Multitudes

Portrait of Walt Whitman, by Thomas Eakins, 1887-1888, in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

I was reading an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, and came across a mention of a Walt Whitman quote, “I contain multitudes”.  I had to search a bit to find the whole quote.  It is from a long poem, “Song of Myself”, part of his work “Leaves of Grass”.  The full quote, from stanza 51 of the poem, “Do I contradict myself?, Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”  I had not heard this before, and certainly had never taken on the daunting task of reading Leaves of Grass.

Finding it interesting to read a bit about Walt Whitman, I tucked this information away for later study.  Then, on Thanksgiving day, my son, who is well into adulthood, said, off the cuff, “I am multitudes”, while entertaining the rest of the family.  I was awestruck.  I just had read about this, and to my recollection, had not heard it before I read about it a couple of weeks earlier.  I asked him, “do you know where that comes from?”.  He wasn’t sure, but when I mentioned it is from Walt Whitman, he had some idea he had heard it before.

Way back in high school, some guy I didn’t know very well called me a cowboy jock.  I was taken completely off guard.  First of all, I didn’t see myself that way.  I never did rodeo, and while the people who compete in rodeo are terrific athletes, I was not one of them.  I think he meant I was a cowboy and a jock.  Again, completely not how I pictured myself.  True, we had horses.  We had three horses at one time in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Where we lived, this was not unusual.  We lived on the edge of the wide open desert.  If we had the urge, we could have ridden from our house all the way to Flagstaff.  I was also on the swim team.  But, if you put together recreational horseback riding and a sport that was utterly not like football, it doesn’t add up to a cowboy jock.  Maybe he was jealous of something, but I don’t really know why.  Clearly it made an impression on me, since I remember it so many years later.  I’ve grown to accept it as who I am.  Sometimes.

Birthplace of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819), Huntington, long Island, New York.

Clearly not my entirety, and not in complete agreement with the other parts of me.  Getting back to Walt Whitman though, what a fascinating and prolific person he was.  We live in his stomping ground.  It was his for part of his life, anyway.  He was born in Huntington, New York, an early town founded in the 1600’s 0n Long Island.  Anyone wishing to learn more about Mr. Whitman can find numerous biographies, telling of his life from multiple perspectives.  He really was multitudes.  I don’t wish to tell his life story here.  That the reader can do for them self.  But he spent his last years in Camden County, living in his brother’s house, later in his own house, in the city of Camden, New Jersey, while spending time in the bucolic countryside of Laurel Springs, from 1873 until his death in 1892.

I often have conflicting beliefs, although not as wide ranging as Mr. Whitman’s.  One of my favorite quotes comes from a sociology professor I had in college.  He said to the class, ‘the purpose of education is to make you confused when you were once certain.”  Perhaps this is the basis of being multitudes.  One must have an open mind, curious, intellectual, and aggressive in acquiring new knowledge, in order to become multitudes.

Two weekends ago, members of my running club were planning a great long run, which I call the Colonial Run.  It begins in my town of Haddonfield, New Jersey, goes through Camden, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, and then courses through colonial streets of Old City Philadelphia.  We run up Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the USA, built in 1702.  We run by Betsy Ross’ house, the Christ Church, Ben Franklin’s grave site, and of course, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  Then we continue on, through the famous Philadelphia City Hall, with William Penn’s statue on top, to the Ben Franklin Parkway, and finish up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  We were stymied, though.  It snowed the day before the run, and the pedestrian walkway on the Ben Franklin Bridge was closed.  We changed our plans, and ran the “drives”, the West River drive and Kelly drive, and were still able to finish on the steps of the museum.  However, after reading about Walt Whitman, when we do reschedule this epic, 14 mile run, I intend to take the course past the Walt Whitman house in Camden.  We may even run past his tomb in Harleigh Cemetery, also in Camden.

I came across another “multitudes” quote just recently.  In “Delusions of Gender, How our minds, society and neurosexism create difference,” by Cordelia Fine, Honorary Research Fellow in Psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, she writes, on page 7 (yes, early in the book),  “…even if your personality offers little to hold the interest of  a shrink, there is nonetheless plenty in there to fascinate the social psychologist.  This is because your self has multiple strings to its bow, it’s a rich complex web, it has a nuance for every occasion.  As Walt Whitman neatly put it, ‘I am large:  I contain multitudes’.”

The Walt Whitman House, 330 Martin Luther King Blvd., in Camden, NJ.

Walt Whitman (per Wikipedia) held opinions on many aspects of life, such as drink (against), slavery (against) and equal rights of men and women (for).  His Leaves of Grass, and in particular, Song of Myself, were harshly criticized for his expressions somewhat covert, of sexuality, including references to homosexuality.  He extolled the virtues of sunbathing nude.  He was nationalistic and patriotic, but wrote in a way to praise liberalism and democracy.  He wrote in a free form style, criticized by some, but praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He respected all religions, but did not believe in them himself.  He is described variably as immanent (feeling that god is within everything), or transcendent (that god is external to everything), or more of a pantheist.

In spite of these views outside of mainstream, or socially acceptable thought, in spite of writing in free verse, of challenging the norms of religion, he is revered as the American Poet.  When he died more than one thousand people came to his home to pay their respects.  There is a bridge over the Delaware River named after him.  Being aware of the many works of Walt Whitman, knowing about his life, may come as no surprise to those who studied him in college, or just through curiosity.  But, I was not informed about his life and writings and will do my best to make up for that deficit.  First, though, I must sit down with Song of Myself, and see how much I can understand.  It is tough reading.

Walt Whitman Tomb, Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, NJ. Photo by iirraa on flickr

In the spirit of the season, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.  May 2018 be better than 2017.

Deconstructing the Sounds of Silence

Last Friday evening I went out for a run on one of my usual routes.  I was running past a local pizza restaurant with outside seating.  There sat a very nice looking young couple, with a partially eaten pizza for two sitting atop a little stand, and a half filled bottle of wine.  The young man and woman were both intently gazing…at their cell phones, texting, or whatever.  They did not notice as I ran by, and they were not speaking to each other.

I had the good fortune to see Paul Simon at the Mann Theater in Philadelphia a few weeks ago.  At the age of 74, he put on an amazing performance.  His backup band of ten musicians, played too many instruments to count, including brass, wind, percussion, guitar and bass, and keyboard.  They all were fantastic.  Very moving, though, was his solo rendition of Sounds of Silence.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

Running along, alone, I get a chance to converse with myself.  I have running (heh, heh) conversations in my head as I go along.  Passing the couple paying attention to their smart devices and not to each other, I wondered what they were looking at.  Texting?  Looking at a “social media” site?  Checking out what other people are doing?  I don’t know, but they were silent.  Not everyone is like that, and certainly not in every social gathering, but how frequent it is to see, not just a couple, but groups of people all looking at their cell phones (an anachronism, now, to call it a phone), and not connecting with each other.  This conversation I had in my head, and it kept me going for another mile.

In the naked light I saw ten thousand people maybe more.

People talking without speaking.  People hearing without listening.

When I think of these lines, I think about the disconnect between groups of people in our country and also around the world.  I want to delve into a group’s message, to see what they are really trying to say.  What are their goals, their fears, their aspirations?  Why would there be a strongly supported vote in a particular state to enforce laws about who may use a particular restroom?  Are the proponents of such a law just rigid, or do they have some fear that needs addressing?  Do people who support a law promoting “religious freedom” in fact feel their freedom is impinged if they cannot refuse service to a gay couple?  If so, is there a way to address their concerns without denying the gay couple appropriate service?  The NRA and the people wanting to carry a 9 mm Glock on their hips into their local Burger King clearly have a message they want to impart, which is completely missed by the people wanting to ban assault rifles.  And in the USA, I think our ultimate miscommunication is between members of congress on both sides of the aisle who cannot agree to discuss or compromise on anything.  World-wide, there are just too many examples to start a list….

And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.

At the Paul Simon concert, the sun had set and the audience was under the darkened cover of the outdoor theater.  There were hundreds of people holding up their cellphones capturing video of Paul Simon and his band performing.  The light from the cell phone screens reminded me of concerts past, before cell phones were invented, when people held up lighted Bic lighters as a symbol of solemnity and reverence when the song particularly moved them.  Now, the light from the phones is seen only from behind, and is a function of people capturing the performance so they can show their friends how lucky they were to be there.  In the first instance, the light from the lighters is a shared experience of people silently communicating.  In the other, it is all about the individual out of the moment.  From the back, though, I felt a sense of nostalgia.

Hear my words that I might teach you.  Take my arms that I might reach you.

One, an individual, must be receptive to be taught, or to allow an interaction.  We have opportunities to communicate, to agree, to disagree, and to blend thoughts.  Our world seems ever more dangerous and disconnected.  Whatever we can do to make it less so is an improvement.

 

 

 

 

The Proper Way to Ride a Bike

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Vermont Challenge, 2012

I came across a cycling article in the newspaper The Guardian, which was titled “No more hippies and explorers: a lament for the changed world of cycling.”  I think it’s worth a read, because the author, one Tom Marriage, writes about how he perceives cycling to have changed.  He sees it as being taken over by Lycra-clad highly competitive sorts, who have ruined cycling for ordinary people.  Here’s how he put it:  Now it’s different. Road cycling has become the orthodoxy. Tedious, competitive, sports cycling has taken over. Cycling has become the new golf. It’s what men of a certain age, men with money and power, chat about after meetings.  He continues with a few other points, how cyclists were once considered a bit quirky and fun loving, adventuresome types, but are now causing the general population to hate cyclists because of their image in their tight clothing, and their behavior on the road.

I think this is on one hand, setting up a paper tiger, and on the other, stating what has been going on for generations.  People go through different stages with their bikes.  Often, a bike is the first mode of transportation allowing a child, too young to drive, a means of traveling far from home without help.  I will never forget my first bike experience, being helped to get started by a neighbor, amazed at how fast I could go, then finally tipping the bike over in the grass not having mastered the art of braking at that point.  I also recall my son’s first successful solo ride.  He was so thrilled, that at the age of six, he started singing out loud James Brown’s song, I Feel Good! while zooming down the street (check out the linked version, a surreal blast).

Cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and goals:

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Here’s a simplified picture of the variety of cyclists

They vary from the plainly absurd:

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Canadians?  I see a maple leaf there.

To the serious professional competitive athlete:

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Tour of Flanders, 2004 (George Hincapie in USPS kit)

In places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, bicycling is part of the culture, and they have separate traffic lanes and traffic lights for cyclists.  Men and women of all ages bike to work, often in inclement weather.  The Danes are particularly conscious of their cycling image as in the blog Cycle Chic.

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Bikes parked on a side street in Amsterdam

I’ve always been a cycling enthusiast, from that first ride and spill into the grass to today.  As a kid in the suburbs of Houston, I rode my 24 inch bike to school and to the swim club, and used it to explore my neighborhood, with interesting destinations including trails along the Brays Bayou.  In high school in San Diego, I was given my first ten-speed bike for my birthday, and enjoyed riding it to school and to wherever I wanted to go.  This was in spite of the fact I had my driver’s license and could have driven.  That bike, an Astra Tour de France, carried me through college at UCSD and beyond.  Today, that same bike is used by my son who lives in South Philly and commutes to work on it.

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Astra Tour de France, made in 1970.  The Peugot fork I put on in college because the original was causing a shimmy when I got up to speed on the downhills.

I have gotten into the road riding and road racing scene.  It started innocently enough.  My friend Dan T. and I started riding together for exercise in the mid 1990’s.  He was on his Nishiki and I on my Trek 200, a heavy steel beast with downtube shifters and a basket on the handlebars which could fit a six pack of beer.  A long ride for us at that time was 15 or 20 miles.  One day, Dan felt the need to upgrade, and bought a Cannondale 300, made of aluminum, and quite a bit faster than my Trek.  That wouldn’t do.  Soon, I bought a Trek 2300, which at that time was part carbon, part steel.  We were back in equilibrium again.  Our rides were getting longer, and faster, too.  It was not unusual to go out on a Saturday or Sunday for a 60 mile ride, sometimes in cold or wet weather.  We had adopted the look of the road cyclist, too, with appropriate shorts, jerseys with various European pro teams names on them, gloves, and of course, click in pedals.  Dan upped the mechanicals again, this time going for a very nice higher-end Colnago, a fine Italian maker of racing bikes used in the Tour de France and other major road races.  The game was on.  In 2001, I ordered a beautiful Pinarello Opera frame through a bike shop in Rome, called Romeo Cycles.  I had it fitted with Campagnolo Record components, a Deda stem and handle bars, and Mavic hand-built wheels at my local bike shop, Bicycle Therapy, in Philly.  Dan T. and I wanted a real cycling adventure, though, and so we found a company in Italy that sounded perfect.  In the summer of 2002, we traveled by way of Paris to Venice, accompanied by another friend, Dan B., and went to the Italian Cycling Center.  Run by a curmudgeonly but wise fellow, George Pohl, located in the Veneto about an hour’s drive north of Venice, we were introduced to northern Italian cycling culture.  Daily, we gathered at breakfast and found out what the ride for the day was.  We would then head out, with the faster, stronger cyclists tackling the big climbs, and the others usually heading for some interesting archeological dig or a museum.

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Passo San Baldo, a long hard climb in the mountains.

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Preparing to climb Passo S. Baldo.  The Italian gentleman on the right in front on the red bike, was 72 years old, and kept with me the whole way up.

That was in 2002.  Since then, I have had many other adventures on my bike.  Since my trip to Italy, I have gone cycling with Ride Noho, a camp modeled after the Italian Cycling Center, located in Northampton Massachusetts, and run by a very congenial (the opposite of a curmudgeon) fellow, Aldo, and his wife Elaine.  The concept is to stay in one place and go out on a different route each day.  I have managed to talk a number of my friends into joining me on these annual trips.  I would say our favorite climb is up Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

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Preparing for the Mount Greylock adventure

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At the Greylock Summit

As you can see, Elaine, in the center of the photo, is the only woman in a group of men cyclists.  Why is that?  Do women just generally not enjoy cycling?  Elaine is light, strong, and very tough, and can hold her own in a group of men.  Is that what it takes, or are there other factors involved?  Back to The Guardian again, and an article written by Terry Slavin last year, “If there aren’t as many women cycling as men…you need better infrastructure.”  In it, she points out that cycling, particularly in cities without the infrastructure to protect cyclists from trucks, buses and cars, is dangerous.  As she puts it:  If we have a street environment that’s hostile, that has no facilities, that has fast traffic with heavy lorries thundering past, we will get low numbers of courageous people, mainly men, on racing bikes and pretty well no one else. The article is very well written and researched and I recommend it to anyone interested in the role of cycling in cities.

I’m a cycling commuter.  When conditions allow, I can usually ride my bike three days a week to work from mid March through mid October.  I kind of stand out in this regard, an older guy (one of our “seniors”, as President Bush would say), Surgeon, with a need to get to work sometimes by 6:30.  It takes a real desire to want to do this before any of the other considerations like clothing management, flat tire potential, and traffic.  Our roads are decidedly not bike friendly.  I live in a town in New Jersey with the history of being the first town in New Jersey to ban bicycles (since overruled) a century and a half ago.  Today, one gets ignored, cursed, mocked, and threatened on the road.  Our local bicycle advocacy organization, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, has been at work for years pushing local, regional and federal government to support cycling for all the great advantages it has for the citizens.  Their work has not been in vain.  An accounting of their victories shows that much can be done to encourage cycling.  This is a very political issue.  Money spent on cycling interests is seen as money taken away from other interests.  If the need for more road capacity, or more buses is decreased due to more cyclists on the road, it means fewer jobs in those sectors.  But, if it leads to a more vibrant city in which people enjoy living, the health of the city and the economy grow.

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Preparing to ride to work on a chilly morning in April, 2016.

Back to the start, about the changed world of cycling.  There have been some major changes, but many are not the kind mentioned in the article.  Pro cycling has had its reputation dashed on the rocks because of all the drug enhancement and doping by all the big names in the sport, the most famous of whom is Lance Armstrong.  Bicycles have gotten better over the last several decades, with handle bar index shifting, lighter materials, and many other technological advances.  Helmets have improved.  More bike lanes and more dedicated bike paths have been built.  A huge impact has been bikes for rent, in big cities like Paris, New York and now, Philadelphia.  In fact, Philadelphia was the 74th community in the USA to start a program, and it has been a big success.  Still, from my personal perspective, the prevailing attitude among my fellow Americans is one of dislike, strong dislike, or downright hatred of cyclists on the road.  The reasons are many, but I feel if there is more accommodation to cyclists, and more separation of cyclists from busy roadways, both cyclists and motorists benefit.  It would go far in tempering the legitimate antipathy motorists can have about cyclists and their habits on the road.  Many of my non-cyclist friends get very aggravated by cyclists not stopping at traffic lights, or blocking the flow of traffic.  This, to me, is not a new problem.  I have seen that often, over the decades I have been riding, that cyclists can be arrogant and unwilling to follow the rules of the highway.  As a cyclist, it is not always a simple matter of waiting for the light.  When the drivers hit the gas, it is better not to be clustering in front of them. In several European cities, cyclists are allowed to go through red lights on roads where the speed limit is 30 km/hr, so to keep traffic flowing more smoothly.  The rationale is that injuries to cyclists would decrease, and drivers would be less impeded. As to the Lycra and close-fitting clothing, it is what works for cyclists.  I don’t feel a need to explain wearing the appropriate gear.  For city commuting, though, most any clothes can be, and are worn, and work perfectly well.  Working with cyclists to provide a safe place to keep one’s bike while at work and providing a facility to make quick repairs, or pump up a tire, are ways companies can encourage bike commuting.  And about that quirky, offbeat style of cycling:

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Craziest bike I’ve seen yet.

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Heading up to Northampton, to Ride Noho

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Men and their bikes.

A Slog through the Slush

Here’s how the conversation, via text, went:

It’s all slush and big puddles out there do you think we should run?  And it is raining, too.

Sorry, just saw this.  Let’s go for it.  We won’t know till we try

Okay.  I am just getting ready now.

Take your time driving over.

That was at 6:45 this morning.  The snow, rain, freezing rain, and sleet had started the night before.  I was out with friends in Philly, and late at night, heading for the train, we marveled at the enormous size of the snow flakes falling steadily.  With the temperature close to freezing, they turned to slush as they hit the ground.  This morning, I stayed in bed as late as I could but still make a 7:00 AM start to my morning run.  My running partner and I had the above conversation and so I was committed to the run.  I was relieved, since I didn’t want to be the one to make the call, knowing this would not be our best run of the year.

We had to gingerly pick our way from his front door out to the street, not wanting to start running with cold, wet feet.  The road had not been plowed, and while the “inches” of snow were not that much, it was all wet and forming large pools of ice slurry.  We started off very slowly, running along areas cleared by tire tracks, being careful not to slip as we went downhill towards our loop around the park.  We had to run in the street rather than the multi-use path, which was completely covered by this slurry.  As we ran, we picked up the pace a bit.  Along the Cooper River, the geese were out in force, coping with the conditions without a problem, as far as I could see.  Approaching the far end of the loop around the park, the path was one large slush puddle, which we muddled through.  Now my shoes were wet, and my feet cold.  On the far side of the park, the road was narrowed by construction.  We had to run along on the road, with cars passing us closely and spraying ice and frozen water on our legs.  I think it was partially on purpose, since not all the cars came that close.  We moved over to the construction zone, running in ruts created by a truck that had gone through recently.  As we ran we were able to have a nice conversation, since the forced slow pace made talking that much easier.  We talked about running in the winter, and also about the play I saw last night at the Lantern Theater.  The play, called “Doubt, A Parable”, by John Patrick Shanley, takes place in a Catholic School in the Bronx, in 1964.  The story is that of an older nun, the principal of the school, suspecting the priest of having sexual relations with one of the boy students.  The story gets complicated when one hears the boy’s mother’s side of her son’s life.  The play takes only ninety minutes with a single act, and seems to leave out some crucial inner thoughts of the four characters.  One critic I read afterwards suggested the second act was when the audience discussed their feelings about the play.

Our run finished with a long uphill climb and then a flat last mile, still with the skies gray, and our feet cold and wet.  But accomplishing our seven miles, and then warming up with a change to dry socks and shoes, a dry shirt, and a hot cup of coffee was very satisfying.

A parable is a short narrative about individuals meant to be an example of a larger truth.  So, this narrative I relate to you shall also be short, and meant to convey that even when nature is uncooperative, getting out and doing is better than holing up and not doing.

 

It’s all about that pace.

It’s all about that pace, ’bout that pace, no hustle.

It’s taken a little time for me to settle after my last marathon experience.  The short of it is, I cramped up at mile 16.5, and after a brief rest and another half mile, I wasn’t able to continue.  This was to be my tenth marathon, and I hadn’t quit any before, even when suffering mightily.  So what was different this time, and what went wrong?

There are many marathon training programs out there.  Runner’s World Magazine, Jack Daniels, Hanson, Hal Higdon, and others specify when to start training, how often to run, how far to run, and at what pace for one’s abilities.  Generally, one starts about sixteen weeks ahead of M-day, progressing in miles and longest run as the weeks progress.  The basis for this is the way our muscles and heart accommodate to the demand of steady running for three to four hours.  That kind of endurance, unless one is particularly exceptional, requires a long build-up.  Things can go wrong the day of the marathon.  Weather can be awful, a virus can lay out a runner, but if one has not put in the training, a perfect day will not make up for that lack.

For me, the training for my latest marathon, Philadelphia, November 23, 2014, started on time and rather well.  I had a good base, coming off a half marathon in Nice, France, at decent time in late April, and the 10 mile Broad Street run in early May in Philadelphia.  I’ve always designed my own training program, since sticking with one of the popular plans is just impossible due to my work schedule.  I also was working with a new marathoner, helping her train for her first marathon.  We had our long runs planned out for every Sunday, a mid-week ten mile run, and other training runs in between.  Paces were mixed up, and routes changed so that we would not fall into automaton behavior that comes with repetition.  My first slip up came about seven weeks before the marathon.  We were doing one of my favorite long runs, 9 minutes at a 9 minute per mile pace, then 1 minute at a fast pace, generally about 7’45” per mile, for a total of 14 miles.  One does need to keep an eye on the watch, and the pace, to get things right.  Done well, the miles fly by, and the run is energizing.  I think my eyes were too closely focused on the watch.  At about eleven miles, along a dirt path being graded for paving, I hit a rock with my toe and fell hard and fast.  I came down on my right side, connecting my chest, shoulder and head to the ground.  Fortunately, nothing was broken…I think.  I may have broken a rib but it wasn’t displaced and so since nothing would be done about it, I didn’t have it x-rayed.  That little incident slowed my training down, and made the next couple of weeks a little difficult due to soreness.  About five weeks before the marathon, we had a 20 mile run planned. It actually went very well, and I think if I had to run the marathon that very day, it would have been a good run.  After that, two weeks of very busy late nights at work completely blew apart my final weeks of training.  With two weeks to go, we went out for a 21 miler.  The conditions were nearly perfect.  The temperature started in the mid 40’s (F) as we headed out in the pre-dawn light.  The first bothersome event was that my new Adidas shoe was causing a great deal of pain where the tongue of the shoe meets the foot.  The tongue on these shoes is minimal, and the underlying tendon in my foot was being rubbed, causing the pain.  At around the 10 mile mark, I ran to my house to change shoes, while my ingenue marathon training partner waited a few minutes.  That done, my foot felt better.  We continued on, but at 17 miles a familiar and very annoying feeling sprang up in my calves and quads.  I was starting to get cramps in my leg muscles.  I am quite a sight when this happens, taking on the stride of John Cleese of Monty Python fame doing his silly walks sketch.  Not so funny for me, though, and I could not continue.  My training partner was doing well, and continued on to finish her 21 miler, the longest she had ever gone in one run.  I, on the other hand, hobbled back to our home base, unable to run, and in pain.  After walking the mile back, my legs did start to calm down, but the day and the run was shot.  I was very concerned that this might be my fate at the marathon in two weeks time, and I seriously considered not starting.  I had a chat with one of my marathon advisers, an experienced marathoner named Brandon, with whom I regularly run Saturday mornings.  With one week to go, I really didn’t get in the usual taper, because the three weeks before were so poor.  Brandon said he felt I could slow the pace and make it through the race.  He said it would be a shame to not run after putting in the many weeks of preparation.  With that encouragement, I started the marathon the following Sunday.

I thought about just doing half.  The official half marathon had closed weeks earlier, so I couldn’t drop down as a registered runner.  I felt if I kept my pace reasonable, around a 9 minute mile, things would be okay.  I did feel quite fine through the first half, and the Philadelphia marathon route is a very nice one.  It starts along Ben Franklin Parkway, with thousands of spectators lining the start, and Mayor Nutter giving hi-fives to runners as they pass the start line.  The route goes through Old City to Delaware Avenue, down to South Philly, then up along South Street to Chestnut and through Center City.  Crowds with clever (or not-so-clever) signs cheer on the runners.  The frat boys at Drexel bang on pots and shout out to the runners.  The route winds along to the Belmont Plateau, and past the Please Touch museum, then down hill to West River Drive along the Schuykill river and back to the Philadelphia Art Museum at the half.  At this point, the runners doing the half peel off and head to their finish line along the Ben Franklin Parkway, which is where I should have headed.  Thinking I could muster on, and not feeling bad, plus averaging around 8’45” to that point, I kept going, making the turn around the front of the museum to head out Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  It is a route I have done six times before, sometimes suffering with leg cramps and having to walk, sometimes cruising through, and once, doing well enough to make my Boston qualifier.  This time, at mile 16.5, the cramps set in.  I tried to slow down and keep running, but it was just impossible.  I moved off the course, and like some soldier going AWOL in an old movie, removed my number from my chest.  I started walking back towards the start line, which was about 3 miles away.  I should have quit as I turned in front of the museum, so the walk would have been much shorter.  After walking for 5 minutes, my legs felt better, and seeing all those other runners streaming by me I put on my number again, got back on the course, and started to run.  Well, that didn’t last very long.  I got about a half mile when my legs seized up again.  This time I decided to quit for good.  I moved off the course, this time leaving my number on, and walked back towards the start.  Shortly, a volunteer driving a golf cart-like vehicle, already carrying two other runners, stopped to pick me up.  I got in, and the young man next to me offered me the Mylar blanket he had around his shoulders.  He was very thin and fit-looking, not the kind to quit a marathon I thought.  But he had a similar problem to mine, and had to stop.  He insisted I take the blanket against my protests, as he appeared to have far less insulation than me.  He wouldn’t take it back, so I kept it.  Shortly after getting in the cart, I had to get right back out.  My legs were seizing up, and there was no way to stretch them out in the cramped seat.  So I was resigned to the long walk back.  Along the way, I passed another fellow DNFer, about my age, who had quit due to ankle pain.  As I walked I thought about my justification for stopping and not mustering on.  I felt that I had made the right decision, to not hurt myself further, recover, and live to run another marathon another day.

I got back to the art museum, and made my way around the outside of the course to the bag pickup.  Several people told me “way to go”, and “good job” as I made my way through the crowd, giving me the feeling of a complete charlatan.  It was crowded, and I didn’t want to take the time to explain, but I simply put my head down and decided it would be best to not recognize these well wishers.  I made it into the bag area having to enter through an exit guarded by police, since the security around marathons is way up these days.  Once I picked up my bag, I had my cell phone.  I phoned my wife, who had been monitoring my progress on her phone.  Up to that point, I was pretty calm and collected.  As I spoke to her, though, I completely broke down, as the emotion of quitting hit me.  The rational me had left as the feeling of failure overcame.  I like to be seen as the invincible warrior, not the vulnerable person I am.

Since then, I have recovered, both my body and my senses.  I have heard many stories from my experienced marathoner friends of times they, too, have had to quit for various reasons.  I have plans for a half marathon in March, my annual shot at Caesar Rodney in Wilmington, and I am trying to decide which marathon to sign up for in the fall.  I think I want to do an early October marathon, since the training doesn’t run into the problem with short days and the conversion to standard time.  Of course, I may piggy back Philadelphia onto that, since I will have done the training after all….  In the end, it really wasn’t about the pace, it was about the training, and getting it right.  Yes, the pace is important, but not if the training is missing.

 

 

Waiting for the Dawn

I’m here.        Are you there?

I’m here.         I’m here.        I’m here.       Are you there?          Are you there?

I’m here.  I’m here.  I hear you.  I’m here.  Are you there?  I’m here.  Are you there?

I’m herAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouthereI’mhereAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouI’mhereArethere.

I am an habitual early riser.  I get up before the dawn.  Even in the late spring as we approach the summer solstice I am up when it is still dark, and hearing is very acute.  I can hear a train very far off making it’s way down tracks.  But as the dawn nears, the birds start to sing.  First only a single bird sounds a few chirps, then another starts to answer, and another, and another until there is a cacophony of bird noises filling the early morning air.  This is the best time of the morning.  The air is still cool, the scent of the air coming through the open window is fresh, and I am by myself, able to think about plans for the day, the week, and the coming months.

There is a clarity of thought early in the morning that does not carry through to the end of the day.  As the day progresses, the surrounding noises get louder, people talk over one another, conversations are rapid fire and brief, and one tends to react rather than think things through.  So, it is a real pleasure to have the early morning to pour a bowl of cereal, grind some beans and make coffee, and then sit by myself, listening as the birds sing, and think about my plans.

I like to read the NY Times on my iPad early in the morning.  I’ll go through the headlines, and read the latest from Gail Collins who always makes me laugh as she points out absurdities in politics.  I’m amazed and depressed by all the news of the nightmares some people are living in places like Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Eastern Ukraine, and on and on.

I think about my day and try to remember the things I must do, the things I want to do and the things which would be good to do.  It’s especially important to remember the things which didn’t make it to all my various forms of calendars, whether the Outlook calendar for work, or my phone calendar which I’ll often set to remind me a day or a couple of hours ahead of time of something which needs doing.  But things like car repairs, bill paying and other activities don’t make it to the calendar and must be remembered.  I also have several presentations for work to prepare, which I know need doing but for which I don’t have any reminders.

As for running, I have done with my spring races, two half marathons and a ten miler.  I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon November 23, and I plan to start the training process sixteen weeks earlier, Sunday, August 3.  As my friend Tony pointed out, looking at the usual training plans, I’ll have to back off on my running to fit into the plan.  Not that I would do that, of course.  My thoughts at present center on how to remain pain free and get into good condition for the marathon.  I have some nagging pain in my right knee which I have had before but always makes me worried.  It is nice, though, to get a break from the buildup to races, and just enjoy the running now for running’s sake.

For now, I will enjoy the pre-dawn time as the sun begins to light the sky, the birds awake and sing, and my ears have dropped their defenses and can pick up the slightest sounds of the early morning.

Frank

 

Rocky II: It’s a knockout!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

 

Haddonfield, N.J.  – Last Sunday morning, fifteen members of the South Jersey Athletic Club gathered in front of the Haddonfield Running Company for the start of Rocky II, a point to point run from Haddonfield to the finish at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It was a perfect day for this type of run.  It was bit chilly at the start, around 37 degrees F, with the sun just starting to peak over the buildings on King’s Highway.  The runners stowed their gear in the bag carrier’s car and prepared to get going.  The bag carrier, Craig,  was the son of the organizer, and had offered his time in exchange for his Dad’s gratitude and the promise of brunch with the group.

The club, known as SJAC, has a usual Sunday run which is a loop of about 13 miles.  Every once in a while, though, a different run is proposed to add some variety and challenge.  The first Rocky Run was just about a year ago, so it was time for the sequel.  The route this year was very similar to last year’s route.  It follows the usual Sunday morning route up to Route 130, which is a busy highway on the edge of Camden.  This year, we went across 130 and past the Camden County Golf Academy, formerly known as the Cooper River driving range.  This has a sixty station, double-decker driving range where one is expected to hit the ball into the water.  Once merely a driving range, it is now home to Rutgers Camden’s golf program.  Moving on, we ran along Admiral Wilson Boulevard, where the memory of strip clubs and cheap motels, torn down for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 is fading.  Now, it is a rarely used park, with pretty rose bushes lining the boulevard, and a wide paved curving path along which few bikes or runners pass.  The park ends on a narrow sidewalk at the edge of the road, which takes one in to Camden City proper.

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

As we did last year, at the 7 mile mark we again went right through the main floor of Cooper Hospital, stopping for a restroom

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

break and water.  Then it was on to the Ben Franklin Bridge.  The road through Camden goes past the Rand Transportation Center.  Here, the PATCO line into Philadelphia, the River Line to Trenton, and the New Jersey Transit buses all come together.  It is a busy place, even on a Sunday morning, and we got a few amused stares by the locals as we ran by.  Nearby is the Walt Whitman house, where the famous poet spent the last eight years of his life.  We did not run by his house, but may on future editions of the Rocky Run (Rocky III, the Leaves of Grass edition!

 

 

The first real challenge of the run was the stairs up to the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.  Three flights one must ascend to get to the walkway, and there were a few groans from our group, although nothing too serious.  As mentioned, we had a beautiful day for this run, and the sky was deep blue, a perfect backdrop for the cityscape of Philadelphia.  The bridge rises for three fourths of a mile before it turns down again.  We stopped as a group near the apex for a photo, and got a nice passerby to take the shot.

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

At the base of the bridge on the Philadelphia side we took a sharp u-turn down to “Old City”, and made the second change from last year’s route.  This was to take us by another landmark, the Betsy Ross House.  We took another brief stop to document our run.

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

Then, it was on past other landmarks in the city, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, the Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and, of course, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  We continued down Sixth Street all the way to Christian Street in South Philly, home of the Italian Market.  Rocky Balboa made this spot famous in several scenes in his movies.  We didn’t try to replicate his movie runs.  In fact, to that, one would have to have magical powers.  If you’d like to see what it would take, writer Dan McQuade published an article in Philadelphia Magazine exploring the theoretical route.

After passing my favorite pizza and steak place in the Italian Market, Lorenzo’s, we kept on running to 16th Street, where we headed north all the way to the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The goal of the run was finally in view.  The Parkway is a great stretch of road, flanked by various museums, and lined by the flags of 109 Countries.  At the top of the Parkway, the Philadelphia Art Museum is a beautiful architectural achievement in its own right.  Situated where it is, braced on either side by Kelly Drive (formerly East River Drive) and West River Drive, and at the base of Fairmount Park, it is the epicenter of weekend outdoor activities in Philadelphia.  West River Drive is closed to automobiles on weekend mornings during daylight savings time.  Kelly Drive has Philly’s iconic Boat House Row, not just pretty to look at, but the base of a very active rowing community.  Every weekend, some type of race or organized activity is going on, centered around the Parkway and the art museum.  This day was no exception.  The first running of the Hot Chocolate 15k run was wrapping up as we finished our run.

We ran straight up the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway to the art museum.  Starting at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, along the way, we passed the Parkway’s most famous fountain, the Swann Memorial Fountain, or the Fountain of the Three Rivers.  As we got close to the museum, we got funneled through the staging are of the Hot Chocolate race, and had to clamber over the barriers to get to our final goal.  I found an open barrier so I didn’t have to embarrass myself trying to climb over, but others in the group were much more agile.  Finally, it was up the steps to the art museum entrance.

 

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the "Rocky Steps"

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the “Rocky Steps”

Everyone made it to the top!

Everyone made it to the top!

Of course, what would a trip to the venerable art museum be without a stop at the statue of one of Philadelphia’s most famous citizens, Rocky Balboa himself.  Well maybe he wasn’t really a “citizen”, and I guess, maybe  he wasn’t “real” but he sure brings out people from everywhere to pose by his statue.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

After we finished the run, we reconnoitered with a plan to have brunch at the famous Sabrina’s Cafe on Callowhill Street, about a mile from the art museum.  When we got there, the place was teeming with people with the same idea, many of whom had run the Hot Chocolate run that morning.  We wound up heading over to Friday’s on the Ben Franklin Parkway, not a unique Philly experience, but we were hungry.  As it turned out, breakfast was over, and they were serving lunch.  We were also almost their only customers.  We had a very nice lunch of burgers, a some had beers, and all were quite happy.

SJAC runners at Friday's after the Rocky II run.

SJAC runners at Friday’s after the Rocky II run.

After lunch, it was back to Haddonfield.  We had just enough room in a couple of cars to haul everyone back home across the bridge.  Now, we’ll need to start planning next year’s sequel.  As one of our runners, Brian, put it, the sequels really went down in quality after Rocky II.  Let’s hope the Rocky Run’s don’t suffer the same fate.

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

A Bridge, a Fox, and a Tie-in to Running

Unless one were lost in the woods these last couple of weeks, it would be impossible to miss the uproar over the George Washington Bridge closures.  Last September 9-13, lanes were closed on the Fort Lee side of the bridge, which is the busiest bridge connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, in a sudden and unexplained move, later brushed aside by port authority officials as a “traffic study”.  On Dec. 16, 2013, John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, wrote to the chairman and vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting answers to very direct questions regarding the lane closures.  Answers were provided in a letter written by the Port Authority Board Secretary which were filled with standard protocol type language.  It was not until a subpoena from state legislators demanded emails and text messages from various people involved with the closures, specifically Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, that it became evident that the lane closings were political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, a man of Croat heritage mistakenly referred to as a Serb in one of the emails, perhaps the biggest insult of all.  The people who instigated the lane closures were all close allies and working for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  While the governor has claimed he knew nothing of the involvement of his team in the closure of the lanes, he has a reputation of being a bully, and taking retribution on a political foe is consistent with his character.  He is known for his bullish, bullying style, making fun or yelling at opponents who have the temerity to speak against him.

It was time for the television pundits and posturers to take a stand, generally, as one would guess, along political lines.  There was one comment that really stood out, though, as being a strange, and utterly outdated way to see this debacle for Governor Christie.  After all, he is positioning himself to be the spokesperson for the republican party, and possibly to run for president in 2016.  He should be preparing the big tent, to attract conservatives and near-conservatives, libertarians and tea-partiers, whites and off-whites, men and, yes, even……women.

Brit Hume, senior political analyst at Fox News, on a Sunday talk show called “Media Buzz”, had this to say:  “Well, I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risk.”  He went on to explain that the governor is an old-fashioned guy’s guy, a masculine and muscular guy, in constant danger of looking thuggish or sexist.  He got a quizzical look from a co-commentator on the program, Lauren Ashburn, but later was supported in his contention by another Fox star, Bill O’Reilly, who said that real men who are rough around the edges, maybe rude or blunt, get a raw deal from the public.  Another way to look at this, though, is that real men, manly men, have a right to their own way of behaving, and women are trying, and now succeeding in ruining it for them.

Has running “suffered” from feminization?  The Olympic Marathon of 1896, held during the first modern day Olympics in Athens, Greece was a men-only event, as were all the events at that time.  Initially, women were probably not considered for competition, since they were not felt physically capable of participating.  They were also excluded based on a men’s club mentality.  But, a woman did run the first Olympic marathon, just not as an official competitor.  Her name was Stamata Rivithi, and she completed the 40 kilometer course in 5 hours and 30 minutes.  The winner that year, a Greek named Spyridon Louis won the men’s event in 2:58:50.  Violet Percy, an English woman, was the first officially timed woman marathon winner with a time of 3:40:22 at the Polytechnic Marathon in London in 1926.  These women broke barriers, but the premier marathon event, the Boston Marathon, had yet to be tainted by the presence of women.  It was not until 1966 that a woman named Bobbi Gibb (co-alumnus(a) of mine from Revelle College, UCSD), ran the Boston Marathon as a non-registered runner.  It being an AAU sanctioned male event, women were not permitted to officially run it.  Bobbi Gibb’s story is nicely told in an interview she did which is posted on the Bill Rodgers Running Center website.  She reports she applied for an entry to the race, but got a reply from the race director, Will Cloney, stating that women were not physiologically able to run a marathon, and furthermore, were not allowed to.  She had to hide in the bushes at the start, wearing her brother’s shorts and a hooded sweatshirt.  She joined the race after about a third of the runners had started.  She reports that she was recognized as female, as she put it, by the men studying her anatomy from the rear. The men around her were very supportive.  She says they told her they would not allow anyone to remove her from the race.  She finished with a very respectable time of 3:21:40.  While unofficial at the time, she has since been recognized by the Boston Athletic Association as the first female winner, and she won three years in a row.  Ironically, at the time she ran her first Boston, the longest sanctioned race for women on the AAU calendar was 1.5 miles.

Since then, the number of women participants in running races has grown dramatically.  In a Wikipedia article, a graph of women’s participation (not just runners) in the summer Olympics has grown dramatically from the early 1900’s to the present:

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

In one of our major races in the Philadelphia area, the 10 mile Broad Street Run, held the first Sunday in May, the number of women participating has grown steadily since the race began in 1980.  This past year, 2013, the total number of women finishers was 17,269.  There were 14,773 male finishers.

For major marathons, women have not yet reached parity with the men, but are not far behind.  For 2013, at Chicago, there were 17,395 women and 21,488 men finishers.  For New York, 19,567 women and 30,699 men completed the race.  In Europe, at the Berlin Marathon, 8,946 women and 27,528 men finished.  And in Los Angeles, 7,773 women and 11,761 men crossed the finish line.  In Boston in 2012, 9,006 women and 12,666 men got to run that last stretch down Boyleston Street to the iconic finishing banner.

Women have also become leaders in the world of running organizations.  Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, is responsible for the business and operations of the club, including the production of the New York City Marathon.  Stephanie Hightower is president of the USATF, the national governing body for track and field, long distance running, and race walking in the U.S.

Every Sunday morning, I meet with a group from my running club at 7:30, to run a 13 mile loop.  Sometimes we go farther, if we are in the midst of training for an upcoming marathon.  We’ll start out earlier, get the extra miles in, and then meet the group at 7:30 to start together.  We have a balance of men and women in the group.  I’m sure not one of the guys feels put upon, inhibited or less manly because women are participating in the sport.  Likewise, the thought that women are not capable of participating, the thought held 30 years ago and earlier, has been proven to be bunk.  It is true, that when men and women mix together in a social setting, men behave more civilly, less crudely.  At least, they should.  There really is no excuse, in my mind, for bullying and being obnoxious, and it certainly is not the fault of women if someone who behaves that way is brought down.  I would say, yes, running has been feminized, in that women have been able to participate in this great sport which was once closed to them.  They have shown their mettle, and taken on the challenges of the toughest of races, the marathon.  They have contributed greatly to the organization and running of the sport, and their participation keeps growing.  Far from making us guys unmanly, less of a man’s man, they have joined our ranks, and made it better.  What a bunch of “bushwa” (got that from a NYTimes crossword puzzle) coming from Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly.

Running Philadelphia

Lining up to get in to the Philly Expo, 2013 Marathon

Lining up to get in to the Philly Expo, 2013 Marathon

We had to get up awfully early.  The start of the race was scheduled to be at seven AM, and the officials were recommending runners arrive by five AM to get through security.  That would mean a lot of time standing around waiting to start, in the dark, getting cold.  After Boston, it seems all of the US based marathons, and perhaps worldwide, I don’t know, have gone to higher levels of security around the start and finish of the races.  It seems a false sense of security, but I understand the motivation.  In Philly, we were told there would be security entrances at the staging area of the race and we should expect lines.  Hence, the reason for early arrival.  We compromised, with a knowledge that this being our hometown race, we could predict how things would go.

I set my alarm for 4:00.  I wanted to get a decent breakfast before heading out.  I ate a bowl of cereal and had a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  I bought the beans the day before at Old City Coffee at the Reading Terminal Market.  It has become my tradition, to go to the marathon expo at the Philadelphia Convention Center, pick up my number, browse the expo, then head over to Reading Terminal Market across the street.  I even know the route I will take through the market.  First, a stop at Metropolitan bakery, for a pain au levain and a loaf of cherry chocolate bread, because life is better with cherry chocolate bread.  Then I head to Downtown Cheese, to pick up something tasty, usually a goat gouda or morbier.  Then, it’s on to Old City Coffee for some of their freshly roasted beans.  At Old City Coffee I had a conversation with a young woman also buying coffee.  She asked if I was running tomorrow.

“Yes,”  I said.

“The full?” she asked.

“Yes, the full,” I said, smiling.

“I’m only running the half.  I started to train for the full but got distracted, and I’m just not ready for a full.”

She looked plenty young and fit enough to run an ultra if she wanted, and I felt a bit wistful, that someone could be perfectly satisfied running the half, knowing others would be running the full, and thinking she had done the right thing.  While waiting for our coffee, we talked about the course, how the crowds gather on Chestnut street, how the weather would be, and how early we had to show up the next day.  I then said “have fun tomorrow”, and headed back to meet my friends who had come to the expo with me, and were patiently waiting, actually having lunch, while I indulged my wants.

A group from my running club met at the train station for the five AM train into Philly.  There were plenty of others on the PATCO line from South Jersey heading in for the race.  We definitely were a bigger crowd than the normal 5:00 AM Sunday train sees.  We rode to the end of the line, 16th and Locust, then started walking to the Ben Franklin Parkway. It is more than a walk. We sped along, the adrenaline pumping up the pace and the chatter. We passed two closed Starbucks, and commented, “we’re up before the baristas.” As we reached the Ben Franklin Parkway, the crowd got thicker. There were entrance gates into the staging area for the runners, but we went through without a holdup. The security guards at the gates seemed to recognize who were runners, and just waved us on through. As we wandered up the parkway we saw the UPS trucks waiting to take our clear plastic personal items bags. We decided whoever makes clear plastic bags for marathons is having a banner year this year. Along a grassy stretch there were dozens of portable toilets with almost no line yet. We all stopped to use the facilities, not because we had to, but because the lines were so short. This is never the case at these big races. We then strolled over to sit at on the steps of the Washington Monument fountain in Eakins Oval. It was still early, about 6 AM, so we had another hour before the start.

20131126-220623.jpg

On the steps of the Washington memorial fountain, awaiting the start of the Philly marathon.  Photo by B.A.

I spoke to a young woman seated on our same steps. She was with her mother and father, who were not running today, but just making sure she was not alone in the crowd. I found out this was her second full marathon, but her father was on his way to running a marathon in all fifty states.  That, it would appear, was where the motivation came from for her to run.  He had completed about 20 states, and said Alaska was the most interesting so far.  The marathon, in Anchorage, is run during the summer solstice in the middle of the night.  He’s saving Hawai’i for last.

Another trip to the portable toilet was out of the question. The lines had grown tremendously, and the way the toilets were lined up facing each other, the lines melded into a confusing conglomeration. One didn’t know if one was coming or going.   As the start time grew nearer, we headed to the UPS trucks, dropped off our bags, and found our way to the corrals.  Unusual for this time of year, the temperature was balmy, in the mid 50’s.  I came with a throw-away long sleeve shirt, but decided to pitch it before the race started.

We lined up, and then, before you know it, we were off.  The course for Philly is a great urban course.  It starts down the Ben Franklin Parkway and past our incredibly ornate city hall.  The statue on top is known familiarly as Billy Penn, the founder of the city of brotherly love, and as now known also of sisterly affection.  Then, it’s down Arch Street, and over to the aptly named Race Street to Columbus Boulevard.  The route heads south to Washington Avenue, then in to South Philly.  South Philly has a character all its own.  In addition to the usual signs held up by fans, I spotted a permanent sign on the street which said, “The last car that parked here still hasn’t been found.”  Turning up South Street and heading west, the crowds had grown thick.  The nice weather had brought out a great number of spectators, and they were all very noisy and encouraging.  Then, its over to Chestnut Street, choked with fans to the point that the course got a little narrow in places.  The race was briefly interrupted by a taxi carrying a woman to Pennsylvania Hospital.  Over the Schuykill river, the race turns north through the Drexel University area, where celebrating frat boys are banging on pots as the runners go by.  Beyond that, the crowds thin considerably as the route heads past the Zoo.  Up and around the Belmont Plateau, and the Please Touch museum, the first offering of gels is provided.  The sponsor this year was Clif, so we got Clif Shots in all different flavors.  The last part of the first half heads down hill to West River Drive, along the Schuykill, then back to the Philadelphia Art Museum.  At this point, large signs attempt to direct the half-marathoners one way, and the marathoners the other, for the full trip out to Manayunk.

I was feeling pretty decent up to the half, but noticed my nemesis, muscle cramps, starting to threaten.  It was certainly early in the race for this to become a factor for me, and I was seriously considering  bailing at the half.  I would have finished the half in a decent but not earth shaking time.  But, my stubborn side would not allow it.  This would be my sixth consecutive Philadelphia Marathon, and I did not want to only finish a half, and break my streak.  Looking at it from a rational, objective view, who would care?  Would stopping at the half make me half a person, unworthy of honor?  Regardless of whatever logical argument I could have made, I made the illogical choice to run on.

I had arranged with my friend Tony to have a bottle of Gatorade for me at this point.  I almost missed him, looking on the wrong side of the street.  Fortunately, he was with another of our club members, the delightfully attractive Michele, who I didn’t miss, and I was able to grab my Gatorade and muster on.  Around the front of the art museum I went, heading out for the second half, the long slog out to Manayunk and back.  I was still going fairly well, with the occasional calf cramp sending one leg or the other out in a bizarre spasm.  Another club member had joined me at this point, Dave, running just to support us SJAC club members.  He’s a remarkably fast runner, and I felt guilty as I started to fall apart running with him.  I also caught up to my teammate Brian, normally much faster than me, who, it appears, was having a worse day than me.  The route goes out along Kelly Drive, past the famous boat house row, and along the Schuykill to the Falls Bridge.  This is the only part of the course I really don’t care for.  We have to go across the bridge, down a hill along the West river drive for a ways, then make a U-turn to come back up and across the bridge again, for the sole purpose of adding distance.

As we got back to the road to Manayunk, I started to have serious problems with the legs.  I was having not just cramps, but real pain, and my back, shoulders and arms were cramping up, too.  It made for an amusing sidelight.  As I grabbed a cup of water from a water stop and raised my arm to drink, my bicep and forearm muscles cramped, and I had to pull my arm down with the other hand to get it to straighten out.  By this time, I was already in Manayunk, and the only way back was to go the last six or seven miles, even if I had to walk.  Which was what I did.  Not the whole way, but a good part of it.  My terrific time tumbled, and the walking was all I could muster.  I noticed a good number of other runners who had succumbed to fatigue, or the wall, or whatever, and were walking, too.  It became a race of walkers.  I was jealous of the other runners who continued to zip by me, still able to run and even chat.  I stopped several times to stretch, and Dave, my friend from the club, who had lost me for a while, found me again and was very patient and encouraging.  Finally, as I neared the boat houses again, I had recovered sufficiently to run again.  Interestingly, the pacesetter for the 4:15 group, who had passed me a little earlier, seemed to be having his own troubles, and I passed him as I rounded the curve to the home stretch along the Parkway.  I have always said, “look good going out and coming in.”  What happens in-between, only I am privy to.  So, I looked as good as I could for the finish line.  I gave Mayor Nutter a high-five as I crossed the line with the Rocky theme playing loudly over the speakers.  The crowds were there and shouting, and the atmosphere, as always at this race, was very upbeat and positive.  I sidled along the line of recipients receiving their marathon medals, which this year were beautiful, large gold colored medals for the 20th anniversary of the race.  I didn’t need the mylar blanket, because the temperature had risen considerably and it was quite warm.  I got in line for my post-race snacks, and headed out to the UPS trucks to pick up my clear plastic clothing bag.

Another marathon done, I pondered about the way my muscles had failed me.  I was in very decent shape going in to this race, having done a 21 miler two weeks earlier in fine form.  It turned out the following day, I had, perhaps, a partial explanation.  I developed a fever, sore throat and runny nose, and felt completely washed out.  I think I was in the pro-dromal stage of a virus, and that explains the muscle soreness and cramping of everything, not just my legs.  I was a real sight the day after the race at work.  It is my standard practice to always take the stairs, no elevators for me.  As I hobbled in pain on the stairs, particularly going down, sniffling, and moving slowly, my surgical residents were probably wondering why I would do this to myself.  I don’t have a ready answer, but I do know that I am already planning next years assault on the marathon circuit.  We, my running partners and I, are thinking about Minneapolis/Saint Paul.  We hear it is a great marathon, and perhaps a little easier course than Philly.

There’s Better Days A-comin’

Been through some rough times lately.  Things were going okay, in fact I was looking forward back in April to running Phillie’s famous Broad Street Run on May 5 .  With only a week before the race, I was coming off a week of hospital call.  That always requires some recovery time.  But this week, which ended April 21, was particularly rough.  In a short phrase, there were a lot of sick folk.  The following week, I seemed to be coming down with a virus.  I developed shaking chills, fever, muscle aches, in other words all the typical viral symptoms.  Oddly, though, they also seemed to come and go.  One half of a day I would be in the grip of the ague, then a few hours later, I’d feel back to my normal self.  By the end of that week, it seemed to have passed.

That was just hopeful thinking.  The following week, the virus changed it’s tactics and decided to attack my intestinal tract.  While I no longer had the shakes and chills, I couldn’t eat anything without it seeming to pass through me in two hours, and not stop to get absorbed.  So, I stopped eating, took only tea, and managed to make it through the next few work days without cancelling anything.  At the same time, my trial was about to start.  As a physician, I was being sued by one of my patients for allegedly going outside the standard of care and causing her harm.  This trial had been scheduled originally last September, then October, then November, and then February.  Each time I was told I needed to cancel all my usual clinical duties and be present at the courthouse.  I would need to testify, but also be present to listen to all the other testimony of expert witnesses.  A colleague of mine was also named in the suit and would likewise need to suspend all his activities.  Each time the trial was scheduled it was cancelled for the lawyers’ or judge’s conflicts with other trials.  This time, starting Thursday of the week when I’m in the throws of my GI hullabaloo, I was told it was definitely going ahead, since it was the oldest case on the judge’s docket.  Thursday was jury selection day.  I presented to the courtroom as instructed, and jury selection commenced.  It took a full day, but a jury of eight was chosen.  Meanwhile, I was getting a bit weak, having no real food for two days.  Not wanting to run in and out of the courtroom, I didn’t dare try to eat something that day.  The actual trial was not to start until the following Tuesday.

By Friday, the evil GI virus seemed to have run it’s course.  I was able to take in solid food again, and start to rebuild my strength, which had taken a real dive.  By Saturday, I was still feeling a bit dizzy and washed out.  But the Broad Street 10 miler was coming up Sunday, and I really wanted to run it.  It’s a big event in Philadelphia, with over 40,000 registered.  It’s the largest 10 miler in the country, and a big celebration.  This year, it would also stand as a tribute to the Boston Marathon and the awful events that took place there a few weeks earlier.  So, Saturday morning I went to the expo to pick up my number.  Sunday, I joined my fellow club members at 5:45 AM to carpool to the race.  It is a point to point race starting at North Broad Street, and heading straight down 10 miles to the end of Broad Street at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  The only turns are around the Philadelphia City Hall, which sits in the middle of Broad Street between the five and six mile points of the race.  It’s known for being a fast course, and many of the speedier, younger runners look for a sub-one hour time.  We parked near the end of the race in the sports arena parking lot, and joined our fellow runners on the Broad Street subway heading north to the start.  It is an interesting site to see several thousand runners cramming the subway trains in their running shorts and singlets, numbers on.  It is not the usual workday subway scene.

The organization of the race was superb.  It went off on time, the corals were well organized, and even the increased police presence was organized and really not intrusive.  I could tell though, that this was not going to be a record setting year for me.  I probably should have listened to my body, as they say, and not run, because of being so ill the week before.  I was never really able to get into gear and push myself, and as I was coming up to mile nine, one of my friends from another club passed me and said I looked like I was “hurtin’.”  I made it across the line in 1’23”, much slower than I predicted.  But it was a nice day for a race, and I joined my club members afterwards on the grounds of the naval yard, to drink water and have a nice, fat Philly pretzel.  Our goody bag after the race also included a couple of Tastykake bars and some Peanut Chews (designed to pull fillings and destroy dental caps), all products of Philadelphia.

Some of our SJAC club members at the Naval Yard after the Broad Street Ten Miler, 5/5/13

Some of our SJAC club members at the Naval Yard after the Broad Street Ten Miler, 5/5/13

The following day, Monday, was not a trial day, so I had cases scheduled all day in the OR.  At the end of the day that day, I noticed my hands and ankles seemed to be swollen.  I woke up the next morning with the swelling even worse, and I seemed to be having a hard time walking.  I went to our usual Tuesday morning conference at the hospital, then headed to the courthouse for the trial to start.  Everything felt tight.  My watch, which usually dangles a bit on my wrist, was stuck in one spot and making an impression on the skin.  My shoes felt tight.  When I made a fist, my skin looked taught over the tendons, and I couldn’t see them clearly as I usually would.  My co-defendant and I sat through the first day of testimony, paying attention to the plaintiff, taking notes, and discussing things with our lawyer.  That afternoon, though, after court adjourned for the day, I headed back to the hospital to make rounds.  I found my own physician on rounds, and told him about my week of GI bug, the race, and now the swelling.  He thought it could be some acute kidney injury, or a post-viral syndrome, and had me get a few blood tests.  I actually carried through with the tests, although as a doc, one must write one’s own prescription for these things.  The following morning I found out that my BUN and creatinine, measures of kidney function, were above normal, and my CPK, a measure of muscle breakdown, was on the high side of normal.  Texting this info to my physician, I was told it looked like I had suffered a bit of acute kidney injury, probably from racing after a week of little or no food, and that with proper hydration and time I would recover.  This is very scary.  I should have known better, and not run the past Sunday.  I was definitely foolish, but had gotten drawn in because of the commitment to run and the nature of the race.  I did as told, stayed well hydrated, and slowly recovered.  By Friday we had heard most of the experts testify, and it was now our turn to take the stand.  My co-defendant went first and did a good job answering sometimes difficult and lengthy, convoluted questions.  I looked forward to being able to give my story.  I hoped the jury would not only believe me, but feel I had done the best for the patient.  This is an anxiety producing position to be in as a surgeon.  I feel perfectly comfortable in the OR, but not in the courtroom.

That weekend was Mother’s day weekend.  My wife and I took a short trip to visit a friend in Mt. Kisco who is leaving for the West Coast, and a new job in Silicon Valley.  It was a very relaxing two days.  I got in a run on Sunday, in the hills near the Hudson River. We visited my younger daughter and son on the way back home, and drank a happy Mother’s day beer.

Kat and Dan at his house in Mt. Kisco.

Kat and Dan at his house in Mt. Kisco.

We were back in court Monday for the last of the expert witnesses.  Tuesday was the day for the attorneys to give their final arguments.  It took the judge about two and a half hours to give the jury their instructions, which were fairly complex.  They had to consider whether they thought my co-defendant and I had deviated from the standard of care, each of us separately.  If so, they would need to decide to what percent her pre-existing conditions contributed, how much her pain and suffering were worth in dollars, to what degree we had contributed to that, and several other issues of reward should we be found at fault.  As it turned out, they took about an hour to decide that both my co-defendant and myself had, in fact, done the right thing, and were not guilty of negligence or failure to perform according to standard of care.  I had already left the court because I needed to get back to the hospital.  When I got the call from my lawyer that we had won, I was elated.  I was not happy because we had beaten the other side.  I was very disappointed the patient felt we had not done well by her and that she needed to sue.  I was happy because we had successfully shown to a lay jury that we had done, at the very least, an acceptable job within the standards of care.  Was this a Pyrrhic victory?  This comes from the Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered considerable losses in defeating the Romans in 279 BC.  He felt that if he had to fight another battle, he could not, as the toll extracted would be too great.  For me, taking the two weeks away from my usual work does not really harm me, other than the anxiety it produces.  The patients that depend on me have to wait, a number of surgeries needed to be postponed, and it’s not possible to make up for that lost time.

With a strange virus that took a long time to run it’s course, causing mayhem in the process, to a “touch” of acute kidney injury perhaps brought on by my own foolishness, to having to defend myself in court, it has been a tough few weeks.  I know I’ve learned a lot from the experiences of the last several weeks, I just haven’t figured out what I’ve learned so far.  Now, though, I can return to my usual schedule, get back to work and get things done.  That is, after I return from a trip San Diego to see my oldest daughter graduate from her MBA program.

Frank K.

 

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