A Back-of-the-Packer’s Attempt at “12 in ’12” to Benefit The Dream Team Project


The Dream Team Project, through its founder, Lou Mongello, and countless volunteers, is working to help make a child’s wish come true. With your help, we can send a seriously ill child and their family to Walt Disney World with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Today I would like to formally announce my 2012 goal of raising money for WDW Radio’s Dream Team Project by running one marathon per month throughout the upcoming year. My first marathon of the year will be the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 8th 2012.

Then, from February through December of 2012, I’ll run a marathon each month in order to raise money for The Dream Team. I’m calling this “A Back-of-the-Packer’s Attempt at 12 in ‘12”.

OK – right about now you might be thinking that attempting something like this is a pretty goofy thing to do. Well, Goofy is my all-time favorite Disney character, so I guess this fits for me. But now that I’ve put my goal out there and I cannot rescind it (insert large gulp! here), let me take a few moments to explain why this rather goofy idea makes so much sense.

When I became a dad in 1998, I realized how much happiness a child can bring into a person’s life. I became motivated to help causes that benefited children in my area (New York City). For a bit of time, I was a docent a few weekends per month at the Bronx Zoo, where I tried my best to teach kids simple things about the wildlife that was present. I enjoyed the experience….but I wasn’t able to stick with it. Life got in the way. Then I volunteered as a Wish Granter for the Make-a-Wish Foundation in New York City. This experience opened my eyes to children suffering from life-threatening illnesses within less-than-affluent areas of the five boroughs. This experience was deeply moving…but again I was not able to stick with it. Again, life got in the way. Then along came 2005…

2005 was a very rough year for both myself and my daughter. Fortunately for us, we found two things to bond over – two things to make us smile whenever things really took a turn for the ugly: Disney and running.

My daughter and I would spend hours together flipping through the travel guides and websites, planning out our next long weekend in WDW, and then circle the date on the calendar. Knowing that our trip was only 105…..81….54….30 days away helped us deal with the rocky road we were both traveling on. We would both be so pumped up about our trip that we would hardly sleep the night before our flight. Once we got on the plane, our smiles were ear to ear…and they’d stay that way until we boarded our flight back to New York City. Then the planning would begin for our next trip the moment the flight attendant closed the plane’s hatch. Some of my favorite moments with my daughter have been in WDW.

In between trips down to WDW, I trained myself to run a marathon during the summer of 2005. Even though I made every rookie mistake in the book, I still enjoyed every moment since my daughter acted as my “coach”. She’d motivate me to get out there and run – don’t skip a workout. She was 6 year-old female version of Lombardi. The moment I crossed the finish line and draped that medal around my daughter’s neck was the moment that things began to change for the positive in both our lives.

As we both maintained our upward, positive momentum, I found Team for Kids (“TFK”). This charity running team raises money to fight childhood obesity in New York City schools by providing running programs. On November 6th 2011, 1,500 TFK runners completed the ING New York City Marathon and raised over $4 million for this fantastic cause. I’ve seen the programs they provide. Every penny is put to good use, and the values the kids learn – to work hard, stay focused, try to be healthy, and exercise regularly – stays with them for a lifetime.

So as I sat on a bench in Central Park one Saturday morning a month or so ago, I began to think of an idea that would allow me to incorporate many of the things that mean a lot to me. The result was this “12 in ‘12” concept. Personally, this year-long effort allows me to use something I love – distance running – to help children suffering from life-threatening illnesses through a charity that is wrapped around a passion for all things Disney. I’m also hoping that this effort will show people that you can do anything that you set your mind to, regardless of the difficulty. All you need to do is pick a goal, work toward it, and don’t ever give up.

As the New Year approaches, I will finalize my race schedule. As of right now, the preliminary list includes:
• January 2012: Walt Disney World Marathon (FL)
• February 2012: Surf City Marathon (CA)
• March 2012: Ocean Drive Marathon (NJ)
• April 2012: Gettysburg North-South Marathon (PA)
• May 2012: New Jersey Marathon (NJ)
• June 2012: Rock n Roll Seattle Marathon (WA)
• July 2012: San Francisco Marathon (CA)
• August 2012: Self-Transcendence Marathon (NY)
• September 2012: Disneyland Half Marathon (I’ll run 13.1 miles before the start of the race)
• October 2012: ING Hartford Marathon (CT)
• November 2012: Philadelphia Marathon (PA)
• December 2012: Las Vegas Marathon (NV)

This list may need to be altered at some point, for logistical purposes – but let’s hope not.

I plan to provide weekly updates on the “12 in ‘12” progress on the WDW Radio blog. In addition, you will be able to follow my tri-weekly updates on my own personal blog,  The Back of the Packer. Subscribe so you don’t miss a moment of the adventure! I promise that these updates will provide you with plenty of opportunities to laugh with me and at me! Since I’m not a professional runner by any stretch of the imagination (I love Diet Coke, pizza and Oreos waaaaay too much to be confused with some elite runner), comments and feedback from all of you would really help keep me motivated!!!

Any donation to The Dream Team Project, regardless of the monetary value, will make a difference in a child’s life….and I cannot think of a better way to spend a dollar.

Until next time, make sure you double-know your shoe laces, pick a goal and stay focused!

WDW Radio Running Blog Entry #7: Time to be Thankful!


I love this time of year. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays (mainly because the turkey gives me an excuse to be lazy…..kidding!) – the air is crisp, the park is a rainbow of color, and people just seem to be in a great mood within the city. It’s a day where you simply get to spend time with family and friends, and thoroughly enjoy their company. The only present given or received is time.

As Thursday quickly approaches, I begin something that I call my own personal Annual Assessment Process. I take stock of the things I wanted to accomplish this year (usually a long list) and the corresponding number of things that I actually got done (not surprisingly a much SHORTER list). Then I literally sit down, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and list out my goals for the upcoming new year. Sounds oddly thorough, I know – but that’s the way my brain works. I then use the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to finalize my Top Ten list for the upcoming year. The week between Christmas and new Year’s is spent bracing myself for the drastic changes that I normally enforce on January 1st…and disappear from memory by Superbowl Sunday.

So what does this have to do with Disney and running? Bare with me, because it takes me a while to get to the point…and I’m as sharp as a bowling ball….

For the past several years, I’ve placed some goals on my Top Ten List that have proven to be challenging, yet very fun. They’ve involved running some Disney races, including:
• The Expedition Everest Challenge (the medal you are awarded is extremely cool!)
• The Wine & Dine Half Marathon (do the mental math with me: 13.1 miles waddled + 2,000 calories burned + ending at Epcot’s World Showcase = absolutely NO GUILT while ordering funnel cake from the American pavilion, pizza from Via Napoli and nachos from La Hacienda de San Angel…in that exact order
• The Disneyland Half Marathon (Grand Californian – I looooooove that place!)
• The Walt Disney World Marathon (I can actually say that I was in all four parks in one day before 12pm, and I scored a picture with Abbey Mallard)

They’ve also included some easier, more relaxed goals, such as:
• Figure out whether there’s a jogging path from the Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom (answer: not unless you also feel like swimming)
• Enjoy a jog from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian (I HIGHLY recommend this one to all my fellow Disney Geeks that are thinking of taking up jogging…)
• Run the paths around Saratoga Springs and the Port Orleans resorts (sooooooo enjoyable)

Why not find a quiet spot, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and begin thinking about your goals for the upcoming year, and put ideas to ink? For those of you thinking about trying jogging / running (or waddling like me!), pick a goal or two. Make one of these goals a really fun, shorter distance run – like a Disney race. Put the idea to paper. Do the research, grab your sneakers, get out there and enjoy in 2012!

Part of the fun is in the preparation – the journey is just as important as arriving at the destination. So look at this time of year as an opportunity to check your compass and see which way your winds will take you. In my next blog entry, I’ll share with you my own goals for the upcoming year, which shockingly include time spent waddling through the Disney parks and resorts, and WDW Radio Running Team! Until then, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving!

My original blog post Running Disney: Time to be Thankful! can be found hereon the WDW Radio Blog. Please check it out!!

My Fifth Post for WDW Radio Running Disney: Let’s Get it Started!


My original blog post Running Disney: Let’s Get It Started can be found here…please check it out!  I hope you like it!!!

In my last couple of blog entries, I provided a very brief description of the Run Disney calendar, as well as a few notes from each of the races that Disney offers throughout the year.  In this installment, I’d like to provide you with some simple tips on how to begin the journey toward earning your first Disney medal.  I’ll gear this entry toward those who never ran an organized race before – but hopefully those of you that already have some running experience will also grab a interesting piece of information before we are done.

In my first couple of blog entries, I wrote about the wonderful, accepting atmosphere that the Run Disney series of races provides the new runner.  For those of you who are reading this and thinking to yourself “maybe I’ll give this thing a shot, and earn myself some Disney bling” (…ok, I just read those words back silently to myself – and I apologize), I’d like to offer up some of the basics to help you get started:

1) Go to a running store and pick up a decent pair of running shoes.

It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner, who mixes in jogging and walking.  It doesn’t matter whether you are walking a half mile or running a 10k race.  Hight….weight….age….it doesn’t matter.  Good running shoes should be the el numero uno item on your running to-do list.  Go to a running store, and talk to a representative.  Let him / her help you pick just the right shoe for your training.  Their expert input will hopefully result in resisting some of the normal annoyances that plague us friends of the asphalt.

Note to all of you: I picked up my first pair of running shoes simply because they were 70% off…..without trying them on first…..because I liked the cool colors.  And yes – I agree – I need a checkup from the neck – up.

2) Look at the Run Disney calendar. Pick a race.  Circle the calendar and BINGO!  That’s your target.  Now you have something to focus on.  Something to aim for.  A Mickey-shaped carrot to chase.

The act of selecting a race and entering it into your calendar makes the training you are about to begin worth the effort.  It also gives you the motivation you need on those less-than-perfect days.  And let’s face it: planning a visit to Uncle Walt’s Backyard is flat-out fun!

3) Pick a nice location – a park, a path alongside a quiet river, or anywhere else that is safe to run on or along – and just begin putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m fortunate.  I live in New York City, so my back yard is Central Park.  When I wake up in the morning, I lace up my shoes and hit the park, and the sights, smells and sounds of the early morning flood my senses and clear my mind.  By the time I get home, I feel energized.  Awake and alert.  Ready to take on the day.  In the evening, after work and the stress of the day has my nerves slightly frayed, I lace up my shoes and hit the park.  There’s something about the connection between the body and the environment that washes away the stress while I jog along the park’s bridal path.  The great thing about running is that you can really do it basically anywhere.  Use running to explore – your neighborhood, or wherever your travels take you.  If you’re spending time in Walt Disney World, running around the resort property is a WONDERFUL way to see little touches that the Imagineers have placed all over (more on that in a later blog entry).

That’s really all there is to it!  3 simple steps.  Grab a proper pair of running shoes, select a Disney race to use as your motivation to stay focused, and just get out there and get moving.  It really is that easy.

Some beginners get self-conscious.  They feel like people will look at you walking / jogging / running and judge you.  That feeling is pretty normal.  Let’s face it: when I began, I ran like a penguin.  Waddled around, flailing my arms like a 8 year old on Dinosaur!  But I realized that the only person that made me feel this self-conscious was…….me.  In actuality, no one was staring at me.  No one teased me.  No one looked at me as if I was some oddball.  It was all in my head.  Once I got over that feeling of self-consciousness, I hit the park every chance I got.   still do.  And the exercise has improved my outlook on life, made me look and feel healthier, and helped me realize that I can achieve any goal that I put in front of myself, as long as I put it on my calendar, plan for success, stay motivated and just keep trying.

I guess that’s the goal of my blog entries.  I get a lot of joy out of my DisneyGeekdom (if that’s a word…).  I also found tranquility in running.  I found that combining these two things resulted in amazing experiences thus far, and many – MANY -more in the years to comes.  There are MANY dates circled on my calendar that combine these two aspects of my life…and when each one of these days end, I feel a sense of accomplishment.  My newest motivation is to share these with you all – fellow DisneyGeeks that “get it”.

 

Until next time, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving.  If you have any comments / questions / suggestions / thoughts, please share them with me.  Drop me a line any time at joseph_kolinsky@yahoo.com.

We’re Off And Running….


Well, my friends, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I am sorry, but life has been a bit curious as of late.  I’ve missed sharing my lunacy with you all – I’ve kept it all for myself over the past few months, and for this duration of silence, I do apologize.

That being said – things have begun to kick into high gear.

First up: 26.2 in Hartford, CT coming up on October 15th.  Fun, flat, and fast.  A good tune-up for my annual Superbowl, the ING New York City Marathon on November 6th.

That’s a good, quick segway into my 20 second pitch: I’m running for the 5th year in a row for the New York Road Runners’ Team for Kids.  Any donation, even $1, helps over 100,000 NYC children.  It’s a worthy cause – one that I’m willing to put myself through the hazard for.  Here’s the link, in case you are interested.

After NYC comes Philly on November 20th.  Flat, fast, and FUN!!!

I’ll rest from Thanksgiving through New Year’s…….AND THEN…..WELL……..

………..

…..I cannot give away the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT just yet.  But I’m planning something special to try to benefit the other charity that I strongly believe in, The Dream Team Project.  If you’ve never heard of it, please check out WDW Radio’s website.  The Dream Team Project is the host of WDW Radio’s – Lou Mongello – creation.  It’s a charity that rasises money for the Make a Wish Foundation.  Make a Wish is a charity that does amazing things on a daily basis to help children with life threatening illnesses.  How do I know?  Well…..when I had the time, I was a Make a Wish volunteer.  I was a Wish Granter.  I got to see these kids.  Their families.  Their stress and strain.  And their reaction of pure joy when Make a Wish does something incredible to make a sick child’s like just a little better.  I want to do something special for Make a Wish….and I’ll share the details soon.

We’ll talk soon, at greater legnth.  Until then, please consider helping the Team for Kids. THANKS!!!!!

The Run Disney Calendar, Take Two


Here’s my fourth blog entry, Running Disney: Run the Disney Calendar, Continued! for WDW Radio. To read my original post visit here:

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, the crown jewel of Run Disney’s calendar is its first race of the year, WDW Marathon Weekend.  However, there are other races throughout the year that really are special and deserve the consideration of my fellow DisneyGeeks that either currently enjoy running…or are looking for a reason to purchase their really cool first pair of gel-infused Nike’s.  So I’ll paint a quick picture of each race, hoping that some of you might be motivated to earn a run Disney medal in the near future.

The newest race on the run Disney calendar is the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, scheduled for its inaugural running during the weekend of January 27th-29th 2012.  This race goes off three weeks after the WDW Marathon, in Disneyland.  No other real details are available as of yet – but I’ll keep you posted on any details I may hear.

Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon occurs annually in late February (the next run is scheduled for the weekend of February 24th – 26th 2012).  I’ve heard nothing but great things about this race!  It’s slated as a women’s half marathon, although approximately 300-400 men ran it last year, I believe.  As a father of a 12 year-old daughter that’s just dipping her toe into running, I think this race is absolutely fantastic.  It’s a true celebration of women’s’ strength.

The first weekend in March brings us to the Champion 5k race, run as part of ESPN the Weekend in Walt Disney World.  March is a great time to run in WDW – the humidity is low, the temperature is just right, and a 5k distance is a wonderful entry race for any new runner.  If you’ve never run before (or haven’t run in quite a while), and you are looking for a manageable distance with a fun atmosphere, put this one on your calendar!

In early May, the Everest Challenge is run in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.  This race is….well…unique.  I just ran it about 3 months ago, and had a really fun time.  It’s run in the evening, and it is more than just a 5k jog past the home of the Yeti.  The race begins in the parking lot of the park, sends you through the front gates, and winds you past the Tree of Life.  At several points along the next three miles, you have the added challenge of maneuvering up, over, and around various obstacles in addition to your evening jog.  Once you cross the finish line, the challenge is only half complete!  You are then handed a tiny flashlight, a pen and a map, and sent back into the park on a scavenger hunt!  The prize?  An extremely cool medal that doubles as a compass!

The Run Disney race series takes a bit of a break from mid May through the end of August as school’s out for the summer and, let’s face it, it’s more fun to work on our tans than train for a race!

The Disneyland Half Marathon is run each Labor Day Weekend.  I ran the inaugural race in 2006, and it was an absolute blast.  Through the streets of Anaheim, around the warning track of the Anaheim Angels’ baseball stadium, and through Disneyland itself, the sites and sounds of this race were a joy to experience.  I’m sure that, 5 years later, this race has consistently improved.  If you’re thinking of a first half marathon, this could be the one for you.  It’s flat and fast, and the finisher’s medal rocks!

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon is run in early October (the next one is scheduled for the weekend of September 30th – October 1st 2011).  While I don’t want to end this blog entry on a sour note, I do need to be honest about this race: I ran the inaugural one last year, and was quite disappointed by the lack of proper lighting on parts of the course (it’s another night time race), as well as the lack of organization within the finishers area and the afterparty in Epcot’s World Showcase.  That being said, I am sure that Disney received a ton of feedback on how to improve this race…and I look forward to seeing the positive changes in less than 2 months.

So there you have it – the Run Disney calendar at a glance.  In my next entry, I’ll begin to share some ideas on how to pick the right race for you, as well as how to get started on your trek toward finishing your first Disney race.  Until then, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces!  And if you have any feedback, comments, etc., please feel free to email me at joseph_kolinsky@yahoo.com

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – Part 2


“Anyone can run 20 miles.  It’s the next 6 that count.”  – Barry McGee, winner of the bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics

As my teammates and I crossed the halfway point of the marathon on the Pulaski Bridge (the bridge that takes us from out of Brooklyn and in to Queens), and I recorded a personal best time for the half marathon distance, The Tool decided that it was time to fire the first volley and throw his soldiers of self doubt into the fray.  I accepted the internal challenge and maintained my pace alongside my two TFK buddies.  But just the simple act of firing that first volley caught me by surprise.  His initial plan must have worked – I had forgotten that he even existed.  And then I realized: that was the key to running a great marathon – never letting your self-doubt catch you by surprise or gain control over any portion of your mind while you’re in motion.  The Tool had drawn up an effective battle plan.  He made himself known as a legitimate threat and I paid heed.

His initial volley scored a direct hit on my focus.  Instead of thinking about the crowds, my pace, or talking to my teammates, my attention turned to my foot.  It didn’t hurt yet – but I was already thinking about how I’d handle it if the pain began to show itself.  Worrying about an injury makes running a race like this more difficult than it needs to be.  This distraction knocked me for a mental loop, like being sucker punched by Lennox Lewis.  And then, as I waddled forward in the daze that immediately follows a shot to the mental jaw like this, something wonderfully unexpected happened.  It wasn’t in my race strategy.  The Tool never accounted for it.  And I was thankful for it: I got some help.  Perfect timing.

As we came off of the bridge and were about to be greeted by the Queens faithful, I looked ahead and saw a large video screen.  Surrounding the video screen was the Asics logo – now it made sense.  This year, Asics sponsored three large video screens that would post pictures and comments from anyone that wanted to support a marathoner on the course.  Friends and family could sign onto a website, enter the runner’s name, and then send them a picture and/or text message that would be flashed onto these large screens each time the corresponding marathoner passed over a covered marker on the racecourse.  There was no guarantee that any one person’s message would be selected for viewing – I’m sure there were tons of submissions to the site to begin with.  But as I passed over the covered marker, the screen changed and I received a message of encouragement that came as complete surprise.  To me, it was getting a shot of pure adrenaline.  To The Tool, it was like a smart bomb.  Suddenly, the fog lifted.

Technology is truly incredible.  In a race like this, the GPS watches a lot of us wear allows our progress to be tracked via a satellite, thereby providing accurate split times, distance covered, and overall race time.  The tabs that we wear on our shoes electronically track where we are on the course and how we are doing. The applications available on smart phones and through the internet allow family and friends to track their runners for the duration of the race from any computer or smart phone in the world.  And technology allowed me to receive a jolt of motivation just when I needed it the most.  At that moment I also realized that people are following me….friends and family that love me are checking on my progress.  So…….I better get moving.

Now it was The Tool’s turn to deal with the dull haze that comes with a harsh and surprising counter attack.  I felt like I dodged a bullet.  A big smile came across my face as I made the left hand turn and began listening to the Queens crowd.  The noise only lasted a few minutes – this part of the course was mostly made up of office / industrial space, so residents are sparse but enthusiastic.  As I ran through the quiet Queens streets on my way to the 59th Street Bridge, I took stock of how my body felt, staying with my race plan.  So I took a roll call:

Me: “Feet?”

Left Foot: “Not sure, chief.  I’ll get back to you.”

Right Foot: “Hey – I’m fine!”

Left Foot: “you are such a brown nose.”

Nose: “I heard that!!!  Take that back.”

Me: “Enough – I’m busy here.  Ankles?”

Ankles (in two part harmony): “We’re fine.”

Me: “Calves?”

Calves: “MOOOOO!!!!  ……just kidding.  We’re fine, chief.”

Me: “Well that was stupid.  Moving on – knees?”

Knees: “A-OK..”

Me: “Nice.  Hamstrings?”

Hamstrings: “We’re good to go, boss.”

Me: “Back?”

Back: “Yo Yo Yo!!! Baby got BACK!!!  …….sorry.  That got away from me for a moment. I’m fine.”

Me: “Everyone’s a comedian.  Abs?  Abs?”

Abs: “OK dude – we’ve been listening to the stomach whine and cry all morning.  Are you kidding???  A bacon & egg on a roll – and that’s it?”

Me: “I know, I know.  A mistake.  But let’s get through it.”

Abs: “Fine – but you owe us a week without any plank exercises.  Got it, bucko?”

Me: “Fine.  Deal.  Just shut up.  Arms?”

Arms: “All we can do is swing like this?  Can’t we do something more….fun?  We can wave our hands in the air…..We can do the YMCA without music….we can even flip off random spectators!!”

Hands: “YES!!! We LOVE THAT!!!  Please please please!!  Please let us give the finger to that dude eating the hero sandwich as we pass by!!”

Me: “Arms – keep swinging.  Hands – SHUT UP.  Thank God I don’t know sign language.”

So aside from my left foot, everything appeared to be going as planned.  But as is the case with most feature films nowadays….isn’t that when things begin to get FUBAR?  (for the uninitiated: if you don’t know what FUBAR is – google is your buddy).  Some twists and turns through Queens, and then my teammates and I began to close in on the 59th Street Bridge.  15 miles into the race.  I’ve averaged approximately a 10 minute per mile pace.  My progress was faster than I ever had expected from myself.  But The Tool was right. I went out too fast.  12 miles into the race, the 10 minute pace felt fantastic.  Three miles later…the pain began.

As I passed from mile 14 to mile 15, The Tool unleashed hell.  First, my left heel began to hurt.  The pain came suddenly, and it surprised me even though I had been worried about it for weeks.  Things were going so well – I just figured that I was going to get lucky and the injury would not show its face all day.  No one is that lucky.

And then – like a general sending his reserves into the field of battle for the purpose of making the enemy retreat, I come face to face with the 59th Street Bridge.  If you’ve read this blog to this point, you know that this bridge has been my nemesis for the past 6 years.  Each time I’ve arrived at the base of this transverse, I became intimidated and had to walk to Manhattan.  I vowed that this would be the year that I conquered this bridge.  I looked inside myself and I found the will to keep running – but the pain in my foot quickly escalated as I began the climb.  I told my team mates that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them – that they should carry on and I’d try to catch up with them.

The Tool sensed victory.  He pressed the attack.  The pain was felt in my heel and my ankle.  How quickly it spread again caught me by surprise.

The incline was a steep.  And if I tried to run this hill, I’d have nothing left and there’s still 10 miles to go.  My pace got slower.  11 minutes….12 minutes per mile.  My feet were shuffling now, and every time I landed on my left foot, it hurt.

I was now alone.  I thought of using my Ipod for motivation – an obvious move of sheer desperation.  My team mates were no longer beside me – I felt no peer pressure to maintain the 10 minute per mile pace.

…13 minutes per mile pace now.  About halfway up the span of the bridge.  The wind off the water gave me goose bumps.  Around me, several runners began walking.  The foot hurt.  I was getting hungry.  I wish I didn’t forget those pop tarts.  And I was never able to maintain a 10 minute pace for 26 miles before – what made me think I could do it now?  Maybe if I just walked for a minute of two I could gather myself….

….The Tool claimed victory.  He was king of the moment.  He had a plan and he executed it to perfection.  My strategy for the course was left on the span of that bridge.  The next 10 miles would now be about simply finishing.  Any chance at finishing with a personal best time in a full marathon was set adrift on my ocean of daydreams.  I began to walk.  The Tool raised his boney arms over that bulbous head and exclaimed “Victory!”  As I began to walk the remainder of the incline and crossed the mile 16 marker, I looked out at the Manhattan skyline.  The United Nations.  The Empire State.  The Chrysler Building.  I drempt of hitting 60th street feeling fantastic.  I wanted to be able to high-five strangers as they leaned over the barricade.  I wanted to bask in the feeling of the sunlight on my face as I glided up first avenue.  With my foot in this condition, however, any dreams of that glorious gallop would have to wait until 2011.  Now, instead of entering the borough feeling like a champion, I felt like Leonidis and his 300 Spartans when confronted by a million Persians.  If I wanted victory, I would have to think of a quick response to dealing with the pain.  As I began the descent into Manhattan I realized…I better think quickly.

The grin on The Tool’s face was broad.  He felt that all he’d need to do was tighten the screws a bit, and I would fold.  I’ve felt horrible during marathons – I once ran 3 in a month (which qualified me to join the Marathon Maniacs), and in the middle of this 3-race ordeal was the 2009 Marine Corps. Marathon – which felt like an 8 mile run immediately followed by an 18 mile death march.  I was sick to my stomach that day, constantly having to throw up on the side of the road before continuing on.  The Tool knew I had a high threshold for pain – but this was different.  I was never truly injured before.  This was uncharted waters for me – and he was trying to steer me right into the rocks.

As I continued the descent toward the loving arms of the crazed fans in Manhattan, I had to quickly develop a plan to deal with what existing circumstances.  If I fight the pain, it will only get worse.  If I try to tell myself that the pain doesn’t exist, the rest of my body will openly rebel against me.  I have to contain the issue.  I have to accept it.  Then I remembered how U.S. Special Forces deal with moments of pain: they try to embrace it.  Feeling pain is better than dying.  Feeling pain motivates them to finish the task at hand.  Pain can keep a person aware and alert. Embrace the pain.  Easier said than done, because I am the very definition of a pansy.

I took a deep breath, muttered to myself “this is gonna hurt”, and then slowly began to jog off of the ramp of the bridge and onto 60th Street.  Half a block of screaming fans, four rows deep, yelling and screaming in the shade of the bridge.  Immediately you can hear people yelling “Joe!! Looking good!!  Keep going!!”, “Go Team for Kids!!”….that helped me.

I had taken The Tool’s first assault.  Some casualties were assumed.  But I kept moving.  It was a mental smack in the face to The Tool.  And that pissed him off.  Now the battle would only grow more intense.

As I slowly jogged down First Avenue, the only word that accurately describe the scene is…NOISE.  LOUD, LOUD NOISE.  As I passed under the bridge and into the sun, I was greeted with a corridor of noise.  The fans were at least 5 deep on both sides of the avenue, for three miles.  The buildings caused the yelling and screaming to hover in the air, which added to the moment.  As I made my way down the avenue on my way to the Willis Avenue Bridge and the brief dip into the Bronx, I originally thought I’d feel the strength to release my inner Kenyan and take off at a 9:30 per mile pace.  But the foot injury negated that possibility all together.  I mixed jogging and walking through miles 18 and 19.  They handed out sponges and a horrible-tasting gel to take in that give runners a quick energy burst.  (It’s not made by Godiva, so I politely decline).  At Mile 19, The Tool snapped out of his fog and began to execute the next wave of his onslaught.  All the way up First Avenue the only words I could mutter to myself over and over again was “pain is my friend”.  Yeah….what a buddy.  A real pal.

As I slowly worked my way through Spanish Harlem and onto the Willis Avenue Bridge, I remembered my game plan.  This was my chance to mentally prepare myself for the last 10 kilometers.  While the crowds are thin, I could concentrate on what I am doing without distraction and think about the task at hand.  The Wall was a minor concern at this point.  The pain, however…that was another issue altogether.  It was becoming unbearable.  I could hardly put weight on my left heel without yelping like a puppy that just caught his tail under a rocking chair.  The pain traveled to my ankle.  I also felt the back of my left knee tighten up, caused by overcompensating for my heel.  “Pain is my friend….pain is my friend”….

The Tool: “Joe – shut this down.  Quit.  Your leg is killing you.  Just stop.  All of my pieces are on the playing board.  I cannot turn up the pain dial any higher – it’s pegged at 10.  You have nothing left.  You are done.  Beaten.  Just shut it down.  Surrender.  Quit.  This isn’t that important.”

This was it.  The Wall.  The Tool waited until this moment to unleash every weapon in his arsenal.  As I wound my way past the Mile 20 marker and closed in on mile 21, my body had run out of fuel to burn to keep me going.  Marathoners call this feeling “The Wall”.  We all go through it.  We all deal with it.  I believe that breaking through The Wall is one of the reasons we actually enjoy running this distance, and why so many people come out and support the runners on Marathon Sunday.  If this were a 20 mile race, The Wall wouldn’t be an issue.  It’s the last 6.2 miles that make this race special.  It’s THE TEST.  Pass or fail – break through or quit.  This is the moment that every marathoner can look back at after the medal is placed around his/her neck and say “there was a point where I felt like I couldn’t go on – then I found something inside of me that made me keep going”.  The Wall allows the marathoner to find out what his/her limits are…and then redefine them.

My moment had come.  Time to make a decision.  Quit or finish the race.  My thought process began with one simple concept: well, it’s only another 10 kilometers.  Then out came my inner drill sergeant….You already banked 20 miles.  You’re going to let this little 4” prick make you quit after logging 20 damn miles?  Joe, you’ve gotten this far on the basis of your training, discipline and consistency.  To all of this, you must now have to add resolve.  There is no victory without sacrifice.  Now stop complaining.  Take whatever this little schmuck can throw at you, and then spit it right back in his face by NOT STOPPING.  All go – no quit.  Now move!  I promised my friends and family that I wouldn’t quit.  I promised myself I would finish.  This injury is nothing compared to what others deal with.

As this inner pep rally was going on, The Tool tried to distract me.  The heel.  The ankle.  Now the damn knee.  I was a little dizzy.  I started to develop a headache.  The Tool was making a last ditch push to claim victory.  He was so close he could taste it.

With The Tool yelling in one ear and my inner drill sergeant basically yelling in the other, my mind was in utter chaos.  But in that chaos, I found a moment of clear perspective.  I touched my left shoulder.  Then my right.  I remembered that I wasn’t alone in this.  Now let me clear this up: I am not a huge religious guy.  I’m not.  But I guess I really like the idea of my deceased family members that I knew and loved, if only for a small amount of time, sitting in box seats right outside the pearly gates while Saint Peter hands out popcorn and diet coke, cheering me on as I compete against my own limitations and inner demons.  Between my heavenly fan club (I sort of picture them as the angel-equivalents of bleacher creatures), and my friends and family rooting for me to succeed and following me electronically as well as on the course, I realized that I had the support I needed to withstand anything The Tool had left.

I slowly mixed jogging and walking until I hit the Madison Avenue Bridge, which spills the runners back into Manhattan, through Harlem.  It was on this bridge, in front of the Mile 21 marker, that I confronted The Tool for the last time during this race.

Me: “OK.  You tried.  You failed.  Whatever you do from this point on will not break me.”

The Tool: “Six more mil….”

Me: “Just shut up.  SHUT UP.  I am in control.  You said you were the game?  I played you.  I won.  You said you were the pain, and I couldn’t take you?  Well I have.  5 miles, you little prick.  5 miles.  You won’t break me.  I am unbreakable today.  You failed.  Now sit down, shut up, and let me deal with the mess you made.”

The Tool: “But you aren’t even close to….”

Me: “STAI ZITO.”  (again – for the uninitiated – google is your pal)

It was as if someone came along and unplugged the speakers at a heavy metal concert.  Silence…in my head.  Now all that remained was to focus and finish.

The last five miles passed by in a complete haze of pain and determination.  I mixed slow jogging and walking through Harlem.  A children’s gospel choir lifted my spirits.  I hit Mile 22…and there was the Asics sign again.  There was that message again.  That lit the fire inside of me.  Around Marcus Garvey Park I waddled.  Onto Fifth Avenue.  Up the steady incline.  23 miles logged.  I made it to Central Park.

The fans were loud.  Really loud.  Louder than I had remembered in my other races here.  I was now in my back yard.  Today – Central Park was Team for Kids’ home field.  The pain was miserable, but I was now close.  I took the rolling hills of the park between miles 23 and 25 easy.  Mixing a very slow jog and walking, I made it to Mile 25.  I was very happy to exclaim “God fuck the Queen!”

1.2 miles to go.  Out of the park I waddled, and onto Central Park South.  The noise was music to my ears.  Fans line the streets and really get enthusiastic, willing the runners forward for one final push to the tape.  I began to slowly jog…and not walk.  Leave it all on the street – that’s what I wanted to do.  That’s what I would do.

Half a mile to go.  The pain was there…but it took a back seat to the moment.  The turn at Columbus Circle.  Re-entering the park, only one word could describe the scene in front of me: Glorious.

As I passed under the mile 26 marker, I decided to look at my watch for the first time in 13 miles: 5 hours, 20 minutes!  My God.  I could do it – I could set a personal best time in a marathon for myself.  I went to my arms and began to sprint.  God it hurt – but the fans yelled and screamed as they saw me trying hard.  I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 22 minutes.

As they placed the medal around my neck and wrapped me in a heat sheet, the emotion of the moment overwhelmed me. I began to tear up a bit, I’ll admit it.  I’ve run this race 5 years in a row prior to this, and I’ve now run 11 marathons overall.  This is really the first race where the event got the better or me.  As I made my way to the Team for Kids area of the park to collect my bag and get some warm clothes, the one thought that kept repeating in my mind was “you never quit”.  I could barely put any weight on my left leg as I hobbled slowly home in the cold…but the feeling of accomplishment – that feeling that comes with being pitted against your own limitations and then claiming victory over them through hard work – that’s the feeling that I crave.  That keeps me coming back.  That…..and being a hero to my daughter.

…and as I waddled home to get something to eat, a small voice whispered in my ear… “well done.  You beat me – today.  Enjoy your victory, because in two months you have the Goofy’s Race & a Half in Walt Disney World.  And I promise you…..I….will…be….there.”

….eight weeks.  Eight weeks to heal myself and prep for a 39.3 mile weekend.  I’m running the Race & a Half to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.  Then it’s on to Miami, where I’ll run to raise money for MS research.  Then Ft. Lauderdale a month later to run in the A1A Marathon (simply because I want an excuse to get some sun). Then it’s on to Napa and Los Angeles in March.

…eight weeks.  I better get to work.

__________________________________

“Get going.  Get up and walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.”  – Ron Hill to Jerome Drayton during the 1970 Boston Marathon

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – PART 1


“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”   – Jerome Drayton

I figured I’d begin this blog entry with that famous quote (well, famous at least in the marathoning community) by Jerome Drayton, because I felt the term “agony” would be quite appropriate for today.  Jerome is the Canadian record holder in the marathon (2:10 time set in 1975 – which, by the way, is hellishly fast – especially in cold of Canada, where the average temperature is -120 and penguins are in a constant search for parkas), and he obviously understood very well the ordeal that a marathoner goes through from the moment he toes the line to the moment he breaks the tape.  As my alarm began to blare at 4:15am (“The Game” by Motorhead), even the words of the song rang menacingly in my ears:

“It’s all about the game and how you play it.
All about control and if you can take it.
All about your debt and if you can pay it.
It’s all about pain and who’s gonna make it.”

Motorhead….those heavy metal dudes must have run a marathon.  Maybe that’s why they sound so darn angry all the time – they must write all their lyrics after hitting the wall at mile 20.  I listened to the words as my head remained on the pillow.  I knew how to play the game – this will by my sixth ING New York City Marathon.  I know the course.  I know what to expect.  I have a strategy.  The question that remains is whether I will be able to follow my strategy for the entire race.  My ability to take control of the situation today, regardless of how my foot held up was an open question as well.  I believe I paid my debts up to this point – I worked hard, lost weight, consistently went to practice and completed the necessary long runs each weekend.  It all comes down to the pain – how much could I take and whether my foot will hold up for the entire race.  The Game – what began simply as my alarm for marathon morning turned into my theme song for the day.

I slid my legs out from under the covers, and gently rested my feet on the floor.  The moment of truth – I stood up.  There was a slight ache – but nothing hobbling.  Just minor discomfort.  I quickly convinced myself that the lack of true pain at this point in the day was a sign of great things to come.  I walked to the bathroom without a hint of a limp, and took a long hot shower.  I then got dressed – which, for the New York City Marathon, is a procedure:

  • Generous portions of body glide to sensitive areas
  • My favorite pair of Team for Kids running socks
  • My most comfortable pair of spandex compression shorts
  • My Marathon Maniacs bright yellow team singlet (I wear this singlet under any shirt I choose to race in, because it reminds me of the other team I am associated with – a group of running lunatics that make my addiction to this sport look rather….well….tame.  My Maniac team mates are incredible – some run a marathon A WEEK.  Others run two IN A WEEKEND.  They are a group of people that have taken the term impossible and performed the Irish gig all over it.  Suddenly I appear….well…..subdued.  As I said to my buddy Al a long time ago: “Al, everything’s relative”.  On the left shoulder I wrote the word “Bobby”.  On the right: “Johnny”.  On the back near the neckline: the initials “RVE”.  Bobby and Johnny were my brothers – they never got a chance to run.  I run for them and they run with me.  Every mile.  My angels on my shoulders. RVE is my grandfather’s initials – I wear them on my back because he ALWAYS had my back, without fail.  I surrounded myself with angels; if you believe in that sort of stuff.  I had a feeling I might need them today.  There’s an old saying from World War II: there are no atheists in foxholes…..well I’ll be taking my share of enemy ordinance today.
  • My most comfortable pair of Nike running shorts
  • My Team for Kids lime green (radioactive green would be a better description) singlet
  • A pair of old black running pants that I didn’t really care too much about
  • My Saucony running shoes
  • An old long sleeve shirt that I would leave at the starting line
  • My horrendously ugly lime green running jacket from the 2008 NYC Marathon.

Layers are the key for dressing for this marathon.  The wind off of the water makes waiting three hours at the marathon village on Staten Island extremely rough.  Staying warm is incredibly important.

After I finished dressing, I grabbed my bottle of Gatorade and my Iphone (which is basically an additional appendage at this point), and headed out the door.  As I walked out into the cold, I realized two things: It was about 38 degrees outside…and I’m not near the water, and I forgot my pop tarts.  Now I know I ate a good dinner, but the rule is that runners should top off their energy tanks with approximately 800 calories of high-carbohydrate food in the morning.  And I LOOOOVE pop tarts.  I decided to not return to the apartment, and head to the starting line.

I made a stop at a local diner for my traditional bacon & egg on a roll – that helped me feel a bit better.  I continued to walk to our team buses on 7th Avenue in the 50’s in Manhattan.  I arrived cold and nervous at 5:55am…5 minutes before our scheduled departure.

As I sat in the bus, I realized that I was more prepared than ever to run 26.2 miles.  I never trained so hard for any one day in my life.  Football….rowing….ten other marathons and a decent number of half marathons…nothing came close.  I pushed myself this year.  I remained focused on the goal and stayed dedicated to practice.  There was nothing more I could do.  So as the bus rolled down Broadway on the way to the Battery Tunnel, I closed my eyes and made a promise to myself: that whatever happens, I would see this through to the finish.  Just surrender myself to the moment.  That I would not fail.  I would not quit.  After making that silent vow to myself, I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and reached in my bag for……my Sony PSP.

That’s right, lab rats: I have a Sony PSP.  A great little gadget.  I watched the movie Hancock as we passed through Queens and Brooklyn.

As we closed in on the Verrazano Bridge, I turned off the movie and began keeping my eyes peeled for Team Achilles.  This is a team made up of runners with disabilities.  They get to start earlier than the rest of us, because their day will be longer than ours, in most cases.  Each Achilles athlete is paired with a guide that will help them through the course.  Each blind runner holds a small rope that connects them to his/her personal guide.  Athletes in old fashioned wheel chairs (like the ones that you get rolled around in whilst in a hospital) are escorted by a guide to help them with whatever they may need.  Athletes on crutches are assigned guides for assistance and safety.  They all wear their traditional team red t shirts – and I personally think that a big S should be attached to each of their chests, for they are superpeople, in my opinion.  To watch them begin their race while I am still in my warm bus fills me with a sense of pride to simply be in the same race as these heroic athletes.

There’s one Achilles athlete – an African American gentleman whose name I do not know because we haven’t formally introduced ourselves – that absolutely blows me away.  I see him every year at the marathon, as well as most every New York Road Runner’s Race I participate in.  In order to log his miles, he turns his wheelchair backwards and shuffles his feet the best he can, slowly propelling him around whatever course we are running.  He constantly has to look over his shoulders to see where he’s going, and he consistently talks to his guide for his/her thoughts and reassurance.  His pace is very slow – but he always finishes.  Every time I pass him, I yell “Go Achilles!!!”…and in return I get a thumb’s up.  The image of him pushing himself like this over bridges and through crowded streets is engrained in my brain – It’s one of those lasting memories that has attached itself to my mental recording of this incredible day.

The buses dropped my teammates and I off at the front of Fort Wadsworth at approximately 7:30am.  My wave was scheduled to start at 10:40am.  Three hours in the cold.  No big surprise.

I spent my time talking with my teammates.  Most were first timers.  I reassured them the best I could.  Tried to fire a few of them up.  Did my best to make them relax through laughter.  Before I knew it, it was time to stretch.  Then some final words from the coach.  Then….head to the corrals to start our wave of the race.

After a five minute walk to the corral, I waited alongside several hundred other runners to enter the starting area.  Runners are herded into large corrals just like cattle, left to wait for upwards of 45 minutes before the singing of the Starred Spangled Banner…and then the cannon.

Once the cannon’s blast echoes in the air, the mass of humanity inches its way forward through the front gates of Fort Wadsworth (lovingly referred to as “the World’s Largest Urinal”), I finally reach the starting line after almost ten minutes of this snail’s pace.  I cross the starting line, and I start my running watch.  The GPS in my Garmin running watch calculates pace per mile, total time elapsed, and approximate distance covered – it will be my lifeline for the next five hours.

Since I wore a green-numbered bib, I began the race on the lower deck of the bridge.  The lack of sunlight, the cold temperatures, and the strong winds off of the water made for a frigid first two miles.  I was lucky to run into a TFK teammate as I traversed the bridge, and our light banter took my mind off of the fact that I was freezing my dimpled Irish ass off.

As we passed the two mile mark, we left the bridge behind and entered Brooklyn.  Feeling the sun on my face and the softening of the wind as we made our way off of the highway and on to the streets of this amazing borough, I looked down at my watch: 20 minutes down.  10 minute per mile pace.  Perfect.

Onto the streets of Brooklyn we spilled.  Thousands of runners of all shapes and sizes, wearing every color of the rainbow.  As all of us shuffled through the side streets, the crowds along the sidewalks began to grow.  As a runner who’s experienced this marathon before, I knew what was coming: 4th Avenue.  These side streets in Bay Ridge was a first glimpse of what was in store for all of us.  Children handing out paper towels to wipe the sweat from our faces.  Families that set up makeshift water stations.  Grandparents banging pots and pans out second story windows.  And then…..the right turn is made, and onto 4th Avenue we go.  HELLO BROOKLYN.

To try to describe the ethnic diversity of miles 3 through 13 in this blog would do the experience a severe injustice.  From the moment the runners step foot into Brooklyn, the thick crowds of loud, adoring fans yell and scream their lungs out for complete strangers.  As I made my way through mile 3, I literally bumped into two other teammates that I consistently ran with for months during practice.  They were like oasis in a large desert – a most welcome sight.  They helped me maintain my pace as the miles ticked away.  4 miles – 40 minutes. 6 miles – one hour down.  10 miles in – one hour and forty minutes in the books.  We averaged a nice, easy 10 minute per mile pace, and I felt strong.  We high-fived kids as we jogged along.  We cheered for Team Achilles as we passed them by.  We cheered on our teammates whenever we saw another lime green jersey, regardless of whether we knew them.  The first two hours of this race was a constant block party.  To look at everyone lining the streets – every color and creed represented – all yelling as one to spur the runners on – it restores my faith and my love for this city on an annual basis.  As we hit the Pulaski bridge and left Brooklyn, I checked our time: 2 hours, 12 minutes. That was a personal best for me in the half marathon distance.  I’ve never covered 13.1 miles in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes before.  As I looked at my teammates, I mentioned: “2 hours 20 in, and we are halfway there.  We are cruising!”

…..and as the three of us yelled “HELLO QUEENS!!!”, a small, all-too familiar voice responded:

The Tool: “Hello Joe.  Remember me?”

Me: “Yup.  I figured you’d show that sour puss of your’s at some point.”

The Tool: “Know that, for what I am about to do, I am NOT sorry.”

Me: “Well whatever you have planned, know that I have a counter-attack prepared.”

The Tool: “You know….that was the fastest half marathon you’ve ever run.”

Me: “Yup. I’m cruising.”

The Tool: “Well I take great joy in telling you that you came out too fast.  And the damage is done.”

Me: “No it isn’t.  I can handle whatever you throw at me.”

The Tool: “I know you.  I AM YOU.  I AM YOUR SELF-DOUBT.  While you rested and watched episodes of House on TV, I built up my troops.  Every time you hobbled to the fridge for a diet coke…..every time you had to ice your foot….every time you felt that question in your head of ‘gee, I wonder if I’ll be OK on race day’…..every time you skipped a practice because you needed to give your heel time to mend…..THAT….WAS….ME.  You have no answer for me.  This asphalt you’re running on – that’s just the road.  I…..AM….THE…..GAME.  And Joe, you cannot play me.  I AM THE PAIN – AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE ME.”

Me: “You talk too much, you little 4 inch prick.  Now shut up and just bring it.”

……and with that, the battle was joined.

_________________________________

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” – Steve Prefontaine