Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mind Control

Running, particularly running a long distance, is not easy. One of the ways to deal with the challenge is that I disassociate. Simply put, that means I stop thinking about what I am doing. Although at the beginning, when I first started running, I had to think about each step, now that it is second nature; my mind can be somewhere else while I run. In fact, it is while I run that I often think about what I write.

As part of the year of mourning for my mom, I am the prayer leader each day, sometimes as often as three times a day. It is considered to be an honor for my mother. It has not been easy. Although I am praying no more than usual, the need to be unusually punctual, as well as having to keep a pace that makes everyone happy, is a big challenge. There are times, knowing the words so well that while I saying them, my mind is somewhere else. I find myself fighting to keep my mind on the prayers. In fact, I thought of the idea of what I am writing right now, during prayers this morning.

Do I control my mind, or does it control me?

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Running Home

I recently read a quote; I think it was from comedian George Carlin, who said that “you spend the first half of your life running away from home, and the second half trying to get back there”. I couldn’t agree more.

It is typical that during adolescence, we try to figure who we are and how we are different from our parents. This often involves questioning our parents and the values with which they have raised us. I know that in my own life, I went through this and made some foolish decisions along the way. Even today, slightly more than a year away from turning 40, I can’t help but feel regret and embarrassment at some of the things I did as a teenager. During the last 20 years, having figured out who I am, at least to some degree, I have come back to many of the values with which I was raised.

My favorite type of course for races is the “out and back”. These races, as the name implies, involve running the first half of the race away from the finishing area, while running back towards it for the second half. These courses feel like what I am describing above. During the first half, I have to figure things out for myself, not having seen the course before. During the second half, I retrace my steps, this time armed with the knowledge that I have run these steps before, and knowing that each step brings me closer to getting back to where I want to be.

These days, I find myself wondering what in fact I am running towards. With the passing of my mom, almost 7 weeks ago, I no longer have parents, to whom I can return. Soon, the house in which I grew up, will no longer be owned by my family. The destination to which I wish to return will not be there, at least in the way that I wish it to be. The only comfort I can find in all of this is the realization that there is still something to which I can still return. Perhaps, I have not been running towards a particular location the whole time or even towards my parents per se. Perhaps the values with which they raised me, is the place I need to get back to. I hope in that way I can still return home.

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010


A good friend once described his day as having been a long one. In response he was told that all days are the same length. I have been thinking about these words quite a bit recently.

For the next 10 ½ months, I will be engaging in the various mourning rituals as a way of dealing with the loss of my mom. The first month and a half has gone by slowly and I have little doubt that this will be true about the rest of the year as well.

As the school year is almost complete, my students are taking finals. My job is to proctor. This means that I have to sit in a room, for up to three hours, watching the students. No distractions are allowed. No reading, no talking on the phone and no texting.I have debated with my students who has a tougher time. They insist that they do, having to take the test. As I mindlessly monitor them, I am not so sure.

My favorite setting on the treadmill is the random one, where the treadmill rises and sinks in random patterns for a minute at a time. The higher it goes, the harder I have to work. I make it through each challenging portion by reminding myself that a minute on a hill is till only 60 seconds.

The year of mourning is no longer or shorter than any other year. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The mind knows what it knows, but the heart sees what it will see.

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Bother?

Let’s be honest. As a friend pointed out, the race is always to the swift. If he is mistaken, it is not by much. Sometimes the second fastest guy runs a better race, or the best runner has an off day. The 14, 238th best runner never wins. So why run at all?

Last week, I sat at a fundraiser for Chai Lifeline, the organization that helps children who have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. Like many organizations, Chai Lifeline is in need of a serious infusion of money and the people at this event were capable of delivering it. As I listened to the pledges get called out, I must admit that I started to feel bad. Three pledges by these wealthy donors amounted to more money than I would raise in my mom’s memory, even if I reach the goal of $25,000. It will take me more than six months and it will take many e-mails, phone calls and nudging. Why bother?

When I run a race, all I can do is see what I have in me. I will never be the best, but if I really push myself, and get past all of the laziness and excuses, I might reach my best. I will not move at the same pace as the fastest runner, but my heart will beat its hardest as I push it to its limits, just as his does. The $25,000 that I will raise will not solve all of Chai Lifeline’s problems. It will represent a real effort on my part; an effort to work my hardest, to push beyond what I have done in the past, all as a way of honoring my mom. Your kindness will help me do it.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Symphony in B Happy

It was like running in a movie, specifically a Disney classic. I half expected to see Bambi saunter by as I ran through my neighborhood.

I didn’t realize how much I missed running in the morning. I knew I didn’t enjoy running on the treadmill, even when it allowed me to watch ESPN. I thought running outside was good enough. If I rarely experienced the runner’s high, at least I was outside. Then, my schedule temporarily changed, allowing me to go for an early morning run.

The street was quiet and somewhat dark, as I started my run. I heard my breathing deepen in a way I can’t on noisy evening streets. The birds sang to each other, although it felt like they were singing to me. I saw a rabbit (the father in me wants to write bunnies, as the man in me fights against such a word) and then some more. Gradually, the sky lightened, as the sun began its slow rise. I allowed myself to run in an unfamiliar area, sensing that the newness of the experience would add to my elation. Suddenly, looking to my left, I saw the river. It seemed to not be moving, as, almost like a mirror, it reflected the sky. Even, when I ended up in a more industrial area, the trucks turning onto the street from the factory moved in me in their rhythmic consistency.

Suddenly, I came to “Death Hill”, the name I have chosen for the toughest hill in my area, which runs parallel to a cemetery. Feeling good, I chose to tackle the hill. I pushed hard, but ultimately, towards the top, it tackled me. Still, as I paused for a few seconds to catch my breath, I felt blessed to be alive.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

In Memory of Mom

In the past I have tried to write something creative to start off the fundraising for Chai Lifeline, the organization that helps children who have cancer. This year, what is there to say? My mom died just one month ago after a long and courageous fight against cancer. Now it is our turn to continue the fight in her memory. Eric, Rochie and I (and maybe other family members as well) will be running this year for Team Lifeline as a tribute to mom. By raising money to help children who are sick, we will be battling cancer and helping children, something she did in her long and productive career as a teacher. By gathering as a family in Miami, we will share the love that she gave us. We have set a fundraising goal of $25,000. Yes that is a lot of money, but we will get there.

Please help.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

PRfection or PRfidy?

Sooner or later it had to happen. So why did I try so hard to avoid it?

It is easy to get a PR (personal record) when you first start running. Your first race is automatically your best and with a little effort, you can easily improve on your humble beginnings. At some point though, no matter how hard you work or train, there comes a race which is not your best. It was a small comfort that when my time came this past Sunday, it was accompanied by a trophy for second in my age group. Still, I find myself wondering why the PRs mean so much to me and whether I went about setting them in the right way.

I recently sat in assembly where students were recognized for qualifying for the Honors Society. As I looked at all the students who qualified, I couldn’t help but wonder, perhaps a little cynically, whether so many students were up there due to hard work and a love of learning, or due to taking the right the courses and figuring out the system.

As my PRs started to come with smaller decreases in time, I found myself worrying about the inevitable. I started trying to make sure that I found races that would make it easier to succeed. Temperature between 47.807 and 49.753 degrees? Check. All downhill? Check. I found myself wondering whether a 5k where I would jump off a high mountain would be worth the PR despite the rough landing. Then it grew worse. I wanted some sort of recognition. Ideally to win a race, or at the least, recognition within my age group. My race on Sunday had far less serious competition than the race the next day put on by my running group, a race I had planned to run. I had reasons to run Sunday’s race, but still, I wondered whether I was just copping out. What would be next? Entering only races where the only competition is the local kindergarten B team?

Is a PR or trophy a worthy goal in and of itself? Is an “A” earned in an easier course worthy of praise? It’s worth remembering what it’s really about, or at least, what it should be about.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Trophy

I have received other trophies before. Still, this one felt different. The others had been given to all participants. I had certainly done little to contribute to victories on my little league team. Losses were another story. It felt really good to receive this one, after coming in 2nd in my age group and 14th overall.

After the race, which was held just a few miles from where I grew up, I went over to my mom’s house to pick up some things that had belonged to mom and were now mine. As I loaded the boxes into my car, the light and playful mood I had been in earlier changed to a more somber one. I reflected upon how transient life was. I found myself thinking about how my mom’s entire life seemed to fit into a bunch of boxes and wondered if that is what it is all about. How much to we really achieve in our lives if everything we produce can fit into the back of a truck?

I returned home and showed my family my trophy. My wife told me I looked like a little kid as I grinned from ear to ear. My kids seemed to think it was kind of cool. As I came upon my old little league trophy, appropriately enough with the bat broken out of the hitter’s hands, our four year old son asked if he could keep it. I handed it over and started to think.

The trophy I had brought home couldn’t have cost more than a few dollars, at most, to produce. Still, in my eyes, it was worth more. It symbolized all the effort I had put into training, all the times where I had competed in sports and failed to produce. The same is true of my mom’s possessions. They might not objectively be worth very much in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of meaning, it is worth a small fortune. Like a trophy, these pictures, knickknacks and odds and ends will continue to make me smile and think of special moments.