Finishing

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left–in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.” – Anne Frank

Sometimes finishing is all you can say about something you had done–a book you read that you didn’t particularly care for, a project you undertook with enthusiasm that didn’t quite turn out to be what you’d envisioned, or perhaps a story you wrote that wasn’t as exciting as you thought it would be.

That’s how I feel about my first 40-mile ultra-marathon. I finished. My time was embarrassing, I suffered the final ten miles, and I sit here writing this feeling like a tractor-trailer ran over me.

But there must be something gained by finishing, mustn’t there? If you put your time and effort into something–you sweat, labor, dedicate your time to an endeavor–there must be some measure of a reward. Perhaps the reward is knowing that you stuck it out, didn’t give up, didn’t drop the ball, saw it through to the bitter end. Conversely, if you abandoned the project you certainly wouldn’t have the same sense of accomplishment.

So perhaps finishing is its own reward.

The Naked Bavarian ultra-marathon course around Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA

The Naked Bavarian ultra-marathon course around Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA

When I came in dead last at the end of the day I thanked the race organizers for hanging around, even keeping up the finish banner, clock and all of the equipment. Under the pavilion the grill was still on and they saved some hot pasta, German potato pancakes, and strudel for me. They seemed to take great joy in watching me eat. I sat eating and thinking about the 20-mile loop course, which was scenic and beautiful, and then complemented them on a fine race.

And then something unexpected happened. I heard a woman’s voice. “Here, we have something for you.”

I looked up at a smiling young woman with her arm extended and a white box in her hand.

“You won your age group.”

When I was a young runner, a time my competitive genes fired on all cylinders, I always admired the “Old-timers” who’d come out and compete. Apparently, I am now one of them. Where did the time go?

Simply finishing isn’t so bad after all.

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Watching Clyde

“Treatment comes from outside of you; healing comes from within.” – Andrew Weil

Clyde and his sitter.

Clyde and his sitter.

Jimmy, my firstborn, called the other day and asked if I could watch Clyde this weekend. I never pass up an opportunity to spend time with any of my grand-dogs, plus Clyde and my Golden Bella are buds. Nervous, slightly paranoid, part pit/black lab/and who-knows-what else, Clyde is a sweetie. Just before I hung up the phone I remembered, “I won’t be around on Sunday.”

“Where are you going?” Jimmy asked.

“I registered for an ultra-marathon that was snowed out early this month and rescheduled to this Sunday.”

There you go. Over the past two months I’d written about my Mom, the Rocky movie Creed, ice running, the World Trade Center and aging, and I overlooked a 40-mile ultra-marathon. And this is supposed to be a running blog!

I remember following some ridiculously brutal training regimens for my early marathons that would leave me injured on race day. I’d toe the starting line with aching knees, sore feet and a stiff neck, and then suffer for 26.2 miles.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I got smarter with age, but I have learned to go with what my body gives me. After I qualified and ran Boston in 2005, I made a pact with myself that from then on I would run simply for the joy of running. That’s not to say that my competitive gene doesn’t throb every now and then and I try to outdo myself, but I’ve learned to let my body have a say in whether it’s a good or bad idea.

“Are you ready for it,” Jimmy asked, referring to the race.

“No. Not at all.” There was silence. “But don’t worry, I’ll finish.” I’m also a hard head.IMG_0806.JPG

As running bloggers go, I’m probably inept, but I’m okay with that. As long as I feel good about what I write, the rest will take care of itself.

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All the World is a Stage

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” – Annie DillardScreen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.58.05 PM

After two weeks on the movie set of Creed, the latest in the Rocky saga, I write with a fresh perspective, a view that all the world is a stage. I’ve played a lot of roles in my life–welder, analyst, manager, father, coach, grandfather, and now a soccer hooligan and boxing fan in a stadium rooting for Pretty Ricky Conian from Liverpool. You might see my mug in the movie when it is released in November; you might not. That decision will be made in the editing room. Regardless, the experience was energizing, enlightening and fun.

Studying talented young director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and lead actor Michael B. Jordon (also Fruitvale Station) conduct their daily routine made one thing perfectly clear–we are all actors on the stage of life. The two of them went about their work focused, even while surrounded by cameramen, writers, sound people, coaches, supporting actors, and one thousand stand-ins. Their energy and commitment were a testament to the love of their profession and the art they create.

Whatever roll you play in life–friend, artist, athlete, trainer, teacher, musician, parent, or equestrian–is an opportunity to express yourself. Sometimes your daily routine can become tedious or mundane, that is the time to bear down, focus and work a little harder. The most important thing is to do your best work every time you perform. You might not think you have an audience, but someone is always watching. It could be a passerby, a veteran, a rabbi, a homeless person, or some directionless, impressionable kid who sees you earnestly landscaping the front of a property with determination and a smile on your face and thinks, Hey, that’s a gig I could do.

Don’t take what you do lightly. After all, the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life.Quill-Pen Mini

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Time to Live

“Any day you wake up on this side of the earth is a good day.” – unknown

A friend of mine likes to say that any day he wakes on this side of the earth is a good day. Can’t argue with that logic. We all go through loss–parents, friends, relatives, co-workers, even people who annoy us. Loss is part of life. But as long as you are on this side of the earth it’s time to get on with the business of living. And the closer your relationship with the person you lost, the more you owe it to them to live the fullest life possible.

photoIn the past year I’ve lost my Mom and one of my closest friends. Both of them would be disappointed (actually they’d be pissed-off) if I wasted time grieving, so I carry their memory with me when I go about my daily business. They are with me on long runs through the trails of the Wissahickon with my Golden, when I’m writing an article for a literary journal, or when I’m throwing my grandkids on the bed and jumping on them during a WWF-style Texas Death Match, even when I’m sipping a Guinness. That’s the way they’d want it, so that’s the way it will be.

Loss is a part of life. Loss is a reminder to keep on living. If you are reading this you are on the upside, so get on with it. Live!photo

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Man Plans and God Laughs II

“Many plans and God laughs.” – anonymous

Billy Solo - Hawk MtSaturday morning is the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb in downtown Philadelphia. I started training with a group early this year in a high-rise office building in center city to prepare for the 100-floor Century climb. I would climb in the memory of my buddy Billy who lost his battle with lung cancer last year at the young age of fifty-eight. Billy’s daughter Kristin organized the team to raise money for lung cancer research.

Mom passed away this week. Instead of climbing for Billy I’ll be sitting in church at Mom’s funeral and then celebrating her full and vibrant ninety-two year life at a reception after her burial.

photo“Man plans, and God laughs.” You have to have a plan. Just as important is to accept that life happens and sometimes your plan isn’t what is best for you, regardless what you think. We like to hold on to the familiar. What is familiar is safe. Learn to let go. Letting go opens a world of possibilities.

Saturday I’ll toast Mom’s life with family and friends while I’m climbing for Billy in spirit.

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MaMa’s Big Full Life

“Man, I had a great life.” MaMa and PaPa Bear

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Thirty years ago this past January I stood at my Dad’s gravesite and told a crowd of family, friends and relatives a story that went something like this: “If Dad was standing here with us he’d say, ‘Man, I had a great life.'”

photoMom passed this morning, just weeks short of her 93rd birthday. She battled neuropathy, diabetes, renal disease, and a list of other medical complications that would make WebMD blush. Mom went to dialysis three times a week for six years, never missing a day. Dialysis kicks the crap out of most patients, sapping their energy and motivation to conduct their day-to-day activities. I’d pick up Mom after a four-hour dialysis process and she’d look like she just finished a hair salon appointment and we’d go to a restaurant and pig out.

Mom & I, Circa 1990.

Mom & I, Circa 1990.

I’m certain if Mom was sitting here at the laptop she’d write, “Man, I had a great life.” Is there a more heartening, joyous phrase to utter when the final bell rings to enter the next dimension? I mean really?

Mom and Dad lived in a row house in Philly. Mom drove a Ford Escort, never had a career or hit the lottery, but she was wealthier than many people who live in mansions and drive Mercedes. Proof? The swell of people who stopped by her room in her final days with eyes welling and voices cracking. And the fail-proof sign of a life well-lived–that eternal glimmer in her eye.

MaMa lived a big, full life. We could only be so lucky when the final bell is about to ring to say, “Man, I had a great life.”

Mom, still up for a selfie.

Mom, still up for a selfie at 92.

 

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Do It For The Joy

“If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” – Steven King

Steven King, the wildly successful author, is talking about writing when he talks about joy, but his observation leads to the question, “Why do you do whatever it is that you do?” Do you think about your vocation or avocation the first waking moment of each day, or when you are sitting in a traffic jam on the freeway? Do you get excited when you share your enthusiasm about why you run, write, woodwork, cook, sew, play a musical instrument, grow an organic garden, take photographs, build a house?

I lifted “If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever” from King’s book On Writing. I’ve never read a King novel. His stories are not my genre. The only reason I read On Writing is because it is a highly recommended book about writing and I am a writer. But once I read the book it became apparent why his novels have sold more than 100 million copies. The passion and enthusiasm he has for his craft oozes from every page. King, I believe, would write his stories for nothing. The sheer joy he gets from telling his stories and perfecting his craft is what drives him.

Philly Run - Rocky - PGIf you want to determine whether someone loves what they do, ask them the question and then watch for animation in their gestures, enthusiasm in their voice, a glimmer in their eyes. I witnessed such passion this past week casting as an extra in Creed, the new Rocky movie that will be released in November. It was my first time on a movie set and I was curious and excited, not for the meager wage or for stories to tell friends, but to experience the creation of a story on film. Instead I got a rare opportunity to witness the energy of a unique young director orchestrate actors, filming crew, writers and coordinators in performing their craft so joyfully and enthusiastically it was a truly transcendental and contagious experience.

It got me thinking about other vocations and avocations, in other words, Why you do what you do. Even something as simple and primal as running. How many runners make a living from their sport, yet how many do you see on the road and on the trails? If none of them are paid to labour and sweat, then they must possess passion for what they do. So many decades have passed since I began running that I can’t remember with 100% certainty why I ever started, but forty-plus years later I run for the pure joy of it, that sensation of perspiration dripping from every pore in my body, the freedom of the outdoors, the panting of my heartbeat, and the liberating feeling that stays with me long after I take my last step.

I run for the joy of running, and I write for the joy of writing.

Find your passion, that one thing that drives you, puts a glimmer in your eye. Even if it takes a lifetime, you will be glad when you find it.

Mural on the side of the former Blue Horizon on North Broad Street, Philadelphia.

Mural on the side of the former Blue Horizon on North Broad Street, Philadelphia.

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