The Dopey Challenge From A Front-Mid Pack Runner's Perspective

The Dopey Challenge From A Front-Mid Pack Runner's Perspective

From a front/mid pack perspective, multi-race runDisney weekends can really be a drain on your whole weekend if you don't prepare accordingly. It's all about setting expectations for each race before the weekend and staying disciplined to those expectations. Otherwise, the most magical place on earth may end up giving you a world of hurt.  

You May Know (Issue #4): Andrea Barber

You May Know (Issue #4): Andrea Barber

Moving on with the "You May Know" series, today's subject, Andrea Barber is most likely known her role as Kimmy Gibbler on TV's "Full House" and most recently, Netflix's "Fuller House." But, did you also know she's a dedicated runner and all around awesome person? Well, read on friends. 

Saving the Lives of Chicago's Stray Animals One Mile at a Time

For the second year in a row, I have the privilege of running the Chicago Marathon on behalf of PAWS Chicago, the city's largest "no-kill shelter." If you know anything about me, you know: I love running, I love animals and I LOVE Chicago. So, I jumped at the chance when offered the opportunity to support these guys again.

This year, I have been asked to not only participate as a runner, but also as a Shepherd, which is a leadership position that mentors new Team PAWS members, from running to fundraising, and everything in between.

Please join me in helping save the lives of our furry friends. With your donation, we can give those lovable critters a forever home. For those who have already donated, a heartfelt "thank you."

Fundraising Page of Justin Stone

PAWS Chicago: About

Make the Skies a Little Friendlier

We, runners are no strangers to the jostling and bumping that happens within the corrals and on the course, but do we really want that experience on an airplane? I think not.

As we all embark on journeys across the country this holiday season, visiting family, friends, and perhaps sneaking in a race, it's good to remember some tips for travel that may make your and traveling friends' journeys a little saner.

Air travel in the days of yore, used to be a civilized experience. Due to the premium nature of the method of transportation, men, women and children would get dolled up in their Sunday best, boarding prestigious birds with names like "Clipper" and "Spirit," to be whisked through the sky; all the while, enjoying a hot meal served on real china. While, I can only recall very fractured experiences like those in my youth, it's hard to deny the days of relaxed air travel are well behind us.

Sure, it took a week, but hey, Prime Rib!

My perspective on today's air travel is that the majority of airlines could really care less if we were humans or cattle (only that cattle would take up more room). Hand carved meals and linens have been replaced by bag fees, seat fees, boarding fees and fees on top of fees.

Then, this happened.

Now, my disillusionment with the airline industry isn't solely in the hands of the air carriers. The good folk who board those planes don't escape scot-free, and as I read more and more about airplane rage, well, my love of flying dies just a little bit more. Now, I know the majority of people who visit ARF do a lot of destination races, and I'm sure are pretty seasoned and considerate travelers. But, you may have a friend or loved one that may need some refresher points on traveling during this busy season, and well, I'm here to help.

Tip #1: Start It Out Right

I'm not going to get into how to pack, you're on your own for that. But, before you even hit the airport, prepare yourself accordingly. I like to check-in online as soon as possible, so I can see what boarding group I'm assigned. Although, I travel a lot for work, there are times I'll get stuck with late boarding groups, and if that's the case I know I most likely will have to check my bag at the gate. Therefore, anything that I don't need (or value) will go in that bag to be put in the belly of the plane, while my laptop and camera stay with me.

Tip #2: The Airport This Side of TSA

Depending on if the trip is business or pleasure, or if we have our dog with us, there are a few things I like to do.

  • Leave It Outside: If we are going on extended vacation and are checking bags, we check in at the curb. It's more than worth the few bucks it costs in tips to drop off your stuff and not have to navigate the mess of travelers inside with a bunch of bags.
  • Read the Signs: I can't even count the times I've seen passengers wait in line for 20-30 minutes only to find out they were in the long line. Yes, it's hysterical to watch, but it also keeps me from getting to my destination. So, make sure to read the signs and see which one corresponds to your situation. Do you already have a boarding pass? This line. Do you need to check your luggage? This line. Do you need to ask someone about the 10 sets of golf clubs, 2 tents, 4 strollers and horse you are checking? Well, that line is straight out the exit door. No one's got time for that shit.
  • Have What You Need to Get Checked In At A Counter/Kiosk: I love airlines that have kiosks. In fact, the less people I have to interact with at an airport, the better. How I make that happen is I have everything I need out when I get to the front of the line. Those items tend to be: my confirmation number, frequent flyer number, boarding pass, ID and/or any necessary documents we may need for the dog. My goal is to be done and on my way within two minutes. Sometimes, I get a terminal agent who has the same idea and I'm gone in 30 seconds. God, I love when that happens.
  • Don't Be Part of the Pileup That Is Security: Honestly, I have very little issue with the TSA agents. They are just doing their jobs, and imagine having to spend 8-12 hours nonstop telling people the same thing over and over again. I, mean, I get it guys. I used to work at Disney World and have had similar experiences with theme park tourists who couldn't find their asses in the dark with two hands, a flashlight and the Hubble Telescope. So, for that reason, I cut the TSA guys some slack. Now, how can you make this experience easier? Simple, understand the sequence of events.
    • First, the gatekeeper. This agent makes sure you are who you say you are and that you have been cleared by your airline to board their plane. Therefore, you'll need your ID and plane ticket. Have it ready to go. After you're through, most airports don't require you to show it again, so I put mine in my bag immediately afterwards.
    • Metal Detector area. Here, we are, the epicenter of people's frustrations, and the place where most travelers display their complete ineptitude of navigating life. Guys, this is super simple to navigate. So easy! Here's what I do. While waiting in line for everyone else to figure out how laces on shoes work, I take off my belt, jacket, empty everything (wallet, phone, cash, change, keys) and put it in my carry on. Since my ID and ticket are already in there (from Step 1), I'm good with that. Next, I take out my laptop and toiletries and hold them. Lastly, I untie my shoes. So, now when I get to the detector, I'm the model traveler. By they way, most airports require travelers to put their laptop in one bin, alone and everything else in a second bin. Also, carry on bags don't need a bin.
    • Once I'm through the metal detector area, I collect my bins and move out of the area to the benches. There's nothing more infuriating then the jabroni who feels the need to put everything back on at the conveyor belt. There's a special place in Hell for those people.

Tip #3: The Gate Area

Okay, we're now through security and waiting for the flight to board. There are some things you want to keep an eye out for.

  • Don't Be in The Faux Lineup: You know these people, the ones that are the last to be scheduled to board, yet are front and center and blocking the gate. If compared to a race, I like to think of these people who jump the front of the wrong corral, take off like a bat out of hell at the start and are spent by mile 2, requiring you to have to alter your race strategy to navigate around them. These guys are a close second to the metal detector re-dressers. When I say close, I mean less than the width of a razor blade (which, by the way, isn't allowed on the plane). Now, their argument is that if they aren't first on the plane, then they won't have overhead space for their 10 sets of golf clubs, 2 tents, 4 strollers and horse they are trying to board with (see what I did there?). Here's an inside scoop, if the gate agent doesn't make an announcement about having to check carry on bags, then everyone is probably clear. Just board where you are supposed to and everything will be copacetic.
  • Find Your Seat and Get Out Of the Way: There will be plenty of time to put your stuff away when (and there always is) a break in the boarding. Best to get out of the aisle so others can find their seat.
  • Laws of the Overhead Bins: The second salvo in flyer frustration. Personally, I wish they'd just get rid of 'em as a lesson to all flyers. "See, that's why we can't have nice things." Seriously, these things are worth more than gold and turn every flyer into Mad Max in Thunderdome with no rules, except for the passengers that decry, "These bins are all mine. Only my stuff can go in here!" Those passengers (or, "turds" as the industry calls them, I think) are awful. You don't have to even give others the thought of if you are one, by remembering these simple tips:
    • Roller bags go in wheels, first. Trust me.
    • If you can't close the lid to the bin, neither will the airline attendant. It's a pretty clear your shit don't fit.
    • Save some room for others by putting small things under the seat in front of you.
    • Coats in the bin? Seriously, just get the eff off of the plane. You are the most hated person in the plane.

Step 4: In Flight

Ahh, you've made it. The wheels are up and the old lady sitting next to you can't stop gushing about how polite and efficient you were when boarding the plane. Let's keep up that image by showing some decorum at 35,000 feet.

  • This Ain't No Rock Show: Nothing I love more than at the end of the flight, complimenting the musical selections of the person three rows in front of me. Seriously, I love Chumbawumba, too. But, I'd prefer to listen to it via my own hi-fi system. Let's keep the volume low.
  • Reclining Seats: The ultimate in d-baggery. Really, I'm sure those extra three inches make it all worthwhile. You've just been voted off the plane. I never recline my seat out of consideration of the tur, ah, passenger behind me.
  • Speaking of Seats: The same seat passengers grab to get up is the same seats I'm sitting in. It's such a great feeling to be jolted out my sleep, only have my neck snap back once that passenger is up. If I have to get up, I use the arm rest for stability.
  • Don't Do Things That You Should Do In Your Bathroom: Clipping nails? Brushing your teeth? No! No! For the love of all things, holy no!

Step 5: Deplaning

Lastly, getting off the plane is no reason not to show some pro-traveler skills. While, I stand up like everyone else, I always let the row across from me out first. Don't be one of those "rear of the plane" pushers who have to fight their way off first. That's a clear sign of turning the whole plane against you.

I hope these few tips have been a helpful reminder for  you all as you head out for your holiday travels. By no means, am I a travel expert, rather these are some of the things I do/think about when off among the clouds. I'm sure there are additional tips that you would love to share, so please do in the comments section.

Happy travels!

Listening to Your Body: Knowing When to Say When

I was hoping for better today than what had happened. Both my wife and I had received bibs for the prestigious Falmouth Road Race 7 miler in Cape Cod, MA. What was even more exciting was that this was our first year entering the lottery to the hard-to-gain-entrance race and we had both made it through (a feat many told us was near impossible). Yesterday, we made the 90-minute trek down south, navigating the excruciatingly and mind numbingly slow Cape traffic to pick up our bibs and race gear in preparation for this morning's race. But, here it sits on my night stand, since we never made the trip this morning. I decided not to race.

Let's take a few steps back.

It all started a few weeks back on my company's softball team. I play in weekly beer league against other Boston based marketing agencies, and for the most part, it's all in good fun. The biggest issue I have is the games are played on very rough and hard turf, not grass, and sliding will almost guarantee some body part stinging in the shower after each game. For this particular game, I bared the brunt of the field's sandpaper-like vengeance. We were up 14-2 late in the game and I had just plopped a double into left center field. I notice the third baseman had neglected to cover third, and all I needed was a triple to hit for the cycle, so I went for it. Tearing from second base to third, I had nothing but daylight ahead of me, but at the last minute the pitcher went to cover third and received the ball from the outfielder. In order to skirt the tag, I hit the deck and slid on my right slide, tearing a deep, four-inch gash into my ankle. I was safe, but now had a pool of blood in my sock and pouring over the side of my shoe.

The injury is right where the foot meets the leg, so any time my foot moves, it reopens the gash. I've been trying to lay low to let it heal, but it has been glacially slow. I've tried everything possible to speed up the process, but no dice. So, that brings us to 4a this morning.

My head said,"Yes," but my leg said, "Oh, you've got to be insane to think we're running."

Waking up this morning, I was hoping my leg would hold out. For the most part it felt pretty good yesterday walking through expo, but after some rigorous activity, the wound had once again opened up. So, after discussing with my wife, we both decided it would be best to sit out. The injury has sidelined me for training for my first triathlon (can't use the pool) and Chicago Marathon and I really need to get healthy for those. By the time we reached that conclusion, it would have taken us too long to get down to Falmouth and we would have missed the race anyway. 

I've had to sit races out before, but those were because I was clinically injured, so this was my first time of making a judgement call. I'm sure I could have muddled through but listened to my body and in the end made the right call. It was tough not being there with my friends, but it sounds like they all did great and I'll see most of them in the coming months' races.

Have you ever had to make a judgement call day of a race to sit it out?

Robin Williams: Rest in Peace, Funnyman

A preface: I’m not very good at writing about people. Normally, I prefer to write about my exploits as a runner or purveyor of life’s moments that I think need to be caught and held for posterity.  But, every once in awhile, I’ll try to put down some words for those who have had a deep and profound impact in my life. As news of Robin Williams’ death is still being sorted within my brain, my heart just kind of steered me here to a blank screen.

All I keep thinking is, “If there ever was a real-life Timekeeper, we need him now.“

Williams’ presence on screen was dynamic, almost manic. But, the love and attention he gave his characters was abundant. He poured into his roles and invited us a chance to go along with him, sometimes with blind faith, but never trepidation or uncertainty.

I didn’t know him personally, but like many of you, I was touched by his work and found great influence in his delivery and tone. I did have an encounter with him once. It was brief and I’m sure he had forgotten about it immediately after it happened, but it’s still one the best stories I tell to this day.

Back in late 1995, I was working at Epcot in my first attractions job, Journey into Imagination. Most of you probably have experienced Journey into Imagination countless times. But, for those who haven’t seen it, basically it’s the ride with creepy Dreamfinder and his purple monster (sorry, couldn’t resist), Figment. Back then, I was 18 and really didn’t have a care in the world. The job required very little effort, the majority of the day repeating, “How many in your party?” or “Please stand, watch your step.” Some days, I would be in the “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” rotation, which required me to dole out 3D glasses by the gross and sit through numerous screenings of the film. But, the end of the day was just that; the end of the day. No need to take work home or worry about that creative pitch to the client on Monday.

To make the most of the job, I would amuse myself (and my castmember friends), by playing pranks on unsuspecting guests, other attractions and my fellow mates in rotation. Pranks like, wreaking havoc on the front greeter via numerous phony phone calls and voices, posing as an animatronic throughout the ride and other general debauchery in the Imageworks (I could write a whole book on that).

Other than that, the job itself, was pretty autonomous and I yearned for more. I had lobbied countlessly to my management for more responsibility; however, do to my age, experience, etc. I never seemed to get the chance to expand my stature. I guess it may have had to do with that time I sat up on the roof of the ride during Illuminations…

One day, I was feeling extra crabby from being stuck in rotation and finally had a chance to go on break. Being all of 18, I was stupid, of course and smoked cigarettes. So, I headed out the backstage gate between Image and The Land to the picnic table/smoking area. Behind that gate, there isn’t much but a few parking spots and a road that runs the perimeter of the park that allows delivery trucks/parade floats/etc. to reach sections of the park during business hours without interrupting the guest experience. It also allows VIP tour vans filled with famous park guests to navigate the park without being bombarded by your everyday park guest.

Back to the story.

There I was sitting on the picnic table with a buddy of mine who worked in Custodial, enjoying a fifteen-minute escape with my nicotine-filled cowboy killer. In and out of drags and puffs of our cigarettes, we talked as theme-park compatriots do, much about nothing. When all of a sudden; a white van pulls into view and parks near us. Looking into the window and seeing the well-known plaid vest on the driver, I knew immediately it was a VIP tour. Knowing that even backstage is “onstage” to VIP tours, I should have extinguished my cigarette. But, again I was 18 (and stupid) and was entitled to this brief respite from the monotony. The door opened and out popped a bubbly VIP guide, smiles and all. I can’t remember the conversation clearly, but she said something to her passengers along the likes of requesting they stay in the van for a moment while she goes to the nearby attractions to let them know someone important will be gracing their presence. Receiving confirmation from her passengers, she then passed near my buddy and I and gave us stern looks for smoking in the presence of a VIP tour. Surely, she would find our managers and give them a stern talking to, but I never heard anything after this encounter.

After what seemed to be a minute or two, the passenger door opened and out stepped a short, scruffy man. He made his way around the van to our picnic table and stopped a minute. Well, to my surprise it was none other than Robin Williams. I remember immediately thinking, “He’s hairier than I imagined.”  The encounter was very brief, but our exchange will never be forgotten. He looked at me, my cigarette and sheepishly said, “You know, those things will kill you.” Without any hesitation, and I mean damn near immediately, I retorted, “So will working here.” (again, I was young and dumb). But, what he said next still rings in my ears like I heard it yesterday. He looked at me and said (with almost a chuckle),

“That’s funny.”

As if almost on cue, the tour guide reappeared from behind the gate, gathered up Mr. Williams and his passengers and off they went into the park never to be seen again.

Robin Williams was an absolutely gifted and wonderful man. He improved the lives of millions of people through his craft, if even just for a few brief minutes on the screen. But, it seems to me the ones with the funniest faces sometimes have the heaviest hearts.

The world lost a wonderful soul yesterday. 

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

Robin Williams: 1951-2014