Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where I was, what I did, 12 years and 1 day ago.

I was asleep when the first plane hit.  A batshit southern girl I used to hook up with in my neighborhood called me.  All she said was, "Turn on your television."


I saw the image of the hole -- that smoking hole the first plane left in the side of the building.  I stared.  I heard the newscasters babbling but I couldn't understand them.  From the sound of it, THEY couldn't understand them.  I just stared into that hole.

I had a physical therapy appointment that day, over on 19th and 5th I think, and, in full automatic shock, I decided to go to it.  As I was getting dressed, the second plane hit.  I took Sonny the dog for a quick walk before  I left.  I saw a couple of neighborhood kids from the Fulton Houses freaking the fuck out, screaming, and I heard our jets overhead.  I brought the dog back in.  About then the first building fell.

I went to my P.T. appointment.  The people there were shocked, stressed, dazed.  Although they didn't say it, I could tell that some of them were miffed that I had come.  At the same time, they were looking for something to do. They worked on my shoulder for half an hour and I left.  On the walk home, there was a big crowd looking down 6th avenue.  That's where I was. 6th and 19th.  Looking right at the second tower. Almost nobody made a sound.  We just stood there, with our mouths open.  The second tower came down in slow motion.  Like a giant metal layer cake collapsing from the inside in a Godzilla movie.  The only thing I remember anyone saying...a little southeast Asian guy with a high voice was standing near me.  He said, to no one in particular, "They been tryin' to do that shit for years, man.  Since 93.  Finally fookeen did it man....finally fookeen did it..."

I turned away and started home.  It wasn't that I didn't care.  It wasn't that I wasn't shocked.  But given our foreign policy and our military policies,  I was not at all surprised.  Here in the US, in those days, I think we didn't really get how the actions of our government angered so much of the rest of the world, and we were pretty complacent and clueless about what they might do in retaliation.  Whether you agree with our policies or not, if you're a bully, common sense says you should lock your door because someday, if you keep hitting someone long enough, they might come try and hit you back.

When I got home, I watched the TV coverage for hours and hours.  Pretty much unable to move.  I knew everyone was ok, thanks to the phone.  Shocked.  Numb.  But not surprised.  I guess that's what steadied me in a way.  All the things we've done to other peoples to keep our cars running.  Our bellies over-full.  Mass bombings.  Invasions.  Sanctions.  Worst of all, supporting puppet governments of nations with resources WE want, and not doing anything as these governments enrich themselves, robbing their own people while letting us take what we want.  Many of these places, where we get our resources from, or our goods manufactured, are filled with people who themselves have trouble getting food, or electricity, or medicines for their children.  I make no judgement of those policies here, but you have to know that wether you agree with those things or not, they piss a lot of people off.  And if you're smug, and your guard is down, those who spent all their days dreaming of ways to retaliate will find the cracks in your wall and slip right through them.  The two courses of action left to us were either change those policies, or sacrifice more liberty for more security.  You all know, by this point, which door we've chosen.  Anyway, It wasn't until later that night, when I smelled that burnt plastic smell, that it REALLY hit me.  The sadness. Fear. Anger.  Hope.  Crazy.  It's been crazy ever since.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

My Third Marathon In 3 Months: Getting Into An Exclusive Club Without Bribing A Bouncer.

My third Marathon was on April 28th, 2013.  The Gettysburg North/South.  26.2 miles around the rolling hills of the hallowed battlefield.  Upon finishing it, I would be eligible to join an elite group of lovable crazies known as the Marathon Maniacs.  With upwards of seven thousand members all over the world, the Maniacs are all about running as many marathons as possible, as often as possible, in as many locations as possible...because they enjoy it.  If you have the “head” for getting hooked on marathons, this is a good group of people to be in with.  Like most addictions, surrounding yourself with people who have the same problem feeds your denial and makes you feel less insane about what you’re doing.  In the past I did that with all of my negative addictions, so here was a chance to do it for a positive one.

The minimum qualification for membership is to run 3 full marathons within 90 days.  Finishing Gettysburg would get me in the club, having already run Surf City on February 5th and Garden Spot Village on April 6th.   Building on the experience of those two races, I felt reasonably confident that this one might go better.  The race has a civil war gimmick to it.  Depending on which state you come from, you can choose to “run for the north” or “run for the south”.  Whichever side has the best collective time, “wins”.  

I must say, I wasn’t too crazy about this gimmick, in principle.  Any setting that gives closeted confederate sympathizers a chance to “change history” and “win” the Civil War in any way strikes me as a little offensive...mostly annoying.  I mean, I remember watching the Ken Burns movie, and seeing some of the southern historians talk about how “If Lee had gone up this mountain, and if the fuck-nut regiment had gone down this hill instead of that trail, then so-and-so might not have been resupplied and the south might’a taken that battle...and why, if they HAD, they might’a gone on ta win tha war!”  

Well, you know what?  THEY DIDN’T.   

I mean, I can cry all I want about the 2000 World Series.  “If Luis Sojo hadn’t hit that ridiculous seeing-eye grounder up the middle, the Mets might have hung on and won game 5 over the Yankees, and if they had...they JUST might have hung on to win games 6 and 7!”  But you know what?  They fucking didn’t.  I’ve accepted it.  I don’t like it, but I’ve accepted it.  So, I can accept that the ball didn’t bounce the right way with respect to the “Bronx Wehrmacht” winning World Series #107, with Rudy Giuliani smiling in the wings, dressed as a goddamned COACH, while the heroic Al Leiter stood broken on the mound, but YOU can’t live down the fact that a slavery-condoning government was brought down, even after 150 years?  Well, ok..All I know is, the presence of a confederate ANYTHING doesn’t sit especially well with me, but...

...the race was a driveable distance from home, scheduled on a day which would be within the 90-day limit for me to join the Maniacs.  

Fuck the re-enactment part.  Logistically, I was sold.

The first race was about finishing -- despite a bad cold, 3 hours sleep, and 3 weeks of training derailed by knee trouble.  The second was all about the course -- steep hills, lots of turns, and colder weather affecting my breathing.  This one would be about getting a faster time, but also, about solitude..

You see, the first race, I was with my wife, and my brother’s family.  Initially, it was to just be the two of us.  But, early during training, on August 1st, my mother died after a long, painful, debilitating illness.  As shaken up as I was, I was relieved for her...she had suffered long.  I decided to keep training, as a part of life “going on”.  It also gave me a way to focus on the day-to-day of things, despite the grief, and all of the memories, good and bad.  It was decided that my brother and his wife and daughter would join Nicole and I on the trip to Huntington Beach for the Surf City Marathon.  They would cheer me on, which would be amazing -- and then we would all travel up to San Francisco to scatter mom’s ashes.  She grew up in the Bay Area.  After the race, and a couple of days in L.A. catching up with friends, we continued up to San Francisco to scatter her ashes off the Point Bonita Lighthouse, as she’d requested.  A beautiful place.

The second race was the Garden Spot Village Marathon, in New Holland PA.  That time just my wife went with me, and we did it “Rock and Roll style” -- basically, instead of getting there the night before, booking a hotel room, getting up reasonably refreshed and running a race, we stayed up at 3am, I fired down some Clif bars, we got into the car, drove STRAIGHT to the race, I ran it, and we came home.  That’s rock and roll style to me..rolling into town, rocking, and rolling out.  This takes quite a bit out of you but it adds to the sense of bad-ass-ness that I think all marathon runners kind of get off on.  Granted, on this one, my wife was not thrilled.  She was very tired from the night before, and we argued quite a bit.  But by the end of the race, we buried the hatchet.  She was proud to see me finish, and saint that she is, drove my exhausted ass home.

Owing to the fact that Nicole’s mom would be having knee surgery on the 26th, I’d be going to the Gettysburg marathon by myself.  Nicole would have to stay behind and look after her mom while she recovered.  My wife was concerned about my going to the race alone, mainly because after my first two marathons I was barely in condition to speak, let alone drive.  But my training was getting better and better, and my recovery times seemed to be decreasing, owing to smarter training, better stretching, and some cross-conditioning (read: some leglifts, glute-bridges, and a lot of walking).  I thought I’d risk “going solo” the night before the race, and driving back soon after the race, in whatever condition I was in.

I manage to get a hotel room on points at the Courtyard By Marriott.  This was where the check-in/packet pickup for the race would be, as well as the all-you-can-eat pasta dinner.  They would also run shuttle buses to and from the race site, about three miles away from the hotel.  All of this, logistically good.  I drive out to Gettysburg in our beloved Outback, check in, pick up my packet -- chip, bib, t-shirt, brochures, etc -- throw my stuff down in my room and go straight to the pasta dinner.  Luckily, the main dish is Penne in a meat-free marinara.  Being vegan, I'm especially happy.  I get a few sidelong glances from the other patrons, one for the obscene amount of pasta I'm firing down, and two for the nutritional yeast flakes I'd brought with me and am shaking liberally over the penne.  Nutritional yeast flakes are a vegan’s best hope for something close to grated parmasean cheese.  Once you get used to it, it really doesn’t taste too bad.   And it’s loaded with B-12.

So, back to my room -- time to stretch, hit the foam-roller, watch the damned White House Correspondent’s dinner/circlejerk, call my wife, and go to sleep as early as I can.  I am on the fence about what to wear for the race.  The weather forecast is split.  It’s going to start out on the chilly side (47-49) but it’s going to go up to the high fifties.  Not sure if I should wear my tech-layer-super nifty cold weather gear, or just the grey t-shirt that I ran Surf City with, sort of Rocky I style.  I decide on the t-shirt, laying it and the rest of my gear out.  New Balance 1540’s (which I’ll be changing soon because they’re too frickin’ heavy), black Saucony pants, black socks, tighty-whities, and five Clif shot energy gel packs, to be consumed during the race.  All my ducks more or less in a row, I finally conk out, around midnight.

Race morning, up at 5.  I fire down a Clif protein bar, a couple of spoons of peanut butter, my vitamins, and a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses.  Blackstrap is great stuff -- basically all the good stuff that gets cooked out of sugar cane to make table sugar.  It’s got 20% of your daily Iron per tablespoon.  Vegans often need extra Iron, as vegan sources of it aren’t as easily assimilated by the body.  Also, distance runners tend to have lower iron than normal.  This has been attributed to the excessive sweating and exertion of distance running, but also to the pounding of the blood vessels in the feet.  At any rate, if my iron gets too low I’ll be at risk of fainting, or at the very least more susceptible to feeling chilly.  I don’t need that shit.  I head down to the hotel buffet (which they’ve opened early for the race...the staff is SO thrilled!) and get a small bagel with some more peanut butter, a little fruit and two cups of black coffee.  I have a nice chat at the toaster with the guy who would end up finishing the race fourth overall.

Back up to the room, to, well...shit.  I can’t emphasize how important this is.   Having heard the horror stories of the “Browning Of The Sweats”, I don’t take any chances.  I won’t become a statistic.

So I get on the bus to the starting line with a bunch of equally twisted but happy folk.  Some of them have really nifty GPS watches that I look at with a little envy.  I’m just there in my grey t-shirt with a $10 stopwatch and some gelpaks in my pockets.  I have a plastic bag which contains a jacket (which I end up not needing), my phone, my room key, and a “I just qualified for the Marathon Maniacs!” sign which I am to hold up and be photographed with at the finish line.

Get there, check the bag, head to the start line, and I am chilly.  I’d decided on faith to ditch the jacket because after two miles I’ll warm up and I’ll probably wish I’d left it behind.  So I’d checked it with the bag at the bag-check, where my phone and room key will live for the next 4+ hours.  At the starting line, and I’m shivering.  was checking the jacket a good idea?  Fuck.  Too late now.  

But I get jazzed with all the other runners around me.  There’s that great comraderie and vibing between us all...we've all trained hard.  We've all dealt with pain.  We've all worked this dopey obsession into our busy, stressful lives.  But this is where we get to enjoy ourselves.  For 3-4 hours, no one is bugging us.  It’s us, our bodies, that terrible, wonderful, distance, the small talk with other runners we pass or who we run with or who pass us, the rolling out of the landscape along the way, and the feeling of finishing.

I don’t like running.  But I LOVE finishing.  I like looking back over 26.2 miles of distance and saying, “Yeah, I RAN you, bitch!”

(Then collapsing onto the nearest open patch of grass.)

For this race, I’ve printed up a “Pace Band”.  Since I do not yet have a GPS watch which beeps a friendly beep after every mile, or gives me my time per mile, etc, I’ve gotten a great low-tech solution.  You go online to this site where you put in the amount of time you’d like to run your marathon in, and it tells you the elapsed time you have to be at at each mile in order to finish on pace.  So, for example, if you’re trying to finish in three hours and fifty minutes, that’s about 8 minutes and 46 seconds per mile, so on the pace band it’ll read “Mile 1 - 8:46.  Mile 2 - 17:32 Mile 3 - 26:19”, etc.  With just a regular stopwatch you can keep yourself on pace to (hopefully) finish at your target time.  If your body decides to actually comply.  For Gettysburg, I was hoping to hit it in 4 hours and 20 minutes.  My first race I did in 4:55.  The second, 4:33.  I thought 4:20 was a nice target.

At the starting line, a few kids and old men in civil war get-up stand with flags.  A nice lady belts out the Star-Spangled Banner.  I have no idea how I’ll run this one, but I feel pretty good.  There’s the gun, off we go...

By mile three, the sun peeks out, and people left and right are abandoning their outer layers of clothes.  My gamble leaving behind the jacket paid off.  I wouldn’t have to take it off and carry it for 22 miles.  (I sure as shit wasn’t going to abandon it.  It was too expensive.)

I’m shocked to find that there are no mile markers until the third mile.  As a result, I find out by mile four that I’d started out WAY TOO FAST.  Going out too fast is the kiss of death.  You can fuck yourself on the back end and have no hope of finishing.  At this rate, I would be on pace to run this between 4:00 and 4:10.  Certainly admirable, but WAY faster than my intended 4:20.  I thought that finish times like that were WAY ahead of me.

This course, folks, is HILLY.  I mean, Garden Spot Village was pretty hilly too.  Back there, there was a fucking STAIRCASE between mile 21 and 22.  But whereas in New Holland the hills were steeper, in Gettysburg they go on longer.  Let’s face it -- they do not fucking end.

But I run them.  All of ‘em.  I take no walk breaks except at the aid stations to drink water and gatorade, and eat my gelpaks.  Those walks, even for a minute or so, are pesky -- especially after mile 14 or so...because when you slow down to drink that water, your body starts saying, “Why do we have to start running again?  That patch of grass is so pretty...we could just....REST there..”

Same thing with a bathroom break.  I’m lucky this time.  I only take one break at mile 8 and run the rest of the way through.  My first two races, I’d taken a second break at mile 20.  When you’re THAT tired, ANYPLACE you’re sitting becomes the most magical place on EARTH.  There I was in a Porta-Potty in amish country thinking, “I could spend the rest of my life....right here...”  All the more reason to not stop until the end, unless you absolutely have to.

And let’s face it, sometimes you have to.  Again, I won’t be that guy who shits himself during a race. As my beloved coach and fellow maniac, Angie Whitworth, says, “Some people think ‘Oh, this is just going to be a fart..well..’” --and her next words were epic -- 


Between good weather, good training, and some good old grit, I end up finishing this bastard in 4:11:57!  22 minutes faster than my last race, and over eight minutes faster than I had hoped.  I’m happy.

Crossing the finish line, I steady myself on a table, get my finisher medal, snake through the crowd of people who’ve already finished, find an open patch of grass..

...and mutter, “TIMBER.”

I lay down looking up at the sky for 10 minutes.  The worst part’s getting back up.  But I have to in order to find someone to take my picture with that “Maniacs” qualifying sign.  A wonderful fellow named John (who was already a member of the maniacs) does the honors and takes the picture.

Shuttle bus back to the hotel.  I get into the bus, and after a completely cramp-free day, as soon as I sit down, cramps hit the length of my entire legs hard and fast. Ooohhh the pain.  Luckily, I get a gelpak into me, and the electrolytes chase those fuckers away.  

Back to the hotel room.  Thanks to a late check-out, I’m able to shower.  This is the most amazing shower I’ve had in my life.  I just killed a hilly bastard of a course, ran my third marathon in 85 days, faster than I thought I would.  Fresh clothes, pack, check out, and drive off to the nearest Taco Bell for the one Vegan thing I can get there -- the Fresco Bean Burrito.  I have four of them, plus a whole bar of dark chocolate with raisins and pecans, and a big cup of coffee.  I’m walking like someone who’s been repeatedly sodomized, but I’m happy as a clam.  I fire down a big cup of coffee, and, despite being cooked, I’m actually ready for the drive back home.  

I call Nicole and tell her everything.  Was I sorry she wasn’t there?  Of course.  But there was something nice about doing this one on my own.  The connection.  The concentration.  The silent, solitary, doing-ness of it.  I'm now a member of the Marathon Maniacs, and I’ve had an absolute blast.

The only hard part of the whole affair?

The goddamned Jersey traffic...