Thursday, December 15, 2011

Matisyahu, Kierkergaard and Me

“I am going out for a run. If you live in St. Louis and you see a tall guy who looks like Jesus running in the street, it’s probably me”. As I read Matiyahu’s post on Facebook several months back, I was happy to discover that he was a runner. Having grown rather fond of his music, and appreciating his public identity as a proudly observant Jew, I thought of him as a great role model. I started thinking about how we could try and get him involved with Team Lifeline.

This week, I find myself again thinking about Matisyahu. With what has to be the most famous shave in history, he stopped looking like Jesus. Did anything else change?

One of my biggest challenges as a rabbi who teaches, is the need to be a role model. By now I know myself far too well to think that my students should be looking at me as a paragon of religiosity and virtue. There was a time when I was able to delude myself into believing that I was that person. I thought of myself as the catcher in the rye, protecting my flock from the dangerous cliffs. I sympathized with the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as he described the frustration of trying to save his audience from the raging fire that threatened to consume them. I am no longer able to do that. I am too busy saving myself to try and “save” others. All I can be is the very imperfect me and be somewhat open about my struggles.

I was shocked by the reaction of my co-religionists (is there a word “co-denominationalists”) who incorrectly assumed that, with the shaving of his beard, Matisyahu was no longer observant. The not so subtle message seemed to be that we love only if you live up to what we need you to be. The minute that you struggle or fall, we abandon you. To be sure, there were exceptions, but, and I say this with sadness, they were the exception and not the rule.

As for me, I find myself identifying with him more now than I did before. Not because he runs, or because he, like me, is clean shaven. I am moved by his struggle.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I can’t believe how much fun I had NOT running at a race this weekend.

When I was invited to go to Vegas this past weekend to help out Team Lifeline, I had mixed feelings. Sure, Team Lifeline is incredibly important to me. Still, most of the attraction of Las Vegas is lost on me. Besides, I wondered what it would be like to be at a race on the sidelines. In the end, loyalty won out, and I agreed to go.

I spent the entire race with one of the other volunteers, Moshe. Moshe, who was also my roommate, is who I wanted to be when I was younger; he’s cool, laid back, self-confident and funny. Best of all, at least from my standpoint, I feel like I can be myself around him. I don’t know if I am allowed to admit this, but sometimes being a rabbi can be a drag. I feel the pressure to live up to some version of what people (read I) expect rabbis to be. Around Moshe, I am able to be my imperfect self.

We were asked to be out on the course manning a special Team Lifeline drink station. This was necessary as the sports-drink being served at the Vegas Marathon/Half Marathon is not kosher, a no-no for the many Orthodox runners who are part of the team. Throughout the race we traveled from spot to spot providing Powerade for our team (as well as to a few other thirsty runners).

What stands out about the night, and what makes it worthy of writing about (assuming you’ve stuck with me this far) was our unofficial role. Both Moshe and I have run in many races and we know how much we value crowd support. For much of the race, the crowds (if I can even use that word) were thinner than my hairline. Those who were there, were mostly of the golf crowd mentality, with polite applause and little more. We realized that we would have to be the crowd for EVERYONE.

We spent the night cheering in a manner, that, had my own children been there, they would have filed for divorce. We sang, rang a cow bell, shouted people’s names, made up team names, lost our voices and got people to smile. We were in so many places and acted so crazy, that runners recognized us from earlier in the race. We cheered for our team and every other team as well. We cheered for the runners and the walkers, for the fast people and the slow ones. We gave high-fives and told people they looked great, even when we were stretching the truth. We stuck around until the last walker passed. Then, almost as tired as if we had run ourselves, we went back for the post race party.

Our stories won’t involve blisters, PRs, or bloody unmentionable body parts. Still, we had a blast and, perhaps more importantly, added to the runner’s race experience. If perhaps we exaggerated slightly in calling ourselves the best show in Vegas, for what we were charging, we were not far off.

As for me, I am hoping that tonight I can get back to running, but for at least one night, I was happy to be on the side.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Started...Again

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I hadn’t really intended to take a break; not from the running and not from the writing. Somehow, I stopped writing, and, unconnectedly, I think, I got hurt and stopped running. Now’s it been about two months. Two months where I have biked, and walked, and pool-ran and elliptical machined and and and. All in an attempt to stay fit for running and try to keep the weight off. I don’t know whether I have succeeded with the former, although I have mostly succeeded with latter. Only mostly. Even though my running is about more than weight loss, that “mostly” kind of hurts. As does my disconnect from running.

I have had a lot of time to think about how much running means to me. All the friends I’ve made, races I’ve run, miles I’ve logged, although it’s much more than any of those things and even than all of those things together. I have to admit that I am a bit scared. Scared of missing the half-marathon in Miami, that I am supposed to run at the end of January in memory of a friend’s daughter. Scared of missing Boston, the marathon I gave my all to reach. Scared that this time my drive and fire and passion and fear won’t be enough. Scared.

The doctor has given permission to try running next Tuesday, a day that can’t arrive fast enough. Let’s get started…. again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Taking a break

I am taking a short break from this blog and working on another. It too involves running and learning and hopefully lots of other good stuff. Take a look.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Red Socks Even a New Yorker Can Love

I remember when we were newly married and were invited to lunch by a couple that had been married for a while. One of the things the husband told us was that no matter old he got, his relationships with his siblings reverted back to the same patterns there were growing up. I was very skeptical. How could it be that after all these years, he and his siblings couldn't move on? Of course, over time, I came to realize the truth of his words.

It's not easy having my brother live in Israel. Going from sharing a room with someone for almost 18 years to seeing him, at best, once or twice a year, is not easy. When we get together, I feel a pressure to communicate, to somehow make up for lost time. Of course, that pressure makes talking harder. Except for when we run. There is something relaxing about going for a run with Eric. All pressure to talk fades away and we just talk. About life, our relationship, fatherhood, sports and running. I feel closer with him during those runs than during any other time. As we ran for the last time for a while (his trip ended yesterday) this past Friday, I thought of our dad and how much he would have enjoyed seeing us together.

A few months ago, Eric told me about Red Socks Friday. Red Socks Friday comes from a group of World War One soldiers who decided that those who survived would wear red socks each day, as a way of remembering their friends, both those who made it and those who didn't. Red Socks Friday takes this idea and has friends connect by wearing red socks each Friday. It's a small gesture of keeping each other in mind, even when separated by distance.

We decided to give it a shot. We ran the first Friday together. It won't be happening again for quite a while. For now, we'll be running together apart, joined by a pair of red socks.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Been a While

It sure has been a while since I wrote and it's not for the obvious reasons. Sure, having a new baby adds a bit to my level of exhaustion, but as teacher, I am on summer break. If I had something to write, I would have. It's not for a lack of running. I've been running six days a week and even put in 60 miles last week. So what is it? Well, to paraphrase Freud, I've learned that sometimes running is just running. It doesn't always contain the answer to life's great mysteries or help me understand the doings of my creator. Sometimes it's just running. Sticking to a plan, running through exhaustion and soreness, dealing with unbearable heat and humidity.

Truth is though, I think that's starting to change. I am only two weeks away from the JRunners 200K Relay (really more than that, but what's 15 miles between friends?) where I will be running, along with nine teammates, from Brooklyn to the Catskills. It promises to be a big challenge and a load of fun. I met my teammates last night and even went on a group run across the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges after midnight with some of the guys afterwards. There's other exciting stuff coming up as well, but I'll save that for another time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Birth Daze

Well the big day is almost here. I am about to turn the BIG 40. Not to worry though according to the books at Barnes and Nobles. It is still possible to run safely after reaching 40. As I see all the titles that make this promise, I find myself wondering whether there were any dinosaurs who wrote books on how to survive climate change or the coming meteor showers. As if on cue, like an appliance whose warranty has just expired, I am starting to get all sorts of muscular aches and pains which I never got before. A self fulfilling prophecy, you suggest, due to all my worrying? Perhaps, but I have been thinking a lot about this day and birthdays in general.

Monday was July 4th, America's 235th birthday. I set off with four friends and my teenage son (a 5th friend? sometimes, perhaps) on a 36 mile bike ride to Ground Zero. Biking, as will know if you read this blog, has lately played the role of mistress to my long time steady of running. Although I remain a committed runner, anything that creates a common bond between my son and I, and allows us to spend six hours together is good in my book. Rob, who leads our local cycling posse, thought that a trip to Ground Zero would be a good way to mark the 4th. (We even crossed the George Washington bridge; situated right near where the first president fled the British during revolutionary days). It seemed like a more cerebral and meaningful way to mark the occasion than watching someone gauge themselves on hot dogs; whether at the Nathan's contest or at a family BBQ.

Later that night, Yehuda and I (wow all that togetherness time- We must be do for a fight) started driving towards NYC to see the Macy's fireworks. For once, it felt good to sit in traffic heading towards the Lincoln Tunnel, as it afforded us a good view of the show. We listened to the accompanying music on the radio and all had a really nice time. Happy Birthday America.

Of course there is another birthday we are waiting for, in the truest sense of the term. We are waiting to see when the newest member of our family will arrive. As I have pointed out before, if you can't go out and buy a sports car as part of a 40th birthday driven midlife crisis, a new baby is a good second choice to make. The baby is due the day after my birthday but I must admit that I think it would be cool to share a birthday with the newest member of the clan. Either way, we are looking forward to meeting the little tyke, who will be the ninth member of our family baseball team. It occurs to me that I am around the same age that my dad OB"M was when his last child, my sister was born. I hope I will have as close a relationship with our child as my dad did with his, minus the high credit card bills of course.

Although it will soon be my party, and I can cry if I want to, I have no plan for any tears. Unless of course there's a birth on my birthday. In that case, all bets are off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When There's a Wheel There's a Way?

I’m just doing it as a form of cross-training. Really, I am. I will not take up cycling.

Cycling has turned out to be a good activity to do with my older sons. It involves exercising and spending time together. You get close, without getting too close. I’ll take it.

I remember the first time I was able to ride a bike. My mom ran behind me and then she let go, and I didn’t fall down. There so much gravitas to that memory. My mom, young and strong. Still living in my old house. My first taste of freedom.

Cycling is a rich person’s sport. If you pass a neighborhood with a bike shop, you know you are in a nice neighborhood. I can’t afford to get into this now. It’s not just the bike; it’s all the trappings that come with it.

There is something to these sports where you cover ground due to your own effort. You learn a neighborhood through running or biking through it, in a way you don’t by driving. That thin piece of glass between you and the world when you drive a car changes everything. I remember when I first read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” where Robert Pirsig made the same point.

It was pretty amazing when I biked 25 miles yesterday, further than I ever covered on a bike. I was pretty wiped out. Than I realized I still hadn’t gone as far as I do by foot in a marathon.

I wanted my boys to run with me, but this is not a bad second choice.

Triathlons are cool. I can’t swim though. Duathlons? Nobody has even heard of them. Even spell check. It’s giving me “decathlon” as an alternative. Biathlon would make more sense but some gut combined skiing and shooting (a real natural combination) and stole the name.

My sons try and pass me when we bike. I have enough ego and fear of getting old to fight it. Sometimes I let them lead though. It’s comforting when they look back and ask where to turn. It reminds me that I am stil needed.

Is a road bike a less affluent version of the midlife crisis rich guys go through when they buy a sports car?

I will not get sucked in.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Oh Y

Whenever I was too lazy to go outside, whenever I needed a day off from the pounding of the roads, whenever I wanted to workout and/or watch a game on ESPN, I went to the Y. That will change next week. The local Y closes this Friday. It was far from the best workout room out there. It was small and often had the heat on when it wasn’t called for, but it was a place where I spent time, made some friends and ran a lot of miles.

Below are some thoughts on some of the personalities and experiences I had there. I won’t miss them all, but they all contributed to my Y experience.

• The teenage boys working out in sleeveless shirts, preening in front of the mirror, while flexing their muscles. I watched them with a combination of scorn, jealousy, familiarity and wistfulness.

• The old people who used the treadmill at such a slow speed that they sometimes were able to read the newspaper at the same time. While I was often frustrated by “my” machine being used for that purpose, I admired them for showing up, and hoped to be around at that age to be using the treadmill as well. Of course, I hope to be going a whole lot faster.

• “Roid Rage”, the nickname I came up with for the muscle bound trainer who was impossibly mean to me and to others. I hope it was steroids contributing to his personality and that he didn’t get that way naturally.

• My good friend who is such a good runner that I knew he was there just from different sound his feet made when running on the treadmill.

• All the boys from homes where TV viewing is not allowed, pretending to exercise so they could watch the game. If you are going to sit on the stationary bike, be sure, at least, to pedal.

• The time that the guy who used to be the trainer, the one who knew how to smile, the one who was as tall and as strong as a football player, told me that he wished had calves like mine.

• The older woman who showed up everyday at the same time, like clockwork. At first, I must admit I was annoyed when she was on “my” machine to walk and watch Jeopardy, when I wanted to run and watch the Sox. Eventually I came to admire her consistent commitment to getting in better shape. Even if she did watch Oprah and Dr. Phil, instead of NFL Today and Sports Center.

• The times I ran so hard and /or fast that not only was I drenched in sweat when I finished, but so was the treadmill.

I know I’ll find a new place to workout and that, over time, it will feel like my place. Still, I’ll miss the Y.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Running, Lebron and Me

As a rabbi, I am often asked to explain my interest in sports. While there are many implications to the question, and the answer is complicated, I will focus on one part of the answer. Sports, at least for those who participate, help teach the value of hard work. More than in almost any area of life, sports teach us that your success is largely determined by how hard you are willing to work.

As I worked on my goal of qualifying for Boston, I understood, that, despite certain factors such as weather being beyond my control, my ultimate success or failure was in my hands. As I trained, the harder I worked the better I became. Each time I failed to reach my goal, I recognized that more was demanded of me if I was to succeed. Ultimately, it took running seven days a week and almost 70 miles per week to get there.

Which brings me to Lebron. I have spent a decent amount of time thinking about the almost visceral dislike that so many people, including myself, feel for him. Lebron wants to be a champion. After several years of pursuing that goal in Cleveland (for all intents and purposes, his hometown), he decided that he could never win there because… of everyone else. His teammates weren’t good enough; his team’s owner wasn’t spending enough money. Everyone was responsible, except for Lebron. So he decided, in his infamous words to take his “talents to South Beach”.

Someone suggested that if Lebron is to get a new tattoo, it should be one of a cart in front of a horse. Dirk Nowitzki, Lebron’s counterpart on the victorious Mavericks, won by working harder. Lebron wanted to get there without the work. Even in defeat, defeat that was largely brought on by his less than stellar play, he could not admit to his own shortcomings. He spoke of the “bigger man upstairs” having other plans (only Lebron could call G-d “the bigger man upstairs”). He spoke derisively of the fans. Again, no sense of his role in all of this.

Ultimately, I suspect he will get his championship ring. To do so, he will need to stop worrying about his teammates, owners and fans. Instead he might want to work on his post moves.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Men

I thought of two men as I ran in yesterday's Run for Israel, in Central Park; my dad and Fred Lebow.

People often ask me about how proud my dad would be about my running and weight loss. My dad, who was very overweight, often spoke to us about losing weight. He would start off by pointing out that “I know I am a fat horse, but…”. I know he would be glad that I have lost so much weight, but I am far from certain that he would appreciate all the running I do. He was big fan of my wife and was quick to point out when he thought I was not spending enough time with her. Perhaps it is my own guilty conscious speaking, but I can imagine him telling me to run less and help out more at home.

I think he would have appreciated yesterday's race. From his youth, my dad was a lover of Israel, a true Zionist. Seeing so many people from our community, religious and secular, Israeli and American, supporting one of the countries he loved, would have made him happy. I imagined him, along with my mom, cheering me on, and the three of us going to march in the Celebrate Israel Parade together along with the Yeshiva of Flatbush; where I teach and my mom taught.

Fred Lebow would have been amazed by the runners in this race put on by NYRR, the club he founded. Lebow who came from a very religious family, became somewhat distant from his religion (although not his family). The more he got into running, the less he connected with the faith of his fathers.

As I ran in the race, I was struck by how many observant runners were there. Men in kippot (skullcaps), or other head coverings, women in skirts. I don't know if Fred could have understood those of us for whom a commitment to Judaism and a passion for running go hand in hand. I'd like to think that, at the very least, we would have gotten him thinking.

Although, I passed a statue of only one of those men, I imagine both of them watching; one with a feeling of pride and the other wondering "what if". Who knows? Maybe both of them would have been thinking both of those thoughts.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Old School Race Report

As I drive home each day after work along the West Side of Manhattan, I watch with some measure of envy, runners running next to the Hudson River. Particularly on days when there is heavy traffic, I would much rather be out there with them. There is one part of the running scene that I don’t love though; the trendiness. As I watch the runners with their cool outfits, high tech watches and fuel belts filled with drinks with all sorts of artificially colored drinks, I find myself thinking yearningly of the origins of the New York running scene.

Back then, NYRR was a running club, with a president who only earned six figures if you put the decimal point up until four places. Runners ran in cotton (polyester was plaid, not moisture wicking), had only a few types of shoes to choose from, but most importantly, they ran out of passion, not because it was cool. That’s because it wasn’t cool. Running was mostly a fringe sport that attracted quiet ectomorphs.

The Van Cordlandt Running Club has been hosting trail races on or around the legal holidays. Yesterday was the latest. Despite the high heat and humidity, I knew I had to be there, having run their races before, and getting to run with my friend Yoni sealed the deal. The race had the feel of what races must have been like back in the day, with no fee, no free shirts, great people and a beautiful course. Each runner kept their own time (yes, I admit, mine was on a Garmin) and ran on a trail soaked in mud. The hosts did a great job providing us with plenty of drinks, as well as fruit (I shouldn’t expect otherwise when the guy in charge is a Fruitarian) and lots of encouragement.

It was not a day for pushing the pace and I regrettably allowed myself to walk a few of the challenging hills. Still, it was a challenging run, made easier by the shade of the trails. After a break at the half way point, we convinced ourselves to do a second loop so we would complete the Half Marathon we were shooting for. We crossed the finish line drenched, tired and smiling from ear to ear. No non-runner can imagine the incredible sweetness of watermelon after running in the heat. Sadly, I suspect that most runners can not appreciate the no-frills, all thrills type of race that we experienced. I think I will leave the Garmin home next time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Different Finish Line

There are moments when I just thank G-d for being alive. As I ran easily around the track the other day, I had one such moment.

It was a warm and humid day; the kind of day that you try and stay inside. My first day back on the track since my marathon. As I ran along at a pace that would have once been hard, a gentle breeze touched my face. Even the dryness of my mouth felt impossibly good. Just as with the low moments, I know this feeling can not last forever, but I am just trying to take it in.

This Sunday is a 5K not far from where I grew up. Last year, I got one my one and only trophy there, in far lesser shape than I am in now. I feel like I would crush this race. I will not be running it though. This Sunday is my mom’s Yahrtzeit (the one year anniversary of her passing according to the Jewish calendar). I will spend the morning fasting, and try to spend the whole day thinking about life, family, G-d, goodness and stuff. There will be no race this Sunday. There will plenty of times for that. This Sunday I will cross a different finish line.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Good or Good Enough

“The perfect is the enemy of the good”. Bill Clinton once used these words to describe his policy goals (perhaps his life goals as well). A focus on getting everything exactly right, he suggested, would come at the expense of doing a good, albeit imperfect job. A friend of mine recently told me a slight variation of these words. In his version “good is the enemy of good enough”.

Now that the euphoria has partially worn off from last week’s marathon and qualifying for Boston, I find myself thinking about my friend’s words. There are two ways to look at least week’s race. It was good, maybe even really good by my standards, but perhaps, with hard work or a different approach, I might do better. With this approach, last week’s triumph becomes this week’s baseline. While this has the effect of forever aspiring higher, it comes with an equal forever needing to go higher; a lack of satisfaction with reaching the goal. On the other hand, if I look at last week’s achievement as good enough, than I am done. Literally or conceptually, I cross running off my to-do list and figure out what comes next. Here to, this is a mixed blessing. While it might allow me to celebrate my success, this approach would eliminate my discovering how fast I can go. Even more, it turns what is more about process, at least for me, into being about results.

For now I aim for the middle where I feel good. Good enough to dream.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shipping Up To Boston- A BQ Race Report

Race Morning- My mind is a mess. Am I ready? Is it going to be too hot? What effect will the rain have on my time? Can I do it?

I pick up my friend YD from across the street and start driving towards Pennsylvania. It is only 4 A.M. but we need to get there early enough to pray, before getting on the bus to the starting line. We have nine friends meeting us for the prayer service. Do you think Ryan Hall ever had to do this before a race?

After a close call, we make it to the bus right before it leaves. The guys on the bus are locals who know the course backwards and forwards. I ask them why the first half of the course will be different this year. Apparently a church along the old route paid the race organizers $10,000 to move it. You can’t make this stuff up. For the rest of the ride I sit quietly and listen as they discuss whether they would stop to use a porta-potty if they had to go during the race or whether they would just go on the run. Ick.

I have been planning to run at a 7:35 pace, but I decide I will start with the 3:20 pace group that will be running at a 7:38 pace.

Mile 1- The pace group is going too fast. What do I do? Trust him? Trust my training? I try and stick with them.

Mile 3- The pace group has slowed down. I decide to trust my training. They will not get me there. I have to trust the training. More importantly, I have to trust myself.

Mile 4- I don’t like talking during marathons. I want to hold onto every bit of energy that I can. I listen as two runners introduce themselves to each other as Mary and Martin. Suddenly I have an epiphany. I recently heard of a brain study that indicates that people with names like Dennis and Denise are more likely to be dentists, as the brain steers people towards activities that sound like the person’s name. I bet that people with names like Mary, Martin and Marc (my English name) are more likely to run marathons. Note to self, never name a child Feivel. He will not be willing to run more than a 5K with you.

Mile 6- For a small race, the crowd support is great. I pass a woman and her young son cheering on runners. Suddenly the boy opens his umbrella and screams “yeah”. I don’t know what that means but it makes me smile.

I am in the midst of a big downhill stretch where I am going much faster than my race pace. I think of my friend Yitzy who taught me how to run downhills properly. I hope I don’t pay for this pace later on.

Mile 8- Some guy with ponytails in his hair, runs past me and tells me that I am looking great. I don’t know if he means it or is just being nice, but it helps.

Mile 10- My right shoe feels lose. I suddenly remember that even with a double knot, my laces come undone when wet. I have to stop to pull the knot tighter. AHH! For the rest of my race, my left shoe will be loose. No time to fix it.

Mile 12- Not feeling so strong. The doubts are creeping in.

Half way- I have not been looking at my time and am not sure if I am on pace. I look at the clock. 1:39:05. A half marathon PR by two minutes. All I need to do is repeat it and I am golden.

Mile 15- A guy starts making small talk and asks me my goal. I tell him “under 3:20”. He says “I guess you are also between 40 and 45”. (That is the qualifying time for guys in that age group for Boston). We run together for a while, until he falls off the pace.

Mile 16- I see a guy bent over, stretching by the side of the road. It is a friend of mine. He gets up, tries to run with me a bit and says “I’ll see you at the finish”.

I have not run farther than this since November. Can I make it to the finish? Will I hit the wall? Will I suddenly run out of gas?

Mile 18- The hills begin here. The hills that beat me last year on this course. The hills that made me walk. I decide that not only will they not beat me, but I am going to sprint up every hill for the rest of the race.

Mile 21- I remember this hill. This is where I feel apart last year. I sprint to the top and am feeling pretty good about myself. What goes up must come down, right? Not in the Poconos. A block later, there is another killer hill. If I meet the guy who designed this course, G-d help him.

Mile 23- There is a woman running ahead of me who is either the Mayor of Stroudsburg PA, or prom queen or something. I mean the whole place is cheering her on. I try and take in the cheers as if they are mine.

I look at my watch and check the time. I can not believe it. I have a shot. Quickly, I correct myself with some negative talk and tell myself that I will probably miss 3:20 by less than a minute.

Mile 24- I see a runner from my group who is one of faster guys I know. Amazingly I pass him. He calls out “Go get ‘em”. “I am trying” I respond.

I pass a synagogue on the right. Why aren’t they out cheering for me? Didn’t they know I am coming?

Mile 25- Less than 1 ¼ miles to go. I look at my watch. I have more than 10 minutes to make it. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Someone cheers for the mayor/prom queen and tells her she looks great and to pass me. She does. A block later, I retake the lead. Moohaha.

Mile 26- We pass into the parking lot of the school where the race will finish. I look ahead and there are my wife and two youngest kids cheering for me. I fight back the tears.

Last 300 meters- Less than a lap around the track. My friend YD (2:51 finish and 11th place overall) is cheering for me and tells me to finish strong. I am going as fast as I can, but have no kick left.

3:18:40. 7:35 per mile. My goal on the dot. BQ. Holy cow. I did it. Holy cow.

My wife has a Dropkick Murphys t-shirt with “Shipping Up to Boston” on it. Is it odd for an Orthodox rabbi to like Irish Punk? I am vast. I contain multitudes.

I talk to my brother in Israel. He BQed a few months ago (he is still 33 seconds faster, but I am cool with that). WE are going to Boston. My wife and kids come over. I am in heaven. I am smiling so hard it hurts, in a really good sort of way.

I head home. Home to send out e-mails, FB messages and texts to everyone I ever met. To take my oldest sons to the Red Sox-Yankees game. (The Red Sox will win. It is a Boston sort of day). To celebrate.

My brother, with a small assist from me, sends me a message with one of the cleverest double entendres ever; “You pred because of the beet juice”. (Try and figure it out. It’s VERY funny). So many friends and family members respond with kindness and pretend to understand my insanity.

Come April, G-d willing, I am shipping up to Boston!


A few years ago, I Began a Quest. At first, I was Basically Quiet about it. Little by little, I started to let people know that I thought it would Be Qool to qualify for the Boston Marathon. After running my first marathon in 4:15, I knew I would have to Be Quicker to have a chance. Of course it would Be Queer to want to get faster and not work on it. Realizing that I had little speed, I Began Qilling myself in training. 40 miles a week BeQame 50, which soon BeQame 60+. Many friends BeQame fans of my Big Quest. It soon Became Qlear that their encouragement would Be Qey to my making it. Adding to the pressure was when by Brother Qualified before me. Even with all the training, it Became Qlear that I would need help from the weather. As race day BeQoned, I was very nervous. With longest runs only reaching 16 miles, I was scared I would BonQ. Late in the race, it Became Qlear I would make it. As the emotions washed over me, I tried not to BreaQ down. Waiting for me at the finish was my amazing wife, and two of our Beautiful Qids. I want to Be Qlear; I am thankful to G-d, my family, friends and blog readers. I am BasiQally floating on cloud nine. How will I celebrate? Maybe with a BarBQ.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Little Beet Insane

I am not exactly the health food store type of guy. It’s not that I am not into being healthy. I am very careful with what I eat, and as for exercise, I take that pretty seriously as well. It’s just that to me, health food stores are kind of weird, foreign and a bit crunchy, sort of like San Francisco. So what was I doing in a health food store the other day?

I sometimes wonder whether the articles in running magazines are big jokes at my expense. I can just picture the writers talking and saying, “Do you think we can get him to eat cauliflower?” “No, no, no, replies his friend, “let’s write an article about how wearing shorts inside out will make a runner faster”. OK, they probably aren’t doing that, but I am crazy enough to try any advice I read on running. So there I was in a health food store asking for beet root juice. Someone had written how drinking a liter of beet root juice each day during the week before a race was proven to improve performance and so I had to give it a shot.

In three days I make my next last chance at qualifying for Boston. Someone pointed out to me yesterday that this obsession seems to be based on qualifying, more than it does on Boston, and I can’t really argue. I have run more miles than ever for this race, had one of my toe nails turn (permanently?) black and even entered a health food store. It feels a little insane. Yet somehow, I feel this almost existential need to do this. To qualify, to somehow feel worthy, to make into the club.

I suspect some of you, even those who run, can’t relate to this. For those who do, I make a toast and say thanks for the encouragement, as I drink some beet root juice.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's Up Doc?

My head was still spinning. I had been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, the disease that killed my father. Now I was at the doctor, the specialist in this illness. He was telling me that I was going to have to check my blood each day. How could I explain to him that I would never be able to do this? That the sight of blood puts me into a state of panic? That by telling me to prick my finger with a sharp object, he might as well have been telling me to cut off a limb each day? He gave me the choice of starting with medicine right away, or trying to lose weight first? I hate taking medicine. I told him I would try losing weight. He asked me how, and I told him that I had purchased a stationary bike and was riding it each day. He told me I would never stick with it.

I run my next marathon this Sunday. I have run everyday for the last two plus months, other than two days of Pesach (Passover) where Jewish law prohibits running. I have run each Saturday night in the dark, often by myself, sometimes in the rain. I hate running at night, but having no choice, I have done so. Saturday night, on my last night run before the marathon, I happened to run past that doctor’s office. I thought back to our one conversation.

That’s right, one conversation. I never went back. Within three months I lost enough weight that my Diabetes was gone. Within seven months, I ran my first half marathon. Within 10 months I lost 100 pounds and was at my weight from high school. I never drew blood once. In a way he was right. After riding the stationary bike every day for a few months, I started running. I didn’t stick with the bike. I only use it occasionally as a way for training for marathons.

He’s lucky he doesn’t have more patients like me. If he did, he’d have to find a new job.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Worrier King

I am a worrier. It’s not that I enjoy worrying, I just worry. I am always sure that something will go wrong. I worry equally about things that are in or out of my control. With my next marathon only 10 days away, I am top form.

You would think that as a worrier, I would pick a conservative training plan with tried and true methods. Instead, after reading about a different approach in Runners World, I decided to use a different plan. Even the writer of the article said he was nervous when he saw that his longest run pre-marathon would be only 16 miles. There is comfort, he acknowledged, in doing long runs or 20 miles or more. Of course, for him, everything worked out well. He set a PR which had stood for 10 years. As for me, while I am sure I will beat my time from 10 years ago (every time I walk a block in less than a half hour I do that), and am cautiously optimistic that I will PR (I PRed this course last year with less training), I am VERY scared that I will not hit my goal time. Throw in my fear that the weather will not cooperate, and of course, I am a mess. On the positive side, I will not be in mourning for a parent during the week before the race, as I was last year.

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 2, 2011


With the setting of the sun on Friday night, I completed the 12 month mourning period for my mom. It was a moment for which I’ve been waiting for a very long time, at moments yearning desperately for it. It is difficult to describe how it felt. Not surprisingly (To a hammer, everything is a nail) I felt in a way like I was crossing the finish line at the end of a race.

Of course that comparison only goes so far. In a race, the goal is to go as fast as possible, in order to finish in the shortest possible time. In this case, there was nothing I could do to effect the passage of time. Many times, it felt as if time had stopped, as if G-d had somehow slowed the setting of the sun. At times, I wondered whether time was going backwards. During the entire twelve month period, I felt as if I was in a bubble where all sounds from the outside were muffled and those from the inside were intensified. Already hyper sensitive to my feelings, I wanted so badly to shut them off; to drown out their noise. Was this the reason I was forbidden to distract myself by listening to music? To force myself to face my feelings?

There was no training for this race. The fact that I had already been through it with my father did not help. If anything, it made me dread it more. Knowing what was coming in many ways made it worse. Perhaps not always, but sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss.

When I got home from shul (synagogue) on Friday night, I passed a mirror. I instinctively did a little hand raise, a la Rocky Balboa, similar to what I do when I finish a race. There was a difference though. At races I let out a scream, a bit primal in nature, as I cross, full of joy and relief to be finished, to have reached my goal. I do fell relieved to be done with the mourning and yearn to go back to feeling normal, or at least as normal as I ever feel. Sitting in my regular seat in shul, something off limits to a mourner brought me so much joy, it almost seemed absurd. Is this what it feels like to get out of jail?

I went to a wedding last night and it felt great to hear live music and dance and just be part of crowd. Truth is, even activities that I could do all year, feel different. A walk I took with my wife, as our three youngest children rode on their bikes, was particularly uplifting. Perhaps that is difference from other races. In general when I race, I dress as light and as free as possible. This past year’s race felt so heavy, as if I was carrying someone else with me. I don’t know if it was my mom, or just a heavier version of me. For the first time in what seems like forever, I feel free.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Change of Heart

I suppose it is somewhat ironic that after writing about how running had become a chore, I was due to run the highest mileage of my training this past week. At 67 miles, it was also the most miles I had ever run in a week. So how did it go? Best running I’ve done in a long time, maybe ever.

How can I account for this change in attitude and experience? I think it comes down to admitting my frustration last week. As soon as I was able to admit that I was not enjoying myself, the joy came back. Feelings, it seems, are like little children (and big children and adults) in that they want to be acknowledged. Ignore them and they will figure out a way of getting your attention, quite possibly at a time that will be more inconvenient than the present. Give them a little attention, or simply acknowledge them, and they will feel heard and stop demanding your attention.

Maybe one day I’ll try and apply this to life beyond running.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Law of Diminishing Returns

I sometimes wonder, only half-jokingly, what it would be like to be a full-time runner, with a sponsorship deal, and nothing to do but run and train. I am quite sure that I will never find out what I would be able to achieve under those circumstances. Recently, in training for my next marathon, I have been training in what I thought would be the next best way. I have been running seven days a week and building weekly mileage totals way beyond anything I have done before. Although I have gotten faster, there have been some big negatives.

For the first time since I started running, I have no days off. ZERO. That is not just physically exhausting, but mentally exhausting as well. The time off gave me a chance to recover and relax. Without that time, I am more tired than ever. Additionally, all this running gives me less time with my family. As much as I have selfishly been willing to carve out training time, even where no time was available, this time I realize it is too much. Had someone else pushed me to back off I would have resisted, now however the realization comes from within. For the first time since I started running, it feels like a chore; something else to be crossed off my “to do” list. So this is it. I will not be training as much for future races.

So why not back off now? This might be my only chance to get a time that gives me a shot at Boston. Although, I will probably be shut out of the race, I have to give it a shot. I know the next six weeks will continue to be difficult, particularly with Pesach (Passover) in the middle, but the end is in sight. Having come this far, I need to know whether I can break 3:20. With a reduction in training days and mileage, I might never get there again, so, reluctantly, I am in. The call this the law of diminishing returns. It is too late to turn back. I look forward to it being over.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beyond the Numbers

I have always been a bit of math geek. In high school, I used to entertain my classmates by solving math problems in my head before my teacher could complete them on the board. While living in Israel, I would switch KPH signs into MPH using both 3/5 and 5/8. Nowadays, as a runner, I always have to finish my workout at an even number. There is something comforting about numbers, at least for me.

Not all things can be expressed in numbers. Today is the last day of the 11 month period after the passing of my mom that I need to say Kaddish (a prayer said by mourners). Additionally, as I have mentioned before, I attempted to lead prayers at least once a day during this time. Today, that streak comes to an end. I have probably recited Kaddish over 2,000 times over the past year and led prayers between 300-400 times. Somehow this feels bigger than a number though, something that is not easily quantified.
During these past 11 months, I have found myself wondering about what effect, if any, my prayers were having; on myself, on my mom and/or on the world. I have tried to figure out whether my need to lead prayers everyday was about my mom, G-d or some narcissistic need on my part, to go beyond what was expected of me as a mourner. Perhaps it was an attempt, with no other way of doing so, to prove my worthiness as a son. Maybe it was an attempt to hold onto my mom, as her memory fades from my mind, a futile refusal to let go. Without fully grasping why I have been doing what I have been doing, I have exerted great effort to keep the streak going. I have felt great stress on days when I thought it would stop. I can’t tell you why, but I had to do this.

I have one month left as a mourner. One month left to express grief, to feel sorry for myself, to feel different. Right now, as I am about to lose one more connection with my mom, it seems right that it is grey and overcast today. I started out my existence with my mom carrying me for nine months. I have tried during the last 11 months to carry her for a bit longer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If I Forget Thee...

The Western Wall, the city of gold and King David are some of things I think of when I think of Jerusalem. Until recently, running was not on that list. That all changed with the first ever Jerusalem Marathon, which was held this past Friday. What follows are some thoughts about the race.

My brother and other runners I know who live in Israel, frequently express the feeling that they lose out on cool races due to not being in the States. Now we are even.

Even before last Wednesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem (outside the building where the race expo was being held), I really wanted to run the race. After the attack, I really, really, really wanted to run the race. To stand (and run) with the people. Whatever the answer is to the problems there, it is not violence.

One of my favorite pictures from the race was the runner kissing the mezuzah in the wall of the gates of the old city as he ran by.

I have to admit that I would feel strange running in the old city near The Temple Mount in shorts. Seems almost sacrilegious. One might argue that we are always in G-d’s presence, an argument with which I can not disagree. Still, there are things I wear while running that I would not wear while praying. In the Old City, I always feel like I am praying.

Part of the race went through the eastern part of the city. There were protests from those who considered this to be a political statement. They appealed to Adidas, one of the main sponsors to withdraw from the race. Adidas refused. Hard to believe that this was a political statement on Adidas’ part and not a financial one.

Running on the stones of the old city has got to be rough on the knees.

People think it’s cool that I got to run races in Miami to raise money for the sick children of Chai Lifeline. I would trade five Miamis for one Jerusalem. Kudos to Moshe Deutsch for getting 60 runners to run for CL’s Israeli division. Some people talk about doing good, others do it.

Some say that every step one takes in Israel is a religiously meritorious act. If so, running a race there ought to get you into heaven.

I saw the elevation chart which shows the elevation changes with the races many hills. I hope my EKG looks like that when I am 90.

Forget BQing. I want to JQ.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Running Around on Purim

Purim, for parents in my community, is a very enjoyable but hectic day. After hearing the megillah, we race around the neighborhood with our children so that they can drop off mishloach manos to their 328 closest friends. With six kids, we were in for a busy day.

Of course, yesterday was not just Purim, it was also Sunday, the holy day for long runs. Fortunately I had a light day, with only ten miles scheduled. Even more fortunately, I am married to the most understanding woman in the world, who recognized that without my run, I would turn from a joyous Purim celebrant to an obnoxious self-pitying ogre. Of course, to top it off, I am usually a stick in the mud, who refuses to get dressed up. Yesterday, my costume was a slow runner trying to get faster, complete with an Under Armor shirt that is so horribly ugly that I bought it on sale (if you have ever tried to buy UA, you know there stuff is NEVER on sale).

Suffice it to say that I had a great run. It was a beautiful day, albeit a bit chilly. I even saw my first “spring robin”, as our youngest son likes to call them. I ran at a too quick pace, which gave me the sense that I am gaining speed. Of course, I over compensated for all the calories I burned and ate waaaay to much junk when I got home. I took a quick shower, said “hi” to my very kind wife and took over the Purim shuttle.

We finished the day with a lovely meal where I made sure that any burned calories I had left from the run were more than used up. It was a glorious Purim and a great start to an exciting week, with a Bar Mitzvah coming up this Shabbos. G-d, family and running. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Over and Over and...

Thoughts on the Road to Boston

There is a moment on those days when I run on a treadmill, where I start to lose it. As I “run” at a pace of 7 mph for exactly 60 minutes, I look down at the display and see, once again, that I have run 3.26 miles in 26:43. The monotony of the experience, combined with the feeling of déjà vu all over again (as Yogi Berra might say), and the knowledge that I will be there again (and again and again) is too much to take. Of course, I do take it and keep going for a mind numbing 33:17. I have a problem dealing with doing the same thing over and over again, as if I am stuck in my own version of “Groundhog’s Day”. Of course it’s not just running where I experience this.

I am towards the end of the year of mourning for my mom. As I’ve mentioned before, I decided to try and lead prayers (something that is supposed to benefit the deceased’s soul) at least once a day. I suspect that if I were to look at my watch each morning at 7:12, I’d probably find myself at the same place in the service each day. Despite the rabbinic exhortation to put yourself into your prayers, I fear that on most days I am doing the religious equivalent of running on a treadmill.

My father-in-law, before he retired, worked for IBM and Lockheed Martin in the same building for over 30 years. He drove the same route there and back each day. I would have gone crazy.

A mentor once compared teaching to being a hockey fan. He explained that when he went to a Ranger’s game (this was in the glorious days when they had not won the Stanley cup in over 50 years) the fans would boo the players on the ice, not just for losing that night, but because of all the years of futility. Of course, none of the players had been there over the long drought. He reminded me that when I felt frustrated in the classroom, I would often think of the offending student as if he had been the same one driving me crazy for years. He reminded me that there are no repeats in the classroom.

As much as I like, no, need variety, I recognize that there is something to be said for consistency. My mom worked at the same school for about two decades. Had she taught in different schools as I have during my years of teaching, would she have had so many friends who loved her so dearly?

Sometimes it is easy to stay in the same situation, even when it is not an enjoyable one. I frequently meet students who repeatedly make bad decisions that cast them in a negative light. I try and remind them that just because it is safe to stay in the same place, does not mean that it is good to remain in the same place. I say it as if I don’t do the same thing in my life.

Over and over and over and…..

Monday, March 14, 2011

The St. Paddy's Non-Race Report

Out of all of the things I write, I usually get the best reactions for my race reports; where I give a mile by mile recap, and try and combine humor and poignancy. Still, despite running the St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon yesterday, I have no race report to give over.

When I got to the race, I met up with two friends who I first met this past January in Miami. Despite the fact that they hadn’t done much running since completing their first marathon, they decided to try and run with me (no big deal, believe me). On a beautiful day, we got to run at one of the NYC’s great running venues, Van Cordlandt Park. Thanks to last week’s rainfall, it was a real cross country course as well, with healthy doses of hills, mud and logs to go over or on.

As much as I enjoyed the course, the company was even better. We talked, joked and pushed each other when our legs wanted to quit. Therein lies the lack of a race report. I got so involved in the running and conversation, that I had no time to compose my report as I ran. Not that I am complaining. Yesterday was the kind of day that helps me fall in love with running again. It was the kind of race that I wish I could get non-runners to try. No entry fee, medals, chips or closed streets. Just effort, sweat, dirt and passion. Throw in the Irish connection (I love all things Irish) and it was the perfect race.

I remember after completing my first half marathon, how I didn’t want to take off the medal, even when I went through the metal detector at the airport. Did I say there was no medal yesterday? It was with much regret when I got home that I took a shower and washed the mud from my legs. To me, the mud was as good as any medal I have ever received.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Prophet Sharing

My not quite new shoes will be coming in the mail today. I don’t know how else to describe them. They have never been worn before but they are not the latest version of this shoe made by Asics. I don’t which improvements there were between version 16 and version 17, but I couldn’t see paying $40 for the difference. Still, if there marketing people failed get my extra money; they did succeed in getting into my head. The same shoes that were good enough for me last year, feel out of date and less cool. I made the correct choice, but feel bad about it.

I ran with a friend yesterday who owns a bakery. He told me that his customers are often surprised when he talks them into buying less than they think they will need. He points out that after a large meal, people are less likely to eat desert, and as such, fewer cakes and cookies should be purchased.

The millionaire football players and billionaire owners are trying to avert a work stoppage. On sports radio, the question is constantly asked “With whom are the fans siding?”. My first inclination is to say a pox on both your houses. Are either on the side of the fans? Still, to me the owners are more greedy. Their latest way of making money is by selling personal seat licenses (PSLs). Fans must pay money to have the right to buy seats. If that’s not extortion, I don’t know what is. The obvious answer is simple; stop buying the seats. Still, you are talking about people who have sat with family and friends in the same section for years, or in some cases decades.

I read an article about a man who had a conversation with his father, a rabbi renowned for his righteousness, before he went into business. His father told him that if he sold people things that they need, then he is a businessman. If not, he is something else.

The last time I wrote about a similar topic, a guy I know asked to be removed from my list. It seems my anti-capitalist rant upset him. Either that, or he was scared by the mirror I held up to him.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is it Good for Running?

The Marine Corps Marathon sold out in 28 hours. Boston, with its qualifying standards, filled up in only eight hours. NYC could probably have 100,000 runners every year, if it wouldn’t be a logistical nightmare. Running, it seems, is more popular than ever. Or is it?

Does the popularity of these major races really reflect an increase in serious running, or is it, perhaps, indicative of something else? It seems to me that running a popular marathon has become trendy with everyone from famous actors, to overweight weathermen, to athletes from other sports running them. This leads to everyone wanting to get in on the act. This is great news for the race directors of these races who are able to bring in large amounts of money for their organizations and themselves. It is great for the shoe companies, whose top of the line kicks are selling for $140. Is it great for running?

Some will argue, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, that there will be a trickle down effect. In other words, even if people first sign up for races for all sorts of less than ideal reasons, many will discover the joys of running. I am not so sure. Having run in a few smaller races, it seems to me that those races without huge crowds, fancy race shirts and cool destinations are not filling up so quickly. If you are looking to be trendy, it is one thing to tell the guy at work that you ran the New York City Marathon; entirely another to say you ran the Bob Potts Marathon (real race, high percentage of BQers). Furthermore, for those who aspire to run a race in a fast (or at least faster) time, dodging undertrained runners who overestimated their finishing times can be very frustrating.

I love seeing new runners getting started, having been there myself. I do all that I can to encourage them. If you want to run a marathon, more power to you. If you are trying to cross off items on your bucket list, I hear skydiving is a blast.

Monday, February 28, 2011

If I Knew Then...

There is a feeling I have, just on this side of jealousy, when I see a young runner running fast. Having started running less than four years ago, I am left wondering how I might have done had I started years before. I know that there is no going back, but I still find myself wondering “what if?”.

I spent the weekend on a retreat with my school’s sophomore class. We spent the time learning, talking arguing, thinking and singing. Basically, we got a chance to see each other in a different light. At several points over Shabbos (the Sabbath), I was asked to sing part of a song in front of almost 200 students and several dozen adults. Despite a small degree of nervousness and a large degree of a bad singing voice, I delivered. I found myself thinking of the same retreat almost 25 years ago, when I attended as a student in the same school. As the Rabbi in the middle of the room would have scanned the room looking for singers, I would have found myself trying to hide, shrinking down into my seat as if it was a cave and praying that he not ask me. Even if nominated, I would not have done it. Fear would have won out. Could things have been different back then? Perhaps my newfound confidence is a product of time and experience.

As my dad lay in his bed in the hospital, my head was racing. He seemed stressed, and I found myself making small talk in an effort to calm him down. After a while, I excused myself, told him I would see him in the morning and said good night. What would I have talked about had I known that would be the last conversation I would ever have with my dad? What might I have heard, that I will never know?

There is one class of sophomores with which I have struggled this year. I have been alternatively too lenient and then, as if I could compensate, too strict. I saw a side of them this weekend that I don’t get to see in school and I suspect that, if pressed, they would say the same about me. What might our experience have been together this year had I gotten to know them at the beginning of the year? Is it too late to salvage this year?

Truth is, had I started running while I was younger, my running would have been different. Less desperate I suspect. The ease of running with a young man’s body, the lack of fear of dying from the disease that killed my dad, would have made me a different runner. Better? Worse? I can not say. Definitely different though. I can’t go back. I’ll never know how things might have been. I need to keep my eyes on the road that lies ahead.

I have started a blog. Pass It On!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Name Remains the Same

Thoughts on the Road to Boston

You might have thought that I would change the subtitle of my blog: “Thoughts on the Road to Boston”. After all, with the new changes the BAA has made for qualifying for Boston, what just recently seemed so close is now quite far away. I am reminded of the streets of Boston, where drivers complain that they see the street they are trying to get to, but are unable to get there. Still, I have decided to not change the name.

BAA’s decision has already impacted my running. I continue to push in my training, but I feel a lot less pressure. For a while, my plan had been to find a fast course, qualify for Boston, and then start running the enjoyable marathons that were more challenging. Now, I have reversed course. Yesterday, I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon, a marathon that takes place around our nation’s capitol, and is put on by the Marines. Best of all, the course finishes by the Iwo Jima statue, which, “Flags of Our Fathers” aside, is still one of the coolest places in America. Add in my strong feelings of patriotism and I just might be in heaven. Will I be able to run my fastest time there? Maybe not, but at this point, I just don’t care. I just want to continue to enjoying running.

I’d still like to think that I will make it to Boston at some point, later if not sooner. Who knows? As the pressure recedes and my pleasure increases with my running, I just might become a better runner. For now, Semper Fi!

I have started a blog. Pass It On!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Wicked Good Letter to the BAA

Dear BAA,

I was excited to see that you posted the new qualifying times for the Boston Marathon yesterday. I am also glad to say that, after sitting down with an actuary, a lawyer and a professor of applied math from MIT, I think I understand your new standards. (For those of you who haven’t seen it yet I thought you might want to hear my thoughts, so hear goes.

I have been running for about four years. At some point, my goal changed from just running marathons to running them well, and with that came a desire to run Boston. I am not sure why. It could be because you guys are the only ones with qualifying times, or it might just be the really cool jackets with the unicorn. Either way, I started working harder and my times got better. Before long, my goal was in sight.

I get the need to limit the field and let the best runners run, I really do. I also understand that after last year’s registration fiasco, something had to give. Still, there are many things within the treatise you wrote that leave me confused and confounded.

Rolling registration where the fastest get to register first- It used to be that you could say after crossing the finish line “I qualified for Boston”. Now what do you say? I” qualified for the right to apply but probably be rejected by Boston”? “I get to run Boston if all the fast guys have their internet service go down for a month in the fall”? I must congratulate you however. It is now takes longer to apply for Boston and find out whether you made it, than to receive permission to purchase an M-16 in most states.

Even easier for women and old men to qualify- I am told that many runners enjoy running past Wellesley College as the women shout and try to kiss them. Now personally, being happily married and a rabbi to boot, getting kissed by a bunch of co-eds isn’t why I want to run, but I feel bad for those young ladies. All the younger guys will be running to fast for these women to catch them, the older men might creep them out and kissing women is probably not what they are looking to do.

Bad math- You said the qualifying times for 2013 would be five minutes faster. You also said there would no longer be a 59 second window. Correct me if I am mistaken but doesn’t that mean the times have changed by SIX minutes? Just saying.

Do I sound like a bitter guy who just realized he might not ever achieve his dream?- I am somewhat thankful for the decision you made. All of my focus on qualifying for Boston was making me neurotic. It was really taking away from my enjoyment of running as I kept searching for faster courses (“I hear the Kazakhstan Marathon has a net downhill”) and things I could do to shave seconds off my time. I haven’t given up on running Boston; it’s just that it has now become more of Shangri La like dream, which will only come true if my efforts meet a large degree of luck.

Meanwhile, I get to go back to what running should be; an enjoyable endeavor where I continuously strive to get better. I am hoping that running will keep me healthy as I hope to run a 4:30 marathon when I turn 145. I hear that guys who beat their time required time by 17 hours get to register first.

Slowly, not yours,


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Rabbi and the Valentine's Day Race- A Race Report

If you are a numbers obsessed runner, as I am, than the half-marathon I ran this past Sunday was a total and complete failure. If you are a runner who loves to run for the thrill off running, as I am, than Sunday’s half was one of the most amazing races ever.

When I heard about the race, advertised as “the only trail marathon in NYC”, I was enticed. Having done some trail running out in California, I was tempted by the challenge of running on an unpaved course. Trail running involves jumping over exposed tree roots and avoiding rocks, and generally getting out into nature to run. Throw in the fact that the race was at Van Cortlandt Park, one of the great running locations, and the fact that it was free and I was in. Did I mention that the race was Valentine’s Day race?

Admittedly, as an Orthodox Jew, and a Rabbi to boot, Valentine’s Day is not a day I observe, but I figured I was just going for the run. Besides, as I discovered, the heart shaped candy and lollypops weren’t kosher anyway. Sure it was hokey that every bib had the number 2 on it, but in order to show my individuality, I showed up for the race alone. Of course, that might have been because my friend who was supposed to join me, cancelled.

I suppose I should have been nervous at the beginning when I saw the ice covered course, but the race organizer announced that the course would get easier after a mile and a half, so I put my fear aside.

Mile 1- We are “running” on a sheet of ice. Going up a hill, I fall for the first of three times.

Up ahead, I spot a guy running with pink feather wings on his back. I suppose he is supposed to be Cupid. If he shoots my tuches with an arrow, I will punch his lights out.

Mile 2- I discover that when the organizer said it would get easier, he meant the ice would change to 4-6 inches of snow. I am running so slowly, I am practically walking. Still, I am practically out of breath.

Mile 3- If you ignore the snow (which would be at your peril) this is a gorgeous course. I can hardly believe I am in the Bronx. There are lakes in the Bronx? Trees?

There is a photographer waiting on the course. To slow down the runners, he has hung a giant gong in the middle of the course. Had he seen me, he would have realized that was wholly unnecessary.

Mile 4- What is this strange material I am running on? Oh yeah, asphalt. It lasts for less than 1/10th of a mile, but it is much appreciated.

I start to see pink feathers along the course. What has happened to Cupid?

Mile 5- The large brown spots in the snow are definitely not dirt. What could have done that? A large dog? A horse? A T-Rex? I hope that’s not what got to Cupid. I walk for a bit as I realize that this would be THE worse place ever to fall.

Mile 6- Almost half way there.

I get to the midpoint in 1:18. That’s a great time for a half marathon, but I’ve only run half of a half.

I see the people who are only running 10K standing on the side drinking water, and eating bananas and heart candy. I think I hate them, a most un-valentiney thought. I keep on going.

Second Half- Same as the first, just a little bit faster and a record for slowness burst.

Truth is, it is easier the second time around. Runners have smoothed out the snow a bit. I stop and hit the gong. I pass a few runners. I only fall once.

Being numbers obsessed, I realize that I will have to pick it up if I am to avoid my worst time ever, which I recall as 2:28 in my first race. As I get to towards the end of the course, I realize it will be close. I am running as hard as I can through mud and puddles. I finish in 2:28. (Later on, I will discover that I finished my first race in 2:27). There is no official time clock. In fact, the only clock at the finish has hands. We record our times in a notebook based on our watches.

This was not the race I had planned on, but it was an awesome challenge and a load of fun. I’d like to run the challenging course again, minus the snow. There’s another race on St. Patty’s Day. Do you think the green bagels will be kosher?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


If you knew my father (OB"M) later on in his life, it is hard to imagine that he ever enjoyed being a lawyer. I remember him walking through the door each night exhausted, not so much physically, as much as emotionally. I could see it in his face. It was clear to me, even as a child, that being a lawyer took a lot out of him. Those who knew him early on in his career say that he was different back then. He started out believing that he could use law as a force for good. Additionally, he loved mentoring younger lawyers. He remembered what it was like for him starting out, and he tried to always be there for the new guy (back then, it was almost always men).

When I first started out teaching, I liked to think of myself as the cool young teacher. The rabbi who got it; who remembered what it was like to be a teenager. I prided myself on being there for my students in a way that my teachers and rabbis were never there for me. Last week it hit me, that as I approach my 40th birthday, I am the age of many of student's parents. I don't where the time went, but along with my hair, it has disappeared. It is a sobering thought. I found myself wondering whether I had become "that guy". You know the one, the guy in the Breakfast Club who supervises detention. That day, I was reminded that I still have the ability to connect. A student, one who I must admit I am very fond of, told me that I was one of the only teachers who really cares about the kids. I hope he was wrong about the other teachers (and not about me!). Still, just the fact that he felt that way, meant a world of difference. Later, as I managed to teach a difficult Talmudic section with warmth and humor, I found myself thinking that maybe I still have something to offer. Of course, I also found myself thinking of my dad.

I am still coming off of the high of running the Miami Half Marathon. I have already written about the enjoyment I received due to running the race with my wife, brother and nephew. There was another part that really added to the experience. Many of the the runners on Team Lifeline, were not my age. Some were older, a few considerably older, but most were much younger; college age or thereabout. Realizing the joy and benefits that I have gotten out of running, I tried as best as I could to meet as many teammates as possible, and offer them my friendship and "expert", veteran advice. I talked them about pre-race jitters and about running through "the wall". It was far from a one sided relationship. I ended making some new friends, and even received a new nickname- "The Pace Maker". Of course, I found myself wondering whether that was a play on my name, or an indication of my old age, but I digress.

For hundreds of years, people have searched for the legendary fountain of youth. Through running and teaching, I think I have found it, along with another connection with my dad.

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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Smile, You are Having Fun

In many ways, running for me revolves around numbers; mph, treadmill angle, and of course 3:20:59, the time I need in a marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon. While I continue to enjoy running, and to use it as a time for relaxation and reflection, all the worrying and measuring can sometimes detract from the enjoyment. Which brings me to the half-marathon I ran with Team Lifeline this past weekend in Miami.

While Team Lifeline is made up of some veteran, serious runners (running addicts?), most of the runners are newcomers, running their first race, or for some, their only race. Many of the runners are painfully unaware of how much training goes into running a half marathon and despite the training schedule showed up somewhat undertrained. What makes these people so wonderful is that they still head out there to do their best, with only one goal; to finish. Finish they did, running, jogging, or limping, they made it. With smiles on their face, pride in their heart and hands raised in triumph, they crossed the finish line. They didn’t have to worry about pushing the button on their Garmin as they crossed the line or whether they set a PR; every one of them set a PR. Many came out with the desire to run another race to help Chai Lifeline’s kids.

I hope I can learn a lesson from these runners for my own running. Yes, I still want to run Boston, and plan to work my hardest to do so. Still, if in getting there, if I lose the enjoyment that running provides for all of us from the fastest Kenyan to the 7 hour jogger, what will I have gained? My teammates on Team Lifeline helped remind me that at its core running is fun and relaxing, not a chore. Some of them might have been impressed with my time. I was impressed with them.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mimai Recap

There is so much to write and so much to say. Over time I will share about our crazy trip to Florida and how we almost didn’t make it. I’ll talk about the weekend in Miami, the friends I made and maybe even share my new nickname. In the interest of brevity, or what passes for brevity in one of my (infamous?) race recaps, I will stick to the race itself.

Miles 1-2.68 - I have never seen a race start that is so crowded. I am no Kenyan, but I am starting pretty far up and expect runners, who can… run. So when I see two women walking in front of me and blocking my way, I am not happy. I am all for people taking as long as they can to finish a race. I think it’s great when skinny-challenged individuals exercise to lose weight. Would you find starting in the back? Is that too much to ask?

As you can tell I am tense and tired, and hence moody. I trudge through the first mile in nine minutes and become increasingly grumpier. The giant ocean liners fail to cheer me. I do not care about the singing of the birds. I am trying to see if I can run a fast race and am carrying more than my share of doubts.

Then I see Shua, a new friend from the weekend who has Spina Bifida. He is wheeling along in a wheel chair on the side of the road, with a look that somehow combines joy and determination. It is time for me to stop having a personal pity party and start taking part in running a race, which just happens to be one of my favorite things to do.

Mile 3- First interesting sign- “I don’t PAY to run, I pray to run”. This man, whom I think I have seen at previous races, is trying to remind us that at its essence running is a free activity that can be done whenever we want. Paying to run is foolish. He’s right in a way, and yet I know and he probably knows that his cause is probably hopeless.

Mile 4- South Beach- I spot a skateboard dude on his skateboard going in the opposite direction. “Wrong way” I tell him, in what seems like a witty comment to my oxygen starved brain. If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be typing this now.

Mile 5- Katherine Hepburn is cheering on runners, or at least a woman who sounds like the actress playing Katherine Hepburn used to on Satuday Night Live. According to Wkipedia, Hepburn died in 2003, so it probably wasn’t her.

Mile 6- Some guy is giving out pink beads and holding a sign that says “Run like a diva”. What does a diver from Brooklyn have to do with running and pink beads?

The sign says “Go Mommy Go” which of course makes me think of mine in whose memory my brother, nephew, wife and I raised $21,000 for kids with cancer and are running. I miss her.

Then I think of the other mommy in my life, my kid’s mommy. The one who was crazy enough to surprise me and run this race last year. The one who is crazy enough to be running again this year…while pregnant. I love her.

Mile 7- What is it, a Jewish holiday today? There are over 400 observant runners out on the course for five different charities. I cheer for Team Yachad, Chai Lifeline and HASC. I see a co-religionist who is not running for any team. I call out “Go Team Yarmulke”.

Apparently Team HASC did not get the memo that each team is supposed to have a CH (think Challa) in its name in order to make it as frustrating as possible for any non-Jews to cheer for us.

Mile 8- Dang that guys from Team Yarmulke is fast. I decide that I will stay close to him for as long as possible. Soon I am thinking of him as my angel. He is going to pace me to a fast time. Wait, where is my angel going? A port-a-potty? Do angels have to go to the bathroom? Even if they did, there is no way that G-d would make them use a port-a-potty. I am on my own.

Mile 9- We come to Lido Island. I look around. It doesn’t look so Lido to me.

Mile 10- One more bridge and we are back in Miami. I go through the toll without paying. That’s right, I ran the toll.

Mile 11- I am really pushing it, at time going under 7 minutes a mile. It hurts, but in a really good way. Toby Tanser, humanitarian, Team Lifeline coach and all around nice guy, shouts out that I am looking strong. Never mind that he finished running the course 20 minutes ago. His words of encouragement feel good.

Mile 12- Almost there. If I can take the pain I can break 1:45. Not my fastest time but pretty good as I come back from my knee injury.

Mile 13- Digging deep- The Team Lifeline fan support REALLY helps, especially from my friend’s dad, who was my professor in grad school.

13.1- I cross the line with nothing left to give. 1:44:53. I am not yet back. Certainly not ready for Boston, but I am back-er than I have been since my injury.

I go back to 12.8, 1/3 of a mile before the finish, to wait for my favorite runner with a Team Lifeline sign. I see my brother and his son heading for the finish. 14 years old and doing his first half-marathon. My nephew that is. He finishes in less than 2 hours, ninth in his age group.

Knowing how much cheering helps, I cheer on the runners, by name, if it is written on their bib. There is nothing like hearing someone cheer for you when you feel like you have nothing left. Among the things I say:

· “1/3 of a mile to go, then you never have to run again”
· “There is a cold beer with your name on it waiting at the finish line”
· “Go Team Lifeline”

I even get to cheer on a former student who is running to help disabled children.

Then I see her. This year she is smiling and like last year, looking great. I jump back on the course to run the last part of the race with her. This is my favorite part of the race. It is something I hope to repeat many times (minus the pregnancy part). I hope the photographer got a good picture as we crossed the finish line. Either way, I will have a memory in my heart that will not fade.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Go Team!

Running, in many ways is a sport for individuals, with its whole "loneliness of the long distance runner" thing. Still, despite that fact, there are ways to be part of a team. Cross country running, a popular sport in many schools (although sadly not in the Jewish school system, where I teach) is one such example. Long distance relay events made up of teams of 10 or more are growing in popularity. Finally, charity teams raise literally tens of millions of dollars each year for various causes. I have been thinking about the popularity of teams recently, as I head into what is likely to be my last weekend with Team Lifeline for a while, if not for good.

To begin, there is of course a big difference between rooting for a team, as opposed to being on a team. While the former involves getting vicarious pleasure, or equally often pain through the efforts of others, the latter is a personal experience. Even as I run past a runner who I do not know this Sunday, the fact that he or she is wearing the same shirt will cause me to shout out words of encouragement, at least if I am not in a world of pain.

It seems to me that teams fill the role that communities once filled. It was once common to know ones neighbors, and perhaps to sit outside on one ones stoop on a hot summer's day, shooting the breeze, while hoping for one. At least that's the way it is told to us. Be that as it may, those of us who live in urban settings often live in the worst kind of isolation, surrounded by people, yet all alone.

Religion at its best, helps create a sense of community. One of the great things about observing Shabbos (the Sabbath) in the traditional Jewish sense, is that it creates community as all synagogue goers must live within walking distance of their house of worship. Still, I must admit that the Jewish community is often way too fractured, with each slight difference in approach needing its own schools and shuls.

Into this void of loneliness and kinship steps the idea of teams, with their secular, or at least not inherently holy rules and friendship. Team Lifeline has been a family of sorts these last four years. A family I joined on a whim, not knowing how I would fit in. Since then, I have made many friends, recruited new members and had much more fun and enjoyment than I can possibly list. Like the end of Cheers or MASH, Sunday will likely have a huge amount of poignancy for me. It has been over four years since I made the decision to sign up. Four years later, my life is much richer for having done so.

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

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jewish Runner?

I drove into Brooklyn yesterday for a photo shoot for Runner’s World magazine yesterday. No I am not going to be one of those guys with great abs on the cover. JRunners, a group for Jewish runners, with which I am affiliated, is going to be featured in an April issue dealing with running and religion.

I found myself wondering, what exact makes me a Jewish runner? Is it the fact that I answer questions with more questions? Is it simply the fact that I am Jewish and I run?

The photo shoot took place in a shul (synagogue). The goal, I suppose, was that there should be something noticeably Jewish in the picture. I guess that taking a picture in a neutral local wouldn’t go with the vibe of the article. Still, it seemed a little artificial. When we run together, we meet in Prospect Park, not in the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center. We drink Gatorade during long runs, not Manichevitz. I’ve never eaten a deli sandwich during a run. Moving beyond the clichés, what makes me a Jewish runner?

While I was waiting for the photo shoot to begin, I was listening to the radio. NPR had a story on a new production of “Romeo and Juliet”. This production is in Yiddish. The actors are all former Satmar Chassidim who broke away from the demanding religious strictures of their community. Perhaps, this was part of my answer. Are these Jewish actors? Is their cultural connection enough to make them Jewish? Is it their language? Their common upbringing? Certainly their former community would not view what they are doing as Jewish.

I had to leave the shoot early. I had to get to prayers, which as a mourner, I need to lead. A friend found me a place to pray which was very different from my usual place of prayer. Was this the answer to my elusive question? Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are, I believe, no atheists in a marathon. Who hasn’t prayed late in a marathon? Looking around the room after prayers I felt very different from those around me. Yet we had all prayed together. There was beauty in this, and perhaps, a bit of an answer.

After prayers I went for a run in Prospect Park. As I ran, I noticed many Jewish runners. I, on the other hand, wore nothing that marked me as Jewish. I ran with both happiness and sadness at my anonymity. At that moment, was I a Jewish runner?

I suspect that some religious approaches might suggest that one should use running to bring non-believers into the fold. I have no interest in converting runners into Jews. I would like to convert Jews into runners.

A student once wrote his teacher complaining that now that he had left the house of study to work, he felt like he was living a double life. The teacher wrote back that it depends on how the student approaches work. One who adds a second room to the house in which he lives, is not living a double life. One who has two houses is living a double life. Is running separate from my Judaism? A time when I can blend in, while looking like everyone else? Or is it another place where I find and serve G-d, praying with my feet, as it were?

I look forward to the article and the attention seeking side of me, would love to be in a picture. You’ll know it’s me. I’ll be the one with the contemplative look on my face.

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Taking a Break

I don’t know what to say. Perhaps I should just say nothing. I am tired out. Tired from running long miles on the treadmill. Tired from fundraising, although we reached another goal this week. Just plain tired. I find myself wondering whether I should take a break from trying to raise money through running. By any objective measure, I have been pretty good at it, having raised around $40,000 over the last four years. Still, the pressure of hitting a number got to me this year, at least partially because it was for my mom. Asking the same people again has been tough. I can’t say that I would respond as well as many of my friends did. Still, at some point, shouldn’t I take a break and give them a break? I have seen those who wonder whether it is right to get a trip from a charity in exchange for raising funds. I have my answers to the question, good answers, but even so, I do sometimes wonder. I look forward to writing without a web address at the end. I look forward to running and pushing for Boston. I do not yet know whether this will be a temporary or permanent break. Two weeks to go.

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

To Hill and Back

I remember the game like it was yesterday. My brother, who was in his late teens, and I were playing basketball. Despite being four years younger, I was slightly taller. What was supposed to be a relaxed game of basketball, turned very intense. My brother couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t think that what bothered him was the fact that I was winning. The fact that I was competing as if my life depended on it, was too much for him.

Eric qualified for Boston yesterday, in just his third marathon. While I am happy for him, I must be honest and admit that it was hard for me to hear the news. I was supposed to be the one to qualify first. I had it all planned for May. When that didn’t work out and Eric beat my PR by three minutes in June, I knew this fall would be my chance to get there first. Then I hurt my knee. Now he has what I want. It’s not so much that he got there first. What if, I find my inner-voice asking, he is the only one to qualify?

I like running hills. It wasn’t always something I enjoyed, but I figured that if I was going to have to run them, I may as well learn to love it. The burning in my legs and lungs as I push myself up the hill feels good to me.
A friend has a magnet on his refrigerator which reads “Life is like riding a bicycle; if it feels easy, it is sign you are going downhill”.

A former colleague once told me that I reminded him of Pete Rose, the baseball great, who was so intense that he crashed into the catcher to score the winning run in the all-star game, a meaningless game. The catcher, Ray Fosse was never the same again. Rose explained that there is only one way to play the game.

After hearing my brother’s news, I came home and ran hills, as if somehow I could run my fear into the ground. Woke up this morning and the fear is still there. I got stronger and so did it.

Another colleague once told me that not every hill is worth dying over. I held my tongue, but wanted to ask whether any hill was worth dying over. I think we were both correct about the other’s weakness.

One thing you have to say about the hills, the heights bring the highs. When I get a “runner’s high”, it inevitably comes at the top of the hill.

I wonder whether Sisyphus ever stopped to enjoy the view, or at the very least, appreciate the workout he was getting.

The hill I like to run up is next to a cemetery. I call it “Death Hill”. I morbidly joke that if I die while running up the hill, someone can throw my body over the fence. I know. It’s not funny.

Before my injury I thought all I would need was hard work to get to Boston. Work harder, get faster. Post-injury, there is fear. Fear that it won’t happen.

I don’t know why, I have to do it. Even though I know that when I get there, there will be anew “it” to take its place.

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When Harry Met Rabbi

After I became more religious, or at the very least, took on the trappings of being more religious, my mother OB”M always wanted to know who the culprit was. Who was it, she wondered, who had caused me to “flip out”. I never could give her an answer. Not only because I feared she would track him down and kill him, but because there was no culprit. My decision to change was a product of many experiences. No one event or person caused me to change.

It’s the same way with my running. I can’t point to one event or person that caused me to cross the gap from being a non-exercising “fat tub of goo” (to quote David Letterman) to becoming a runner who dreams of qualifying for Boston. There was my being diagnosed with Diabetes, there was Chai Lifeline, the organization for which I signed up to run my first half and then there was Harry. As I toyed with idea of taking up running, an idea that seemed fanciful at the time, I feared dying mid-run due to diabetes related complications. I Googled “running” and “Diabetes” and out came Harry Jacobs. Well, not literally, but after a few clicks, I was reading his blog about running and diabetes. This led to an e-mail, and then another, and before you knew it, we were friends. At least as much as you can be when you live eight billion miles away from each other.

There’s no reason we ever should have or would have met. Although we are both Jewish, our approach to Judaism is very different and there is an age difference as well. Not only that, but Harry Lives closer to the Arctic Circle than I do to DC. A place called Yellow Knife. For those of you are not experts in geography, that is in the Northwest Territories. For those of you who are not experts in geography, that is in Canada. Still, the internet brought us together. We were friends who had never met.

Until this past Sunday. Harry and his wife came to New York for the New Years. I don’t remember who suggested it, but we decided to go for a run in Central Park. There we were, two guys from very different worlds, who together had lost about a person or two of weight, running and schmoozing. We talked about running, Diabetes and life. To me it just seemed right. I love running. It has added to my life immeasurably. It never would have happened without Harry.

Thanks Harry.

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