Friday, May 10, 2013

One

I wasn't sure about you in the beginning, Caleb. Before you were born, I mean. Because even though your father doesn't look it, I am, in fact, 45 years old, which is pretty old to be procreating in my opinion (one not shared by Tony Randall) and I'm going to be REALLY old when you're in say, high school and Mom and Dad are counting the seconds to retirement or when you're in college and we're rolling around the country in a Winnebago and wearing bifocals on chains around our necks. So yeah, your Mom had to kinda talk me into you. Which brings me, on this, your first birthday, to a crucial lesson:

Your Mom is always right.

When I first saw you, the doctor had you by a single, skinny leg and was trying to yank you out of your mother. Except you wouldn't come out all the way. Your head got stuck and I was like, "Oh my god, he's going to have a giant head" and for what seemed like long minutes all I saw was your body, and you apparently weren't too jazzed about this situation either because you started peeing and pooping while suspended upside down by a single, skinny leg. The doctor finally sprung your head free and there you were, ten fingers and ten toes, screaming and red and angry and peeing and pooping and the most beautiful thing in the world.

You had a full head of awesome, dark hair (like your Dad, who, despite his age, has managed to stay follicley relevant) and you looked like a bird with your alert eyes. At only three days old, you were trying to lift your head because you wanted to know what was going on in the world, a trait you've shown this entire year, whether it's looking out the back window at the trees and flowers or chasing after other kids at the park.

We didn't quite know how to react to you, awash as we were in wonder. Your Mom had spent the previous few years thinking Motherhood wasn't going to happen for her and was busy making her peace with that when I kinda jumped into her life with both feet. As I said, she had to convince me that you would be more fun than golf vacations and rock and roll shows and getting blackout drunk in San Diego boutique hotels (as a theoretical example) and if there was even a shred of skepticism left in me, it all went away on the day we brought you home from the hospital last year. It was a Sunday and I went to get the car while they wheeled your Mother and you downstairs. When I pulled up next to you guys, I saw your mother was crying. Not crying softly but full-on bawling her eyes out and I ran over in a mild panic and asked what was wrong.

"Everybody keeps wishing me a Happy Mother's Day," she said (barely, I mean, there was a whole bunch of snot going on there with the tears and all, so it's a good thing we had all those baby wipes on hand).

And that, son, that feeling your Mom felt right then, that is the one you give us every day. Gratitude and joy and happiness. You are our Little Blessing. The way your whole face smiles when you're happy. The way you lower your forehead to mine to give "love." The way you laugh when AJ and I chase you up the stairs. The mornings when you lay in your crib talking before we even come to get you. It's even okay that your first word was "dog" and not "Mama" or "Dada" (though thanks for getting to the latter before the former).

I know this is supposed to be All About You, but you've also had this unforeseen side effect. Having a baby around the house again, made me remember a lot about your big brother when he was your age. You both have some similar behaviors, but it wasn't just that. A moment or a trait of AJ's would come to me while I rocked you and I'd get to reflect on that and appreciate it more because...well..this doesn't concern you...but so many of my memories of that time were tainted. You could even say I blacked them out or locked them away, which I'm willing to admit isn't the best response ever, but it was less painful that way and I've gotten to re-live a lot of that time thanks to you and I've enjoyed "seeing" AJ as a baby again and I wanted to thank you so much for that gift.

You've got a lot of living to do yet and yes, your parents are kind of exhausted most of the time, not to mention the last six weeks where we've been trading sickness back and forth, some kind of super-resistant Death Germ which is trapped somewhere in the home, so we'll have a little shindig for you this weekend, congratulate you for making it to the one-year mark with an acceptable number of concussions and poop disasters. But after that, it's time to get back to the business of growing up. I see walking is right around the corner and within a couple months I expect some subject-verb-predicate sentences out of you. You've given us so many wonderful moments this past year and that's both good and bad. You've set the bar pretty high there, buddy, so it's not going to be easy to keep up those standards. I don't want to be writing this next year and having to tell these nice people that you've sloughed off.

Like I always tell you and your brother, you two are the best things in life. Be good to your mother. Listen to her. Always tell her you love her. She's the reason you're here. And the reason you're awesome. Happy Birthday, buddy.

Love, Daddy



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Errata

A few spare notes about my recent posts, which didn't make it in thanks to non-relevance or forgetfulness on my part or, mostly, space. Honestly, thanks to everyone who read the running post. I know it wasn't easy. It took Emet three days to get through it and she likes me more than you guys (most days). I had another 800 or so words in there that I took out, too. So, you're welcome for that.

I figured one thing out a few days later about the running and that is that I was not prepared for the mental aspect of it. The discipline, I got, but more in the manner of "doing" the run, rather than "running" the run. By that I mean I didn't have any problem doing each of my runs. I did have a problem varying them, both in the way I ran them and where I ran them. Too much of it was the same and that contributed to a less enjoying experience--as I alluded to. The experience of actually running was less enjoyable because I didn't have a plan most of the time, aside from, "Hey! I have to run 2.5 miles tomorrow."

What illuminated this was the way I attacked the actual race. I had a plan. And I ended up way better than that plan. Because I kept my brain focused on what I was doing--pace, form, positive thinking. Beyond that, there's the mental strength to overcome the pain, which I also talked about. So yeah, I think that will help going forward.

*

I had mentioned on Twitter (and shown a pic on Facebook) that the results showed I finished in 3rd place in my age group and 38th overall. I found both of those statistics to be shocking and somewhat ridiculous and it turns out I was right. They had some issues with the timing and when the official results were posted a few days later, I was listed 8th amongst the 40-49 males of the Inland Empire (and 62nd overall), which is fine and appropriate and doesn't bother me at all. Except for missing 7th by eight-tenths of a second. I could have totally caught that guy.

*

The Magic Baby post over at Ocelot Sports is probably my favorite thing I've written in I don't know how long. It just ran out of me and was mostly done in 15 minutes and ready to post with a couple tweaks here and there which is really fun when it happens to a writer but also terrible if one forgets to even think of including a couple salient facts, which is what I did by not mentioning that the very idea of a Magic Baby was first given voice by Dawn, who asked to rent him out for a Yale/Harvard game and then became an Early Adopter of his Gospel and I should have noted that, since she is the sole reason he's become a worldwide phenomenon and also so she wouldn't have sub-tweeted the ever-loving shit out of me.

Having said that, I don't think she became a True Believer until the Magic Baby whooped up on Tawmmy and Giselle's ugly ass kid.

*

The Rooster was trolling me the other day, because he likes to do that (randomly, inexplicably). Here's what he said:

Light the candles...pull out the old pen and paper...and write
bleed on the paper again, Speaker.
go to that dark place

I can dig that. I know everybody liked my train wreck of a life and I did too, in a way. If I wasn't able to throw all of that shit out there, get it into the light of day, so I could a) deal with it and b) figure out a bunch of it didn't matter so I wouldn't have to deal with it, I would not have been able to get to where I am now which is such a gift (just like life! So wrap yourself carefully!). But nobody wants to hear that happy crappy shit. And I certainly don't want to write it. Partly because I'm not a big fan of bringing the sappy, but also because I like having it for me and those close to me. So, you know, The Rooster can go fuck himself.

*

Me: (Screaming at the TV with the sports people running fast)
Emet: Are you calling him 'La-Mike?'"
Me: Yeah. His name is LaMichael James.
Emet: (Pause...beleaguered look) You're an idiot.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Five Thousand Words on Five Thousand Meters

When I was 14, I ran a 10k race with my friend John. It was the Devil Mountain Run circa 1982, a very popular race up in the Bay Area, lotta people--aging hippies mostly--dressed in short shorts and headbands and Sauconys. As John and I waded through the mass of humanity prior to the start, I grabbed at his shirt. “Why we behind all these people?” I asked. “Why don’t we start up front?” He waited a beat before asking, “Why? Do you think you’re going to win?”

His question seemed ludicrous to me.  I suppose I didn’t think I was going to win, but I certainly never thought about anything other than wanting to win, TRYING to win. Why else was I out there?  For fun? Don’t make me laugh. It’s a race. It’s not…bleh…exercise. Is it?

*

Anyways…all I have to say is….

Jerks.  We used to just get drunk and gamble together and then you all had to go get all "fit" and "healthy" and start talking about PRs instead of Pai Gows.

Fine. I ran a 5k this weekend. I hate you all.

*

Now, I am not a complete newbie when it comes to running, racing being one of the many indulgences I entertained in the brief windows between soccer seasons. The first, when I was 10 years old, was an AAU cross-country competition. I saw a newspaper ad, pestered my Mom into taking me. The race was two days away. Not a problem. I was plenty fit from soccer. So we went. I finished 10th, posting a mile-and-a-half time of 8:51.

Pretty quick, right? I was a full minute behind the winner, but left another 30 or so kids weeping in their tube socks. The upshot of finishing 10th was that I advanced to the next round. It turns out the AAU meet I attended was a sectional qualifier for the National Junior Olympics. I was on to the regionals.

I finished 13th there, despite the fact that I fell down. My time was slower, though I do not remember exactly what it was. Falling down certainly didn’t help my cause and the course was much tougher, multiple changes-of-elevation, part of it on a hillside trail, a hillside made muddy by frequent rains where I took a mis-step and slid 15-feet down, before scrambling up and back into the race. Regardless, 13th qualified me for the National Seminfinals. In Vegas!

Which is where my racing career ended for a time. We did not go to Vegas. My parents, who already spent money they did not always have to send me to socccer tournaments all over the continent (including Vegas) put down their collective feet, while also trying to assuage my competitive fire (inferno?) by correctly stating that 13th at the regionals didn’t exactly make me a favorite going forward.

*

Emet went back to work right after Thanksgiving. A difficult time for her, but also for me, because I had been skating since May 10th. I no longer had to get up at an ungodly hour to walk the dog every morning. Since Emet was home, she took both baby and dog on long sojourns and also to the dog park, where she joined something of a daily coffee klatch with other perople without jobs.

With her return to the classroom, the task—care of Reggie, The Dog Who Must Be Walked—returned to me. At 5:30 a.m. Every day.

I decided to compound my new misery by doing some running in the morning, ostensibly to get Reggie his required exercise, but also because…well…I didn’t really artuclate it at the time, but walking him bored me. I needed some motivation to get out of bed. In the dead of winter. And all that rabble about running must have permeated my brain. “Hey! I have an idea!”

Fuckers.

*

I ran track in junior high, both for my school and for the club sponsored by the local Catholic Church. I ran the mile, though I filled in in the 880 (screw you, metric system!) on occasion. The entire distance running contingent at junior high was made up of guys on my soccer team. Five of us (although only four got to race in meets), all of whom could go under six minutes.

Before that first season began, our coach showed us all the “school records” and the one for the mile seemed well within reach. I took that opportunity to mention, perhaps a little brashly and loudly, that I was going to break that record. Which I did. In the first race. Except I finished second behind one of my teammates, Steve, who now held the new record.

I didn’t feel particularly bad about that.

Hahahahahaha. Totally lying. I was furious. And then I went to school the next day and saw "Way to break the record, fag" written on my locker.

Apparently someone didn’t like my braggadocio. I know who that person was (not Steve), but hey, technically I did break the record I said I was gonna break. Just that it wasn’t the record any more.

Nor was it the record after the next race, which I won, out-sprinting Steve in the last 220 (yards, bitches!) and beating him by a couple feet. 5:29.4. Will never forget that number or the race. When we came around the last bend, we were flying, as fast as we could possibly go at that point, and we were stride for stride and the effort, the sheer will, pushed our inertia wide and down there at the finish line, 80 or so yards away, they had to stretch the tape out. And Steve and I watched them do it, pull the string from the first couple lanes all the way to the outside lane and that was the goal, that was where we were headed and I can’t even say when I edged ahead, because all I was looking at was the tape.

One of the defining moments of my youth. I am not joking when I tell you that race repaired at least two fractured relationships, which is a long story(ies) best reserved for never.

Anyways, when I was 12, I could run a mile in 5:29.4. Which became something of a frustration for me as I started this particular journey.

*

I looked over the Couch to 5k schedule and scoffed. Heh. I’m an athlete. Sure, I’m out of shape, but this heart and these lungs have been built up over a lifetime. They are not the vital body organs of a sloth. So, naturally, I started off at Week 3. And cut the walking time.

Reggie didn’t quite know what to make of this strange new ritual. No more stopping at every smell and tree? Thankfully, he caught on quickly, after a few days of jumping at me and playing tug o' war with the leash. 

I found I no longer dreaded 5:30 a.m. I hopped out of bed and got to it. I also did this on the non-running days, when we "briskly" walked for 30 minutes, while, at the same time, thinking “I could probably run today and feel fine,” but I resisted, owing to my last two attempts at Operation Return to Fitness, when I’d over-extended myself in the first weeks and then couldn’t continue due to soreness, strains, defeatism and humiliation.

It was going well for a couple of weeks. Legs felt heavy but not sore, wind was solid most days. I felt refreshed and energetic and remembered to stretch after the workout. It was going so well I bought a long-sleeve shirt to run in.

That’s when you know I’m getting serious, when I start with the wardrobe.

*

It was the summer before my freshman year when I asked my parents if I could run a 10k. My mom was a little concerned, what with soccer season coming up and the fact that I’d never run that far. “You have to prove to me you can make it, first,” she said.

"Fine, let’s go."

We mapped a 6.2 mile trek in the car, using the back roads near our house and off I went. I finished the trail twice, running it in consecutive weeks (this is probably not how one trains for a 10k, I’m guessing) and then signed up for the race.

I went out too fast, adrenaline pumping, blood on fire (inferno?), nearly died during the fourth mile, shuffled for a while, but finished strong. I do not remember enjoying it. Of course, I didn’t win. In fact, an older guy (I was 14, so when I say “older” that means he was anywhere from 25 to 50, but I’m guessing mid-30s) jumped in front of me, nearly toppling us both, right at the finish line chute, I assume because he didn’t want to lose to a 10-year-old (I was still very small for my age, so he probably thought I was 10) and it PISSED ME OFF. If I’d known he was gaining, I’d have put a hip in his way.

The thing about it is, I did not have a good time. I didn’t like running. To my mind, running was punishment. At the start of the soccer season, we had “Hell Week.” All conditioning—running—all the time. When we screwed around at practice, we had to run "Grand Tours," which were full laps up and down hills around huge Kellman Fields. Punishment. Bad connotations. And so that 10k was the point where running and I parted ways as a source of fun or pride or anything. Like Jerry Seinfeld, “I choose not to run!”

*

It was a few days before Christmas where I felt I was going to face the first real test of the program: doing two miles without walking. Well, let me take that somewhat back. I knew I could run two miles. I just wasn’t entirely sure I could run it quickly. I was pushing myself at a pretty good pace previously, but that was always knowing that I had a 3-to-5 minute walk coming to me.

Not this day.

It was 32 degrees when Reggie and I stepped out of the house that day. It was the first time in his entire dog-life he hesitated prior to a "walk." He sniffed the air, raised his eyebrows at me and looked up, "You sure about this, man?"

Heck yeah.

I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about my time, but I did take solace in the fact I ran the second mile as fast as I ran the first.

I wasn’t cold once I got going, except for my hands, so I made a mental note to get some running gloves (a mental note I passed on to AJ just in time for Christmas).

*

Seriously, you shoulda seen me. My family fed my new obsession at Christmas. Black racing tights. Bright red Nike half-zip Dri-Fit running jacket. Gloves! No more walking. We dress like a runner now.

I was a little more than three weeks out from the race and…well…I had to admit a couple things to myself.

1. I look pretty awesome in racing tights
2. I was going to hate my race time

I wasn’t going to be over 10 minutes per mile (roughly the pace the Couch to 5K plan advocates). Or at least I hadn’t been at any point during training. But there was no real time to work on speed. Maybe if I’d started a month earlier. No time for  intervals (training term!) or the like. I was just going to be able to get my lungs, heart and legs ready to carry me over 3.1.

I suppose that was the idea, but I guess I didn’t feel like I was “accomplishing” anything. I felt like I was training for something, which is different, and it held all manner of positive factors, discipline being Number One, but did I feel pride? I don’t think so. It’s something else and darned if I can put my finger on it right now.

*

It was cold and dark outside when Reggie and I hit the trail a couple days before the New Year. My suburban hamlet is lousy with running/walking/biking/horse trails and the one a block up from my house is popular. My neighborhood is hilly, but the trail is more flat, so I go back and forth. It’s not the most exciting scenery in the world, though as dawn creeps during Mile Two, I notice the leaves have changed color to golden red. It’s like fall, deep in the recesses of winter. They won’t last long that color, not when the rain starts after the turn of the year. That’s when the San Bernardino mountain range, hard to the north of where I’m running, will get dusted with snow and the wind that careens down their slopes will pick up the chill and give Reggie and I more incentive to get back into the warmth of the house.

On this particular day, I scared the crap out of three ladies speed-walking on the trail. It’s still dark and they’re talking loudly to each other and don’t hear us approach from behind, try as I might to make myself known with thunderous man-strides. They recover from their fright and let us by, cooing when they notice Reggie, whom I have to drag behind me me for 100 yards or so as he looks back at them flirting and wondering if he’d have gotten a scruff scratch had I let him stop to say "hello."

Even though he knows we don’t stop any more.

We hit the main street running perpendicular to the trail and turn around, moving across the street to keep Reg from gawking at the loud ladies who I now see are running and…hey…we are the same, we are legion, we are "Runners." I thrust a fist of solidarity at them as we pass.

The trail going east has a slight, if steady incline and I drop my pace. I no longer feel the cold; my hands are warmed by my fresh new gloves and Reggie is keeping good time, has yet to dart in front of me because of some far off rabbit sniffing at scrub on the hillside or a daring coyote slipping into the open field between tracts hoping to find a field mouse or an outdoor cat. I’m not listening to music. I decided not to when I started. Not sure why, but I prefer it this way. Something about trying to be one with my breath, void of distractions, concentrating on stride, letting peaceful thoughts into my quiet head, centering my motherfucking chi.

I run across the second main street, which is much quieter, and I think about what it all means and it’s strange because I’m not yet sure if I’m enjoying this. I’m feeling challenged and fight to keep my form, but it’s not actually fun. Perhaps when I reach a certain level when the run is longer--more of a journey, not just back and forth on the same trail--it will make more sense in that aspect. Yet, I look forward to doing it. I much prefer the mornings when we run to the ones when we recover and walk. I’m perusing running websites for clothes and gear. And, afterward, when Reggie and I are back in the house and it’s too too warm because the heat is on and I stretch and groan and peel off the layers and get into the shower, I can’t help but enjoy it then, because I’ve done it. I’ve finished the day’s task, the one I may or may not have had anxiety dreams about at 2 a.m. I’m gassed, but also cleansed, and it feels like I’ve taken the lead on the day. 

And yet, the physical act of running, the pleasure I would like to find in the endeavor itself, remains lacking.

*

The first time I woke up not wanting to run was New Year’s Day. I ascribed this to the previous night’s activities. Only AJ and I made it to midnight and of the two of us, I was the only one drinking Templeton Rye when the ball dropped, so raising my head from the pillow was a difficult chore. At the same time, there was never a question in my mind that I would get up (eventually…c’mon….just give me a few more minutes) and tackle that day’s miles.

Which is a victory in and of itself. And when I decided on a new route just to change things up and sweated out a few ounces of small batch whiskey, I decided to get cute and tackle a hill at about the two-mile mark and dadgum it if I didn’t surmount that hill and—after a brief period of slowed pace on flat ground—finished strong with Reggie behind me having to be hustled along (it can skew your time when you are dragging 40 lbs. of mutt behind you).

That run felt like a victory for discipline and only added to my buzz for the Rose Bowl, which was won by my beloved Stanford Cardinal in a flurry of defense (them) and bloody marys (me).

*

That New Year’s week, I decided to further tweak the program upon which I’d embarked. As I’ve said, I felt a little silly doing the program, just because I don't live an idle life. I'm active and though I wouldn’t have said I was "in shape," when I began this, I could’ve pulled useful shifts in a soccer match if called upon and not done great disservice to my body or to the beautiful game. What I wanted was to feel more challenged, so I went ahead and sped up my "sensible" pace and that was fine, but what I really wanted to do was get the distance under my belt earlier, a couple weeks before the gun goes off. So I passed over the week of 2.75-mile runs and went  straight from 2.5 miles to 3 miles. So I can maybe go to 3.5 or 4 miles before the race. Maybe not. We race in 16 days.

Oh, did I mentioned I signed up to race?

*

I will be tackling the Ontario Mills 5k/10k, sponsored by The Christian Okoye Foundation. That’s right, baby. The Nigerian Nightmare! Proceeds go to children’s sports programs in the area, which is really the only thing to recommend this particular race (that and it was scheduled on the weekend after I finished the program and it’s five miles from my house) because the course is flat and boring, as in, it’s two laps around the parking lot of the outlet mall. Not any nature or sights to see. “Hey cool! There’s the Bed, Bath and Beyond!”

Still, The Nigerian Nightmare!

*

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been writing this as it happened, journaling, if you will, with the grand idea that the final paragraphs will include the race and my feeling of triumph and accomplishment and the awed hugs of my wife and kids, but most importantly—I thought—my time, which would be impressive despite it all, or a mild disappointment (likely scenario) or neither one of those things. And what I’ve come to realize is that the race doesn’t matter in the larger implications of the undertaking.

Nope, not about the race at all (even though I am looking forward to it and my family is excited to go and support me). We are, after all, talking about a mere 3.1 miles. This is not Hannibal giddyuping a bunch of elephants over the Alps. If hard-pressed before doing the training, say for $100, I could have probably jogged my way for 3.1 miles without stopping as long as time wasn’t a factor. No, it’s no great accomplishment. It is, however, a sign-post. It’s the thing that got me to the starting line. And it is most definitely not the finish.

I got into pretty good shape a few years ago, right before the time I met Emet (who was undoubtedly impressed by my slender, yet powerful, physique). But I didn’t make those workouts a lifestyle choice. It was a finite program that I finished and just sort of stopped doing (because it was boring and because I then pulled a quad playing soccer). It ended and so did I and it did not leave the lasting import of a change, a change in attitude and lifestyle.

I’m kind of hoping that’s what this is. I have an eight-month-old son, you know, and at 45, one begins to question mortality on a larger scale. I’d like to have another 40 years to hang out with my wife and boys and not just as a presence but a participant. And that’s what has be amped and excited. Not the race.

*

I’ve said countless times, even to a few of you cultists/runners, that you’d never ensnare me. That I love competition above all. That I’ll happily and readily enter into a contest of will or strength or skill for the opportunity to compete and win. But exercise? Not my bag, baby.

And even now, as mentioned earlier, I don’t know what it is that has me inspired to get out of bed on those running days. I like the fact that I have more energy (never a bad thing with an 8-month-old in the house). I like sweating when it’s cold outside. I like the way I look in this gray Nike shirt (I didn’t tell you I bought a gray Nike half-zip Dri-Fit racing jacket? I did). I like saying "Good morning" to others I see on the trail. I like bonding with my dog. Let me extrapolate on that a little. Is this silly or common thing? I love having Reggie with me. He was feeling a little under the weather last week (eating raw bratwurst off the kitchen counter will do that to you) and when I went to bed, I had him listed as doubtful. But the alarm went off and there he was, paws on the bed, tongue in my face, tail slapping the air. And I was happy! Happy he was good to go. But back to the point, what is the thing? I don’t know. And if you think I’m building up to some big reveal, where I have my Road to Damascus moment, I’m not. I’m truly bewildered.

*

I have begun to train like a race horse. The race is eight days away. I have the distance under my belt. More, even. I’ve taken a couple long (four mile) leisurely jogs. I’ve run the 5k distance at a targeted pace for each mile, trying to go progressively faster. I’m obsessed with my statistics--no surprise to anyone who knows me--at the end, animatedly relaying them to Emet.

Oddly, I don’t care what my race time is going to be. I’d like it to be under 26 minutes. That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

But I don’t really give that much of a shit.

Not like I will next time.

I think I’m getting the competition part of this now.

*

Have I ever shown you my pinkie? The one on my right hand? It’s deformed ("like an injured bird," I once wrote, hackily), thick to the first knuckle, skinny and slightly bent from there. I broke it playing basketball in college. To be precise, I broke it in warmups for a fraternity intramural game reaching up for a rebound and it went wrong and snapped.

I taped it to my ring finger and played the game.

This is not an isolated incident. I walked around for three months with a broken bone in my wrist because I didn’t want to get it casted until after soccer season was over. About a year ago, I injured my right elbow (probably repetitive stress syndrome from hitting 400 balls a week at the range). I just put a brace on it and take some Advil before I play golf.

I have zero issues with pain. I think this may be the thing. Because when I get that stitch in my side, or my legs start to get a little heavy or I’m heaving a bit while trying to snag a full breath, I get mad. I fight it. I push through. I finish the run with as much speed as I can muster.

And that is what fires me up. That’s what makes me throw in a Darryl Sutter Fist Pump at the end of the run. That’s "the thing." Or one of the the things.

I like that it hurts. I finished my third-to-last run before the race today. I “sprinted” the last quarter-mile, by which I mean I ran as fast as I could. My stomach muscles were barking. It was awesome.

*

In retrospect, it probably wasn't the greatest idea I've ever had to play 32 holes of golf three days before the race, especially after I ran that very same morning. My right hammy is barking (the one I use to drive my hips forward on downswing) and my right achilles has seen better moments. Damn it.

I was feeling pretty good after the morning run, too. I took a page from the horseman's notebook and decided to run a "tightener" for my last training before the race, somewhat akin to a horse going a quick four furlongs the week before taking to the track and going six.

You know, when I write that down, it makes much less sense than it did in my head.

Regardless, I wanted to do two miles, relatively quickly, at a faster pace than I'd be able to do 3.1 anyway. I managed it, coming home in 15:33, which was quicker than I'd intended. but also would have made me puff out my chest if wasn't bend over at the waist gasping and trying to get enough saliva in my mouth to spit.

Now it's a day later and I'm hoping the tweaks I've done to my body will ease in the next 48 hours. I don't want any excuses. I'm starting to fire myself up and, though the time really doesn't matter. Crap, I say that, and, let's be honest, it's a defense mechanism for the feeling that I'm so.....so......so.......slow, like an-elderly-man-driving-a-car-in-the-rain-slow, like a hobbled-snail slow, like a homeless-person-at-an-ATM slow. Of course the time matters, but it matters in a way where I want to finish just a little bit faster than my estimate/plan. I'm trying not to let it matter in the grand scheme of things (SO SLOW) and remember that it's only been a couple months.

*

When I crossed the finish line, I didn't really feel it. When I saw Emet and AJ and Caleb, I didn't really feel it. After I stretched and cooled down a little, I felt it.

Pride.

Race day was a beautiful one, sunny and blue and clear and quiet and I hardly needed the cap or race shirt, but I wore them anyway because, in my mind's eye, that is what I saw when I raced. Two laps around the mall.

I had a plan, of course. First two miles at and 8:20 pace and the rest at 8:00 or faster, if I could manage it. I knew the biggest issue would be reining in the adrenaline at the start, not chasing after the hotshots or being embarrassed by the 12-year-olds leaving me in the dust. Just sticking with the pace. It worked, sort of. Based on my app, I did run the first mile in a reasonable 8:14, but the chart also shows that I was up and down like an EKG around that median number. Not exactly smooth and simple.

But I was enjoying it. I really was. Again, I wasn't listening to music. It was just me and the rhythm of my breath and strides and as folks pulled away in front of me and fell behind me, it was almost like I was alone and I thought about all those mornings and my dog and it brought a smile to my face. In truth, I felt like I was hardly running at all. I was simply enjoying the moment.

I was much more consistent during the second mile, which I ran in 8:31. I passed Emet and the boys during that one and was so happy to see them there, cheering for me, even if AJ did scream out, "You're losing to Colby!"

I had no idea who the hell Colby was (AJ's soccer teammate, who beat me by about 45 seconds) and I didn't care. I had my pace going and I had another quarter-mile to go before I had to pick it up for the last 1.1 (actually, the course was officially marked at 3.13 miles). I felt I had plenty of energy, but that I still had to restrain myself, lest I come limping home. I wanted to be going my quickest at the end, at the finish line.

I quickly started picking up runners in the third mile. One woman didn't like it, at least that was my assumption, since she grunted and tried to stay with me when I hit her hip. Even faced with direct competition, I stuck with my gait, trying to be as smooth as possible. I wove my way through a throng of walkers. I dusted a couple high schoolers. And then I could see the finish line and I knew I was going to make it and I strode out a little further and checked my pace and time and yes, I was going to make it.

*

I broke my goal by more than 21 seconds, coming in at 25:38.7. It's the fastest I've run at any point during the program and whether that has to do with adrenaline or running at 8 a.m. as opposed to 5:30 a.m. or not having to sometimes keep a four-legged running companion on pace, I didn't care. The pride came to me and it came in a rush and it was two-fold. One, I made it. Two, I don't always get to win. Sometimes I plan for things and they don't come together or I fall short of a task. Not this time. The race was a tangible success. Eight weeks of work and a single goal, which I didn't just achieve, but achieved beyond what I'd hoped.

Which is the way I felt, too. I felt so much better about it than I imagined I would, a feeling which came upon me surprisingly. And I just.....

I was so grateful that I got to experience it.

*

So, Running Boy, what now? Well, I don’t think I’ll be joining any of you in your marathons. I salute you all for having that as a goal, but I can't see myself being intrigued enough to do that much running. Halfs? I would guess no, but I won't rule it out entirely.

What I want to do in the immediate aftermath is to get some other type of fitness work into the routine, add a couple days a week of strength training, a session of flexibility training/yoga and two or three days of running. I'll have to mix and match and figure it out and see how my body responds, which is the biggest part of it. I've put this body through a lot of things over the last 45 years, both good and bad, and I need it to be functional for 40 more so I can grow old with the people I love.

One last anecdote from the journey (wrap it up already, will ya?). On that day I played 32 holes of golf, I took a break after the first 18 and had a couple wonderful IPAs and a burger in the clubhouse and when I finished them, I had an overwhelming urge to smoke a cigarette. Now, I've been quit long enough to be over the physical cravings, but I swear this was a physical craving and I sat there shaking and trying to fight it off with my brain, when I thought, "Wait, there's no way I can smoke, not with the race coming up."

And it went away. Like poof.

*

So, the journey continues and we'll see what's in store. I am still kind of figuring when we're going to race again. Am I hooked? We'll see. I did do an easy 3.5 miles this morning with Reggie, and when I say "easy," I mean "hungover," thanks to the 49ers and the 38--approximately--Racer 5 IPAs I had yesterday. That's a good sign, right? Yes, it is, so....

On your marks.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Names

My primary role at work in the aftermath of 9/11 was to compile the names of the victims. List after growing list, which we published every Friday for months. It got so I could recite a whole block of names from memory, having ran my eyes over them repeatedly, and I kept reminding myself that this was not just a running tally; the list was fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and people who were loved and needed.

A newsroom is a tough place to be on days like 9/11, like Friday. On both of those days, the only thing I wanted to do was go home and be with my babies. But you put your head down, try to do the job well, and block out the implications. On those days, it's nigh impossible.

As impossible as it is to imagine yourself caught in the middle of these tragedies. I had a split-second on Friday. My boss came to me and said there was a shooting at a school. And he immediately said, "In Connecticut." But there was a beat. So brief as to not even be measurable, but in that moment, every slow-motion fear came rushing at me.  Every synapse seized. Emet is at school. AJ is at school. The baby.

I e-mailed Emet. I pulled up the website of the newspaper near our home. Just to reach out. Flailing. Tears and aching in my heart. A hundred times on Friday and then a hundred more on Saturday.

I was back in the newsroom early on Saturday, unscheduled but necessary. More names. This time, I had to find them. We need quotes, insight. Who, what, when where, why, how? Constant. And the list of the victims, the children, and I wanted to stop and pause and pray on them and hold those names, not let them just go on a list.

At the end of the shift, I met Emet and the baby at a sushi bar. When he hears my voice, my youngest son, Caleb is his name, he snaps his head around, smiles, and holds his arms out. I pull him into me.

AJ was at his Mom's this weekend, but I called him Friday night. "Did your Mom talk to you about what happened?"

"Yes."

"Are you scared?"

"No."

And I told him that was good, he should rightfully feel safe at school and we were both sad and I missed him. When he asks me why, I'll tell him I don't know. I'll also tell him that there's more of us than there are of them, more good than bad, and that's how we can make it better, by being better. To ourselves, to others, to everyone.

*

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

Dawn. Victoria. Mary. Rachel. Anne Marie. Nancy. Lauren.

*

Another list. Another day where we shake our heads and wonder how this has happened again, rage and helplessness in equal parts and there's no easing of either. So you just put your head down, plow through it and honor them with works. Honor them by remembering. Honor them with extra moments in the arms of your loved ones and laughter and compassion and generosity for all people.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Wanted

Our pastor told a story during this morning's service that just wrecked me. He said a girl walked up to the alter a few weeks ago and handed him a letter. Then she simply walked off. He read it and immediately set about trying to find her, without luck.

He read us the letter today. The girl is 13 and has lived in foster homes for much of her life. She's been separated from her sisters, her mother is in jail, her oldest sister is in juve. It was a litany of places, this letter. A list of cities where she'd been shuttled, residences she'd hoped would provide solace, peace, only to be moved elsewhere, five times in five years, sometimes with her little sister, sometimes not. And she wondered, at the end of the letter, if our pastor would pray for her, if he would help her find a place where she was wanted.

Because, how can you have any hope when there's nobody around who wants you?

The story itself was bad enough. The sadness of it came right into me. And I thought of AJ, how I never wanted him to feel that way when X split. How I never wanted him to feel unwanted, how I feared the fallout of our divorce would visit him.

*

I ran into Tony after the service. He's a friend, a sometime golf partner. He fawned over the baby and ruffled AJ's hair. In the midst of the conversation I tried to say something that I feel, something I am so blessed to have, and that's a new chance. I get to experience that love and joy and purpose all over with Caleb and I can appreciate and embrace it like I didn't get to with AJ. But I couldn't tell Tony that, because of the tears in my throat and that 13-year-old girl. I got out a bit of it, and he put his arm around me and we smiled at the baby and ruffled AJ's hair.

Walking out to the car AJ said, "Daddy, did you start to cry?" And I told him yes, and about the girl and that I was sad, but also thankful--so very thankful--for him and Emet and Caleb and that I'm blessed to always feel loved and--way more than that--that he has never felt the pain of what that girl wrote.

*

The pastor said the girl showed up again last night. Her situation isn't any better. But she has hope. And now she has an entire church to try to lift her up. I hope for my boys, but I can't guarantee happiness for them. Life is tribulation. There will be pain. But they will always have us, a place to feel wanted.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Twenty-Five

I had a paper route for much of my childhood. Five days a week, I delivered the Valley Times, a free newspaper, to 70-odd families in my neighborhood. At the end of each month, I'd go door-to-door and ask if families wanted to "subscribe" to this free paper. It was $2.50. I'd usually get about 10, at least half of them from people I knew pretty well who I assume took pity on the kid asking them to pay for something they didn't have to pay for.

It was an annoying piece of business for me. I've never been much of a salesman. But there were incentives, monthly prizes offered by the newspaper to carriers who exceeded the prior month's subscriptions. The more you got, the bigger the prize. Sometimes, the prize was a ticket to an Oakland A's game.

Thanks to the Valley Times, and some particularly industrious collection work by yours truly,  I ended up at the Coliseum one June night in 1982 watching my new favorite team.

*

I grew up in a house full of Giants fans and all my earliest baseball memories are of black and orange and freezing my butt off at Candlestick. But Oakland was closer to where we lived, so I got to see the A's more as I got older, as I cottoned to baseball. The old stone bowl off Hegenberger was where we went for Little League Day. I badgered my Dad into taking me when the Red Sox were in town so I could see Yastzremski play. I was simply a baseball fan and not one of a particular team.

That changed when Billy Martin was hired to manage the A's. In 1980, they surprised everyone by finishing over .500 a year after losing 108 games(!). By the time Opening Day 1981 rolled around, I was impossibly giddy. When they ran off 11 straight wins to begin the year, I was handed a lifetime sentence. I was an A's fan. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated, rare validation in those days. There was the A's starting rotation--Norris, Langford, Keough, McCatty and Kingman--under the header, "The Amazing A's and Their Five Aces."

*

The Amazing-ness didn't last too long. There was a strike that year and oh how cruel that was. Nearly a third of the season lost while the A's were in first place. I was having enough problems with puberty and preparing to enter high school, it's not like I needed my primary fixation taken away from me that summer. Looking back, it's pretty much a microcosm of what it means to be an A's fan. No matter how good things get, there's always something.

Yes, they won the "first half" AL West title and beat the Royals in the post-season before succumbing to the Yankees, predictably, in three straight. No matter. I was giddy for Opening Day 1982.

The pattern was set.

*

It's a strange thing to be at a ballgame by yourself. For me anyway. I have a comment for everything, which is as true now, at 45, as it was then, at 14. On the buss headed to that 1982 game, I tried to engage others in A's conversation. "Can we turn this losing streak around?" "What do you think of the Dan Meyer trade?" I got no takers. So I watched my heroes take on the Royals in silent agony.

I had a sense of entitlement. This was my team. I am at the game. They can't possibly let me down.

Trailing 2-1 in the 9th, with the great Quisenberry on the mound to save it for KC, Jeff Newman stepped to the plate. Great beard on Jeff Newman. He hit one hard, crack of the bat, horsehide in flight, and I exploded out of my seat. I knew they would do it! I knew it.

Amos Otis caught it, comfortably, on the center field warning track and what I felt then was despair. Abject, irrevocable despair. It's a feeling I can conjure to this day, can easily transport myself into that second deck seat. Even as I write--and feel--this, I know it sounds silly. It was not. It was loss.

*

My buddy Kool Breeze is a Reds fan. A couple years ago, when they stunk up the NLDS against the Phillies, I called to offer my condolences. His reaction was something I didn't expect, but recognized. "They don't care about me," he said. Meaning, his fandom, his despair, his loss, was not anything the team and players ever considered.

*

Since that night in 1982, I've stored countless memories of my A's experiences. My mood has risen and fallen with their success and failures. Some players have been moved into my personal Pantheon--Dave Stewart, Carney Lansford, Tim Hudson, Matt Stairs, Mark Ellis, Mike Heath, Eck. Some have angered me to a point nobody would be proud to admit. There have been 20-game win streaks, playoff debacles, waves of injuries, promises unfulfilled, surprises beyond any prognostication.

It's different now. Not my passion for the team, but the way in which I consume the sport. I remember the hilarious and obsessive way I used to hunt for the score, back before the internet and Extra Innings and mlb.com. I remember missing the first couple innings of Game 1 of the ALCS in 1988 because I had to pick up Donny at the bus station. The antennae on my car was busted off, so, in order to hear the game on the radio, Donny had to ride with the window down, sticking his finger where the antennae used to be so we could get reception.

Now, I can get A's news 24/7. I can express my (numerous) opinions on Twitter and message boards. I can read every beat writer. I can read every blog. I can get statistical analysis I don't understand, but still use to make my point. There is no mystery any longer. There is no unique honor like an SI cover. And what this all accomplishes is that I feel more attached to the team than ever. Even if that's a mirage of impersonal interactions via electronics, it feels as if the relationship is more stable and equal, as opposed to the one-sided hero worship of my youth. We're in this together.

*

"They don't care about me," Kool Breeze said. Not like we care about them, he means. That's probably true. But last night...last night.

I spent the last two innings watching their faces. Coco, Yoenis, Brandon, Josh, Cliff, Jarrod. I saw how they felt. Everybody could. Sadness, yes. A feeling of things unfinished? Sure. But also pride. Not a single face in that dugout betrayed the idea that they had done all they could.

That's exactly how I felt. Exactly how 36K in the Coliseum felt. When it ended, they booed a bit, offense at the Tigers jumping around on our mound. But then, remarkably, the cheers got as loud as they'd been all year. They chanted "Let's go Oakland!" and slowly, the players came out of the dugout. They raised their caps to the crowd, turned the full radius of the stadium. The whole team. Milling around, sheepish, but also proud. They hugged. They clapped. And the crowd kept going.

None of us wanted it to end. Winning the World Series would have been awesome. Seeing this A's team get to play more games would have been just as good. The crowd kept cheering and you could see the A's wanting to give them more.

Not necessary, gentlemen. We were just saying, "Thank you." We're in this together. We know you care.

*

I'm bummed out this morning. Not gonna lie. But I'm not unfulfilled. I'm lucky to have gotten on this particular roller coaster. And if I ever feel any differently, I'll remember this team. Every last one of these players is in the Pantheon. And despair? Not remotely.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Unfair

My lovely wife has looked at me strangely quite a bit these past few weeks, all my pacing and hand-wringing while I watched a baseball game. "Fan" comes from "fanatic" and while she likes sports a lot, she's not one who is emotionally invested in any team, does not let her mood become affected by wins or losses. Over sushi last week, I tried to explain to her why I was behaving the way I was.

"I love this team," I said. "I love every last one of 'em. And I want them to win because they deserve it. They're defying everything and everybody with this run and if they fall short, I won't love them any less, but it will be unfair."

Well, they didn't fall short. They staged another remarkable run this last week, another win streak, and an electric finale to win the AL West.

*

The A's are a team of improbable stories. They have a converted catcher at third, a former sweet-swinging first baseman who is now a key cog out of the bullpen, an outfielder at first base, himself a minor-league free-agent who posted a .954 OPS, the Cuban Bo Jackson (I joked when we signed Cespedes that he was the rare FA to sign in Oakland, because Cuba is one place where Oakland seems an upgrade in locale) and a 180 lb. right-fielder who muscled up for 32 home runs.

Stories everywhere. Another is Pat Neshek.

The A's plucked him from the Orioles' AAA club in August and added him to their mix-and-match bullpen. He's a side-winding righty with goofy mechanics and a humorous follow-thru that ends with him looking like a slightly-buzzed flamingo. Once a regular in the Twins 'pen, he'd undergone Tommy John surgery and bounced between AAA and the Bigs the last three years. He did well for us, a good option to get an out or two against right-handers. He gave up a couple big homers but you couldn't get down on him for that. He is Pat Neshek. You don't expect him to be Dennis Eckersley. He contributed to this magical season. He's a member of my favorite A's team ever.

I'm sure you've all heard the story by now. After the A's clinched their playoff spot on Monday night, Neshek's wife went into labor. He flew to Florida to be there for the birth. He tweeted his joy at both his personal and professional luck and his wife gave birth to a son on Tuesday. Less than a day later, the baby died for unknown reasons.

I can't even...

*

In the booze-soaked A's locker room yesterday, A's reliever Ryan Cook gave an eloquent interview. "I can't describe anyone in here as other than 'resilient,'" he said. After being used in his fifth straight game, he talked about how he felt. "I woke up this morning, feeling like crap and I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You gotta figure it out, bud, have to figure out how to get up today,' and as soon as we got out here and saw the crowd and the electricity, that's all it took. These fans are something else."

*

I love this team. I know all A's fans feel the same way. And along with the ecstasy of triumph yesterday, I know they are all hurting for the Neshek family, as well. Twenty-five (plus) brothers in that clubhouse and every one of us who wore green and gold to work today are praying for their comfort and an easing of this terrible burden. I know it's not much, can't even begin to touch their pain and loss, but we're here.   

This is not in any way an attempt to make this about me, but I am reminded of something a friend told me six years ago when I was in my own time of heartbreak and despair. He said, "You have friends who are here to help you up when you fall. Some of us will even carry you for a while. Never forget that."

I never have. I hope the crowd and the cheers and the electricity can carry the Nesheks, even if only for a moment. We love this team.