Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Was Wrong

I was wrong. There is no other way to put it. I thought I was saying something deep when I wrote that the three scariest letters in the alphabet are DNF (did not finish). Then I went to a meeting last Thursday that showed me how naïve and simplistic I had been.

The similarities between the man I heard about with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and I are many. We are both 38 and fathers of large families. So it immediately hit a nerve. Than I heard what ALS does to a person. How it shuts down his body little by little ultimately ending in death. How his mind stays active, but he is unable to move and ultimately unable to speak. How children are unsure how to relate to a parent who hears there every word, but is unable to do anything else. After hearing all of that information I knew I had no choice to get involved.

Before last week’s Boston Marathon, the Boston Globe had a feature written by runners, on why they run . It was a really touching section. A number of people wrote “I Run for those who can’t”. I know from personal experience how much running is transformed when you run to help someone else. It seemed like no coincidence when the founders of JRunners told me that that they were using that phrase for their organization. By the time I walked out of the room, I knew that I would do anything I could to help them in their quest to put on a 200K Relay this summer. It’s true I am busy and already have a lot on my plate. Still I am hooked.

I hope that in some way, you will join me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Would You Do?

What would you do?

What would you do if you found out a friend had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease? A friend with a young wife and five children? Would you awkwardly say “Let me know if there is anything I can do”? Would you stop coming to visit, uncomfortable with his worsening condition?

I recently met three men, no; three heroes in that situation who decided to do a lot more than that. They decided to organize a race with all of the proceeds going to help their friend and his family. Not just any race. A Ragnar Relay-style race, 200 km race from Brooklyn to the Catskills. (If you have never heard of the Ragnar Relay you have to take a look on Youtube and see what it is about). They are looking for 100 runners to make up the 10 teams who will compete in this race. Each runner commits to raising at least $1000. They are looking for volunteers and sponsors as well. They have been hard at work hiring a race director and other staff, with all of the costs coming out of their pockets. They have put in so much time that they have lost track.

I once heard a story of a rabbi who addressed a large group of people who were about to pray for the Jews who had been taken hostage in Entebbe. He told them to pray as if it was their own family.

I am asking for more than that though. Of course, the family can use your prayers. They need more than that though. They need you to be the answer to their prayers. They need you to act as if they are your family. I want you to join me in being partners with those three men and their organization JRunners to help the family.

Things that need to be done:
• Sign up for the race (Men only)
• Volunteer
• Become a sponsor or get your company to sponsor
• Share this message with everyone you know. (Not a runner? Not in the NY/NJ
area? Doesn’t matter. Maybe they will share it with someone who is. Maybe they
will volunteer or become a sponsor). My goal is that at least 5000 people read this

I was wrong. The question is not “what would you do?” The real question is;

For more information about the race and the cause please click here

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perfect Storm

I don’t think a man is supposed to have a favorite tree. If he does and is willing to admit it, he would be wise to choose the mighty oak or a never changing evergreen. What can I do? My favorite tree is the cherry blossom. I think they are pretty and, besides, my wife and younger children love them and seeing the pink of those gorgeous trees makes me think of my family.

I have been working for a while to try and appreciate cloudy and rainy days. I figured that either I could get upset every time there was bad weather, or I could come to appreciate the beauty of a stark grey sky, so I chose the latter. Yesterday turned into one of those days. Although it was mostly sunny when I started running, midway through the run, the sky started looking ominous. I half looked forward to the cool rain and half dreaded getting soaked to the bone. Little by little the sky grew darker and the wind stronger. I tightened the band on my running hat and continued my run. It started to lightly rain. The cool drops felt good. I turned the corner and hit a stretch that is lined by cherry blossom trees. I was hit by the beauty in the contrats of the grey sky and the pink leaves. Suddenly, the wind started blowing the tree’s leaves off the tree and I was treated to a shower of cool rain and gently falling leaves. The most incredible feeling came over me as I ran in my own personal ticker tape parade.

There is tremendous beauty around us waiting to be seen if we just open our eyes and minds to it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Scariest Letters in the Alphabet

“What are the three most ominous letters in the alphabet?” asks the man with the deep voice on the radio. His answer; “I-R-S”. I have a different answer.

I recently read an article about a runner who is one of the favorites in today’s Boston Marathon. The article’s author points out that this runner might not even finish the race. He is known to drop out of any race where he will not finish in the top 3. To me this is unfathomable. If you enter a race, barring a serious injury, you should be in it until the finish. I still remember approaching an aid station during my first marathon. I was dehydrated and in pain and was looking for a few Tylenol. The women at the aid station asked me if I wanted to stop. Did I want to stop? Of course I did. Did I give it a second’s thought? No way. It didn’t matter if I had to crawl. I was going to finish.

Many years ago I had a student who was going through a rough stretch in his life. I tried to help in all ways possible, to no avail. A colleague of mine told me that I should pull back and recognize that I could not help everyone. He punctuated his story by telling of a former student who, despite my colleague’s best efforts, had left the school and not done well. I listened to his story but could not agree. To me, as a teacher, once you begin a relationship with a student you have to be willing to be in it until the end. I have had teachers and colleagues who seemed to only work the “winners”. All students without potential were cast to the side, literally or figuratively. To me this unfathomable.

The three scariest letters? D-N-F.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I hope you’ll excuse me, but I have become a little obsessed with unicorns. Not only that, I am looking for one. I am trying to figure out what, if anything, it will mean when I find it. Make no mistake though, I will find it.

You might be thinking, perhaps not for the first time, he has finally lost it. Everyone knows there is no such thing as unicorns. Long ago people gave up the search for this mythical creature whose horn was said to cure poison. Well, perhaps I have lost it, but it has nothing to do with this search.

This Monday, Patriot’s Day, over 20,000 runners will be taking part in the Boston Marathon. The vast majority of them will have earned their spots by running a certain qualifying time based on their age and gender. It is one of the few marathons, and by far the most famous one, for which you must qualify. Sure you can get in by raising money for charity, but this is race you want to run after qualifying. The race is put on by the Boston Athletic Association, an organization whose symbol is a unicorn.

Two years when I started running, I kept wondering when I would be a real runner. Two years later and 100 pounds less, I think it is safe to say I am a runner. Still, until I make it to Boston, I feel like my journey will not be complete, or at least the beginning of my journey.

In a way, it is appropriate for the race to be associated with a unicorn. Sometimes I feel like I am chasing something imaginary. Other times, it seems like the chase is as least as important as the finding will be. I find myself wondering what it will be like to qualify, to run the race, to wear the jacket with the unicorn. Will anything really change when I join the club? Will I stop training so hard, giving up on a bit of my obsession, or will I simply find a new goal to motivate me?

One more thing, no matter what, I will have to wait two years to find out. Next year’s race falls out a few hours before Pesach (Passover). Even if I qualify, I will have to wait another year to run. Mark your calendar for April 16th, 2012 so you can cheer me on.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rabbit Ears

I’ll never forget “rabbit ears”. I don’t know if that’s what they were really called, but that was what we called the two antennae that were on our TV that looked like, well, rabbit ears. (If you are too young to know what I am talking about, ask your parents). I would plop myself down to watch a program and suddenly the reception on the TV would change, and the screen would get fuzzy. I don’t know what caused this change. Perhaps it was only teen paranoia that made me think it happened only when I was watching, but either way, if I didn’t get up and adjust the rabbit ears, my viewing experience was severely diminished.

Most Sundays, I go on a long run of anywhere between 13-20 miles. I have developed my routine. What I eat and drink, what I wear, who I run with and where I run. Yesterday, I got to the park and looked around for Tom, the guy who I usually run with. He wasn’t there. Bad news, I would have to do my planned 20 mile run solo. I turned on my Garmin, my one luxury, the watch that tells me how far and how fast (relatively speaking) I run. The display on the screen said that the battery was low. I was rather taken back as I had charged the watch before using it. I started off by myself, less than thrilled to be alone on a day that was growing hotter by the minute. After only ¾ of a mile, my watch shut off. I was not a happy camper. Not only was I on my own, I would have no way of knowing how far to run. I would have to pace myself. I was tired and crabby and starting to feel sorry for myself. Then I decided to adjust my rabbit ears. It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t really have a choice. Unless I wanted to run 20 miles with a grouchy jerk.

In the end, I have no idea how far I ran. Based on the time it took me, it was probably at least 21 miles, although it might have been more. I was exhausted by the end, but in strange way, I felt pretty good. I could have given up. I could have been a whiny jerk. Based on those alternatives, 21+ sweaty miles looked pretty good.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We are constantly told “Go for it”. Nikes encourages us to “Just do it”. We are, it seems, to always plow ahead, to keep going. Is there no room to take a break? A moment to pause and reflect?

I recently read an article about a guy who has run every day, with only one day missed, for many years. Even that day, the day when he suffered a heart attack, he wanted to run, but the pesky doctors wouldn’t let him do it. He even missed his grandmother’s funeral due to a run, although the author is quick to point out that this runner attended her wake instead. I don’t know what the author’s intent was when writing this article, but I was not inspired. Instead, I felt sad for this man, who, it seems to me, has lost control of his running.

Over Pesach (Passover), there were certain days where I could not run. Not because I didn’t want to, or due to injury, rather it is prohibited according to Jewish law. Instead of feeling a sense of resentment, I appreciated the extra days of rest.
Of all of the 613 commandments from the Torah (Bible), perhaps my favorite is the obligation to imitate G-d. Just as He is merciful, we are to be merciful. Just as he clothes the poor, we are told to the same. One great rabbi pointed out that there are times when G-d holds himself back, so to speak and that we are to do the same.

I recently spoke with my closest childhood friend. He told me about plans for his son’s bar mitzvah this coming October. When I heard the date, I froze. Wasn’t that the same date as the marathon I’d been planning to run? The one where I hoped to qualify for the Boston Marathon? I thought of that runner who never misses a day. I knew what he would do. For me that was not an option. I thought of trying to drive from his house to the marathon, but the distance was too far. With regret, I accepted that I would miss my race. This would be my chance to show that I was in control of running.

I got home and checked and realized that I had been mistaken. The bar mitzvah and the marathon were two weeks apart. I breathed a sigh of relief. I really would have missed the marathon. I am glad I didn’t have to make the choice.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Small Activity That WILL Improve Your Life

Marathon season is upon us. The Boston Marathon is less than three weeks away with other marathons soon to come. There is something that non-runners can not necessarily relate to about following a training plan from beginning to end. With that in mind, I’d like to make a small suggestion.

Pesach is, as I mentioned last week, the “time of our freedom”. It is easy to think that once Pesach passes, we are free with nothing more to work towards. Truth is, true freedom is not that easy. As much as we aspire to break away from our old ways of thinking, from the various ideologies, ways of life and people who can enslave us, it is easy to fall back into old habits. Witness the behavior of the Jews in the desert who frequently expressed a desire to go back to Egypt as soon as things got tough. G-d, recognizing that being free in body, is not the same as free of spirit and mind, follows up Pesach with the holiday of Shavuot, seven weeks later. Shavuot, the holiday that marks our acceptance of G-d’s law, is the time when we get a way of life to enhance our freedom. As such, each night (or day, if we forget at night) we count towards the holiday of Shavuot. Tonight will be fourth night. Once we reach the seventh day, we count off days and weeks.
I’d like to humbly suggest that no matter what your level of observance, that you commit to counting each night for next 6 ½ weeks. I am confident that you will find the nightly reminder of freedom of spirit and mind to be a refreshing and helpful one. To be sure, for those who are in college, you might yourselves counting in interesting places, but the nightly count will serve as a reminder of who you truly are. Should you wish for a daily reminder of the day, please let me know. I will gladly send you one.

I know I am few days late, but that is the cost of inspiration coming when running. It is not too late to start.