Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mapping A New Reality

Seven years ago, my dear friend, Angela insisted I read a book by Caroline Myss. It took me a while to agree to do so, but when I did, I raced through the book Anatomy Of The Spirit within days. It was a profound read. Then Angela insisted I meet Therese Rowley PHD. After some time, I agreed to do so. Since the moment I walked into Therese's office, I have never been the same. She is an amazing energy alignment healer who has taught me so much. She helps me figure out aspects of my life whether it be writing screenplays or racing in marathons. Dr. rowley has helped me face some demons while assisting me in growing to be a better person. Apparently, I have left an impression on her over the years. She has always supported my ventures in theater, film, and athletics. I have learned that while I may have dreams and goals which I wish to achieve, there may just be other forces at work which drive me to succeed. It may just be that what I am attempting to do will not only result in my benefiting, but in some way, healing someone or a group of people. I use to wonder how could I leave that sort of impression on people? How would people be guided by my work? A shining example is when award winning journalist, author, and actress, Jenniffer Weigel attended a performance of my first play. I performed my heart out. Jen watched me on stage and was so moved by my sharing of my life story that she instantly knew how she wanted to structure her book which she would turn into a theater piece. I was stunned to learn that I had inspired the great Jen Weigel. I grew up watching her dad, Tim, a famous celebrated sports anchor in Chicago. I use to listen to Jen on the radio and watch her on TV. I admired her work as well as that of her dad and mom. I wanted to be successful the way Jen was. Yet here I was being a light to her for her next project as she took on the task of turning her award winning book, Stay Tuned: Conversations With Dad From The Other Side into a one woman show. My telling my story to an audience had helped Jen find her voice. In some small way, I had helped Jen make a major mark on the world. All I ever dreamed of doing is telling my story yet for a person I respected tremendously, I had done more without ever knowing it. As Therese had said, I had healed. I guess I can heal in my own way.

Therese has helped so many people heal. I am blessed to know Therese and feel even luckier that she has decided to include my story in her book which will be available for purchase on October 1. Therese discusses her meeting me and how I impacted her life and work. You can read all about Therese Rowley at her web site. Starting on Monday, you will also be able to order a copy of her book, Mapping A New Reality in which you will be able to read about some wonderful individuals who are changing the world. If you wish, you can check out what she wrote about me too. Please visit the following site for more information:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Julia In AfterPlay

Have you ever wondered what happened to Sonya of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya?  How about Andrey from his Three Sisters?  Brian Friel did too so he wrote this play called, AfterPlay.  This Thursday in Chicago, people can watch a performance featuring my friend, the fabulous, Julia Kessler. It will take place at the Irish American Heritage Center.  Tickets range from $5 to $35.  You can get more information at the following link.  Please check out the show and watch the beautiful Julia do what she does best.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Romping And Stomping Through 20 Miles

I tried playing with my race belt, but was unsuccessful in figuring it out so I decided I would just use safety pins to keep my Ready To Run 20 Miler bib in place. Everything else was set. I jumped into bed at 9:22p.m. and attempted to sleep. I tossed and turned for about an hour before I fell asleep. I woke up at 4:30a.m. and slowly began to move around. Of course, before getting dressed, I checked Facebook. Eventually, I put on my race outfit, had some breakfast, then made my way out the door at about a quarter to six. I met up with Andrew Murray who would guide me for the first ten miles. We made our way to our wave a few minutes before it went off and we were set. I was excited to follow Jenna's instructions on how to handle this run. Both Andrew and Jenny were excited to follow the plan for a successful run. From the moment we started, Andrew and I found a comfortable spot in the back of our group. If there were going to be sudden turns or footing issues, we did not want to cause problems for other runners. We started slow as our group went out, but every so often, we would work our way back to the back of the group. We sat there perfectly as the next wave caught up to us. At one point, their runners merged with us. We kept running smoothly as both Andrew and I felt very comfortable with the pace. Eventually, we started getting boxed in and found some difficult spots as only five miles into the run, people were starting to slow down or walk. Andrew navigated us around and soon we found ourselves pushing away from the group which had caught up to us. We charged ahead and even found ourselves back with our original group. Soon we were almost at the front of that group. The miles kept going. Andrew and I were excited. Little-by-little, Andrew had us push. We were moving swiftly as we crossed mile eight then nine. Before reaching the tenth mile, Jenny Pfaff greeted us and ran with us for a bit. Jenny would take over the guiding duties at the midway point. Andrew said our time was 1:37 for the opening ten miles. We started slow, but picked it up the last couple miles. When Jenny and I started running, the pace quickened that much more. I knew I had to stay steady to have enough to finish strong, but I also knew Jenny would want me to push a bit harder. Sure enough, we were doing just that. Jenny told me my pace and I was a bit worried that I was pressing too fast too early, but I kept going. The miles were flying now. I had a wonderful experience at one of the aid stations when Jemma Lotzer of imerman angels greeted me. So cool! Jenny and I would slow down through the aid stations, but then push hard out of them to get back on track.

Two years ago, I reached mile seventeen before I had to start walking. I jogged then walked before fighting through the final mile where Jenny would not let me walk at all. Last year, it was much worse as I reached mile twelve and started to walk. The final eight miles were tough. In both years, I was running about one minute slower than I was today. I was worried, but I kept trying to tell myself that because of Jenna's coaching, I am much better prepared. I kept feeling strong. I kept trying to dig deeper. We had reached mile eighteen. Suddenly, my left calf gave me problems. I wanted to slow down and shake it out. Jenny would not let me. No walking! I had trained to hard to walk. I pressed on. The more we moved, the closer we were to the end. Traditionally, this is when I would be fading yet here I was still romping. We entered the final mile. Jenny wanted me to push like I had not done before. I wanted to do so too. I kept telling myself, I can do this. Jenna has given me the tools to achieve this. This is a training run. No pain. I kept digging. Jenny informed me of the distance left. I knew this was my best performance in any 20 miler and I had to finish strong. That is what Jenna had taught me. I was doing it. As we reached the final hundred meters which were uphill, I pressed on and crossed the finish line. I had done it. I had run the entire twenty miles for the first time ever. I had not faded. I had run the fastest mile of the day in my final mile of the day. I was so proud of myself.

Thank you Andrew Murray for guiding me the first half and Jenny Pfaff for taking me the second half. I love this trend of getting faster in races. I love negative splitting these long runs. Thank you Jenna Parker for helping me achieve those.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Am I Ready To Run 2012?

People like to say, If it ain't broke don't fix it. I believe if it is not broken, then tweak it, improve it, build on the success to make it better so it never breaks. I know most people believe wait to fix it, but by then it may be too late. When I find something which works, I am grateful, but I also look to improve on it. One thing I enjoy tremendously is having the lovely Jennifer Pfaff guide me in events. For the last three years, I have run the Chicago Marathon. Before I do, I have always run the Ready To Run 20 Miler. I will do so tomorrow. As it has worked out, each year I am able to find a different person to guide me the first ten miles. Rich Karnia, Liz Bilitz, and Andrew Murray. They are my eyes the first half then Jennifer picks me up at the halfway point and takes me the distance to the finish line. I always find the footing and turns of the first eight miles or so to be tough, but after that point, it seems to become a straight shot all the way until the end shoot. As I have mentioned before, I love how Jen knows when to go easy on me and when to push me. The times when she refuses to accept my excuses and pushes me beyond the pain are always difficult, but ultimately rewarding. Each year, I look to improve by being faster, stronger, better. Often, I find parts of my run game which do get better while other parts of it which take a step back. This year, I am excited because I believe I am in the best shape I have been heading into any of these 20 Milers. Usually, my longest runs prior to RTR is a seven or eight mile run. This time, my longest was thirteen miles. I do feel a bit chubby, but the way my clothes fit and the way people have been responding to my physique of late, I believe I have so slimmed down that I look like a high school kid. I will see how that translate into a better run tomorrow especially during the late miles. I feel more prepared than at any point over the last three years. The credit for that goes to the amazing Jenna Parker who continues to work with me and push me while also teaching me how to finally train with a sense of purpose and clear cut direction. A quick loud shout out to the lovely Jenna who as I write this post is in the midst of racing at the Beijing Triathlon against some of the best pros in the world. Good luck JP!!

For anyone who will be running the 20 Miler on Sunday, I hope to see you out there. Feel free to say hello. I will be sporting my Imerman Angels top with the name Sexy Isra printed on the back. I will have a tether around my waist and a bandana on my head. I hope to see many other runners out there. Please make sure to take a moment and visit my Imerman Angels fundraising page as I race and raise funds so no one faces cancer alone. A dear friend would have celebrated another birthday yesterday had cancer not taken her life a year ago. I run knowing that each time I do, she is watching me and I carry her laughter, smile, and memory in my heart.

Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 Twilight 5K And Chicago Half

On Saturday, Michael Crissie and I headed out to the Twilight 5K benefiting the Great lakes Adaptive Sports Association. It was on Team GLASA that I made my debut at the marathon distance in 2010. Everyone with whom I have ever been in contact from the organization has always been wonderful. Michael is my guide for the Soldier Field 10 on a yearly basis. I reached out to him figuring he may want to try his hand at a short fast race which is not as packed as SF10. This would allow us to really open it up on the course.

We arrived, received our bibs and made our way to the start line. I kept debating how to approach this 5K event. Should I go out at a blistering pace for the first two miles then shut it down and coast through the final mile knowing I would be running a half marathon the next day? Should I start out slow and gradually build up my pace in order to finish strong and get some confidence heading into the next day's race? The gun sounded and we were off and running. It took a while to find a comfort level. Soon enough, Michael and I were starting to move quickly. I felt that we were boxed in initially, but at about the halfway point of the first mile, it seemed to open up for us. I felt great. Unlike SF10, we would have a great time pushing it. I kept telling myself to not go crazy. Do not press so hard. there is still a race tomorrow. Yet, the excitement hit me and when Michael informed me of our opening mile split and that he thought we could go faster, I took the challenge. We rolled through the second mile even faster then were cooking in the final mile before coasting across the finish line. Okay, the first of two races was complete. Although, we pushed it, I felt very fresh after the 5K. In fact, there were several long hills which honestly, I did not feel at all. Usually, when Michael or any guide warms me of a hill, I wait for it then when I feel it, I dig a bit more yet on this day, I kept waiting for the inclines to become evident, but they never materialized. That made me that much more confident heading into the Chicago Half Marathon.

Saturday evening witness the best sleep I have had prior to a race in a long time. Some readers may remember that the night before the South Shore Tri, I slept all of ten minutes. I usually only manage three hours before a race. On this night, I was able to get over five hours. Todd Smith and I made our way to the Chicago half Marathon. I had the great privilege of meeting Jen so in fact, the three of us headed down to the race together. Not only would my guide be one of the fastest triathletes in the world, but thanks to the amazing Jemma Lotzer of Imerman Angels and Linsey Baillys of US Road Sports, I would have an opportunity to begin the race in Corral A! Wow, I get to run with the elites. Perfect. My mission was clear. I would build on the success Jenny Pfaff and Stu Evans helped me achieve in January at the Houston Half Marathon when I ran a personal best, 1:57:23. I would run faster today. Of course, breaking that time by one second or one minute would be great. I had my sight set on a time closer to 1:44:00. If conditions were in my favor and everything fell into place, mainly if I could embrace the pain and run through it, then I would go all out to break 1:40. First thing first, get all prerace activities out of the way and work my way to the Corral A start. We hit the rest room. While in line, I heard the national anthem. Fifteen minutes until the start. We waited. Finally we used the rest room then made our way to the Imerman Angels tent to get Todd his IA racing top and to put our gear aside. Unfortunately, it was clear, we would not make it in time to go off with my wave. Todd kept laughing observing how intense my face would get. I tried to relax, but I was worried that missing the start meant spending all day boxed in by other runners. The gun sounded! The race began. Todd and I were still making our way to and from the IA tent. We worked our way to the start and ended up by the runners projected to finish in two hours and forty-five minutes. If we were going to get my goal time, we would truly have to earn it. We were not only going to race the clock, we were going to have to fight through a mass of humanity to get to the open spaces before we could turn it on. Sixteen minutes after the gun, we crossed the start line. We jogged through the crowd. The mass starts always make me uncomfortable. I held on to Todd tightly. I would wait for us to find open real estate before I would let go and flow. We bumped into people. We crawled along. I heard someone say he was running a ten minute pace. I figured maybe we were too. A bit later I heard a woman say she was running close to twelve minutes per mile. Was that us too? My heart sank. Frustration steadily rose. We needed to find open space. We needed to get by all these people. One mile was complete. Eventually, so was another. Frustration mixed with sadness. I wanted to walk off the course and cry. I would rather DNF than to cross the finish in two hours and thirty minutes. Not that I would ever quit or drop out, but I was so upset and sad that doing so seemed like the better option. Todd continued to do a masterful job keeping me company. He lead me through this insisting it will get better. He kept the faith for both of us. By mile four, I was mentally tired. Physically, I was fine, but mentally, I wanted to just check out and call it a day. I was not sure where I would find the strength to keep my sanity. I had big goals for today. Jenna has been wonderful in preparing me for this race. I have been pushing myself to get ready. Now, it is not happening. Just before the fifth mile, Todd and I took a quick break to gather ourselves. This was wearing down both of us. I started observing other runners. They were laughing and singing as they encouraged each other. At that moment, I remembered Jenna telling me to make sure I had fun. However this race would turn out, it was important that I take in the experience and atmosphere. I thought, Jenna was right. that is what I need to do. Do not give up mentally. Maybe the goal time is not in the cards for me. Maybe a personal best is not meant for me, but I can still push and press on and give myself a chance. I might surprise myself towards the end and learn I will have a shot at a record, so keep moving. Suddenly, my attitude changed. Shortly after that, Todd found an opening and we started moving. Finally, I could let go of Todd's arm and turn it on. Almost immediately, we were boxed in again. We made our way through the crowd and Todd found another opening. He told me to push. I knew we had a long way to go so instead of laying the hammer, I decided to merely float. I was not going to spend my energy tensing up and pounding the ground. I was going to attempt to gallop and glide through the air. We ran for a few hundred meters before running into another crowd. I mentioned to Todd how that short burst felt effortless. We were galloping. The next time we found an opening, we opened it up and Todd laughed agreeing that it felt like we were gliding effortlessly. We kept finding pockets of short bursts, but nothing long enough to make us happy. Todd said that he felt like a jockey and I was a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby. He said he could feel the energy of my strength and power ready to explode, but we just could not find the room to operate. He expressed disappointment in not having the chance to cut me loose and watch me destroy my half marathon time. Still, we pressed on and reached the turn-around point. Five more miles. We made our way and finally had a chance to push hard at about mile nine. As we reached the tenth mile, I thought of how this is where I started to struggle in Houston. I would fight hard to not let that happen. Todd said he did not want me to save anything for a final sprint. There would be no final sprint on this day since Todd wanted me to sprint the final few miles and not just the last few hundred meters. Todd kept encouraging me. I felt that I was beginning to fade as we headed to the final two miles. I kept pushing. With 1600 meters left, it was time to just let it all hang out! The only problem with that was we instantly ran into a wall of people many of whom were hanging on for dear life heading into the final mile. This final mile was all heart as runners moved towards the finish line. I wanted to burst through, but I could not find room. As Todd zigged and zagged his way, he tried finding us room to operate, but it was clear, it was not going to be a spectacular sprint to the finish. We would finish strong, but not quite as strong as I was hoping. We crossed with a time of 2:05:11.

At the start of 2012, if you would have told me I would run a 2:05:11 I would probably have hugged and kissed you because I had never run that fast for 13.1 miles. Having performed as I did in Houston, I found myself disappointed at Sunday's Chicago half. Todd was better than spectacular. He was amazing in the way he guided me through such a difficult experience. I can not say thank you enough to Todd. In fact, I was not disappointed at our performance. We did the best we could. On that day, that was the result. I will never know whether starting with my corral would have enabled me to hit my target. Maybe I would have folded down the stretch. Maybe I would have left even myself speechless by running even faster than my goal. Maybe this or that. In truth, all I know is what is. On this day, I felt short of my expectations. I fell short of my goal and I am going to have to be okay with it because I can not change it. I can only ask, what is the lesson I must learn from this? If everything happens in perfect order with the universe then what is the growth which must happen within me to make this experience benefit me in the future?

I was proud to represent Imerman Angels once again on the race course. thank you to Jemma for helping me get to the start line for this event. Thank you Todd for guiding me. Thank you Jenna for preparing me mentally and physically and always supporting and encouraging me. Thank you Michael for guiding me for the 5K on Saturday of which I learned on Sunday, from my friend, Lauren, that Michael and I finished first in our division! So in the end, it was a tremendous weekend of racing with tremendous friends helping light the way for me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Twilight 5K and Chicago half Preparations

After an exciting week of a major step in risk taking, I am preparing for this weekend. The big day is Sunday as I will run in my next half marathon. I will run the Chicago Half. It will be my first 13.1 mile event since Houston during Olympic Trials weekend in January. On that day, the fabulous, Jenny Paff, and Stu Evans escorted me to a personal best 1:57:23. On Sunday, I hope to shatter that and bring my personal best time down by a solid margin. Todd Smith volunteered to be my eyes for this event. Todd and I first met on June 24, 2011 on the day he guided me for the Pleasant Prairie Duathlon. The two highlights I take with me from that day are pushing 30MPH on the bike in stretches for the first time ever and closing with such a strong kick the final couple hundred meters that Todd turned to me and said, "If you have enough to finish that strongly, you weren't going all out before then." It was a major lesson in truly examining myself and whether I do in fact stop myself from going all out early in races until the end so I will look strong heading to the finish.

A couple months ago at the New York City Triathlon, Todd romped and stomped to such a tremendous finish time that not only did he win his age group, but he was the king of the age groupers as he had the fastest time of an age grouper in the entire field. He can fly. Because he has guided me before and he has learned a little bit more about me over the past year, I am confident I must bring my A game since Todd will push me. Hopefully, I will be pushing myself so he will not have to do much of it. Before I go any further, I wish to thank Todd for volunteering as he did back in February of this year. After learning of what I had achieved in my previous half marathon, he reached out to me and suggested I pick a race for this year that we could "go out and win." Within minutes of seeing his note, Jemma of Imerman Angels sent me a note stating US Road Sports had formed a partnership with Imerman Angels for the Chicago Marathon. As a result of being a major featured charity, IA athletes would be spotlighted so US Road Sports was looking for IA members to highlight. Jemma said she instantly thought of me so would I be interested in running? Of course. Here was the race for Todd and I to run. I asked him and he immediately jumped at it. I contacted Jemma and within minutes of the original note, I had agreed to run Chicago Half.

I am so looking forward to this as it will be the first time I will run in this event. I hope to perform well. I hope to shatter my PR along the way shining brightly for IA. It will be easy to spot Todd guiding me due to the tether around my waist. You will also be able to pick me out of the crowd if you spot the Imerman top with the name Sexy Isra on the back. Before I reach the Sunday race, I will have a chance to run in another event. I will run in the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association Twilight 5K on Saturday. This is the fourth consecutive year I will participate in this event. I debated whether to run in it considering I have a 13.1 mission the next day, but since my plan for this week calls for a twenty-five minute run on Saturday, I figured I might as well do it at the Twilight 5K. I am debating what the game plan should be going into the event. I have considered attempting to break my 5K best. I have also considered merely getting my miles in without concern for time. There is a part of me which wants to just push in the opening miles and then shut it down in the last mile to coast to the end. I guess I will see how my guide, Michael Crissie feels. He has been my eyes each year I have run Soldier Field 10. It can be frustrating attempting to make our way through all those runners at SF10 so I was excited to have Michael agree to run in this event where the field is capped at 500 people. With it being a small race, it allows for some open space through the streets of Lake Forest so we could turn it on so he and I can experience that feeling together. It will be a fun time.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chicago Half: 1 Week Away

Seven days from right now I would have completed my next half marathon. In fact next week, I will be racing in two events. On Saturday, I will run in the Twilight 5K to benefit the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. Keri Schindler who works there first reached out to me in 2009 about participating in the 5K race. I agreed to run it and had such a fun time with Keri as my sighted guide. A few months later, she offered me an opportunity to run my first ever marathon as a member of Team GLASA. I had so much fun going the 26.2 mile distance. This will be my fourth time running the Twilight 5K. I have had the privilege of having some wonderful guides. This year will be no exception. Then on Sunday I will take on the challenge of breaking my personal record at the 13.1 mile distance when I race my first ever Chicago Half Marathon. For the last few years, I have wanted to run in this event, but it has never worked out. Then two wonderful events took place within minutes of each other which enabled the door of opportunity to open for me to run in the event so I took the chance to walk through the door and do it. Over the next month, I will race in a few events as part of Team Imerman. I am so grateful to the good folks at Imerman Angels for providing me the privilege of being on the team and doing my small part to spread awareness and raise funds for the organizations mission to ensure no one faces cancer alone. When a dear friend from college passed away last year, when she was in her early thirties, I was motivated to run the Chicago Marathon for her. There are plenty of family members and friends who have stared at death in the face, but luckily survived. She was not as fortunate. Last week I learned that one of my professors in college was faced with her own struggle due to cancer. Again, she was not able to overcome and she passed away at the hands of this disgusting disease. I am ready to fight through my fears and insecurities on the race course in the hope I may be able to perform in such a way which makes that former instructor, my college friend, and others proud of me. As the race nears next weekend, I will make sure to write some of my throughs and goals heading into the race. For now, I hope you will visit my Imerman Angels fundraising page as well as consider passing it along to others. Imerman is filled with some amazing volunteers who do tremendous work. I hope you will join me in supporting Imerman so that indeed no one faces cancer alone. Imerman provides such wonderful support and encouragement to those who need it and I am proud to be a small part of that mission.