Category Archives: Run To Save A Soul

Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body

By Eliot Godwin


The modern marathon as a sporting event was inspired by the fabled story of Philipedes, who ran from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians. After uttering his last words, “joy to you,” he promptly collapsed and died. When I ran the L.A. Marathon earlier this month, I wasn’t bringing any news to anyone in particular, but I certainly felt like collapsing and death was probably in play at some point.

You see, I took the marathon lightly. I went to the weekly training sessions because my counselor suggested I get involved in any and all physical activities offered at Beit T’Shuvah. Running a few miles on Sunday mornings seemed like a logical extension of that. I’d train for the half-marathon and just run the full on race day like no big deal. I rarely considered the marathon as an actual task; in my mind it felt more like just the end of my Sunday running appointments.


Even on race day I complained about having to get up so early (4:30 A.M.) and tried to sleep as everyone else stretched and got excited for the race. When the race finally started, I felt great and decided I’d have no problem keeping pace with my friend who had been training seriously for months. This went against everything our coaches had repeated week after week, but I was a lifelong athlete, I’d played a Division I sport in college (12 years ago, mind you) and how long is 26.2 miles, really?

It’s long. By mile eight, I’d given up on keeping pace with my friend but I still thought I’d be able to finish no problem. At mile ten the five-hour pace runner had come and gone and I started feeling…a little less confident. At the halfway point I was supposed to stop and take a van to the block party at mile 19 but something about that just felt wrong. Get in a van while my fellow runners continued to suffer? Quit halfway and go party? It seemed like a metaphor for how I had lived my life thus far. I’d take a passion project lightly so when I inevitably quit halfway through, my lack of follow through wouldn’t carry much sting.

I was drawn to gambling because there was little effort and/or preparation required but lucrative, tangible results were attainable. No effort, cash reward? Sign me up! But I soon found out the principles of life don’t change just because you’re in a casino. Add compulsive addiction to the mix and I was licked. Preparation and discipline are key to any type of success, they just manifest in different, sometimes more subtle ways. I thought I could get by on my wits and guile, like a college student who shows up to a sociology midterm half-drunk expecting to ace it. But college and casinos aren’t real life until you leave.

At Beit T’Shuvah I’ve learned that pain and hardship are inevitable. Our impulses can often be damaging and will always be there, but preparing accordingly to deal with them will afford us a healthy, balanced life. Sitting with discomfort is possibly the most important part of overcoming addiction. My sojourns to the casino were attempts to not only completely escape the difficulty of life but to live life on my own terms, without the pain. And what did I eventually find in the casino? Pain, destruction and misery on a whole new level.

At mile 15 the pain was so great that I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to finish. After all, I had only trained for the half-marathon, was it so bad if I stopped at mile 19? 19 miles was a lot, a terrific accomplishment. But when I scoffed my way through the halfway point I had committed to finishing. They say running a marathon is more mental than anything. At that point my body was telling me to stop and my mind was agreeing wholeheartedly. I was convinced I would need a wheelchair for months and that my knees would be irreparably injured. But something inside of me kept whispering, “finish.” At the 19th mile block party, stopping was never a real option as my friends cheered me on with hugs and high fives. The surge of confidence and adrenaline I got from this brief interlude carried me until my mind again intervened with the realization that “you’re almost there!” really meant, “you have more than seven more miles left.”


Through miles 20-23 I saw multiple people carried away on stretchers, heard people talking about a 28-year old male who had a heart attack (I’m 34), and was passed by the older brother of Rip Van Winkle on one crutch. Still I persisted. The pain was unbearable but I bore it proudly like the medal of supreme achievement that would soon hang on my neck. After a few more miles, I could see the finish line! When I finally finished and obtained one of the few remaining medals, a race volunteer promptly removed it from my neck and replaced it with the half-marathon medal that matched my special yellow bib. The look of confusion and exasperation on my face must have been enough to persuade one of the blithe, less-experienced volunteers to give it back.


I’ve always thought my shortcomings were the result of my refusal to finish what I’d started, not a lack of confidence. I thought I had confidence in spades and I just didn’t care enough to follow though on anything meaningful. But really I didn’t believe in myself enough to allow myself to fail. I was scared of what would happen if I finished something I cared about and it wasn’t all that good. I finished the marathon in six hours and 45 minutes. Over that span, the winner of the race could have run three marathons and still have time left over for a shower, a shave, and a leisurely cab ride to the airport. Instead of being upset with myself for taking so long, I am filled with confidence because I finally committed to something and I followed through to the end. It may not have been the Greeks defeating the Persians, but it was definitely a joyous occasion for me.



Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Beit T'Shuvah, BTS Communications, Community, Current Events, Gratitude, Judaism, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Sobriety, Spirituality, T'Shuvah

The Mind of a Marathon Runner

By Eliot Godwin

Beep beep beep beep…

shutterstock_152330102I can’t say for sure why I hate my alarm clock. It’s an inanimate object. I’m definitely smarter than my alarm clock and it does exactly what I tell it. Perhaps I really just hate myself for committing to getting up early and running miles upon miles every Sunday morning. More likely it’s that I love myself enough to commit to something that makes me physically healthier and mentally stronger, and follow through on that commitment each week. Clearly, it’s tough love.

The perspective from under my comforter is bleak. A snoring, farting roommate. Accruing laundry. Clouds and rain. Once I get up, however, the world doesn’t look so intimidating. How quickly the body responds to the act of going from horizontal to vertical in the morning. The brain needs blood to operate, and getting vertical denies my brain the blood it needs to make bad decisions like ‘stay in bed’ or ‘do drugs’ or ‘gamble.’ I leave my room! I interact with people! I eat bagels!

When I start running, the endorphins start to flow and life is good. Invariably, I wonder how I ever considered not getting out of bed. With the unwavering support and infectious enthusiasm of Stephanie Cullen and Craig Miller, along with everyone else on the team, I feel a part of something. We train on our own during the week, and every Sunday the team meets at the Santa Monica Pier for our weekly runs, some as long as 20 miles.

In so many ways, my weekly marathon training is a microcosm of rehabilitation. Arresting my addiction is difficult because it is uncomfortable, like getting out of bed. Training for a marathon is hard and daunting, but the road is paved with success and encouragement, along with the inevitable difficulties. My team is supportive and present; we look out for each other and hold each other accountable.

Once training ends, the real thing awaits. Hopefully we’ve been present in our preparation and have amassed a toolbox of the strategies and skills necessary to succeed. Like life, the marathon is fraught with peril and unexpected complications will certainly arise. But failure is much less an option than a choice we simply cannot make.

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LA Marathon – The Transition Zone: Part 2/4

By Jaron Zanerhaft

Back in the car, I wrap myself up in a blanket that one of our runners tossed my way before she lined up with the team.  I go over my notes in the back seat as we merge onto the highway, wrap around the city, and end up on the wrong side of the street at our next stop.  Lauren, Erin, and I cross the street, dodging people as if we were playing Frogger with the marathon runners, and land safely at the transition zone—the respite 13.1 miles down the course designated for two-person teams to switch runners.  For them, this is the starting lines and finish lines, but for most runners, this is only the halfway point.

It’s hard to believe that the sparse flow of runners right now came from the focused torrent I just left.  But a crowd still gathers, greeting and sending off runners who are taking advantage of this year’s half-marathon partnership. A single open lane is partitioned off from the main drag by lightweight metal bike-rack barricades.   People wander in and out of this lane, gathering a little every now and then, but break apart when a runner comes, just like kids playing street hockey would make way for oncoming cars.

At first, we don’t see anyone we recognize, and my media team sets up near a tent where some guy with a microphone is shouting out runners’ first names as they pass, creating an eerie sense of familiarity.  Of course, the announcer only knows the runners’ names from what he can read on their bibs, but it makes it seem like today, Los Angeles, normally broken into countless cultural and lifestyle distinctions, is united.

Craig, the first of our team to reach the transition zone, swooshes by at 9:09, one minute earlier than he had predicted. He grabs a bottle filled with some deep green nutrient concoction and jets off.

Our 2nd half runners eagerly await their counterparts’ arrivals.  One runner received word this morning that his counterpart did not show up to the hotel the night before.  Still committed to running his half, he waits with the rest of the BTS team.  I wait with him and watch him as he takes off, not early and alone like he could have, but only when another from our team gets the go-ahead, so that he may run with a friend.

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LA Marathon – The Starting Line: Part 1/4

By Jaron Zanerhaft

Last Sunday, I was tasked with covering the 2012 Honda LA Marathon for Beit T’Shuvah.  My day began with a fresh notebook three hours before dawn and didn’t end until our last runner crossed the finish line. The day was so full that I felt compelled to break my story into four parts, one for each stop along the way.  This is Part 1.

The Starting Line

In the cover of a dark morning, thousands of people file in with 5 a.m. mechanized legs, as if on moving sidewalks made invisible by the black asphalt of the Dodger Stadium parking lot. The stagnant cold pricks my half-closed eyelids.  I tap the sharp tip of the pencil in my jacket pocket and make my way from the car with Lauren and Erin towards the gathering.

Tents speckle a large section of the parking lot closest to the stadium.  Only two days before, these tents hosted a myriad of vendors, presenters, solicitors, supporters, and fundraisers in a bustling expo.  Now, the tarps shelter bundles of runners.  The Beit T’Shuvah team leans against a tent across from a table handing out last minute bananas and bagels in the middle of the parking lot.  Some are quiet.  Some are stretching.  All look ready.

As the sun begins to rise, the runners take their places behind a starting line 23,000 people deep.  I take my place on the other side of the line, just around the first curve. I watch the wheelchairs take off, then the competitive women take their 7+minute head start, and finally, as the loud speaker bellows a count, the 2012 Honda LA Marathon begins.

In an instant, the thick crowd takes the first turn like a herd of predators starving for the next meal.  They share a hunger for the road.  Underfoot, powerbar wrappers, energy shot empties, and chapsticks that fell from overstocked utility belts get trampled by the stampede.

Flashes of uniforms speed by my perch— four yellow tank-tops, three forest green headbands with a white stripe, too many spandex-and-short-shorts outfits, and finally, a group of light blue t-shirts with white lettering and a dark blue runner silhouette.  Those who are running to save souls stick together in a tight pack, looking out for each other, making sure every single runner gets off to a strong start.  The race has just started, and I’m already proud of my community.

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My Mom, Jennifer Sarnoff: Running to Save Souls

Los Angeles Marathon runner for Beit T'Shuvah

Me and my mom

My name is Jackson and I am 2 years old.  I like pudding and naptime. Another thing about me: my mommy, Jennifer, is crazy.  Wanna know why?

She is running 26.2 miles for the LA Marathon this year. So on top of having to take care of me, feed me, watch me, teach me, clean me, and get me to bed every day, she runs. And not just a mile, or two, but eventually, 26.2! And do you know who she’s running for? Beit T’Shuvah.  She’s running for a Jewish rehab that she never even lived at! She’s never even personally struggled with addiction. I mean, sure, while growing up in Los Angeles, my mom saw a lot of people deal with addiction—some of her family and friends were addicts. She’s seen the tragedy of alcoholism and witnessed the insanity of drug dependency. But she’s not an addict. She’s not an alcoholic. She’s not even a compulsive gambler.

She used to be “normal,” too. I did some eavesdropping and when asked if she ever thought about running a marathon, I overheard her saying in an interview: “No, and I’ll tell you a secret. I almost failed out of PE in high school because I wouldn’t run the mile…I hated running. I used to get hiccups and I didn’t know how to breathe right when I ran. I’m kind of laughing to myself when I run these distances. It blows my mind that I’m about to take on this experience.”

Crazy she may be, but I guess my mom is dedicated. She’s only able to run with the team every other week because she takes care of me. I like to think of myself as her boss. And as her boss I guess I’d like to tell her that I’m proud… huh? I gotta go. My mom’s calling me. And I love her, so I’m gonna go now.

Jennifer Sarnoff


Jennifer Sarnoff has a remarkable, beaming radiance. She is a woman who follows through with her word, promising to run the marathon a year before she signs up. Jennifer is a key component to our team because, like Chris, she did not go through Beit T’Shuvah. She runs because of the kindness in her heart and the professed blessings she feels from seeing the bountiful work of Beit T’Shuvah, treating the broken-willed and restoring the souls of her loved ones. She now runs to save a soul.

When asked about what she is most nervous about running the marathon, she resolutely replied, “Running 26.2 miles… I’m not Forrest Gump.” She’s right, she’s not Forrest Gump—she’s Jennifer Sarnoff. And we think that’s something to be proud of. You can check her Crowdrise page here.

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Filed under addiction, Family Wellness, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Spirituality, Temple, Uncategorized

Lindsay Runs to Save Souls

By Ben Spielberg

As I listen, immersed in her story, I notice Lindsay’s cadence and rhythm as she explains her development into a Beit T’Shuvah resident. She tells me of her struggles and success; her voice lowers and slows to a crawl as she retells her history pre-Beit T’Shuvah, and her voice rises in pitch and quickens as she speaks of her future aspirations of running the Run to Save a Soul 2012 LA Marathon.

Lindsay Posing After Surf Therapy

Just another day at surf therapy

When most people think of recovering drug addicts, they don’t think of Lindsay Recht. They don’t think of college students, who hide their methamphetamine use from their friends and family. They don’t think of “nice Jewish girls” or strong women. They definitely don’t think of swimming teachers or frightened yet poised diabetics. However, Lindsay Recht is all of those things and so much more.

Her story is heartbreaking—as I interview her, I notice her voice quiver and crack when she talks about her family history of addiction. I notice her body shake briefly as she discusses how low her drug use took her—how her parents had to let go of her and how drugs exacerbated her feelings of never fitting in. Most importantly, though, I notice the light in her eyes as she talks about the LA Marathon—how she is no longer running for herself, but instead for the next addict coming into Beit T’Shuvah.

This progression for Lindsay was not easy. Before her time at Beit T’Shuvah, she resisted sobriety despite moving into sober living. After reluctantly moving into Beit T’Shuvah, Lindsay had a cathartic experience in temple one day. “I was dancing at [temple] Valley Beth Shalom,” she shared, “And rabbi came up to me and told me I had this light about me. And he thanked me for sharing it with [them].”

This marathon won’t be easy for Lindsay, either. “It scares me, honestly. I’m diabetic. At this point, it’s like, I’m not running it for me anymore. I’m running it for someone else—for the next drug addict who needs a bed. It’s so much bigger than just me at this point.” Because of her courage and selflessness, we will be following Lindsay until she crosses the finish line. You can view her Crowdrise page or check her out on Twitter.

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Run to Save a Soul 2012: I Run For Something

By Justin Rosenberg

I moved from Florida to Los Angeles in January. I was broken. I checked into rehab. My life changed. I got sober.  I got better. This is NOT that story! This is the story of what has happened and what I’ve been through since I got sober.

First, let’s flashback a decade. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder in Spring 2001.  Since that initial diagnosis, I have been hospitalized, poked, prodded, probed, put under the knife, and doped up on every thing from corticosteroids to rather potent narcotics to experimental biologic-agents with names straight out of Star Trek.  I used to joke with the hospital staff, calling the hospital my vacation home . . . not quite the Hamptons.

Now, back to the present. In April, having already been clean and sober (and working a great recovery program) since January, I began to have the worst Crohn’s flare-up since I first got sick a decade earlier.  I tried to be my own superhero and “tough it out.”  I thought I was fooling everyone I had come to love out on this coast, but they knew better.  Each day I would hear “Justin, please go to the hospital, we don’t want to lose you!” I still opted to feel like I was born on planet Krypton. On the first Monday in June, I was speaking with my sister on the phone and she was begging me to let her take me to the hospital.  I told her I’d “think about it”.  I hung up the phone and meditated on one single concept–for the past 30 years of my life, I had been doing things my own way, assuming that I knew better than the world.  I thought long and hard for about 30 seconds (any longer and I would’ve intellectualized and convinced myself not to do what I did next).  I called my sister back and told her to come pick me up to head to Cedars-Sinai emergency room.

The next few weeks were an existential haze.  I met with a plethora of GI doctors, Colorectal Surgeons, Med Students, and some rather cute and amazingly endearing nurses.  I had cameras shoved in every hole in my body.  I felt awkward, violated, embarrassed, ashamed–and, of course, physically worse than I’ve ever felt in my life!! But regardless of all the negative aspects, I felt something I had not felt for as long as I could remember–CONNECTED!  I did something different with this hospital stay; I decided to let people in (literally, as in let them into my room, and metaphorically, as in let them into my heart).  The outpouring of love and support from the Beit T’Shuvah community, the doctors and nurses at Cedars, and my friends and family back east, just utterly blew me away.  I had not asked a single person to care about me.  Hell, in the past, I had actually rejected the love thrown my way!  I didn’t realize that something had changed in me; 5 months of “Beit T’Shuvah time” under my belt had obviously been a catalyst for an internal perceptual shift.

And just as I take my recovery “one day at a time”, I’m also taking my running “one step at a time”.

I should probably mention that on June 16th, the surgeons at the hospital removed my ENTIRE large intestines, and left an ileostomy bag in its place! Although this was a major, life-altering surgery, I have tried to treat it as the opposite of that.  In the past, I’d turn the most minor of life-issues into mega-apocalyptic excuse to not give back to life.  This time, I made the conscious decision to turn a major event into a springboard to rebuild my life beyond just not using drugs.

While I was in the hospital recovering, I began doing research on what would be possible with my specific surgery.  To my surprise, nearly every article, blog-post, interview, etc that I came across all had to do with the surgical-recipient not looking back and instead continually challenging themselves in ways not before possible while sick in the throes of Crohn’s Disease.  So . . . I decided that I would set a goal of running 26.2 miles in March, in the form of the LA Marathon. Adding to my own internal hype about this decision, is the fact that I get to not only run to save and change my own life, I get to run to save and change the lives of the countless souls who will be my predecessors as future residents of Beit T’Shuvah.  Raising money to help the community that embraced me and saved my life is both an honor and a privilege.

As I write this, I am mentally preparing for this upcoming Sunday’s 8-mile training run.  Just as with the 5K a few weeks ago, and the 6-mile run last week, I know that this Sunday’s run is going to sting a bit.  But more so than sting, it is going to foster growth–both my own growth, and the growth of many to follow in my footsteps.  And just as I take my recovery “one day at a time”, I’m also taking my running “one step at a time”.  I know that by running 26.2 miles this upcoming March, I will not only be completing a tremendous physical accomplishment, I will also be completing a momentous spiritual accomplishment.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Family Wellness, Judaism, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Sobriety, Spirituality, Uncategorized