Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Race WELL Run

If you had asked me last week to name my favorite race, I am not sure that I could have answered you. I might have mentioned my first half-marathon in Miami, my first marathon, or perhaps running Boston this past April. After this past Sunday, I have THE answer.

As races go, it was pretty nondescript. It was a local 5K with a small crowd and a cotton t-shirt as the only schwag. It was far from my fastest 5K and only about two minutes faster than my slowest. So what made it so great? The company.

Our daughter Maayan is the 4th of our seven children, and thus, the dreaded middle child. I think we treat her pretty well, but I think she sometimes feels that she doesn't get enough attention. Sunday was her chance to shine. Despite the fact that she never ran more than a mile before, she said she wanted to run the 5K. I was impressed by her spunk and I already know about her tough spirit, so, despite my concerns about an 8 year-old running that far, I agreed. I knew she'd have to walk part of it, and maybe even most of it, and I figured we'd be out there for about 45 minutes, with a pretty good chance to finish last. I expected there to be other kids there, but I assumed they'd be better trained. I was a bit concerned when Maayan said she didn't want to be last.

We got to the race and signed up. Maayan looked both adorable and beautiful with her long hair pulled back in a ponytail, her skirt, winter jacket and gloves. It didn't hurt that she has a smile that can melt my heart. As we waited on the starting line, it occurred to me that she was the youngest by six or seven years. Then, as the Mayor blew the air horn, we were off.

She started out at a pretty good pace, running the first half mile at less than 10 minutes per mile pace. We both knew she couldn't hold that pace the whole time, but I let her choose when to run and how fast. We were towards the back, but a funny thing happened. Every time we took a walking break and the people behind us got closer, Maayan took off. She was, as usual, very determined. As we ran the course, which went through a section of town where most people are Hispanic immigrants, Maayan quickly became a favorite. People on the side smiled and called out “La NiƱa” and “La Primera”, which even I understood, despite my anemic Spanish skills. Despite becoming increasingly tired, particularly when we hit a couple of hills towards the end, Maayan refused to quit.

As we neared the finish line, I looked at my Garmin and realized that she was going to beat the time that I ran at my first 5K, nearly five years before, by a couple of minutes. She sprinted across the line with a giant smile on her face, finishing in 33:39. A number of people many times her age finished afterward.

As we waited for the awards ceremony, I hoped against hope that they would give her an award. I didn't dare say anything to her about it, as I didn't want her to be disappointed. As the Mayor got up to speak, people came over to congratulate her, giving her high-fives and even took her picture. Suddenly the mayor said “Before I give out the trophies to the winners, I'd like to call up someone who inspired all of us today”. As it dawned on Maayan who he was referring to, she perfectly combined 8 year-old shyness, with pride. Needless to say, the whole crowd broke out in applause.

I suspect she has many faster days ahead of her, and I expect that she and I will run more races together. I doubt any of them will be more special to me than this one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I'm truly amazed by what my friend Mark accomplished on Sunday. It's not that he completed his first Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 on the bike and 26.2 mile run for those who are wondering), although that's certainly impressive enough. It's how he did it. It all leaves me wondering, what does this mean for me?

I have to admit that when I first heard that Mark signed up 12 months ago, I thought he had made a huge mistake. Sure, he was a great cyclist and a pretty fair runner, but he couldn't swim. I don't mean he couldn't swim well. I mean he couldn't swim at all. We're talking about floaties and a kickboard in the kiddy pool. He was giving himself only about one year to learn to swim 2.4 miles in open water. Even knowing how determined he is, and even with the fact that he doesn't know how to quit, I thought he was nuts. I didn't tell him, because the $700 or so he paid to sign up was non-refundable, but I certainly thought it.

Then a funny thing happened. He refused to fail. He shook off the naysayers and his own fears and he started to learn. Along the way, he considered quitting, but he never gave in to the little voice that told him that he had bit off more than he could chew. Like a little kid, with an atomic jawbreaker, he kept on going, sure he would get there. And of course, he did.

As I watched him cross the finish line on my computer the other night, I found myself considering what this means for me. I have to admit that somewhere, not so far in the back of my mind, I'd like to do an Ironman one day, although I too can't swim a lick. He's tried the old “if I can do it, you can do it” approach with me, but I'm not so sure he's right. After all, he's younger and single and can afford to pay for lessons and the race fee and, and, and. How much of this is sound logic and how much is the pessimist in me, I'm not so sure. I often see the glass as completely empty and am amazed at the optimism of the guy who sees it as half empty. Yet, there is this little voice in the back of my head that says “maybe”.

For now, I've “liked” Ironman on Facebook and will be getting their little reminders from time to time. At the very least, in this time when there is a new James Bond in the theater, I'm reminded by Mark to never say never.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Harrisburg Race Report

I guess sometimes you get what you ask for. After waxing poetically about the joys of small town marathons in my last blog, events occurred that caused me to have to change from the Philadelphia Marathon this coming Sunday, to yesterday's Harrisburg Marathon. Maybe I should have written about the joys of having lots of money, or hair on my head, but I digress. What follows is my recap from yesterday.

Pre-race I wake up in Harrisburg where the temperature is in the mid 40s. The forecasters have it going up to the 60s by mid day. I have two shirts with me; a singlet and a short sleeve shirt. Now, one thing you have to know about me. I am THE master of over-dressing for a run. My approach is to avoid shorts and a t-shirt when a parka and snow pants are available. I wear balaclavas in the summer. Naturally, I put the singlet back in my bag. I eat a couple of skinless potatoes (breakfast of champions) and head to the starting area.

After waiting on the most important line several dozen times, and meeting a few people,, including one guy who is running his 100th marathon, I line up towards the front waiting for the gun to go off. Then without any Sinatra, or any other music or even warning, the gun goes off. So much for having time to worry. My goal is to run 7:30 per mile for the entire race.

Mile 1- We ahead across the bridge over the scenic Susquehanna River for a little tour around Harrisburg. Basically, it's a short circle around the downtown area, of what is the capital of Pennsylvania, despite being its 9th largest city.

Mile 2 Back to the path along the river. I try and fall into a rhythm as I imagine myself running on a treadmill next to my friend Shelly. I am starting to get warm and going a bit too fast.

Mile 3 Boy, I bet that singlet would feel really good right now. We turn onto a gravel path which is scenic and makes my knees smile. Ok, not really. Still, I start thinking about my next race being a trail race instead of one on pavement. Then back onto the path by the river back towards the bridge. The cheering is good and I'm feeling pretty good.

Mile 4 I almost offer encouragement to a runner before realizing that she is doing the marathon as part of a relay team. Ech. I can't stand those guys. They are always so perky. I'd be smiling too, if I knew I only had to run 6 miles and change.

Mile 5 Back across the bridge. Right back towards the baseball stadium where we started. Well that was a lot of effort to go nowhere. We go a little further and then... you guessed it, back across a bridge. It is this bridge which the website describes as offering “a break from typical solid ground, the closely spaced iron grid work of the Walnut Street Bridge is a welcome running experience (runners may also choose to run on the concrete sidewalk on the south side of the bridge)”. A break from solid ground? Iron grid bridge? Perhaps I should consider toilet water as a welcome break from sports drink.

Mile 7 Speaking of sports drink, the drink they are using is not certified as kosher, so I am stuck with water with sports beans. Have I mentioned that it's hot? Being a small town race, the water stops are not that frequent. This is going to be a challenge.

Mile 8 We pass the governors mansion as we run along the river. There are all sorts of signs with historical markers, but now is not the time to read. I see signs for the Civil War Museum and think of my friend, Rabbi Karp, a fellow civil war buff. There are some interesting statues include one of a soldier with a bayonet. I am reminded that today is Veteran's Day and that running a race is not what makes someone heroic. I pass a little girl doing cartwheels and think of my daughter, Maayan, who loves to do them as well. My family is not with me today, but they are still with me, if you know what I mean.

Mile 9 As with every race, there are spectators with signs. One guy has a sign that says “my father can run faster than yours”. I wonder how awkward it would be if I told him that my father is dead. I decide not to find out.

Mile 10 Than I meet Dennis. I've been looking for someone who is running the same pace so that I have some company. He is shooting for 3:18 while I am shooting for 3:17, which is good enough for me. I don't know it at the time, but we will stick together for the next 15+ miles.

Half way- I am not measuring my overall time and there are no clocks but I am right on pace with what be a PR in the half of around 1:38. I am relieved. Ed Whitlock, recently set the record for 80 year-olds in the half. I might not be fast, but at least my time would be a PR for some age group. Hmm, I wonder what the 5K record is for 90 year-olds.

Miles 14-17 Dennis and I continue to chat and run. I remind him to run the tangents, and to slow down, partially to stay on pace, partially because I am struggling. We are at the part of the course they don't talk about on the website. It is an industrial part of town with traffic open in both directions, with a requirement to get across the road. It's kind of like Frogger without the background music.

Miles 18- 20 Hills. Really tough hills. There are three of them in a park that is quite picturesque. We attack them, but they fight back. The ¼ mile with rocks underfoot that are big enough that I can feel through my shoes, doesn't help. We struggle a bit up a somewhat steep overpass. I am not feeling good at all.

Mile 22 I am ready to give up. There's no way I can keep this pace. I tell Dennis to go on without me. It feels like a scene in the movies where the soldier tells his friend to tell his family he loves them. Dennis plays his role perfectly and tells me to hang on until the next mile marker. This is the turning point in my race. If he's not there I give up on the spot and run easy for the rest of the race. Instead I make it to mile 23.

Miles 23-25 Somehow I get a second wind. We are really pushing and passing people. Dennis, who has to be the nicest guy I've ever met, offers encouragement to every person we pass. I can barely talk. Somehow, we are running between 7:10-7:20 a mile. Dennis asks me my PR and when I tell him, he tells me to get ready to break it. I want to ask him our time, but I am too tired to speak. Up ahead is the finish line. Only problem is it's up on the bridge. To get there I have to run underneath the bridge, practically make a U-turn and go UP a sharp hill. That is just cruel.

Mile 26 People are cheering for me using my race number. I am trying to figure out how I am at mile 26 with the finish line still being 100 miles away. It's also moving away from me. Somehow I catch it. 3:16:25. PR by 2:15. 7:30 per mile. I literally feel like I am going to pass out. I have visible dried salt all over my face. 364 days a year I live by the mantra that “food is fuel, not fun”. Not today though. Over the next 10 hours, I eat two bags of chips, two power bars, a banana, two chocolate bars, a bottle of chocolate milk and about 12 servings of chinese food.

My three fastest marathons have all been run at small races in Pennsylvania. Some people try to run in all the famous races. Others try for a marathon in every state. Me? I think I am the king of smalltown, Pennsylvania races, with solid color, long sleeve running shirts. Allentown, I'm coming. Bethlehem Running Festival, piece of cake. Reading Marathon, you are mine!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts from a Repentant NY(C Marathon)er

Growing up in New York, I thought it was the only place to be. It had lots of people, it was loud, it was fast, it was happening. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Then something funny happened. I moved away and stayed away for over ten years. During this time, I discovered something interesting. There were many things I didn't miss about New York. The large crowds, the noise, the energy. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure I wanted to go back.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about running in general the past week, and the New York City Marathon, in particular. I was shocked when it was not canceled right away and then flabbergasted in the way that it was, so close to race day. I thought of my friends who were supposed to be running, as well as what I would do if I had to choose whether to run, but mostly I thought about the victims of the storm and how small and petty we runners must have looked to them.

At one point, I too wanted to run NYC. It was one of the biggest and most famous marathons in the world and it was so close to home. After running it (twice, in fact), I understood why it was so famous. The crowd support, 1st Ave., running through the five boroughs and so much more. Still, I also finished with a feeling of not wanting to do the race again. It was too crowded, it was overpriced, it was run by an organization, NYRR, that I believe in many ways has lost its way. Since then, I have discovered the joys of small town races, with their charm and scenery, cheaper prices and room to breathe out on the course.

I was heartened by the way so many runners responded with kindness in the days following the storm and the cancellation. I'd like to think there is an additional silver lining. Many of my friends who were supposed to run have chosen to run in other races that are relatively close to New York. Some will be small town road races, others involve people trying the trails for the first time. It is my hope that they will discover that there are many great opportunities out there and ways to run. NYRR might not change, but perhaps some runners will.

Finally, given the choice of running or deferring, what would I have done? Would I have let my training go to waste or would I have refused to take part, realizing that it was not all about me? Perhaps the best way to answer the question is with a story.

A rabbi once asked his student what he would do if he found a wallet with ten thousand dollars inside. “Return it” said the student right away. “What are you, a fool?”, said the rabbi. The next day, the rabbi again asked the student what he would do if he found the wallet. This time the student answered “I'd keep it”. “What are you, a thief?” replied the rabbi. Unable to think of any other possibility, the student asked the rabbi what he should have said. “I will not know until I am in that situation”.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Daily Show

Why would a guy with a large family, a new job, and a running obsession take on a new daily commitment? Although I would love to tell you the answer, I can't. I'm trying to figure it out for myself.

You don't have to be in my world, or even Jewish to have heard about the event that took place this past August at Met Life Stadium. Intrigued by a gathering involving tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, the media covered this past summer's Daf Yomi Siyum. The event involved the completing of the entire Talmud at a rate of two pages per day over a seven and a half year period. For the uninitiated, this might not sound so challenging, but imagine studying a text in a foreign language, with no punctuation and vowelization, while reading legal arguments about abstract and occasionally arcane topics, and you begin to get a clue of what is involved. Now imagine doing this every single day for more than seven years. On vacation? Doesn't matter? In the hospital? Keep on studying. Not in the mood? Too bad. Amazingly, there are tens of thousands of people who did this and continue to do so as the new cycle is underway.

I was there at the stadium that day. Not as one of those completing the talmud, or, even as a celebrant. I felt that, as a father, I should bring my older sons with me. I was in the middle of a prolonged crisis of faith, where serious talmudic study and even prayer, felt like a burden. Unlike many who were in the crowd that night, I left the stadium with no plan of joining the new cycle which would begin the following day.

It hadn't always been that way. After finally figuring how to study talmud in my 20s, I dove in pretty seriously. I openly spoke of my plan to finish before I reached the age of 40. I made progress, both through the Daf Yomi system, as well as more in depth study with friends. Then life happened and I fell off the wagon a bit. I comforted myself by telling myself that my teaching to my students counted as a form of study. Before I knew it, the goal of finishing the talmud faded from my mind. In fact, I started a new form of daily communion; running.

Where I had once felt the need to master Jewish law, lore and philosophy, I now felt a need to do speed work and hill repeats. While Jewish law kept me from developing one of those obsessive streaks of running every day, I soon was running each day when it was permissible. While I occasionally felt guilty, I had a plethora of answers that kept my guilt from growing strong enough to move me to change.

I felt like a hypocrite as I encouraged my children and students to study, while I did not. My feeling of unease grew as I started to struggle with religious doubts. I didn't exactly embrace them, but I can't say that I worked hard for answers.

Amazingly, my oldest son, who already spends many hours a day studying talmud, started to do the Daf. Although I occasionally studied with him, I didn't think much about it. It was more of a way to connect with my son, than a religious act.

Recently, I decided to stop being passive and started poking at my doubts. I had some good conversations, read some good books and essays, and did a little soul searching. On Yom Kippur I made a somewhat modest decision. I decided I would join with Daf Yomi for the next volume of the talmud. For the next six months, I will be trying an experiment. As I travel for work, I will continue my study. As the due date of our 8th child approaches, I will do the daf. As I feed my addictive personality with daily doses of mileage, I will give it a second helping as I study each day.

Where will this lead me? I have no idea. As I occasionally do when I put on my running shoes, I am going to just get started and see where I end up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Desks, Running and Learning

12 years is a long time to sit at a desk. Although I know my son Ashi won't actually be sitting in one for that long, I felt a sense of trepidation as I watched him go off to school to begin first grade this morning.

As many of you know, one of my biggest challenges, and hence, one of the things I write about the most, is my relationship with my sons. I often struggle with letting my boys become who they want to be, instead of forcing them into the place where I want them to reside. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways; from sports to religion to religion (did I mention religion?). Of course, as I became obsessed with running, and even moderately successful, I had to fight the urge to try and get my sons to become runners. Of course, my oldest sons being teenagers, helped me, by reminding me that anytime I pushed too hard, they would respond with a pull the other way.

All of that made running my first race on Thursday night, with not one, but both of my oldest sons, so special. I didn't push them, threaten them or even try and bribe them, I just invited and they accepted. I can't deny that I was particularly pleased afterward to hear them talking about bringing down their times at their next race.

Which brings me back to Ashi, who today began the transition from play-time, nap-time and story time, to desks, homework and blackboards. I fear that he will have a hard time sitting still, as some male Sommers, perhaps even myself, experienced in the past. As a (former?) teacher, I know that not every student is cut out for classroom learning, and that much of what we make them do, has no real connection to what they will need to do later on in life.

Of course, there are all sorts of things that I hope he will learn and love. I hope his teachers and I remember that learning happens in a ll sorts of places from classes to parks. While sitting still and running fast.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I can't breathe, but I push on. This is why I've never really liked 5Ks. The pain, the struggle to bring oxygen into my heaving lungs. I keep looking at my watch to see how much farther I have to go. Almost there.

The past few weeks have brought a number of races and a few concerts, two things that seem unconnected, even if one did involve the singing of “Born to Run”. Still, there was a common element. As I watched Bruce with my brother at Fenway, and Moshav Band with my wife, I felt like I feel after crossing the line in a short race; the amazing feeling as air fills my body and my breathing goes back to normal.

I never realized how much I need music until my father passed away. That year, as I followed the Jewish custom of not listening to music as a sign of mourning, I felt an extra level of pain. I don't know whether I might have been able to receive rabbinical permission to listen, but I didn't ask. The very night that the year of mourning was over, I went to a concert and I felt it. As I listened to the music I had that feeling. I was breathing again.

It varies from time to time, what I want to hear, or more correctly what I need to hear. I have my ideas as to why it changes, but I'll save that for another time and place. Either way, I've found it interesting that as I've been to these concerts, I've reconnected with the pain of shorter races; not only accepting it, but embracing it. I don't think it's by chance that as I've done so, I've been able to set a few PRs and even win a trophy for winning my age group.

I am pretty sure that the pain and discomfort are what make the breathing feel so good. I can't even claim it's a tradeoff that I would willingly make. Still, there is something about pushing and fighting through the pain, accepting that it's there, and the wonderful feeling that comes as, just for the moment, I take in the oxygen and just breathe.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Evangelical Rabbi Learns a Lesson

A friend once called me, only semi-jokingly, an evangelical runner. Having gained so much from running, I try to share it with others (Want to lose weight? Try running. Want to be happier? Try running. Want to get rid of bad breath? Try running). When asked about how to make time for running, I generally said something deep and sophisticated like “Do you have time to be in the hospital?”.

Well call it divine providence, karma, luck, comeuppance or my preferred term, God's sense of humor, but this summer, I've learned to be a little less preachy.

It has often been said, with only the tiniest amount of exaggeration, that the two best parts of teaching are July and August. Having left teaching after 16 years, to start Team Just One Life, I am no longer off from work in the summer. In fact, I am not only working but find myself on the road, recruiting for the team. From the pork capitol of America (Washington D.C.) to the dairy capitol of America (upstate New York. OK I know it's not, but even the dog I saw there, was white with black spots) I am seeing the world, or at least the Northeast corridor of the US, which to a former New Yorker, might as well be the world.

Well, between the long hours, and the time on the road, I have had a harder time getting out on the road in the best sense of the term, RUNNING. It seems that it's a little easier to train when you are working from 8-2:30 with a break in the summer. Fear not, I am still getting in 50+miles a week, but it does mean waking up at ungodly hours and being a bit more flexible.

I still think running might be the answer to practically all that ails the world (get Abbas and Netanyahu to run together and there would be peace within 5 miles), as well as what ails man (I can practically swear that I feel my hair follicles starting to sprout again). Still, I'm a little less smug than I used to be and will understand if you can only mange 45 miles a week.


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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Take the Leap

I received a friend request from my father-in-law the other day. At first, I have to admit, I thought it was a little strange. He's not exactly in the age demographic of most Facebook users. Still, upon giving it some thought, I thought it was pretty cool that he signed up for an account.

After I made the decision to end my career as a teacher, I received a call from a good friend. After he wished me luck, he added how much he admires my willingness to break away from what I was doing to try something new. He admitted that he is not thrilled with his job and wishes he he could change.

I spent 16 years teaching teenagers, or at least, trying to. I was frequently struck by the lack of willingness on the part of students who were making poor decisions to try and change. The thinking seemed to be based on the idea, that their current way of operating might not be working, but at least it was familiar.

It takes guts for a non-runner to try and take up running. At the beginning it's awkward, uncomfortable and frustrating. It's much easier to give up, or better yet, to not even try. Still, I know that it is not only my life that has been transformed by having fought through the uncomfortable initial effort.

We spend so much time talking about how life is too short and trying to live longer and yet, paradoxically, at the same time, staying in situations that just don't work. Often, we are alive, but not fully, trudging through life half asleep.

Of course, I had a little push getting to where I am. I can't deny that my new job comes with a steep learning curve. Still, I feel alive, productive and challenged. If I am successful, and I think I will be, I will also get to change lives. I suspect that there will be days when I will miss teaching. What I know that I will not miss is the feeling of being stuck, of being in a rut, in a situation that no longer felt ideal.

To my friend, my students and all of you I would say, take the leap. I suspect you'll be glad you did.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Being My Sammy-est

The news came, as such much of my news does these days, on my Facebook wall. “You will be missed Sammy- RIP”. Never having met him, I would probably not have thought about the post, had another friend not soon-after mentioned Sammy in his status. Then a third friend posted and mentioned Sammy's ever-present smile. Intrigued, I decided I had to know more about this man who had touched so many lives.

This is some of what I heard:

“He was one of the most selfless men I knew.”

“When I was raising money for a trip for kids, while many hesitated to share their connections, he was first to make the calls for me, hooking me up with donors and freebies for these kids.”

“He was one of those behind the scenes guys. “

I could go on, but I think you can see the theme that emerged. I found myself regretting that I had never known Sammy, and that, now, due to his untimely passing, I would never get that chance. More than that, I realized how much all of us can use a guy like Sammy in our lives.

As I shared the information that I would be changing careers and starting a charity running program for Just One Life, there were many well wishers. Of those, some made offers to help. I was touched by the outpouring of kindness that I received from friends, family and acquaintances alike. Still, I was, at times, unsure who I could approach and for what. A precious few sensed this hesitancy and made very specific offers to help. Personally, I suspect that I would not have been the Sammy, offering not just an encouraging smile, but also giving of my myself personally in any way possible.

Then it hit me. Although I will never get to actually know Sammy, I can learn from his all too short life, and try, in some small way to be like Sammy. To try and be the kind of friend to others, that I am looking for in my own life. To give of myself, without worrying about what's in it for me. To do for others in a quiet, but real way.

May his memory be a blessing.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Donning My Hardhat

On my drive home from work, I pass by the construction site for The Freedom Tower, the massive skyscraper that is being built on the site of The World Trade Center. I have watched it grow from a small non-descript building into a massive 1776 foot tall tower, standing high above New York’s skyline. I have always had a fascination with construction sites and this one has gotten me thinking as well.

I have no doubt that the finished tower will be a site to behold. No doubt, there will be a ceremony as people gather to celebrate the finished product. I wonder how many of the dignitaries who gather for the occasion, will recognize all of the work put in by the architects, construction workers and others, to get the building standing.

In the past, I have attended many race weekends with every detail carefully choreographed. I must admit that I never gave much thought to all the hard work that went into making it happen. I simply took for granted that I would get there and that everything would just happen.

As I build Team Just One Life into what I hope will be an amazing experience, I am learning all that it takes to make it happen. Now that I am past the dream stage into the building stage, I have many things that I need to do so that each of our runners will get the experience they deserve. I look forward to the end of our first race weekend, when I will be able to pause a bit to reflect on all that we have accomplished. For now, I’ll be donning my hardhat as I build Team Just One Life one flight at a time.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Job!

16 years in Jewish education. 16 years of teaching and learning, of connecting and caring, of trying and trying again. On the flip side, if I am to be honest, there’s also been 16 years of mistakes; of trying too hard, of taking things personally, of being tough when I needed to be nice, of being a sap when I need to show some backbone. In a few weeks it all comes to an end. I am changing careers. I am done with teaching, at least in the classroom sense of the term. Is it forever? That’s a very long time, so I’ll just say for the foreseeable future.

If you know me however, you know that I am hardwired to need to do something I find meaningful. I am not rushing off to head a Fortune 500 company. (What you just heard was the collective sigh of Wall Street. I always say, only somewhat facetiously, that I could run a Fortune 500 company into the ground in two weeks). I will be doing something I love. Something that I am passionate about. Something into which I can sink my everything.

When I first started running, I thought that it would be good for me as it would help me lose weight. Of course it did help in that regard, but it has given me so much more. A way to help the children of Chai Lifeline, to do a little bit for a young father with ALS, to help young teens who feel alienated from their religion and community. It has also given me friends. It might be somewhat of an exaggeration but sometimes I feel like half my friends on Facebook are rabbis and the other half are runners (of course, unlike myself, few combine the two). It has given me a way to help others and in so many ways, myself. Still, for a long time I was sure that there was one thing missing.

There are many organizations out there that do so much good in so many ways. Of course, like most of us, they have been hit hard by the recession. Sadly, I am not yet able to write out huge checks to solve these problems. What I can do, what I have wanted to do so badly, what I will be doing, is using running to help. Just One Life is an organization that helps expectant women in crisis, who live in Israel. The name of the organization comes from a Talmudic statement that equates saving one life with saving the world. Just One Life helps these women and their families financially and emotionally so that they can comfortably bring a child into this world. It is an amazing organization run by very special people. For more on Just One Life see here

I have been given the opportunity to start “Team Just One Life”; a charity team that will use running (and in the future other sports) to help raise money for this vital cause. Of course, from experience, I know that it will do this and so much more. It will introduce people to a healthier lifestyle, it will create friendships, it will help people develop a side of themselves they never knew they had. In short, it will change lives. I hope you will open your hearts, minds, rolodexes and wallets to help. I know that during the last several months as I thought about where I would be going next, so many of you helped in so many ways. Often, I have been moved beyond words. I know that I have so many people who I count as friends and who have been there for me in so many ways. Amazingly, some have been people who I only know virtually. I look forward to your being part of this next stage of my life. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Run Happy- Boston Marathon Recap

As the holiday of Pesach (Passover) came to an end, my excitement grew. The Boston Marathon was less than two days away, and, along with my family, I’d be “Shipping Up to Boston” the next morning. On Thursday I had heard that it might be a bit warmer than usual, perhaps as high as 70 degrees. With no access to the web over the last days of my namesake holiday, I hadn’t given it much thought. As I checked the weather on my cell phone, I almost fell over. There were reports that it might reach the mid to high 80s for the day of the race. The Boston Athletic Association, the organization that puts on the race was recommending that runners not run, and, contrary to their usual policy, and offering a deferral for next year. For a few moments I thought about it. I hadn’t been able to train properly due to my stress fracture. Even with cool weather, I knew I would not be at my best. Then, the better side of me took over. I had chosen to run this race. I had worked hard to train for this race. This was the race I would run.

Race Start- I took the shuttle to the race start in Hopkinton, a picturesque New England town, with narrow brick house lined streets, put on the map by the marathon. I check Facebook, for the 187th time and there is a small note from my friend Roy wishing me luck. He reminds me of how far I’ve come. He tells me to “Run Happy”.

As I walked towards the baggage check, a young boy approaches me and asks me to sign his poster. I almost fall over. Totally flattered and knowing this might not ever happen again, I oblige, adding “The Running Rabbi” after my name.

A fellow runner offers me some sun tan lotion. Knowing that I “never burn”, I pass. Big mistake. VERY big mistake.

A guy covered in orange, this year’s race color, passes me. It’s noot just his shirt and shorts that are orange. His entire visible body is covered in orange something. I must admit that I am not a fan of dressing in costumes for races. The Puritan in me feels like it cheapens the race. Worst of all, judging by his lower bib number, the bugger is faster than I am.

Then we are off.

Mile 1- It is hot and only getting hotter. I try and start off slowly. With adrenaline rushing through my body and the beginning of the race being mostly downhill, this is easier said than done.

Unlike the New York City Marathon, which takes place within the confines of the city, The Boston Marathon is actually run to Boston with less than 2 miles being run in the city. Starting in Hopkinton, the residents of each small town show up in droves, cheering us on with all they’ve got. Equally important on this day, they literally seem to give us all they’ve got. Orange slices, bananas, Twizzlers and pretzels. It’s a veritable fourth grade birthday party. Most importantly they give us water; in cups and from water guns, garden hoses and open hydrants. Some pass out ice cubes. They think they are spectators. Today they are also life savers.

Mile 3- I take Roy’s words to heart. Today is not a day for PRs. I decide to enjoy this race and treat it as a victory lap. Much to my regret, I can’t high-five each of the thousands of children lining the course. Each time I high-five a little girl, I tell her that I only high-five the prettiest girls. They respond like, well, school girls.

I’ve never run with my name on my shirt, but I’ve heard that Boston is the place to do it. On the front of my shirt, my lovely wife has written “Running Rabbi”. For the only time in the race, someone calls out “Go Rabbi”. Later on I realize why. Looking down at my shirt, the writing is gone. Next time I’ll get a permanent marker.

Mile 5- We enter Framingham, pronounced like what you would be doing if you were into pig art. It is the town we stayed in last night, and where Rochie and the kids will be cheering. I am very excited.

Three little girls are doing the cutest cheer about going to Boston. I wish I was carrying my cell phone to record the scene as I want to remember the tune.

Having started at the end of the first wave of runners (the fast ones, thank you very much) and running slowly, I have the street mostly to myself. I play to the crowd. As I wave my arms, the cheers get louder. I ask them if I am winning.

Mile 6- This where I am supposed to see my family, but I do not. I am REALLY bummed. Even worse, I feel a blister developing. Not only do I NEVER get sun burns, but I NEVER get blisters. Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket.

Mile 8- Having resigned myself to the fact that I missed seeing my family, I run on. Then I get a wonderful surprise. There they are on the left side of the road. Each time they have come to cheer me on at a race, I have always been too obsessed with a time goal to stop. This time I stop. I kiss my sons, I kiss my daughters and then, in my personal Wellesley moment, I [TRANSCRIPT INTERUPTTED].

Mile 9- I see a VW Bug as I am about to pass a group of boys watching the race. I go onto the sidewalk and VERY gently give one boy a punch and say "Punchbuggy yellow". Fortunately, his mother laughs hysterically instead of calling the cops.

Miles 10 & 11- We are in Nattick. This is the kind of scene that inspired Norman Rockwell. Bucolic New England town, men outside of their homes in lawn chairs listening to “The Sawx”, cute children cheering, towering spires. Wow.

As I run, I hear Sox updates on spectator’s radios. Just another advantage of running Boston.

I have no idea why, but there is a row of kids jumping on trampolines. One kid gets off. Channeling my inner Roy, I jump on for a few jumps.
Then I see them; two of the most iconic Boston Marathon figures; Dick and Rick Hoyt. Rick who is 50 has Cerebral Palsy. His father Dick, who is almost 72, has run The Boston Marathon almost every year since 1977 (as well as other marathons and TRIATHLONS) pushing Rick in a wheel chair. I don’t know whether he is hurt but Dick is sitting on the curb with his shoe off as a photographer takes pictures from a distance that is was too close if you ask me. Thankfully, as I find out later, the Hoyts finished their 30th Boston that day.

Thankfully, partially so I can go there. You had to know it’s coming…wait for it…wait for it…Dick and I Rick, today, I Hoyt as well.

Mile 13- I reach the half-way point in 1:57. I am feeling ok, but I know that I am going too fast and will pay later.

I hear the shrieks. I am approaching The Tunnel of Love, where Wellesley co-eds are shrieking and waiting to kiss the passing runners. They are on the right side of the road. I stay to the left, thank you very much. Some of the signs are funny. No, I will not tell you what they said.

One woman holds a sign identifying her as Teddy Bruschi’s daughter. Bruschi, a former New England Patriot, had a stroke a few years ago and has a foundation that raises money to help stroke victims. My son Meir is hoping to see him. At this point, despite the fact that I am not much of a drinker, I would prefer a different kind of Brew-ski.

Miles 16-20- Newton. The four hills of Newton are brutal on any day. Today they are worse. I love hills, but with a growing blister, sunburn and rashes in places you don’t even want to know about, I am afraid. Very afraid.
My heart is racing and I don’t want to end up in the hospital. I start a pattern of walking for a minute each mile, so that I will slow down. I’ve never tried for a slower time, but today is not a day to be a hero.

I trudge along, my back now hurting, due to altering my gait because of the blister. I want to punch the people who tell me “looking good”. No, I don’t. I look I was run over by a bus and then had my skin rubbed raw by a grater.

Heartbreak Hill. I alternate running, limping and walking. I know I will finish. It’s just a question of fighting through the pain.

“Go number 8813”. The spectators are awesome finding a way to cheer, even without knowing my name. As many of us take walk breaks, I hear “way to keep moving”. These are, by far, the best spectators in the world.

Then we are over the top. Normally downhills are a runner’s friend. Not today. As I let loose, my legs are begging me to stop. Boston College students line the streets shouting. I high five as many as can.

Mile 23- Brookline. This is the second time I am supposed to see my family out on the course, only this time I have mixed feelings. I don’t like the idea of my kids seeing me walk when I should be running. As much as I can, I run during this mile. Either way it doesn’t pay off, as I don’t see them.

I see the “Citgo” sign made famous by its proximity to Fenway Park. As much as I want to follow its first syllable, I try and follow its second one.

Mile 25- Welcome to Boston! I am pushing as much as I can. Then I see him. Orange guy is much less orange. Not only that, he is about to lose to the newly mostly red guy. MOOHAHA!

Mile 26- As I turn onto Boylston Street I am fighting back tears. The pain no longer matters and I am sprinting. I play to the crowd and the roar carries me. I am not Alberto Salazar, or Dick Beardsley, who made history on this course 30 years earlier (and who I met on Sunday!), but they could not have been any more excited as they raced to the finish than I am.

Finish Line- 4:09. 88 degrees. I simultaneously feel pain and pride. I am exhausted and exhilarated. A deep feeling of satisfaction washes over me. For the first time in forever, I have no idea what comes next. For the first time in forever, it doesn’t matter. Today I ran happy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


There was a song I used to sing when I was much younger that went something like this; “The foot bone’s connected to the…knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the… thigh bone”. I would keep on going until I reached the head bone. I never learned the real lyrics and I probably sang them differently each time, but I knew the basic idea. Every part of our body is connected.

I sometimes joke that running will make you really healthy if it doesn’t kill you first. The truth is that unless you are blessed with the perfect build and form, injuries come with the territory. A while back, I had a nagging knee pain that just wouldn’t go away. Although it didn’t stop me from running, it meant that I walked around after running in a rather uncomfortable position. Additionally, bending down to pick up one of my children was quite painful. I started poking around on the internet searching for a way to get rid of my discomfort. Nothing seemed to work. Then, I came across an article that suggested that most knee pain can be eliminated by strengthening the…hip muscles. “Hip muscles?” I wondered. “What does that have to do with my knees?” I read on. The author explained that knee pain is often an indication that other muscles are not strong enough and that the knees are working too hard to pick up the slack. Turns out that while running is great for certain muscles, other ones don’t grow stronger, leading to an imbalance. Left alone, this leads to injury.

This article got me thinking about where else there might be an imbalance in life. Often we concentrate on the areas in which we are strong while letting the other areas further atrophy. For some of, it might be emphasizing our relationship with G-d at the expense of our relationship with other people, or even ourselves. For others, it might be the reverse. Some people run to do things for others, while neglecting to take care of themselves. While it is good to work on our strengths, we must be sure not to neglect our weaknesses.

As for me, each time I go to the gym, I spend a few minutes strengthening my hip muscles. The knee pain is long gone. I’m trying to work on balance in my own life as well. As there doesn’t seem to be a machine at the gym which helps with that, I guess it’s all up to me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Letting Go...A Little- A Different Type of Love Story

The virtual ink has been dry recently. It’s not that I haven’t had things to write about; the ideas have been flowing. For some reason it just hasn’t felt right. That changed on Sunday. As I joined my daughter Chavi in completing the Miami Half Marathon, I knew I wanted to try and put my thoughts to words.

My dad OB”M, once told me that although I would of course love all of my children, there is something special about a father’s relationship with his daughter. As in so many other cases, he was correct. Chavi has always been my little girl, only she’s not so little anymore. In fact she turned 12 on Friday, two days before the race. In fact, becoming a bas/bat mitzvah was part of the impetus for her running the race.

Over the course of the weekend, I was reminded over and over again that she is getting older and that I need to let go a little. Throughout the weekend I watched in awe as she carried herself with confidence and dignity in dealing with all sorts of people, some of whom were many years her senior. When she asked me if she could hang out in the hotel lobby with some of the teenage girls who were also running, I said "Sure", although I felt a lump in my throat as I realized she no longer needed me to watch over her. It would not be the last time that I would have this realization.

The race was not easy for Chavi. Due to my stress fracture I had not been able to train with her, so her mom did her best, while juggling the gazillions of other parts of her life. Her longest training “run” was less than eight miles on the treadmill. Although I remained positive in discussing the race with Chavi, I knew that 13.1 miles on pavement would be tough.

As we waited for the race to start, I told Chavi that in the event that we would get separated, she should keep on going and that I would meet her at the Team Lifeline tent at the finish line. Truth is, I thought, "You’ll be fine without me".

As we started out, I was struck by the fact that one of the youngest women running the race was also the prettiest. We started out running one minute and then walking the next, but after a while, this became too tough for Chavi. For the rest of the race we ran when she could and walked the rest of the time. At times she surprised me by breaking out into a sprint. We picked light poles and mile markers, as places to run to, and we picked guys for her to “chick” (when a female runner passes a male runner), an important phrase that I taught her. We decided that we had to beat the ex-marine wearing the pink tutu. We tried to figure out what ING, the sponsor of the race, stands for (I guessed “International Something Something”, she suggested “I No Go”). We took advantage of gravity on downhills and mugged for every picture, as I hoped my smile could come close to matching hers. As she tired, I became her cheerleader, teaser and, at times, for the first time in too many years, her hand-holder. I splashed her with cups of water, as a way of cooling her off and we talked about life in a way we never had before. As her struggle intensified, I saw a look of beautiful determination on her face that reminded me of someone else. I thought back to the race two years earlier with Chavi’s mom, who had looked the same, later on in her race. I was so happy to discover another way that Chavi resembles my wonderful wife (the alternative being a whole lot less thrilling).

As we approached the finish line, I had to fight back tears. It was not because I had missed my PR by almost two hours. Chavi had stared down and overcome a great challenge and it was amazing to behold. Being a part of the experience was humbling and overwhelming. Most importantly, while I had been correct in my belief that Chavi could have finished on her own, I now realized that had I not been there, it would have been that much harder. Although I no longer need to grasp her hand so firmly, I do not yet need to let go.

Although the race is now over, you can still donate money to help sick children in honor of Chavi becoming a bas/bat mitzvah.