A Moment of Sanity Amid This Concoction of Lunacy

Dear Reader,

(CAUTION: THIS CAN GET A BIT SAPPY IN PLACES.  FEEL FREE TO CALL ME A TOOL AND FOCUS ON THE HUMOR…LOL)

(I’m writing this entry because the website is asking me to describe what this blog is all about.  So I’ll add this to the “About” section of the blog afterward….but I wanted to share it with all of you first…)

My blog – “Built for Comfort, Not Speed” – tries (sometimes in vain) to document my training for the 2010 – 2011 marathon season, with a specific focus on prepration for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon scheduled for Sunday, November 7th. I’m attempting to blend some simple training ideas, humor and a bit of motivation to my readers through an honest, self-depreciating style of writing. My goal is to motivate others to select and achieve their own goals, regardless of whether it be running a marathon or simply getting into shape. It doesn’t matter what the goal is: the message I’m trying to send is that it is important to HAVE goals and to apply yourself the best you can to attain them. Challenge yourself. Once in a while it’s OK to bite off what appears to be more than you can chew.

I’m not a very fast runner by any means – I truly am built for comfort, not speed.  As you might have read so far (and as you’ll continuously notice as this blog matures), I make tons of dumb mistakes of various shapes and sizes.  I make the same mistakes over and over again.  I make mistakes that even make first time marathoners shake their heads, roll their eyes, and say aloud “you cannot be serious – you actually did……THAT?”  But even though I make tons of idiotic miscues, I have finished every marathon that I’ve started (including the 2007 Chicago Marathon, which turned into a “Fun Run” after 300 people collapsed in the heat and 1 died on the course) – and finishing the race means I acheived my goal. 

The one thing that I want you, the reader, to take away from this blog is the simple fact that there is no such thing as impossible when it comes to human achievement – there are just varying degrees of diffculty.  One of my heros, Walt Disney, once said that “it’s pretty fun, doing the impossible”.  With this blog I want to do my best to motivate you to give the impossible a shot.  I once thought that a 5k race would be impossible for me to finish.  I was wrong.  Then I figured a 10k was out of my reach.  Wrong again.  Then I ran my first half marathon in Boston in October of 2004 to honor my brothers – and I bet myself a package of Yodels (God those things are good) that I wouldn’t cross the finish line after 13.1 miles.  Well I enjoyed those Yodels on the bus home, with a my first ever finisher’s medal around my neck.  This race took a lot out of me – it was the first time that I met The Tool (and those of you who have read this blog up to now know EXACTLY who that little 4″ schmuck is), and he convinced me that 13.1 miles was all this flabby body could handle.  At this point in my life, the word “impossible” was defined as “any race that required me to waddle more than 13.1 miles” – and that definition appeared to be written in stone.  It would take something huge to make me reach into my own personal dictionary and rip that definition out altogether.

Late 2004 – early 2005 was a lousy time for me.  I had hit rock bottom and had begun to dig.  I was unfocused.  My overall attitude was extremely negative.  I felt like I was a ship on an ocean in the midst of a storm, rudderless, with no shoreline in sight.  My hull had begun to take on water and the S.O.S. was clearly being sent to anyone else at sea.  Depression had set in. 

It was at this point when a lighthouse appeared on the horizon.  Its light awakened me from my despair, made me grab the helm, and slowly right my course.  That lighthouse was my six year-old daughter.  When I needed something to guide me – when I needed something to set my course to – there she stood, unflinching in front of me regardless of weather thown at us by Posiden.  And at the same time I needed something to draw me out of my own internal storm, my daughter desperately needed a hero.  And something inside me made me believe that the hero she needed………was me.

My daughter needed to be shown that a person can do anything he/she puts his/her mind to.  Some goals may be extremely difficult to attain – but the difficulty only makes the victory that much sweeter.  In order to show her that “impossible” was just a word, I needed a new challenge – something I felt that I truly could not do.  That is how I wound up running the 2005 ING New York City Marathon.  When I crossed that finish line, the word impossible truly was ripped from my own personal dictionary, never to be included in any future printings.  When I placed my medal around my daughter’s neck as she stared at me with eyes as large as dinner plates (probably because I looked as if I went 12 rounds with Rocky Marciano – my knees and feet were bloody, my hands were swollen, and I had a limp more pronounced than Doctor House), I felt like I was her hero.  When I kneeled in front of her and hugged her, I whispered in her ear “never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something.  You can do anything, buddy.  You just have to want it bad enough.”  5:20pm on Sunday, November 6th 2005: that moment in my life is one I will NEVER forget.  And let me tell you – there aren’t many things in this world that can top the feeling of being a hero to a child – let alone your own.    

I’m hoping that each of you will rip the term “impossible” out of your own personal dictionaries.  Let’s face it – evey time we use that word it carries with it a negative connotation.  Maybe a few of you are feeling like your own ships are dealing with some rough seas and stormy weather.  Well look through your lives and find the lighthouse you need – who knows….maybe something within yourself will cast the strong light from your own shoreline that you can use to guide your ship.  Set a goal for yourself that appears to sit just outside your reach, and then say to yourself “any other day I’d say this is impossible – BUT NOT TODAY.”  Make the goal something that you enter in to your calendar.  Make it several weeks or months away, so that you have to build up to attain it.  Make the goal require hard and consistent work.  And then, in the immortal words of Bum Phillips, “give everything you’ve got….and then a little bit more.”  And then….when you cross your own finish line, whatever that may be, you will become your own hero. 

Since that first marathon, I’ve set more difficult goals for myself in an attempt to show my daughter that if you can do anything as long as you never quit.  I’ll continue to run marathons until my doctor tells me I shouldn’t any longer….and then I’ll run another just to show him that he was wrong.  Some people think I’m a bit….well…..nuts to run as many marathons as I’ve targeted for myself.  And let’s face it: they are probably right. But as I’ve just illustrated, I do have a number of very serious reasons for pushing myself the way I’ve been trying to.  Now I’d like to share another one of them with you.

2010 will mark my 6th running of the ING New York City Marathon, and my 4th running for the New York Road Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”). This is a charity that I believe strongly in, because I have seen first hand how much they are helping grammer school kids throughout the city fight childhood obesity. TFK volunteers empower youth development via running and character-building programs in low-income schools and community centers in New York City, throughout the country, and in South Africa. Please take a look at the charity’s home page (www.tfkworldwide.com) for more information and details on the number of running programs provided. This charity is making a real difference with kids, and I’d like to ask you to consider helping them with their cause by making a donation – no donation is too small, and all donations are used wisely by the organization to maximize the benefit to the children they serve.

Making a donation to TFK is easy. The charity assigns each runner a specific home page on their secure fundraising site. I’ve attached my home page to this post (http://www.runwithtfk.org/Member/PublicPage/1289), in the hope that you’ll consider making a donation. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Your giving helps New York Road Runners Youth Programs to:

  • Serve over 100,000 children in more than 400 schools and community centers with FREE programs.
  • Reach children of all fitness levels and athleticism, with a heightened focus on reaching out-of-shape and overweight kids with little or no athletic experience.
  • Prevent overweight or obese children from eventually suffering heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses that lead to health-care costs in excess of $100 billion annually.

Whether you are a runner, have worked with children, or have kids yourself, I hope you will join me to further this great cause!

Thanks for taking a moment to read this. Regardless of whether you choose to donate to the charity or not please know that I appreciate your support with this blog and, as a direct result, my efforts to train for the challenges I’ve set for myself. I look at this blog as my way of staying focused on my goals, because ordinarily I have the attention span of a gnat.   And now back to our regularly-scheduled lunacy.

– Joseph

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“The greatest pleasure in life, is doing the things people say we cannot do.” – Walter Bagehot

Joseph [jo-sef] (noun) – A guy that waddles through marathons, whining like a mule along the way….

Yesterday I mentioned that my marathon training team, The New York Road Runners Team for Kids (“TFK”), meets three times a week in Central Park to run as a group.  Mondays are usually tempo runs – runs that are designed to add to a runner’s overall mileage base, run at a pace that’s consistent and can be improved upon as training goes on.  Wednesdays are “speed work” days – where we spend our time running up hills (as the old runner’s saying goes: “Hills are speedwork in disguise”) or doing “pick-ups” (which are the types of runs I described in yesterday’s installment.  Saturdays are “long run” days.  These runs are the foundation and the key to distance running success, because the runner adds on a mile or two each week to his/her prior week’s total, thereby getting the entire body used to the feeling of running for longer periods of time without rest.  For example: last Saturday I ran 10.5 miles along the Hudson River with TFK.  By the end of the run, I felt as if a tap dancer was perched atop my head dancing along to Singin’ in the Rain, while an elephant sat on my chest as two trolls used my legs as a wishbone.  (I just read that last sentence to myself several times, and each time I was left with the same thought: God that was weird.  So weird…..I’m going to leave it in and just move along….).  I was not caught by surprise – I’ve gone on runs much longer than 10.5 miles.  I knew how the run was going to make me feel, and I was not doing cartwheels due to the pending excitement (….because if I WERE doing cartwheels AT ANY TIME, anyone standing nearby has the legal right to backslap me into coherence).  As much as I was NOT excited about the aftermath, I ran the distance anyway….because I know how important the long run is.

This coming Saturday is my next long run – 12 miles.  Estimated temperature in the park for Saturday….94 degrees….and humid.  Oy.  Not excited.  But I’ll do it anyway.  Fortunately for me, today is not Saturday!  

Now aside from these three TFK group training days, each runner is expected to do addiitonal weekly work.  This consists of an easy runs or cross training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a light recovery run on Sundays.  Friday is a pure rest day, since it’s the day prior to the weekly long run.  Cross training for me consists of lifting weights, light stretching, and abdominal work.  Cross training is pretty important because it allows the runner to develop some stregnth and work the muscles of the boday that aren’t primarily stressed during running sessions.  Marathon running is definitely a full-body experience – after the race, muscles that you never knew you had will hurt.  So working out the entire body helps your endurance and overall performance…or at least that’s what I’ve read!  LOL This is the first time in my life that I’m actually following a strict training regimen without “falling off the waggon” one month into the program.  I’m hoping that I’ll see results along this journey.

So today I’m hitting the gym and working out for about an hour.  No running AT ALL.  I need to work on my abdominals most of all, since strong abs help running posture and overall endurance. 

Tomorrow…..REST.   Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Until tomorrow, my friends!

A Quick Preview

I’ve decided to begin a blog that will track my training and corresponding life experiences while preparing for the upcoming 2010 – 2011 marathon season.  While this might sound a tad boring, I can assure you that I lead a rather full and interesting life.   And its contents can be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people, in my humble opinion:

For all of you avid runners out there that clock in 6-7-8 minute miles, this blog will allow you laugh hysterically as I attempt to train myself to make the leap from ridiculously slow to just plain…..well…..slow.  For you see, I really am built for comfort – not speed.  I’m 5’11”, and weigh 201 pounds.  I’ve lifted weights since high school, when I played QB for the Fordham Prep Rams.  I was introduced to cardio-vascular workout (i.e., running…..yuck) during college, when I rowed for the Iona College Crew.  After college….well….life simply got in the way of me actually maintaining my level of physical fitness.  That, at least, is the politically correct version of the story.  In reality, fell in love with all things BAD FOR ME.  I hit rock botttom and began to dig.  Now those life stories aren’t going to be included in this blog; instead, they are the foundation of the novel that I am in the middle of completing.  I’ll make sure to let everyone know when it’s going to press.  The title is going to be For My Sins…..and trust me, I committed a TON of them.  But sins, when seen through the eyes of an amateur comedian, can sound quite funny……  So all you speed demons out there, sit back and have some laughs at my expense – because the person I love to make fun of the most…..is….me.

For all of you fellow back-of-the-packers that have trained for / are training for a marathon, I think you’ll especially enjoy this one.  Why?  Because I have made every dumb distance running mistake in the book, and I’m sure there will be at least one or two that you’ll think to yourself “……huh, I remember doing that exact same thing…”.  Knowing that other people make that – as well as many more – mistakes may help you put things in perspective.  Being fast is a great goal.  It takes a lot of hard work (and Lord knows I hate hard work.  I try to avoid it like the plague), and improvement comes with time – so patience is key.  Having goals, regardless of how silly or out-of-reach they may sound to others, are the carrots dangling in front of us back-of-the-packers (which I lovingly refer to as turtles) that will allow us to improve over time.  My goal – and it might be your’s as well – is to graduate from the rank of turtle to the stature of hare.  My friends may look at me when they hear this lofty goal and say “Sure Joe – that sounds great.  Want an Oreo?” So this blog will help me stay focused on my goals….and maybe it can help you keep on track as well.  So I ask you to follow me as I go through my training, and have a bunch of laughs along the way….maybe it can help keep you motivated as your own training gets tougher as the mileage increases. 

For those of you that are thinking about running a marathon for the first time, this will be sound evidence that you CAN do it.  Because if I can pull this off, ANYONE can.  I am not a natural athlete.  I’m not thin and lean.  I’m not easily motivated.  I lack focus.  I don’t eat healthy 100% of the time.  I complain A LOT.   And…with all of those negative personality traits firmly in place within my pea-sized brain, I’ve managed to complete 10 marathons since November 2005.  You’ll learn that the body will only carry you to a certain point along the marathon course, and then it hits The Wall.  At that moment, the road forces you to look inside yourself and find the courage to keep moving forward.  Either that – or quit.  Now I may be slow….not in the greatest shape….and I may lack focus….HOWEVER, one thing I hate is failing at achieving a goal.  I’ve run smack into The Wall – HARD – ten times.  Each time I didn’t let the road get the best of me.  And if I can do it….YOU CAN DO IT. 

For those of you that simply like to laugh,  you’ll have TONS of chuckles, multiple gaffaws, and numerous snickers purely at my expense.   And I’m sure I’ll deserve every one of them. 

For my friends and relatives,  you’ll be able to keep tabs on how I’ve been spending my time outside of my office.  And also laugh at my expense.  Call me a few names under your breath.  I’m sure I deserve it – Lord kows I never pick up the phone any more – I deserve to be bluggeoned over the head with a wet noodle 20 times.

So let the games (and the laughter) begin!

This effort is dedicated to the people closest to me – MY FAMIGLIA. 

And a special shout-out to my team: The New York Road Runners Team for Kids.  Helping over 100,000 New York city school kids fight childhood obesity every single day.  Thank you teammates and coaches, for helping me stay motivated.  2010 marks my 6th ING New York City Marathon – and 4th with the Team for Kids (simply referred to as “TFK”)…and if you are ever thinking of running the NYC Marathon for the first time, this team is the WAY TO GO.