My buddy Leroy bought me a book, ‘642 Things to Write About,’ to help me hone some skills when I am facing writer’s bloc. The basic idea being to sit and write without overthinking. Here is the first of many:
Prompt: Tell a story that begins with a ransom note.
‘Field 5. Robert Moses Beach. Be there at 6pm. Friday. Bring $5000. No cops. We will have her. She is safe, for now. Make this easy. No cops.’
What the fuck is this? Becca was supposed to be with her sister, Raychel this whole week in St. Louis, but she hasn’t answered a single call. First thought was no big deal. Girls are just having fun. I rang the house there to see if she ever showed up, and Raychel said that she had never came. She cancelled. Supposedly Becca was frantic on the phone the day before, and said she couldn’t make it. She hung up before even making an excuse.
This note under my apartment door earlier today came as a real surprise. $5000?! Who takes a grown ass woman, my fiancé, first off? And for a few thousand? That’s nothing. It’s realistic. I’m dealing with a group of rational dickheads. Well obviously I’ll pay that. Who needs cops? It’s five thousand fucking dollars. I am no 1%, but I can shit out that much cash to get Becca back without questions. I didn’t both to tell Raychel about this. She doesn’t need to worry. Instead, I am calling Jerry. He’s supposed to be the best man on Saturday. This seems like it would fit in his job description. Somewhere in that contract includes rescuing the bride to be the day before the wedding. He’s already on his way over. This is insane.
It’s a 20-minute drive, but this seems like an all right occasion to be a bit early for. We pull in and the toll is up. The lot has a few cars scattered about. Maybe I should have brought more backup than Jerry. But no cops! This will be quick and easy. I’m walk-sprinting to the beach, and he’s trailing behind. I just want Becca back. I brought extra cash just in case.
I turn the corner, and there’s a crew–a crowd even. She’s there, thank god. What the hell is going on. Her parents are here. Mine too. She’s in her dress. This is the most fucked up start to a marriage I can imagine. She’s at the end of the alley smiling.
Her father is grinning as he greets me: ‘You thought I’d pay for the whole thing myself?’
‘If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they will surely become worms.’
I believe that this is my year. Then again, I think every year is my year. There is no other way to enter a season than to trust that something special is imminent. As they stand today, I hate my personal bests. What once brought me the ultimate sense of satisfaction withers, and quickly fades into a yearning for more. It only takes moments before I start calculating and figuring what I could have done differently. And this year [once again] is going to be my year. I will keep trying again, perhaps foolishly, to make it happen. But I will stop trying long before I ever enter a new season without believing that a breakthrough is on the horizon.
There is a quality to be admired in the concept of the ‘starving artist’ that our culture has come to appreciate. The underdog story captivates audiences with his or her unrelenting denial to give in and to maintain the stubbornness to persevere despite all facts speaking otherwise. Maybe most commonly mentioned, as a model for those in similar pursuit, is Vincent van Gogh, who only sold one of his roughly 200 works in his own lifetime. It was only posthumously that his work would come to be appreciated [after taking his own life at 37, and dying penniless]. Van Gogh may make a great role model in some respects, but one could probably find a less-tragic hero to mimic.
(Photo by Sami Aziz)
For me, I have spent the last few years slowly developing an obsession for the expatriate writers in Paris during the 1920’s and 30’s. Think ‘Midnight in Paris.’ I revel in the stories of Hemmingway and Joyce sitting in cafes working by day, and picking bar fights at night. The tales of Gertrude Stein taking in artists and authors alike for guidance and support as they strived for their masterpiece enamors me. And then there was F Scott Fitzgerald, whose novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ was initially a flop until the many unsold copies became a handout for soldiers during World War II.
These were men and women who took a leap by crossing the ocean, with little money and previous success, to collaborate, and to create modern literature as we now recognize it. They formed a literary circle akin to the late 19th century impressionists who were routinely rejected from the Salon de Paris. Both groups opted to rise above the denials and persist by creating their own style and their own galleries, by which they could display their own work.
I might be stretching on this analogy, but when I look at my teammates, and around the country at the various groups and individuals who are all scraping away to drop seconds, I see some similarities. It’s not the normal thing to do. Most people graduate college, and move on. Jobs are had, and life continues on. Your times remain eternally that, your times. But then I see the crazy day to day. The guys who find a way to make it work because they have decided that it’s worth it. It’s not a sacrifice, because everything that has been given up is done so gladly. There aren’t questions, and there aren’t doubts. There is just what comes next.
Everyone loves the rag to riches story–once completed. But there isn’t a lot of support along the way to help make it happen. Just the individual who is so foolishly passionate, they may not recognize how farfetched their goals may be [to others].
So when I read of Henry Miller stumbling around Paris in ‘Tropic of Cancer,’ begging for a meal, and scrounging up places to sleep, I become enthralled. Maybe it’s because I know in the end he succeeds. He does so by writing about his journey, and so retroactively I feel a part of it. But I wonder if I had been there in Paris with him, would I have lent a hand? Or would I have scoffed at his dream that would be realized only a few years later? I certainly hope not.
(Photo by ARunnersEye)
And so today, I try and take a step back before forming opinions on what others are pursuing, perhaps recklessly, against the odds. It’s not required for one to be homeless or in need of a meal to be considered an underdog chasing the impossible. But you do need to be hungry. Though I know some of my own goals this year may solicit some level of doubt from even the most objective onlooker, I don’t think it’s crazy. I’d say it’s crazier to go all-in on a dream and not have full belief that it’s going to happen. You cannot make the leaps physically, if you cannot at first do so mentally. To leave that part out is senseless. I know I am not the ‘starving artist,’ but we have the same mindset. I will fight and claw everyday to make the time drop, and since this is my year—I will keep going.
It was a fantastic fall of training for me and my teammates at NJ*NY TC. Gags challenged us in a lot of ways that we have never been before, with leaps in mileage and harder workouts. In college I ran 80-85 miles per week during the fall, and last year after an up and down fall I played it conservatively in the 70-75 mile range for the remainder of the year since we function on a 3 workout a week schedule (arguably 4).
But now, large in part due to my sponsor, Hoka One One, I have been healthy and pushing the boundaries of what my body can handle. I have been consistently running 85-90 mile weeks (mostly singles) with longer long runs, farther and faster tempos, and an increased volume during intervals.
Next week I am heading out to Flagstaff with a small crew of teammates to test the body at altitude. I think the newly added variable will be a good test, and a potentially super beneficial stimulus. Though I am most excited to spend four weeks in a mini-training camp, away from the distractions and temptations of home. I’m looking forward to growing out the beard (Check out my nutrition sponsor, http://www.beardedbros.com), reading a bunch, playing board games and sleeping. The sedentary afternoons blend well with the active mornings.
All in all, things are going well, but the foundation is still being laid. I am opening up my season at the Armory January 31st for a DMR, where I will be running the 1600 leg for NJ*NY. And from there, we’ll see!
The end of the season is always an enjoyable time for a runner as it is an opportunity to become ‘just’ a person for a short period of time. Tomorrow [Monday] I am flying to Hawaii/New Zealand for a 2+ week long vacation with a buddy, to visit our college roommate who now lives and works down under. But in addition to being able to do some stuff that I don’t normally get the chance to, I can now take a moment to peer back into the season that was and find some lessons that can be used moving forward into the next year of training and racing. I wrote an email to Coach Gags today with some of those ideas, many of which we have previously talked about. I figure the best way to recap this past season is to do so from the perspective of looking ahead. It was a great year and I owe all the thanks in the world to Gags, the entire NJ*NY TC and my sponsor, Hoka One One. Couldn’t be more excited to see what happens next!
“Gags—I wanted to put down to paper some of the thoughts I have had about this year now that the season is over and I had some time to analyze what worked really well, and where I can improve. First off, I am obviously incredibly excited with this season and year in total. I have full confidence in you, the team and the system. Not only was it a great year of racing, but also it was extremely enjoyable work to do day in and day out. I find that I am finishing up my season in the ideal state of mind; happy but not content. This is the first season that I have finished on healthy legs since my sophomore year of college [I stepped on glass a month later though].
In reflection, I think I did a lot of things really well that were instrumental in having a successful year. The thing that stands out is that I got my consistency back. Minus the hiccup in November, and the 6 weeks injured after indoors, I only had a few occasions of missing days. My running log is covered in 70-75 mile weeks, and that showed itself in consistent racing. I was also able to keep my mileage up and training going through race weeks. Making the switch from pre-meet workouts to keeping the tempo on Wednesdays was helpful for maintaining strength until September. I responded well and felt fresh still despite not having any major tapers.
I think the single thing I am most proud of this year has been my management of pre-race anxiety. I was able to stay calm in high-pressure situations, which wasn’t always a strength of mine, but it’s made racing significantly less stressful and overall more enjoyable. Knowing what the next couple years have to come, I find this to be of upmost importance.
On to the things I need to work on! As we discussed, I think a small bump in mileage will go a long way. But in addition to that, I need to be better about my long run being legitimately long. I had relatively few runs over 15 miles this spring, and I should probably be aiming to hit 17-18 more often. I also need to get better about doing strides more regularly after easy runs, and staying on top of the drills and dynamic stretching immediately before and after. I also missed a lot of the hill work this year, so next year I need to be less of a coward because I think that’ll be great for speed development and gaining some power.
I definitely need to be better about weightlifting and establishing a better routine in the gym. I’ll open a discussion with Eric/Rich about this. I slacked big time once the racing really started and my body weight dropped pretty significantly because of it. Eating and sleep were good throughout the year, but there is always room to do a little bit better.
I found the workouts to be perfect throughout the year, and I had multiple moments where I was shocked at how fast I was able to run. Although, I am hoping to improve my tempo pace a bit next year, as I sort of stagnated at 5:00/mile and I am confident there is a lot of room to grow there. Figure if you want me to run the occasional 3k/5k next year that I should get that down.
Finally, I am hoping to get away a few times during the winter next year just for a week or two here or there to get out of the cold and break things up. After my last indoor race, I’d love to go somewhere for a few weeks and get a small block of base in.
Those are my thoughts! I am interested to hear yours. Very excited for this vacation, and I’ll do a little running when I see something pretty that looks like it needs to be run on. Should have some Internet so I’ll let you know how things are going. See you in a couple weeks and thanks for a great year!
For our 6th grade yearbook, they asked each of us students what we wanted to be when we grew up. And amongst the many friends and classmates saying that they wanted to be lawyers, doctors, baseball players and astronauts there was me, but no one else shared my dream job; to be a professional runner.
Now, thanks to the support of Hoka One One, those wishes have come true and I can proudly represent a company that I truly believe in. Since the inception of the brand just a few years ago, it has revolutionized the industry and challenged the status quo of what a running shoe can provide in terms of cushion, comfort and a great ride.
When Hoka One One first debuted their shoes, this ‘maximalist’ concept created a lot of doubters and at first, most runners were skeptical. I know I could be included in that category of people who find change scary. But I finally tried them, and I was shocked, ‘How could a shoe with so much cushioning be so light?’ And as more and more people have taken the small risk of slipping them onto their feet, the scale has tipped and now those who were previously questioning the shoes are now the biggest advocates.
This season I gambled on myself because I thought I was ready to run fast. I purchased myself a ticket to head to Europe to try and come away with a couple new personal bests. When I returned from the trip, which included a couple new PR’s in the mile and some other strong races and wins, I began talking with Hoka One One about the possibility of beginning a relationship together. What intrigued me most about Hoka One One was the opportunity to work with a young and quickly growing company that was very much by runners and for runners.
There was a passion and excitement in our conversations about what Hoka One One was going to do next, and how they were going to continue to build and raise the entire sport of track and field. It began with a sponsorship of my NJ*NY teammate Mike Rutt, and led to the addition of other great athletes who were also now racing on the track in a Hoka uniform. Hoka was also the one company that stood up and was willing to lend their support to the USA’s Olympic 1500 silver medalist, Leo Manzano. And they were eager to do the same for me.
If you are a fan of track and field that hopes to see the sport grow, then there are a lot of reasons to be encouraged by a shoe company that sees the value of investing in sponsorships of athletes and in meets. Competition is good for the consumer. The more shoe companies vying for your affection as a runner, the better. And if you can appreciate a company like Hoka for making a splash into the track world, then the best way to show your support is to try the product. Because if Hoka’s investment in guys like Mike, Leo, myself and others proves to be a good one, then there will be a lot more to come for the sport as a whole.
Before I was willing to take our conversations any further, I communicated to Hoka that I needed to try the shoes because I wasn’t willing to promote a shoe that I didn’t love. So I was handed a pair of the new Clifton. I took a few quick steps in them and immediately said, ‘I’m sold!’ They only weigh 7.7oz and have a 4mm drop, and there were just recently announced as the winner of the Runner’s World Editors Choice Award. The other shoe that I would have to recommend for first time Hoka wearers is the Huaka, which weigh in at 8.9 oz and has a 2mm drop. I’ve loved this shoe for its smooth and efficient ride that is perfect for the days when I want to get rolling at a steady pace.
The current trend of shoe companies and training groups pairing up is good in many ways. It creates a brand identity for the companies, and gives good support to the athletes. However, that situation is not perfect for every individual and can make it very difficult to gain sponsorship for those who seek out other options. I am lucky enough to be a part of a very special group at the New Jersey*New York TC, where we have an incredible leader in Coach Gagliano who is very welcoming to athletes regardless of their sponsorship affiliation. To have Hoka’s support in my decision to remain in an environment that I am most comfortable and happiest is something I am extremely thankful for.
I am very proud to be representing Hoka One One and to have such an amazing shoe company to support me in my athletic endeavors as I continue to pursue my goals. And if you are at all excited, or curious by these incredibly comfortable and efficient shoes, then I hope you’ll give them a try for your next run.
My apologies in advance, but I want to talk philosophy. Not about the historically well-endowed Socrates, but instead of one bearded old German guy whose ramblings did justice to the feelings I share but have failed to articulate so profoundly. When I say his name, I expect the hypothetical room to go silent, ready? Karl Marx. I know. Unfortunately, as history would have it, most people think he just went on and on about communism and inspired everyone that America has ever hated [for some people, that’s our own President]. But I don’t want to turn this into a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt, and hope that I will not be misinterpreted as someone who thinks poor people deserve medical care too, because that’s just asinine! To the surprise of many, he had some good ideas and one in particular encapsulates everything I love about running, and that’s his theory of alienation.
“And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. … He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.” -Karl Marx
Individuals used to be independent. Within the nuclei of our family, we would roam the land eating berries, stealing nuts from squirrels, and maybe even killing the occasional woolly mammoth. But at a certain point in time we discovered the benefits of not doing that, because that sounds hard. So we learned that if we settled within the comfort of a village, threw up some walls, and distributed the necessary tasks of survival, we’d have more time to play the newest video game consoles. This is specialization, and it was among the greatest achievements until sliced bread. But there is a nasty side effect of living in a socially stratified society [besides tax breaks for the rich], and that is because the estrangement of labor is real.
Inspired by the meatpacking district of Chicago in the mid-19th century, Henry Ford popularized the assembly line technique for the completion of the Model-T. Workers would stand next to the conveyor belt, focusing solely on one task, and upon its completion, would pass it along, and repeat the mind-numbing job. Between the first punch in and the last punch out, factory men remain unchallenged and replaceable while on the clock. There is a distance that exists between the worker and the product. His monotonous labor lacks any form of stimulation and he fails to see how his specific role contributes to the final result. An entire day is spent putting two pieces together, but never seeing the finished puzzle. That disconnect between the subject and the object is neglectful to the human spirit’s need to feel purposeful. This is why people are miserable.
For Marx, this problem could be solved by communism. But good luck enjoying your job when America hears you like sharing. Instead, I believe in an input-output model. When my passion for running began, it was addicting. Thinking back to the exhaustion from those first runs at the dawn of my career, it’s amazing I ever fell in love with the sport. I remember stopping to walk for a few minutes with a couple teammates when coach wasn’t looking. But as the miles passed by, I experienced small bouts of success daily. There was no more walking. A two-mile run felt about as hard as one-mile once was. And before long, I was running three and four daily. My paces were getting faster, and my personal bests were being lowered. I wanted more. And it was so simple; if I worked hard and smart, then I would run faster than before. For a confused kid wandering the labyrinth of a middle school’s hallways, I cherished the straightforwardness that came after the final bell. The correlation was direct, and the results were tangible. Motivation stemmed intrinsically, and I prided myself in what I was doing. And many miles and minutes of running later, the same phenomenon still exists. The more I put in, the more I get out.
In running, your labor is not replaceable. You cannot run a mile for a friend, or skip a day and make it up. But you can say that the times you run, and the races you win are all yours. That is because, in the end, your work is the final product.
The past two weeks I have been on the road a bit as I spent a week working at 5 Star Cross-Country Camp, and then a week staying at a cabin in Maine. Déjà vu. I came home inspired, and hungry. Additionally, I had the chance to do a motivational talk of my own at Westwood XC Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few different camps, and it is always a fun way to get some kids excited about running. Those weeks away were motivating and fortunately, I have returned a bit more fit than when I left.
I have written before [on this blog] about the ‘Juice Theory,’ which values the added benefits of the gradual build up, so I will stay true to that, as I believe it has done me a lot of good so far during this summer. Under the guidance of Gags, I have been made patient, and in my 10th week, hit 60 miles in 6 runs. I will continue to climb a bit higher the next month, and I will slowly integrate some [very] easy workouts into the routine.
Additionally, I have been experiencing what I call the ‘Balloon Theory,’ which in short states: Fitness is like a balloon. It is much harder to blow up the balloon as it expands to a point that it has never been before. But once the air is let out, and an attempt to blow up the balloon again is made, it is much easier to achieve levels of expansion previously reached.
Now that I am home I have to figure out my apartment situation, and finding a job that is content to let me come in late everyday and have the freedom of traveling regularly. Ideally it’s not on an assembly line.
(I am currently in the midst of a competition with my brother to see who can get published by the popular website, ‘McSweeney’s,’ first. The entries are that are successfully posted are normally short and funny blurbs. And I am expecting many more rejections.)
Dear Passenger Sitting in Seat 14C,
Why did you do this to me? To us? Things were going so well. I know we had our differences about the rights to the armrest and the allocation of elbowroom. But after dancing around your passive aggressive moans, and seeing you bang your funny bone, I gave in. It is all yours, and I am ok with that. Am I shocked you disregarded the universal law of airplanes that would forfeit the rights to me, the middle seat? Yes. And when you first sat down and complimented my choice of literature, I thought to myself, ‘Now this is a guy who I can have a conversation with!’ I am an arms crossed kind of guy anyway.
But you put your headphones in. It was a little loud, but you’re lucky I am a sucker for spoiled 16-year-old pop icons with a mastery of the auto-tune. I actually kind of enjoyed it. I respected your refusal to oblige by the flight attendants incessant warnings to shut off all electronics. How stealthy you were! I know wearing that hoodie today was not a coincidence. That’s the type of craftiness I would expect from you, and you had never failed to disappointment me.
I drank too much lemonade from that pretzel stand. I knew the risks going in, and I accepted the potential consequences. On a three-hour flight, I could be pardoned one bathroom break, yet we were only 30 minutes in when the rush came. I did not want to excuse myself so early, and burden you with the task of moving for me. And what if I had to go again? How embarrassing that would be. You looked so peaceful as your eyes flickered to fight off the stream of cool air blowing from the vent. But I could only hold it in for so long. The time had come. I had contemplated all possible escape routes. The climb over, the squeeze by, even the sneak under. However, the fear of you waking up with a grown man’s ass in your face scared me straight. So I nudged. And you complied considerately, without any hesitation.
As you unbuckled your seatbelt, and stood up I could feel the bladder relief just moments away. But then you curiously began to walk to the back of the plane. I was struck by awe, shocked by such actions. And when you walked into the bathroom, and stole that seat from me, I cursed you in anger. I looked ahead; there was a vacant lavatory at the front! I rushed forward. And my pace quickened. But the flight attendant stopped my momentum, and shut me out with the pull of those pretentious shades. ‘First class passengers only,’ she smirked. I hate her.
So I spun around, and once again returned to the rear. The light was off. You were done. How unforgivable you were to steal that spot before me. If it weren’t for me, you’d still be asleep with a belly full of pee. Though at last, it was over. I turned the knob, anticipating my victory. And there you were. Starring back at me, with your jaw dropped in disgust, and your hand held behind you wrapped in a protective glove of tissue paper. You yelled in anger, “Shut the door!” As if I were the one at fault.
And now we sit here, for two more hours. A vision of the worst half of your naked body plagues my memory. This could have been prevented. If only you had been more responsible. So now I put my headphones in as well, and shut my eyes. I can’t even look at you! We shall never speak of this, and I will try to fall asleep. But I can’t. I still have to pee. Damn lemonade.