Tag Archives: LA Marathon

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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Filed under Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul

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 Linehttps://i2.wp.com/www.storiestoldbythecamera.com/wp-content/gallery/2012-honda-la-marathon/2012-honda-la-marathon-5.jpg

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

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

Coach Chris and the LA Marathon Run to Save a Soul 2012

Coach Chris at last year's marathon

“The metaphor of running with recovery is profound. One foot in front of the other, being devoted, not giving up. Pushing past the wall. Having moments of intense exhilaration and moments when you really doubt yourself.” This is how Christopher King describes the intense relationship between running and recovering. For some, running is a simple challenge, a test of will and feat. For others, it is a divine spiritual practice. Christopher King fits the paradigm of a man who shares his passion and helps others recover their purpose by coaching the 2011 BTS Run to Save a Soul Marathon.

Chris (aka ‘Coach Chris’) enthusiastically became a contributing member of the Beit T’Shuvah team a little over three years ago when he saw our own Rabbi Mark speak at Culver City’s Rotary Club. Though he’d never heard of Beit T’Shuvah before and was not Jewish, the Rabbi intrigued him, and he decided to check out our Shabbat services one Friday night. Chris had been seeking for a long time, though he wasn’t sure for what. He knew upon his arrival that this was it. A place he could be passionate about, and a faith he wanted to learn more about (Chris is now in the process of conversion). He wanted to give back to the community that had begun to give so much to him, so he offered to do the thing he knew best: to run.

Chris had already run 7 marathons before joining up with the BT team. He embraced marathon running after college as an opportunity for self-discipline and to cultivate a sense of purpose. Three years later, Chris is just as excited about coaching BT as when he started. He thrives off of motivation—more specifically, he thrives off of giving people motivation. “I understand it having run before,” Chris says, “especially when the mileage starts to increase and your body starts to get the natural aches and pains, waking up early in the morning, going out again and again…[that’s when] being able to reach people and keep them motivated is a challenge but its one of the things I like the most about it. It’s a lesson that translates to real life, the principles you need to run a marathon are the same principles you need in life.”

The culmination of all the training builds to the night before the marathon—the team feasts on a big meal, but everybody still has their doubts about whether or not their body can make it the 26.2 miles, and more importantly, whether or not their minds can surpass nagging uncertainties. Chris takes this moment to impart a personal story (which will go untold, unless you run the marathon!) of doubt and triumph to help inspire the runners before they go to sleep.

After passing the finish line, Chris looks forward to the same ritual every year. First he hugs his father, and then he gets to work on his cell phone, calling all members of the team to make sure they make it to the finish line.

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Family Wellness, Gratitude, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Uncategorized

Anything is Possible

By Gini Bowling

Gini & Kaylee

What better way to celebrate my two-year sober birthday than to go out of my comfort zone?  I am not an athletic person – I smoke, and love to sit on the couch and watch TV.  Walk eighteen miles?  Sure! Why not?

I get to the Shuv around 5:30 and head out to Shirley’s.  The first person I see is Karen who greets me with a huge hug.  “This is my old roomie”, she announces to the other residents nearby.  Karen and I went through primary together, then sober living and finally Independent.

Karen has been a huge inspiration for me throughout my recovery.  I am a VERY competitive person and Karen came into Beit T’Shuvah after I did.  Our time sharing a room while in primary was amazing but too short.  She moved up to sober living before I did….WHAT?  OH noooooooooooooooooooooooooo….I couldn’t have that!!!!  My competitive side (also known as my ego) took over, and snapped me into action.  The next week I had a job and was moving to sober living.  Thanks Karen.  🙂

A very similar chain of events happened when transitioning to Independent living.  Karen went first and I followed very shortly after.

There are about  10 of us excitedly piling into the van as Doug drives us to Hermosa Beach.  We’ve got our backpacks full of healthy snacks and water.  The sun is setting on the ocean and I take it all in with a deep breath.  There are people all along the bike path with their dogs and their bikes.  A happy energy consumes me – sort of like that feeling I got as a child when everything was perfect in the universe.  Some of the people in the group I have not spent too much time with other then maybe a hello in passing, but right at this moment, we have become bonded.

We start our journey.

Half of the group walks ahead at a faster pace, I can see them disappearing into the night.  Karen, MJ, Steph and Ronit are my comrades.  We can barely see the embryonic lights of the Santa Monica ferris wheel far away in the distance.  “Keep looking at the ferris wheel”, Karen says.

At around mile 8, MJ points to the marker on the bike path and says, “Look, mile 8!”  I am shocked. “Shut UP!”, I say.  “No way — this is EASY!”  MJ chuckles and says, “Just wait till 18, when your legs feel like jello”.  I am not worried I think to myself.  If Karen can do it, so can I!  I look over at Karen and she’s truckin’ along.

Just then I look over at the ocean, and I see big beautiful lights.  “Oh my God you guys, look at that cruise ship!”  Through her laughter, Karen says, “That’s not a cruise ship, that’s an oil rig!”  We roar into laughter for miles.

We are somewhere in the Marina at this point  (can’t gauge because we’ve lost sight of the ferris wheel) and we are lost.  I pull out my GPS on my phone and we are on our way.   We walk about a mile and I hear MJ say, “Oh Gin”.  I look up and we are at a dead end.  At this point, Steph has a stomach ache and a blister and can’t go on.  She sits down and says, “You guys go…I can’t do anymore, tell them to come pick me up here.”  “Oh no” I say, “Come on, you can do it”.  She reluctantly gets up and we back track until we get back on the right course.

We are somewhere between 14 and 18 miles, and I am starting to loose speed.  My feet and legs hurt so bad.  There is no way that I believe that I can do this anymore. – Thank God for GaGa in my iPod.  A bit further, and I fall back to the rear.  I can see the rest of the crew pushing on and I wonder how they are doing it.  I just don’t understand where they are finding the energy to push forward.  I keep shifting back and forth in my mind – “I can’t do this” to “If they can do it, then so can I” and back to “I can’t do this”.  We find our way back to the bike path and I can see the ferris wheel.  It has definitely gotten bigger, however it’s not big enough.  At this point my phone alerts me of a new Facebook message.  It’s David, he’s updated his status to say, “successful mission. completed with ease and comfort. thank you all for your love and support, i mean that wholeheartedly. “ – I want to throw my phone for a moment and then I realize that this status couldn’t have come at a better time.

It’s about 1:00 in the morning and we are walking (dragging) through Venice.  Steph falls back with me and asks me if I’m ok.  I say, “No.  I am not ok.  I can’t go anymore”.  She says, “Oh no, yes you can..you can do it!”  I don’t believe that I can do it at that moment, but something inside me is pushing me.  That ferris wheel is getting brighter and bigger…

The last mile was the most difficult.  MJ stayed with me and put up with me having to stop every few feet to sit.  At one point he asked me if I wanted him to carry me the rest of the way.  I said,  “No..I can do this, I just need to rest for a second”.  Thanks MJ.

We finally made it to the ferris wheel.  My legs felt like they were going to fall off.  My eyes welled up with tears and I felt a lump in my throat.  I did it.  I can’t believe I did it.  I walked eighteen miles.  I was floating.

This experience has affected other areas of my life.  I am pushing through things everyday, that previously I would have given up on.  I have this drive inside now that is taking the place of fear.  I realize the importance of community and lifting each other up.  The bond that I have with the others is indescribable.  Anything is possible if you want it and are not afraid to ask for help!  You can do it!

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Filed under Gratitude, Run To Save A Soul