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:

I have started a blog. Pass It On!

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:

Thursday, December 23, 2010


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:

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:
I have started a blog. Pass It On!

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:

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:

Thursday, December 9, 2010


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:

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:

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: