about the differences between my dad and me.

During the show, there were times when my son would go ahead and I would look for him. Other times, I would move ahead a bit and he would look for me. It seems to me that this parallels our relationship with G-d. Sometimes we look for him, other times, he looks for us.

As we wandered through the massive show I was looking at some cards from about 100 years ago and found… track and field cards. That’s right, 100 years ago, some executive at a tobacco company decided to put track and field cards in a pack of cigarette cards instead of baseball cards. I suspect he was soon unemployed. It gets better than that. The set had track and field and boxers in one set. What made him think of that combination? It wouldn’t be much of a fight between them unless the track and field guys could use javelins and shot puts in the fight.

My dad and I were once at a show, and off in a small room, sitting by himself signing autographs for a dollar, was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all times. I could tell, at least I think I could, that my dad thought it was cool meeting him, although of course, my dad would never ask him for his autograph. I, on the other hand did, and treasure that autograph to this day.

In the set, there is a Jewish runner named Abel Kiviat. Kiviat was an excellent runner. Of course, I bought the card. On the back of the card, he is described as a “Hebrew runner”. What exactly does that mean? Did he run from right to left?

Tobacco cards of that time sell for $35 and up, much more for the stars, if you are talking about baseball. The track and field cards were $5 each. I’m sure there is a message in there somewhere.

Just as when you go to the supermarket it is good to bring a list so that you don’t spend more money than you planned, the same is true at a card show. We were both like little kids in a candy shop. I had to have self-control for two.

We live in a consumerist culture, where we are constantly encouraged to buy things we never would have thought we needed. I walked in never having heard of track and field cards, and walked out with four, with the hope of acquiring more.
Eddie Mathews, a hall of famer, once signed autographs for free after a show, for my friend and me. Willie Mays charged $300 for his autograph at this show and it was made clear that he would not personalize anything. If you look at their stats, Mays was better. That’s not the way I will remember them.

My mom once schlepped into Brooklyn on a Sunday morning so that I could get the autograph of my idol, Ted Williams. He didn’t even look up when he signed. Ted was a better hitter, my mom, a better person.

It is good to find a common language with your children, even if it is not the one you would choose on your own.

As a child, my favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. My friend fit that into a song he sung at our wedding. I bought one of his cards at the show. It made me smile on many levels.

I have tried to figure out what makes some of us collectors and others think that collecting is crazy. I have my theories, but nothing certain yet.

Unlike many moms, mine never through out my baseball cards. Not only that, she took me to Fenway Park for the first time.

When my dad died four years ago, I led prayers during the 7th inning stretch at a game where I took my son. I think my dad would have gotten a kick out of that.

I supposed to go to card show one Sunday morning when I was about 12 with my friend Arie. When we were about to leave, my mom answered the phone and started to cry. That was the day my grandmother died.

When Bob Shepherd, the voice of the New York Yankees, recently died, another person who made me think of my parents left the world.

Cards remind me of a past, when things were simpler, or at least, in retrospect they seem that way, especially for those of us who didn’t live through those times.

I miss my parents.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Go Team!

Warning: I will be using guilt, persuasion and thought to get those of you who do not regularly exercise to start.

I never saw a serious relay race until last week. As I watched the race at various checkpoints, I noticed something incredible. Despite exhaustion brought on by the combination of lots of running, little recovery, extreme heat and no sleep, the runners continued to reach their goal times. I found myself wondering how they were able to do it. It seemed that no one wanted to let down his teammates. It is one thing to slack off when it will cost only you, it is entirely something else when it their others counting on you.

As the year of mourning for my mom has progressed, I have tried to lead prayers as much as possible, something that is considered to help my mom. I have attempted to get to shul early enough to make sure that I would be there first. Sadly, I found myself viewing other mourners as competitors. Yesterday, I walked into shul and saw a good friend, who is also in the year of mourning for his mom. We each encouraged the other one to lead. In the end, I convinced him. For the first time, I genuinely felt comfortable giving over the prayers to someone else. I found that I was not looking at him as a competitor, but as a member of the team.

While the army urges us to view ourselves as a “team of one”, there really is no such thing. Everything we do, both for the good and the bad, affects those to whom we are close. Which brings me back to my warning about exercise. It is easy to reach for another doughnut or to make excuses about exercising when you think it is affecting only you. The truth is, it is affecting many other people as well. You have a team around you made up of friends, family and others, who to one degree or another need you and are counting on you.

Get started.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Can Only Imagine

I was wrong, really wrong. Two months ago, after starting my latest running project, I was put in touch with a guy who was starting an organization, JRunners, for Jewish runners, along with two friends. Their first event was a 200K relay race. They were hoping to find 50-100 runners to run from Brooklyn to the Catskills, a distance of almost 125 miles. All proceeds would help Mendy, a friend of theirs who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). I thought they were crazy. With three months to go and only 20 runners signed up, I was sure the race would be a flop. Not only that, it didn’t sound challenging or fun. After all, each runner would be running about 12 miles, less than the distance run each Sunday by serious runners. Intrigued, I signed on.
The race ended yesterday. (How cool is it that I can’t write “took place: yesterday, as it started Wednesday and lasted over 20 hours?) It was an incredible experience despite the fact that I was not one of the runners.

Among the highlights:
• Watching Chaim, only 12 years old, keeping up, and passing, the old guys
• Having a runner get so into his run that he ran across the Manhattan Bridge instead of the Brooklyn Bridge
• The first race in history, I have no doubt about this one, that had a 2 hour “time out” mid-race to make sure all runners who wanted to, had time to pray
• Blood, sweat and vomit (no tears, as far as I know) poured out by 60 runners
• Getting to produce and be interviewed on a 3 hour radio show (JM in the AM with Nachum Segal, who really is an amazing guy) that was broadcast from one of the legs of the race
• Driving with my buddy Roy from exchange point to exchange point and watching tired and excited runners give everything they had
• Watching a friend, Moishe Gamms run the last two legs of his race after his foot got run over. He even sprinted the last ¼ mile to give his team the victory
• Seeing the camaraderie develop among the runners despite the differences in race, religion, level of observance and age
• Being in such a good mood that I stayed calm when my car stuck in a ditch for 45 minutes when I pulled over to man one of the exchange points
• Spreading the word about ALS in the community (We really made a difference)
• Raising lots of money for Mendy and his family
• Getting to meet Mendy

I never could have imagined the incredible success that this event would be on so many levels. I never could have imagined enjoying a race so much, when I wasn’t running in it. I never could have imagined how much could be accomplished by over 100 people (runners, volunteers and more) who cared so much about a fellow Jew, who they had never met.

What’s next for me and for JRunners? I can only imagine.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Do Not Intend to Find Out

It happened again the other day. I got up early to run, got dressed and headed outside, while it was a little less hot and humid. As I turned on my running watch, the display read “Battery Low”. After expressing my frustration in a less than mature manner, I decided that I could do the run anyway based on having run that distance before. I did my run and everything seemed ok. Until two later when I did the run again, this time, having remembered to recharge my watch. I discovered that I had cut my previous run short by about .21 miles. Of course, a normal person would have let it go, so I did not. I made sure to tack that distance on to the end of my run, with a little more as “punishment”. Of course, the question has to be asked, would it have made any difference if I had not made up that small distance?

As a teacher, I have often been asked to explain why it was necessary for the Talmudic rabbis to add so many laws to protect the plethora of biblical laws. I often share an answer I once heard from Rabbi Nechemia Kibel (OB”M), an educator who really was like a father to his students. Back in those days, before the whole world had gone green, items that were fragile were sent by mail surrounded by Styrofoam “popcorn”. This popcorn prevented the item from breaking, in case it was jostled or even dropped. Often, when opening up such a package, I would have to wade through a lot of popcorn before I found the item buried in the middle. Surely, they could have taken out a piece or two, without any harm to the item. Perhaps a third, a fourth and a fifth as well. At some point though, one less piece of Styrofoam would have made a difference between the item making it whole versus the item showing up broken. Which piece would it have been? No one wanted to find out. So to be safe, the box was filled with the stuff.

Surely, when it comes time to run my next marathon in November .21 of a mile less will not make a difference. Perhaps I could get away with taking it bit easy. I do not intend to find out.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Step at a Time

The boy, being a typical teenager, albeit one with above average intelligence, couldn’t pray. His conscience would not allow him to. He had too many questions about G-d that he needed answered before he could stand before Him in prayer. His teacher, a friendlier than average rabbi, noticed him standing there silently staring into space, while those around him stood and prayed. Afterwards, the rabbi approached the boy and asked if he could be of help. The boy told the rabbi his problem and asked the rabbi what to do. The rabbi replied “When I feel that way, I keep on praying”.

I remember the exhaustion I felt towards the end of my first marathon. I had nothing left, but I knew I could not stop. I kept on taking one step at a time, feeling like I couldn’t take another. Yet somehow I did, and then another, and another, until I crossed the finish line.

I am in training for my next marathon. My mother’s death has put a cloud over things and for the first time since I started, running has become more of a chore than a means of relaxing. I find myself constantly checking my watch to see how much further I have to go until I stop. Of course, it is not just running that feels this way. Still, I know that I will keep on going.

One step at a time.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's Your Butterfly?

The little girl ran across the field chasing the colorful butterfly, in a scene that was as beautiful as an Impressionist painting. As we grownups stood watching her, we enjoyed the moment, certain as we were that she would never catch it. The girl, all of six, was of course too young to know the futility of her chase and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. Suddenly, like a plane starting its descent, the butterfly slowly dropped and landed on my daughter’s outstretched hand. Apparently, it too had not been informed that he was not supposed to do that.

I woke up early yesterday morning to run early and try and beat the heat and humidity. That didn’t work out so well as, I felt beat up almost right away. By the end of my run, when I was supposed to pick up my pace for the last 20 minutes, I was sure I couldn’t do it. I stopped and rested, trying to convince myself to try. It was only with much cajoling and some words that I should probably not repeat, that I got myself to try.

It has been said that most of us live “lives of quiet desperation”. Not only do we stop dreaming, but we shoot down the few dreams we have, before really giving them a chance. There is a cynicism that we grow used to which is both painful and debilitating. It keeps us from growing, dreaming, running and trying.

What’s your butterfly?

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Get Real

“You know what we doed in camp today?” the little boy, who couldn’t have been older than three, asked his mother, with an adorable ignorance of the rules of grammar. “We ranned around and we wuz sooo tired”. I smiled as I eavesdropped on the conversation between this young tike and his mom. The conversation was very sweet and the love they shared with one another was obvious.

I just started my newest training program for my next marathon. My every day is regimented in terms of mileage and pace. I am hoping that this coming race will be the one where I qualify for the Boston Marathon and fulfill my running dream. Still, the rigidity of the training is a challenge for me. I sometimes miss the earlier days of my running when I just ran and felt happy to be able to do so. In a sense, I have traded the joy of running for greater success.

I know many, if not most of the laws necessary to pray properly according to Jewish law. I am careful to follow the various rules of grammar as I pronounce each word. My prayer has technical accuracy but often seems to lack any inner feeling. It is as if the better I get at following the rules, the farther I get from God.

To be sure, I do not think there has to be a choice between technical accuracy on the one hand and beauty and grace on the other. The greatest musicians, athletes and religious personalities seems to combine the two. Still, for those of us who struggle to put the whole package together, I am not so sure that the heart should not come before the head.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just Call Me Copernicus

It is tough, even painful, to make a discovery that goes against everything you thought you knew. Right now, I am dealing with the pain of such a discovery.

When you are a child, everything seems to center around you. Your parents and everyone you meet, seem to be there to serve you. You see the sun out the window of your care, and it appears to be following you. At a certain point you grow up, or at the least are supposed to.

Belatedly, I am discovering that the world does not revolve around me. Copernicus convinced the world that the universe was heliocentric, moving the belief of the people away from the belief that everything revolved around the sun. Some would say he moved people away from a theocentric belief, that G-d was at the center of the universe. I am struggling to move away from a ME-ocentric universe.

As I sit here in a year of mourning, I struggle with the fact that the world goes on its way as if everything is normal. How can the sun shine when I feel so gloomy? How can it be that people do not answer to my kaddish prayer, with the same passion that I recite it?
Before, I went out to meet up with a group for a run. There was a car accident, along the way that made me late. How could this happen to me? Never mind the people who were in the accident. Clearly this was about me. How could the people in the group not wait for me? Never mind that no one had any idea I was going to be there. They still should have waited.

My response was to go for a group run by myself, running much harder than I should have been on an “easy” running day. I didn’t care. I wanted to run my anger and self-pity into the ground. Still, like the sun from my youth, I could not get rid of them, as they accompanied me every step.

I am alone in my orbit, a small star at best, with a minimal gravitational pull. I will see where this new reality brings me.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:
http://www.teamlifeline.org/mypage.php?myid=56579