Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Down the shore (day 2)

We made our way back down to the beach Sunday afternoon, and I introduced the group to my most important purchase from the day before. Over many summers of trial and error at Brigantine, my cousins and I developed our own version of beach paddleball. It combines the action of tennis with the simplicity of ping-pong, with a little beach volleyball mixed in. Basically you draw a court 30 feet wide by 60 feet deep with a line right down the middle representing the net. It has to be done during low-tide so that there's enough hard sand to play on. The ball is hit into the other player's court, who then has to return it after one bounce. It's more a game about placing shots with precision than simply going for power slams, because otherwise you just wind up chasing the ball down the beach all day.

Most of the group was still dragging from the night before, except for Tim who was off swimming to Atlantic City or something. Mira took me up on my challenge and after a very short learning curve was placing shots all over my side of the court like a pro. We weren't keeping official score but she was definitely ahead on points when we were through. Actually, winning games isn't the big attraction for me. I'll play all day just for that one shot where the ball is hit deep over towards the far side of the court and I have to take off sprinting to chase down the ball from behind and hit a blind shot over my shoulder back towards my opponent's court. Then you have to dig in your heels to stop your momentum and spin around to race back to cover your side of the court which is now completely wide open. It was during a desperate dive to return a backhand shot that I picked up this little souvenir from our match that afternoon.

By midday I had to head back to Philly to pick up Brendan from his grandmother's to take him and one of his friends to a Pearl Jam concert later that night. The last day of the holiday weekend was spent going to see X-men 3 at the movies with him and catching up on some household chores. I was pretty tired by Monday evening, but also very glad for the change of scenery and the chance to spend time with new friends. I have a feeling that there will be plenty of great weekends ahead this summer.

But for now I've got to head off to bed and set my alarm early to hit the gym tomorrow morning before work. With a fitness instructor and an apparent tennis pro for roomates, I'm going to need to step things up a notch. As a matter of fact I've been jogging in place and doing bench presses the entire time that I've been writing this post. And I think I just heard the timer go off in the kitchen telling me that my all-natural soy energy shake has finished blending. Okay--I may have added an ingredient or two of my own to the recipe. I'm pretty sure that Twizzlers are low-carb anyways...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Down the shore...

(Edited version--part 2 tomorrow)

Early last week, I met with the headhunter who had placed me at my new firm and we got around to talking about our plans for the Memorial Day weekend. She mentioned that she would be going "down the shore" to a house in Avalon, NJ. That particular phrase seems to be unique to Philly and South Jersey. It's not "going down to the shore" or "heading out to the beach", but simply down the shore. It's as if the people here decided that its more important to just get out of town for the weekend as quickly as possible than waste time on frivolous things like prepositions.

She had heard of some people who were still looking to fill an open spot or two in their house and I thought that the time felt right to join one this summer. Last Tuesday at happy hour I met the woman who was the organizing everything, and she showed me some photos of the place and talked about the people who had already signed up. One hour turned into two and one pint turned into three and by the end of the evening I just had a feeling that this would be a good fit. I put down my deposit and became the 9th official member of their house.

Here's a pic of our place--we have the unit on the left-hand side. It has three bedrooms and baths, a full kitchen, and a big living room with vaulted ceilings. As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet and was greeted by the familiar sight of a 1 lb. bag of Twizzlers and a box of Crunch-n-Munch, I began to feel right at home.

By the time I finally arrived on Friday night, most of the people had already been there for awhile and were hanging out on the 2nd-floor deck. I made my way up the stairs to find that they already had a chair and an open beer waiting for me. Little by little I started getting the hang of everyone's name and background. Kate was the organizer of the house and the one I had met for happy hour. Brian and Michelle had met in college (where they knew Kate) and had been married for three years. Brian was a doctor and Michelle turned out to be from my hometown in northcentral PA. Mollie was a consultant and Amy was a 6th grade teacher. Tim was a personal trainer, and Kate mentioned offhand that he and I would be sharing one of the bedrooms for the season.

I smiled enthusiastically and replied "great!", while I subtly returned my third slice of pizza back to the box and replaced my Yuengling Lager with a Coors Lite. Tim is actually a very down-to-earth, laid-back guy, but it had been a couple of weeks since I had been able to get to the gym and I had visions of waking up to 5 a.m. tae bo workouts and discussions about the benefits of creatine-enhanced tofu-flavored protein bars. I made a mental note to renew my subscription to Men's Health.

Saturday morning was spent driving around to pick up all of the stuff that I needed/forgot to pack for the total beach experience.
The first item on the list was buying a decent beach chair. When I saw the name on this model I knew that it was the one. It's called "The Big Kahuna", which was the nickname that my father gave himself as the self-annointed bodysurfing champion of Brigantine, NJ. Each summer growing up he taught all four of us about the proper body form and the mystical art of launching yourself at the perfect time to catch a wave just before it broke. For years he continued to be able to ride the waves farther in towards the beach than any of us.

This was my first view of the beach as I made my way down past the dunes in the early afternoon. A couple of people in the house had already been out enjoying the sun for a couple of hours, but I knew that I should pace myself in the quest for a savage tan this summer. I have a stubbornly fair complexion, the result of centuries of pale-skinned Scottish and Irish ancestors having contributed to my overall genetic make-up. Our family coat-of-arms features a can of Solarcaine and a beach umbrella.

I set my new chair up at the water's edge and soon lost myself in the pages of a great book with the constant roar of the ocean drowning out any distractions. I went swimming for a little bit and caught a few waves that would have made the Big Kahuna proud. I finally made my way back up to the house around 5 o'clock and met the final arrival for the weekend. Mira was the other attorney in the group and had also joined up at the last minute through the referral of a friend.

Saturday night we all walked together five blocks down the street to a bar called Jack's Place to hear an excellent band named Love Seed Momma Jump. The details are a little hazy but I think I bought the first round of shots and then everybody followed suit one after the other. We capped the night off by ordering a Fishbowl, which is simply a bowl filled with ice and multiple straws and some ungodly mixture of alcohol. We took turns finishing it off in groups of two and three, and fortunately the bar was within perfect stumbling distance back to our house after they finally announced last call.

Sunday morning I woke up with a wee bit of a hangover. I carefully stepped over Tim doing his 100th ab crunch in between our twin beds on my way to search for some Tylenol and a diet Coke. Some of the group began to tease me for passing out on the big sectional couch upstairs after we had returned from the bar. I had no memory of this but began to point out that after 2 a.m., the term 'fell asleep' would also seem to equally apply. I did have to concede that the photo on Mira's cell phone of me sprawled out fully-clothed still clutching a half-eaten piece of pizza in my hand did give some extra weight to their side of the argument. Somewhere beneath the Scottish Highlands one of my pasty ancestors rolled over in his grave. But there was no time to waste on hangovers because another perfect beach day lay ahead...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Going with the flow...

Last week was a steady blur of activity at my new job making sure that everything was ready to go for a big trial scheduled to start this coming Monday up in Newark, NJ. The days just flew by, and before I knew it the weekend was here. First thing Saturday morning, I packed up my tent and sleeping bag and headed up to northeastern Pennsylvania with my son and his Scout troop for an overnight campout, with whitewater rafting scheduled as the main highlight of the day.

Our guide took us on a 10-mile trip through the upper gorge of the Lehigh River. With all of the rain that had fallen earlier in the week, the section of river that we would be going down consisted of mainly Class II & III rapids. The classification system ranges from Class I through VI--the former apparently being the equivalent of a baby pool and the latter commonly referred to as 'the afterlife.'

The whole trip would last 4 hours, with a break for lunch. Each raft held 5 scouts and 1 adult. It was pretty comical seeing the boys shouting commands at each other and spinning in circles shortly after we began, but soon they learned to work together and were able to thread their way through the very large rocks that were present along much of the river. Once we felt comfortable that they could navigate on their own, the three adults regrouped on our own raft so that the kids could enjoy marathon water battles between their patrols while we kept a close eye at a dry distance.

Of course, before I relinquished command of the raft that I had been supervising, I took the opportunity to live to out my own little "Master & Commander" moment. I organized the boys into launching a sneak attack upon the Head Scoutmaster's boat and explained each of their roles in the overall battle plan. We overtook them from the stern and then hit them with a full broadside of buckets and water guns that had been kept hidden in our raft up to that point. Russell Crowe would have been proud.

The trip downstream was a nice mix of scenic stretches of river (like the photo at the top of this post) and very intense sections of churning rapids. The rafts were big and not very responsive to quick maneuvering, so whenever we came upon rapids it required everyone's complete focus and concentration. If you were not paying attention you could suddenly find yourself being propelled towards a large rock that just kept growing bigger by the second, as the raft continued to be swept along caught in the momentum of the unrelenting current. When we finally pulled our rafts out of the river at the end of the 4 hours, we were all pretty exhausted.

Our campsite was actually on the grounds of the company that had organized the tour, and there were a bunch of other Scout troops up there for the weekend as well. A good number of Girl Scouts also happened to be mingled throughout the campground, which probably explained why we didn't have to hound the boys to wash up with actual soap and water like was usually the case. I think one of the older Scouts who actually had packed mouthwash and cologne might have earned his Personal Hygiene merit badge on the spot...

After the kids were all in their tents for the night, I pulled up a seat next to the campfire and got to enjoy an hour or so of uninterrupted reading, surrounded by tall trees and bright stars overhead as a backdrop. Ever since work had started two weeks ago, my reading had been limited to about 30 minutes during my daily commute on the train and a handful of moments over several nights before I fell fast asleep in bed. So it was pure bliss to get lost for awhile and find myself completely drawn into a book again. When the last of the firewood burned down, I discovered that I had covered more than one hundred pages. I was at such a good part of the story that I continued to read for a little bit more by flashlight after I had settled into my sleeping bag.

We woke up early and got our gear packed away after breakfast. Brendan and I actually had another highlight in store for the weekend on Sunday afternoon. My firm is constantly entertaining clients at professional sporting events, and when one had to back out at the last minute, the main partner of the firm stopped by my office to congratulate me on the work that I had been doing so far and to offer me two tickets to see the Phillies play the Boston Red Sox.

Our seats were right along the first base line, and I brought my camera along to snap a pic of our view.
And to top it off, the Phillies won 10-5.

After the game, Brendan went to go see one of his friends play in a student concert, and I stopped back into the office to tie up some last-minute loose ends for the trial. A few hours ago it dawned on me that I hadn't been to the grocery store in over a week, so it looks like Brendan might have to rough it with trail mix and s'mores for lunch tomorrow. In just a few hours, I'll have to drop him off early at his school and then head downtown to catch the 8 a.m. Amtrak train to Newark.

The truth is, I actually kind of enjoy this pace. Whether its steering my way down through the challenging rapids of a river or speeding along a track towards the constantly changing dynamic of a courtroom, I'm just glad to be moving forward in the first place.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

namesake


"I can still remember that day like it was yesterday..."
At some point each year before my birthday was officially over, my father would recite the same speech which began with the above sentence. "It was __ years ago this day that I drove your mother to the Rancocas Valley Hospital and waited for the nurse to come out and tell me that I had a son. I looked down to see you in your mother's arms, and as soon as I saw your face I knew for certain that I wanted to give you my name..."
Dad was a salesman for a living so he had a tendency to lay it on a little thick at times.
But he was absolutely thrilled to have a first-born son that could carry on the family tradition. I would eventually wind up sharing his exact initials right down to my confirmation name. He was the first one to start calling me TJ, which is short for 'Thomas James.' When my wife was pregnant with our son, we didn't want to know the sex of the baby beforehand. Dad would coyly ask if we had thought of any names if it was a boy, and eventually would make a comment about how proud he had been to pass on his name to me, and how nice it would be for that tradition to continue.
Tradition is a wonderful thing, but I was determined for my son to begin his life with his own unique identity free from anyone else's expectations. From my driver's license to my bank account to my Blockbuster card, there was always the constant reminder that I was a "Jr." Worse, just by adding the letter 'y' to the end of my name, a person could instantly make me feel like a little kid no matter what my actual age happened to be at the time. After law school, I held the title of Assistant District Attorney Thomas __________ to the violent criminals that I prosecuted and sent to state prison for multiple years with consecutive sentences. But as soon as I crossed back over the city limits of Williamsport on my way home for a holiday, I immediately reverted back to being Tommy to my parents' friends all over town. That always had a way of making me feel like a 9-year old right on the spot. If Neil Armstrong had been named 'Timothy', I am sure that people in his hometown would be turning to one another still to proudly remark, "Look, there goes Timmy--the first man to walk on the moon."
Hence, my son's name: Brendan.
Being a "Jr." had other expectations as well. Dad had gone to Villanova on a football scholarship in the fifties, and he had an immense feeling of pride when I chose to go to his alma mater after high school. The fact that I primarily based my decision to apply there on the thousands of very cute Catholic girls that I saw during my campus tour would have only slightly diminished his sense of legacy. A quick look at the photo at the top of this post gives you a little hint about his hope that his firstborn son might follow completely in his collegiate footsteps, but Dad would have to wait until my younger brother Chris was born to realize his ultimate wish of having a college football player in the family huddle. Hey, if Villanova had given scholarships for high scores on Atari, I would have been an All-American.
But along with being a namesake came other responsibilities. After my mom passed away nine years ago, Dad began a slow spiral downward in spirit and in health. His inner demons overtook him, and his drinking became more frequent and more severe. The salesman in him helped convince everyone that he was doing fine for awhile, but three years ago his physical condition got so worse that I had to force him to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and insisted that he move into my house when his doctor told us that he only had about six months to live.
Almost to the week after receiving that news, I came home from work one day to find that he had slipped into a coma while lying in his bed. As the oldest, I was the one with power of attorney, and I was at the hospital constantly to get the latest results from his doctors. But all of the tests indicated that his liver had completely failed, and the lack of oxygen in his blood had permanently affected his brain function. The other parts of his body were all working, but he would need to be kept on a ventilator and feeding tube until the rest of his organs finally gave out. My siblings began to scour the medical journals and online databases for information about a miracle cure, but every single doctor that I spoke with gave the same prognosis.
After a week of seeing him lying in that hospital bed without any brain activity or motor response, I felt that he wouldn't want to continue on that way. I knew that my younger brothers and sister could never live with the guilt, so late one night I drove over to the hospital on my own and asked the doctors one final time if there was a remote chance of him coming out of the coma with any type of awareness or ability to experience sensation. They explained once again that the damage was just too severe. I told them to go ahead and remove the ventilator, after they had assured me that he would not suffer.
I sat beside him in the darkness, thinking back on different moments from my childhood. Memories came flooding back of lazy summer vacations at the beach, laughter around the dinner table, and playing catch in the backyard. As the hours passed and his heart continued to beat steadily on, I began to wonder if I had made the right decision. Maybe his body was trying to tell me not to give up on him, and to give him another chance to fight to come back. But the doctors explained that the heart was one of the strongest muscles in the body, and could continue to beat on its own for awhile regardless of the complete lack of higher brain function.
It was dawn before his heart rate began its slow descent. His breathing became more shallow and the nurses kept coming in to check on his condition and make sure that he was comfortable. After awhile his heart rate dropped significantly, and the nurse said that it would only be a matter of minutes. The complexion of his skin was pale and thin, and his body resembled nothing of the robust man he had been only a year before. I brushed his hair away from his forehead and leaned down to give him a kiss. "It's okay to let go, Dad. You can go be with Mom now." A few moments later, the line on the monitor went flat. The alarms had long been disconnected and it was eerily silent as the nurse came into the room to begin unplugging the machines. I hugged him one last time and silently prayed that he would now be at rest. I asked the staff at the hospital to tell anyone who was curious that his pneumonia had taken a turn for the worse. To this day no one in my family knows about my decision.
So today on my birthday, I found my thoughts going back to that afternoon in the delivery room when my father was there to welcome me into this world, and that morning many years later when I was there at his bedside to say goodbye to him as he went off to join the next one.
I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I think back to the moment when I looked down to see my father's face finally at peace. I may have had some doubts about whether I ultimately made the right decision, but one thing that I knew for certain was how proud I felt to have been given his name.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Run, TJ. Run.

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
--Confucious

A journey of 10 miles ends with many aching muscles.
--TJ

Earlier today I completed the 2006 Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race through the middle of Philadelphia that I had decided to sign up for at the last minute on a whim. Below is a timeline of how the day unfolded:
* * * * * * * * * *
6:15 am: My alarm goes off for the 3rd time as I lay in bed and re-think the wisdom of running 10 miles this morning without the benefit of any real training over the past three weeks. Between a trip to Chicago and the unexpected start of a new job, I hadn't been able to get out and run at all. My 14-year old son Brendan pokes his head into my room and asks "Don't you have your race this morning??" I mumble something from under the comforter and he turns on the overhead light and says, "C'mon, Dad, you need to get up..." He continues to stand there in the doorway. "Yeah, yeah..." I say under my breath as I roll out of bed and begin to change into my running outfit. I pause to grab some scrap paper and jot down 'no driver's license until 17th birthday' as a little reminder for later...
* * * * * * * * * *
8:00 am: I am packed like a sardine into a SEPTA subway car, one of more than 15,000 runners being ferried up Broad Street to the starting line at Central High School. I feel bad for the regular patrons who had probably set out from their homes in North Philadelphia this beautiful Sunday morning never dreaming that they would wind up being crammed nose-to-armpit alongside thousands of overeager, underdressed fitness fanatics. A single voice rises from somewhere far in the rear of the subway car, floating above the sea of bodies and expressing the thought that is surely running through each of their minds: "You white people are all crazy..."
* * * * * * * * * *
8:29 am: One minute to go until the official start of the race. I stretch and warm-up as much as I can while surrounded by the crowd of people, and do a final check to make sure that my watch and mp3 player are set up properly. I consider that maybe I should have eaten more than a banana and a glass of orange juice this morning, but it's too late to do anything about it now. I make my way into the middle of the section designated for people running at an 8-minute per mile pace, and then suddenly it is...
* * * * * * * * * *
8:30 am: The race begins. I shuffle along with everyone else a few hundred yards up to the official starting line, and then the mob of people begins to slowly spread out across the width of Broad Street. Straight ahead and five miles off in the distance, the central tower of City Hall appears as thin as a pencil. I start the chronometer to keep track of my pace along the 10 mile course, and hit the random shuffle button on my iRiver for some fast music to set the tempo. I get underway to 'Gasoline' by Seether.
* * * * * * * * * *
1-Mile Marker: The first mile goes by pretty smoothly. The weather this morning is perfect for running--clear, blue skies and a brisk 56 degrees. I check my watch and see that I am actually going at a 7:45 minute pace. "Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner starts to play and I am feeling like a rock star...
* * * * * * * * * *
2-Mile Marker: My mouth and throat are starting to get a little dry and it's getting tricky to maneuver through the narrow gaps between the other runners. I see that I've slowed down to an 8-minute pace, but I'd rather hold things back in the beginning and save my energy for the later miles. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benetar comes on, and I begin an internal monologue as I head into Mile 3: 'That's right, Broad Street--fire away...'
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 2.4 : My mouth is really dry now and I am very relieved to come upon the first water station. Dozens of cheery volunteers line both sides of the street, holding out little white paper cups filled with water. I smile at the young kid who hands me my cup, and I conscientiously toss it into one of the nearby trash cans as I pass by. The water break comes at just the right spot, and I am feeling immediately refreshed. 'Thank you, Broad Street', I think appreciatively, somewhat chagrined. 'My bad about the trash talk earlier...'
* * * * * * * * * *
3-Mile Marker: I begin to feel a slight twinge in my right calf, but it is just coming and going at this point. The water definitely helped, because I see that I am back to a 7:45 minute pace. "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult comes on. 'Nothing to fear at all, boys. I'm feeling pretty good...'
* * * * * * * * * *
4-Mile Marker: I'm still holding at a 7:45 minute pace, but my breathing is getting quicker and my mouth is completely dry again. "Turn It On Again" by Genesis begins to play, and I find that I start to push ahead strongly thanks to the encouragement of Phil Collins.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 4.5 : Thankfully another water station appears in front of me not a moment too soon. My mouth and throat are on fire, and the sun has been beating down without a cloud in the sky since the race began. Another group of cheery volunteers is handing out water again, but the primal need of thirst has begun to break down the social graces of the runners. People are now indiscriminantly grabbing cups from the volunteers' hands without even breaking stride and just chucking them at their feet when they're finished. I gulp down three cups of water in a row as I pass by, and I don't even hestitate for a second as I toss them each onto the ground to join the thousands of others that now litter the street. I have a sudden vision of a Native American Indian in full headress watching from afar, a single teardrop slowly rolling down his cheek.
* * * * * * * * * *
5-Mile Marker: Once again the water has done the trick, and I am surprised to see that I have picked things up to a 7:30 minute pace. City Hall suddenly looms above overhead as I pass right next to the office building where I started my new job last week. It dawns on me that my car is only parked about a block away, and for a second I am tempted to hop into my Pathfinder for a quick shortcut to claim first place at the finish line. But I feel quite certain that clocking in with a time of 33 minutes for a 10-mile race might raise a couple of eyebrows in the press and would require a battery of steroid testing involving very large needles, so I decide to keep things legit. "Gallileo" by the Indigo Girls comes on. 'How long until I reach Mile 10...??'
* * * * * * * * * *
6-Mile Marker: I'm still on my 7:45 minute pace, but my right calf is twinging pretty regularly now. I begin to pass along a section of Broad Street named 'The Avenue of the Arts' for all of the theaters that are located there. As if on cue, 'La Vie Boheme' from the soundtrack of Rent begins to play just as I approach the Merriam theater where that show will be opening next week. I take that as an encouraging sign that I am on the right pace, and I am suddenly grateful that I decided not to download the soundtrack from "Cats" instead...
* * * * * * * * * *
7-Mile Marker: Wait a minute, can that be right? Seven miles already?? I'm still on the same pace and it seemed like I had just passed the 5 mile halfway point a few minutes ago. "My Immortal" by Evanescence is playing and I start to slip into a kind of zen-like rhythm, with the asphalt rolling on and on beneath me as one foot continues to fall in front of the other.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 7.8 : I am snapped out of my little trance as I approach another water station. Runners are jostling into each other without apology as they desparately grab for water. I reach out gratefully to take a cup from one woman's hands, and am momentarily thrown when she pulls the equivalent of a "psyche!!!" move by drawing the cup, filled to the brim with cool, life-sustaining water, back away from my outstretched hand. I keep running but begin to suspect that maybe these people are getting a little sick and tired of serving as human water dispensers and disposable paper cup targets. Their sense of humor was starting to seem down-right twisted. I picture them all lined up in a gauntlet along the next water station, waiting with their arms half-cocked for the signal to unload coconut cream pies at our faces.
* * * * * * * * * *
8- Mile Marker: I'm running a 7:45 pace but the cramps and the sun are starting to get to me. "Vertigo" by U2 comes on. As my tongue begins to stick to the roof of my mouth, I decide that I would gladly deal with "Vertigo" anyday over "Dehydration"...
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 8.5 : I feel a moment of great relief as I see a spray of water cascading onto the street up ahead. The Philadelphia Fire Department had opened up several fire hydrants along Broad Street to help cool down the runners. I angle over to the far side of the street and then watch in disbelief from 20 yards out as a really strong gust of wind suddenly blows in from the east and pushes the stream of water back over across the sidewalk to the right and into an adjacent empty field, completely off of the race course. I ask the crying Indian to pass me a Kleenex...
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 9: I really don't care about my time at this point--with one mile to go I just want to finish. There is another water station right beyond the mile marker, and again I make a few unsuccessful grabs at some water cups as I continue to run at a full pace. A man up ahead makes eye contact with me and says, "I got you. I got you." He plants the cup directly into my hand and I make sure that I say "Thanks" before I bring the cup to my lips. Both the water and the tone in his voice give me a much needed boost. "Fly from the Inside" by Shinedown kicks in, and I dig down to finish this last mile with everything I've got left.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 10: I see a sign that says 'Finish line 1/2 mile ahead.' Very soon I spot an archway of orange girders up the road that appears to be rather close. A quick glance at my watch indicates that I seem to be making incredible time in this last mile. I break into an all-out sprint, my arms and legs pumping away without holding anything back. I cross beneath the girders euphoric, but the feeling is short-lived. None of the other runners are slowing down or stopping. I wonder for a moment if they had all signed up for a special "11-Mile Broad Street Run" option that I didn't know about, but then it dawns on me that the orange structure wasn't the finish line--it was set up to record a color photo of each and every runner to be purchased after the race. It also dawns on me that I had made the exact same mistake when I ran this race six years ago. Finally, it dawns on me that I am an idiot. The finish line is still a quarter of a mile away.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mile 10 (for real): The true finish line is up ahead. For a second time I reach down and make a final sprint for the finish. A small brunette in her early-20's pulls up even with me, and suddenly it is on for a head-to head race to the end. We alternate back and forth slightly pulling ahead of each other, and as we cross beneath the finish line we are actually completely even. We both nod at each other to say 'thanks' for the motivation, and then I go turn in my computer timing chip and make my way over to the refreshment tent. I chug a cup of Gatorade, and then follow it down with another. I decide to take a pass on the rest of the free food donated by the sponsors of the race, especially the cups of 'lite' yogurt sent in by a local dairy. Considering that we had just burned off about a bajillion calories in our little jaunt down Broad Street, you'd think that if there was ever a time to splurge on a little caloric indulgence, this would be it. I quickly make my way back up Broad Street to the nearest subway stop and soon I am back at my car and on my way home.
* * * * * * * * * *
Later that evening: I go online to check my official time in the race. I notice that the results from when I ran it back in 2000 are still available as well:
2000: 1:17:45
2006: 1:17:16
I had improved my time by just about 30 seconds the second time around. Of course, six years ago I had trained for about two months straight leading up to the race, and this year I didn't even sign up until three weeks ago. And once I registered I quickly wound up with my butt parked inside a classroom learning improv or working in a law office all day.
But the most significant thing for me was that I ran this particular race in the last remaining days of my thirties. My 40th birthday is a little over one week away, and even though I think that age is pretty relative, I was a little curious to see how I might match up physically with my younger self. Six years later, and I still managed to improve my time in spite of the fact that I had no training or conditioning.
I guess maybe it's true what they say about 40 being the new 30 after all...

Monday, May 01, 2006

If it's Monday this must be Philadelphia...

It's a little after 9 pm on Monday night and I just sat down to the computer to take a quick tour around my blogroll and get a few thoughts down to recap the whirlwind of activity that has been going on over these past couple of days.

Chicago was amazing--I had been out there before on several occasions but this trip was by far the best. It was perfect spring weather the first three days, and since I would be spending most of my time indoors on the weekend, I didn't even mind when the storms blew in. And sometimes even a little rain on a Sunday morning can be the perfect thing.

The food was fantastic--although I think I'm going to pay the price for all of the deep-dish pizza that I ate when I have to drag along a couple of extra pounds for 10 miles during the Broad Street Run on Sunday morning.

It was so great to jump back into improv again. I had very experienced, talented teachers for all of my workshops and each one brought a different perspective to all of the possibilities that can come from the beginning of a scene. And the same students were scheduled for every class, so over the course of five days we all got to know and trust each other completely. I met some very cool people from New Orleans, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Toronto, London, and an entire group from Norway that had been invited to come perform at the festival. Just one of the many highlights from the trip was kicking ass in pool in the Lincoln Tap Room at 1 a.m. with a 6'3" Norwegian named Gunner as my partner...

Sunday may have started off slow but the pace picked up quickly as the day went along. When I finally got to O'Hare for my flight that evening, the rain had caused delays and cancelled flights all over the country. Luckily my flight only got pushed back an hour, and I pulled into my driveway a little before midnight. I just dumped my suitcase on the kitchen floor and when I finally crawled into bed a short time later it was lights out about 10 seconds after my head hit the pillow.

I woke up bright and early and was rarin' to go this morning. I would always look forward to the excitement surrounding any kind of first day situation, so there was an extra spring in my step as I tucked my new Trapper Keeper into my bookbag and grabbed my Harry Potter lunch box to head off towards my office in Center City. The day went very smooth and everyone made me feel welcome right away. There will be a pretty steep learning curve at this new place, but I'm used to hitting the ground running and handling things on the fly.

Well I think I better wrap this post up soon. I still have some work that I brought home from the office that I want to have done by tomorrow morning and I have a fully-packed suitcase to step over several times on my way to the kitchen to fix a late dinner. Mmmm--I wonder how much Geno's would charge me to deliver some deep-dish from Chicago...