Book Review: Five Days At Memorial

We all remember Katrina. The natural disaster of the hurricane, and the piss-poor response from local, state and federal agencies in its aftermath, remains one of the low points of modern America. Like many, I was shocked, and ashamed, that anyone had to live through something so awful. And I was angry that so many had to struggle so hard, for so long, without adequate assistance.

Many, I am sure, are still struggling today.

But I live far from New Orleans. And with time, Katrina faded from my memory.

That is, until I read Sheri Fink’s 5 Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital. * If you followed the Katrina news, you probably remember at least the broad strokes of what happened at Memorial – during the immediate aftermath of the storm, with floodwater surrounding the hospital, and evacuation happening in a haphazard and unpredictable way, a number of staff people allegedly euthanized patients.

Memorial Medical Center, surrounded by flood waters.

However if you’re like me, you only remember the barest outline of the story and know little of what happened to the people involved after CNN stopped carrying it on the evening news.

Well the full story is here and it is a tragic and disturbing.  Fink recounts  it in detail, giving us an almost moment-by-moment account of what happened in Memorial during the storm and of the investigation that happened after. By and large it’s a nuanced presentation of complex situation. No one comes off as an obvious villain and few remain virtuous.

Boats evacuating staff and patients from Memorial. These boats were most likely part of the flotilla of volunteers who reached Memorial days after the storm.

It’s  creates a haunting book full of the kind of moral challenges I don’t normally get in my reading. You should check it out. Though the story of Katrina is familiar, I was still shocked by the chaos of the situation and troubled by the decisions made throughout the storm by the government, hospital management, and the health care providers. We want everyone to be perfect, to always make the right call, but they don’t.  And it is clear from the first moments of the storm that this group of people, at this hospital, were woefully unprepared for what was to come.

I wish different decisions had been made at Memorial (and I am not just talking about the alleged euthanasia). I’m sure some of those who were there do as well. But hindsight is twenty-twenty and perhaps, as one of the doctors under investigation argued, you cannot judge what happened unless you were there.

There is some validity to this argument. Yet isn’t judging situations in which we were not involved exactly what we ask our juries to do everyday? At the heart of every trial is the weighing of evidence and the delivery of a verdict of guilt or innocence by people who were, by necessity, not there.

Are there situations too extreme for our society to judge by its normal standards? Was Katrina one of them? I finished the book with no answers. And I’m still wrestling with the questions, bringing it up at every dinner party and group run I attend. Its not something many people want to discuss, but I can’t stop thinking about it.  And that is as strong an endorsement as I can give any book.

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Training Totals for the Week Ending 7.20.2014

Run Miles for the week: 20.3 in 2:52:52
Run Miles for the year: 570.5
Projected total miles for the year: 1025.8
Run Streak: 0
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Number of days until I beat my old run streak: 114
Prospect Park loops for the week: 3
Prospect Park loops for the year: 50
Average weight: 178
Total Exercise Time: ~3:00:00
Hebrew: 00:00:00
Books Finished 1 (5 Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink)
Total Books Read for the year 17

Notes: Are you getting sick and tired of me setting out ambitious weekly goals only to discover that I have not met them?

Me too.

Fuck this noise; back to basics.

Goal for the week: run.

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Kilian Jornet At Hardrock

This weekend, Kilian Jornet destroyed the course record at the legendary HardRock 100.  He ran the famously  “wild and tough” 100 mile race in a previously unheard of 22:41:33.  In doing so, he cemented his reputation, at least in my mind, as the best mountain runner ever.*

Kilian in the midst of crushing the Hardrock course record.

If you don’t follow the sport of ultrarunning, it is hard to express how impressive it is to run this course that fast. The previous record of 23:23:20 set by Kyle Skaggs in 2008 was considered one of the most impressive, and least likely to be bettered, course records in the sport. Yet Jornet didn’t just beat the record, he bettered it by forty minutes without really trying. He ran the first half of the course easy, waited for another runner at one point so he could have someone to talk to, and routinely spent more than ten minutes in aid stations chatting with volunteers.  When he finished, he showed the race director pictures he’d taken on the course:

Its  just an incredible performance.  And Jornet is such a fascinating character.  A professional runner and skier, he makes his living doing what he loves.  He is head and shoulder above his competition in mountain running and ski mountaineering yet he seems genuinely humble and kind. Everyone in the sport has only kind things to say about him.  Still, at the front of the ultra field, it must be strange to compete against a man who is clearly so much better than his rivals. And it must be equally strange to be so much better than everyone else at these pursuits so few people care about.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times profiled Jornet claiming he was the best the most dominate endurance athelete of his generation. There is no doubt that is true. With his completion of Hardrock, he has hinted that he might leave ultra running and concentrate on speed assents of the world’s summits.  He’s documenting that incredible undertaking in a film series called Summits Of My Life.

Cause, you know, why not?

Its truly exciting to live in a time with such an incredible athlete. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Want more?

Here’s a couple of interviews with Jornet after the race:


* he is also, arguably the best ski mountaineer ever, and one of the best speed climbers ever having set a new FKT on Denali just weeks before Hardrock. That adds to the records he already holds on Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. This is just insane, you get that, right?

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On Not Running Every Day

After 46 days and some really, really stupid runs, life got the better of me and I broke my running streak.  Here’s how it happened:


Saturday, up at 5:30 am on the train at 7 to meet my parents for a car hand off so that carless seanv2 clan can make its annual pilgrimage to the land of my childhood memories (Cape Cod).  I figured I’d get the run in on my way back, but – traffic.  By the time I returned to the city, friends with cute toddler were on their way.  Then E had to get her hair cut, then we had to get ready to go to a wedding.


Then, a wedding and reception with dancing and raw bar and two negronis and photos overlooking central park at night.

E and I out on the town.

E and I out on the town.

We were back home by about 11 o’clock and there was still time to get it in. But we were a little tipsy and E was pretty opposed. She gave me the serious you-are-fucking-crazy look.  And she was right.  So I took the day off.  And then the next day. And the day after that.  First run back was this morning. 5.5. miles around the park in 45:39.

Frankly, it was probably for the best. My left foot was giving me some problems and couple of days of seem to have helped. The key now, of course, is to not let the days off pile up.  So its back on the wagon with new rules for a little mini streak: run every day, each day must be at least three miles. Streak ends when I get injured or am on track to complete 2000 miles for the year (currently I’m 518 miles behind schedule).  Lets see how it goes.

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Training Totals Week Ending 7.13.2014

Run Miles for the week: 21.25 in 3:12:32
Run Miles for the year: 550.2
Projected total miles for the year: 1029.9
Run Streak: 0
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 1
Number of days until I beat my old run streak: 114
Prospect Park loops for the week: 2
Prospect Park loops for the year: 47
Average weight: 175
Total Exercise Time: ~3:00:00
Hebrew: 00:30:00
Books Finished 0
Total Books Read for the year 16

Notes:  Well, a tough week all around.  Of my goals from last week, the only one I made was getting in a work out.  Hell, I didn’t even keep up the running streak (more on that in another post). 

 Just like many of us, my life often takes priority over my training.  Sometimes going out on the town with E, or having brunch with old friends, is just more important that running around in circles.  This weekend was one of those times, and it lead to me skipping runs on Saturday and Sunday and not spending nearly enough time working on my Hebrew. 

 In the end, it might have been for the best.  My left foot has been bothering me and I’ve been generally exhausted. A little cut back week was probably in order.

 Still, I know that to get to the next level in my running, more than anything else, I need to be consistent.  So its back on the horse this week. I’m ready for more.

 Goals For Next Week:

40 miles goddamn it!

1 work out

2 hours of Hebrew

6 Hours of exercise

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The Hardrock 100 is widely considered one of, if not the, hardest 100 mile race in the United States. It is surely the most beautiful and also wonderfully eccentric.  Organized by a bunch of rocket scientists (seriously) and mountain weirdos, entry is determined through a complex lottery that rewards those who have finished the race numerous time, or haven’t finished it at all.  The only people guaranteed an entry are the man and woman who won it the previous year.  Everyone else, no matter how fast or famous they are, has to try their luck

With 66000 (yes, sixty six thousand) feet of elevation change, all of which happens way way high in the San Juan mountains, Hardrock is a challenge for even the best mountain runner to finish. It is, as the motto proclaims “Wild and Tough”.  Only a select few people in the world can possibly compete for the win.  This year, for perhaps the only time in a decades, many of the best ultra runners in the world happened to have gotten in to Hardrock turning it into one of the most competitive races of the year.  Also, there are flash flood warnings.  And it snowed yesterday.  And its just fucking crazy and beautiful and totally captivating.  If you want to see the best performances in ultra-running this year, you need to have your eyes trained on Hardrock over the next 24 hours.

Irunfar is doing comprehensive coverage of the race.  It is definitely the best place to follow what’s happening.  You can follow their live coverage with comments  from ultra running obsessives here, or their more manageable twitter feed here.

For some background into this special race, its worth reading this article and perhaps watching some of the dozens and dozens of videos available on youtube about Hardrock.

Here’s a pretty awesome one about last year’s female winner Darcy Piceu (formerly Africa):


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Bridges Project: The Pulaski and the Queensboro

Every time I head out, this bridge project gets just a little but harder.  The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges were an easy couple of miles from my home.  So were the Gowanus Bridges.  The Williamsburg was just a little bit further, but well within my running comfort zone.  Now that I’m starting to go a little further afield, things are getting interesting… and I’m having to pack my metro card.

This weekend I got the Queensboro, the ugliest (and longest?) of the Big Four East River bridges and the always charming Pulaski.

That’s ten down, eighty-one to go.

For this weekend’s adventure, I convinced good pal Paleo Joe to come along.  Joe is exactly the kind of friend every runner needs — he’s always up for a stupid running adventure.  When I asked him if he wanted to meet in his neighborhood  and run to the Pulaski Bridge, through Long Island City to the Queensboro, and then take the train home from 42nd street he said “sure”.

Runners, we’re all such idiots.

We got the party started around 8 am. I’d have left earlier, but Joe doesn’t have kids and he still clings to the idea that one “sleeps in” on the weekends.  Its cute.  From Joe’s place, we cruised down Washington Avenue to Flushing and hung a right, following the bike path as it meandered through Bed Stuy, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint.

Man has Williamsburg changed. I lived in that neighborhood roughly 10,000 years ago (ok, 1993-1994) when it was Puerto Rican bodegas, Polish Bakeries, and a handful of gentrifiers too poor to live in the Lower East Side.  The abandoned warehouse where I went to the Beer Olympics* is now a high-rise apartment building. The first apartment I lived in is now a club.

New York: its only constant is change.

From Williamsburg, we headed up through Greenpoint and over the Pulaski Bridge to Long Island City.  The Pulaski spans the Newtown Creek** and is the second bridge you cross in the New York Marathon***.

The Pulaski looking towards Queens

The Pulaski looking towards Queens

Its drawbridge, though I wonder how often its raised anymore.  It also has some pretty killer views of midtown Manhattan. It always reminds me of my first marathon.

Manhattan from the Pulaski

Manhattan from the Pulaski

Pedestrian access to the Pulaski is from McGuiness boulevard. You can’t miss it.

Leaving Brooklyn

Leaving Brooklyn

From the Pulaski, it was up through Greenpoint to the Queensboro**** – the East River’s ugliest bridge.

What is there to redeem this monstrosity? Decent views looking up the east river and down at Roosevelt Island? A long approach on the Queens side providing a scenic overlook of the Queensbridge Projects*****?


The view North from the Queensboro

The view North from the Queensboro

I don’t know; I’m not really a fan of this bridge.  The Queens approach is ridiculously long (and accessible from Crescent Street and Queens Plaza North) and the Manhattan exit is stupid steep with a hairpin turn.

It is also where the New York Marathon got real painful for me.  That may cloud my judgment of its aesthetic appeal.

After crossing the Queensboro, it was a short jaunt to 42 Street and home on the 4 train.  You’d think two sweaty, smelly, tattooed dudes in singlets would get a wide berth on the train, but you’d be wrong. Some dude was perfectly happy rubbing up against my nasty ass singlet just so he could lean against the doors.

This town fucking cracks me up.

*The Beer Olympics was a crusty/gutter punk festival of cheap beer and terrible bands held annually in New York.  When it was hosted in the abandoned warehouses, it was a Mad Max affair of bonfires, drunken fights, and roaming dogs.  I cannot imagine anything so out of control occurring in the New York today.

The Beer Olympics were so obscure, took place so long ago, and was organized by people with such a tenuous relationship to society that very little information about it is available on the Google.

This image is actually from the year after the year I am referring to:

Beer Olympics, 1995? Photo: Bob Arihood

** Second Superfund site crossed during this project!

*** The first one is the Veranzano, of course.

**** AKA the 59th street Bridge, AKA the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. New York is constantly renaming bridges, or giving them new nicknames. I love this.  It makes what is already a very intimidating city even more confusing for visitors.

***** I’m just going to go ahead and say no single housing project has produced more important Hip Hop than Queensbridge.  It was home to many of the stars of New York’s golden age of Hip Hop.  Including:


Mobb Deep:

Capone and Noreaga:

Want more? check out this list.  Marly Marl is from there! Shante is from there! MC Shan!


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