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.