April Showers Bring…..A Bout With Chaos Theory

I returned home on the bus from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Manhattan’s Upper West Side sore and dealing with mixed emotions.  My pace during the Ocean Drive Marathon was exactly what I wanted.  I didn’t take the first five kilometers too fast.  I focused on my breathing and controlling the swinging motion of my arms.  My legs felt fresh.  I had prepared as well as I could.  The course was flat – although the head wind was going to add a few minutes to my time, I felt supremely confident as I toed the starting line.

But, as in any sport: one odd bounce of the ball – one errant swing of the bat – a shot that sails just over the crossbar – or, in my case, one instance of taking in fuel a third of the way into the race resulting in a lost tooth – adjusted the course of the outcome.  It was a firm case of Marathon Running meets Chaos Theory.

Now before you actually begin thinking that I understand higher mathematics, let me clarify: everything I ever knew about Chaos Theory I learned from watching Jurassic Park.  I….am…not…kidding.  Jeff Goldblum explains it perfectly: two drops of water placed on the exact same spot on a person’s hand resulted in different outcomes: each drop of water moved in a different direction.  Why?  Could have been the small hairs on the hand.  Or the person’s pores.  Or the wind.  Or simple gravity.  Who knows.  Bottom line: even when you think a result is rather predicable due to your understanding of most of the important variables built in to its calculation, there is always something within the equation which cannot be controlled or accounted for which effects the outcome.

For me: losing a tooth at mile nine.  THAT was Chaos Theory at its best. There was no message sent to me in the days prior from my mouth to my brain, saying the following:

Mouth: “OK folks – we’ve got an issue.  Loose crown.  Right side of your jaw.  Fix it before race day, or else you’re liable to swallow the darn thing.”

Brain: “Understood – thanks for the head’s up.  Now where the hell did I leave the Crazy Glue?”

In the days that followed Ocean Drive, I went on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Up and down.  High and low.  I kept thinking about the fact that, even after feeling so confident and ready for 26.2 miles of running – something as freak as losing a tooth could disrupt my focus on the matter at hand.  The inability to fuel during the race caused me to crash before mile 19.  The last 12 kilometers went by in a dull haze.  The Tool perched himself on my shoulder with a tiny bag of popcorn and a crap-eating grin on his weathered face, enjoying my misery.  To the victor went the spoils.

The emotional roller coaster ride lasted through the third week in April.  Not good.  Not good at all.  The timing of this distraction was incredibly poor as well, for on April 29th I would run the race that I had circled on my calendar as the one I was most nervous about: Gettysburg.  In order for me to build momentum for the remainder of the year, I needed to bounce back from this doldrums I had fallen into.  Quickly.  The Tool had sensed his opening and was really making the most of it, playing on my confidence like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello.  He made the most of this opportunity.  He was, indeed, winning.

Gettysburg was a marathon that I both looked forward to as well as feared.  The smallest field of runners that I planned to run with all year long: 500 marathoners.  The most hills of any race I have ever encountered: 16 miles of them, beginning within a half of a mile from the starting line.  Very few spectators: this provides The Tool with a valuable edge later in the race – his constant message of pain and discouragement comes through clearly without the strong noise of spectators to drown him out.  Water stations every 3 miles instead of every 1-2 miles.  And lastly: the weather reports predicted crystal clear skies and 75-80 degrees – without shade, this last factor could make the day go from bad to worse in an awful hurry.  In a field of just 500 marathoners, there was no pack to hide within.  No pack to draw energy from.  I would be alone at some point, and would need to look within to get myself to the finish.  Gettysburg would be a pure test….but I didn’t feel like I was ready for such a challenge.

The Friday before Gettysburg, I sat in my firm’s New York City office right near Times Square.  I looked west from a high office window, and stared at the New Year’s Ball that sits perched atop the southernmost point of the square.  Then I looked down at all of the people, scurrying around like ants.  Things look much different 40 stories above the ground than they do whilst standing on the corner of 42nd and Broadway.  At that moment, it hit me: success is all about perspective.

I spent more than three weeks contemplating the things that I needed to address or think about before Gettysburg.  I racked my brain in a vain effort to mitigate the possibility of Chaos Theory coming into play once more.  But this entire time I was looking at my last marathon experience from ground level.  Taking a different perspective: I had finished a marathon running constantly into a headwind, losing a tooth and finishing without fueling during the race.  If I could do that – why couldn’t I handle hills?  Why couldn’t I handle running 26.2 miles in basic solitude?  From 40 stories up, life appeared a bit clearer.

From now on, I’m going to stop asking myself “Why?” and begin saying to myself “Why not?”  Success in completing a marathon is one part physical and one part mental.  And both the physical and the mental need constant training.  The physical gets you through the first 20 miles.  The mental gets you home.

As I packed my bag for Gettysburg, I felt my nerves tingle.  16 miles of hills.  Nervous.  Excited.  Focused.  And now mentally ready.  The fields of Gettysburg would witness another battle: myself versus The Tool.  And there was no way he was going to win the day.


The 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon: 1 Down, 11 To Go

Well, it’s one down, only 11 more to go! Last weekend I completed my first marathon of my “12 in ’12 To Support the Dream Team Project”. And I began my year-long quest in a big way: running the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon on January 8th. Let me sum up the festivities in a single word: supercalafragalisticexpealodocious! (always wanted to see if Microsoft Word considers that Poppins-ism a true word…but alas, it does not…) That being said, let me provide a run-down of the weekend for all of you that are beginning to consider dipping your toe into a Disney race in the foreseeable future.

First off, let me say that Marathon Weekend in WDW offers something for absolutely everyone. There are kids races that go for distances of 200 meters to the Mickey Mile. Then there’s the Family Fiesta 5k on Friday morning. Then the Half Marathon is run on Saturday and the full Marathon is run on Sunday. Regardless of the distance you choose to run, you can count on really solid support on the course, unexpected surprises and an incredibly celebratory atmosphere that motivates over 50,000 athletes from start to finish.

The Family Fiesta 5k takes the runners through World Showcase and Futureworld within Epcot. The half marathon gives the runners a tour of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. And the full marathon allows the runners to experience all four parks….before lunch!

I ran the full marathon this year alongside over 30 members of the WDW Radio Running Team. The support and camaraderie that the team provides gives each runner a wonderful boost of motivation throughout the course. I have some pictures to share…but before I bust out the Polaroid’s, let me describe the marathon course – and my morning – to you.

My alarm went off at 2:30am. I was already half awake when my Iphone began playing “The Brain” from the Broadway musical Young Frankenstein. I hardly slept the night before, and I was hungry. (note to all future WDW marathoners: Dominos pizza is NOT the way to go for carbo-loading. That cheesy bread is not a runner’s friend). I knew I didn’t eat enough the night before, as my stomach grumbled as I came out of the shower. So – mistake number one was made: I did not fuel my body correctly. Mistake number two was in the books as well – I did not get the necessary rest. Mistake number three was also made clear as I prepared to leave the hotel for the 3am bus ride to the starting area: I didn’t drink enough water. The marathoner’s trifecta from hell.

I rode a 3am bus to the starting area, and proceeded to enjoy the company of my team prior to heading for the corrals at 4:30am. (note to Disney: it’s OK to actually give away some bagels at the starting area – I guarantee you that the company’s profit margin won’t be irreparably damaged).

The long wait in the dark was worth it, as fireworks were set off for each of the corrals, as they set out upon their 26.2 mile quest in 3-4 minute intervals. By the time I passed the starting line, I all of my mistakes made during preparation were long forgotten. Those haunting thoughts were replaced by the happiness that adrenaline pumps through your body.

The first 2 ½ miles are spent waddling toward Epcot. By the 5k marker, I had entered Epcot and enjoyed the feeling of running past Spaceship Earth, entering World Showcase at Mexico and departing quickly through Norway. The next time I pass the statue of Grete the Great, I will be almost finished with the race.

Upon exiting through Norway, I began the long quiet waddle North, toward the Magic Kingdom. Approximately 5 miles of subdued plodding along various WDW roadways resulted in my arrival at the TTC. 9.5 miles in, I had passed the Contemporary Hotel, and I had Space Mountain in my line of sight. Half a mile more, just past mile 10, the army of runners ran down Main Street USA and into Tomorrowland. Then through Fantasyland, through the Castle, into Frontierland and finally out of the Magic Kingdom near Splash Mountain. Miles 10 through 11.5 were incredible. However, I had begun to feel the effects of my mistakes: I had become nauseous and the feeling was distracting.

Once we exited the Magic Kingdom, we passed the Grand Floridian and the Wedding Pavilion. This marked the half way point of the marathon. Four more long miles of quiet WDW roadways until I entered the Animal Kingdom near mile 17. Animal Kingdom is another amazing part of this race. Running by Everest, I noticed that some marathoners hopped on the train ride to give it a spin before continuing on their quest for 26.2! Not me – if I sat down at this point, I’d NEVER get up!

Past Everest, Finding Nemo – The Musical, Dinoland and The Tree of Life. Then out into the parking lot, past the front gate and 19 miles were in the books. At this point in the race, I hit The Wall. I had thrown up twice, I felt dizzy and weak. It was all I could do to place one foot in front of the other. Front here on, it became a mental game.

Another four miles of WDW roadways landed us at Hollywood Studios, entering near the Backlot Tour, spinning past New York Street, past the Sorcerer’s Hat and out of the park near mile 24. 2.2 miles to go.

Once we exited the front of Hollywood Studios, we ran along the concrete path that carried us to the Boardwalk. Past the Yacht & Beach Clubs, and finally arriving back at Epcot, entering near the U.K. Pavilion. It was amazing to see my WDW Radio Running teammates screaming and yelling here, as I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. I felt horrible. But their enthusiasm pulled me through – it was the perfect elixir.

Around the World Showcase – past France (I tried to buy a glass of wine and received a look of shock from the unsuspecting cast member), heading toward America. Next thing I knew, I passed the Italians….then the Germans….then the Chinese. There was hope. Less than a mile to go. Finally passing Norway (I made a quick detour to pay my respects to Grete’s statue – the Queen of marathoning) and Mexico. A right turn into Futureworld. Almost there.

Passing MouseGear and the Fountain. Less than half a mile to go. Now passing Spaceship Earth. It actually aches when I swing my arms.

Mile 25.9 is emotional: the gospel choir. It lifted my soul. No doubt I would finish now. My legs began to stretch out and I took off. Out into the parking lot, and across the finish line. Done. Finished. In the words of Dandy Don Merredith – “Turn out the lights – the party’s over”.

I got emotional as I had the medal draped over my neck. I always do. Call me a real sap, but every time I push my body beyond where I believe my limits dwell, I feel a potent mixture of accomplishment, relief, and empowerment. I remind myself that a person’s limits are dictated only by the parameters we set for ourselves. I leave the finisher’s area sore – yet proud. Weary – yet energized.

I take a picture of the medal and send it to my daughter. She immediately calls me to make sure I’m OK. I tell her not to worry – we’ve got a bunch more of these to get through!

Before I sign off, I want to remind everyone reading this that you can do whatever you set your mind to. My grandmother always said “whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re probably right”. Set a goal for yourself. Make it manageable. Let it involve something that you can be passionate about. And then shoot for it every single day until you achieve it. Enjoy the feeling of victory – but don’t rest on your laurels. Then set a slightly bigger goal and old on tight. For this is the essence of life: striving to improve, overcoming the bumps in the road, and dipping into our courage when we need to in order to see us through to our goals.

My next marathon is February 12th in Jacksonville Beach, FL. I hope you’ll continue to follow my antics!

I am running to raise awareness and funding for the Dream Team Project, which benefits the Make a Wish Foundation. This is a charity that truly means a lot to me, and any donation – regardless of the size – goes toward aiding children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. While I slog through these marathons all year, I think of some of the kids I’ve met over the years. How much they and their families go through, and the strength they have to never quit. Those thoughts remind me that the pain I feel along the course is NOTHING compared to what they all deal with on a daily basis. When I feel the pain come on late in the race, it serves as a not-so-subtle reminder: I’ll push through some pain in order to give some kids a break from their’s.

Here’s a link to the Dream Team Project, in case you are interested in learning more or would like to donate: The Dream Team Make-A-Wish Foundation