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 clich├ęs, 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: