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.