Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Uh, Waiter..."

With the school year over, summer is over, if not quite yet literally, definitely figuratively. With that change, and training with the team at a premium, the pouring rain was most definitely not welcome. Nainesh told me that coach had said practice was on, if it was raining lightly. With visibility very poor, I knew practice was off. Disappointed, I realized I would have to go to plan B, training at the gym for my upcoming marathon. Each time I ran with the team, I was substituting my training plan for theirs. That meant running the wrong distance at the wrong pace, for the wrong amount of time. Today would be a chance to get back to my program. So why was I so upset?

All of a sudden I felt like a diner who, having tried both the appetizer and the main course, realized that he prefers the former over the latter. For so long marathon training had been the reason I ran. Now, I had discovered something better; a chance to chase my youth, meet kids from a totally different world, and learn more about myself. There will be plenty of marathons to chase PRs, for now I am pursuing something else.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My secret is out. Not only is my “secret identity” known (everything except the rabbi part), but my blog has been discovered. I guess I would have made a terrible spy. Of course, that is only if I was really trying to stay hidden in the first place.

It started simply enough. I was trying to find a copy of the team’s schedule online. I did a search, with few results from Google. One of the only ones was the team page on Facebook. With little thought, something seemingly endemic to Facebook interactions, I hit “like” and continued my search. Moments later, I had a friend request from Nainesh, one of my favorite runners on the team.

Nainesh, who was born in india, has the look of a runner. He is thin, strong, tall and fast. He is also a leader. I don’t know whether he is the team captain, but the guys on the team seem to follow his lead. He leads by example rather than by force. He’s quick with a smile, and best of all, at least for me; he was the first guy to treat me like a member of the team. Now he wanted to be friends. I accepted without giving it much thought.

Well, one thing led to another and before I knew it, we agreed to do a 10 mile run together, despite my apprehensions that I would slow him down.

I suppose this is the part where I am supposed to tell you that not only did I not slow him down, but I more than held my own. Alas, I can not. While I pushed the pace, I frequently had to check that he was alive, so light was his breathing. Even going up “death hill”, never more accurately named than that day, I couldn’t be sure that he had a pulse. When I told him that the hill seemed easy to him, he replied, without the slightest arrogance, “It was”.

As we ran we chatted, at least as much as my labored breathing allowed. That’s when he told me he discovered and read the blog. I must admit that I panicked a bit when I heard that, but he said he liked it, and I decided to keep writing openly and honestly. I hope he likes what I wrote today.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Second Verse...

…same as the first, just a little bit slower and a whole lot worse.

As I got to the meeting place in the park, I noticed that only two members of the team were there. Thinking back to the previous change in schedule, I wondered whether I had shown up too early. Finally, feeling like an outsider, I approached the two runners and asked why the other guys weren’t there. They informed me that due to a computer glitch, their teammates were at school trying to get their schedules fixed. When it became clear that the other guys weren’t going to make it, coach called, what today passed for his team, over. I sheepishly followed behind. As I got there, he told me “you won’t be able to keep up with these two” and sent the other guys out for a long fast run, on the same course I ran the first time I ran with the team. His words hurt, but then again, the truth often does. I decided that, even if I couldn’t run with the team, I would do the same run by myself.

It started out okay, as I managed to keep the other runners in sight. As I started to think that keeping them where I could see them might be a good goal, I realized I needed a bathroom break. Needless to say, I couldn’t ask them for a time out. I knew when I got out, that I was on my own. It didn’t help that a friend pulled his car over to give me a bottle of water…twice. Then, I got to the hill that only weeks before, I had raced up, to prove myself to the team. Now, running by myself, it felt much harder. I even stopped at the top to catch my breath. Without the need to prove myself, I lost my edge. Still, determined not to give up, I finished the run.

As I got back to the park, I saw a few of the guys starting out on a run. Having fixed their schedules, they too decided to run on their own. A few blocks later, I saw one other member of the team, this one leaving school with some friends. With no teammates or coach to push him, and no one any the wiser, he decided to take the day off. Without the team I lost my edge. I am glad to say I didn’t lose my willingness to run.

This is part of a new series about my effort to train with a local high school cross-country team. Earlier posts can be found at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Park in the Middle

How cruel could they get? Almost four miles into a planned five mile run with the team, I thought I would be able to hold on. Then, instead of continuing with a mile loop around the park, the guys made a right turn and headed up a long hilly street. Thinking not nice things about them, I too made the turn.

As we headed up the street, I found myself thinking. Not only about the wheezing sound that was coming from my chest as I tried to keep up, but also about what my “teammates” were thinking. We were heading up one of the more affluent streets in the neighborhood. As we ran by the large houses, I noticed that there were more than a few lawn services mowing the well kept lawns. The men pushing the mowers were, like most of the guys on the team, first or second generation Americans. What were they thinking?

The team meets each morning at 9am in the same park. It is a beautiful park, with a duck pond, a playground and an abandoned, but attractive boathouse. The path around park, 1.1 miles in length, is used by runners, cyclists, moms with strollers and couples holding hands. There is just enough graffiti in the park to keep it from looking perfect. On several sides, the park is surrounded by a middle to upper class neighborhood, where most of the residents are Caucasian. Many, like myself, are Orthodox Jews. While not all the houses are large, it is a nice and well maintained neighborhood. A little past the North side of the park, the neighborhood changes. Apartment buildings appear and the homes are a little rundown. Most of the residents are first or second generation Hispanics.

These two groups, the Orthodox Jews and Hispanics, seem, at least from a distance to have nothing in common. We shop on the same main street, which has stores which cater to each community, although few to both. The only thing we share is the park. Sometimes, as I run, or push my children on the swings, I notice that, even at the park, the two communities are separate. It reminds me of toddlers in school, who tend to parallel play rather than interact with one another. Here too, I wonder, what are they thinking?

Running up that street, I felt uncomfortable and not just because I could barely breathe. The guys don’t know that I am a rabbi, that I am Jewish, or even where I live. As I looked at them, and wondered what was going through their minds, I was relieved by how little they know about me.

This is part of a new series about my effort to train with a local high school cross-country team. Earlier posts can be found at

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gerav Band

I was reminded that I am not really a member of the team. As I arrived for what was supposed to be a 10 am start, the guys were getting started. Turns out, the coach had decided to start at 9:30. So with only a short warm-up, I gave chase. It wasn’t even close. I kept up for ¾ of a mile and then, given the choice of dying from over-exertion or stopping, I (wisely?) chose the latter. As luck would have it, there were two runners who were going at a slower pace, having worked hard the day before. I fell in line with them.

After a while, Patrick, whose heart doesn’t seem to be quite in it, dropped back, and I was left with one other runner. For a while we ran in silence, and then, silence not really being my forte, I introduced myself. He introduced himself as Gerav. Having never heard that name, I asked what type of name that was and he told me he was Indian. Up until that moment, I had assumed that all the runners on the team were Hispanic. Thinking about it, I realized how little I know about the community around me, outside of my own. It hadn’t been my reason for running with the team, but I started thinking about what else I would gain from running with the team.

We ran on some more, with Gerav leading the way. We trudged our way up a hill and then…he turned onto my street. I was about to point out my house, but I stopped. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it seemed too personal for someone I just met, maybe it was about maintaining my privacy, possibly something a little more insidious was holding me back, but I remained silent.

Was it a missed opportunity? I suspect I will have the chance again. For now I am curious to get to know the boys a little better and in the process, get to know myself a little more, warts and all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Clothes Call

What should I wear? I am terrified. I am far from the coolest guy in the world. Tomorrow is my first day of school.

I remember that feeling like it was yesterday despite the fact that it happened 26 years ago. I am getting dressed to go running with the Passaic High Cross-Country team and having feelings of déjà vu. Only this time, I am not only feeling uncool, but old as well. I am looking through my running stuff trying to find the outfit that will least make me look like that old guy with the dress socks pulled up to his knees and the Rockport walking shoes with the Velcro straps; to them and to me. I rule out the shirts that say anything about marathons. They seem like too much of an effort to show that I have running cred. Truth is, like with my first day of school, I am most likely to be ignored anyway. I am probably putting too much thought into this decision. I get dressed and head over to the park.

I stand off to the side waiting to be noticed, like a 12 year old at my first dance and finally, after what seems like ages, the coach says “so you are running with us?”. I nod trying not to seem scared. As the team starts to warm up, one of the guys looks at me and smiles in a not entirely comforting way and says’ you might want to stretch a little”. The coach informs us that we will be running six miles at half speed. Of course, he means half speed for them not for me. There are a couple of young guys in the back who are going a bit slower having done a tough workout the day before and, in an act of self-preservation, I decide to stick with them. One thing I know; if I don’t finish this workout, I am finished. They will never accept me.

Surprisingly, I keep up. Two out of the four guys in our subgroup drop out, so it is me and one other runner. We run on silently, breathing hard. Finally, I introduce myself as Marc, not wanting to stand out more. by using my Jewish name. His name is Luis (or is it Louis? I am too embarrassed to ask). As we get to the steep hill by the cemetery that I euphemistically call “Death Hill” I realize that this is my make it or break it moment. I have stopped part of the way up the hill before at a slower pace. This time, that is not an option. Then, because I have no choice, I make it to the top. Luis and I even pass one of the faster runners who is struggling a bit.

I think I’ve passed my first test. What do the other guys think? That remains to be seen.

Getting Started

It has the makings of a classic fish out of water story. A middle aged Orthodox rabbi starts training with a cross country team from the local high school. The boys on the team, barely one third of his age, as well as the coach, are Hispanic. The Disney version would have them learn about each other and become close, while the team unexpectedly wins the state title. I don’t know how the real life version will end, as I am only at the beginning of story.

I’ve written before about my strong desire to play on a team when I was in high school. The only choices were basketball and baseball and I was not good enough at either of those sports. I was left to look jealously at the jocks, as they walked with their pretty girlfriends, wearing their team jackets. Looking back, I am far from certain that being on a team would have dramatically changed my life, but back then I was not so sure.

As I’ve gotten into running, I have found myself at times looking at some impossibly thin high school runner, and wondering “What if?”. Most Orthodox high schools don’t have cross country teams and none did when I was in school. Could running have been my ticket to a team jacket, if not a pretty girlfriend?

Well here I am almost 25 years out of high school. I know I can’t go back and besides, I’m already married to a beautiful woman. Still, I’d like to, at least peripherally, be on a team. That’s why I asked Coach Fazio if I could run with his guys sometimes and why I was so happy when he said yes.

I don’t know where this will lead, or how long it will last, but I look forward to finding out.