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.