Week 2 of training was good! It was also my highest mileage week in over a year: 34 miles.
That might not sound like much to some (or to me from two years ago), but considering the last 12 months looked like this…
…34 miles ain’t bad.
For anyone wondering, an explanation of my gaps:
I’m hoping all of this foot nonsense is behind me. I’m so tired of needing to take breaks from running because my mechanics are off, or I’m stubbornly pushing myself, or I’m not doing enough single leg work / drills / foam rolling / sleeping / praying / chanting / witchcraft spells.
Fortunately, each time I’ve gotten a “thing,” I’ve taken steps to do some kind of strength or mobility work that I probably should have been doing all along.
Week 2 saw five days of running – the most days I’ve run in a week in a while – consisting of two easy days of about 4 miles each, speed and tempo workouts of about 7.5-8 miles each, and an extremely pleasant 10-mile long run.
I was nervous about the long run because the last two attempts at 10 miles resulted in two of those gaps. This time, I kept it nice and slow, and all was well. It was also wonderfully overcast with a chance of light rain that never came, so I didn’t have to deal with feeling like a roasted chicken for once.
I realized just today that this summer marks 50 years since my parents first met.
I’ve been writing about my dad here, but I think to better understand my dad is to understand the relationship he had with my mom. Or, at least, the part I will write about now, which is the very beginning of it.
Both spent their early childhoods in NYC before their families moved them out to the greener pastures of 1950s suburban Long Island. In the summer of 1971, they were in their mid 20s and living in Northport – my dad a young English teacher at the junior high and my mom, I’m actually not sure what she was doing for work, but she had grown up there and I think lived with her mother at the time.
They met through a mutual friend. I think a morning sailing trip was somehow involved, followed by a backyard barbecue later that day. Decades later, once they had four daughters and four grandsons, my dad recounted the story of when he first saw my mom across the yard. “That was it,” he said to me. Indeed, that was it.
Their early 1970s, pre-kids days seemed to consist of dogs, taking photos, going on walks, laughing, and hanging out with friends. My mom was a serious hobbyist photographer, and I have many a contact sheet of the two of them playing around with cameras.
They were married in September 1973 at a local Lutheran church. Neither was Lutheran or even religious. I think everyone just got married in churches back then. If it were today, I feel like they would have just gotten married in someone’s backyard. In fact, the reception that followed was at my grandmother’s house.
My mom wore a white blouse and a blue velvet skirt and beret, because she never did things the standard, predictable, boring way. (Many years later, when accepting her Masters degree, she refused to wear the cap and gown, instead collecting her diploma in a smart blouse, blazer, and skirt.)
My parents were alike in a lot of ways – avid readers, lovers of language, smart, witty, open-minded, inclusive, and kind. They were also polar opposites: my mom outspoken, funny, teasing, a little messy; my dad soft-spoken, gentle, organized, supremely neat.
Here’s a good example of how different they were: this photo was given to me last year by our family’s longtime friend Lynne and taken at her wedding reception. These are the outfits my parents each chose to wear that day:
Their marriage would last just ten years, but their friendship that followed – which, admittedly, took years to develop – would last decades, up until my mother’s death in 2017.
They may have had their differences, but they were both incredible parents: warm, creative, supportive, encouraging. All the things parents are supposed to be. They were that. And I’m so glad they were mine.
Hi, it’s me. I am going to write about marathon training now. It’s strange to be writing about marathon training again. While I’m at it, it’s strange to be writing again.
I’ve had a very quiet few months in terms of my online output. I blame everything from a renewed focus on my photography career, more time devoted to running again, a general malaise and uncertainty about life, direction, and what the hell I’m doing with my remaining time on Earth – the usual.
But I am finding that not writing is causing a glut of tangled cobwebs to form inside my little brain, not even something running is able to fix, so this seemed like a good time to get back into it.
As the title of this post would suggest, I’ve signed up to run the 2021 NYC Marathon, something I did not foresee happening this year, but I got myself a bib so I’m going to do this thing. Not sure how well I will do this thing, but the thing will be done to the best of my ability, such that it is.
I want to approach these weekly summaries a little differently than before, which is not to go into a ton of detail about my specific training plan – it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t really help anyone, and it’s a lot of numbers to type. I’ll mention my training generally, just maybe not list every workout in detail.
Instead, I’ll summarize each week and use this space to write stories about my dad, as I plan to run this marathon in his memory. I’m not raising money or asking for donations to be made in his name or anything, although you are always free to do that.
I just want to remember, and remind people of, him more often.
This week’s training
I’m not exactly where I’d like to be for week one of marathon training – my personalized plan, courtesy of my awesome running club the New York Harriers, has me running a 14-mile long run this week. I haven’t run farther than 10 miles in a long time, and the last time I got anywhere near 10 (about 5 weeks ago), my right ankle/foot started aching for seemingly no reason and derailed me for a couple of weeks.
I’m modifying the plan as I go to meet me where I am, so that meant this first week was four days of running: one easy 3-miler, a day of speed work, a day of tempo, and an 8-mile long run up to the Little Red Lighthouse and back. Easy stuff with a few faster paces thrown in. Nothing crazy. My foot is feeling better each day I run to the point where I barely notice it now.
I also included two upper body strength training workouts and some lower body stuff: single leg moves, balance board work, ankle strengthening, foam rolling. I’m not supposed to be doing much strength training during marathon training, but I have cut down my weekly upper body workouts from three to two, at least.
The great outdoors
I credit both of my parents with teaching me about being active, which eventually led to my interest in running at a young age. My mom was more of the workout fiend – although never a runner – constantly trying out new fitness trends: Jane Fonda tapes, the ThighMaster® (apparently still going strong), ab rollers, step aerobics, barbells, free weights, ankle weights, yoga balls, and a stationary bike.
My dad was concerned with health but less into organized exercise, although I do remember him having a silver 10-speed bicycle when I was a kid. But he liked to be active. I associate outdoor activities with him: going to the beach, going camping, going pumpkin picking, seeing baseball games – we really only stayed home if it was raining, and then we’d rent movies from Blockbuster we’d already seen dozens of times before, likely starring Bette Midler or John Candy.
My earliest memories of being athletic were with my dad. One of our favorite pastimes was to go to a nearby sports field behind the local high school and try to catch a large rubber ball he would kick up into the air. He would shout “Ball!” and then kick it as high as he could, as my sisters and I fought to be the first to catch it. I probably beat them out more often than not, mostly due to the fact that I was the tallest.
He also taught me how to ride a bike. I was determined to learn how to ride without training wheels, so I would eat my dinner as fast as I could just to get outside with him afterwards, my dad holding the back of my flowered banana seat, me wanting so badly to ride on my own while still loving the feeling that he was there to catch me if I fell.
I don’t remember him ever complaining about having to do this or feeling like he was too busy. He always made time. I think he enjoyed it, too. This might sound silly, but I think he genuinely loved being a dad.
I have now spent one year of my life without my father. This was my first year without my father, as well as my first year as an orphan, if it’s possible to be an orphan in your 40s.
I wrote last year that my father’s death felt like the new dividing line in my life: there was Dad and then there was Not Dad. There was me with him and there is me without him. I am the same person, and I am not.
My lovely father died exactly one year ago, on April 1, 2020, of COVID-19. Technically, he died of kidney failure, or maybe it was heart failure, or both. His lungs also failed. If he had held on much longer his brain would have failed, too. This was all because of COVID-19, so I am fine, although perhaps not technically correct, in saying that this is the thing that killed him.
COVID-19 has killed a lot of people. To be exact: 2,833,203 as of this writing, a number I had to update from when I first wrote it to this piece’s final edit, and will likely be out of date once this post is published.
That number is hard to comprehend. Can you picture 2,833,203 people? I can’t. I can picture about 20, maybe 30 people. Even then, I can’t simultaneously picture them individually. They all appear in the peripheral vision of my mind’s eye, a mass of clothing, skin, and hair. If I focus on one, the others get blurry.
In regard to the current pandemic, my father was only one of a very large number. But his place as a seemingly insignificant statistic in a sea of anonymous, blurred faces does not diminish the importance he played in my life, and in the lives of my sisters, nephews, and other family members.
In a way, he is still the most important person in my life.
I have talked to my dad a lot this past year. More accurately, I have talked to his face in photographs inside various frames, propped up against walls and books around my apartment, smiling back at me, sometimes with a younger face and more hair. Sometimes I talk into the air, often looking up, as though he is floating a few feet above my head, because I assume, if they exist at all, this is what spirits do. There is a futility to seated spirits; I don’t think they have gravity on that side.
I’ll be honest, in talking to my dad this past year, I haven’t always been nice. I’ve often angrily asked him why he had to die, and why he had to die two and a half years after my mom died. Neither of them could stick around for legitimate old age? They had to both peace out before their 80s? Before their nephews grew up? Before they could be great grandparents? What was the rush? What the hell, man?
I often refer to my dad’s death as “dumb.” Not publicly, but to myself and to him. I acknowledge the seeming flippancy of this remark but he would understand what I meant, although his photos have never so much as blinked in response.
I’m still not sure if it was a blessing or a curse that my father’s death coincided with a sudden, massive influx of free time.
Last April, after I returned from my dad’s house upstate, I found myself without any of the usual things that had kept me busy in the months prior: photographing people for both a living and for fun, meeting up with my running club, volunteering at a local nursing home, the occasional coffee with the one or two friends who have not left New York City for Los Angeles, visiting my sisters and nephews.
Those things were all gone, at least for now. I had a father to grieve as well as all the time in the world. A fine pairing.
Looking back, I can see why I immersed myself in various projects. I started a food blog, something I intended from day one to be a business, so I took it very seriously. I studied the hell out of how to be a food blogger. My god, there is so much to know. There was so much to learn. So much information to take up the cavernous space inside my head I did not want to remain empty for long.
I became increasingly more organized, to the point where every waking hour of every day is now sorted into colored blocks on my Google calendar, where I obsessively keep track of everything I want to do and everything I have done. I’m not that anal – I round everything to the nearest five minutes.
I walk my dog four to five times a day. I keep track of what I feed him and what his poop looks like.
Workouts, runs, expenses, workflows, photos, recipe testing, grocery costs, and more are recorded in detailed spreadsheets. I need to write down everything lest I forget anything. Keeping records has become my religion. If I can’t control whether my parents live or die, then I will sure as hell control my information.
Throughout this pandemic, the thing I have come to fear the most is not death. It is idle time.
The subject I have delved into the most this past year has been my family tree.
In the weeks and months following my father’s death, I had a newfound desire to know everything I could about my bloodlines. I think I was only partially aware that this need to learn about my relatives might have something to do with the fact that I had just lost my most beloved one.
My aunt – my mother’s sister, a retired physical therapist and skilled seamstress who lives about a 15-minute walk from me and who has provided me with many expertly-crafted masks throughout this pandemic – is an amateur but experienced genealogist. She never practiced professionally, but the extent of her knowledge is such that she could have.
So with my aunt’s guidance, I started researching my dad’s side of the family, the side I knew least about since my aunt has already extensively researched my mom’s.
I started by messaging various DNA relatives on 23 and Me.
My father had his DNA tested on 23 and Me a few years ago, as did I and two of my sisters, so I know who among my 1500 DNA relatives on that site are on my father’s side. This makes it easier to know who to contact.
Throughout the spring and summer, I messaged complete strangers who happened to have in common a tiny piece of DNA with me, asking them what they knew about their German, Irish, or Italian lines, trying to piece together the clues of what my father had told me about his family history with what I could find online. I perused census reports, birth and death certificates, marriage records, draft cards, and purchased family tree software so I had a place to record it all. I would spend hours doing this before realizing I needed to eat or my dog needed walking.
A few of these strangers got back to me. Some didn’t know much beyond what I had told them. A few didn’t reply at all. Which was fine. I just messaged others. I started a spreadsheet for this, too.
Last summer, I discovered that my great grandparents Charles and Catherine – my father’s father’s parents – were buried in Brooklyn, just a couple of subway rides away from where I live. I kicked myself for having lived in this city for the better part of the last quarter century not already knowing this.
Then I found out my father’s father’s father’s parents, Charles and Lena, were buried in Queens, not far from the Brooklyn cemetery where their son was buried. I knew very little about this couple, and their identities were something I don’t even think my father knew about – when he had described his great grandfather, he had Germanized his entire name and said he was born in Germany, two things I discovered were not correct: the guy was born here, in New York City, and only his last name was German. (In the 1930s, his children and all of their children would change the family name from Schott to Scott, an apparent attempt to disguise their heritage during World War II.)
I wished I could tell my dad about all of this. I kept asking myself why I hadn’t done this research earlier – the irony, of course, being that it was my father’s death that led me on this journey in the first place.
Wanting to see these gravestones in person, I contacted the cemeteries to get exact plot locations. The summer was too close to the height of the pandemic to feel safe enough to travel, but I was determined to make the trip at some point. I studied the cemetery maps, even considering running there at one point (they’re about 11 miles away, and I didn’t yet feel up to that mileage last fall).
Finally, with the winter snow out of the way and the weather a bit warmer, I headed to Brooklyn two weekends ago.
My great grandparents Charles and Catherine – he German and she Irish, a scandalous pairing at the time of their wedding – lived in Brooklyn their entire lives. He was a receiving clerk for a navigation manufacturing company, she a homemaker, or, as the census reports state, “Housewife.” They had 14 children; my grandfather, Charles III, was in the middle. Charles II died in 1944, less than a year after the fourth and final Charles, my father, was born. Catherine died in 1966.
It’s a nice gravestone. The cemetery is well-kept, and on the day I visited, their stone was facing the sun, framed by a bright blue sky. They share a single stone with their son Thomas. Mae West is buried on the second floor of a large building a few feet away.
After my father’s family moved neighborhoods in Brooklyn in the 1940s, he grew apart from his dad’s family and got closer to his mom’s. I couldn’t picture my dad visiting this gravestone and feeling any kind of emotion about it. I didn’t know these people – they both died long before I came along. Still, sitting on the grass while staring at their names made me feel closer to my dad. This couple’s existence led to his, and to mine. If I couldn’t be close to them in life, death would have to do.
The following weekend I made the trip to Queens to visit the resting place of my great great grandparents, Charles I and Lena Schott. They are buried in a public lot and share a plot with three other people: a daughter and another couple with last names I don’t recognize, another mystery to unfold.
After stumbling around patches of thick, dried grass in an area of the cemetery with smaller and older headstones, some of them having fallen face forward into the grass in much the same way exhausted people flop into bed at night, I managed to find the location of their plot. It was empty. There was no stone. My aunt had suspected they didn’t have the funds for one, and it looked like she was right.
I took pictures of the brown grass covering the earth above their bodies anyway, wanting to be able to preserve the image, stone or no stone. I lingered there for a while, finding myself talking out loud to them, as if spirits are forever hovering around the bodies they inhabited. I told them I was sorry they didn’t have a stone, that maybe I’d get one for them someday. The only response came in the form of chirping birds and a car stereo a few hundred feet away playing Madonna’s “Dress You Up.”
There is a lot I still don’t know about Charles I and Lena, so after the cemetery visit I decided to send away for their death certificates, if only to get handwritten confirmation of the names of their parents.
This morning, exactly one year to the day my father died, his great grandparents’ death certificates arrived in my email inbox.
There is something strangely comforting about receiving these death certificates on this day, as I grieve a man they never knew would exist but who existed because of them. They never knew about World War II or that their children would change their last name out of fear. They never knew about ancestry websites. They never knew about email, or that their son’s son’s son’s daughter would, in the 21st century, receive confirmation of their deaths through it.
Even if they never knew about me, I know about them. They are my dad’s ancestors, and I know about them. That gives me some comfort.
Last January, one of the 23 and Me relatives I had last messaged back in August sent me a reply. Her father’s mother was my grandfather’s sister, making her my second cousin. The set of great grandparents we share is the couple buried in Brooklyn.
We wound up exchanging a few emails back and forth. I sent her two census reports; she sent me a photo of her parents on their wedding day, telling me that her father passed away two years ago. I felt a kinship with her, not because we were related but because we were strangers, both having lost our fathers, making a connection solely due to some microscopic strands of genetic code we could not see but that we know are there.
Sometimes there is great significance in the things we can’t see.
I have more research to do, as my great great grandmother’s death certificate lists her father’s name but not her mother’s. There is still more to learn, and I will likely find more records to uncover, more cemeteries to visit, and more mysteries to solve. But I have time. As long as I am alive, I still have time.
It almost feels silly to write this post this year. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty was, how do I put this – somewhat of an “off” year. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something different about 2020. Just kind of a quirky year!
But I am writing this post anyway. First of all, I like consistency. I love stats. Also, it might be fun to look back at this post years from now and say, “Oh, right. That year.”
I wrote similar posts in 2018 and 2019 about my activity stats. Let’s see how 2020 compares!
This is my last post about the New York Harriers‘ winter scavenger hunt. You can read about the details of the hunt in my first post about it, written way back on November 24, 2020.
I didn’t bother doing the Harriers’ summer scavenger hunt because my feet were still sore at the time. All I could do over the summer was walk. I think I did two or three clues on the fall hunt before giving up due to, once again, sore feet.
So when I began the winter hunt three weeks ago, after having run just three times since September, I wasn’t sure how far I’d get. I thought if I could somehow manage to check off five clues in a row on the board, I’d consider that a success.
I’m almost done with this fun three-week running “project” and, while I’m excited to start running around the Central Park loop again, it’s been so fun traveling all over the city, running through unfamiliar streets, visiting interesting landmarks, and, yes, sometimes getting lost.
My running club, the New York Harriers, came up with this scavenger hunt. You can read about the hunt’s origins in my first post in what now appears be a ten-part series.
My penultimate scavenger hunt run took me to the Bronx.
I decided to tackle another outer-borough trip for my eighth run in the New York Harrier‘s winter scavenger hunt. If you wish, you may read all about the scavenger hunt and how it started in my first post about it.
This run would hit three boroughs, two bridges, and be two miles longer than I thought it would!
Just one week left in the New York Harriers winter scavenger hunt (read about its origins and rules in my first post in this series) and I still needed to hit a couple of outer boroughs. No time to waste.
Runners can check off the clues in any order we like within a three-week period. There’s also no minimum distance to run once we’re at a location – we could run around the block, take a picture, and go home.
For my sixth run in the New York Harriers winter scavenger hunt, I decided to stay close to home. If I’m going to take a subway to get to the start of a run, I generally want to get out a little earlier, and I just wasn’t in a Subway Mood this day, which was yesterday.
You can read all about the origins and rules of the scavenger hunt in my first post about it; there are no real “rules” other than whichever club members want to participate complete as many clues as we can, which are things to do and see, not collect. We have three weeks and, so far, it’s been a fun way to get out and see parts of the city I’ve never or rarely seen.
My fifth run in the New York Harriers winter scavenger hunt (the origins of which you can read about in my first installment) kept me in Manhattan but did require a subway – I’m still not strong enough to run more than probably five or six miles at a time. However, I am feeling much better these days! I think my feet are on the mend?!?!
We have three weeks (until December 14th) to complete as many clues as we can on this hunt, and we can do them in any order we want, whenever we want. It’s purely for fun and has been a great way to find purpose while running when life lately doesn’t seem to hold much purpose but I digress!