Monday, May 2, 2011

Of Note.

Last week, my friend Laura, who is a member of the New York Road Runners, was called to Marathon Opening Day to participate in a drawing for the opportunity to be one of the first ten admitted to the 2011 New York Marathon.

She jumped at the opportunity, playing hooky from work for an hour(give or take), hoping for the privilege to gain coveted entry into this most awesome of marathons.

As evidenced from the photo above, not only did she get in, but she was the first name called, and thus was the first recipient of the first bib number given out from the lottery for the 2011 New York marathon. Al Roker and Edward Norton gave her the number, and she also received a goody bag akin to those they hand out at the Oscars (swap the diamonds for Asics).

All told, it was a good day, and I can think of no one more deserving of this stroke of good fortune than Laura.

Anyone care to join me there in November?

Also of note, AK had her last long training run before Comrades, and logged 36 miles this past Saturday. She set up a little roving party, with different friends meeting her at scheduled times. She set up a little buffet at the meeting point, with baked potatoes, cokes, water, and Pringles, among other things. I ran with her from 10-11:45, with Joy meeting us for a Charlie's Angels reunion at 10:45. Truth be told, I wish I could have run the whole thing, such was AK's infectious excitement and positivity at running this uncharted distance.

All told, again, it was a good day.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: Instant Classic.

Labyrinth Ceremony at school

Yesterday, in celebration of Earth Day, Cameron's school had Community Day, where parents, students, and teachers spent the afternoon planting, mulching, and beautifying the school. It's such a lovely campus filled with color and design, from begonias to mosaics to tea-cup roses, and the grounds are part of the reason I fell in love with it.

Before heading outside to work, they had a ceremony where each class sang a song or read a poem in honor of Earth Day. Cameron's class sang "Dirt Made my Lunch", which apparently is a favorite of Ms. Kathleen's, the director of the school.

Since Ms. Kathleen loves this song, Cameron's teacher asked him if he would dedicate the song to her, and since he loves Ms. Jennifer more than just about anything, he of course agreed.

After everyone was in place, he stepped up to the microphone, then proudly and boldly proclaimed that "This song is defecated to Ms. Kathleen."

And in an instant, a classic story.

In other news, Happy Earth Day Birthday to Katie, pictured at left below in Boston at Eastern Standard with AK. More on that to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Prepare to Qualify.

This coming Monday, Denise's husband Scott is running the 115th Boston Marathon, in hopes of qualifying for the 116th Boston Marathon, 2012. That's the kind of animal we're dealing with.

Though I loved the Atlanta marathon, the field was-how should I put this-not quite as hardcore as New York and certainly not as hardcore as Boston. When we went to the expo, folks were hanging out in cotton t-shirts and shorts, looking casual. I didn't feel the least bit intimidated. As a matter of fact, I felt like I wanted to hang out at the expo and eat all of the food that Publix, the sponsor, was offering in the makeshift grocery store they had set up. Though I'm sure some of my anxiety was lessened by the fact that this was not my first marathon, I didn't feel my heart beating out of my chest, or starstruck, or even nervous. I felt excited. And hungry.

By no means do I mean to diminish the power of that marathon, or any marathon. It's a marathon and thus demands respect, no matter the destination. A local marathon, however, is vastly different from an international one, and though Atlanta is a formidable city, the marathon itself only drew about 3000 runners.

Nothing quite compares to the Boston Marathon, the Holy Grail of Marathons, the ultimate goal for so many runners. And this afternoon The Ambassador will be heading to Boston to hit the expo and then to run her first ever Boston Marathon.

Katie, Shannon and I are heading out tomorrow morning and will land in Boston around 1:45. By that point AK will have gone on a nice easy run with Bart Yasso, will have visited the expo with all the other hardcore elites, and basically will be counting down the minutes until she will proudly don her Fred's Team jersey, for whom she raised $6884.00, and run the race she worked so hard to gain entry in to.

We'll be there cheering; she'll be there making us proud.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Joyful Noise.

This past Sunday in church, the children's choir sang two songs. I always, always cry when kids sing, and Sunday was no exception. The songs weren't particularly sad or emotional (or in tune), but I always get overwhelmed with the earnestness and tenacity with which the children approach the performance. Sometimes it looks like their jaw is dislocated, like their mouths are just not big enough to contain the sound that's forcing its way out. The younger ones in particular are unselfconscious, making joyful (loud) noises, letting their song ring out with wild abandon. Most of them have yet to suffer public humiliation, and they stand and sing with unbridled confidence. It's wonderful.

Davis and his sister Grace are both in the choir, and though Grace, a 5th grader, was on the back row and was a bit more reserved, Davis stood on that middle row in the midst of all the other kids and sang his heart out, his little puffy cheeks filling up and then exhaling the most beautiful of sounds.

My heart tightened when I saw him. He was completely at ease, comfortable with his role of virtuoso, but I couldn't help but think about the card that he's been dealt, and the race that he now finds himself running. He's just trying to live the normal life of a 1st grader, singing, playing, laughing, but when your normal involves steroids, vincristine, and methotrexate, just to name a few, I daresay it can get tough.

The title of Sunday's sermon was "The problem is"...if you wait until you have enough money to have children, you'll never have children; if you demand perfect neighbors, you'll find yourself moving a lot; if you wait to tithe until it doesn't sting your bank account a little to do so, you'd never tithe. Ultimately, our minister claimed that we must take the first step, no matter how imperfect the situation.

As adults, we make choices every day, sometimes weighing our options carefully, sometimes acting on instinct, sometimes acting out of fear. In the case of Davis' fight against cancer, he's found himself in the middle of an imperfect situation, one that he will find his way out of with the help of his doctors, his mom, his family, his friends, and prayer.

He has no choice but to fight for his life, and he'll do so because he doesn't know any different, because he's working towards a new normal. He continues to run the race to beat this beast, and it's good to know he can sometimes make a joyful noise while he's doing it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Instant Classic.

While in graduate school, my dear friend Chris introduced me to several important things: the multifaceted use of the word "genius" for all manner of descriptors, the benefits of watching late night TV, what it means for something to be "obsession-worthy", that it is possible to survive on Hot Pockets and Coke, and an introduction to a plethora of genius songs, stories, authors, poets, musicians, and movies, like Bottle Rocket and Kicking and Screaming.

Filmed in 1995, this movie follows the story of four friends who've just graduated from college and are in what I refer to as the Wasteland of Their Existence. They're too old to live at home, too young to really have a clue. They're the kids who have not decided to go to law school or med school or work for a consulting firm. They're a little bit lost, but they have a diploma, by darn, and a dilettante's knowledge of a lot of things that will get them somewhere. They're just not exactly sure where.

There's a scene between two of the lead roles that goes like this:

Max: I'm too nostalgic. I'll admit it.
Grover: We graduated four months ago. What can you possibly be nostalgic for?
Max: I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory...and I didn't have a good time.

I feel like this sometimes, like I have some strange preemptive nostalgia, especially with regards to my children. I'm sad about them going to kindergarten before they even go there, missing the days we spent together destroying the house with scissors, popsicle sticks and a hot glue gun. I look at photos of them as babies and it seems like decades ago, not a few years. Such are the tricks of the mind when it's dedicated to a never-ending job and doesn't get much sleep.

I don't get a ton of sleep because, for one, my two year old is terribly spoiled and prefers to sleep with me rather than alone. I also just got a new iPhone, and I can't seem to stop playing Words with Friends. Or checking my email. Or the weather.

When I finally joined the digital age and turned in my "soccer mom" LG (the Verizon guy's words, not mine), I didn't anticipate finding my new phone so "obsession worthy", to fall so totally in love with a piece of technology. But a few days after having said phone, I told Jay he may have to stage an intervention.

He laughed. I didn't.

With the exception of my recent aforementioned addiction to Words with Friends, I really haven't downloaded too many apps; I'm trying to keep myself in check. But I recently stumbled across Instagram after seeing photos taken with this application on The Pioneer Woman blog. This application allows you to take photos and then manipulate them in all manner of ways by changing the color, contrast, light, and texture. All by tapping a little icon.

Now. I know all of you real photographers out there see this as a complete sham, as totally lazy on my part. And it is. But the truth is, at this stage in my life, I'm probably not going to take the time to learn about aperture, f-stop, exposure , histogram, and whether or not a flash is necessary. I will, however, take a photograph with my phone and manipulate the heck out of it with the simple swipe of my finger. That I can do.

I also realize that these photographs are somewhat inauthentic, that they're manipulated to look a certain way, and thus, in a sense, lack truth. Roland Barth would have a field day with this kind of photography. But I like the images and I like the effects. And I like that when I take a picture of my kids and lighten or darken it, the image itself aligns with the emotion I feel when I look at it, and a kind of nostalgia and sentimentality spills out over the edges.
And in keeping with the theme of this blog, I've added a few photos from the Atlanta Marathon. The originals are here, if you'd like to compare.
The above photo actually wasn't anywhere on the blog before. It's a self-portrait of my hot-pink recovery socks that was too dark before I bamboozled it with the Instagram. It's still not great, but you get the idea.
When we finished the marathon in Atlanta and made our way through the food and water line, I heard the guy in front of us turn to his friend and say "Remember that hill at mile 18?" He had crossed the finish line moments before, and he was already reminiscing about the race, was already committing it to memory. It was in the past.

Photographs commemorate the past for us, allow us a glimpse into a tiny moment, allow us a visual of something we may otherwise forget. They do a lot of work for us, really, in terms of memory. Sometimes they're all we have left of a person or a place; they're flat and inanimate, but their power is vast.

The Instagram photos give images the effect of being an instant classic, of looking old even though they're new, of being darker even though they were originally light. They have an emotive quality, and much like the unreality of the oxymoron "instant classic", their unreality is part of our world now. Although the image itself is not authentic, or original, the subject itself is. And so is the baby sitting on my 96-year-old grandfather's lap, or watching the dogs walk up the street on his Mimi's front porch, or snuggling with his lovies in the early morning light. In an instant, it becomes classic, it becomes a memory.

Sometimes I rue technology and the way it seems to overwhelm our lives. But sometimes I'm grateful for its ability to capture a moment in time that I, ironically, in my iPhone induced insomnia, most likely would forget.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sweet Dreams are Made of This.

Edie, AK, and Marett

Yesterday, Cameron was wearing my little blue bracelet from Fred's Team that says "Imagine a World Without Cancer". He's just learning to read and when he's feeling lazy, he often asks me to read something for him. When I told him what the bracelet said, he said it over and over and over, like he sensed the gravity of the phrase, like he needed to commit it to memory.

I received the bracelet as a little hostess gift from AK, who's running the Boston Marathon on April 19th for Fred's Team in honor of 6 year-old Marett Cole. AK had the genius idea to have a karaoke party not only to get together and thank some of her donors, but also in her words "to watch others leak their dignity for a good cause."

And leak we did.

After a beautiful speech filled with gratitude and heart, AK kicked off the night's proceedings with the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams are Made of This", while Marett and her little sister Edie walked through the crowd with buckets, sweetly soliciting funds.

Marett and Edie followed suit with a rousing rendition of "Boom Boom Pow", and then accompanied Katie and me with some serious air guitar on Joan Jett's "I Love Rock n Roll."

These two young stars left soon thereafter, and others began to trickle up on stage, taking a turn at classic hits such as "Here I Go Again", "Total Eclipse of the Heart", "Bad Leroy Brown", and "Margaritaville." Yours truly may have pulled in a few bucks when she stormed the stage with "Baby Got Back." Twice. I'm just happy that some of my less marketable skills (shamelessness, ample booty-shaking) have finally been put to good use.

AK was also called back on stage to perform "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" again, and the more I think about it, the more this song was such an appropriate start to an evening dedicated to raising money to fight cancer. Because that's our dream, after all, to imagine a world without cancer, and to do whatever we can to turn that dream into a reality.

All told, it was a raucous evening that raised over $1800 for Fred's Team, and every penny of that money goes specifically towards neuroblastoma research, per AK's request. You can read more about Marett and about AK's fundraising journey here, and of course you can make a donation too.

You don't even have to sing a song, and from the looks of things, everybody's doing it. Even the cool kids want to imagine a world without cancer.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

You Gotta Get Up to Get Down.

All right folks. Brace yourselves. I am definitely about to go all Triumph of the Human Spirit on you. And I got a little windy here, too; you'll have to settle in for this one.

Last weekend in Atlanta, was, without a doubt, one of the greatest days I've had to date. Why, you ask? Isn't Atlanta hilly? And weren't you running 26.2 miles all over said hills? Yes and yes. But I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Maybe not tomorrow, mind you, but soon. Soon.

Jay, Joy and I left Greenville on sunny Saturday morning, heading south on I85 for even sunnier Atlanta. We checked into our hotel, picked up our numbers at the expo, had lunch, and then headed out to drive the course to see what was in store for us.
The course started above, right outside of our hotel room on Marietta Street downtown. From a nerves standpoint, knowing that we basically got to get up and roll down to the start was comforting- no 4 am alarm clock, 45 minute bus rides, or 3 hour waits in 30 degree temperatures for the cannon blast. You just walked to your corral, listened to the national anthem, started your watch, and off you go.

We headed out of town on Marietta to drive the course, knowing that we would encounter a few hills along the way. Many trips to Atlanta and the elevation chart on the bottom of the course map indicated as much, so we were at least somewhat prepared for a few up and downs.

With regards to our scouting mission, let me just say this: had we not driven the course, I would have been a very, very poor sherpa for Joy in her first marathon experience. I probably wouldn't have maintained my sunny demeanor. And I probably would have thrown myself down on the ground at mile 23 and absolutely refused to go. another. step. up. hill.

But we knew what was coming, so we all sucked it up, readjusted our expectations, and headed out to dinner to a great place called Max's Coal Fired Pizza. We ate like marathoners, which is to say like truck drivers, cavemen, and animals. It's one of the downfalls of the taper-you eat like a behemoth and aren't running nearly as much and therefore feel like a beast. It's unfortunate, but true. Ask any runner. This feeling, however, doesn't stop us from mass consumption.

After ordering, our waitress came back to the table and said "You ordered a margarita pizza, correct? Not a margarita?" Her puzzlement must've stemmed from the fact that on top of a pizza, I also ordered a bowl of spaghetti.

With dinner behind us, we headed back to the hotel where we met up with AK. After devising a plan for the morning, we all headed to bed, a good night's sleep thwarted only by crying babies and the noisy Germans in the hallway at 2 am. But it was the night before a marathon...who actually sleeps then anyway?
Here we are pre-race, looking fresh and ready to go. I rarely wear a hat, but given the fact that my pony-tail holder broke the last time I was on the treadmill leaving me to look like what I imagined was a stallion but more likely was like a slow, sad, unkempt mare, I decided to go for the hat. I wore the fanny pack too-didn't want to disappoint my legions of fans.

We started at 7 am, still in the dark with a beautiful moon in the sky. Around mile 4 we passed Martin Luther King's birthplace, pictured below, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was pastor.
We ran up through Little Five Points, a groovy place surrounded with beautiful homes.Next we ran down and around the Carter Center, below,
and then through lovely Candler Park, home of one of my favorite restaurants, the Flying Biscuit. It was here around mile 7 that the half-marathoners split from the marathoners. After the first seven (hilly) miles, they were jubilant to break away from us, knowing they only had a 10k left and we had a lot more than that to go.
The homes in Candler Park were beautiful, but the hill at mile 8 was not. Sadly, I can't find an accurate photo to let you know the scope of it, so you'll have to trust me. We turned the corner and started laughing, such was the magnitude of this hill. It wasn't the first or last one we'd face that day, but right after summiting this one in particular Joy took an "Emotional Inventory" and so far, all three of us were happy and enjoying the race.
The next significant landmark was Agnes Scott College
and then onto the halfway point in downtown Decatur, below. I am in love with Decatur. The people here were so kind and encouraging, and the marching band at mile 13 was perfect. So many people came out to cheer for the marathoners-kids set up water stops and handed out gatorade, water, and candy, and another couple with their young daughter were out in their yard playing Born to Run, probably for the 30th time that day.
Next we ran through Emory University, where a small pep squad of high schoolers cranked out a few cheers for us.
And after Emory, we headed down hill and onto Lullwater in Druid Hills where the homes were absolutely stunning. Several folks were having lawn parties here and one crowd in particular was standing behind a large hedge, the tops of their shoulders and their chilled mimosas barely visible. They were just hidden enough from view that it was slightly awkward, like they had something good going on they didn't want us to see, and we had to stand on our (cramping) tippy toes to see them. But you better believe I was looking, wondering what they were doing and why they weren't giving us mad, mad props for running mile 18 past their house. I may have even said so. I can't be sure.
They were only slightly more civilized than the three dudes throwing down beers sitting in folding chairs at the edge of their driveway on Los Angeles Avenue in the Virginia Highlands. One of my favorite transactions of the whole day happened here:

Dudes, to cute young girl walking up driveway next door, who's obviously been running: "Where have you been?"
Cute young girl: "I ran the half-marathon."
Dudes: "The half-marathon? And they gave you a medal for that?"
Virginia Highlands, predictably, was hilly. Have I mentioned this already?
I have no idea who this stunning young couple is, but when we ran through the next portion of the marathon, miles 21-22 through Piedmont Park, pictured below, a cute couple was having engagement photos taken so I thought I'd put these two in for a little spice.
When we came out of Piedmont Park at mile 23, we knew the hill up 12th Street was formidable, and had prepared ourselves for the worst. After running 23 miles of hills, however, this one just seemed like one more hill, another notch on our belt, another story to put in our future metaphorical race bag. So we started up, knowing this was not the last hill, but that it was the biggest one left in the final 5k.
We ran briefly on Spring Street, above, and then through some industrial parts of the city before heading into Georgia Tech, the final university on our marathon tour of Atlanta. With the exception of the child--I mean college student--who'd set up his generator-run DJ equipment halfway up the hill across from the water stop at mile 24.5, it was deserted. I couldn't hear the music over the generator, but kudos to him anyway for being out there.
The final mile, ironically, was relatively flat-quite possibly the only flat-ish stretch of the whole day.
The last 400 yards was not flat, but at that point we were all so happy to be coming into Centennial Park and making the turn for the finish line that it really didn't matter. It had been a great party, but it was time to wrap this thing up.
Jay, who finished the race in 3:38 and thus had already showered, eaten, read the paper, packed up all of our stuff, eaten again, gotten a massage, and toured the CNN building, managed to take this photo of us coming up Marietta at mile 25.5, despite the impending arrival of my fanny-pack, which as you can see is about to be airborne. I really didn't want it cramping the style of my finisher's photo.
Marathon Super Star!

When I returned home from New York last November, AK and I were chatting one afternoon after carpool, and she said something funny to me that struck a chord; she said she'd felt like she'd taken me down a dark hallway, lifted back a curtain, and revealed to me a strange, three-headed dog.
It made perfect sense.
Running a marathon, it's like that. Why on earth would you commit hours and hours of your life to running, to something that causes blisters and stress fractures, to something that requires such focus and intent that it is, quite literally, like tunnel vision, like being in a dark hallway with only more running at the end of it? And why would you run 26.2 miles of hill after hill after hill when you could be back at home, relaxing and watching CBS Sunday Morning and having coffee?
It's a little weird, and a little freaky, and a little three-headed dog-ish. Sometimes it doesn't make a ton of sense. A 5k? Sure. A 10k? Definitely. A half-marathon? Yes, we can! But the big dance, the 26.2, it can seem outlandish at times, it can make you question your sanity.
But then you lead your sister-in-law/best friend down the dark hallway and watch her stare the three-headed dog in the face, watch her conquer her first marathon with grace, humor, and power, and you think, yes.
This is it. This is why.

Photos courtesy of Google Images and my awesome new iPhone