Turning 59…

Nov. 66…ain’t that special.  It’s not one of those banner years, like 18, when you get to vote, and can join the army.  Or 21, when you wait until midnight the night before, then whip out your drivers license in the bar showing you are now of legal age to imbibe liquor.  Why it’s okay to kill or be killed for your country at 18, but not have a beer, is one of those mysteries of society I will never understand.  If I stretch my memory way back to the earliest birthday I can remember, I probably was 6.  But, I also probably only remember it from the grainy 8 mm movies my dad took of the birthday party, and along with that, the distinctive sound and smell of the projector.  The flap, flap, flap of the film at the end of the reel is a lost sound, recognized by us older folks, but unheard in the YouTube age.  In the movie version of my birthday, the films of which lasted only about four minutes each, I was dressed in a cowboy costume, chasing other kids around, and sliding down the slide in our backyard.  My cousins posed for the camera like glamorous stars.  There was a nice birthday cake with six candles, far from the fire hazard I’d require today.  The photo at left is me, far more mature, at the age of 12.  Children are  still very naive at that age, especially in the suburban setting in which I grew up.  The worst that would happen was getting into a fight with one of my friends.  A few punches were thrown, we’d go off and lick our wounds, then make up and get back to our usual cordial games.  Not that I had not known grief.  I had already experienced the assassination of President Kennedy.  In fact, I saw him a few days before the fateful event, on a motorcade in Houston, where we lived at the time.  I recall coming home from school to see my mother very upset, but not really understanding the importance.  I was 9 at the time, three years before this photo.  All of my close relatives were still alive, so I had not experienced death and loss.  I did know something about World War II.  My father had been in the Merchant Marine on an oil tanker that provided fuel oil for the battle ships and destroyers in the Atlantic and the Pacific.  He didn’t speak much about the horrors of that war, but he related some stories of harrowing times under attack by German subs, when an escorting destroyer in his convoy was blown up.  The image of sailors being blasted off the deck clearly made an impression on him, and I picked up some of the fear for their lives these men must have felt.

As birthdays passed, I marched on to my 16th.  Living in Arizona at the time, I was able to get a full, unrestricted driver’s license at that age.  I believe the reason they allowed such young kids to get licenses in Arizona was that it was a lightly populated state, with many agricultural communities, and someone needed to be able to drive pops to the liquor store to stock up for the weekend.  It made for an interesting singularity, though.  We moved to California that year, and while the driving age there was officially 18, 17 and a 1/2 for a permit, they recognized my Arizona license and gave me a full license in California.  I was the only kid my age in high school to have a license, which made me pretty special.  While this held me until I was 18, the drinking age was 21 in California, but only 18 in Arizona.  I took a road trip back to visit friends in Scottsdale when I was 19, and the first thing I wanted to do was get a drink in a bar.  My experience with liquor to that point was very limited.  I had sips of my grandfather’s beer from time to time, Rheingold, and my parents drank the cocktails of the day, the martini and manhattan.  As a child and teen, my parents would have parties with the obligatory mixed drink cart, cigarettes in attractive boxes about the room, and fancy lighters which doubled as decorative accents.  So, when I hit the bar with my friends in Arizona, I hardly knew what to order.  I settled on a scotch on the rocks, having heard of that drink in a movie somewhere along the line.  It burned my throat, and I don’t think I was able to finish it.

Around this time, though we were still in the worst of it in Vietnam.  Shocking photos from war journalists were making the cover of Time and Newsweek, and statistics of soldiers killed and wounded were broadcast on the news.  I signed up for the draft as required, although my parents swore that if I was drafted we were headed for Canada.  Oh, Canada, thanks for being there in our time of need.  As it turned out, my birthday was given a high enough number in the draft lottery so I was not called up either year I was eligible.  I’m not sure what I would have done if I was, probably try to join the Navy.  After the second year of the draft, President Nixon ended our role in the “conflict”, and brought the soldiers home on March 27, 1973, forty years ago.  The war between North and South Vietnam continued two more years, until the North, backed by China, had crushed the South.  The Vietnam War was my awakening to the inhumanity possible in man against man.  Women and infants slaughtered, because they might be abetting the enemy, and indiscriminate bombing and exfoliation of the jungle led to massive protests in the U.S., and  many students who took part were injured or killed for doing so.  When I started my college years at UCSD in 1972, the campus was still reeling from the May, 1970, self-immolation of George Winn, Jr, who was a graduate student at UCSD and was protesting the war.  While terrorism hardly started in the 1960’s, it was in the late sixties and early seventies that the term terrorists seemed to become well known.  Bruce Hoffman, a specialist in the study of terrorism at Georgetown University, defines terrorism to include several features including that it is conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command.  His definition can be found in this Wikipedia article.

Through college and medical school, birthdays seemed to fly by.  No longer the cause for a gay party with balloons and cone hats, they more marked our stages of development as adults.  At 25, one is considered old enough to be more responsible behind the wheel, and the auto insurance costs go down.  At 29, one is on the verge of losing youth, and everyone seems to want to be 29 for a long, long time.  Come 35, one should be married, have a job, and some kids.  Work becomes an every day responsibility, as we take on the raising of children, the house mortgage and all the other obligations of becoming truly adult.

While things were still happening around the world, some wonderful, like space shuttle trips to the space station, or the invention of the car phone (bit of a double edge sword, that), the world also was getting hotter with extremists and their attacks.  Names such as the IRA, Shining Path, Cuban Hijackers, the Red Army Faction, the Unabomber, the PLO, Islamic Jihad, Armenians, Italians, Sikhs, and many others became front page news items for their atrocities.  Yet, with a family to raise and a very busy work schedule as a young surgeon I was much more interested in my immediate circle.  One slightly ironic note was that, as an attending at the V.A. Hospital, I found myself caring for Vietnam Vets whose lives were destroyed back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I also took care of vets from the first Iraq war, Desert Storm.

Victims of the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center

Victims of the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center

We go through stages as adults where we are at first very aware of what is going on in the world, and want to do something about it.  We protest, join the peace corps, and are activists politically.  Then, we knuckle down to raise a family, provide for the family, and deal with the everyday little problems that fill our world.  As the children become independent adults, we again get more involved with what is going on in the world.  The US has been lucky lately, situated where we are between two big oceans and two friendly neighbors north and south.  We have not had the daily threats of violence experienced by those in the middle east, Europe, Asia and even South America.  The attacks of 9/11 woke us up to the fact we are not immune to horrific terrorism, just rather well insulated.  We also have had a large number of senseless home-grown attacks by gun wielding psychotics, or attacks like the Okalahoma City bombing in 1995, politically motivated but not from an organized anti-government force.

Frank at Boston, 2011.

Frank at Boston, 2011.

The Boston Marathon occurs a week, or at most almost two weeks, before my birthday.  For me what this means is I will never run it at the peak power of my age group.  I will always have to qualify for a year into that age group.  As I’ve reached my 59th year, I can see that I no longer can run with the speed I had ten years ago.  It doesn’t sound very old, 59, but the legs don’t lie.  I had the humorous experience of seeing one of my patients of many years, perhaps twenty, in the office the other day.  While she still looked fit, I thought to myself, “my, she seems so much older than I remember her when she first came to see me”.  She must have caught wind of that thought, and said out loud, “you are really looking pretty old”.  I laughed out loud, realizing we both must have been thinking the same, that we really have changed as we got into our late fifties.  From inside my body looking out, I don’t feel old.  In fact, I feel the way I perceived myself looking perhaps twenty years ago.  But, take a look in the mirror, and that older individual looking back, the one I don’t recognize, is definitely me.

The bombing at the Boston Marathon was such an awful, unexplainable attack, and when it happened, I found myself in shock.  I was not there this year, but had very close friends there, many of whom would have been crossing the finish line within minutes of the bombs going off.  It took quite some time before we back home found out that all of our friends were alive and had not been injured.  I am so thankful for their sakes and for their worried families.  The attack, though, seems not to have a thought behind it other than to be some kind of copycat attack.  It is one thing for Chechens to want to attack Russians, who have politically dominated them, or for the IRA to lash out at the British.  Inexcusable, and not productive, but the reason behind these attacks, or of myriad other terrorist attacks, is not mysterious.  This incident must have had it’s intended consequence, to make us fear for our lives and limbs on a daily basis.  But it does not carry forward any particular agenda and so becomes just a very awful, desperate and destructive act.  I feel a little sorry for the young man who aided his brother and now has lived to face the punishment.  In the picture that emerged of his pre-bombing life, he does not seem like someone hell-bent to cause pain and death.  Nevertheless, I feel much greater sadness for the victims of his heinous crime, the families of those who died, and the ones whose limbs were blown off them, and who now must learn to live a completely new and more difficult life.  Ultimately, running a marathon is a selfish act, but the outpouring of support one gets at the Boston Marathon shows that we runners have somehow given inspiration to those watching.  I had many a spectator yelling support and cheering me on as I struggled to complete the course and get across the finish line.

So today, on my 59th birthday, not relevant in the list of birthdays, but, for me, a time of reflection, I realize that what we do and say makes a difference.  How we behave and comport ourselves sets an example for others to follow.  If we are mean, and engage in cruel acts and torture, we are setting an example, not declaring some high ground as ours.  While this incident was not the worst attack in recent history on US soil, it is for every individual killed or injured.  I hope we as a country learn from it to be kind, to encourage and to support, not to take revenge and continue a cycle of destruction.

Frank today, with wrinkles.

Frank today, with wrinkles.

A Silent Mile

Yesterday was a tough day. It started off wonderfully. I was able to work while watching the Boston Marathon on my computer. The elite women ran a compelling race and the men didn’t disappoint either. Then at approximately 2:50PM, two bombs exploded near the finish line killing three people and injuring more than 180 others.

I’m not going to rehash the details of this gruesome event because we’ve all heard them. It’s time to start healing.

I saw a Facebook post today asking runners to gather at their local high school track to run a mile in silence to honor of the victims. I thought about going, but the 9PM start conflicts with my kids bedtime. Then my wife saw the same post and said I should go. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go.

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It hit me when I put my running shoes on – many of yesterday’s victims may never be able to do what I was about to do – run. I was pretty somber from that point on. I left the house. It was a beautiful night – clear, cool, calm, and quiet. I walked to the end of the block (as is my ritual), started to run, and it hit me again – those victims were no different than me.

These tragic events cultivate fear and anger. I felt both and needed a release. It’s about a mile to the Woodbury High School Track from my house and I was going to run because it makes me feel better. To be completely honest, I had no idea what to expect. Would there be five people there? Ten? 20? 50? I passed the sign for the Underwood Memorial Hospital Emergency Room and my thoughts went back to Boston. What a horrible scene that must have been.

When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see about 30 people. I didn’t know many of them, but they are familiar faces that I see at local races. I saw some people running around the track. I thought it was a little strange, but I know that runners like to run. It makes them feel better.

John Carter, part of the RRCW (Road Runners Club of Woodbury), waited until exactly 9PM and spoke briefly to the crowd. He thanked everyone for coming on such short notice and mentioned that events like this were happening all over the area and they would all be running simultaneously. I looked around and noticed that the crowd had grown to well over 50 people. John reminded everyone that the run would be in silence and we would take a slow pace. He then introduced three people who were dressed in their BAA Boston Marathon jackets and wearing their medals for completing the 2013 Boston Marathon. They heard about the event on the train ride home and decided to attend. John had the 2013 Boston Marathoners take the lead and start us off.

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The whole idea seemed a little strange – running a mile in the dark to honor people 300 miles away. But as we ran it felt more and more comfortable. The silence was palpable. After the 1st lap the crowd stretched out and the pace began to increase. It felt good. While making the turn on lap 3, I noticed the flag at half mast.

The pace got a little faster. By the final lap we were breathing hard and sweating and at that point I realized what this meant to me. Runners are comfortable running. Yesterday was awful for everybody here and lacing up our shoes helps us deal with it. Some may not understand that, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

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When we finished everyone was still relatively quiet, although breathing heavily. I immediately noticed how much better I felt. Another gentleman thanked the group and said how happy he was that so many came out to run. We dispersed and I made my way to the parking lot.

It was time to run home.

Tony Runs Boston

Tony Walter, after qualifying at Steamtown, 2012 for Boston.

Tony Walter, after qualifying at Steamtown, 2012 for Boston.

Back in May, 2012, a group of us from the SJAC decided we would head up to Scranton for the Steamtown Marathon in October, 2012.  One of our dedicated group, Brian, suggested we should write a blog about the group preparing for this event.  I happened to be the one who moved forward on this suggestion, and the sjacmarathoners.com was born.  Through the hottest summer on record in the Philadelphia area, we trained as a group, sweating, running, sweating some more, wringing out wet socks and shorts, hydrating, rehydrating, and getting in the miles.  Our experiences were documented in our blog.  After the grueling summer, and a bit cooler September, our group headed up to Scranton to participate in the Steamtown Marathon.  It is small as marathons go.  Three thousand signed up, the maximum allowed, and the event was closed to registration by the end of May, which speaks to it’s desirability.  It is also known as a Boston qualifier, since an average of about 25% of runners in this race qualify for Boston.  What this means, though, as I found out, was that it is an elite runners marathon.  The reason so many qualify for Boston is that so many fast runners run this race.  This was evident when we were gathered in the gym at the Forest City high school, waiting for the start.  I had not seen so many Boston Marathon jackets since I ran Boston in 2011.

Tony ran Steamtown with an eye to qualifying for Boston, although he would have been happy just to put in a decent performance.  He needed to hit under 3:40 to qualify.  He also needed for Boston not to be filled up by the time his race was run.  There were a few factors that made this prospect interesting.  One was that the Boston Athletic Association decided to change the qualifying times the year before.  Two years ago, Tony could have qualified with a 3:45:59.  They decided to drop the time for all entrants by five minutes, and drop the 59 second allowance.  That set the new time at 3:40 flat.  In addition, they decided to allow finishers who beat the time by certain margins, 20 minutes and 10 minutes, to get preferential sign up privileges.  Theoretically, one could make a qualifying time but not be allowed to run because all the places were taken.  This happened the year before, when some runners had hit the qualifying time, but there were no places left.  For 2013, an anomaly occurred.  The 2012 Boston Marathon was run under very hot conditions, with temperatures into the high eighties.  Participants at Boston who normally would have qualified at Boston for the following year had times much slower than normal due to the heat, and some actually decided not to run.  This left a few places available still in October, after the Steamtown Marathon.  So, when Tony hit his qualifier of 3:39:06, he was able to sign up for Boston.

At the end of Steamtown Marathon, Tony was beat.  He could hardly move, and when someone in our group offered to get him a drink, he had the look of a zombie as he answered that he really couldn’t say.  Our group went out to eat lunch at a very nice Mexican restaurant in Clarks Summit.  Tony ordered a delicious tortilla soup, which remained untouched as he stared at his bowl not saying a word.  We got a little worried about him, but he still had a pulse and respiratory rate, so we figured he would be okay.  On the way home to the Philadelphia area, he stopped at a rest stop to get some coffee.   Lisa, one of our group, followed him there, just to check on him.  Seeing he was managing alright, she drove on and Tony eventually made it back home.

The next day, he signed up for Boston.  Good thing he did, too, for it filled up by Thursday of that week.

Tony is a terrific training partner.  He seems like he is always in a good mood, and he always has kind things to say about everyone.  He is very steady in his training, and got through the summer having put in the miles, logged the long runs and done the track work to be well prepared.  He kept the rest of us going strong, and set a good example for us.  In other words, he earned it.

Many of my non-running friends have asked, “what is so special about Boston?”  Anyone who has run a marathon knows about Boston.  It is the oldest modern marathon, run since 1897, with the exception of 1918, during the first world war.  It is also a marathon for which one must qualify in ones age group.  The runners are all elite runners who have achieved a qualifying time which puts them in the top echelon of marathoners world wide.  But the best thing about running Boston is the support of the fans, who turn out in droves on the day of the marathon to cheer on the runners.  It doesn’t hurt that the event is held on Patriot’s Day, commemorating the start of the revolutionary war, and, as it happens, a holiday in Massachusetts.  The crowds that line the route, cheering, giving support, and making a lot of noise, especially in the last few blocks before the finish line, make the race a wonderful experience.  And, to make it all that much sweeter, the students from Wellesley, an all-women’s college, come out to offer kisses and high fives to the runners as they pass the midpoint of the race.

Tony will be running his first Boston Marathon tomorrow.  From his training partners back home, who didn’t make it in to Boston this year, we wish him the very best.  This morning, after our Sunday morning training run, a 13 mile route, the group gathered to offer Tony advice.  “Don’t go out too fast (duh…).”  “Go out easy and then back off.”  “Go get ’em, but take your time at Wellesley.”  And “whatever you do, make it across the finish line.”

I would like to ask any one reading this to offer support for Tony and we will pass on your advice and good wishes.

Best wishes to Tony from the SJAC Marathoners back home.

Best wishes to Tony from the SJAC Marathoners back home.

Rocky Run

h-rockyprofile

Haddonfield Rocky Run profile.

Who, according to the Philadelphia Commerce Director, did more for Philadelphia than anyone since Ben Franklin?  Who put South Philly on the map?  And, who ran up the art museum steps in one of the most recognizable movie scenes of all time?  Right, Rocky Balboa!  So, to dedicate a run to our Philadelphia (fictional) hero, we came up with a Sunday run which would celebrate Rocky.

This was to be a point to point run, starting in our home base of Haddonfield, NJ and finishing up the steps of the art museum, with a total distance of 14 miles.  Our choice of this weekend was a bit of a problem for a few of our usual Sunday runners.  Some are running Boston next Monday, and didn’t want to do a challenging long run this close to their marathon.  Some felt they weren’t ready for that distance.  And some were doing a longer run readying for a May marathon, wanted to get in 20 plus mile runs, and finish close to home.  That left seven runners ready to take on the Haddonfield-Rocky Run challenge.

Steve, Dave, Dan Brian, Rich, Frank and Keith, at the start of the Rocky Run.

Steve, Dave, Dan Brian, Rich, Frank and Keith, at the start of the Haddonfield-Rocky Run.

The route started off as our usual Sunday run does, heading west to the Cooper River park.  Then, though, we kept heading west.  Crossing route 130 may have been the most dangerous part of the run.  It’s a busy highway with the crosswalk shut down for construction.  In a marvel of broken field running, we all managed to cross without a single loss of life.  Then, we headed down Admiral Wilson Boulevard.  This road once was home to several notorious stripper bars and hourly rate motels.  When the Republican National Convention came to Philadelphia in 2000, then Governor Christie Whitman had the buildings demolished and the whole area turned into parkland.  While this returned the good name of Admiral Wilson to honor, it also removed sorely needed tax paying businesses from Camden’s base.  We ran down the curvy, paved, path along the Cooper River on one side, and Admiral Wilson Boulevard on the other, towards the City of Camden.  We then headed into the center of Camden, and to Cooper Hospital.  Two of us, Steve and myself, work at Cooper.

Steve and Frank at the entrance drive to Cooper Hospital.

Steve and Frank at the entrance drive to Cooper Hospital.

We had the audacity to run right through the hospital, starting at one entrance, heading through the lobby to our new Pavilion building and out the other entrance, with a quick restroom stop in the middle.  From there, the route went past Rutgers in Camden and on to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

At the high point of the walkway on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, with Philadelphia in the background.

At the high point of the walkway on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, with Philadelphia in the background.

After crossing over the bridge, we headed south down to the Italian Market.  This is where a local shopper tossed an orange to Sylvester Stallone as he ran through the market in an unscripted moment in the first Rocky movie.  The scene was Rocky on his famous run, and was kept in the movie.

Did the orange come from this vegetable market?  Maybe.

Did the orange come from this vegetable market? Maybe.

Alas, there were no fans cheering us on through the streets of what was once called The 9th Street Curb Market.  It is by no means only Italian, although the Italian immigrant presence is strongly felt, in places like D’Angelo Bros.’, purveyors of meats and game, and Lorenzo’s Pizza, my personal favorite for a Philly cheese steak.  There are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Mexican foods, stores selling every kitchen utensil and appliance one could imagine, and a fine cubbyhole of a shop selling all manner of spices from around the world.  As much as I would have loved hanging out here and visiting my favorite shops, we shot off farther west across Broad Street to 15th.  We then headed north to the Ben Franklin Parkway, and the last stretch of our run.  By this time, the group had splintered a bit.  Steve, Keith and I hit the beginning of the BFP first.

Keith and Frank in front of the Swann fountain in Logan Circle, symbolizing the three major rivers of Philadelphia.

Keith and Frank in front of the Swann fountain in Logan Circle, symbolizing the three major rivers of Philadelphia. The art museum is in the distant background.

From here we shot right down the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway, and made it to our goal, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  This is a hot spot for tourists, and this beautiful Sunday morning was perfect for the run up the steps.  There were several tour buses in front of the museum, and as we approached we could see a couple of hundred enthusiastic visitors vicariously living Rocky’s finishing sprint up the steps.  Rocky collapsed on his first run, but these enthusiastic young people jetted up the steps like they were in a Red Bull commercial.  For us, we were at the end of a long run, but still had a nice adrenaline kick to make it possible to hit every other step on the way to the top.

Looking back at Philly from the top of the Art Museum steps.

Looking back at Philly from the top of the uppermost Art Museum steps.

It did seem a little anticlimactic once we had hit the top.  Now what, was my thought.  Partly, the day was so nice that we didn’t have the cold, the heat, the rain or the wind that I thought would make this extra tough.  But then, as I looked around and saw the city, it felt we had accomplished something.

Keith, amidst the columns of the museum entrance, rehydrating.

Keith, amidst the columns of the museum entrance, rehydrating.

Brothers Brian and Dan on the steps.  The statue behind is Prometheus strangling a Vulture, by Jacques Lipchitz, his take on Hercules taking on the Eagle.  It represents conquering adversity.

Brothers Brian and Dan on the steps. The statue behind them is Prometheus strangling a Vulture, by Jacques Lipchitz, his take on Hercules taking on the Eagle. It represents conquering adversity.

Having reached our goal, we had one more, very necessary task to complete.  We needed a photo with Rocky, the statue, that is.  The statue was commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for Rocky III and initially placed at the top of the “Rocky Steps” in 1982.  But museum folks objected and it was relocated to the Spectrum sports arena.  It was brought back to the museum again in 1990 and 2006, and finally found it’s permanent spot on the grounds outside the museum.  It is one of the most photographed sights in Philadelphia.

Keith, Steve, Brian, Frank and Dan with Rocky.  Dave helped Rich get to the finish a bit behind the rest of us.

Keith, Steve, Brian, Frank and Dan with Rocky. Dave helped Rich get to the finish a bit behind the rest of us.

After a good run, what could be better than a good breakfast.  We all headed over to Little Pete’s on Fairmont Avenue, to scarf down some pancakes, eggs, sausage and coffee.  We were joined by a few of the others in the club who had gone cycling this morning or run a shorter distance.  Now, we are planning for Rocky II.

Outside Little Pete's, a fine place for a delicious breakfast.

Outside Little Pete’s, a fine place for a delicious breakfast.

Route of the Haddonfield Rocky Run.

Route of the Haddonfield Rocky Run.

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