December 21, 2007

I Could Get Used To This

Warning: this story is disgusting and may not be suitable for breakfast-time reading.

As you may know by now, Catherine and I are members of the YMCA. I make fun of the YMCA, we both do. You don't hear Catherine make fun of the YMCA because she doesn't tell you. But she does make fun of it, trust me.

Underneath it all we kinda like the place. We like it in the same way you may like the homeless, disheveled mutt that eats out of your neighbor's garbage but looks up at you every time you pass by with those big brown innocent button eyes of his that melt your heart. Someday the dog will have passed away and, with a sigh, you'll miss the poor little bastard and wish you'd have treated him better. Maybe someday we'll treat the YMCA better. Maybe.

As for today, I'm kind of fed up.

Every year around Christmas time, the Santa Monica YMCA shuts down the pool for its annual cleaning. I'm all for cleaning that swim bucket, trust me on that one. With all the kids and crazy old people, Lord knows what kind of bacteria is breeding in that pond.

The thing is, closing the pool creates a kind of inconvenience for me. And if I'm forking over my monthly fee, I don't want to be inconvenienced. Fortunately, there is another YMCA in West Los Angeles, just a few miles away. I haven't been there but know they have a pool. Lord knows the YMCA senior management can't be stupid enough to close both pools at the same time. So last week, as I was talking to the lifeguard about the upcoming pool closing, I mentioned that I'd now have to swim at the West LA pool.

No, he said in his think Russian accent. Ees close-ed too.

I looked at him in shock and disbelief.

Really?

Jes.

Well that kinda blows. I guess this means I'll have to go to the Pacific Palisades YMCA. Their pool is outdoors, not my first choice in December, but it'll have to do.

Later in the week I'm up in the Pacific Palisades area so decide to drop by the YMCA to get the pool hours. Sorry, the front desk kid tells me, but our pool is closed.

Whaaa?! Are you @*(&! serious? I burst out uncontrollably, knowing such words are frowned upon in the family friendly YMCA. The West LA and Santa Monica pools are closed too, how can you all be closed at once?

Yeah, he replied as if I'd suddenly figured out the secret code. We coordinate it all to work together.

Excuse me?! You coordinate it?! You mean you actually talk to each other to make sure you each maximize the inconvenience to your members all at once?

I huffed out of there.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful pool at Santa Monica College (SMC), not but a few miles from my home. It's a beautiful pool - the best on the westside of Los Angeles. Clean water, nice lanes. It, too, is an outdoor pool. And though in these brisk, oftentimes rainy mornings it sure is tough to motivate oneself to swim outside, with the other 3 pools closed, what choice do I really have. I can suck it up for a week or two.

Catherine called up to check with them and, guess what? Yep, the SMC pool is closed in December as well. This is starting to sound like a conspiracy.

My choices are dwindling. The top four pools I would even consider going to are all closed. My options are weak, but I need to swim. I suppose that leaves me at the Westwood Recreation Center. [insert foreboding music]

The Westwood Recreation Center is to health clubs like a Port-a-John is to fine dining.

I used to swim in the Westwood Recreation Center about 12 years ago. Though the pool area is somewhat bearable, getting to the pool usually falls on the disgusting side of the cleanliness spectrum. It only costs $1.50 to get into the rec center, so mornings act as a bathroom haven for the local homeless. The locker room becomes a festering petri dish of disease. The cold cement floor is always wet, though I'm never quite sure what liquid is causing the dampness. Whenever my eye catches a speck of something on the floor, I divert my gaze. Whatever it is, I don't want to know.

I don't just wear shoes in the locker room, I wear shoes on my shoes. And two layers of socks. If I owned a hazmat suit, I'd wear that too.

Catherine had called up to find out the Rec Center hours and, as you can probably guess, she found out that the pool closes for December later this week. Of course. Heaven forbid there should be any pool available. That said, we had a few days before it shut down and, at the very least, needed to squeeze in at least one swim.

I wasn't a bundle of joy when Catherine and I rolled out into the dark, rainy morning and pulled into the Westwood Recreation Center parking lot. We hustled through the rain showers and dove into the warm, dry safety of the Rec Center lobby. It was 6:30am. They had just opened their doors.

As Catherine walked down the desolate hallway to the women's locker room, I followed the winding path to the men's locker room. I walked into the locker room and was greeted by the same wet cement floor that was there 12 years ago. I started getting flashbacks. As I began to change into my swim clothes, my stomach started feeling queasy.

Suddenly I heard another person approaching. I looked up to see the locker room door open and a shopping cart get wheeled in, dragging along with it a disheveled looking gentleman who no doubt hasn't seen the soft side of a bed in eons. His shopping cart was filled to the brim with what I can only imagine were his worldly belongings. And they were sopping wet, as was the homeless gent.

He pushed his shopping cart into the middle of the locker room, which, for the record, is where I was located. He left his cart right by my side as he walked towards the toilets.

There was a sign on the side of the locker room that said "no running water." With no shower or sink water, I didn't need to see how this bathroom story played out. I grabbed my belongings and high-tailed it into the pool area. I'll finish changing by the pool, thank you very much.

The pool, as previously mentioned, is fairly decent. It's a 25 meter pool with more than enough lanes. Not the clearest water in the world, but I tried not to think about that. There was a masters swim class going on in the far side of the pool, but there was ample room for Catherine and I to have our own lane and complete our days routine.

Catherine finished before me and bid farewell as she left the pool and walked into the women's locker room. She removed her bathing suit and began to put on her clothes. As she was pulling on said clothes something caught her eye. It couldn't be, she thought as she looked down on the ground - the wet concrete ground. But it was. There, right next to her foot, was a pile of human excrement.

Yes, somebody shat on the floor of the women's locker room.

She looked up in disgust. It was at this point that she saw the two signs posted on the wall of the locker room:

Do not swim in the pool if you have diarrhea, one said.
and
Please don't drink the pool water, said the other.

Is this really it? Is this what our lives have come down to? With every half-way sanitary pool in the west Los Angeles area closed for the holidays, are we forced to patronize a place where people shit on the locker room floor? Where you actually have to REMIND the patrons not to have diarrhea in the pool and then drink the water? Where has humanity gone?

Had the pool actually stayed open later than this week, we wouldn't have returned.

Suddenly I began to miss the YMCA. I missed my little garbage eating mutt. I wanted him back. I wanted to smile with all my fat, old Russian locker room buddies. I wanted to splash in the water with the Cchat-Ptewies; to compare electronics with The Accessorizer. I wanted to jolly in the inane antics of all my inane YMCA friends. I wanted my life back.

But, alas, I'll have to wait another 2 weeks.

Lo and behold, just when it gets the darkest is usually when the sun is about to shine. And shine it did.

The Sports Club LA is perhaps the most high-fallutin' gym for the masses in Los Angeles. There are no concrete floors in the locker room at Sports Club LA, it's fully carpeted, with clean towels and terrycloth robes. People don't shit on the floor at Sports Club LA. People can eat their caviar off their floor. There are no group showers at the Sports Club LA, it's individual stalls, with little squeezy jars of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in each. And attendants to bring you soft towels and comfy robes.

Sports Club LA is the exercise hangout for the rich and plastic surgeoned. It's gaudy and expensive and ridiculously Hollywood. It's also free for us for one week thanks to some guest passes we were given.

I went there for my swim this morning. It was amazing. They actually have individual lap lanes. Lap lanes for one. You never have to share a lane at Sports Club LA. And sure there's a sign that asks swimmers to limit their workouts to 30 minutes if others are waiting, but nobody's waiting. Ever. Sports Club LA is the type of club where people pay extra to have a pool, and then never use it.

After my swim, I went to lift weights. The machines and the weights were shiny and clean. There were machines I never heard of, machines that looked as if they'd never been used. I commented something of the sort to one of the many passing attendants.

Yes, we get new machines every six months. We always want to make sure we give you the best there is.

God bless you, Mr. Attendant. And God Bless the Sports Club LA.

After finishing my weight routine, I went back down to the locker room to get ready for my day. I took a nice, warm, private shower. I dried my body with fluffy, clean, new towels. I combed my hair, shaved my face and lotioned my skin. I burrowed my toes into the soft comfort of the locker room carpet and smiled. I could get used to this I said repeatedly. I could get used to this.

Maybe the old mangy mutt will have to wait another week.

December 19, 2007

I'll Pay Extra

Catherine and I were walking down the streets of Westwood a few months ago on our way to see a play. We crossed an intersection, only to be confronted by one of those 40-something, usually Latino gentlemen distributing flyers.

If you've been to Times Square or anywhere on the strip of Las Vegas, you've probably seen these guys flipping the flyers in front of your face. Most often the flyer gives you a few dollars discount on entry fees to a gentleman's club, so you can spend the rest of your savings having some woman you'll never get to touch pretend that she really wants you to touch her. She's lying - she's only there to take your money.

If not for a gentlemen's club discount, the flyer will probably promote the big annual blowout sale of some random, struggling electronics, jewelry or cheezy clothing store that seems to have an annual blowout sale on a weekly basis.

Walking up Westwood Boulevard, as Catherine and I had been doing during the time of said flyer distribution, I figured the flyer was definitely not for a strip club. And since I had no need for cheezy looking faux-silk shirts, I didn't make eye contact with senior flyer guy and cast my eyes toward the sidewalk as I pushed Catherine forward.

Flyer distribution guys, however, have one simple goal and that's to hand out flyers. It's their job. In fact, the entire job description probably only has three words: hand out flyers.

They're not looking for people to come ask them for flyers. It's not self-service flyering. They push forward and hand the darn things out to anybody and everybody they can. So, despite the fact that I tried my best to ignore this gentleman, he popped in our direction and pushed a flyer in front of our chests.

Discount sushi, he said. 50% off sushi.

As if the unwelcome flyering wasn't enough....sushi? You serious?

I looked at Catherine. Sushi?

Let me tell you, I told her, if a sushi restaurant is struggling on such hard times that they need to resort to having Mexican men standing on corners handing out flyers, I'm not real sure I want to be eating their fish in the first place.

This line of conversation quickly spiraled into a stimulating discussion among Catherine and I that has been going on for about 3 months so far. And now is the time to let you join in. So let me present to you:

A List Of Things For Which I Really Don't Want To Pay A Discounted Price. Full Price Is Fine, Thank You. In Fact, Charge Me More Than Full Price, I'll Pay Extra.

1. SUSHI: Show me a place that offers 50% off sushi prices and I'll show you a doctor's prescription to cure tape worm.

2. AIRLINE PILOT SALARIES: I never - ever - want to hear that an airline pilot's salary has been decreased. They want more money than Trump? Fine. Here, take my credit cards, go crazy. Just get me back on the goddam ground.

3. CAR BRAKES: Discount car brakes at a discount auto shop? Does that come with a discount tombstone?

4. SURGEON: Heart surgeon, brain surgeon, even pancreas surgeon for that matter, if somebody's gonna dig around my insides with sharp objects, I don't want it to be the guy that spent his medical school years smoking so much reefer that he's resorted to advertising his services with words like, "the cheapest liver transplant in town" or "free sandwich with each procedure."

5. SAFETY AIR BAGS: If this balloon is the one thing separating me from walking away from a car wreck and being wheeled away, make the damn things out of golden parachutes if you have to.

That's what I've got so far.... you?

December 13, 2007

The Five Phases of Success - or - Venice Christmas Run: A Race Report

The Santa Monica - Venice Christmas 10k is one of those yearly must-do runs. It's the type of race where the locals really dig deep to display their holiday spirit. Whether it be jingle bells tied to running shoes, or reindeer antlers on a wickable cap, there's enough happy and merry at this race to fill us all with our fair share of ho-ho-honess.

As you may know, I've spent the past few months struggling with exercise-limiting physical pain. Though I'm finally able to shuffle about on the road (as opposed to wasting my days on the dreaded elliptical), my achilles still doesn't feel completely healed. Regardless, Catherine and I decided to sign up for the Christmas Run, probably more out of habit than anything. Even so, we didn't have expectations of doing anything but a holiday shuffle.

You can imagine my surprise when the race went extremely well. In fact, it went so well, I was even able to come up with a new philosophy on life - and I know how much you love my life-altering philosophies.

So here you go, little buckaroo... my Christmas Run race report, also known as Ironman Life's Five Phases of Success.

Mile 1, Phase 1: MOTIVATION

There were nearly 1200 people that participated in this year's Christmas Run, but the moment I got to the starting line only one person caught my eye. His name is Phil. Phil the Dancing Grill, to be exact.

There's this company in Santa Monica called Westside Rentals. Their business has nothing to do with my story, so I won't get into that. The reason I bring them up is due to their main promotional effort, which is to have Phil standing on the corner of 11th Street and Wilshire Blvd, usually dressed in a caped gladiator costume, holding an oversized Westside Rentals sign and dancing his butt off all day. For 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, Phil the Dancing Grill stands on the corner and dances like he's in some sort of Saturday Night Fever induced haze.

In fact, you can see Phil in action (sans Gladiator costume) by clicking here.

I don't know Phil, never talked to the guy in my life. But the way he dances, the way he's become a quasi- local celebrity - well, it just irks me in my most irkable locations.

So when I saw Phil standing there at the front of the crowded Christmas Run starting line, all smiling and bouncing, wearing his cape, holding up his Westside Rentals sign and screaming "Weeessst-SIIIIIDE!!!".... well, the irking got reignited. If there's one thing I don't need at 7:30 on a cold Saturday morning, it's irk.

I turned to Catherine. No way in hell is that Westside dancing dork gonna beat me today, I said with a gaze of focused, irk-filled motivation.

It was 7:30am. The gun went off and the crowd started moving. I could see above the crowd separating us that Phil took off like a rocket. Catherine and I were in the middle of the pack, so Gladiator-boy got a good 10-15 second head start before Catherine and I even crossed the starting line.

What with all his dancing and strutting and inane tom-foolery, I assumed Phil was a pretty good runner. I've competed in a few dance marathons in my youth (don't ask) and have come to understand the true value of a running background when it comes to endurance dancing.

Prior to seeing Phil, my strategy was to take the first couple of miles slowly and then pick it up for the last four. But now there was Phil. Now there was motivation. As soon as I hit the starting line, I picked up a pace that was quite faster than "take it slowly." Within a few seconds I had already dropped Catherine. I weaved my way in and out of the crowds, focused and determined to keep my sites on Senior Dancing Grill. He's not getting away from me. Not the dancing gladiator. Not today. Not in my house.

As it turns out, I caught up to Phil within a half mile. I saw the look of struggle crawling across his face as I passed him by. Well what have we here? I told myself. Mr. Dance Machine doesn't have the running gene, after all.

I knew right away that I would probably beat Phil in this race, which is about all I needed to de-irk myself. It was at that point that I noticed my legs were feeling pretty good. I had kicked this race off with a fairly aggressive pace and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I may actually be able to hold the pace for awhile. I was motivated, I kept moving.

Soon enough I hit the one mile marker and rapidly descended into Phase 2.

Mile 1 split: 7:33


Mile 2, Phase 2: REALIZATION


I looked at my watch as I passed the one mile mark. 7:33.

7:33?!

My mind started bouncing back and forth, mostly saying things like "uh-oh" over and over again. The realization had set in.

Here's the reality: I'm older than 40. I started running when I was 12. I used to run fast in my youth, but I am no longer in my youth. My body is shot, my leg muscles are scar tissue. I'm not a 7:33 miler. It's taken awhile to realize this, but I've finally come to terms with my slowness.

Over the past 4 weeks my average running pace has been a 10:11 mile. I am, at this stage of my existence, a 10 minute miler. Sure, maybe in a race that might translate to 9 minute miles. 8:30 at best. 7:33? No way.

As I moved on into mile 2, I began to convince myself to slow down. You're too old for this, I told myself. You're not good enough.

And just as I was about to slam on the brakes, I decided to buy a bigger bowl. I dared to believe that I could go fast again. What if, I told myself.

What if I could maintain this for the entire race.
What if I believed I was this fast.
What if I tried.

And that's what I did. I blazed through mile 2. I decided to believe I could keep this pace. And as my realization of reality morphed into a new me, I kept passing people and soaking up their energy. And just as quickly I hit mile 3...

Mile 2 split: 7:11


Mile 3, Phase 3: PERSPIRATION


The joy of once again running 7-somethings lasts about 2 miles. Though you can motivate yourself to run faster than another person and you can convince yourself to believe a new paradigm of life, there comes a point when the facade of happiness wears off and reality sets in. That happened around mile 3.

Motivation got me through the first mile. A new realization got me through the second. Mile three is where the hard work began.

My body started reacting, fighting, perspiring. My heart rate had been in the high 160s since the starting gun and now I was firmly implanted in the 170s. The lactic acid was building up and my breathing was getting more difficult. My mind began arguing with my body. Slow down, it would scream. What the hell are you doing to yourself?!

I opened my mouth to ingest more oxygen. To breathe life into me as I pushed forward in man's ultimate battle between the travails of discomfort and ease of mediocrity.

Do I slow down? Do I give up on myself? Or do I push harder, knowing that this beating of my heart, this gasping of my lungs, this burning in my legs - this is what it means to be alive.

I chose life.

And so I began to concentrate further, to delve deeper into myself and keep moving forward. Until, eventually, I got to Phase 4.

Mile 3 split: 7:28


Mile 4, Phase 4: ACTUALIZATION

In any difficult challenge, there comes a transition point between the body and the mind in which the two begin to reverse roles. The body, once the driver, begins to fade into the background; to move into autopilot and be driven by the power of the mind. It is often not a smooth transition. The body fights and struggles. It claws at the mind, scraping and screaming for it to give in.

For an athlete, this is often the phase in which life displays itself in vivid bursts. It is the phase in which the strength of your character is manifested.

As I delved deeper into Mile 4, I was cognizant of this battle. Already more than half way done with the race, I knew I couldn't give in. And I knew that this mile was going to be my big challenge.

As my body mauled and molested my mind, I fought back. I went faster. I delved into the depths of concentration and, like a sad excuse for a character out of Heroes, I pushed the evil into the dark corners of the past. I struggled to stay in the present, feeling every movement, every breath, every step.

Save the runner, save the world.

And soon enough, I was on Mile 5.

Mile 4 split: 7:24

Mile 5, Phase 5: DETERMINATION

Two miles is not far to go. Two miles is near the end. Two miles is a warm-up, a cool-down, a swim distance. Two miles is a sprint.

With only two miles to go, I knew I could do this. I could hold this pace. I could push myself further.

My body was moving faster but I couldn't sense a difference. I was being driven by my mind, focused on nothing but the present. I was determined.

Suddenly, I started passing more and more people. Those that had been seemingly minutes ahead of me, were now images in my rear view mirror. I could breathe. I felt the sanctity of life, of goodliness and spirit, course through my veins. I focused all of my efforts on just finishing this mile. This is it, I said. This is easy.

I smiled. And laughed. And I reached the mile 5 marker.

Mile 5 split: 7:19

Mile 6, Phase 6: ELEVATION

They call it "being in the Zone" when everything is working together perfectly. Full involvement. Energized focus. Flow.

There is a profound clarity you get in the moments of flow. For me, I feel as if my feet don't touch the ground. Literally, I'm flying. All of the hard work, the pain and struggle, it becomes effortless.

Mid-way through mile 6, I achieved the flow. I was completely, utterly in the present. Moving without effort, focused, determined and serene. Chills ran up my spine.

There's a shift in the space-time continuum when you are in the Zone. Though you're moving fast, responding in milliseconds, every step is in slow motion. It's like you're in the middle of The Matrix, battling the forces of evil with such little effort as your limbs move in preposterously fast maneuvers.

I picked up the pace even more, moving my legs to their limit. I wished my joints were more limber to enable me to go faster. If I could, I would.

I ran. Harder, faster, stronger. Free-er.

Mile 6 split: 7:06

I crossed the line in 45:17. Not a PR, but one of the most blissfully satisfying races I've had this decade. I changed my reality and saw that I still had something deep inside.

As I've been out on the road this week, shuffling along at my regular 10+ minute per mile pace, something seems different. A light had been lit inside me and I knew - I know - that I can be the person that I strive to be. Life, I've been reminded, is not easy. We go through phases of growth - motivation, battle, acceptance - but in the end, if we are dedicated to our purpose, determined to be the best that we can be, we are elevated.

It's all in the flow.

December 07, 2007

10 Things I Learned About Triathlon From Watching Top Chef

I love food.

I love cooking food.
I love eating food.
I love talking about cooking and eating food.
I love thinking about cooking and eating food.
And when I can't do any of those things, I love watching people cook and eat and talk about cooking and eating food.

Top Chef? One of the best shows on TV. You can learn a lot by watching other people cook. Like how to cut onions into little cubes without crying and creating a mess.

Here, for my writing pleasure and hopefully your reading pleasure, are 10 things that I learned about triathlon by watching Top Chef.


1. Though everybody toes the starting line with the same goal, the methods people take to complete the task can be very different. Not wrong, not right - just different.

2. Some people move fast, some don't. That is no indication of who is better at what they do.

3. Don't judge the insides by how it looks on the outside - when you really dig in it could leave a bad taste in your mouth.

4. Even though it's a competition, we'll all come out much better if we work together

5. There's always going to be a jerk in the group. Don't let the douchebag get you down.

6. Be yourself, stick to your guns. In the end, all you have and all you are is all you are expected to do.

7. If somebody is running around frantically with a sharp object, odds are you want to stand pretty clear of them.

8. Though you may be judged by others, that doesn't mean they think you suck.

9. Be open-minded. No matter how much of an expert you think you are, there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

10. Everybody is human, regardless of how much or how fast they're cookin'.

December 04, 2007

My Brush With Santa

Let's get this one thing straight, Santa Claus and Jesus Christ have nothing to do with each other. They don't know each other, never did. If I have my facts correct, and I'm pretty sure I do, Santa Claus wasn't even born until well after Jesus' bar mitzvah. Like hundreds of years after.

I'm fairly sure the families didn't even know each other. It probably wasn't as strained as the Montagues and Capulets, or even the Hatfields and McCoys, but I'm fairly positive that the Clauses and Christs never went on joint family vacations. At the very least, what with one group liking the cold and the other the heat, they probably wouldn't even be able to agree on a vacation destination.

This line of thinking all started the other night when I referred to Santa Claus as a douchebag.

You see, every year for one night in early December the shopping district in Santa Monica keeps it's doors open late. With the hopes of getting the local community blotto and ringing up big bills on their credit cards, all of the stores reduce the cost of their overpriced goods, dust off their holiday music CDs and assemble their own private version of holiday cheer - egg nog, frosted cookies, glasses of wine, chunks of cheese and, in the case of the local eye doctor, cups of homemade chili.

Miraculously, Santa Claus finds the time every December in what must be a fairly hectic schedule, to pop on by the local Coldwell Banker Real Estate office and take pictures with the locals. For many years I've enjoyed dropping by with my friends and getting my Polaroid with Santa. After all, it's not often that you get to see that large a celebrity up close and personal.

For the most part I've enjoyed my time with Santa. A bit roley-poley, could probably use an extra few weeks in the gym, maybe even a couple training sessions with Mark Allen, but he seems to be a nice enough fellow. Good hearty laugh, sharp looking outfit (if not a bit dated) and always in a fairly positive mood. You can probably imagine my surprise when all of this changed two years ago.

It was the same evening in early December - the Montana Walk, we call it (mostly because it involves walking up and down Montana Avenue). Catherine and I were new in our relationship and what better way to capture those early months of love than a joint photo with St. Nick.

We roamed up the street, grabbing a cookie here, a brownie there, dipping in and out of stores, until we finally reached the Coldwell Banker. I could see Santa inside, sitting majestically in front of a line of well-wishers. Catherine and I stood in line and, soon enough, we were at the front. Now is our big moment - our brush with celebrity. We approached the big fat fellow excitedly.

Cat went to one side of Santa and I the other. That's where things started going badly. It seemed pretty evident to me from the moment we walked up to Santa that he had a little bit too much holiday cheer focused on my girlfriend. As we neared his chair he immediately pulled Catherine to his leg and put his arm around her with a jolly warmth and a bit too much ho-ho-ho for my liking. I started feeling a little uncomfortable but, hey, this is Santa Claus, I thought to myself. This is what St. Nick does - he makes people feel good. So I let it pass.

As Catherine was sitting on Nicky-boy's left leg, apparently already engaged in conversation with the old fart, I went to plop myself down on his right knee. Call me crazy, but I swear that just as I started to sit down, he straightened out his leg and tried to push me into the christmas tree.

Dick.
I mean....Nick.

I turned my head to look into his face and toss over a "don't fuck with me" stare. Though he was still engrossed in conversation with Catherine - Lord knows what they were discussing so soon and so intently - I could tell that he was giving me the stank-eye from the periphery.

Someone said something from afar. I turned my head to see what it was and - flash! - our photo was taken. HEY!! I wasn't ready! What happened to "1, 2, 3...cheese!"???! Where's the fucking warning?!

We started standing up but apparently Santa wasn't done with Catherine yet. "Wait a minute, young lady," he said, pulling her back onto his leg. Not wanting to leave St. Nuisance alone with my girlfriend, I sat back down on his other knee, ready to quickly kick him in the nether-region if he started acting up.

"Have you been good this year?" the old wackjob asked Catherine.

"Yes, I have" she replied.

Wanting to get in on the conversation, and stake my proverbial claim, I decided to speak up. "No, she hasn't," I said laughingly.

Catherine looked at me with a smile. Nick, on the other hand, turned his head to me in shock. As if this were the first time he actually noticed my body sitting on his knee. "I wasn't talking to you," he said in what I must admit was not a Christmas-like, holiday spirit type of tone.

Well excu-u-u-u-se me, fatman, I thought to myself in utter shock. And, hey, Tubbo, why don't you take your grimy paws off my girlfriend. As a matter of fact, we'll be leaving now, thank you very much.

I grabbed Catherine by the hand, swiped my Polaroid from his photo-taking accomplice and marched on out of the real estate office in a huff as I mumbled all sorts of nasty things about Santa. I ranted about how the curtain on my entire life of holiday cheer had just been torn back revealing a dishearteningly angry delusion. I started thinking back through the years of Santa in my childhood. How my mom was either unusually happy or unusually angry the day after the gifts arrived. How it must've been Santa's fault. Was St Nick making the moves on my mother? I swear, I'll kill the sonofabitch and make venison burgers for dinner when I'm done.

Fast forward two years later to this past Friday night and apparently I still haven't gotten over this life altering experience. I'm standing on Montana Avenue at about 10pm with Catherine and our friend, Amy. The Montana Walk was just winding down and the girls were having some late night frozen yogurt when Amy brought up something about Santa Claus.

Santa is a douchebag, I spat out immediately.

Amy looked at me in disgust. You're going to hell for that one, she said.

Going to hell?! You've got to be kidding me. And I was off.... There's no possible way I could go to hell for recognizing the true douchebag in St. Nick. Santa has no influence over hell. Or heaven, for that matter. He doesn't know Jesus, much less can influence his line of work. Jesus is a good, honest man. Santa is a prick. There's no way that Jesus every met St. Dick and if he did, he'd probably kick him in the shins. Jesus would never be friends with Santa.

I see through Claus' trickery. His whole "have you been good or bad" schtick is a scam. It has nothing to do with daily life or being good. It's a pick up line. It's how Claus gets laid. I'm not buying into it. Not at all. I'm over Santa. If I actually had a chimney I'd light a fire on Christmas eve and burn his ass as he wiggles his way done. And if he gets through, you can bet my lawyer will be waiting to slap a Breaking and Entering suit on his fat face. And while he's serving 5 to 10 up in Rikers Island, I'll be rejoicing in the fact that I've done some good in the world.

Go to hell for calling Santa a douchebag? Puh-lease, it's probably the one thing that's going to get me into heaven!

Now excuse me, I've got to go buy a goddam christmas tree.
Happy holidays.

November 28, 2007

Logan's Run

Let's call him Logan.

I've known Logan for five years. Met him on a bike ride in 2002 and have since been cycling with him more times than I can count. We've challenged each other on the road, pushing, pulling, sprinting until the little blue veins in our foreheads nearly explode. We've been out to group dinners together, have met each other's girlfriends and even shared a few morning conversations over a nice, warm cup of coffee.

Here's the catch: I don't like Logan. Never have.

I have absolutely no reason for despising the man. I've enjoyed the time we've spent together. He's a nice enough fellow. Fairly harmless and pretty friendly, he always says hello with a smile. Sure he's got a bit of an ego and likes to be the star of the show, but as my buddy John once said as he ducked for cover, Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

The truth of the matter is that Logan is my triathlon nemesis. I'm not quite sure why, but these things don't always have a reason. All I know is that from the moment I met the guy I've been focused on beating him. My goal in sports is simple, whatever I do I need to do it better than Logan. When I see him cycling on the road, I can feel the adrenaline begin to course through my veins. I push forward to get in front. I churn with all my power to break him down; to make him admit that he can't keep up with my breakneck pace. Say Uncle! I scream inside with an intense competitive anger. SAY UNCLE! SAY IT! SAAAAYYY IITTTTT!!!!

But Logan is strong. He's not the type of person that gives up easily. From what I can gather, he doesn't seem to be the type of person that gives up at all. Present him with a challenge and he pushes forward. That's what has made him such a darn good athlete - and that's precisely why I despise him.

Logan is repeatedly a sub-11 hour Ironman racer. He finishes 70.3 races in 5 hours or less. He kicks my ass at every distance. If I drove the marathon course of an Ironman race - swim, bike, drive - he'd still beat me. That's how far ahead he is.

There is no chance in hell that I'll ever beat Logan in a race anytime in the near future. If he collapses and falls into a coma before finishing, he'd still have time to de-vegetable-ize himself, have a CAT scan, go through speech therapy, pay his medical bills and crawl on all fours across the finish line before I even come within sight of the darn thing. But this doesn't stop me, I still want to beat the guy. Just once, I want to win.

Every year I seem to get faster. My speeds improve and my race performance enhances. I'm still getting PRs and still feeling excited about it. I'll cross a finish line and immediately look down at the time on my watch. I scream with joy seeing that I beat my last year's time. I raise my head to the sky, point to the stars in my best Barry Bonds meets Tiger Woods impression, and scream my head off in a Howard Dean frenzy. I got you this time you fucker! I'll say in a cacophonous roar. THIS time, you're going down.

Later on I may glance through race results to see how Logan did - to make sure that my increased speed was just enough to leave him sucking my dust in a similar race. But alas, with each 10 seconds I improve, he's gone 1 minute faster.

I should probably admit that he's a better racer than I. But I won't. You might say I'm stubborn. Even hard-headed. I like to think of it as focused and determined. My glass is half-full, thank you very much. And if you can just step the hell out of my way, I'd like to take a drink from the darn thing. I'm feeling a bit parched.

It has now been years that I've been trying to beat Logan. With those years, my feelings have morphed into something short of insanity. I no longer want to just come in ahead of him, I want him to suffer. I want him to admit that I'm a better racer. That I am a better human being. I want him to quit.

Here's the catch of it all - the dude doesn't even know my name. He has no clue that I consider him my rival, no reason to even think that despising him is my fuel to move forward. I am nothing to Logan; a mere face on a bike ride so easily forgotten.

This is the funny thing about sports rivals, it's all so personal. Rivalry is often driven by no rational thought process other than a need to find a bad guy. After all, there would be no superheroes to save us without villains to conquer. We all need villains in our lives, if for nothing else than to make us feel like saints.

Logan is my villain. I'm the superhero.
Let's not forget that.

I'm determined to beat my villain this year. And if I don't get him this year, I will get him the next. I'll train harder and stronger and push myself faster. If he keeps moving away, I'll keep going. Because eventually he'll have to stop. Eventually it has got to end.

Maybe his knees will give out before mine, maybe his desire will wane. If I don't beat him in this decade or the next, I will still be there chasing. And perhaps one day down the road while we're piddling along in the 90-94 year old age group, I'll edge his sorry wrinkled ass out on the line at some remote race that nobody cares about. And if I have a heart attack and fall dead to the ground right there right then on the other side of that finish line, I'll die a happy man. Because even if it takes me another 40 years, eventually Logan's run will end. And then I'll know that the superheroes have won.

November 22, 2007

The Giving of Thanks (revisited)

My loving family. My health. My happiness. My luck and life. The beautiful area in which I live. My supportive friends. My friendly colleagues. My amazing girlfriend. The ability to run. To walk. To laugh and cry. To speak, hear, taste and see. The sadness of sunsets. The rebirth of sunrise. To touch and feel. Feel and think. Think and grow.

To learn. To love. And learn from love. The music that fills my life. So that I may run. Bike. Swim. Eat. Sleep. And dream such wonderful dreams.

The nieces. The nephews. The mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. My grandparents. And grandfather. And grandfather. My grandfather.

The serenity in silence. The joy of noise. The mountains and trees and oceans of beauty. The sun. The moon. And endless hopeful skies. The gifts I’ve given, and those received. The touching of a child’s hand on mine. The godson. And god-daughter. And God’s ceaseless giving.

My joy. My gratitude. My utter, complete happiness. The smiles and tears. The screams and silence. The yin and yang of me. My safety. Security. Solitude. Strength. I’m strong. I’m strong.

My intellect. And writing. And style. And flow. And on and on it goes.

Thank you.
Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!



[this was edited, reworded and reprinted from a post nobody saw two years ago.]

November 20, 2007

46 Random Things About Me

I'm really not one to do these silly things, but my girlfriend sent this one over to me and I actually found it quite interesting to share with one another. The interesting part is really learning about other people, but it'd probably be really tough for me to have every one of you answer this, so how about I just take the egotistical tact. Here are 46 things about me that you never really needed to know. If you decide to answer these questions on your blog, drop me a line and let me know.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?

yes, my great grandfather Joe (I think) and, um, somebody else. I can't remember who. I recently asked my father and he couldn't remember either. I think it might be Aquaman.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?

I thought it was 4 or 5 years ago but have since learned that it was 1 or 2 years ago. Either way, I don't remember.

3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING ?

I like my handwriting when I really focus on making it neat. Other than that it's more chicken scratch than hand writing. I like my typing a lot better.

4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT?

Salami, but don't tell anybody.

5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS?

Not that I know of.

6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?

Absolutely. I'm looking for more me to be friends with.

7. DO YOU USE SARCASM ALOT?

What do you think?

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS

I think so, unless the tooth fairy swiped them when I wasn't paying attention, the little whore.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?

No thanks. I will barely jump off the couch.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?

It used to be apple jacks. I'm going to go for Heritage Flakes right now.

11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?

Depends on the shoes and my mood.

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?

Physically, hell no. Mentally, hell yes.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM?

Herrell's cookies and cream.

14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE?

The energy in their eyes

15. RED OR PINK?

I'll take red for a hundred please, Alex.

16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?

The voices in my head.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?

Me, when I was young and innocent

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO ANSWER THE SAME QUESTIONS ABOUT THEMSELVES?

Sho' nuff

19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?

Black sweat pants, no shoes

20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?

Lettuce with balsamic dressing

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?

The sound of my wine fridge humming in the background

22. IF YOU WHERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?

Purple. Or navy blue. Navy purple.

23. FAVORITE SMELLS?

Fresh air. Morning after an evening rain. My girlfriend's neck.

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?

My web designer

25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?

Incredibly

26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH?

Baseball, billiards, basketball, bicycling… mostly b sports.

27. HAIR COLOR?

Blond-ish brownish

28. EYE COLOR?

Blue, brown, grey. Depends on what I wear.

29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?

No

30. FAVORITE FOOD?

Pizza. Patty's pizza with barbecue chicken if you really want to know.

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?

Happy.

32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?

American Gangster, not really that happy, but you asked.

33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?

White

34. SUMMER OR WINTER?

Summer (if autumn isn't an option)

35. HUGS OR KISSES?

Hugs

36. FAVORITE DESSERT?

Yogurt

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND TO YOUR SURVEY COMMENTS?

Nobody

38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND

Everybody

39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?

"Words, Words, Words" by somebody or other.

40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?

Ain't got a mousepad, haven't you heard of laptops? Time to crawl out of the 90s, my friend.

41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT?

I watched my girlfriend watching Dancing with the Stars

42. FAVORITE SOUND?

Music (the actual song depends on my mood).

43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES

Silly question. Beatles, of course..

44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME?

Denmark

45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT?

I can annoy you in less than 5 seconds.

46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

Philly, home of the cheesesteak. Which I guess explains a lot.

November 17, 2007

A Study In Marathoning

I ran my first marathon in 1997. 'twas the Chicago Marathon and it was a wonderful race. Probably still is. I was married back then and the goal was to help my then-wife qualify for the Boston Marathon. We had to beat a 3:40 to make that happen.

Back in 1997 I didn't know a lot about nutrition. And though I'm no expert now, I've since learned the basics for survival. For instance, I now realize that I have to eat healthy to stay healthy. In fact, I now realize that I have to eat, period. It wasn't uncommon many years ago for me to get so busy I'd actually forget to eat a meal. What'd you have for lunch today, the wife would ask later that evening. Um....uh...., I'd stutter as I delved into the meal-specific corner of my mind only to see an empty gap. Inevitably, of course, I'd wonder why I kept getting sick and never bothered to associate it with poor eating habits.

In terms of exercise, I ran a lot. These were back in the days of youth when my legs could handle the pounding. Back then running was running to me. Running wasn't eating and drinking. Calorie intake and exercise were mutually exclusive properties. I run and then I drink and nary the two were combined.

So back to the Chicago Marathon. We started off the race at a pretty good clip. By the half-marathon point, we were on course for a 3:20 marathon and were feeling pretty happy overall. Even if we walked a mile, the wife would still qualify for Boston. But we felt no need to walk, so things were looking good.

Around mile 17 she started having hamstring problems and that slowed us down a bit. But not to worry, we were still on pace for a 3:30. We could practically taste Boston. And though I don't quite remember the actual flavor, I can recall it had a sweetness to it.

Then we hit mile 22 and I hit the wall.

I didn't really feel anything building within me, it just happened suddenly, which I suppose explains the whole "wall" concept. I mean, it's not called "hitting the exit ramp."

One step all was nice and fine and then the next step I couldn't move, couldn't walk, couldn't speak. I had become a vegetable. I thought I was going to die. I stopped right in the middle of the street and stood there, hoping to dear God that my wife would turn around and see me before I collapsed onto the ground in my final pathetic goodbye.

help, I said quietly and meagerly. Not nearly loud enough for anybody to answer. Not even loud enough for anybody to hear. My knees were knocking, legs were feeling like a windblown castle of cards about to tumble. I was not enjoying myself.

That feeling, I realized later, had nothing to do with healthy.

The wife eventually did realize I wasn't by her side anymore. She looped back for me and somehow pulled me to mile 23, at which point I stopped at the aid station and drank about 10 glasses of water.

Eventually I was able to run again and eventually we got to the finish line (albeit at 3:41 - one measly minute slower than her qualifying time!). I don't know how we finished. I mean that literally, I have absolutely no recollection of anything after mile 22. It scares me. Kinda freaks me out that I did so much damage to my body, destroyed so much of my brain that I can't even remember the last 4 miles of my first marathon. It's like a drunken blackout, when a big chunk of your life is missing and will never come back no matter how hard you think about it. I don't like not remembering my life, it scares the hell out of me.

Fast forward 10 years and 3 weeks later and here I am running my second stand-alone marathon. I am proud to say that I've learned a think or two over the past decade. I know a bit more about nutrition and have a vague concept of how to keep myself healthy. Still, my only stand-alone marathon experience still looms in the scared section of my brain. As marathon day approached, I was subconsciously nervous. I had no clue what would happen to me this time at mile 22. All I know is that I didn't want to have the same experience I did back in Chicago.

In the past 10 years a company called Fuel Belt was launched, enabling people like me to run with a veritable buffet around their waist. With memories of Chicago haunting me, I needed liquids and nutrition within arms reach at all times, so I bought myself a new fuel belt right before the race. I tried to drink constantly throughout the course, knowing that liquid intake would ward off the demons of disaster.

When I passed the mile 22 point, I did a mental check. Am I coherent? I asked myself. Will I still be able to remember this moment?

All answers were positive, I felt pretty good from the waist up. Sure my legs were in pain, but I was mentally secure. Even when I got to mile 23 and my quads decided to revolt, I remembered. I was present and accounted for.

As I crossed the finish line of the New York Marathon, I hobbled over to the side of the course and mentally reviewed the last 10k. I wanted to be sure I could remember, that I would never forget. I wanted to be sure I didn't hit the wall and not realize it. Mile after mile I went through in my mind, trying to recall every single painful step of the way.

You may not understand this, but it was somewhat of a surreal experience to actually remember my entire race. It almost feels like I had just ran my very first marathon. It makes me happy, not so much that I finished, but that I can remember it all. I'm proud of myself and, perhaps, a little bit curious to try another.

November 13, 2007

New York Marathon: A Race Report - or - Make The Bad Man Stop

Five facts to remember for the following race report

1. I've been battling achilles tendinitis since August. It's been a very frustrating battle.
2. For the two months prior to the marathon, I only ran 31.7 miles on the road.
3. 95% of my marathon training was done on the elliptical.
4. Elliptical work does bupkis for strength training.
5. I have no quad strength anyway.

OK, now on to the details...

Last year, Catherine and I were lucky enough to win a couple of precious lottery slots to the New York Marathon. However, since we were still recovering from Ironman Lake Placid we were barely able to muddle through 4 miles without sounding like my gripe-heavy Jewish family, always trying to one-up each other on our physical maladies.

You tell me your hamstrings hurt? I might question Catherine within the first mile of our run. Oy gevalt, you don't know from hurt. With the pain I feel I could only be so lucky to have my hamstrings seize.

Needless to say, we deferred our slots until this year.

Catherine and I both grew up in the New York area. She spent the first 16 years of her life in Brooklyn while I was primarily a Connecticut boy. Our memories of youth are jam packed with the bustle and energy of the Big Apple. Though we both spent our entire adulthoods in California, we still consider ourselves east coasters. New York will always hold a special place in our hearts (which, for the record, can be easily located by going to the place in our hearts that loves pizza, and taking a quick right.)

Surprisingly, neither of us have run the NY Marathon before. My father has run the race five times and my mother ran it once. I've spent many a cold November afternoon of my youth standing on the sidewalks of First Avenue and clapping my mittened hands. In fact, if you dig up the December 1979 issue of Runners World, you can see a photo of me, 12 years old and freezing, standing on the sidelines of First Avenue as I wait anxiously for my father to zip on by. I still remember my super comfy, green, two-toned, wool-lined winter coat that I wore that day. I miss that coat. But I suppose that's a different walk down a separate memory lane.

To avoid delving any further into the cobwebbed memories of my captivating childhood, let's just agree that I've already set the tone about Catherine and I having a connection with New York and feeling excited to run the New York Marathon. We all on the same boat for that one? Great. Now we can move on.

I'm told that the beginning of the 2008 NY Marathon was different than other years. I hope that is right, because this year it sucked. And that, my friend, might be putting it nicely.

The logistics for the beginning of the New York Marathon was, without question, the worst pre-race experience I've ever had in my three decades of competing. Bar none. Whomever was in charge of pre-race logistics should be fired, stripped of their clothing, save for knee high multi-colored striped socks, and then forced to skip around Central Park naked, in the dead of winter, carrying a live ferret, for no other reason than to be humliated.

Here's the deal. Like many other events, there's a drop off zone at the beginning of this race. You shove all of your post-race needs into a plastic bag and hand it off at your pre-assigned UPS truck, who will than magically transport your belongings to the finish line so you're all comfy and cozy as you meander aimlessly through the streets of New York and proudly display your finishers medal for all to congratulate.

We got to the pre-race staging area about 60 minutes before race start, which in a normal race should be ample time to prepare ourselves. We had our plastic bags in hand and all we needed to do was drop them off at our specific UPS truck and head to the race start.

There were about 70 UPS trucks lined up for drop-off. All of the trucks were parked side-by-side in one corner of the staging area. That's where the problem began - the part where all the trucks were in one small corner.

There were over 39,000 people who started the New York Marathon this year. In order for said 39 thousand people to drop off their bags, they had to enter the roped-off area where the UPS trucks were waiting. In order to enter the roped off area, you had to get through a 10 foot wide entrance space. At first shrug, ten feet doesn't sound too bad for an entrance. I mean, it's wide enough to fit four, maybe even five people at a time. Unfortunately, it's not quite wide enough to fit 39,000 people. It's especially not wide enough to be an entrance AND an exit, which it was on race morning.

So here we were, less than 60 minutes before race start and it was chaos. Thousands of people were cramming, scrambling, pushing, shoving, yelling, rushing and elbowing their way through. It was like a riot. It was chaos. People were packed so tight there was no room to move. You didn't walk, you were pushed. There was no escape. People were scrambling for any relief. Anxiety and stress were building. At least one person fainted and had to be carried away while others were jumping on the tops of UPS trucks in the hopes of mere survival.

Catherine and I tried to hold hands so we didn't lose each other but with the pushing and shoving our arms got bent. We reached as far as we could, desperately clinging to one another. At one point, I honestly questioned whether I'd make it out of there alive. We got pushed and shoved and jammed and jostled and poked and pressed and nudged and thrust. I wasn't old enough to be at the Who concert in Cincinnati when those people got trampled to death, but I imagine it wasn't too much different than the beginning of the New York Marathon, but with better music.

For at least 15 minutes we were imprisoned in the clammering masses, hoping to dear God we'd get spit out the other side. And then, just like that, we did. Suddenly we could walk. We could breathe. We exhaled joyous sighs of relief as our bodies shook in shock from the post-traumatic anxiety.

We followed the crowd towards the starting line, flowing with the current of athletes. A few minutes later, as we continued walking forward, we heard an air horn go off. I looked at my watch. 10:10 am. The race had just started. Go figure.

For us non-elites, the starting gun doesn't really mean much. We remained at a standstill as we watched masses of runners stream across the Verrazano Bridge far in front of us. Slowly our line crept forward, inching step-by-step. We flowed on in the current of the crowed, walking around the corner, down the stairs, onto the roadway. Nearly six minutes later we made the U-turn to see the bridge rising majestically in front of us. In a few steps we reached the starting line and, with the crowd finally thinning out, we were able to start running.

Welcome to the beginning of the New York Marathon. It seemed the hard part was already over. Now all I had to do was run 26 miles and change.

To begin running the New York Marathon is an amazing experience. The first mile is a consistently steep climb up the Verrazano Bridge. It is a rare moment when you can truly experience the enormity of such a structure while being free from the limited confines of a plane or car. It made it all the more symbolically appropriate to start the marathon in this fashion. Like the experience of running across the bridge, the New York Marathon is an enormous, awe-inspiring endeavor. It is a mind-boggling task to shut down one of the most active cities in the world and guide 39,000 disparate soles through an intimate tour of the far-reaching corners of this town. These are the types of things that you think about when you start your first New York Marathon.

Another thing you may start thinking about on that first mile is how much your achilles is hurting. As I kept a steady pace up the hill, the exterior beauty of this amazing experience battled with the internal frustrations of my damn achilles pain. I forced myself to stay slow, to let my legs warm up. I prayed that the pain would not become debilitating. It was too soon to be limping.

On the other side of the Verrazano Bridge lies Brooklyn and a steady stream of cheering and clapping fans. Without question, the spectator support in Brooklyn is the best of the burroughs. Singing, screaming, cheering, laughing and yelling, the Brooklyn-ites sure know how to make 39,000 people feel special. As we made our way through the mob-packed streets, Catherine and I couldn't stop smiling. The miles began to roll by. 2, 3, 4. Suddenly I realized my achilles pain had subsided or, at the very least, was reduced to a mild twinge. Mild twinge I can deal with.

By mile 5 I realized that Catherine and I were on a pretty good clip, at least 1 minute per mile faster than I expected to run. I was ecstatic. At the same time, I knew from a run I had done two weeks previously that my quads would not be able to hold out for long, especially at this pace. By the end of that 10 mile jaunt, my quads were in so much pain that my legs nearly seized up. I realized it was not a matter of IF that would happen in New York, but a matter of WHEN.

Still, after 6 miles at this pace I was feeling pretty good. Catherine wanted to break 4 hours in this marathon and I was thinking that she had a really good chance of making it happen. As we crossed the 10k mat, I committed myself to her goal. If I could just keep her pace as long as possible and drive her forward, it will help her break that 4 hour barrier. I'd stay as strong as possible until my legs gave out, then I'd let her go and hobble my way to the finish line. At least that was the plan.

By mile 7, the quads started whispering quiet warnings to me, but it was nothing that demanded immediate attention. I stuck to her pace and stayed by her side. We wisped through the streets of Brooklyn and moved with the masses towards Queens.

About the time we hit Queens I looked over at Catherine and saw a grimace on her face. SHIT! she screamed. I could tell her legs were beginning to hurt. I know that look on her face all too well. She had been battling pain in her right leg for months. Though she was able to log in some serious training miles, most of it was done in discomfort. And that discomfort just reared it's butt ugly head again.

We slowed down the pace and struggled along for a few more miles, but by the time we got to mile 15 I could tell Catherine was reaching her limit. Tears were forming in her eyes, the anger and frustration steaming out of her pores.

My quads were growing more tired but they hadn't yet given out. I pushed a few steps ahead of Catherine to give her the space to sort out her pain. Mile 15 is a long, lonely uphill across the 59th Street Bridge. There are no spectators, no sunshine, no sky to look at, nothing but the pitter-patter of shuffling feet pounding like a metronome in your mind. And then, all of the sudden, everything changes.

The bridge ends at Mile 16 and you are dumped onto First Avenue. First Avenue is the epicenter of spectatorness at the New York Marathon. Continuing on for about 4 miles, the race opens up to it's widest berth, six lanes of open road for runners to spread out their arms and soak in the energy from the mass of spectators that lines the corridor, reaching 10 people deep in certain areas.

Emerging from the confines of the 59th Street Bridge, there is a sense of relief when you reach the openness of First Avenue. As we tried to soak in the experience, I tried to ignore the growing pain in my quads as Cat sunk deeper into her own personal agony . By mile 17 1/2 it was too much for her. We stopped by the side of the road as she tried to stretch out the pain. After a few minutes we moved back into the flow and pushed forward. It was slow and agonizing to watch her run, but run we did.

It didn't get better for Catherine and as we hit mile 19 1/2, just a few short blocks before the bridge to the Bronx, Catherine could go no further. Her right leg had seized, she couldn't run. She was done. End of story. Over. Finis. Kaput.

I walked with Catherine for a block to make sure she would be alright and then I bid farewell, gave her a kiss and started my jog again. Though the pain in my quads was steadily increasing, my breathing felt fine and my mind was clear and focused. I picked up the pace a little bit, back to our early race rate and tried to motivate my mind to push forward through the rest of the run.

Miles 20 and 21 breezed by and soon enough I was out of the Bronx and back into Manhattan. As I reached Mile 22, I could feel my legs take a turn for the worse. The pain increased dramatically. Knowing I still had 4 more miles to go and a fair bit of uphill, I slowed down a little.

The climb up Fifth Avenue to mile 23 is horrendous. Block after block you trudge along, knowing that you will eventually get into Central Park but with every step the carrot gets pushed further away. Your legs are tired and Fifth Avenue is an endlessly long steep uphill. It was dreadful.

After what seemed like hours, I reached 90th street and took a right turn into Central Park. Mile 23 marks the entrance to Central Park. Mile 23 also marks the moment when my legs finally gave out.

There is a water station on Mile 23, as there had been at just about every mile throughout the race. Having worn a fuel belt, I had very little need to stop at any point during the run. In the days leading up to the race I had told myself that I should walk the aid stations. That method got me through the Ironman marathon without issue, I didn't see any reason why it shouldn't work at the NY marathon. But, alas, I found myself running through every single aid station. There were a couple of short stops to refill the water bottles, but that's it.

So here I was at Mile 23 with my legs burning like waffle irons and I figured that there's no time like the present to enact my super special aid station walk-run strategy.

The moment I stopped at the Mile 23 aid station, I knew the strategy was for shit. Abort mission! I screamed in my mind. Abort mission! But my legs didn't feel like running again.

I grabbed a Gatorade and sipped on it as I lumbered painfully down the road. When I reached the end of the water station I knew it was time to run again. That's all part of the strategy. I've got to stick to my plan. Still, I knew it was going to hurt. I psyched myself up, reached for the lonely place deep inside and began to move forward into a slow jog.

I felt a million and one machetes slicing through my quads. I screamed in pain. I actually screamed. I inched forward in a dead man's shuffle. I could barely pull my legs off the ground. The impact of each step was like a hot poker searing through my body. But I kept going. Slowly and deliberately, I kept moving like a turtle with broken legs and red running shorts.

As I passed Mile 24 the road turned to a steeper downhill. Downhills hurt my quads even more. I slowed down the pace and tried to weave across the road to lessen the impact. I wanted to quit. I looked for a place where I could sneak off and slip into the grass. To lay down under a tree like Ferdinand the bull, maybe smell some flowers and take a very long nap. I had enough. But the gates and fencing didn't just keep the spectators from crowding the course, it caged me into this race. I was stuck, with no escape. I was a prisoner to my pain. So I kept jogging.

As I finally reached the end of Central Park and the last of the downhill, I glanced at my watch. That was a 12:20 mile. Ouch.

I passed the mile 25 banner and took a right turn on 59th street. The next mile was an uphill to Columbus Circle, then a right turn into the park and an uphill to the finish. Uphill I can do. Uphill isn't nearly as painful. Besides, I've only got one more mile to go and then the pain will be over.

Make the bad man stop.

Only 1 mile to go, I told myself again and again. I can do this, I know I can. I can make it. As I picked up the pace a little bit more pain seared through my bones. A twinge turned into a pange which turned into a stab. Only 1 mile to go, I kept saying to myself.

I tried to ignore the pain and picked up the pace even more. I can do this. I can make it.

I turned the corner into Central Park and passed the 26 mile mark. I could see the finish line in the distance. Spectators lined the course, 20 and 30 deep. I hurt. I hurt bad, but the adrenalin masked the pain. I began to scream shouts of joy, of disbelief. Did I really complete the New York Marathon? Did I really run this distance with such ridiculously crappy training?

Yes, I said to myself. I did. I sure as hell did.

The moment I ran over the finish line my legs stopped moving. Enough of this shit, they said. And I kinda agreed. Enough already.

***

The New York Marathon is a truly amazing race on a truly amazing day. Every year, on the first Sunday in November, the magic of the city gets amplified to incredible proportions.

The beginning and the end of the race were horrendous this year, a clusterfuck of organization. But I can only guess that the thousands of complaints will create a much more efficient solution in years to come. I look forward to seeing how it happens.

By the way, Catherine ended up walking the last 7 miles of the course in pure agony and crossed the finish line, though mostly because that was the only way she new how to get back home.

November 07, 2007

post-Marathon Gluttony

I deeply and sincerely apologize for the lack of communication. Already so many days past the New York City marathon. I have stories to tell (of course, don't I always). There are good parts, exciting parts, even bone tingling parts (definitely my bones were a-tingling, no guarantees that yours will) and there are sad parts, painful parts and frustrating parts. But I suppose that's what marathons are made of.

Catherine and I are still in New York. Once we stop eating, I will fill you in with the details.

Thanks for your patience. Back atcha soon, babe.

November 01, 2007

Relax A Little

Last Sunday I ran 11.3 miles. The Wednesday before that, I ran 8 miles. That's a good solid 19.3 mile week of running.

If you add that to all my runs over the past two months, that comes to.....let's see here..... hold the three, carry the eight..... ummm.....where's my abacus when I need it.....ok........errrr... That comes to a grand total of 31.7 miles that I've run in two months.

Let me repeat that for you people out there that are slow of reading. I've run 31.7 miles on the road since September 7th. It is now November 2nd. Two months.

Don't worry, you say. It's the off-season, you say. Relax a little, you say.

Shut up, I say. I've got the New York Marathon in 3 days.

Yes, it's true. I will be running more miles this Sunday than I have in total since the beginning of September. And here's the thing that baffles me: I'm not real worried about it. In fact, the thing that scares me the most is the fact that I'm not scared. I'm kind of at peace with the whole thing. Maybe even looking forward to it.

Trust me, I'm not the type of guy that can go out and run a marathon all willy-nilly. At least I didn't think I was. But it seems that I've overcome the mental barriers of the whole thing. I've got no expectations. It goes without saying that I'll be breaking no land-speed records. I'll have to walk through some aid stations, that's for sure. I'll have to pick a slow pace and stick with it, that's for sure too. But I'll finish the race, I'm pretty sure that's for sure.

In fact, I bought a disposable camera today. I've decided to document my journey through the streets of New York. I've never run the NY Marathon but I've heard it's a blast. If it's half as much fun as everybody tells me, I want to grab a few photos on the way. Maybe it'll even stop me from passing out.

OK, gotta finish packing.

See you on the other side.

October 30, 2007

The Grey Lines of Ironman

So apparently my previous post created a fair bit of discussion. Nice to see. As the great Axl Rose once said, love me or hate me, at least there's a reaction.

One interesting topic that came up in the comments of the Wishy-Washing of Ironman was the definition of an Ironman. What makes an Ironman?

On the surface it seems like a pretty easy question, but I think there's more to it. Let's take my friend, Kouy, as a for instance. Kouy trained eight long months for Ironman Coeur D'Alene. She pounded the pavement just like the rest of us and splish-splashed in the pool as much as the next person. She pushed her body, stretched her schedule and sacrificed her weekends.

She showed up to Ironman Coeur d'Alene and toed the starting line. The waters were rough that day and she had a tough time getting through. Seasick, hypothermia, dizzyness... somehow she made it through the swim right before the cut-off. She sat in the medical tent until the last minute before she would be disqualified, then got on her bike and rode.

Kouy finished the bike course with only 2 minutes left before the cut-off. It was already a long day but she was determined to finish the race. She head out on the marathon and pushed forward. By the time the clock struck midnight and the official clock had stopped, Kouy still had more than a few miles to go. She kept going. She crossed an empty finish line at about 1am.

To me, she is an Ironman.

I've got another friend who plowed through the swim, trudged through the bike and pushed through the run. Battling fatigue and stomach ailments, she reached mile 14 and couldn't continue. Physically, her body wouldn't move forward. She backed out of the race rather than risk long term disability.

To me, she is an Ironman.

In fact, to me, anybody who has the courage to put in the training and get to the starting line, who pushes through the swim and does the best they can possibly do, that person is an Ironman. Are they an Ironman finisher? Maybe not. You've got to cross the finish line to do that. But an Ironman is so much more than just finishing. It's trying, believing, dreaming and doing. Ironman is starting.

So what's an Ironman to you?

October 18, 2007

The Wishy-Washing of Ironman

I was standing at the counter of the coffee shop. They were unusually slow in their barista activities so there had accumulated a little bit of a line. I was in front. There were maybe four or five folks behind me, no doubt tapping their feet, checking their blackberries and acting curiously antsy despite the fact that they hadn't yet gotten their morning caffeine fix. But that's what people usually do in Los Angeles coffee shops, they act jittery and rushed the moment they step in the door. Caffeine is just an excuse.

It was somewhat of a cold day - or at least cold in terms of Los Angeles standards (keeping in mind that we have very low standards). The temperature had dropped down to a frigid 57 degrees, just cool enough to dust off the light sweater or throw a long sleeve on top of your sun-tanned arms. I was mighty happy that a chill was in the air, reason enough for me to wear my Ironman finisher fleece. Any excuse to gallivant in my Ironman fleece is good enough for me.

Whenever I wear my Ironman fleece, my pride collides with my embarrassment. It all revolves around the back of the fleece. There, stretched from shoulder to shoulder, are eight very large letters, shining forth in bright red stitching. It says: FINISHER.

In my mind, the eight letters mean so much more than the sum of its parts. If you read between the lines of those letters, what it really says is, "Look at me, I'm important. I'm better than you. And, by the way, your mama wears army boots."

Honestly, I just doesn't feel right to cop that attitude. I'm not comfortable with overt arrogance. The fact is, I'm not better than you and I'm not that important (though I'm pretty sure your mama does wear army boots).

At the same time, I suppose there's a fine line between arrogance and pride. The fact is that I am damn proud to be an Ironman finisher. I had dreamed of finishing an Ironman and, gosh golly, I want to share my excitement with the entire world. Being an Ironman finisher makes me feel special. It makes me feel like I joined an elite club. This fleece cost more than money, it cost hard work and perseverance and a fair bit of pain. For goodness sakes, I earned the right to wear this fleece.

So, anyway, there I was in line at the coffee shop ordering some sort of hot beverage to warm my fleece-covered bones in this God-awful frigid weather. The happy helper took my order and informed me that I may want to get a bank loan to pay for my flavored water. I declined and handed over my Ironman credit card, because in Los Angeles we use credit cards for everything. If gumball machines took credit cards, I'd be spending my days chewing. As for the reasons I use my Ironman credit card, its pretty much the same as the fleece. I earned it, goddammit.

As I'm waiting for the receipt and my expensive cuppa joseph, I casually glanced behind me. The line stretched back into the store, but my eyes stopped at the people who were standing right next to me. It was a man, about 45 years old and slightly paunchy. Overweight might even be a better term. Sure, maybe he jogged a few miles every now and then, perhaps lifted some weights in the gym, but he didn't look like the endurance type of athlete. Next to him was his wife who definitely doesn't exercise - and if she does, it's not working.

The thing that really got me intrigued, though, was the fact that they were pushing their child in a stroller. A yellow stroller. A yellow stroller with a great big IRONMAN logo on the side.

I stared at the Ironman logo, partially in disbelief, partially in an emotional bond. I looked back at the parents, almost expecting to see the Ironman glow in their eyes.

There's no way, I thought. I mean, sure, you don't have to have six-pack abs to finish an Ironman, just look at me, but.... This just didn't feel right. If they had really completed an Ironman wouldn't they at least say something to me? Here I am standing not but 2 feet in front of them, with the big bright red letters of "FINISHER" smacking them in the face. Wouldn't it be natural to strike up a conversation? Isn't that what we do in this exclusive Ironman club of ours? We enter into conversations with other Ironman finishers about random Ironman events.

Which Ironman did you finish? we say to each other. Oh, I hear that's a great event, we inevitably respond. I've always wanted to do that one, we continue. There's an unwritten script that we follow in Ironman introduction conversations. It's required. It's like a secret handshake.

But these people - these Ironman phonies - they didn't even bother to say anything to me. Not a hello. Not a "when did you race that one." Not even a simple smile of recognition.

I turned my back slightly to make sure they saw the back of my fleece. I wanted to blind them with the brightness of my FINISHER stitching. That'll get them to talk. That will weed out the true Ironmen from the posers.

I waited for their comments, but there was nothing.

Clearly they can't be Ironman finishers. I felt disgusted. These people are wannabes. They are stealing the Ironman logo from those that have earned it. Don't you have to qualify to buy one of these baby strollers? Don't you need a finishing time? These people, they're thieves, robbing me of my pride. I can't stand them. I want to rip the M-Dot logo right off of their baby stroller and expose them for the fabricators they are.

I grabbed my coffee and huffed out the door.

What has become of Ironman? I think to myself. What was once a select club of the most fiercely determined athletes, is now just another logo in the marketplace. Do you remember when the Ironman was recognized as the most difficult one-day athletic event in the world? What became of that? Where did it all go to?

As people flock to Ironman events like it's another weekend road race, the power in the symbolism has begun to fade into banality.

Ironman merchandise abounds. There are Ironman bikes, Ironman sunglasses and Ironman watches. Ironman scales and medicine balls and jump ropes. For $1100 dollars you can by an Ironman elliptical trainer on eBay and for only $450 you can pick up the Ironman recumbent bike. The World Triathlon Corporation just announced the new Ironman coffee. I don't know where it's going to be sold, maybe in the Ironman section of Target. Or perhaps it will be next to the Ironman baby strollers crammed onto the floor of REI.

When I raced Vineman 70.3 this year, the finish line announcer was calling people Ironmen. "Joe Schmo," he'd say as they crossed the finish line. "You are an Ironman!"

Wait a minute, you're telling yourself, Vineman is only 70.3 miles. And you are right. But Ironman is no longer a distance, it is an attitude.

Since 1978, the Ironman brand has stood for endurance and passion, dedication and perseverance. It has represented the best and strongest. Ironman is inspiration.

Unfortunately, the great irony of the Ironman brand is that, as participation in the sport popularizes, the power of the brand diminishes. If everybody claims to be "elite," than nobody is.

Ironman is no longer simply a 140.6 mile event, it is a symbol of determination. It is no longer an endurance event, it is a consumer brand - and one that generates a butt load of money. Ironman is about determination, and now, for a few dollars, anybody can buy in.

We are in the midst of the gentrification of Ironman. Today it is much easier than anytime in history for anybody to experience the Ironman attitude. You don't have to swim, bike or run. You don't have to train for 7 months - to sacrifice family and friends. You don't have to battle the physical pain and emotional destruction. You don't have to bring your body to the very edge and confront the demons burning inside you.

All you have to do is open your wallet.

As somebody who is highly passionate about the sport of triathlon, I want everybody to feel it's power. I want the sense of accomplishment to spread like a virus and fuel the fire of inspiration in all corners of the world. I want everybody to experience the joy of triathlon. At the same time, I want to feel special. I want to be an Ironman elite.

Ironman is a dream.
I hope our dream doesn't get sold down the river.

October 14, 2007

The Fire Inside

For years the only Ironman race I wanted to do was in Kona. It's the grandaddy of 'em all. It's where it all began. If you're going to do one, why not do The One. I had no desire to even consider another Ironman besides Hawaii. It barely even crossed my mind, and when it did, I felt dirty. I felt like I was cheating myself.

I suppose I can be an all-or-nothing type of guy.

Year after year I entered myself into the Kona lottery. I came up with the most creative things to say on my application. I paid the extra fifty bucks for the Passport Club, whatever the heck that is, to make sure I had the best chance of success. The moment I entered the lottery I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would be accepted. It was not too dissimilar from the feeling of every state lottery participant - that they, for sure, will be the one to walk home with the 40 mill.

But, alas, I came up empty time and again. Qualifying wasn't even an option. I'm not that fast. My only hope is waiting another 40 years and hoping I outlast any other potential 80-84 year old competitors.

After years of seeing my Ironman dreams fade away into a lottery losers mental maelstrom, I finally decided to wave the white towel. In 2006 I gave in, tucked away my ego and decided to race Ironman Lake Placid. Though I may never get to Kona, I would live a life of regrets if I didn't do at least one Ironman.

So I jumped on the proverbial treadmill of Ironman training. My life revolved around the 15-20 hours a week. Swim, bike, run, eat, rest, stretch, eat, sleep, eat, repeat. I became engrossed in the monotony of it all. It was enthralling. I succumbed to the mental energy and nervous anxiety that infiltrated every corner of my life. It was a roller coaster of emotions - an amazing experience in hindsight.

I raced Ironman Lake Placid and finished. It was incredible - one of the best days of my life. When I emerged from the other end, I was an Ironman. I had lived my dream.

I've now signed up for Ironman Arizona and am jumping back upon that treadmill of training. I will, once again, go the distance.

But I have to admit, as I sit here and watch the Hawaii Ironman Championships on my little computer screen, I can't help but feel the energy of it all. The lure of the island and history of the race burns through my monitor and awakens that once dormant corner of my brain. The fire still burns.

I suppose its time to play the lottery again...



(And a huge hearty congrats to all the Ironman finishers! What a race this year, eh?)

October 12, 2007

The Miracle Of Life

It started at the movie theater. It was a couple of months ago and Catherine and I were going to see something or other that is fairly irrelevant to my story. A couple of friends were going to meet us for this celluloid extravaganza, so while Catherine held close guard over the seats, I stood out front to wait for our friends' arrival.

As showtime approached, I watched many a person come through the doors and head into the theater. My eyes were in a daze, staring at face after face, looking for the familiarity of our friends. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a woman standing in front of me, ambling slowly towards the theater door. She was about 60 years old and was carrying a white cane. I looked down and noticed the bottom of the cane was red. I looked up and realized she was wearing dark sunglasses.

Interesting, I thought to myself. I've never seen this situation.

The woman approached the door and handed over her ticket. The usher asked if she needed help and, as she nodded approval, he took her arm and guided her into the theater.

It seemed odd to me, a blind woman coming to watch a movie. Or, rather, to listen to a movie. I'm not sure why it stuck with me, but it did.

Fast forward a couple of months and I'm driving down the road headed somewhere that is, again, completely irrelevant to my story when I see a 20-something girl crossing the street. But not just a regular 20-something, a blind 20-something girl. Dark glasses, standard white cane with the red tip - you know the story.

The young blind girl alone wouldn't necessarily spark my attention. What got me gawking was the fact that she was smiling, arm-in-arm with another 20-something girl with another white/red cane and another set of dark sunglasses. It was, literally, the blind leading the blind - and having a good time in the process.

Seeing those two, smiling arm in arm, made me realize why it all struck me so intensely. I suppose it can be summed up in one word: fear.

Blindness, in my mind, would take my life away. I love movies, I love reading, I love the endless senseless beauty that envelopes the minutae of life. When I go running, I drown myself in the God-like elegance of the green leaves, the towering trees. I find spiritual solace in the comfort of the soft blue sky. What would be of life if this gift of sight were robbed of me? How would I possibly survive?

I'm terrified to live in a world of darkness. Scared shitless to float through an endless black sea of nothingness.

So to see a blind woman go to the movies, and to witness two blind girls happily strolling the streets... well, in my mind it might as well have been a surreal sketch from a Salvador Dali scene.

But as I sit here and write this, I realize how desperately and drastically wrong I am. I suddenly think of Charlie Plaskon, 62 years old, blind and racing the Hawaii Ironman in Kona this weekend. I learn about Sharlene Wills, 59 years old, completely visionless, 40 marathons under her belt and many more to go. I amaze over the C*Different foundation. My heart melts when Ray Charles plays and suddenly I sit here singing a Stevie Wonder song in my mind.

Blindness is not a disease, nor is it necessarily a detriment. The sightless are not afflicted, they are not the weak ones. It is me. Us. The disease is ignorance and judgment. The disease is callowness and an unwillingness to reverse the paradigm of life. Maybe the blind ones are the gifted - the souls who can experience life on a higher level. And maybe me.... we who can see but still don't believe in the miracle of life, the strength of humanity....maybe we are the true weakness.