Friday, January 01, 2010

Written on the Wall

I heard stories about Moses in the desert
And I wondered if the years he'd spent there
Were anything like mine
'Cause he ran trying to escape
The consequences of mistakes he made
Never knew You loved him all the while

And You called his name

And I wish You still spoke through burning bushes
And I wish You still wrote on blocks of stone
'Cause the sound of this world's deafening
And I'm having a hard time listening
And I wish Your will was still written on the wall

Todd Agnew - Written on the Wall

It's a new year starting a new decade but it is the same old world - for now. The world is deafening for sure as the media focuses only on negativity and hatred that is rampant throughout our day. In many ways, the media is a torch that lights the fuse. If the headlines were bulging with love, smiles, dance and song - all metaphors for what is good - would we be any better off? Maybe the newshounds that want to make a name for themselves would not do it out of hatred but out of goodness. Has the world listened to the last 10 years with the downfall of greed, pride and selfishness - just as God says?

I've been to the desert in the last 10 years and I have learned. If the world doesn't learn, the downfall will be greater. God still loves us even when we try to escape. He lifts us up to make us better. He calls upon us to do greater things. He speaks to us in different ways - burning bushes? blocks of stones? - maybe not. But, written on the wall? Yes, maybe. It is up to us if we listen; if we turn the volume down on our deafening world and turn it up for God. Let us not be just another brick in the wall but a brick upon which God has written.

I run to turn down the world. It is a time of solitude, prayer, God, smiles for others, a howdy here and a good morning there, a new melody in life, a chat with the animals, new dreams and endless possibilities, a tap dance through nature, friends I didn't know I had, and a finish just to look forward to a new start. It's Joy Unspeakable as is God.

A Happy and Joyous New Year is wished for all!

P.S. Runner unknown of the Marathon Des Sables - 6 day marathon (151 miles) across Sahara Desert in Morocco

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Observations from the Trail - Winter Edition

It is Winter and now Runners Mecca - AKA Manasquan Reservoir Trail - is barren. The trail is hard. The trees naked. The cold wind appears to swirl from every direction. It is now home to the hard core folks who just plain love the outdoors no matter what the temperature. Back in the summer I wrote about my observations on the trail and now I would like to share some more as winter is introducing itself to New Jersey. I also have labeled people. We all have labels in some way - good and bad. Any labels below are not meant to be bad just as a way to identify characters within an observation.

• Camouflage bicycle guy - I've seen this guy in the summer and he appears to always be wearing camouflage while riding his bicycle. In the summer it worked because he blended in with the trees - worked for what I don't know. In the winter, he is no longer camouflaged since there are no leaves or greenish brown vegetation. He now needs to wear grays and blacks.

• Dog walker shorts guy - At first glance, this guy looks like a tourist. He has binoculars around his neck, a walking stick, shorts on and a dog by his side. The two days I saw him the temperature was in the 20s. I can run in shorts when the temperature is 35 but he was walking. I admire this guy though. He was friendly always saying hi. He was with man's best friend, his dog. He was exercising using his walking stick to go further down the trail. With his binoculars, he was paying attention to life's detail.

• Running dog guy - This guy runs with his dog but it looks like his dog paces him. They are both fleet on their feet. However, when a dog's gotta go, he's gotta go! So I am running down the trail, see the guy stop and move to the side with the dog. You know how dogs are. When they have to poop, they look sheepish, turn some away from you and squat. Then they turn their head slightly back, tongue kind of hanging out (he was running, mind you) with this dual expression of "hey, look at me now!" and "I'm a little embarrassed by this" and do their thing. It was funny to watch especially making up things the dog and runner guy were thinking.

• Doggie play dates - As you see, there seems to be a theme here which lead me to initially believe that dog walkers were hardier than runners because on the really cold days, there were more dog walkers than runners. Each day I see four women walking 5 dogs in a group which appears to be a doggie play date. The dogs know and look forward to the arrival of the others and the women talk to them about their little buddies. The tails wag and the excitement is evident. Wouldn't it be nice if people enjoyed seeing each other like the way dogs do - no expectations, just the love of being together. I also saw another group of women with their dogs on another day which begged the question, "why are there no guys walking dogs in play groups." So to not insult women or men, I will keep my thoughts on that to myself.

• Do ducks' asses ever get cold? Yes, I know, they have feathers but that water has to be really cold.

• Hatless guy - When the temperatures were in the low 20s, I saw an older guy who needed to be wearing a hat. Oddly enough, I saw the same guy a few days later when the temperature was in the high 40s wearing ear muffs. Maybe his ears were numb when it was 20 so he couldn't feel them anyway.

• Nature and friendliness - I still proclaim that the people who frequent the Manasquan Reservoir are the friendliest in New Jersey. New Jersey needs friendly people and I have seemed to have found a place where the congregate. I believe that the beauty of the reservoir brings out good feelings in people - being in nature, outside of their home, outside of their office, exercised and energized, being with their dog buddies, other runners, walkers and camouflaged bicyclists. Nature is the best of what God has made, the purity of it all, the beauty, the elements of sunshine and snow. I need the four seasons to experience it all - new life in the spring,, summer swelter, fall foliage and the dormancy and rest in winter just to start the cycle again in spring.

I hardly mentioned runners here but they did appear again on Saturday and Sunday. Generally winter runners are the hard-core runners that make running a lifestyle. The freshness of a winter run is incomparable to the rest of the year - the quiet solitude, cold air that makes the tongue tingle, the views through the naked forest - all capped off with a cup of hot chocolate with those tiny little marshmallows in it. Now that is a run worth having!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Runners Like Us

I take off time to time
With those crazy friends of mine
Head out on the road
With legs we run

We burn up the road in any marathon
Blend in with the masses
Just us friends
And we roll

Runners like us sure do have fun
Racin' the wind, chasin' the sun
Take the long way 'round back to square one
Today we're just outlaws out on the run
There'll be no regrets, no worries and such
For runners like us

I have friends in marathons that I don't know I have. I am a friend to runners in marathons that they don't know they have. It is the beauty of the sport especially for those of us that run marathons regularly. The bastardized words above to Cowboys Like Us show this sense of belonging and fellowship. We are all crazy to some degree - running marathons on consecutive days, consecutive weeks, a few times a month interspersed with a 50 or 100 mile fun run. We'll run any marathon, not just the check-it-off-life's-list, rock 'n' roller. We run marathons that are smaller than 5Ks, without pacers and without fans. We have each other. We pace together, we chat, learn a few things about one another and move on - and we roll.

We always have fun - what wind? Rain? It's just water, put me on your ass, I don't care, water doesn't care. There is always sun on marathon day - a day of brilliant rays of hope and friendship, the passion of the run. Sometimes, they take us out 26 miles and drop us off - "run back", they say. Other times, we run in a circle - 26.2 miles resulting in net-0 miles gained. Other times they tease us. Let's take them close to the finish line at mile 8, 13 and 18 and then torture them with, "you're almost there!" Hills must be strategically placed - "you think you got this? think again!" All along, your friends are there. We are just marathon outlaws out on a run, renegades, pirates and gypsies, a band on the run. Our only regret is not being able to run "that" marathon because I want to run "this" marathon. Our worries are gone for those brief few hours. We are with our friends, those who pull us along, encourage us, laugh with us, many of whom we do not know but will afterwards. Running is my friend. The marathon is my friend. Both are always there for me - kick my butt when I need it, give me exuberant joy when I least expect it. Fellow runners, thanks for being my friend also.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Theory of a Dead Runner

My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the 23 year old runner who died yesterday in the Baltimore Marathon. WBAL TV said that he collapsed around the 23 mile mark. A resident tried to help him until the medical crew got there. He later died at the hospital with a core body temperature of 107.

Some of the greatest runners in the world have died while running - Jim Fixx and more recently Ryan Shay in the Olympic Marathon Trials. I am sure there have been many others of all abilities. In essence, I am sure I have a better chance dying in an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike than while running. I don't mean for this to be a morbid entry but more about life. The energy and life around a running festival with 20,000 runners and 200,000 spectators abounds and reverberates throughout the entire city. With so much life why does one have to die? One can theorize and contemplate this forever.

One who believes in God knows that God has a plan; He is in control of life and death. He also puts life into perspective. Today, as I was walking on a serene, peaceful trail enjoying the fall weather, breaking up the lactic acid in my legs and working out the slight soreness, He also reminded me of my mortality. I thought about the runner who died yesterday. I theorize that he went into the marathon well-trained, happy with a full, bright life in front of him, looking to celebrate his accomplishment with family and friends. He never crossed the finish line but his journey in both running and life may have been memorable up to that fateful moment. Although we all want to get to the finish, we need to make sure that we make the most of the journey. At any time the journey can end. It is cliché but live life to the fullest with those people who allow you to do so and by doing those things that make you smile, have a positive energy, and give you life.

The life of this runner will be carried on by his friends and family. I suspect that they will run again in his memory and honor potentially helping others in the process. In many regards, I believe this is God's way to expand the life of one in death. Again, my thoughts and prayers are with them.

God's plan will determine life and death. When I die, I hope that it is while running. But God, I do ask that if I die while running, that I do so after crossing the finish line of a marathon. I have never had a DNF in a marathon and I would hate for my first one to be because I died.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Observations From the Trail

When running for a few hours on a 5 mile loop trail (15 miles) you get to observe a lot especially when you pass the same people and sites multiple times. I have written about the Mecca a few times before - you know, the one where the Osprey nests are. In a way it reminds me of when I used to run in Central Park, NYC every morning. the faces and paces became familiar. Although Central Park just didn't seem as friendly or was it me that wasn't as friendly?

The heat and humidity broke slightly today and even the slightest change made for a better run. I wasn't any dryer in the end but it was a solid run. So, as I made my way around the lake perimeter multiple times, I made a few observations and asked a few questions:

  • Who scoops the horse poop from the wooden bridge and why does the horse go in the same spot on the same bridge? For some reason I find trails (like Assimpink) that allow horses.

  • Pony tails have a cadence to them (not that I would know from my own.) Even in marathons, you can become hypnotized by the bouncing or swinging of pony tails. Maybe my previous blog entry should have been called Asses, pony tails and elbows! BTW, this is a unisex observation.

  • Youngins run faster than oldins. It appears that one of the college or high school cross country or track teams workout on the trail. Both boys and girls fly! But I wondered, will they run 50 marathons by the time they are 50? Longevity matters!

  • Do dogs like to run? I am thinking some do and some don't because some are being dragged by their owners and some owners are being dragged by their dogs. What kills me are the dogs about the size of rats that have to take a thousand steps for one stride by their owners. I saw a guy with a miniature Dachshund today and the dogs legs were like the pistons in an 800 HP NASCAR engine.

  • Mecca is a place for everyone: runners (fast and slow), walkers, bike riders, hikers, boaters, fisherman, weight-challenged, food-challenged, mentally-challenged (that would be all of us), half-naked and fully-clothed; the greyhound club, boy scouts, old and young. People are friendly - hardly anyone passes without a hello, good morning, How ya doin' (OK it is NJ.)

  • Its a familiar place - kind of like Cheers - without Norm sitting at the end of the bar. I'm starting to know faces although not names since you pass them in a split second. I suspect, someday, I will know some names too.

  • Groups and solos - Runners have preferences as to whether they run in a group or run solo. Personally, I like the peace and pace of running by myself. Although, I will pace off of others if I can keep up with them. The groups of runners have conversations going. I prefer a conversation with myself. I have enough conversation with others during the week.

  • Going back to the horse poop - I never see dog poop. I guess that is good and people pick up the poop in those little plastic bags. Can you image doing that for a horse? You would need those giant plastic grocery bags. Can you imagine taking a cat on a run like a dog? First, the cat would stop dead in its tracks and stare for no good reason. Then, on a trail run, they would want to climb the trees. And finally, they would scare the daylights out of all the dogs!

Well, that is enough of observations for now. I am sure I will have more random thoughts over time.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Asses and Elbows we were watching Sugarland perfrom on Saturday night in Philadelphia...the song Down to Mississippi included the lyrics:

Hammer down,
here we go Runnin' for the riverboat
All you're gonna see are asses and elbows

...but isn't this all we see as runners in races? ... asses and elbows... and actually, it's not that bad of a sight...

I just hammered down 10 miles at the Manasquan Mecca and although I say "hammered" in jest of the lyrics, I really did pick it up the last 5 miles and hammered! I rode my bike to Mecca all of about 2.2 miles, ran 10 miles and rode back. The people who go to this Mecca seem to be the nicest people in New Jersey. Nearly every runner, walker and rider says hi or acknowledges your existence in some way even if it is "on your left..." The views of the reservoir can be stared at for hours with the calmness and peace of an early morning dew just sitting on the foliage waiting for the Sun to adopt the droplets back into their home. The Osprey nests are still perched high in the naked trees that are protected by the still water of the reservoir. What a great view these sea birds have.

Anyway, what started with asses and elbows ends with calmness and silence. The next time you run a race, think of these lyrics!

Friday, June 19, 2009


I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these

It is ironic that the Badlands in South Dakota are called Badlands when they are so beautiful - genuinely bizarre, enticing to the imagination, and awe inspiring with creativity. Luckily the marathon didn't traverse the jagged edges of the volcanic remnants of Earth's formation millions of years ago. Instead the marathoners got to experience the contrasting pastoral and dark greens of the Black Hills National Forrest on a Rails to Trails converted path meandering around mountains, babbling brooks, and horse and cattle pastures. We started in Rochford, a dilapidated little town where the town Church's bathroom facilities was an outhouse. It was quaint and somewhat perfectly simple in this world of complexities. People ask why I would go to South Dakota to run 26.2 miles. There is no better way to experience an area than by running through it feeling the changing earth under your feet, meeting locals who come up to cheer and volunteer to hand you a cup of water during the brief second of visitation, and exploring an area where you might never be otherwise. Visiting South Dakota was a pleasant surprise being able to see the majesty of Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, Badlands, Wall Drug, Minuteman Missile National Site, Chapel in the Hills, the famous (and infamous) western town of Deadwood home to the marathon, Wild Bill Hiccok and Calamity Jane. I stayed in Sturgis, destination of the famous Motorcycle Rally being held for the 69th time this August. Oh yes, I did run the marathon on the George S. Michelson Trail. What I didn't realize and never even thought to consider was that the marathon is run at about 6000 feet of altitude with the first 13 miles uphill cresting at mile 13 and then dropping 1500 feet to Deadwood. The first 5 miles were a real struggle but later acclimated and ran the second half slightly faster than the first. I was happy with 4:08 bearing in mind the slight altitude and stopping to take pictures. So, the Badlands really turned out to be the Goodlands. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned that the Badlands are necessary to find the Goodlands.

The Pack - three weeks prior to the Deadwood Marathon, I ran in Green Bay. Although I seemed to really never find Green Bay, I found what I was looking for in the home to the oldest NFL football stadium in the country and to one of the original professional football teams in the country - the Green Bay Packers. The great Vince Lombardi haunts the venue to make you feel like your best is not good enough meaning you can always go beyond your best and make it something special. For me, the marathon in Green Bay was special. It was my 7th fastest marathon and maybe the most comfortable in years. I ran 3:50 with an even split pacing with the 3:50 pace group (mostly because I forgot my watch.) I toured Lambeau field and visited the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame the day before. The history and greatness of the the franchise, players and coaches just make you want to put forth your greatest effort, especially the last quarter mile when lapping the interior of Lambeau field to the cheers of fans. For me, I can't figure out any other reason to go to Green Bay and I noticed that the dairy cows in Wisconsin are quite lazy.

It has been 6 months and 9 marathons in 9 different states. I have also reached 30 different states in my quest to run a marathon in each U.S. state. My next marathon/ultra will be my 50th and I plan/hope to get to my 50th marathon in New Orleans on my 50th Birthday in February. I need to run 6 more between now and then. It is a wonderful way to see different parts of the country - the Badlands as a good example.