Monday, December 29, 2014

12 Miles and a Sexy Santa Suit!

The weather gets colder, but we Team to End AIDS runners are still more than willing to show up at Griffith Park at a ridiculously early hour Saturday mornings. This week had us running 12 miles with the promise of no hills, but as Spock said there are always possibilities.

I had trouble getting to sleep the night before, but I still managed to haul my ass out of bed at around 6:15 a.m. which in retrospect was amazing. This week’s movie which was showing on cable and delayed my departure from my bachelor pad was S.W.A.T., the movie version of the TV show starring Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, L.L. Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez. 

I was especially excited about this movie as it was directed by Clark Johnson, the man who played Meldrick Lewis on one of my all-time favorite TV shows Homicide: Life on the Street. The show may not have gotten great ratings during its run, but those involved with it continue to make their presence known in any and every medium out there.

So yes, I was a little late getting to Griffith Park, but I arrived just in time to see Coach JC unveil his beautiful Mrs. Santa Claus dress which looked just fabulous on him. Coach JC offered to wear this sexy looking dress (Mr. Santa Claus can only dream of looking this good) if all Team to End AIDS runners managed to raise $60,000 by the end of the week. Suffice to say we succeeded in making that a reality, and here we were marveling at our coach and taking pictures of him with our iPhones and cameras for posterity. It was especially brave of him to wear it for reasons I’m sure you’d understand… IT WAS BLOODY COLD OUTSIDE AND THE DRESS DIDN’T HAVE MUCH FABRIC TO WARM HIM UP! HIS SKIN WAS EXPOSED FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!

During his speech to us, Coach JC reminded everyone of how hard concrete can be on our feet. This is why you see us running on the streets instead of the sidewalks because the asphalt is much better to run on, and that’s what we all will be running on when the day of the marathon arrives. Of course, there are always police officers on our tails ordering us to get our asses back on the sidewalk, but we can jump back onto the asphalt once they’re out of sight. 

This run once again took us outside of Griffith Park, and we took the usual route over the freeway and into Burbank and then Glendale. As we ran past a park, we all were all treated to the grisly image of a dead skunk on the side of the road. He (or she) looked like they didn’t know what hit them. Perhaps the skunk was there to remind us to look both ways when we cross the street. Surely none of us want to end up (or smell anything) like him!

On this run the big conversation we all had was over Sony Pictures’ decision to not release The Interview in movie theaters. We were all in agreement that they should have just released it as this set a very dangerous precedent, but we also had to remind ourselves that Sony made the decision after numerous theater chains announced that they wouldn’t screen it due to terror threats made. In short, they didn’t want to be held liable for anything that happened at their establishments. It is true what they say: money is the corrupter. Hopefully Sony will change their mind and release The Interview on Christmas Day like they originally planned to.

The biggest obstacle we encountered this time around was staying on pace. Just when I thought we all started our timers at the same time, it soon turned out that we didn’t. Some decided to pause their timers upon arriving at the rest stops, and that threw us off to where we kept starting and restarting our watches on a regular basis. I ended up losing count of how many times I restarted my watch as it seemed to be increasingly impossible to be on the same page with everybody else. The fact that we were able to figure out our pace before we crossed the finish line was nothing short of a miracle.

At one point we reached that familiar street which was divided into two sides of traffic and had a bike and walking path down the middle which stretched for miles. I’ve ran down this road before, and there’s something about running in what seems like the middle of the road that feels both defiant and freeing. Damn the traffic! Damn the bicyclists coming in front and behind me! Nothing’s going to stop me now… except of course for the occasional street crossings and stop signs. 

It was at this point that the hit song by The Pretenders, “Middle of the Road,” started to play inside my head. I’m pretty sure the title of the song isn’t meant to be taken literally, but that didn’t matter to me in the slightest.

Actually, many ended up running on the streets instead of the middle road as, once again, the asphalt is much kinder to the feet. While I knew the middle road was made of concrete, I was still compelled to run on it regardless. But after a bit I decided it might be better to run on the street even as the roads got increasingly narrow to where we had to run in a single file run. Of course, I later found myself getting back onto the middle road just because I was drawn to it or something stupid like that. It also got me to meet up with Coach JC who drove ahead of us to check in and make sure we were doing okay. JC, still wearing his beautiful Mrs. Santa Claus dress, ended up saying to me, “I am not looking forward to your next blog.”

One of the sites I came across on this run was a speed limit sign that indicated the speed you were going at. My brother loves to race through them to see if they will overload and send sparks flying. As we approached it, it read 15 miles an hour. For a moment I thought it was measuring the speed we were running at, but it turns out there were a number of bicycles behind that were coming up a lot sooner than we realized. As we ran past it, I was hoping it show us going at breakneck speed. Then again, we have been constantly reminded that our marathon training has not been about speed but instead endurance.

We made it back to Griffith Park in one piece, and the most frightening thing of all was that we made it look like running 12 miles was not that hard. What’s wrong with us anyway? 

We should also take the time to congratulate those who completed those first time marathon runners as this run marked the farthest they have run in one day to date. Way to go y’all!

This is our last run before Christmas and many of us were getting ready to leave town to spend it with our families. As we departed, we all wished one another a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah or Chanukah if you prefer to spell it that way. Since there were a number of holidays coming our way in the next few weeks, I made sure to wish my fellow runners a Happy Kwanza and a Happy Boxing Day to make sure everyone was covered. We’ve got to be equal folks.

I’ll be out of town next week for the 5 mile run, but I will make sure to run it when next Saturday comes. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a ridiculously Happy New Year. Be safe.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: For those of you tuning into this blog for the first time, I am training for the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon in support of AIDS Project Los Angeles. They are a non-profit organization that has spent years helping those afflicted by this disease we have yet to eradicate. I encourage you to donate to this organization, and together we can put an end to AIDS for once and for all.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Impatience of a Child on Christmas Morning

It was Christmas morning 2013, and I was sleeping in the loft of my parents’ home in Northern California. While everyone else had a comfortable mattress to sleep on, I was the odd man out and forced to sleep on an air mattress in a rather congested area of the house. This shit happens when all the bedrooms are occupied. Even after I had awoken, I kept my eyes shut in the hopes that maybe I could get just a few more minutes of sleep. But I had no such luck because I eventually felt a foot tapping on my air mattress and looked up to see my niece who told me, with a stern look in her eyes:
“Wake up Uncle Ben, we’ve got to open presents!”

It took me a few more minutes to haul my ass out of bed, but I immediately knew how she felt. Her impatient waiting for Christmas Day to arrive brought back a lot of memories. I remember waiting for Santa Claus to arrive at whatever house me and my family was staying at to leave us Christmas presents, but I remember even more vividly getting little to no sleep on Christmas Eve (a lack of sleep these days feels normal unfortunately) which made the wait to open presents all the more agonizing. 

The rule for my older brother and I was that we couldn’t open up any presents until 7:00 a.m., but waiting for our watches to reach the 7 o’clock hour was pure torture. Back when you were a child, Christmas could never come soon enough. Time just dragged on and on as you waited to open the presents nestled comfortably under the family Christmas tree. As we get older, time starts moving by a lot faster which at first is a relief because it allows you to get through the crappy parts of life at a quicker pace, but then we find ourselves wanting time to slow down so that we can hold onto those special moments just a little while longer. 

When my niece finally got to rip open those presents Santa had left for her, her joy at what she received was extremely audible. Among the gifts she received was a trampoline which will be waiting for her back home. To this, she let out a very loud scream of joy that should have woken up the whole neighborhood. Then again, if my parents watching Skyfall on their HD television with the soundtrack blasting out the speakers doesn’t wake the neighbors up, nothing will.

But then there were the rest of the presents under the Christmas tree for the whole family, and my niece had to wait even longer to open those. We adults had to get up, take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast. While children might be content to skip meals to get at those presents, we older people have long since developed a level of patience that never came to us easily. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but tease my niece as she shifted anxiously in her chair. Just when she thought we were done with our meals, we told her that we needed to go on a 5-mile walk to burn all these calories off. All the same, she didn’t quite get the joke and her impatience for unwrapping presents became all the more uncontrollable. Just when it looked like we were finished with breakfast, she came up to each of us, prepared to take our plates, and said, “Are you done?” Her parents responded that she needed to ask us nicely. As a result, she once again asked if we were done, but this time she asked us with a smile. Somehow the message didn’t get through.

As we were cleaning up our plates, my niece rushed up the stairs to the Christmas tree and awaited our appearance. When we didn’t show up right away, she began writhing on the floor like she was Linda Blair in The Exorcist; possessed by a force that needed to be banished from her body forever. She really couldn’t wait for much longer to open presents, and in her mind we couldn’t make it up the stairs fast enough.

Just like when I was a child, my niece had the job of handing out presents to everybody, but of course the first present she picked out was for herself (I used to do the exact same thing). She also insisted that we open our presents individually and not all at once. For a moment, I thought she was doing this to get back at us for making her wait to open presents, but her mother pointed out how much fun it is to watch the expressions on everyone’s faces when they opened their gifts. We were all quickly reminded of this when the present opening finally commenced.

It was all worth it just to see my niece get super excited about the gifts she got. She didn’t even try to hide her glee, and it got to where she spoke so fast that we couldn’t understand what she was saying. She received some sort of doll that was tied up ever so securely in its box, and she asked for our help in getting the doll out of the box as it seemed surprisingly child proof. I myself got her a Target gift card (I’m sure she does need a PIN for it) worth $15, and I have never seen a child get so exhilarated over receiving one before. I hope she wasn’t putting on some sort of act to hide her disappointment or anything.

Watching my niece opening her presents proved to be a reminder of how wonderful a holiday Christmas can be. I have been kind of blasé about it for the past few years because of all the commercialization surrounding it, but when it comes to family there’s no beating this holiday. It also reminds me of how precious time is because it keeps going by faster and faster as we get older and older. It almost makes me feel kind of envious of my niece because she has yet to discover how truly crazy this world can be. We all better enjoy these precious moments while they last!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

5 Miles After the Storm

The past few days have had California drenched in massive rainstorms to where even tornados were reported in South Los Angeles. The winds were blow and the rain came pouring down in a way we’ve been waiting for it too. And yet, when the heavy clouds went away and the sun slowly started to peak its way out of the clouds, none of this was enough to end California’s most serious drought in years! What gives anyway?!

Well, by the time Saturday, December 13, 2014 (12/13/14) came around, the clouds were nowhere as heavy as they were before, and the Team to End AIDS runners ended up having a rain-free day as they did their 5 mile run through the streets of Burbank. 

I ended up having a lot of trouble getting to sleep the night before and couldn’t get myself to fall into a deep slumber before 1 a.m. which sucked because I had to get up at 6. Now this may have had to do with me going to Pink’s in Hollywood last night and having The Hollywood Walk of Fame Dog, a 9 inch stretch dog topped with coleslaw and chopped tomatoes. On yeah, I also had that with a side order of onion rings and a Mexican Coca-Cola. I don’t know, I guess I was feeling a big naughty last night and felt the need to eat at a historic Hollywood landmark. Plus, the line at Pink’s was a lot shorter than usual.

Look on the bright side; my hot dog was covered with diced tomatoes.

The other thing was that I had just seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice and was still trying to figure what the hell it was all about. The movie was so densely layered and had so many things on its mind that it became impossible to keep up with all that was going on. The acting was great and Anderson has not lost any of his ability as a filmmaker, but I could never get on the same wavelength with his latest movie and I desperately wanted to.

So Inherent Vice was still playing in my head as I tried to get some shut-eye, but my mind was still racing to where my body kept saying, “No let’s stay up a little while longer.” Then my next door neighbors started making out, and hearing them climax at the same time made more envious than usual. As a result, Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All The Luck” started playing in my head, a reminder of how much luck I have with women these days (which is to say, none).

Anyway, my alarm did wake me up at the tender hour of 6 a.m. and I hauled my ass out of bed for another day of marathon training. But of course, I did get seduced by cable TV which was showing John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, one of the most entertaining movies ever made. If you can, see it with an audience as few experiences in a movie theater will be anywhere as much fun as that one is.

The Team to End AIDS runners meet in Griffith Park at 7 a.m., but we typically don’t start running until about 7:20 or 7:30. As I was running a bit behind, I figured I would arrive just as everyone was heading over to the starting line. But once I got there, I discovered that everyone had already left which led to me kicking myself literally and figuratively speaking. How dare I get to Griffith Park after everyone has left! Who do I think I am anyway? I’d tell you who, but that would require me naming a manager I once had who I really need to stop thinking about altogether.

But fortunately Coach JC was there and offered to give me ride to where the Lucky 13 pace group was at in their run. Meanwhile, Coach Dene was keeping a close eye on the key bucket which everyone leaves their car keys in. Heaven forbid we put them in our pockets during our run and end up losing them in the process. That bucket is there to ensure that such a tragedy never happens. But with the way Dene was looking at those keys, both JC and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was going to trade in a car for one of ours. 

Fortunately, the Lucky 13 pace group (which remains the largest of all the T2EA pace groups) was only a few yards away, so we didn’t have to travel far after all. JC assured me that I would still be doing a 5 mile run as he realized that the run actually measured out to 5.1 miles. Well, that was still good to know. 

I figured my fellow runners would give me a hard time about being late, but for the most part they were glad to see me. One of them said I was getting special treatment with Coach JC driving me to them. I’m not sure I deserve special treatment, so I was a little modest about that. I also informed everyone that I did make my interviews with the cast and director of Predestination and that Ethan Hawke was a lot of fun to talk to.

It turns out that everyone left for their run earlier than usual because it was really cold. That’s right, colder temperatures have finally arrived in Southern California after a rather lengthy delay and just in time for Christmas. As I was getting out of my car, I kept wondering if I should put on my black Nike jacket or not. It’s a good thing I decided to wear it as even the first mile or so of this run did not warm up as quickly other training runs have. If nothing else, this is a clear sign that winter will be here before we know it.

I’ve been noticing how the muscles in my lower legs keep getting this burning sensation, and it makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. The sensation does go away, but it feels a little more painful than it should. Maybe I should have someone look into it more.
For us, the big thing to look out for was all the wet leaves and broken tree branches strewn all over the road. The leaves may be dead, but they are still very easy to slip on. As for the tree branches, they were just sitting there on the road as if to tell us, “Go ahead, come here and trip on us. You’re too busy running anyway so how can you even notice us?” Well we did notice them and nobody tripped and fell down thank goodness.

Once again, I kept checking myself to make sure I was running with my back straight and not hunching over. I’m all about the perfect running form these days, and I think I might be getting a little closer to achieving it. Of course, I may be just fooling myself as I have quite the talent for that.
The one thing the Lucky 13 pace group were unlucky in this week was staying on pace. Eventually we had to realize that we were running too fast and had to slow down a bit. I could certainly sense that I was running faster than usual, and I didn’t have to worry about being at a press junket on time either. I don’t know, maybe I was trying to rid myself of whatever negative thoughts were buzzing around in my head so I could make room for all those endorphins which come in handy for those dealing with anxiety and depression. That’s the danger of not exercising on a regular basis; you forget how good they make you feel.

The Bolivers were on hand once again to treat us to all the snacks, water and Gatorade we needed for the rest of our run. It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like because this married couple continues to drive all the way from Covina to Burbank to give us the fuel and the support we need to help us run just a few more miles. Those peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers remain as addictive as ever, and I soon lost track of how many I had while I was at the Boliver rest stop. It got to where my stomach started telling me, “I thought we were going to free up some space here and thin things out.” As for my knees, they have long since given up complaining with me and are now just saying, “I’m going to miss all the cartilage.”

When we made the final turn towards the finish line, it was so nice to feel that gust of wind come in our direction as the sun had finally arisen and things were beginning to warm up. As we approached the end, we threw our 3:1 pace out the window so that we could cross the finish line running instead of walking. Somehow the thought of just walking across it felt all wrong. 

So that concludes another 5 mile run, and we managed to escape the pouring rain in the process which was nice. Next Saturday our mileage increases to 12 miles, and my guess is we might have a hill or two to climb over. If we don’t, then something might be seriously wrong with our training
As the sun came up over the hills in Griffith Park, it shone down brightly over the late Scott Boliver’s tree which continues to grow there. Scott may be gone, but he’s always with us in spirit.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: As you know I have reached my fundraising goal for AIDS Project Los Angeles, but people are still donating regardless of that fact. To date I have raised $1,086, and I encourage you to keep donating to this non-profit company that has done so much for so many people over the years. One of these we will deal the death blow to the AIDS virus, but there’s still a lot we can do in the meantime before that happens. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Running 10 Miles in Fancy Los Angeles Neighborhoods

So it’s finally come to this. The Team to End AIDS runners are now entering double digit territory with this week’s run of 10 miles. The easy stuff is over, and now we get to the nitty gritty of marathon training.

As usual I was running (figuratively speaking) behind as I was slow to wake myself up at 6 am in the morning. It took watching part of the movie version of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show God Said Ha to get me into gear, but of course I got caught up watching it on cable even though I have a copy of it on DVD. Regardless of the fact that I had the ability to watch this movie later, I was still hooked to what was going on as Sweeney’s brother suffered from lymphoma. 

Anyway, I remain thankful that the streets of Los Angeles remain largely empty in the morning as I sped my way up La Brea Avenue towards Griffith Park. It would be great if these streets were always this empty and free of traffic, but that of is just a pipe dream. This is Los Angeles after all; the land of the car horn symphony. Everybody is in a hurry to go everywhere and nowhere. 

It was great to be back in Griffith Park and running with a group of people as opposed to running by myself on a treadmill. I arrived just as Coach JC was starting the warm up exercises. All the head and feet rolling is great to do, but I always get a little discouraged when it comes to doing the high knees. It’s been ages since my knees reached up to the bottom of my hands, and it’s taken me a while to accept the fact that God did not make me into a flexible human being. 

Now today’s run came with a certain amount of worry for me. I was scheduled to interview Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook and the Spierig brothers about their latest movie Predestination at the SLS Hotel, and I needed to be there by 10:45 am. I kept working out the amount of time it would take me to run 10 miles in and, even though we were starting at 7 am, I realized that I would be cutting it really close. What’s worse, I planned to bring a change of clothes, some deodorant and my HD video camera with me so that I could drive straight to the SLS Hotel right after the run. I decided I didn’t need to do that, and I eventually realized that was a mistake. I am never all that patient when it comes to math.

This week’s run took us outside of Griffith Park and into Burbank and parts of Glendale where the houses are really pretty and enormous. At one point we ran by the Disney Imagineering Studios to find that a huge line had formed outside of it. We kept asking those who were there what they were waiting for, and it turned out they were waiting for the studios to open so they could go inside to buy the new collectable pins. I worked at Disneyland a while ago and I remember all about pin trading. Seeing all these people lined up there reminded me how popular that activity is. 

I also got a kick out of seeing one of the people who was waiting there holding an ALF doll in her hands. I used to have an ALF doll of my own until a pesky rat ended up decimating my entire stuffed animal collection. Anybody out there remember ALF?

Actually, the other thing I was reminded of was when I stood outside of the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Boulevard several years ago waiting with dozens of others for the midnight release of Madonna’s “Music” album. Some guy walking by asked what we were waiting for and a woman said, “Def Leppard tickets!”

We ran past that bakery again. The smell of yeast in the air is still intoxicating no matter what time of day it is. It filled me up so much that I didn’t even bother to look at those tasty advertisements hanging outside of the fast food restaurants we usually run past. Those ads always have me salivating even though I know the actual product won’t even compare to it.

This run had us going up what I call a deceptive hill. It’s when you’re running up a certain street and you don’t realize you’re going up a hill until it’s too late. Once you do realize that you’re running up a deceptive hill, you then come to see just how far up it extends and you wonder what the hell you have gotten yourself into. Sure you can turn around, but that’s really not an option when it comes to training for the Los Angeles Marathon. We need these hills.

We also got to run alongside some of the nice and expensive looking houses in Glendale. It’s always humbling to run by these homes which look like they are sitting on top of a plantation and being constantly reminded that you can’t possibly afford them. I came out to Los Angeles in the hopes of maybe moving into a place like that at some point. Well, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, but I can still dream, can’t I?

I constantly kept looking at my watch throughout the run, and I got increasingly nervous as the minutes kept ticking away from 9 am to 10 am. In my head I figured running 10 miles would take an hour and a half at best, but again I am not very patient with math. I kept wanting to finish faster and not just to say I was the first in the Lucky 13 pace group to cross the finish line. I needed to get to my Predestination interviews on time. 

The other runners started commenting that I was running too fast and they were right. As 10 am drew closer and closer, I had Rush’s song “Time Stand Still” playing through my head. 

“I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath
Before I start off again.
Driven on without a moment to spend
To pass an evening with a drink and a friend.”

By the time I made it back to Griffith Park, it was already 10:10 am and this upcoming interview was threatening to become another I would miss out on. Still, it was great to be back in Los Angeles running with these fine people who I missed. Training for a marathon by yourself is not impossible, but it sure isn’t anywhere as fun as training with a group.

I managed to keep as much focus on my running stance as I could as I threatened to keep running while hunched forward, and I need to look out for that. I also need to make that speed walking stance where my arms are above my waist more of a regular habit. There was a bit of a burning sensation in my lower legs throughout, and that’s probably a reminder of how important it is to keep doing those maintenance runs during the week (for the record, I did do mine).

After I finished I quickly did some leg stretches and ate a couple of chocolate chip cookies that were left for us, and I jumped in my car and sped back to my apartment all the time hoping that a cop car would not pull me over for any reason let alone a justifiable one. From there I had one of the quickest showers ever known to man and then quickly put on jeans and my National Sarcasm Society t-shirt and raced over to the SLS Hotel. It turns out the interviews were all delayed a bit, so I did manage to talk with everyone and had a fun time. 

Looking at this training run and the interview I had with Ethan Hawke, I kept thinking about how minutes slip away so quickly as you get older and of how events become memories far too soon. Once again, Rush’s “Time Stand Still” comes to mind.

“(Time stand still)
I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now
(Time stand still)
See more of the people and the places that surround me now
Time Stands still
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away.”

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Thanks to my good friend from Baltimore, Maryland, Ed Mahoney, I have reached my fundraising goal for the 2015 LA Marathon and AIDS Project Los Angeles. His very generous donation has put my total at $1,061. But while I have reached my goal, I still encourage you all to make a donation to this organization as they continue to do great work for those who struggle with this disease. Plus, with the year coming to a close, time is running out to get that always welcome tax deduction when you donate to a non-profit group.