Monday, November 15, 2010

I'll begin this post on a positive note: I love, Love, LOOOOOVE the PS22 Chorus. Seriously. I could watch/listen to their videos all day and night with tears streaming down my cheeks. And frequently have:

Director and teacher Gregg Breinberg has given these children an incredible gift: The ability to reach inside and call forth the innocence and beauty within us all.

Okay. Positivity intact, I can now move on to:

"Glee" is a sensation, a phenomenon, a 5 star hit for network television. It's also - in my opinion - a turd polished so brightly that you can see Jane Lynch's reflection in it.

"Seriously, Steve, I am the only entertaining part of that show."

For me, the show is so incredibly unaware of how hokey it is (save for Jane Lynch), I get diabetes even from watching the commercials. But this isn't about whether I enjoy/can't stand the 2000's version of "Coprock".

Who in the WORLD designed that logo?!?

In 1981 - aged 11 years - I discovered that I could sing, and sing fairly well. This was called to my attention (which at that point focused on why girls were starting to look "funny" to me) by the music teacher at my middle school, Nancy Guiterrez. Already involved in band, I quickly was learning that if you really want to alienate yourself from the young, developing ladies, joining the chorus would seal the deal like iron-cast welding.

But my love for music was as such, I didn't care.

I remember watching the middle school's production of "Westside Story" from the front row and - not thinking it odd at the time that 11-13 year olds actually grasped this tale of love and death - I got the itch to audition for the next year's musical.

For musical accompaniment, Nancy played every song on the piano throughout the play's duration. Again, not completely understanding the kind of physical and mental energy that involved, I took it for granted that, hey, EVERY middle school does an adult musical whose music is played solely by a single person.

I auditioned the following year for "The Wizard of Oz" and landed the part of Mayor Munchkin (in the musical, versus the film, he has a slightly larger role...LARGER! Munchkins! Ha! I am awesome). The hook was further set, and in 8th grade, Nancy revealed that that year's musical production would be "Fiddler on the Roof".

Yes: The story of a Russian-Jewish family during the era of the pogroms. To be performed by children. SOunds crazy, no?

Again, not knowing that there was anything at ALL odd about this, I got my chops ready through private singing lessons (thanks, Mom, for the support and driving and, well, everything!) and by late winter, when auditions were being held, I was prepped like a soprano Pavarotti to audition for the male lead, Tevye.

If I were a pre-teen...

I don't recall the actual audition, but I do remember that it came down to me and another l'il guy, whose voice had already changed. I. Was. TERRIFIED! After all, my singing range was that of an alto - Tevye, a 50-something milk farmer - couldn't hit a high C, right?

Despondent, I resigned myself to Nancy's eventual decision because, as stated, I didn't care which role I played. I wanted to perform, no matter how big or small my character!

And then I got the part.

Me and my pal, Melissa - who played Golde - pre-show. Yes, the whiskers are real, as is the gut. Naturally.

Looking back, again, Nancy, coached us ALL, and got us tuned to the point that yes, this show actually happened, and in a tight, humorous, and astounding manner. I honestly don't know how we pulled it off, but I have recorded evidence (never to be shown on this blog) that each note, every scene, and even the grand, final exit of Tevye and his family during the pogrom, was SPOT. Effing. ON.

I sobbed for an hour after the final performance, such was the release.

Nancy guided us towards stellar musical goals, not at all once letting us know that what we were doing was mind-boggling. And at our middle school graduation, blessed us - in decades ahead of her time - with lyrical passions from the Broadway show, "Fame":

We sang the body electric

Seriously. We are singing that song in this very moment

I remember parents being confused, even slightly offended, by the fact that 13 year olds were dealing with such hefty concepts as who we all are, and where we're headed as beings. And yet, our voices carried these melodies into the rafters of the gymnasium, unaware of the message we were sending. And lo, these 26 years later, the ears of millions are excited by the idea that little children can teach us all about the vastness of the human experience.

I don't know where you are, Nancy, nor do I even believe that you grasped what you gave us all, but these gifts...they'll never leave me.

And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I, like Huey Lewis, have some news.

Okay, for realz, for serious, this shit is ON(I have no idea what I just said, but I'm sticking to it):

As I'd mentioned, over the past 6 weeks, my friends Carl The Mailman and Gary have joined me in my basement on a weekly basis to record a brand-spankin' new long distance running podcast.

And here it is. Ladies, gents and otherwise, I present to you:

3 Non Joggers.

The title is in reference to the fact that Carl The Mailman™ cannot, for the life of him, call running "running". Instead, he refers to running as "jogging", to which I was quick to point out that NONE of us "jog": Two of us "run".

Very engaging conversation. And you can hear every syllable during episode one.

We're still honing our mad skillz (no idea what that means either), so there's a gradual learning curve you'll likely notice from episode one to four (like George Lucas, but in reverse). Overall, we're really happy with what we've laid down thus far.

Remember: You can check us out on iTunes and download the podcasts for your long runs, or drive to work, or when you're soaking in the bath, enjoying a fine port wine and feel the need to hear 3 bozos fucking around and - once in awhile - talking about jogging.

Er, running.

Make sure to rate us and leave comments on iTunes if you use it, as those ratings and comments will bump us up higher and higher in the "Sports and Recreation" category. YES, THIS IS A SHAMELESS PLUG.

We'd love to hear your feedback, show suggestions, or otherwise, so hit us up at and let us know!


Thursday, November 4, 2010


This is my dedicated and sincere promise that I'LL FINISH THE WESTERN STATES SAGA. Not being a fan of big-ass blogposts myself, I diced it up into a 3 parter, and then left it to die on the vine. So here we go...

Having found out that Hal dropped, Gary and I gave Kate's crew a call and found out that she was faring well. I weighed the decision to head out to Michigan Bluff (mile 55) to catch a few words with her against the fact that I was beginning to get incredibly tired. So I dragged a reluctant Gary back to the hotel to catch a few Zs and a hot shower. Well, two hot showers. One shower each. Just to clarify.

Not that there's anything WRONG with that

I checked the online progress and noticed that Hal's soon-to-be-bride, Carly, was WAY ahead of her projected 26-28 hour finish, likely rolling in around 24 hours. I wanted to catch her finish, not only to have an audio record of her crossing the line, but just in case - and this is the producer in me, not the friend - Kate couldn't make it. I needed an ending. Without so much of a "good night", Gary and I passed out from around midnight til 5AM, when we awoke and scrambled to the car.

Sure enough, we were at the track no more than 30 minutes (this is when I FINALLY got to meet the lovely, talented and sweet-as-hell Gretchen, who was kind enough to grab us coffees while we chatted) when in rolled Carly. I met her at the entrance to the track and then jogged across the infield to capture her finish. She looked so damned fresh, it was ridiculous. Hal was, of course, there to greet her, and we caught up on what had unfolded as far as his day went. He seemed in good spirits, although I did notice a slight limp as he and his crew swept Carly away to the car.

I tried to track Kate's progress, but the site hadn't updated in a long while. I texted Kate's crew and let them know we were heading back to the hotel, when Karen called and said, "Kate's doing well! We think she should finish in about 29 hours." Quickly gauging the time, I made the decision to get another hour or two of sleep and again, dragged a bummed out Gary from the finish line back to the hotel.

Kate's pacer, Glenn, and husband, Rodney, probably sometime around this point in the race. Photo by the lovely and talented Leslie Ames!

Right, right, right, left, left, right. This is how you get from our hotel off I-5 to the Western States finish line at the track. How do I know this? Because we drove there about 90 times over the course of 12 hours. And we were about to do it again, having caught another 2 hours of sleep.

Tracking Kate's progress, I knew we'd need to be ready to record by 8AM. I was kinda bummed I hadn't made the effort to meet Kate at any overnight aid stations, but I also knew that this would be an exhausting feat, and possibly fruitless due to the sheer amount of crew cars driving up and down 2 lane highway roads. But then, inspiration smacked me in the face...

I would meet Kate at the last aid station (Robi Point) and record and run the final 1.2 or so miles with her to the finish.

Gary and I parked and hiked through the neighborhood to the trailhead, congratulating finishers along the way, most of whom looked like the walking dead. I remember one runner staring dully into our eyes without so much as a blink when we went to high five him. Yeah, running 100 miles? Not so easy.

I couldn't BELIEVE how steep the downhill was to the aid station, which of course, means that Kate would have to climb it. I must say, the producer in me was ecstatic, knowing that I'd get some good sound bites from her on the climb, but the heart of the friend in me was breaking for her.

We greeted more runners coming through the aid stop (most of whom just blew right past it) and within 10 minutes, I see Kate's unmistakable stride pulling up the trail. This woman is an ANIMAL. I quite remembered that powerful hike from when I paced her at Headlands Hundred and could barely keep up with her the final 5 miles.

FLASHBACK TO HEADLANDS 100: Lookit that smile! I think we clocked 9 minute miles from mile 95-100. Photo credit goes to Leslie Ames..again!

I screamed, "Heya, Doc!" to which Kate flashed a big ol' grin. I told her I'd be running the final stretch with her, and I think she grunted something as she blew past me, determined to put the sword through the heart of this thing.

We jogged that nasty uphill for a bit, hiked for a few minutes, and Glenn told me that Kate had been passing people NON STOP the last 10 miles. Sure enough, we reeled in more runners as we made our way to the track. I was in awe.

"Hello, my name is Russ, and I'll be annoying you for the next 10 minutes..." Pic by Mr. Gary Vale.

If her perseverance and strength hadn't left me utterly dazed, what happened next drilled it home, and I am SO glad I have it captured on audio:

Glenn: "You know, if you make it to the finish in 6 minutes, you could break 29 hours."

Kate: "Really?!?"

Gary snapped this photo about 10 seconds after this information was delivered:

As you probably can see, Kate's strides grew longer. And faster. She was a woman on a mission, and no way in HELL was she finishing in over 29 hours.

Passing more runners, Kate sped to the track entrance. I told her I'd meet her at the finish line and sprinted across the infield as the announcement came over the speakers, "This is Kate Merrill...she could break 29 hours...".

This is where I began to do color commentary...and began to lose my shit.

She was HAULING ass around the track, passing another runner, and kicked into a new gear. All the while, I'm describing the insane mission as the crowd begins to stir to life, cheering for Kate to break 29 hours. And as she dashes to the finish, breaking this arbitrary number, I completely freak the hell out and have my own "DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES??!?!?!" moment.

Copyright Al Michaels

She was ELATED. The grandstands went berserk. I jumped around like someone had set my ass on fire. It was amazing.

The face of someone who has run 100.3 miles? Really? (another perfect shot by Leslie Ames)

A few weeks ago, along with my dear friend and co-podcaster Carl, I laid down the final voice over for the audio piece. I am now revisiting the material I've collected over the last (ulp) 7 months and face the daunting/exciting task of editing it all together. I expect to be amazed yet again by the determination of everyone involved, and it most certainly will not deter me from entering another 100 mile race.

Congrats to every runner, crew member, and volunteer from this fantastic event. You're all class acts, every last one of ya.

Monday, November 1, 2010

jz, part 3

Here it is: The finished product.

Photo by Summer Allen Gibson

I think jz would have loved it. This was seriously the most pain I've ever had getting tattooed. As I lay there on my back, feeling like 1,000 razor blades were carving my arm off, all I could picture was Julie in her bed, immobile, smiling, looking out her window at the changing fall colors.