Thursday, January 28, 2010


I'm in the middle of my 2nd week back. The pain that I'd felt in the days before Philly and the days after the race caused me to go to an Orthopedist to see why I was still limping. While running has done wonders to help shut down the nightmare factory in my mind, I've come to depend on it so much to quell the demons that I've become a bit of a hypochondriac. Every twinge, every aching muscle is a possible runners death sentence and I've become horrible at separating true injury from psychosis. After an initial visit and an MRI (in which I had to sit still for a gargantuan 30 minutes) the doctor pointed to a hazy shadow on my tibia and told me that I had a stress fracture that was well on its way to healing. I have just enough of a medical background as to be dangerous and in my mind my meniscus was torn, my ACL was in shreds, I needed the whole thing replaced... It was a relief to be told that I just needed a few more weeks rest and I was good to go. They were long, long weeks stretched over a part of the year that makes me feel anxious and angry. There's almost nothing worse than being told how happy and thankful you should be when you're not. Fuck that. To be able to run through (or away from) the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Years would have been a gift. It was not. To keep sane during my time off, I'm pretty sure I read nearly every book ever published about running.

Here's my reading list for the past 5 weeks:

1. "Born To Run": Christopher McDougall
2. "Once A Runner": John L. Parker
3. "The Runners Guide To The Meaning of Life": Amby Burfoot
4. "Zen And The Art Of Running": Larry Shapiro, PhD.
5. "Why We Run": Bernd Heinrich
6. "Nancy Clark's Food Guide For Marathoners": Nancy Clark

Of all the books I read, I was most inspired and affected by "Born To Run". The novel made me question the way I ran, the shoes that I wore on my feet, and more importantly, what I was mentally and physically capable of. It took me all of 6 hours to read it's 287 pages.

Here's an excerpt from the dust jacket:

"Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born To Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world's greatest distance runners, and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong".

Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able to not only uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime; a fifty mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder."

I also entertained myself doing something that I swore I wouldn't do. When it comes to my guitar gear I can be a tech nerd; trying every new technology, every obscure technique, chasing what doesn't exist anywhere other than in my head, hands , and heart. I promised myself when I started training that I wouldn't become obsessed with fancy and expensive clothing, the latest shoe designs, or any nerdy gadget that monitors heart rate/distance/pace/elevation. The beauty of this is that it requires nothing more than lungs, legs, and a proper fitting pair of shoes. As I got deeper into my training I allowed myself a few trips to Marshalls and TJ Maxx to buy some moisture wicking shirts, a jacket to run in the rain, and a hat to keep my head warm. Fairly inexpensive and definitely money well spent. After a couple hundred miles on my first pair of Saucony Pro Grid Guide 2 shoes I purchased an identical pair to carry me through November. That was my most extravagant purchase. It was in my forced break that I started looking at the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch. I like to run alone and don't even like crossing paths with other runners when I'm out so I wanted to head off the beaten path while still knowing how many miles I ran. The Garmin takes care of that as well as showing my heart rate, my pace, my route transposed onto Google Maps, and a slew of other pieces of data that don't mean much to me. I still haven't dropped the hammer on the Garmin but I'm watching the price. The day before Christmas it was down to $130 and I figured it would drop a few more bucks the day after. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It shot up to $180 and is holding fairly steady. Fuck. I'm still not convinced that I need it and am afraid that maybe all that technology will separate me from the peace and silence of my long hours alone on the road. Oh yeah, I also got a new pair of shoes. And they're less cushioned. And they're BLACK. And they're made by Brooks. And they make me run like a gazelle. Well, at least they're less cushioned, black, and made by Brooks. They come in on Saturday so I have a little something to look forward to.

Maybe it's time I talk about running? I started back to exercise by cross training for a few weeks. Ellipitical, recumbent bike, regular bike. Tedious but necessary. Those few weeks reminded me of the difference between exercising and running. Exercising is something that I do because I have to. It's good for my heart, for my weight, and sets a good example for my patients. It does nothing for my soul. It is empty hours, a means to an end. The end is to get myself strong enough that I can reduce my risk of injury doing what I love. There is nothing nourishing or transcendent about an elliptical. There is no beauty, no rush of endorphins, and it rarely gets easier. To quote one of my patients: "This feels a lot more like work than they promised it would". The transition to the treadmill was the first rush. Anxious and cautious, I fully expected excruciating pain; torn achilles, ACL or MCL tear, something; but I felt nothing more than the stiffness and soreness that comes from not doing this for a while. I'm trying things a little bit differently this time. I've changed my warm up to about 5 minutes of walking rather than risk an injury stretching when I'm cold. I've started doing hip exercises to keep my lower leg from twisting during my stride. I've started using a stability ball to strengthen my core (I've almost rammed my head into the friggin' wall trying to balance on the fucking thing). In my 13.1 miles a made a list of things that I would do differently next time, and walking and core strength were 2 of them. The third was to strengthen my quads. Holy shit those fucking hills burned! I'm also trying to eat a little bit better. I'm actually thinking about carbs and protein and eating fewer Drakes Coffee Cakes and bacon and egg sandwiches. That's a lie. I still gorge myself on bacon and egg sandwiches. And Drakes Coffee Cakes. And Diet Coke by the gallon. And popcorn. Oh, and raisins, low fat chocolate milk with protein powder, Cheerios, and orange juice. Oh, and Lamictal. And Neurontin. And Ritalin. Gotta keep the train on the tracks...

"Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."

G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jack London Is A Bad Motherfucker.

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

Jack London

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My name is Todd. I'm 44 years old. I live in N.Y., about 45 minutes north of the city. I've lived in many places and I don't consider anyplace home. I work in a hospital taking care of cardiac patients. I attempt to provide them the comfort, compassion, and healing that I have denied myself. There's a common belief that some people are drawn to medicine to fix something that is broken within themselves. I am.

I'm also a musician. I've played with the same group of guys for over 2 decades. Our connection is nearly telepathic. To get 4 guys from 4 differnt backgrounds honed in on the same notes, same rhythms, same emotional state is something far too powerful for words. There are nights that we are so locked in that they border on the surreal. I've played in front of 5 people and 5,000. Because of the band I have been to Europe. We played France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.K. in a 2 week span. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. They live in Philadelphia and because of that I have travelled roundtrip to Philly nearly every Saturday for the past 10 years. I've driven the 330 miles so often that the hours in the car seem like nothing. I sometimes think that I know every curve and crevice of every mile of the Garden State Parkway and the N.J. Turnpike. The drive home is the most peaceful part of my week. I'm usually in the car after midnight and I pass the hours, and soothe the ringing in my ears, by listening to the Coast To Coast radio show with Art Bell. I listen to conspiracy theories, ghost stories, theories about UFO's, and serial killers. It's a great way to spend a Saturday night.

I'm a writer as well. I am writing a book of prose called "Pulling Scars From The Night Time Sky". It is about a boy that disappears and hopes to return. It is about falling apart in real time. It is about mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. I hope that it is, in the end, a story of absolution.

I have used the word "I" approximately --- times in the last 3 paragraphs. The knives will always turn inward because it's all that I know. I spend my nights at home alone. I spend countless hours driving through the night alone. I run countless miles alone. And this is why I run.

I Run Because...

I run because...

I run because it may very well save my life.
I run because the demons come calling.
I run to make peace with my history.
I run to find transcendence through suffering.
I run to punish my sins.
I run to find strength in solitude.
I run so I don't hate the mirror.
I run for the feeling of just being.
I run to find beauty in madness.
I run to move toward and not away.
I run for the stars and the silence.
I run because I am the devil.