Aug 29, 2009

A New School

My 7th/8th grade homeroom class at CAA. I have five seventh graders (one more is coming next week) and five 8th graders.

One of my seventh graders. He really wanted to wear my San Francisco Marathon medal, so of course I let him. My theme for the year is "Go the Distance."

The new school year is off and running and so far, it's pretty good. I feel at home among my new colleagues, in my new classroom, and with my new students.

How does it compare to Saipan? It doesn't, because they can't be compared. Saipan SDA School was a unique and special experience--nothing can ever replace it. Likewise, Columbus Adventist Academy will, I believe, also prove to be a unique and special experience, irreplacable in it's own right. It's amazing the places God takes you when you let Him lead. I would never have guessed that I'd find such a great place to work coming back from Saipan.

My students are good bunch. My 7/8 students are generally well-behaved--my challenge with them is to get them excited and motivated about learning. My 5/6 science and 5th grade Math students are very enthusiastic about learning and every class with them is an adventure. However they're also just generally excitable and so my big challenge with them is keeping that ebullience from turning into chaos.

I don't have any photos of my 5/6 classes yet, but here's a few more of my 7/8 homeroom class:

One of our 8th grade girls.

The seventh grade boys and one 8th grader in the middle. Eventually I will have nicknames for all of them (as I don't use the real names of minors on my blog), but I'm waiting till I get to know them better first.

The girl on the left is an 8th grader and a new student at CAA. Like me, she's still finding her way. The girl on the left is in the 7th grade.

Our school is predominantly African-American, but actually a good number of our students are simply African. In my class I have students from Ghana and Nigeria, just to name two countries.

Here's two of my seventh graders working on a science activity on the second day of school. It involved M&Ms which the kids loved! The boy on the left is my lone Asian student. He's from Vietnam.

My other two 7th grade Science students. The fifth member of the class (who you saw earlier with the medal) is in 8th grade math so he takes his science class with the 8th graders. For the first two periods of the day the class splits, so they can have Math seperately.

The staff are a great team to work with. All are professional eduacators with years of teaching experience. For the first time in my career, I am the young teacher on the staff.

Wayna Gray on the left, teaches 3rd and 4th grade, Robbie Lewis, middle, teaches 1st and 2nd grade next door to me, and Brenda Arthurs on the right is our super-supportive principal.

One thing that hasn't changed in my new school is that I am surrounded by women. We have one other male teacher, Mr. Lawrence Stuart, or "Stu", pictured here with the Mrs. Lewis' first and second graders. He teaches part-time, teaching math to grades 6-8 in the morning. He also pitches in myriad others ways and is our athletic director. I can tell he gives a lot to our school. He was pretty excited to have me on board and I appreciate having him as a resource and mentor.

A New Church

Elijah is moved by the music at the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church, Columbus, Ohio. Sabbath, August 22, 2009. To my friends and colleagues at CAA reading this blog, you'll look at this video and think: Okay. It's church. So? But my friends and colleagues in Saipan will likely be amazed that church could look like this!

Right now we're primarily attending Centerville Church in Dayton, as I don't really like driving up to Columbus on the weekends when I have to do it every day during the week. But until we relocate, at least once a month we'll head up to Columbus on Sabbath to attend the church where most of the teachers and students at my school attend, Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church. Last Sabbath, we attended for the first time. We were late, so we just slipped into our seats and didn't really have a chance to connect with the few people we knew. The service was long, of course, and the music was great, but it was a little lonely, as we didn't really know anyone at the church. But that will change in the months to come!

A New Chapter

Babs and I taking in an outdoor production of Kiss Me Kate by Playhouse South on Sunday evening, August 16, 2009.

So here we are, in America. Vacation is over. . .by this time in years previous we would have been back in Saipan settling into a new year. Instead we are settling into a new chapter in our lives: Here in America.

It's been challenging, but not as painful as I feared at least so far. The cramped quarters, the tight budget, the long commute, the undercurrent of longing for Saipan--it's all there, but more manageable than I expected it to be. I've made it a point to think positive and we've both made it a goal to find "the big life" right here in little Ohio.

A glimpse at the first pages of a new chapter:

Kiss Me Kate. It reminded me a lot of the Friends of the Arts productions in Saipan. The live orchestra (the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra) was an especially nice touch. The play was held just a few miles from the Leen's home at the North Park Amphitheater--located in lovely little North Park, a place we didn't even know existed. The park appears to have some nice running trails--I actually so a couple of late evening joggers running past on the path behind the stage! I may try them out myself this Sunday.

The Greene.

The Greene is a sort of outdoor mall, of the type that's becoming popular throughout the U.S. This place has an outdoor fountain that kids can play in. Bab's new chapter means a lot of Elijah time. The stress of trying to hire staff and putting out administrative fires has been replaced by the stress of trying to get Elijah to take a nap and keeping him from eating everything he can put his hands on. She hasn't found a job yet, and in the meantime she's with our Fella pretty much all day long. She took these photos on one of their daily excursions while I was at work.

Elijah was too young for the fountain but he enjoyed watching the other kids and playing in his grassy spot in the sun.

Another shot of the Greene.

On Sunday, August 16, some of Barbara's family paid a visit. With the exception of her mom and dad, and Elijah of course, all the people pictured here are Barbara's cousins.

Right now we're living with Barbara's parents. It's a nice situation for now, though certainly a little crowded with six of us in the house. Barbara's parents have been great though and we really appreciate them letting us stay here while we get on our feet.

From a three bedroom duplex, to one little room! It's more crowded than usual here because Elijah's in the room with us this weekend because Barbara's sister Jenny and her husband Matt (and their two dogs) are here this weekend and they are staying in Elijah's room.

Though our living space has dramatically decreased, Elijah's has increased. He has his own room now! Here it is looking a little cleaner than usual--normally he's pulled all his toys and everything else and scattered them all over the floor. As you can see he's still using the play pen as his bed. One of our first big purchases will be proper crib for him. Having his own room means earlier bedtimes, usually between 7 and 7:30, and he sleeps longer because he isn't awakened by us. He's sleeping 10 to 11 hours a night now, sometimes 12.

For me, the new chapter means a new job at a new school, Columbus Adventist Academy. I just completed my first week of school, but I've been working for the past three weeks, getting ready. Here's some photos from those weeks leading up to the start of school:

Columbus Adventist Academy

What my classroom looked like when I reported for my first day of work.

Making a dent. . .

Progress. . .

Almost there. . .

. . .and done!

A similar series photos featuring my desk area starting with the first day or two on the job. . .

Ready to go!

My room has lots of space. It's nice having the sink, microwave and cupboard space.

I share a large coatroom/storage area with the 1st/2nd Grade classroom.

The commute isn't too bad actually. I don't mind the drive. It's helping my prayer life, as the first miles of my drive every day are devoted to prayer. After that, I flip on the radio and listen to NPR--my favorite radio station ever--and get updated on the news of the world. During the last 45 minutes or so of the drive, I'll switch over to my ipod and enjoy some music to get me fired up for the day. I think a lot on the drive too--I do a lot of mental planning for my classes. It's actually time well-used for the most part. What I hate about it, besides the time it takes me away from my family and from my work, is the expense ($25 to fill up the tank every other day) and the amount of miles I'm putting on the car. For these reasons, I'll be glad when Babs gets work and we can finally move into our own place in Columbus.

Believe it or not, though, there is great beauty to be found here in America, even from the interstate highways: the afternoon sun beaming through the clouds, great shafts of light bathing the endless cornfields dotted by the occasional farmhouse or barn. And then there are the sunrises, which have been pretty spectacular. If Saipan was about the glorious sunsets, here in America it's all about the magnificent sunrise:

On the road

Aug 17, 2009

A Brand New CAR!!!!

Still shiny! Here I am posing with the new ride. It's still looking like new 10 days and about 1100 miles since we bought it.

Just over a week ago, we bought a car—a 2009 Toyota Corolla. This is unquestionably the biggest purchase I’ve ever made in my life, and it still doesn’t seem quite real that I actually own this car. It certainly has gotten plenty of use in its first week. I’ll have covered about 3000 miles by the end of this month, thanks to my daily 90 mile commute to Columbus for work.

The process of buying the car wasn’t very enjoyable. I didn’t relish the haggling, the game-playing required to “get a good deal.” You would think that buying a car would be easy, right? After all, unlike most types of sales, the customer doesn’t generally have to be convinced that they want a car. Both the customer and the salesman want the same thing—for the customer to buy a car. Simple, right? Well, not quite. While they may agree on wanting to see a car driven off the lot that day, the customer and salesman have radically different ideas of how that will happen. The customer wants to pay as little as possible for the car; the salesperson wants to make as much money as possible. So process of buying this car involved a lot of fast talking by various car salesmen and heavily skeptical appraisal on my part.

We visited several dealerships, mostly here in Dayton, but I did make one trek out to the tiny hamlet of Marysville, Ohio to look at a 2007 Honda Civic we'd taken to calling the "Magic Honda." It had remarkably low miles and was selling for far less than comparable models at other dealers. However, when I got there the car didn't seem so magical after all. The small stain on the upholstery, the creaking brakes, and just the general vibe of the car left me unimpressed.

We finally ended up at King's Auto Mall just outside of Cincinnati, where Barbara's parents had bought one of their cars and where my best friend, J, had bought his. There we got an unbelievably good deal on basically-brand new 2009 Corolla with only a paltry 3000 miles on the odometer. Ryan, the sales rep who sold us the car--a tall man of affable, easy-going charisma who struck me as the sort of guy that might have once been a high school basketball star--insists that the dealership barely broke even on the deal we got. I don't buy it for a second. I'm certain that even though we got a very good price, the dealership still found a way to still rake in a tidy profit. But that's okay. The price was good for me, so with this sale we both won.

It was a bit of a struggle to come to terms with purchasing the humble Corolla. All the cars I've owned have been Corollas. All the cars Barbara's parents have owned in the past 15 years or so have been Corollas. Almost all the cars my mom has owned have been Toyota, Corollas. We wanted something different, something more exciting than the same old car that we'd grown up in. Babs, especially, really liked the sleek look of the recent Honda Civic models, and was admant that she did not want a Corolla. But the low miles and low price of the Corolla were hard to argue with. And after a second test drive on Thursday the smooth ride, peppy pick-up, and new car smell swayed us. We decided that the little red Corolla wasn't so bad after all. In fact, I think she looks pretty sharp, wouldn't you agree?

The interior. Pretty plain, especially compared to the Honda, but very comfortable. The cruise control is great on the long commutes to Columbus every day. The CD player is nice too, though I mainly use the auxilary port (you can see the cord running from it near the gearshift) to play my ipod through the car's speaker system. One of the things I've enjoyed getting used to is having a reliable car. After years of driving cars that always seemed to have something wrong with them, it's nice to know this car is in tip-top shape.

Our driveway looks like a Toyota dealership these days! From left to right: the 1990 Corolla. This was Barbara's sister's car when I first met Barbara. Now, Joe is the main driver of this car. In the middle is the 1997 Corolla, Barbara's parents' car. And on the left is our 2009 model.

A big thanks to J Carlos for providing lots of advice during the whole car purchasing process. I might have been able to do this on my own, but it would have been a lot harder.

Aug 8, 2009

Guess Where This Is?

Lovely, isn't it. (Though, I don't suppose I'd recommend swimming in the water).

We arrive at the entrance and are greeted by a cheerful, perky blonde who gives us a quick and useful explanation of where to go and what to do. Out ahead of us, a pastoral setting of green, rolling hills dotted with foliage stretches out in all directions. Everything we need is neatly organized and arranged for our convenience, and all the staff is professional, courteous, and friendly.

Where are we you may ask? A golf course maybe? A city park? A farmer’s market perhaps?

I’ll bet none of you guessed the Orange County Landfill in Orange County, Florida. That’s right, I said landfill—as in garbage dump. Surprised? So was I. I was amazed by the great experience my sister Dawn and I had dumping trash. The last time I visited a landfill—also in Florida--I recall racing across acres of compacted trash in my sister’s old pickup, pulling up at a stinking mound of refuse, and tossing our stuff from the back of the truck directly on to the pile, while the buzzards circled over our heads and garbage-crunching machinery rumbled in the background.

I feel like it was the same place but if so, they’ve changed their dumping system tremendously in the past few years. The stinking trash heap may exist somewhere in the landfill, but this time we didn’t see it. Instead our vivacious hostess directed us to a covered, decidedly unstinky disposal area, with a quiet green vista, where we would dump our junk into different massive dumpsters—the household junk in one, metal in another, appliances in still another.

It hadn’t been pleasant work up to this point. My sister had been hired by her landlord to clean out one of his properties, the house next door to hers. It turned out to be some heavy, backbreaking work. The house was filthy—full of all kinds of treasures such as a pot of stew that had been left on the stove to rot for weeks. Dawn gamely tackled most of the work herself, but Mom asked my brother Vince and I to help her haul away some of the heavy stuff. So on Thursday, July 16, we headed over to the house. First, we trucked a bunch of furniture down to a used goods store that took the whole lot for $40. Then we returned and began working on cleaning out the garage. It was unpleasant work. The stand-alone garage was dark, dank, and suffused with a musty, moldering odor. There were dozens of half-empty paint cans, crumbling furniture, ugly fluorescent light fixtures, boxes of old VHS tapes and the odd prom photo circa 1993. There was a metal desk with no legs sitting, like a derelict car, on blocks, it’s desktop dusted with glass shards. There was the rolled-up, rotting carpet harboring a decomposing rat so far along in it’s decomposition that it didn’t even stink anymore. It was disenchanting work—sorting through the detritus of someone else’s life. Gloomy thoughts of the wastefulness and transience of human life wafted through my mind. There’s few things uglier than all the things we’ve swept under the rug (or tossed in the shed) and tried to forget about.

When we were finished we had a U-Haul truck full of garbage. And we had no idea what to do with it. You’d think throwing a bunch of junk away would be easy, right. But it’s pretty complicated. The metal desk, rusted barbeque grill, and other large items were too big to put at the curb. The paint, lawn chemicals, and antifreeze would be rejected by the garbage men as well. There was some talk of making a late night run to various dumpsters around town, but fortunately integrity prevailed. We decided to call it a day and call around to find out where we could take a truckload of junk. Naturally, we looked into the landfill but the Orange County facility Dawn found online refused to take virtually everything we had in the truck—even cardboard! That night, however, when I did some web research myself, I discovered that the Orange County landfill Dawn had found was in California. The Orange County, Florida landfill would take our trash.

And so it was that Dawn and I got up early Friday morning and drove the U-Haul to the Orange County Landfill. I was prepared for a repeat of yesterday’s existentially gloomy and physically unpleasant task. I was prepared for flies, buzzards, the sounds of crushing metal, the stink of decomposition—the leftovers of mankind I’d seen the day before magnified by millions. I expected to be greeted by gruff, leather-faced folk grimly going about their nasty business, ordering us here and there with a spit of tobacco juice at our feet for emphasis. I imagined that working around garbage day in and day out would smother the soul of any man or woman.

Instead, we found our landfill experience to be actually, well, pleasant. The friendly blonde directed us to the unloading station where we met by a congenial older gentleman by the name of Jim. He definitely had the worn face of a man who has been around the tracks more than a few times, but cigarettes were his tobacco of choice and his demeanor was friendly and helpful. We dumped most of the junk into one giant bin, the metal light fixtures, desk and other metal pieces in another. While we worked, Jim would drift by to check on us and offer some friendly chitchat. He made us feel right at home. After having disposed of all the non-hazardous items, Jim directed us over to a different area of the landfill that handled hazardous material. We drove the truck over and were met by a quiet, professional woman who had us load the paint, chemicals, fluorescent light bulbs, and an ancient early-80s era computer hard drive on convenient rolling carts for proper disposal.

The main disposal area is the sheltered area on the left. This where the affable landfill employee, Jim, holds court.

After that we headed back over to the main disposal station to sweep out the truck, borrowing a broom from Jim’s workstation. He had a little outdoor office of sorts, complete with a snazzy rolling, leather office chair, no doubt rescued from disposal. From there he managed his little corner of the landfill. After we’d swept the truck clean and exchanged some more pleasantries with Jim, we headed out to pay our fee—only $13!—left the landfill with both our truck and our hearts light. Who would have thought we would have left a dumping ground feeling so good and thinking—wow, we really had a nice time!

Our encounter with Jim, and his colleagues reminded me that all work is honorable, and that no matter how distasteful the job, it can be done with a positive spirit, professionalism, and pride. My hat is off to the Orange County Landfill for keeping things green—both in appearance and in their responsible handling of waste. It felt good to know, that at least as far as I could tell, our junk wasn’t going to junk up the planet anymore than it had to. I also applaud the county officials that have created an environment where the employees are so pleasant and helpful. Disposing of all the stuff we throw away is a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it. And the folks at the Orange County Landfill are doing it well.

Aug 7, 2009

The Official Family Portraits 2009

All photos taken Sabbath afternoon, August 1, 2009.

Nona and the Little Fella


The Men

The Women

Friends & Family in Florida

At Mom's house with old Saipan friends, Jonathan and Ami Carinan and their two daughters. Wednesday, July 15, 2009.

We spent a total of two weeks in Florida--nine days before San Francisco and five days after. With my mom handling a lot of the babycare, it was a restful and relaxing time. The first half of our stay, I was pretty busy preparing for the Praxis II exam, but we still found lots of time for family and friends.

The day after we arrived in Florida some old friends of ours, Jonathan and Ami Carinan along with their two daughters came down from Gainesville to visit us. Jonathan and Ami were in Saipan for two years from 2004 to 2006, working as nurses, and we knew them from church. They were such bright lights in our church family with their lovely smiles, musical talents, and friendly, gracious personalities. We were sad to see them go, and excited to meet up with them again this summer. We had a great time visiting with them and catching up--though, Jonathan was essentially already caught up. Unbeknownst to me, he's been a faithful reader of this blog since I first started it a little more than three years ago.

We visited at my mom's house for awhile, and then had a nice lunch at our favorite Cuban restaurant, the Habana Grill. After that, they went to visit some other friends in the area for awhile, before stopping back by to take some photos with us--the ones you see here.

It was so nice to see you all again, Jonathan and Ami! I hope we'll be able to meet up again soon. Oh, and Elijah says thank you for the very nice baby laptop computer you bought him!

On weekends, we got together with extended family. We went to Uncle Robert's the first weekend, July 18 and Uncle Roland's on August 1. As always, Elijah was the center of all the attention, so most of the photos centered around him. So, most of the photos from those gatherings will appear in the Days of Elijah blog. But here's a few:

Informal photo at Uncle Roland and Aunt Coleen's house. Sabbath, August 1, 2009. From L to R: Me, Mom, Grandma, Elijah, Babs, Vince, Dawn & Jim.

Aunt Coleen and Mom at Uncle Robert & Aunt Diana's house. Sabbath, July 18, 2009.

Cousin Yvette Saliba and my mom's brother, Uncle Roland Thomson.

Aug 1, 2009

26.2: My Story of the San Francisco Marathon

At the finish line of the 2009 San Francisco Marathon with Babs and Elijah. Sunday, July 26, 2009

I decided to run the San Francisco Marathon, essentially on a whim. I was browsing through Facebook and saw a comment by Crystal Pierson to Bev about the San Francisco Marathon. I was looking for a new running goal, and I thought, why not? I'd also learned the value of a "Distraction Trip" at the end of a term of mission service. When I'd come back from my year as a student missionary in Chuuk back in 1995, trip J and I took to Europe helped mute the pain of leaving Chuuk and speed the recovery process. I thought a trip out to San Francisco might do the trick again (and so far, anyway, it has).

So, I registered and began training--short runs during the week and long runs on Sunday with Ken Pierson, my training partner. I continued my training when we arrived in the States, running in both Ohio and Florida. All the effort and preparation led up to this day--Sunday, July 26, 2009 and this event--a race so demanding and so grueling that it still, on occasion, kills people.

Running a marathon proved to be hard and humbling. Those two words probably best capture my experience last Sunday, and for those who want the short version, that basically covers it. For those interested in the long version, my story goes something like this:

I awoke just before 4:15 A.M. I'd requested a wake-up call but I woke up before the call, got up and hovered over the phone, waiting for it to ring so I could hang it up immediately, so as not wake Barbara and Elijah. It was dark and quiet, and I felt a zen-like calm as I dressed. I'd laid out everything carefully the night before--my running shorts, and shirt with the bib securely attached, long pants and shirt to ward off the morning chill before the run, jacket, hat, and earwarmer, my trusty Nikes with the timing chip looped in the laces. My ipod, handkerchief, and packets of Gu were already in the pockets of my shorts.

At 4:30 A.M. room service arrived with a light knock on the door, delivering the glass of milk and empty bowl I ordered the night before. At $11 that was probably the most expensive glass of milk I'd ever had--and I didn't even use it all. Into the bowl, I poured my little box of granola that had been included in my goodie bag from expo, added some milk and ate quietly on the floor by the bathroom, reading from my Bible by the bathroom light:

"Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." Isaiah 40:31

The Starting Line
At just after five, I switched off the bathroom light and slipped out the door. Outside the sky was still dark and the weather brisk. It wasn't hard to know where to go--there was a steady stream of people clutching San Francisco Marathon sweats bags walking towards the starting line just a few blocks away. I breathed deep and kept to myself, for some reason, not feeling like striking up a conversation with my fellow runners.

The starting line was a hive of activity--runners dropping off their sweats bags which were being loaded into big moving trucks, runners hydrating at the water station, gathered about the information booth, lining up for the bathroom, and of course thousands of runners massed at the starting line. I'd arrived just in time to see the first wave start. I stood between two experienced runners--a multi-marathon veteran from Florida and a woman who since completing the full New York Marathon, ran half-marathons exclusively. I listened somewhat absently as they traded war stories. The emcee bellowed encouragements, the Rocky theme pumped from the speakers, and at 5:30 the first wave burst forward from the starting line, an endless stream of runners thundering by. The second wave started almost immediately after the first, and about ten minutes later the third wave--the one Ken and his friends were in--began. I looked fruitlessly for them amongst the sea of runners, but I couldn't spot them.

After the third wave, I left the starting area and wandered for a bit. I had time. I was in the eighth wave--the last one which would start just after 6:30 A.M. Which was a good thing because despite my best efforts to forestall this, nature was calling--insistently. I knew a pit stop early in the race when lines were long at the Portajohns would seriously affect my time (in fact, as it turned out, I don't know if I would have finished within the allotted time, if I'd had to wait in line for the bathroom). So it was better to go now, while I had the chance. However, the line to the bathrooms at the starting line literally ran around the block. I weighed joining that line against hiking back up to the hotel, and in the end opted for the hike.

By the time I walked back to the hotel, took care of business, and walked back to the starting line, it was only minutes till my wave was to start. I quickly doffed my outer clothing, stuffed it in the sweats bag, and handed it over to the race officials. Then I started moving down the line looking for an entrance to the starting line. Even here, in the last wave, the mass of competitiors seemed to stretch on without end. I finally hopped over a barrier and squeezed into the group.

As the final minutes ticked away, I did a few quick stretches--probably should have done more, but I hoped the trips to and from the hotel would count as sufficient warm-up--and set up my ipod. I still felt a preternatural calm and sort of distance from everyone around me.

At 5:42, our wave began, which at first meant nothing for me. The pack of runners was so large that on the words "go" those of us further back couldn't move for a minute or so as we waited for those in front to move out. When we finally could move, it was an anticlimactic shuffle towards the actual starting line--from there the crowd thinned out, and to the soaring strains of "Where the Streets Have No Name" on my ipod, the run of my life began.

The first mile was solid, right on pace. As the second song, "Magnificent" by U2 came to an end on my ipod, Coit tower loomed on my left and the first mile marker on my right. I felt good--eleven minutes, right where I should be. And so I continued--running solid, and steady surrounded by thousands of runners on every side. The rumble of a multitude of sneakers slapping pavement and the low hum of many voices filled the morning air. The day was dawning chilly and heavy with fog. Up ahead I could see a river of runners winding their way up the first hill towards the Golden Gate Bridge barely visible in its shroud of fog.

I was relieved to find this first hill, and all the ones that came later, suprisingly easy. I had worried that we hadn't adequately trained for the hills--imagined that this run would be the Mt. Tapochau run times twenty-six. But it turned out that I was more than ready and the hills-at least the uphills--would prove to be the least of my worries.

Feeling Good
Running across the Golden Gate Bridge at about five and a half miles was epic, as I expected, even in the foggy gloom. It was pretty cool to look up and see those massive orange arches looming overhead as we ran. As we moved across the bridge there was a constant stream of runners coming back across the bridge--two lanes of running traffic. I wondered if I might see Ken and his boys, but knew it was unlikely. Those guys were more than two hours and a half hours into the race by then and the bridge was long behind them. Coming off the bridge in the midst of mile eight we swirled around a parking lot which contained one of the water stations--I picked up a few cupfuls of Cytomax sports drink, water, and a packet of Gu--and headed right back on to the bridge to go back across.

I was surprised to find the my joints were already beginning to ache. This worried me as I'd never developed joint soreness this early during my training runs. I hadn't even broken ten miles yet. I figured it must be the cold that was aggravating them more than usual. And it was cold, at least for this Saipan boy--I was so glad I'd bought the earwarmer. Without it, I'm certain I would have gotten one of those ear ache/headaches that I always get when it's cold and windy.

We came off the bridge in the tenth mile and entered the Presidio. This was probably the longest and toughest hill, but I took it on without too much trouble, shortening my stride and slowing my pace to chug my way to the top. By this time, I was growing impatient to get to the halfway mark. My joint and muscles aches were intensifying and I needed the mental boost of knowing I was more than halfway there.

Halfway There
Just before the halfway mark, at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, I saw a familiar jean jacket, familiar dark curls, and a familiar little Fella. Babs and Elijah had come out to cheer me on. I can't tell you how excited I was to see them. Babs presence and her encouraging cheers filled me with new energy. And as for Elijah? His little face lit up in the biggest grin when he saw me. I thought about that grin for miles afterward and it helped keep me going.

Babs took this photo, and the ones that follow as I approached the 13 mile marker-halfway through the race. Despite the growing aches in my joints, I was still feeling pretty good at this point.

Running on. . .

A final wave. . .

. . .And into the crucible of the Golden Gate Park

Not long after that, I passed the halfway point. I'd slowed some but was still within the pace range I'd set for myself and that was good. It was just after 9:15 in the morning.

The Crucible
Unfortunately, it was around this time that the good times came to an end. The crowds had thinned considerably as the half marathoners finished their run (approximately 75% of the runners that day were running either the first or second half marathon). Now there were just a smattering of runners here and there in the quiet of the park. I stopped at a park restroom just before the 14 mile marker and found it difficult to begin running again. The joint pain had intensified considerably and when I paused to stretch, the mucles in my legs quivered visibly. It would turn out that the six miles within the confines of Golden Gate Park would be my crucible. As beautiful as it was was with it's towering trees, manicured gardens, chattering waterfalls, and silent ponds, the park came to be a loathsome thing to me. All I wanted was to get out of there--as long as I was in the park, the home stretch remained elusive, out of my reach. Here in the park all my grand plans and proud thoughts crumbled to dust. I was humbled. Early in the race I'd found myself passsing the 4:45 pace group. Pace groups are led by experienced runners who keep a particular pace--if you want to monitor your own pace, you can run with them and you'll likely finish within the time posted on the little sign they carry with them. At any rate, passing the 4:45 group seemed about right to me and I felt good that I never saw them again during the race--that is until I saw the 5:00 group come trotting past me after the bridge. Wait a second. . .what happened? How did they. . .? I was shocked.

My shock turned to dismay and then profound humility, as I began to be passed by others--the elderly and the heavyset, all moving smoothly past me as I hobbled along. With each passing pace group--the 5:15, the 5:30--I felt my spirits sink lower. Before I reached mile 18, the songs on my ipod that I'd allotted to the completion of that mile--the mile I'd dedicated to my mom--ran out. The songs for mile 19 (dedicated to the Saipan SDA School) began and there was no way around the facts. I'd fallen well off my pace and was offically behind. The fog had finally lifted, the sun had come out, but my heart was still overcast. My legs felt like they were sheathed in concrete, fire shot through my ankles, knees, and joints, and my muscles groaned in agony. I jogged slowly and walked often.

Mind over Matter
At last, I finally emerged from the cursed park and into the sunshine of Haight Street. Jogging slowly past the smoke shops and trippy hippie stores, I worried that I might not even finish within the allotted time. I'd later learn that when I passed the 20 mile marker I had slowed to a 13:26 pace, the slowest I'd ever run, with less than 2o seconds per mile between me and failure.

By now, I was running mostly alone. The occasional runner who overtook me or vice versa was silent in their own personal struggle. The runners snapping photos and chatting on cell phones that I'd seen early in the race had long disappeared. The race organizers were packing up their gear, the traffic cops were directing us off the roads to the sidewalk; I'm pretty sure some of the aid stations had folded completely by this time. The race seemed to be dishearteningly close to the end and I seemed so far from the finish line. Still, it wasn't over yet. I was reminded of this by the scattered onlookers who continued to cheer me as I past, ringing bells and shouting, "Come on, you can do it. You're gonna make it. You're almost there!" I appreciated these thoughtful folks so much. I'm sure it was more fun and much easier to cheer the great crowds of sturdy atheletes early in the race, running steadily along. But it was the men and women like me, hobbling along at the back of the pack that needed their encouragement the most, and my hat is off to these people who stuck around to the bitter end to give us that extra boost.

Around mile 21 or so, amazingly, I began to pick up my pace. I was driven by the fear of not making that Official Finish. I couldn't stand the thought of going through all of this and then having my finish not count. There was that, and the fact that for some reason it seemed less painful to run than to walk at this point. Whenever I stopped to walk terrible cramps gripped my calves and quads--running kept the cramping at bay. "Come on man, you can do this. You can do this" I'd whisper to myself as I attempted to massage the cramps. "Come on, come on, come on," I'd chant. So I'd run again. Except for the downhills--the steep downhills were enough to make a man swear from the pain, so brutal were they on the knees. Then I had to walk.

But beyond that I ran more than walked in the final five miles. The songs continued to play, but I barely noticed them, and I found that it helped to pray for the people I'd dedicated my miles to at this point. It helped distract me from the pain. So I prayed for Virle and Amy, for "Little Sister", for "J", for my sister Dawn and her fiance Jim.

Picking up the Pace
I knew I'd make it when I caught up with the 5:45 pace group--the very last one. As long as I could at least keep them in sight, I knew I'd make it. The miles had grown unbearably long by this time. It seemed like the next mile marker would never come. Mile 24 was especially elusive--I couldn't figure out why it was taking me so long to reach it. At the last water station, one of the race volunteers shouted, "You're almost there! Just two more miles!"

Don't lie to me, I muttered to myself. I know you're trying to encourage me and all, but don't lie to me. I haven't even completed 24 miles yet!

And then a woman nearby commented to her running buddy, "There it is 25 miles. We're almost there." And sure enough, up ahead, a signpost from heaven was mile marker 25. Somehow, I'd missed the 24th marker. I had just over a mile to go. My heart swelled with relief and eagerness for this run to finally be over. I ran at a good clip--for awhile I'd been passing many of the people that had earlier passed me and that I'd thought I'd never see again. The bearded man with the topknot of long hair and furry back, the two women in the dark blue marathon training shirts, and now I passed many more. But I also walked a few paces here and there. I was worried that I'd run out of steam and collapse in heap before the finish line, if I pushed too soon. And I wanted to finish strong.

Finish Line
When I finally hit the 26 mile marker on the Embarcedero, I finally kicked on the afterburners and ran the last .2 miles strong. The finish line came into view. The smattering of supporters were cheering, the emcee was chattering his encouragement: "Folks, you'll only hear this song once in the entire race. . ." and the familiar melody of the theme from Chariots of Fire floated through the air. I didn't even care. I ran hard, my breath coming in gasps, I raised my hands and it didn't even feel like a cliche. I pumped my fist and--yes! I was across the finish. It was over.

I felt relief. I felt exhausted. But, of course, I also felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. At 5 hours, 45 minutes, and 29 seconds, I was an Official Finisher of the 2009 San Francisco Marathon. The aches and pains, the mental battle, it had all been worth it.

Done! I finished at approximately 12:27 P.M.

The Piersons and Bev stuck around to cheer me on at the finish line. Bev finished the second half marathon about an hour or so before me and Ken and Crystal finished their respective races (full and first half marathon). more than two hours earlier.

The Finish

So what comes next? I know I'll run again. At this point, I don't think I'll do another marathon just for myself--one for me was enough. But if I have the opportunity to run for a cause, or if I'm going to run with someone else whose never run one before, I'd do 26.2 again in a heartbeat. And I definitely want to run in other shorter races--half marathons and such.

What was true at the beginning of those twenty six miles, echoed in the first words of the first song on my ipod, is still true at the end: "I want to run."