Friday, May 23, 2008

Why I Love Running

Why I Love are just 40 reasons that come to mind, and please feel free to add your own in the comments below:

1. I feel good.

2. It has taught me to be a finisher in life.

3. Every run is like a personal journey and I know how Native Americans like the Navajo must have felt on their own spiritual quests. Seriously. Yesterday I did 7 miles in chilly driving rain at Central Park, and it felt like a true journey, highs and lows, achievements and failures, pushing limits and my mind constantly going to different places of memories, of creativity, of dreams, of desires, of interesting and strange thoughts. I realized that this is how all of my runs are and they are personal journeys.

4. I have learned more about my own body and health in the last year than in nearly a half-century. Amazing.

5. The more you run, the faster you get.

6. I am one with nature. The next photo I take for all of you on this blog will be of a tree that I discovered on East Drive near 72nd Street, and I stopped and gazed at it for about 5 minutes as the rain made its massive two lower boughs look like big arms. It has a face, and a crown. It shall be Triton. I will show you soon.

7. It feels like I am living and adding years. I think the first half of this decade was sort of a death spiral, plunged forward with cigarettes, stress, loneliness, pressure and woe, with an occasional side of helplessness mixed in. I always felt in the back of my mind like I was knocking years off my life little by little. Life changed.

8. It doesn't cost that much. It was $136 to enter this November's New York City Marathon. It was $90 to enter the St. Louis Marathon. Every 400 or so miles I need to buy a new pair of shoes. I take care of my running gear and every once in a while will add something new but I mostly have what I need for hot or cold. Just bought a new pack of Breathe-Right strips $20 I ever spent.

9. Suddenly you have friends.

10. Energy is way up and after I run in the morning, I will be unbelievable that day at work. OK, I am always unbelievable at work.

11. And did I mention it makes you confident, even a little bit dangerously cocky but what the hell. I guess I don't mind that much if I embarrass myself. It works for Nelly. My last stance be a stance of a General Custard / I hot dog cuz I can I got the cheese and mustard.

12. My butt is thumpin, now it's time to start bumpin.

13. It makes travel more fun. I see my friends traveling around the world and running marathons, whether it's in the Arctic Circle (George), Rome (Bob and Jenn) or London (EliZZabeth). That sure sounds good to me. I will be working the Summer Olympics from Aug. 5-25 in Beijing, and although some elite runners are abstaining to do the city's horrible pollution, I definitely will run there.

14. It makes you set goals and shows you how to achieve them. I am now hoping to add a marathon next January, possibly Miami.

15. The Zone. There is nothing like it when you slip into that world of endorphin madness, and suddenly you realize that you have been running without hindrance.

16. It is the only time in life where you can compete in the same event as the sport's most elite competitors in the world. Pretty cool to be in the same race as Lance Armstrong and look up both of our results. You can't be on the same field as A-Rod, on the same court as Shaq or on the same Pittsburgh ice as Crosby, you can't be in the same tournament as Sharapova or on the same course as Tiger, but ANYONE can run (or walk or wheel) in the NYC Marathon if you just start training.

17. It's exciting.

18. It feels good to ascend to the top of a hill just because you know you get to run down the other side.

19. Views like running over the Golden Gate Bridge.

20. My mom is proud. Ha.

21. You will deal with some nagging injuries from time to time, but it's all worth it for those times in between when you feel like you can go out and just run like you were four years old, without caring about your form.

22. You get to help others. Part of my entry fee last weekend went to help kidney disease treatment and prevention. This happens year-round. I rarely run any races that aren't benefiting some kind of organization.

23. It makes you a creative force at work and better by far at what you do in your career.

24. You can eat cupcakes and other crap. You just have to know when not to.

25. I learned that I actually like to chug water all day long. I also go to the bathroom a lot more than I ever did in my life.

26. You feel like everything looks better about you, even your hair. The one possible exception being your toes. The nail next to my left big toe has been black ever since the day after the April 6 St. Louis Marathon. I was told it probably will fall off and a new one will grow back. I have no idea how that happened because it never hurt once during the race. Weird stuff happens. So far it is still there, it's just not the right color. If I was on a beach I would be burying my feet in the sand probably.

27. I am more adventurous.

28. You don't care if it's raining, because you are soaked anyway.

29. Supposedly you sleep better, except for the night before a marathon. Personally, I have yet to see this ramification because I am burning the candle at every end right now.

30. It's sexy as hell.

31. You realize early on that you actually can go far, carry some money with you in your little pouch pocket, stop after 5 or 6 miles if you want to buy an extra GU or whatever it might be, and then keep running. So you basically become your own car or taxi or limo at times.

32. The camaraderie is awesome when you have thousands of runners all packed together ready for the start of a race. You are in each other's world.

33. It's a good way to blog.

34. It's a way I can teach an example to my sons -- that they can accomplish anything in life if they want it badly enough.

35. Really you can just delete the last six words of No. 34.

36. GU!

37. I can't believe I have waited until No. 37 to write about my iPod. I know there is no way I would be doing this if not for my Nano Red. I will have it with me on 99 out of 100 runs, perhaps more. Including marathons, for whenever I feel like it. And that in turn has kept me younger, alert to the songs my 14-year-old listens to. I am still amazed whenever I am battling up a hill and suddenly "Heart of a Champion" comes on the Shuffle and Nelly's doing the breathe-thing and they're saying "Five more! You can do it mayne!" I gets buffer like Michael Redd...hear what I said?????

38. The Big Cats Running Team!!! I love being a Big Cat. You get to meet other Big Cats. And if you click the No. 1 friend on my list and look at Bob's list of the things to know about being a Big Cat, the coolest one is that you can't be snooty. I still have seen an occasional snooty Big Cat from time to time, to be honest with you, but overall I think most people read what he wrote there.

39. It was a great way to spend the last midnight New Year's Eve.

40. I can dance across the finish line if I want to.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Now it's my turn: Finding an agent

This is an exciting time, and an educational one. I spent 55 consecutive hours last weekend at the Starbucks next to Lincoln Center, completing a 23-page book proposal for "Trees and Numbers." The exception during that time was sleep and the Healthy Kidney 10K (1:02, well off PR) on Saturday morning at Central Park. I recently described the completion of a 5-year, 3-month journey in finishing my book manuscript, and now the book proposal is done as well so this week has been about setting out in search of the perfect literary agent. I am trying to educate myself as much as possible, and I greatly appreciate the ones who make use of their websites to be helpful in that regard. Having just read the fine blog from the Dystel & Goderich Literary Agency, I feel like any agent that does not have a blog is really falling short. It is made for this. So far I have been mainly networking through my infinite contacts after three decades in media/management, and that includes one friend who forwarded my proposal to his former colleagues at a literary agency. I cold-emailed one last night, I will distribute another tonight, and then on Thursday I plan to deliver a few in person (yes, with SASE) and I am being introduced to a very big-name agent whose sibling is a very big-name publisher. My intention is not to blanket the entire field of agents, but to target at least a dozen that are in my bullseye area and I in theirs. I have worked my ass off on this book as I will on the coming manuscripts in this franchise, and I am not about to underachieve in any way in terms of contract terms or the effort to make a worldwide difference. It is about finding someone who believes in me the way everyone else has whenever I have given my elevator speech for "Trees and Numbers."

If you are a literary agent and interested in representing one of the most-read writers on the Internet -- my articles are regularly read by many millions of fans worldwide on the homepage -- then please contact me at I do not expect this to happen and will be on the offensive, but you never know. I think I've got a name and I've got the game working for me. It's time to keep dancing across marathon finish lines.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Marathons are run with the heart"

I packed my Canon Powershot in my fuel belt and went for a training run around Central Park, and only logged 2 miles because I spent most of the time photographing park bench plaques. These have motivated and inspired and uplifted me since I became a neighbor of this park in December 2006, and I wanted to share them with others, no matter where you run. I photographed about 75 of them, and here are a handful. Hope you like them. The first one is my favorite. It is parallel to the NYC Marathon finish line.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Day as a Volunteer

Thanks to my Big Cat friend Runner aka La Lynx for (a) bringing Krispy Kreme donut and water after her 10M race and (b) taking action shots of my first day as a New York Road Runners race volunteer! That was an interesting experience and now let me tell you all about it.

A new rule stipulates that to get guaranteed entry into the ING New York City Marathon each November, one must not only run 9 qualified scored NYRR races in the previous calendar year, but now one also must volunteer for one NYRR event. So Sunday was mine: The NY Junior League Race to Erase Domestic Violence at Central Park. There were about 4500 runners for the co-ed 4-miler that started at 8 a.m. and another 2500 for the women-only 10-miler according to one of the senior start officials.

I had to report to the Bandshell area at 6:30 a.m. for volunteer check-in. There I was assigned to a group and I began right in front of the start line for the first 4M race. My job was to help keep the main crosswalk clear and point runners to registration/baggage check, and generally keep it safe. Then that race was started and I stood there and cheered for every runner taking off. Once they were gone, I rejoined our volunteer group, and we were taken over to the Finish area on the 72nd Street Transverse. This is where I made a fateful decision to raise my hand.

I wound up volunteering to man what I was told later was the toughest spot on the course for a volunteer. Trust me: After it was all over, I felt like I had been through a more intense battle than running an NYRR race. You can see the positioning in the pics above. That is right where Strawberry Fields -- and all the John Lennon fans/tour bus groups -- crosses the main West Drive right into the park at the Daniel Webster statue (pictured). As you also can see, there is a limited sight area to see elite bicyclists absolutely flying through on a downhill grade and not stopping for anything. It is the recipe for dozens of accidents and casualties including bikes thundering into babystrollers and wreaking devastating injury and despair. The worst possible chaos loomed as a foreseeable reality during those couple of hours.

By the time La Lynx took those pics, the race was basically over so the running crowd had thinned. But tour groups still came 50 at a time, and I had to communicate with each group leader so they knew we would let 5 people across at a time, and since they didn't speak English generally, they had to let people know of the danger and that I would be yelling at them a lot. Which I did. I felt like I yelled the whole morning. At first it had been yelling encouragement at runners. After that it was yelling at people to hurry across move fast rush please faster sir don't stand there ma'am please hurry omg get your ass across the street. In that second picture where I am smiling, picture the inside running lane (on the right) filled with a competitive pack, and picture the rest of the street wall to wall with speeding bikers and bladers, and picture those 2 pedestrians as part of a 50-person group that speaks another language ready to get across all of it no matter what it takes. Whew.

I really needed a chill pill after that one. I am just glad there were no accidents on my watch. It was kinda freaky. My favorite part was the old people who just wanted to complain to me about how bikers and runners were taking over their park. OK. Please notify your local alderman or Mayor Bloomberg. Because I don't care. I'm trying to make sure no baby gets killed by a 40-mph Olympic-caliber cyclist who wouldn't think of stopping for a baby stroller. My eyes hurt from having to use my peripheral vision constantly as I am doing in the third picture -- having to see bikers behind me while tracking pedestrians wanting to cross. I'm just really glad that part is over. Volunteering isn't always as easy as you think it is. Some other volunteers got to stand there and point their arm to the right for hours and say "turn left" "turn left" "turn left."

There. I volunteered. It was an experience. I will be happy to be back in my running gear and burning calories and crossing a finish line and then going for my treat of a slice of chocolate cake and a Starbucks.

Yours truly,

Mr. Chaos Crossing Guard

Monday, May 5, 2008

Run Like Eight Belles

On this day I ran a Half-Marathon that started right next to the famous Cyclone rollercoaster at Coney Island in Brooklyn, and that was appropriate because this was the most rollercoaster day I have experienced in a long time.

It was the day I ran a PR of 2:15:46 (10:21 pace) at the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, making continuous improvement for me. And it was the day that I would look forward to cheering for my favorite racehorse Eight Belles, who I had been telling everyone I knew about the previous week. We were both going to make triumphant runs on this day, and I was so psyched to go from my race to watch her hopefully become the first filly in 20 years to win the Kentucky Derby.

The day started cold and in the dark for me. It was 6:30 when the buses left Central Park, rumbling down Fifth Avenue past Rolex and Trump and Bergdorf's. When we were dropped off at Coney Island, I had two hours to kill. Last year, that was a dream, because it was warm and you could lay on the beach and just listen to music and psyche up for the Half-Marathon. This time it was cold and windy, and I actually spent 15 minutes in a portapotty just to kill time and have windblock.

This was my seventh Half, and my first race since the St. Louis Marathon 3 weeks earlier. Nearly the first two miles were run on wooden Boardwalk planks going in every different direction, sometimes sandy, and they are pretty hazardous as they are often loose and have these bit bolt heads sticking out of some of them. One of those caught my sole and almost knocked me off balance. Last year at this event, a woman tumbled right in front of me and she was down a long time. I heard of other people falling during this event. It just happens so be careful if you enter this.

You can see what I mean by watching the official race video here >

I was packing two GUs and a baggie of crushed salty pretzels that were safety-pinned to my left hip, also 4 or 5 little salt packets. As we were running the first mile heading out to the switchback, we all saw the eventual race winner galloping toward us in the opposite direction -- John Henwood of New Zealand. He would go on to finish it in almost exactly half the time I did, and once again I had the same reaction I always do seeing the elite runners: This is the only sport where you can truly participate in an event with the greatest in that sport. I can say the same thing this November when Lance Armstrong and Mark Newman run the NYC Marathon again.

It was also really cool to see my friend Alicia at about the Mile 1 marker on the Boardwalk. She was my Team for Kids teammate last year during the NYC Marathon -- and the one who tried to "pick me up" when my foot was killing me entering Queens. I am happy to hear she is a reader of this blog! It always makes some of the time fly by when you have someone to talk to, so that was cool. I looked up and it was Mile 3 today, so I had the good fortune at that point of feeling like I just had a 10-miler. Alicia is doing Team for Kids again heading toward the next NYC Marathon. I told her I am going to pass and just run the event unattached this time, but I wore my Team for Kids longsleeve shirt on this day and I recruited two possible new members for them after overhearing these women say they aren't sure if they'll get in via the lottery. It was a great experience helping TFK.

I think I went through some different kind of experience this time, kind of a businesslike approach once I hit 6 miles. I don't know what it was, just a different outlook than ever before. Almost like at that point I reminded myself that, Oh yeah, you really do have to put one foot in front of each other for the next half+ of this race, bud. It's as if I had run so many Halfs before and early on it was like I had thought it was a foregone conclusion I was going to kick butt or something...and then midway through your brain tells you to humble the hell up and focus on your form with your arm swing and your stride and running tall. Maybe some other runners will appreciate what I am saying, I am not even really sure I am explaining it well. It's not like I'm fast or anything, I just had a reality check of some kind at the midway point. Whatever the case, I felt pretty focused in the second half, and I blocked out the walk-time temptations more than usual.

In fact, I ran a negative split today! What's that all about? I think it was right there at Mile 6 or 7. It was obviously wherever there was not a fluid station (and walk) during that mile, probably the seventh. But the mile after that I added 20 or 30 seconds, and then a little more the mile after that. When I arrived at Prospect Park for the last few miles, I felt I was going to be able to hit the 2:10 area, and that's when I had to go to the bathroom.

This happened last year. Only here it gets comical. At Mile 12 I finally find a portapotty -- I had 3 Immodiums in the previous 24 hours and I will leave TMI at that -- and there were two of them. The little red lock was visible, and I kept asking loudly if anyone is in there. Valuable seconds were ticking off. Finally I could not stand it anymore, losing time on my finish and really having to go. So I bolted back into the pack, and of course then someone came out. I lost a minute thanks to that little snafu. It just shows you how time can add up in these races.

I was proud of myself pouring it on up the hills of Prospect Park. That included the final 200 or 400 meters, straight uphill, and I was just churning. I felt good about that -- no cramps unlike this race last year, having also consumed Life water before the race and the usual water/Gatorade fueling. I believe that so much of this is mental, as my endurance keeps improving every month and my desire to walk gradually lessens. I finished at the midpoint mark (48.4 percentile) within my age group, too, after being a back-of-the-packer for all those months, and I finished No. 2989 among men in another pretty crowded field (I think there were something like 350,000 finishers...ahaha).

After getting my bagel and getting my race picture taken by myself and with fellow Big Cat Racing Team member Runner aka La Lynx, I headed for the yellow schoolbus that had the zero on it, matching the last digit in my bib number (8970). My blue bag was on there as I had left it before the start of the race. I got out my sweatshirt and my new Blackberry Curve (which I love!), and I stretched a bit and asked another runner if she would please take a victory shot, which I promptly texted to my awesome friend Maura, who emailed it around.

I went home and was eager to get in a bath. Then I iced my sore left Achilles tendon, and put a bag of frozen peas on my right knee, which has been a little sore just under the lower part of the kneecap. I had a slice of chocolate cake from next door. I got a big burger, onion rings and beer. I settled in to watch my favorite new girl to do her part. It was time to watch Eight Belles win the Kentucky Derby.

I had seen something in her in watching Derby entrant videos earlier in the week on She had run a four-horse race in which she surged late to the lead, then was overtaken, and then got pissy and refused to lose, bolting to the wire. She was big, like the boys. Great closing speed. I had a feeling this was her year, her race. I told everyone, and when the race finally began, I was yelling at the TV. Go baby go!

Eight Belles was just like me on this day. She just ran and ran and toward the last fourth of the race, she was right there in position for something individually great. She led entering the final turn, with glory ahead. Feeling great, obviously. I was texting back and forth with others. I couldn't believe it. Then came Big Brown, just too strong, too perfect a racehorse on this day. I called a 5-20-10 trifecta, and it was 20-5, with Colonel John not finishing in the money.

I was still happy with that, just thrilled for Eight Belles after she ran such a beautiful race and showed she belonged. I just felt a connection. Then, all of a sudden, ABC tells us that Eight Belles is down on the dirt, while we are watching the surreal scene of Big Brown's ownership group celebrating. The place is too big; no one knows what's going on there. I've been to enough major sports events, including the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, to know that is suddenly becomes chaos. I had been to the 2001 Daytona and was the last person ever to take a photo of Dale Earnhardt's face when he was alive, and I remember how that ended with chaos and rumors. Then I am watching the ABC turf reporter, and he has the doctor right there, and then finally he says the word "unfortunately"...

Oh, no.

It couldn't be.

He said the word "euthanize" -- and for the longest second of my life, I had to stop and think about what the word means again. It wasn't a human term. It was the word we usually use when we talk about trying to rescue cats and dogs from pounds before they are killed. After that pregnant pause, it hit me hard that Eight Belles was no more.

I was devastated the rest of the night. Still am. She was such a beautiful horse, such a beautiful spirit. She snapped both ankles pulling up after the finish, why I still have no idea, and the doctor said there was no alternative. I will never understand that in my life. I am amazed that science cannot figure out how to save horses with fractured bones. It was so crushing, and it made it seem like my own dinky PR in a Brooklyn Half-Marathon was so long ago and forgotten.

Eight Belles, you will never be forgotten. What an athlete you were.