Wednesday, June 5, 2013

San Diego Rock-n-Roll Race Report- Team Just One Life

I am still coming down from an incredible high after this weekend. This was only the second race of Team Just One Life and I was a tiny bit nervous. In fact, my own race was the last thing on my mind. I can't believe how well everything went. There aren't too many times when getting a PR is not my main cause of happiness, but this was definitely one of them.

Pre-race- After 3 hours of sleeping the sleep of the just, I wake up. I am excited, nervous and not going back to bed. After getting dressed, I head downstairs. The whole team is there, looking awesome in their Team Just One Life shirts. I am wearing two bibs; the race one, signed by Meb, and underneath, a “coach” bib for after my race. We head out the doors and join the parade of runners, heading to the race start. There is an incredible energy in the air.

After some pre-race pictures we split up, to go to check bags and wait on the port-a-potty lines. I feel like a parent sending children off for a big test. I have done everything I can do. Now, it's their turn. I walk around trying to find a few runners from the team, with limited success. Annoyingly and perhaps not so surprisingly, we are not the only runners with red shirts with white writing. Note to self: next year we wear HOT pink shirts.

I line up in the second corral feeling pretty fast. Just an illusion, but one of the advantages in running in a race with many beginners.

Then, we are off.

Mile 1- Nice and easy, at over 8 minutes a mile. Today is not for racing. I'm tired and haven't been seriously training. That's what I keep telling myself. Truth is, I know my friend Yitzi is going to give me a hard time if I don't beat his wife's time, so by not racing, I am giving myself an excuse.

Mile 2- You might have noticed in the past, I'm an emotional kind of guy. The question is not if I will cry during a race, but only when. I see the first band stand for the first group playing music, as part of this Rock N' Roll race, and it's sponsored by Guitar Center, my oldest sons most favorite place in the world. Tears.

I look at my watch and I'm under 8 minutes per mile. I remind myself that I am not racing and that I better slow down. Although the sun is not yet out, it's getting warmer, and I can't possibly keep this pace.

Mile 3- I pass a used-clothing store. It's called Frock You. I sure hope they succeed and open a second store because I've got a great name for them to use.

I'm at 7:40 a mile. Maybe, just maybe I might get into the low 1:40s.

Mile 4- I'm not really sure why, but I think of my dad who passed away seven years ago this week. He always encouraged me to lose weight so I wouldn't end up like him. I did, just too late for him to see. I think he would have been proud of me and really liked Team Just One Life. Tears.

What the heck, let's give this a shot.. Not slowing down. I'm going to try for 1:40.

Mile 5- The course is not too exciting. I don't mind so much. I'm running well and other than some banter with people in the race, I am focused on running.

I am running the tangents almost perfectly and my Garmin and the race clocks are practically in sink.

Mile 6- Half way there. 50 minutes. I've run halves of full marathons in under 1:38, but never ran a half-marathon in under 1:40. I won't PR, but a 1:39 will be nice.

Mile 8- A few tough hills, but not too bad. The drum beats of the band help as well.

Mile 9- I see some of the wheel chair racers from the marathon go past. I tell the guy next to me that I want one of those.

I pass the team videographer and let out my best war cry and scream “Go Team Just One Life”.

Mile 10- Another hill. A volunteer says it's the last one. Ignorance is bliss. I tare up the hill.

Can I PR?

Mile 11- If I'm going to PR, I'm going to have to put up with a little pain. I'm now in the low 7s per mile. I can't really understand how I'm doing this. Then it hits me. When Meb signed my bib, he must have transferred some of his speed over to me. That's the only thing that makes logical sense.

It's literally, all downhill from here.

Mile 12- Run Sommer, run! I can see the downtown area and the stadium where the finish-line is located. I am close.

Mile 13- I'm giving it all that I've got. I cover the last 1/6th of a mile in 5:38.

PR! 1:36. I covered the last 5K in what would have been a 5K PR.

Never has a chocolate milk tasted better.

I switch my bibs and as a coach head back onto the course. This is perhaps my favorite part of the race. I cheer for every runner at the top of my lungs. I tell them there is cold beer at the finish line. I tell them they look great, even, and especially, when they don't. I cheer for them by name, whenever possible. Those with Red Sox hats get a special shout out. Then, I find one of our runners and run him/her back towards the finish line, and repeat.

I get to run with old and new friends. To give encouragement to those who need it, and distraction to those who prefer that. I watch one old friend go sub 2 in his first race. I run with another who has lost over 50 pounds, towards his wife and adorable son who are waiting up ahead.

All told, I cover more than 3 more miles, and have a blast doing so.

I am tired, sore and oh, so happy. There will be other days where I will PR. I can't imagine another race being better than this one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My First (and Last?) Ultra

I am sore, bruised, and have pain in areas that I never knew could hurt. I don't mind any of that. I wear it as a sign of pride. There is much to be proud of from yesterday and I'd like to share that before explaining, making excuses and whining a bit. I was excited to try an Ultra. Having run a whole bunch of marathons, I was curious if I could handle something longer. Besides, I love trails and challenges, at least the ones that I select and control for myself.

Before the race- There are a lot of trim dudes and dudettes hanging around. I try and make the usual deep small talk that permeates these situations. “Have you run this before?” I ask. “Not this race, although I've been on the AT.” He replies. “The A-Team? I wonder. This old white guy was clearly not the BA Barracus character”. Too afraid to probe further, I move on. Later I discover that we will be running on the Appalachian Trail, known by its friends as the AT.

The race director explains that we will be going through a section of boulders, where it will take us a half hour to go less than a half mile. I am less than excited to hear this.

Mile 1- There are, indeed boulders. Picture huge boulders with rabid mountain lions on them. Take away the lions, and that is what we go through and over and over and around...

Miles 2-4 Even once we are off the boulders there is less running than I've hoped. The climbs up the mountains go straight up. Apparently, switch backs are for wimps. Some older dude blows past me as we walk up the mountain. For the first time of five, I trip. A mere flesh wound.

Miles 5-7 When the downhills are rock free, I try and really open up. My fragile pride having been wounded by the faster hikers, I greatly enjoy running past them. For the first of a dozen times, we cross over and through water.

Mile 8 I wipe out but good. I am covered in dirt and chocolate gel. It is like I have been sacked by Lawrence Taylor. I don't think I blew any snot bubbles, but I think he'd have felt pretty good at watching me go down.

Miles 9-11 I meet a nice couple, who are also road runners. I get them a bit lost on the trail, but not too bad. They say they are doing the 20 miler and ask me what I am doing. When I say the 50K they react in a way similar to what a person in the hospital for an ingrown toenail would react, upon meeting someone who is getting their gall bladder removed, and a brain transplant. Something along the lines of pure pity.

I look down and see blood running down my leg.

Miles 12-14 The scenery is great. At the moments where I am running, I am really enjoying this.

Mile 15 Bathroom break. Based on the color of my urine, I think I'm a niddah. (Sorry, I know I shouldn't have gone there). No wonder all these folks have those backpacks with the five-course meals.

Mile 18- . They really are quite lovely. Running through them is kind of like being attacked by adorable porcupines; better than the alternative, pleasant even, but a bit painful.

Mile 20- The moment of truth. We are right near the parking lot. I can end it here. I get a drink, refill my water bottle and head out for part two.

Miles 21-22 Another hike up a mountain. I am being attacked by skeeters as if I am smelly, sweaty and dirty. Wonder why.

A fellow sufferer (who I later learn is named Jeremy) informs us that he's read the map and this is the last climb. I am very relieved.

At the top! This is Pole Steeple, the gorgeous, scenic top of the mountain with a great panoramic view. Only thing is, I trip, as I get to the top. I fall. Hard. Bone on rock. As I start to feel sorrier for myself and contemplate quitting, a woman reacts towards me with pity. This is exactly what I need. I will not quit. I will show myself and my kids that when I commit to do something, I finish it. I limp off down the mountain, forgetting to even look at the view.

Mile 23- I almost miss a turn. Luckily, Jeremy tells me before I get lost. With today being Lag BaOmer, I wonder if before the day is over, there will be a new yahrtzeit.

Mile 24- I am trying to channel Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Last of the Mohicans” but the soundtrack keeps getting interrupted by a different song in my head. Note to self. Never listen to the Maccabeats before running an Ultra, especially the song with the dancing jelly beans. Damn you Maccabeats!

Mile 25- There's a narrow bridge over the water (The water's not troubled, but I am). No railing. Wobbly bridge. Fear of heights. Not happy.

Miles 26-28- More hills, more rocks, more hiking. Jeremy gives and Jeremy taketh away. Damn you Jeremy!

The End- I finished. Or maybe, it finished me. SIX AND A HALF HOURS (the winner was in the low to mid fives).I am tired sore, proud, humbled, happy and annoyed. The non-Kosher barbeque sure smells great. Instead, I skarf down 32 bags of Utz potato chips, starting a one day love affair with hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

I really didn't mind the challenge. I kind of like the blood and bruises, so why am I so annoyed? It's not the slow time. I've run slow races before. I am frustarted by the amount I have walked, and climbed. I thought I was signing up to run, and too often, due to hills and rocks I was unable to do so. I trained a lot for this race. I ran a lot of hills and put in a lot of time and sweat. This is not what I expected. In earlier emails, we had been told that the section with the boulders would not be part of this year's race, yet there it was. According to my Garmin, the course was less than 30 miles. Finally, if I'm going to suffer like that, I'd at least like a shirt that says that I did a 50K instead of a generic one without any mention of the ddistance. So is there another Ultra in my future? Perhaps, but if so, it would have to be one where I can run. I love running on trails and can imagine trying to take on a50K again some day, but not like this.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts on Boston

I need to write now. I haven't felt that in a while. It's not that I had nothing to say. There were topics that cam to mind. Lacking the push to put them on paper, I left them there. Today it is different. I feel as if I will explode if I don't write. So here I am. I've been told my best writing is done when it's not planned; when I just let things flow. Perhaps. Today I have such a jumble of thoughts and I am not sure whether I can connect them.

A number of weeks ago, I sat going through race pictures from a race I'd run. I saw fast runners, and less-fast runners. Slow runners, and walkers. Smiles and scowls. Most of all, I saw heart, effort, passion and drive. Looking through race pictures reminds about what I most love about running. The personal stories, the collective effort and struggle, and will to improve. The desire to move, to be challenged, to get out there and feel alive.

Yesterday, an effort was made to change that. To take one of the most life-affirming activities I know, and bring death and hurt into the equation. I'd like to say that it failed, or that we will overcome, or win, or something like that, but I can't. I don't know what will happen. I'm scared. I'm sad. I'm numb. It is way to early to know what will happen.

The Boston Marathon course feels holy to me. I know that's an odd word to use, particularly as a rabbi. I typed it, deleted it, thinking it wrong, but re-typed it, as I could think of no truer word. Running there was a victory lap, after having struggled mightily to qualify. After showing myself, that I had more drive and desire then I had previously known. After coming back from a deflating injury. I fulfilled a dream there, and it felt as good as I'd hoped it would feel. Better, actually.

I had friends and acquaintances who ran Boston yesterday. People who worked hard to qualify for the first time. Veterans for whom it was old hat. One friend paced a double amputee, while another paced a young autistic man. I followed them, virtually through the race, hoping they'd love it as much as I had. What should have been a celebration, was turned into a day of tears.

When I went out last evening to run, having put on my Boston hat in a sort of desperate, but pathetic attempt to connect, I couldn't slow down. The combination of some bad personal news I'd received earlier and the bombing prevented me from running easily. I needed to move, to struggle, to hurt, and to hope things would be better. I desperately wanted to figure out how any of this made sense, to believe that, somehow, things would be ok. It didn't happen. I don't know if and when it will. I am scared sad and numb.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How I Became an Ambassador

When it comes to contests, lotteries, raffles and the like, I don't have the best attitude. I think of myself as never winning at these things, even though, at times, I have. Even worse, when I do enter, apply or buy a ticket, I'm always convinced I am going to win, and feel let down that I don't. Never mind that the odds might be 100 million to one that I become a millionaire through Powerball. I still feel horribly wronged when some other person's numbers are called. That being the case, it was amazing that I bothered to apply to be a Brand Ambassador for an upstart running apparel company, Reckless Running.

As with all important things in my life, I heard about it through Facebook. Two time Olympian Anthony Famiglietti, the co-founder of the company, announced that they were looking for people to help promote the brand. Immediately, the words which have been uttered by all those who accomplish great things in the world, came to mind. “I don't have a chance” I thought. Still, I was intrigued. I had always assumed that running companies were searching for runners who were over 40, with receding hairlines, large families and middle of the pack running times. I sat by my phone waiting for Nike, Adidas or Asics to call. At first, I figured they couldn't find my number. Then, I started to give up hope. Here was my chance.

Before I applied, I went to the Reckless Running website to learn what they were all about. “Runners of all ages, race times and distances, male and female can apply.” “Woohoo!” I thought. It was as if it was perfectly tailored for me. Sure there was some other stuff about inspiring, spirit and unique, but I figured they'd be blown away by the fact that I was a male runner with an age, race times and distances. After much deliberation, I decided to not spray Axe cologne on my application, especially since I was applying online.

After hitting “send”, I anxiously waited by my computer for the next 15 minutes. “What is taking them so long?” I wondered. I waited another five minutes, remembered that I don't win anything, and gave up.

A few nights ago, as I was about to go to bed, having finished responding to all my fan mail, I received an email telling me I had been chosen. “Yes” I thought. I had known, when I applied, that I would be the perfect new character for “Cheers”. Then I recalled that they had chosen that annoying Norm guy, for that role and looked at the email address. It was from Reckless Running! I was a little taken aback that they had forgotten to mention anything about my signing bonus, but I was pretty psyched about the free gear. I wondered why they had picked me. “Was I the only applicant?” I wondered as I excitedly read the email. Nope. There were over 200 applicants. Then it hit me. They must have been really impressed with my sub 2 hour marathon and the picture I submitted of my doppelganger, Tom Cruise. After calling my agent, publicist and barber, I wrote back to tell them I'd think about it.

For at least the next year, I'll be the guy running through the neighborhood in cool running gear with winged feet and skulls. I should fit right in, in Passaic.

So there you have it. That's more or less the true story of how it went down.

Write nice things about this, and I might even give you the code for 15% off at

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On the Road to Somewhere?

Sometimes I start writing with a destination in mind. I've mapped out in my thoughts what I'd like to say. All that remains is to put pen to ink (how quaint). So too in running. Much of the time, I head out knowing how far I'm running and which route I will follow. Other times, I let things go where they may. Today is one of those days. At least with my writing. I hope it ends up making sense.

The other night, I posted on Facebook that I was considering running my first ultra (50K) at the end of April. The response was quick, and though, I suspect, not intended so, quite sharp. “Isn't your wife due at the beginning of March?”. I felt the sting implicit in the question. It was magnified, when a virtual friend whom I've never met, “liked” the question. I quickly responded with an explanation that I would only run with my wife’s blessing, but it begs the question, what am I thinking?

I remember when I first watched Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary that follows six runners of various levels as they train for the marathon. Dick Beardsley, who would later become a hero of mine, said towards the beginning, “when you first cross that line, your life will never be the same”. I was three days away from my first half-marathon, still working to shed the last of my excess weight. I wondered whether he was correct. He was, but only to a degree.

Running in some ways, is a great analogy for life. Life is not a sprint. It truly is a marathon. Or a really long ultra. There are times when you feel great and others where you have to fight to keep moving forward. The analogy only goes so far. In running, hard work almost always pays off. Life is another matter.

I've long struggled to master being what the rabbis called “sameiach b'chelko” happy with my lot. I'm always convinced something better lays elsewhere. The perfect job, the right shul, the ideal community. Something that is going to make me happy for good. It's an illusion, and I know it. But it's one that captivates me. Here's the thing. Unlike with running, there is no training I can do, no hill sprints I can practice, that will bring what I want my way. So I keep on trying, convinced that this time will be better.

There is so much going on in our lives. I feel like my wife and I are both juggling chainsaws, hand grenades and piranhas, all while trying to recite the Gettysburg Address... in French. There's little I can do change the challenges. So running becomes my refuge. The place I go to feel good. To strive. To pretend I can make things better. At least in one area.

I never thought I'd run a full marathon. Once I did, I never thought I'd try something longer. I'm sure 50K is the limit, but how much is that certainty worth, when I've been wrong in the past? Here's the truth. No matter how far I go, no matter which path I take, even when I try to just let things go where they may, I always end up where I started.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stages, Pages and Sages

Among the biggest mistakes that a parent can make, at least in their child's eyes, is to suggest to your son a daughter that they play with someone who is of a different age. I know, because I've tried. The response is always the same. “I can't. He/she is in a different grade”. It's said with a look of disbelief as if I've just suggested that they go play on Mars.

The good news is that they grow out of it. Or do they? Many adults I know seem to live in a world where they socialize with those who are most like themselves. Rare is the shul or social gathering where the ages vary by too many years. How can we break free from this limiting perspective? I've found the answer in two pretty different places. Running and daf yomi.

As much as I love running, there are days that it gets pretty hard to drag myself out the door. One of the best ways to overcome that obstacle is to find someone to run with someone else. The conversation that develops is a great way to distract myself from the challenge of running. It's hard to be picky in a situation where most people I know would rather walk than run. Over time, I've found many with whom I can run. While some are within my age range, I've run with people who, if not old enough to be my parents, are certainly old enough to be my older uncle. I've also run with friends who discuss dating and looking for their first job, while I am at a very different stage of my life. Despite our difference in age, I've never failed to have a good time.

As an occasional Daf Yomi maggid shiur, I've benefited in this way as well. As I say over the daf to a small group of older gentleman, I get the additional benefit of moving out of my little world. It might be a stretch to say that we've become friends, but at the very least, I've grown through these interactions. I've gone outside my comfort zone and gained a different perspective. As I learn from Rebbe Akiva and Rav Ashi, I also hear the voices of those still living who have seen more than I have.

There's a comfort in staying within one's little world. There's also a price we pay when we limit ourselves. Let's look for ways to discover the world that's out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Hill and Back

As I ran yesterday on a short trail near my house, I came upon a fork in the road. To the right was an easy downhill, to the left, a short but steep hill. With a barely a thought, I turned to the left. As I ran on, I wondered to myself, why do I embrace hills while running, yet wish to avoid them in my personal life.

As a teacher, I could recite chapter and verse about why God challenges us. I often spoke of the idea that challenges make us stronger, and that the easy way is not the better way. If I am to be honest, I must admit ,that as I pray these days, at least on the days when I do so mindfully, I ask that God remove obstacles from my life. I admit it. I want things to be easy. No hidden blessings, no gain that comes through challenge. Easy. Obvious blessing. I understand that life does not work that way, but still, it is what I want.

So why the discrepancy. The answer is fairly simple, but somewhat frightening. As I run the hills, I know I am gaining speed. Not immediately, of course, but in a fairly linear sense. Within reason, more hills equals more speed. I should add, I suppose, that I like the idea of being tough, or rather another term, which I'd better not use. In life on the other hand, it's not so simple. Sure there are points in my life that I can look back on, where tough challenges brought great achievement. There are, however, many, where, at least as far as I can tell, I gained nothing discernible, or at least nothing that was worth the trade-off.

The best I can offer, is to paraphrase what I used to tell myself before I started loving running hills. If I can going to have to climb life's hills, I may as well embrace them. It's not much of a start, but for now, it will have to do.