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.



Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, but the running isn’t!

This feels like the summer of 2012 all over again.  We had a stretch of rainy days which seemed to go on forever, although it was really only about a 10 days or so.  I had two rather interesting rain-related experiences during this time.  Both were during my Monday run from my hospital in Camden, NJ, over the Ben Franklin bridge to Philadelphia, a loop down to the Race Street pier, then back over the bridge and back to the hospital.  It is a very nice six mile round trip, with the challenge of the bridge, but also with a pleasant breeze on the bridge and very nice views.

The first interesting experience occurred on my way back through Camden.  Dark rain clouds and the rain coming down to the east were illuminated by the setting sun to the west, and a beautiful, full-arc, sharply colored double rainbow could be seen as I was crossing Market Street.  I stopped a local man crossing the street who hadn’t noticed this wonder of nature and pointed it out.  He smiled broadly, and said “yeah, cool.”

The other incident was a little more worrisome.  I was doing the same run again.  It was overcast, but the rain seemed to be off to the east, and usually the direction of travel of the rain clouds is west to east.  As I was cresting the high point on the bridge, large raindrops started to splat the walkway.  I still felt this didn’t seem like much of a problem.  In fact, I was marveling at how the rain on the walkway created an outline of the old-fashioned style lamps along the railing.  My reverie was short lived.  Instead of moving east, the storm was heading right towards me.  I still had about a quarter of the bridge to go as the rain picked up and became torrential.  Worse, lightening was flashing around me.  I don’t know the risk of being on an enormous steel structure during a lightening storm, but my gut feeling was that it was not safe.  I scurried down the ending stairway of the bridge, three sets of wet stairs, to the street.  I made it shortly to a loading dock area on the Rutgers campus, and got out of the storm.  As I waited out the storm, several other runners behind me on the bridge kept running in the storm, and I watched them go by.  I felt a little wimpy, as if I should shake my fear and continue running.  But then, reason took hold and I waited a bit more.  Looking up at the sky, I could see swirling clouds which looked like they were attempting to make a tornado.  Fortunately, it never go to that.  With the storm, and the lightening, having moved on, the thunder now coming more than 10 seconds from the lightening, I ventured out and ran the last mile or so back.  It was still raining, and when I got to the hospital I made sure to allow a little drip time before going back in to change.

Now, though, the rain has been gone for several days and the heat has arrived.  As we all know, running in the heat can be brutal.  One’s body must acclimate to the heat.  This is a complex process, involving changes in the body’s blood volume, hormonal status, immunological changes, sweat composition and response, and other alterations.  All those intricate physiological changes have yet to occur in me.  I ran yesterday for a seven mile run, and today for a 12.5 miler.  While the starting temperatures don’t sound that brutal, around 79 degrees F, the high humidity of 90%, low to non-existent breeze, and sun made for very uncomfortable running.  Both days we started at 7:00 AM.  My friend Brandon, with whom I ran on Saturday, seemed to already have made that jump to summer running, as he was not nearly as affected as I was.  Perhaps it is his incredibly lean, thin body, or the fact that he runs normally more than fifty miles a week, but he cruised without dying.  I, on the other hand, felt like collapsing after a few miles.  Saturday, I mustered on, drinking water from the fountains along our route, and going a very diminished pace.  Sunday, I started out running with two other runners, planning to go 13.5 miles.  I carried a bottle of water with me in one of those handy runner’s bottles, with a strap for my hand, and a protruding enormous nipple-like spigot, allowing a drink on the run.  One of the guys in my group peeled off at four miles, saying he was never going to make the 13.  The other kept with me until his usual turnoff at my six mile mark.  So I was left alone for the rest of the run.  As I steadily, but at a considerably slower pace than normal, made my way around our standard Sunday loop, the sun got higher, cresting the trees and shining down on me.  Other runners came by in the opposite direction, looking pretty bedraggled, with the exception of one young guy.  He had on a gray army-style t-shirt and was running with a backpack.  He looked pretty tough in the heat.  I was drinking steadily to ward off dehydration, and used the amount of sweat on my hands as a guide.  If they were dry, I figured I had stopped sweating from not enough fluid, and took another gulp.  The sweat continued to drench me, and I could feel my feet getting soaked in my shoes.  At around ten miles, I stopped at a water fountain and had the good fortune of meeting a friend running in the other direction.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but still we stopped to talk far more than would be normal under milder circumstances.  As I headed for the last leg, I was running now at around a 9’30” to 10 minute per mile pace, not able to go any faster.  I switched sides on the road a few times to take advantage of the bit of shade I could find from the trees.  With two miles left to go, I made the decision to cut this run short, and headed back up the hill for only a one mile return to the start, thinking that lost mile would not be doing me much good anyway.  I made sure to finish strong, though, as I passed my fellow Sunday morning crew who had run shorter and were already hanging out at the Starbucks.  One always should look good at the start and end of a run.  In between, nobody is really watching.  I banged on the sign marking the end of the run, and wobbled over to get my backpack and my extra bottle of sports drink I had stowed for my recovery.  Sitting in the shade, bent over, calf muscles doing their quivering imitation of fireworks going off, I took off my shoes and socks, wrung the sweat from my socks, and slowly felt the heat dissipating.  Once I had cooled to a nearly presentable state, I made my way over to join my friends. I changed to dry clothes, and sitting outside, with a little breeze and in the shade, it didn’t seem so awful.  But, boy, running in the heat can be brutal.  I do look forward to that magical transformation of being acclimated.

Running in San Diego…what a trip!

San Diego is a beautiful place to run.  Along the coast, the cloud cover is present until around noon, but go inland a few miles and the sun breaks through early.  The temperature is usually fairly moderate, even in the summer, and it never gets too cold in the winter.  Staying in San Diego for my daughter’s graduation, I had the opportunity about two weeks ago to do one of my favorite loops, a ten mile run which runs from her apartment, around Balboa Park, down hill to Harbor Drive, along the paved walk along Harbor Drive, then back up to Balboa Park, along El Prado, and finishing past the San Diego Zoo and back to her apartment.

Ten Mile Loop in San Diego

Ten Mile Loop in San Diego

This loop starts about a mile from Balboa Park.  Running along the edge of the park, there is a steep downward path leading to a bridge over highway 163, then a steep climb back up to the park level.  Along 6th Avenue, there is a lot of room on grassy areas for early morning yoga classes and other fitness trainees using the free access to the park to their advantage.  The usual park dwellers, also known as homeless, although they consider this their home, also hang out here.  Their daily activities are set by the timing of the park sprinkler system.

Tree in Balboa Park, near the favorite spot for ultimate Frizbee.

Tree in Balboa Park, near the favorite spot for Ultimate Frisbee.

The route then turns westward down Laurel Street towards Harbor Drive.  I do mean downwards, too, as the drop from the park to the harbor is about 300 feet over a mile.  Laurel Street passes the San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field.

Lindbergh Field's runways seen from Laurel Street.

Lindbergh Field’s runways seen from Laurel Street.

The planes landing at Lindbergh Field fly right over the buildings of downtown San Diego.

Plane coming in to Lindbergh Field for a landing.

Plane coming in to Lindbergh Field for a landing.

Once one reaches harbor drive, it is a nice flat run to the south along the pedestrian way.  There is a marina specifically for sailboats at the base of Laurel Street.  Maneuvering past the navy ships in the harbor may be a bit challenging, but then one can sail to the Coronado Islands, or Catalina, or perhaps down to Baja California.  I got a chance to sail with my college friend, Keith, back a few decades ago, on his father’s sailboat.  We took a trip out to the Coronado Islands, a group of four islands off the coast of Tijuana, and owned by Mexico.  We were followed by a group of dolphins the whole trip, and I suppose they were expecting something, although I’m not sure what.  Applause, maybe?  The islands have an interesting history and I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia article.

Sailboat Marina in San Diego Harbor at the base of Laurel Street.

Sailboat Marina in San Diego Harbor at the base of Laurel Street.

From the marina looking south along Harbor Drive towards downtown San Diego.

From the marina looking south along Harbor Drive towards downtown San Diego.

Running along the pedestrian way, one passes the San Diego Maritime Museum, a collection of historic ships which are restored and operational.  It includes the oldest operating sailing vessel in the world, the Star of India.  Farther down is the USS Midway aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1945, seeing action in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm, and then decommissioned in 1992.  It can be visited, and is also a popular spot for private events, as it is huge and can accommodate a few thousand wild party goers.

USS Midway aircraft carrier in it's permanent berth in San Diego Harbor

USS Midway aircraft carrier in it’s permanent berth in San Diego Harbor

The last mile of the five miles out on this loop goes past the Seaport Village, a touristy shopping and restaurant area conveniently close to San Diego’s hotel and convention center area.  At my turn-around point, I had a nice view of the Coronado Bay Bridge (different Coronado than the islands mentioned above), and people flying very large and complex kites on a point of land extending into the harbor.

Coronado Bay bridge, and kite flyers

Coronado Bay bridge, and kite flyers

I then turned around and headed back towards Laurel Street, following the dictates of my Garmin.  I reached Laurel, and began the climb back up towards Balboa Park.  Still at sea level, going past the airport, I had the misfortune of taking a wrong step.  I think I was a bit beat by the fact that the sun came out early this day, but I clearly wasn’t paying attention.  Either that, or the sidewalk in front of me magically rose about an inch, and I hit the lip of concrete with the toe of my right shoe.  I took a quick fall, in kind of a rolling fashion, and I can still remember going down.  I knew it would hurt, but when I hit the sidewalk with my right shoulder, it seemed to hit with a great deal of force.  A shock went through me, and I lay face down on the sidewalk, slow to recover.  My first concern was that I thought I must have broken my collar bone.  I slowly rose to sitting position with a great deal of pain in the right shoulder.  I ran my hand over the collar bone, and didn’t feel any change in the contour, or bone fragments sticking out through the skin.  I tested my range of motion, and found that I could still move my arm around in a circle.  So, I decided it wasn’t broken.  Next, I stopped my Garmin, which may seem obsessive, but perhaps my running friends will understand.  After another few minutes on the sidewalk I decided to get up and see if I could still run.  While the shoulder hurt, I was still able to run, so I headed back up the hill for the long climb to the park.  Oh, and I restarted the Garmin.

Reaching Balboa Park, I headed straight along El Prado, crossing the Cabrillo Bridge.  This bridge was built in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, and was the impetus for building many of the buildings in Balboa Park.

View facing south from the Cabrillo Bridge, over Highway 163, the Cabrillo Highway.

View facing south from the Cabrillo Bridge, over Highway 163, the Cabrillo Highway.

Continuing over this attractive bridge, one enters the part of Balboa Park with museums, restaurants, and a very beautiful botanical garden.  The Spreckles Organ, a large outdoor pipe organ pavilion is nearby, and was also built for the 1915 Expo.

Looking past the central fountain towards the buildings of El Prado in Balboa Park

Looking past the central fountain towards the buildings of El Prado in Balboa Park

I then finished the run heading back to my starting point, taking me past the San Diego Zoo, and back to my daughter’s apartment.  My shoulder was  hurting pretty badly by then, so I took some aspirin, and told my family about my fall.  They were concerned, and quite sympathetic, although I detected a note of “you should be more careful”.  I think I was just thinking that myself, and they really were quite sympathetic.  I felt foolish, but thankful I still had an intact clavicle.  I downed a lot of aspirin the next two weeks, as the pain gradually subsided.  It didn’t get in the way of me enjoying my Hawai’i trip, though, and for that I’m very appreciative.

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.

Rocky Run


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.

Chasing Reindeer

December is a hectic time of the year.  The sudden realization of how many days left before Christmas makes us a desperate lot, and then there’s all the great traditions of the season which must be carried out.  One, the annual hauling up out of the basement of the lights, ornaments, tree stand, fake garlands of spruce and pine, the statue of Father Christmas looking resplendent in fur collar and slightly scraggly white beard, sleigh bells to hang on the front door, and the stockings to hang over the fireplace.  I always seem to miss the mild days of opportunity to hang the lights outside, and wind up trying to get my hands to work on a cold, windy day, dangling dangerously under the eave of the porch to string the icicle lights.  First is the challenge of untangling the strings, which I was sure I put away last year in an orderly coil, but somehow, I suppose due to their boredom in the basement, become intricately woven together in a free=form, almost spiteful, version of macrame.  Having laid them out, finally, on the porch, tested them to be sure I have a live string, I pick out the working strands to hang.  Of course, I’ll spend thirty minutes with a strand that won’t work, trying to figure out which of the one thousand bulbs is out and needs replacing, only to fail completely, throw out that strand, and move on.  The “icicles” of the new replacement strand, fresh out of the box, are contracted up and won’t hang down naturally no matter how much I tug on them.  Hmmm…., anyway, I proceed to get them up on last years’ nails, starting at one side of the porch and making my way around the perimeter.  Then, there’s the moment I bring them to life, ala Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, with a little drum roll in my head, as I plug in the extension cord.  Yes!, I say to myself, they’re all working!  Not to last, though, as sure as reindeer can fly, one or more of those strands will fail, creating a dark space in the icicle light line up, giving the house a certain trailer park chic appeal.  Of special note, this year my son and daughter did the work, and somehow, they managed to get the lights up and working better than I’ve ever  been able.

The next major task involves finding a tree.  We can usually find a tree to our liking at any one of many spots selling them in our area.  We like  a nice, full spruce, tall to look proportional in our old house with the high ceilings.  I am amazed at how that tree can be forced through the chute with branches held in by the web of plastic around it, but it makes for easy transport.  We prepare a space for the tree in our parlor, rearranging the furniture to allow for this gargantuan icon of the season.  Getting it up in it’s stand is a bit of difficulty, although not too hard.  We then cut open the binding web and watch as the branches unfurl.  Hopefully, we’ve given adequate space to those branches, and they don’t take out any eyes or things hanging on the wall.  My wife is particularly good at taking out branches and trimming up the edges, to make it look just right without having been obviously altered.  If I were to try that, I know it would come out looking like a victim.  Putting up the lights and ornaments is certainly one of the most pleasurable things to do, although it doesn’t hurt to have some Christmas music playing and a steady flow of beer or enhanced eggnog to allow us to appreciate the moment.

Our gift buying is a combination of guesswork and direct grilling of the subject to see what we should wrap and put under the tree.  I’ve certainly turned to more on-line buying these last few years.  Nothing satisfies me more than to be able to avoid the mall parking lot.  I had the opportunity to visit a high-end purveyor of home goods a week ago, in Philadelphia, to return an unfortunate on-line purchase.  I thought I was getting a steal, paying $40 for a coffee maker of good name, good pedigree.  It turned out it made weak coffee much less flavorful than our old, ugly Mr. Coffee, so I took it to the “bricks and mortar” store to return it.  The store was filled with high-end Christmas shoppers, examining carefully a $35 set of ice tongs, or listening to a slick presentation of why they really need to spend upwards of $1200 to get that perfect cup of coffee Christmas morning.  No wonder my purchase was so incredibly wrong.  I misplaced the decimal point by two positions.  Regardless, and without shame, I brought that machine to the counter asked to return it.  “Had it been used?” the woman behind the counter asked.  “Yes, that’s how I know it makes bad coffee,” I replied.  With a dour look, and without even asking if everything was in the box, she took it back and gave me a refund.  I suspect it is going in the trash, as it can’t possibly be worthy of repackaging.  My favorite real shopping experience at Christmas time, though, is visiting Barnes and Noble.  It’s busy, but not so busy one can’t move about in the store, see what the new novels and biographies look like, pick up a real book and thumb through it, get a few laughs in the humor section, examine the games and puzzles, and look through the calendars.  I went yesterday, and was quite pleased to not only find the books I was looking for, but to have had an uplifting time doing so.

Another tradition is the annual office gift carousel.  I always give my secretary a nice, large spiral cut ham.  While this may seem a throwback to some industrial age era of Dickensian mindset, I see it as a true thank you for all she’s done for me this year.  She has my back, so to speak, and anticipates my daily struggles.  She fends off attacks from the flanks and calms worried callers.  There are a thousand things she does to make my life better, and I’d like her and her family to have a nice, tasty meal to show for it.  Perhaps originating with the writer Dorothy Parker, the definition of eternity is two people and a ham.  So that’s the best part of office gift giving.  We also give the rest of the office staff home-baked small cakes, lemon-poppy, pumpkin, pecan and apple, and they all seem to like them very much.  This year my daughter did the baking, and word at the office was, they couldn’t tell the difference from the ones my wife made in years past, so that is high praise.  For my partners, there is a tradition of trading wine bottles.  Not fancy wine, not special wine, just whatever is convenient to grab a case of at the moment.  It has become an obligatory, drab exercise, made slightly better by the underlying humor of seeing your name on a sticky note attached to the bottle in place of a real gift card.  Personally, I can’t just buy a cheap, mass produced bottle with a kangaroo on the label, so I do look for something unique and special, without spending a lot, but I’m not sure whether that translates to appreciation of the wine.

With all the rushing around trying to get things done in time to settle down and truly enjoy the holiday season, when do we run?  Well, there’s nothing wrong with backing off some of the intensity of training at this time of year to let the old bones and joints recover.  Yet, we still need to keep up with the base.  Running in the dark is challenging and dangerous, but there’s little daylight when one can run, especially since work doesn’t stop.  Dressed up for a run, I look like a miner, with my headlamp and reflective chest-wear.  When I see the rest of the runners in our Wednesday night run heading down the street, and see the reflection off the gear from a car’s headlight, they do stand out, though, as they should.

As this year closes, I’d like to thank my family for all their support in keeping me going in running and all my pursuits.  I’d like to thank the members of my running  club, South Jersey Athletic Club, for their terrific motivational support and companionship.  And, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers, whose blogs I have been following, for their posts with clever writing, beautiful photos, and inspiration.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and we’ll catch up in the new year, when plans for our next marathon adventure will be laid out.


Whoa, this wasn’t supposed to happen (Sandy, that is).

Rain from hurricane Sandy

It’s raining, but Hurricane Sandy’s full force has yet to take effect.

One thing I’ve found fascinating, and sometimes discouraging, is the way we sign up for a marathon many months in advance, start the training program about four months before the race, and have no idea what may befall us during that time.  Right now, it’s hurricane Sandy which is disrupting our smooth passage to the Philly marathon, Nov. 18.  It’s also one week before the New York City marathon, and a few of our club members are running that race.  With one week to go for NYC, a forced couple of non-running days may be just what they need to be in top form.

Where I live in South Jersey, minutes from Philadelphia, we are, as the forecasters have noted, in the “cross-hairs” of the hurricane.  As a hunter, that implies intent, as if we are the target.  In fact, it is the joining of weather forces, with a waxing moon and rising tides, that steers this particularly enormous weather system directly towards us and makes it so threatening.  Not very long ago, around 1960, the first successful weather satellites were launched which allowed tracking and predictions of hurricanes’ paths.  Before then, barometers and reports from the Caribbean were harbingers of a storm, with little predictability of which way the storm would go.  Our house was built in 1884.  I imagine at that time, a storm of this nature would be devastating, with no hint of it’s arrival.  It is humorous, though, to see what is going on at Lowe’s and at the grocery store in terms of preparedness.  At Lowe’s, they were completely out of “D” batteries, for powering flashlights, I guess, although other appliances come to mind.  Plenty of AA or AAA, though.  I noted a good number of customers buying a garden hose and a pump.  I’m not sure if the pump was plug-in or manual, but good luck to them who need to pump out the water with that limited device.  We were at Lowe’s for a new washing machine, since ours died.  Not many folks shopping in our side of the store yesterday.  At the local Acme and at Lowe’s, customers were carting away enormous plastic-wrapped bundles of 0.5 L water bottles containing 50-100 bottles per bundle.  I can see a use for this.  If the water level gets very high, one can empty the water bottles, put the caps back on, and create a raft by tying the bundles together.  If one is concerned about the water supply, another, perhaps saner approach, would be to put water from the tap into available containers at home, but that means not contributing to the economy, so never mind.

We did a check of all our outdoor areas, for loose furniture, potted plants and other objects that might take flight in the storm.  Of major concern around here is the possibility of trees coming uprooted as the ground soaks and the winds rise.  We have a few tall trees close to our house, hopefully strong, and also hopefully protected from the full force of the wind by being between houses.  Our tallest tree menaces were taken down in the last few years, having lived to about 100, and starting to drop large branches indiscriminately.

My hospital was closed for all but emergencies today, so no elective procedures.  The trains are not running into Philadelphia.  The bridges are staying open unless sustained winds up to 70 miles per hour hit, then they will close.  At the moment, it is fairly windy, with a steady fine rain blowing sideways, covering areas usually under cover with a wet sheen, and creating large puddles around the leaves raked into the streets.  The township was supposed to do an emergency leaf removal yesterday, but I didn’t see it happening.  The center of the storm is due to hit New Jersey around midnight tonight.  I think our offices will remain closed tomorrow, since this storm has not yet peaked, and is cruising at a very conversational pace, to relate it to running.  By the traffic I see from my window at home, plenty of folks are braving the weather.  I am taking this opportunity to catch up on things I say I will do, but can’t seem to find the time.  Hopefully, by at the latest, Wednesday, we’ll be able to get out there and hit the pavement.

I hope all of our neighbors, i.e. the whole eastern seaboard, remain safe and dry.

Uncorking Croatia



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