My Self-Absorbed, Cheesy Marathon Story


Christopher Paslay

*Warning: The marathon story I’m about to tell you is all true, every word of it.  But be forewarned: it’s very cheesy and incredibly self-absorbed, and has little to do with education and schools.  I apologize for this in advance.

My left knee was throbbing.  The pain started as a warm ache but slowly built into a hot friction burning my knee joint like an unoiled hinge.  It was hard to comprehend the reality of what was happening, that my left knee was seizing-up on me with 17 miles to go in the race.  I was running downhill on 34th Street by the Philadelphia Zoo, a section of the marathon that was supposed to be easy, a lead-up to the largest hills on the course which were approaching straight ahead.  Three weeks ago I’d put in a 21 mile run on the very section of the course I was running now, cruising the steep elevation up Lansdowne Drive into Fairmount Park, around Memorial Hall and the Japanese Teahouse, down across West Girard Avenue and back up 33rd Street to Reservoir Drive, around Edgley Drive and finally down Fountain Green to Kelly Drive.  I’d run these hills on three separate training runs.  I knew them.  I was conditioned.  I was ready.

I stomped my left foot on the street as I ran, hoping to shake out the pain.  I kicked my leg outward, trying to loosen the joint, but felt no relief.  The throbbing continued, and it started to sink in that there was a real problem here, a problem that could force me to . . . no, I wouldn’t think the unthinkable.  This wasn’t part of the plan, part of the training and preparation.  This wasn’t what I visualized at night in bed, or during my long drives home in my car at rush hour.

The throbbing increased and it occurred to me what it might be: iliotibial band syndrome, commonly known as ITBS or “runner’s knee.”  This is when the ligament extending from the pelvic bone to the shinbone becomes extremely tight and rubs against the thighbone.  It gets progressively more painful the longer you run.  Like a hinge with no grease, opening and closing, over and over and over again, the friction building like a hot iron.  I’d gotten ITBS only once before.  It came on suddenly at mile 19 of a practice marathon I was running on Kelly Drive in November of 2020 – a “virtual race” when the Covid-19 lockdown forced the cancellation of the 2020 Philadelphia Marathon.  The pain was so bad I was forced to stop running and powerwalk the remainder of the race, which resulted in an embarrassing (for me) time of 4:16:35, which came to 9:48/mile pace.

The pain was almost that bad now.  I dug in and ran up Lansdowne Drive, every stride seeming to jar the hotspot on my knee.  The hill went up 80 feet for a half-mile before it leveled off, a gradient of almost 10%.  I knew the elevation to the degree, as I’d obsessed over the route for weeks, studying the entire 2021 Philadelphia Marathon course on the internet via GPS.  But I did more than look at pictures; I ran every inch of the course multiple times, in segments of 21 miles, 12 miles, and 8 miles, up and down every hill and decent, pounding the city streets and asphalt roads through Fairmount Park, until I was confident I had command of the course.

I’d been training for this race, in fact, for several years.  In 2017 I’d run the Philadelphia Marathon, my very first marathon, and bonked.  To “bonk” means to run out of energy and gas so suddenly that you are rendered a puddle – a zigzagging mess staggering to the finish line.  When you bonk your whole race blows up right in your face, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  You go into damage control mode, realizing your wonderful time is slowly slipping away, like a train pulling out of the station without you.  In 2017 I was cocky and inexperienced – a virgin marathoner – and had gone out too fast.  My aggressive pace caught up with me at mile 17, when my legs turned into sandbags and I seemed to be running in place.  It was a completely overwhelming and crushing feeling.  To be at the end of your physical strength, and to need to keep running for 9 more miles, isn’t easy to deal with.  With no glycogen left in your muscles, it’s physically impossible to keep up any real pace.  To keep running at all, no matter how slowly, is as much of a psychological battle as it is a physical one.

After I bonked in 2017 (I ended up running a 3:56:44, which was 9:01/mile), I was on a mission to run the marathon again in 2018, but this time I was determined to hit my goal of breaking 3:50:00.  I buckled down that year and ran hard through the winter and into the spring, running a half-marathon in March in 1:45:15 (8:01/mile), a 10K in April in 46:20 (7:28/mile), and a 10-miler in May in 1:17:10 (7:43/mile).  I hit the weights in the summer, focusing on strengthening my core and lower back.  At the end of July I officially began my 18 week training for the 2018 Philadelphia Marathon, a program designed by running and coaching legend Hal Higdon which allows you to build your miles up to 40 per week at peak training, culminating in a 20 mile run three weeks before race day.  Running half-marathons and 10-milers, as I’d been doing since 2005, wasn’t the same as preparing for the Big One – the 26.2 mile race.  A full marathon is a whole different animal entirely.

My running was going great until I woke up one morning with a stabbing pain in my left knee.  It turned out to be bone marrow edema (BME), which is when fluid gathers deep inside your bone as the result of a stress fracture.  But I didn’t know I had a fracture in my knee, so I kept training.  It hurt like hell, but I wasn’t going to miss any workouts.  I took a bunch of prescription strength ibuprofen that my wife kept in the cabinet and tried to ignore the pain.  That Sunday, two days after I woke up with the knee ache, I was scheduled to run the Philadelphia Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon as a “check in” race midway through the 18 week marathon training program.  The philosophy was to run the race at marathon pace, and to see how much you have left at the end.  But I ran the race like I did all half-marathons, full throttle.

My knee wasn’t perfect, but held up for most of the run.  Coming down a hill at mile 9, though, I landed on it at just the wrong angle and sparks of pain shot up my leg and through my back.  I didn’t stop running, of course.  I continued with a slight limp for the next mile, refusing to slow down, until the pain faded some.  I actually finished the race strong, running a 1:46:17 (8:07/mile).  The next morning I woke up and couldn’t put weight on my left leg.  When I stepped out of the shower, my knee buckled and I had to grab the towel rack to keep from falling.  So I limped around the house for the week, taking aspirin.  Amazingly, I somehow went for a 17 mile run the following Saturday.  When I got home, after I cooled down, I couldn’t walk on my left leg at all.  I was forced to see an orthopedic and after an x-ray and MRI, was told I had a stress fracture.  And that was it for my hopes of running the marathon in 2018 and getting redemption for bonking the previous year.

In January of 2019, just when my left knee was healing, my right knee flared up with tendonitis.  This was a direct result of my left knee injury, which threw my body out of balance and caused stress on my right side.  The spring of 2019 was a complete mess, with both knees acting up and not allowing me to do any real running.  It wasn’t until July that I was able to train regularly again, short, one-mile runs at first, slowly building to 5Ks by the end of the summer.  But I’d lost most of my base, and had little strength or endurance.  I wasn’t ready for the full marathon in 2019, but I did register for the Philadelphia Half-Marathon, which I ran in 1:49:06 (8:19/mile).

In March of 2020, just when I was getting back in decent shape and ready to run the Love Half Marathon, the race was cancelled because of the pandemic.  A month later, on April 25th, I got sick with Covid-19.  I caught it from my wife, Debra, who worked in a hospital where half the staff ended up Covid positive.  Deb got off easy, with a dry cough for about two days.  Me, on the other hand, I got knocked through a loop, with horrible fatigue and wicked body aches that lasted five days.  I had a really nasty cough, too.  I thought I was feeling better after a week, and went for a long walk through Manayunk, but when I got home, something didn’t feel right; I relapsed and was sick again for three days.  It took a good two weeks to feel totally normal again.  But when I went back to running, things were off.  By late June, my times were still consistently slower by 20 to 30 seconds per mile.  This kept up through the end of the summer and into the fall, and there were certain points where I could barely finish runs because of the heat – which never happened before.

I was convinced Covid screwed me up permanently, that my lungs were scarred or there was some slight, undetectable swelling in my heart that was slowing me down.  I was absolutely convinced I would never run the same again.  This was a depressing situation to say the least.  I defined myself, at least in part, by my running.  When I was running well I felt good, and when I was running like crap I could become moody and miserable.

So times were a big deal to me.  Marathon runners are an interesting breed, as they not only come in many shapes and sizes, but many ability levels.  As the cliché goes, time is relative.  Breaking 4 hours in the 26.2 mile race is a damn fine accomplishment for many people, but for those interested in qualifying for Boston, breaking 3 hours is the goal.  For two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, going under two hours is the mission – which he did in 2019 in Vienna with a special pacing team supporting him, clocking an astonishing 1:59:40.  But it’s Kipchoge’s 2:01:39, which he ran to win the 2018 Berlin Marathon, that is the official marathon world record, as the Vienna race was not done under sanctioned race conditions.

So marathon times are relative.  For Al Roker, running the 2010 New York City Marathon in 7:09:44 was an accomplishment.  For Oprah Winfrey, her 4:29:20 in the 1994 Marine Core Marathon was a lifelong achievement.  The same goes for Kevin Hart’s 4:05:06, Alecia Keys’ 5:50:52, Pamela Anderson’s 5:41:03, and Will Ferrell’s 3:56:12.

Some runners don’t care about time, and run unencumbered by limits or expectations.  Not me.  I’m way too competitive for that.  Which is to say the times I run are judged most harshly by me, myself, and I.  I’m the one putting pressure on myself to perform and meet some preestablished goal.  I’m the one who defines himself by his performance, who experiences the euphoria of a stellar run or the deflating heartbreak of a horrible race or worse, a “bonk.”  Injuries are hard to take for anyone, but they are especially deflating and excruciating for me.  The same goes for race cancellations, which I fume and smolder about for weeks after they happen.

My obsession with the 2021 Philadelphia Marathon was a culmination of my competitive spirit and fixation on times, but also the build-up of so many setbacks: bonking in 2017, the double-knee injury in 2018-19, and of course, my bouts with Covid and the race cancellations in 2020.  I’d been focused since 2017 on finally running a marathon and making things right, and it seemed that 2021 was finally the year.

Then my knee started throbbing, right at mile 9 of the race.  A goddamn hinge with no grease.  Opening and closing, over and over and over again, friction, friction, friction.  And was it even ITBS?  Who knew.  It freaking hurt, that’s all I knew.  The pain and the reality that there were 17 more miles to run was all that filled my head.  Maybe I’d fractured my knee again, like in 2018?  If this were the case, it was all over.  Soon I’d no longer be able to support my weight, and my left leg would just give out.  Kaput.  I’d be out of commission for another 8 weeks, at least.  Time to go back to the orthopedic and get more x-rays and MRIs.  And what kind of damage was I actually doing to my knee continuing to run on it, anyway?  To pound the cement for another two-and-a-half hours?

I pushed through the pain and got to the top of Lansdowne Drive, trying not to think the unthinkable.  My knee didn’t really hurt that bad, did it?  Oh yes it did.  My mind was having difficulty processing the situation.  Throbbing pain in my left knee just didn’t compute.  Throbbing knee pain, huh?  This couldn’t be happening.  I’d trained too hard and prepared too long, obsessing over every detail, the weights, the stretching, the early morning long runs on the treadmill at 3:45 a.m. before work, the gel packs and water belts, the expensive running gear and new sneakers every 300 miles, and of course, the carb loading.  And the matter-of-fact proclamations made to family members and friends that I had this marathon all lined up and nearly in the bag.  I might not break 3:50:00, but I’d surely break 3:55:00, which would be a PR by a couple minutes and give me a sub-9:00/mile pace, which is what I longed for since 2017.  An 8:59/mile pace or better sounded so good.  It was right there for the taking, I just needed to run the race; I was so sure I’d complete the 26.2 miles I actually wore my 2021 Philadelphia Marathon “finisher” T-shirt on the Saturday before the race, setting the jinx in motion.

The course leveled off and flattened, but my knee didn’t feel any better.  I crossed the 10 mile mark at 87 minutes and some change, which meant I was running around 8:50/mile or so.  This was a good thing, as I was right on schedule with my race pace at this point on the course.  But I wasn’t happy at all.  In fact, I remember thinking it was all for naught, that the perfect execution of my race plan was worthless.  My left knee was on fire, and the pain was real and deep and not going anywhere.  Yet somehow, under the dejection, it still didn’t fully register.  There’s a throbbing pain in my knee?  Wait, what?  No, no, no, this isn’t right.  A pain like this – ITBS or a fracture? – this can’t be.  Not with 16 miles left to run.  I’ll never finish the race, not in a million years.

In a haze of denial, I continued past Memorial Hall and the Mann Music Center, remembering the two training runs I’d done here just weeks before, feeling a bittersweet combination of nostalgia and heartache.  That’s when reality hit home and I wanted to cry.  It was over, the race and everything that went into it was over.  My knee was busted and it was time to come to grips with it.  It was time to accept reality and dropout.  The thought that came next was How do I dropout?  When should I do it and where?  My mind couldn’t work through this information.  The race was winding past the Japanese Teahouse where my wife Debra and I got married in 2007.  It was really going to suck having to tell her the bad news, that I couldn’t even finish the race.  She’d be disappointed and feel really bad for me, no doubt.  She’d give me the requisite sympathy, the hugs and the I’m sorry, and that would be that.  She’d move on, but I certainly would not.  The Thanksgiving holiday coming up next Thursday would be miserable.  I’d be angry and depressed and extremely hard to be around.  I’d be moody and cynical and this would definitely take its toll on Deb and her mom.

My knee hurt so bad that I was no longer able to keep the same stride pattern.  My 8:50/mile cadence was pounding the same hotspot so I had no choice but to speed up, to open my stride and adjust the placement of my weight on my legs.  This dulled the pain slightly, but only slightly.  Pushing the pace increased my heartrate and released endorphins and kept me going.  I was probably going a bit too fast here, but what did it matter?  I wasn’t going to finish anyway, so why not put the gas down and just go for a bit?  So I went – back down Lansdowne Drive, my knee jarring excruciatingly all the way down the hill.  Up ahead, there was a trail of slower runners first making their way up the monster hill in the opposite direction, and I heard this husky black dude shout playfully, “What did I get myself into!”  He was sweaty and breathing heavy, but hanging in there nonetheless.  That’s when I thought to myself, At least your knee isn’t on fire.

I crossed West Girard Avenue, a stretch of the course I’d trained on twice in the past month, and the anger came back again. This was total bull crap.  How was it that I could cruise this stretch of road so easily in training, yet when it counted, my freaking knee would go bad?  Why couldn’t this just have gone the way it was supposed to go, the way I had planned it for so long?  I should be relaxing and enjoying this part of the course, holding back just a bit and conserving my energy for when it really counted – the last 6 miles of the race.  I should be smiling, taking in the cheering crowds waving signs, shouting you can do it! and you got this!  I should be loose and relaxed, breathing in the cool, 50 degree autumn air, feeling the rhythmic bounce of my stride as I cruised along and enjoyed the fruits of my long and exhausting training.

I was running with a very slight limp, and I realized I was favoring my left leg.  This was not good, and would surely wear down other muscles and body parts, like my left calf (which was taking the brunt of the limp), and my right quad.  I had already been experiencing some soreness in my calves and quads during the long training runs, and despite tapering my mileage before the marathon, I was not fully recovered.  Still, I pushed on.  I went by a few runners going up 33rdStreet, which was the last major hill in the race.  Through the pain fog of my knee I saw flashes of spectators clapping and giving high-fives, heard their cheers and spirited enthusiasm.  Picking up the pace only gave temporary relief, and the reality that I’d have to dropout – and the nagging question of how, when, and where – popped back into my head.

I started to formulate a rough plan: I’d dropout at the halfway point, right after I crossed the timing mat.  This way, I’d get an official half-marathon time, and it would help mitigate the humiliation and embarrassment because at least I could tell people I made it halfway through the race before my knee went.  It would completely suck and I’d be miserable for weeks, but it was something.  I took inventory of my knee again and realized it was no better.  The pain, on a scale of 1 – 10, was an 8 or 9.  I sensed that it was getting weaker and losing some stability, although I wasn’t sure because it hurt so bad and I was favoring it.  There was more than half the race to go – well over 13 miles.  Finishing was out of the question.  Just the thought of running through Reservoir Drive in Fairmount Park, all the way up Kelly Drive into Manayunk, and then all the way back to the Art Museum on a bum knee made me feel weak and dejected, and I couldn’t hold the thought for long.  It just wasn’t possible, even if my own life depended on it, or the lives of my brother’s kids.  Dear God, what would happen if the lives of Ali and Mack depended on me actually finishing the race – and by “finishing” I mean running all the way to the finish and breaking 4 hours?  What if that were the situation now, could I do it?  Could I save them, with my whole family depending on me?

No, I couldn’t.  I’d fail them and myself.  It was too much distance to cover and my knee hurt too bad.  But none of this mattered, because it was just some bull crap scenario in my head.  I was going to dropout at the halfway point anyway.  I prayed to God for help but my supplication made me feel weak and desperate.  God only helped those who helped themselves.  The timing mat for the halfway point came up and I ran across it.  I checked my watch and realized I’d run a 1:53:55.  Wow, that was faster than I thought.  I was slightly ahead of my goal time, which was 1:55:00.  This would have worried me, because my plan was not to go out too fast for the first half so I could save myself for the last, most brutal part of the marathon – the last 6 miles.  But what did it matter now?

I passed more runners, angry that the very part of the park I was running in now I’d just run two weeks ago, pain free.  Did I over-train?  Maybe.  I’d obviously done something to agitate my knee.  The pain was becoming overwhelming, and I knew I was nearing the end of my ability to cope.  I looked around the park – the baseball fields and soccer goals – and all at once realized that once I quit, that once I dropped out, I’d be miles away from the finish line area where my wife was supposed to pick me up.  She’d pull over in her car and wait for me, as she always did during these races, but I wouldn’t be there.  She’d surely begin to worry, because after an hour when I still didn’t show, her mind would turn to awful outcomes like a stroke or a heart attack or some other kind of horrible tragedy – like you hear happen to guys my age every so often in big city distance runs.  And I didn’t have my cell phone to call her, either.  So what would I do?  By the time I got there she’d be gone, checking hospitals.  Did you bring in any dead marathon runners this morning?  Yes, my husband is missing.  His name is Chris Paslay, he’s 49 years old, five-ten, 170 pounds.  Blond hair that’s now mostly gray, goatee, blue eyes and –

I would have to dropout at a water station, and get help from the people working there.  When was the next water station coming up?  I didn’t know.  But that’s what I’d do: borrow someone’s cell phone and call Deb and tell her I f’d everything up, that I wasn’t going to be meeting her at 20th and Spring Garden at 11:30 because I’d dropped out of the f’ing race.  Suddenly, my whole entire outlook on the marathon seemed presumptuous.  I had assumed I’d run a certain time and achieve a certain result, when such things weren’t written in stone.  When I dropped out, I’d have to hobble to an aid station, tail between my legs, and ask for a phone so I could call my wife and tell her my time was DNF – did not finish.  Then they’d have to call the meat wagon to come and pick my sorry ass up and cart me to the finish area to meet my wife.  What an incredible Thanksgiving we were going to have this year.

I tried to remember her cell phone number, not even realizing it was printed on the bottom of my bib number under the emergency contacts.  I was coming to a water station now, a bunch of school students from various running clubs holding out cups of water and Gatorade.  I decided to eat a gel pack instead of stopping, taking a drink from my own water bottle on my hip.  I realized that dropping out was too much of a headache for me to deal with at the moment, that it was more appealing to simply keep running then give into that impending darkness.  My knee was throbbing, but oh well.  Let it throb.  I was disgusted by the whole thing, and angry.  Better to run on my knee until my leg broke in half than to deal with the depressing alternatives.

I pushed on, realizing the pain was coming in waves, that it would come and go.  Yes, if I could bite the bullet and grind out the pain for a bit, it would fade some.  Although I was in a pain haze I was still aware of my surroundings, unlike when I bonked in 2017 and everything – everything – was a blur.  I could see a green ballfield to my left, and woods to my right.  I saw, with some curiosity, a tall, lean man in his middle 50s limping on the side of the road, a runner who’d dropped out with some kind of leg injury.  I took only minor comfort in it.  I wasn’t stopping, not here, not yet.  I’d at least make it down Fountain Green and onto Kelly Drive, a psychological landmark that I intended on reaching.  I meditated on the road in front of me, put one foot in front of the other, not thinking about anything.  Ten minutes later, I was heading down Fountain Green, taking short steps, limping slightly.

It was a small victory, making it to mile 16.  My original race plan took special note of mile 16, because it was at this point that things could start to get uncomfortable.  Nothing major, like in the last 5 or 6 miles of the race, but it was around here that you began to feel the wear and tear of pounding the pavement for two-and-a-half-hours, and of climbing hills for the past 45 minutes.  And it was here that I’d planned to change mental gears and get tough.  But instead of slipping into race mode, I was hanging on by a thread.  My goal now was to make it to the 30K timing mat, which was in about 2.5 miles.  Yes, that was doable.  I’d cross the 30K, get a decent time, and then quit.  This way, I’d have an official 30K time to show the guys at work and then they’d know I wasn’t a total wussy.

For the first time the pain in my knee wasn’t the only obstacle I was facing. Now I was dealing with the regular fatigue that comes with running a marathon, with the standard aches and pains of sore, tired muscles and achy joints.  My left calf – which was the MVP of the race so far – was working overtime and burning like crazy.  My right shoulder and bicep were tight and sore, and my hips were getting tight.  Kelly Drive was two lanes, and the elite runners on the left side were now returning back from Manayunk, striding down the home-stretch to the Art Museum, their model bodies striding along at amazing clips.  I was running on the double yellow line, and had to make sure my tired body didn’t swerve into them as they passed me.

The 30K had to be coming soon.  I pushed on, putting one foot in front of the other.  I didn’t care about my pace, I just kept moving forward.  Mile 18 came and went.  The course bent to the right and went down an off-ramp, and that’s when I saw the 30K mat and crossed it.  Well now.  I’m at 30K.  Why not just do an even 20?  I’m so close to Manayunk, and I’ve run this route so many times before, I could do it in my sleep.  Hell yeah, I’m doing it.

I leaned forward and pumped my arms, put one leg in front of the other.  I stared at the ground, mediating on the road.  I turned onto Ridge Avenue and could see the craziness of Main Street Manayunk just up ahead.  Incredibly, I felt a kind of second wind coming, a small reserve of energy.  My thoughts turned to simply getting to the 20 mile turnaround point.  Yes, I could do that, absolutely.  Things might not be a total disaster after all.

It was then, incredibly, that my knee pain faded.  This was probably due to the all-round fatigue of my entire body, and the generalized pain of my joints and muscles from head to toe.  I took an inventory of my left knee and yes, the pain was still there, but if I was careful, I could let it sit quietly in the background, almost unnoticed.

Up ahead, I saw a spectator – a big black guy who was having the time of his life –  holding a big cardboard sign with a red bullseye that said tap here for power.  I went up to the sign and slapped the center, hard.

“Yeah brother!” he shouted.  “You got this!”  I felt a charge run through my body, and I knew for the first time in a long time that I was going to finish the race.  I motored up Main Street, right through the swarming crowds of cheering people.  It was awesome, seeing so many people at the race supporting you, handing out food, tissues, water and shots of beer, partying hard.  I reached the 20 mile mark and turned around.

“You’re on your way home now,” a man was telling us, and it was true – we were coming home.  The psychological impact of this was a huge lift, now that it was finally crunch time, the last 6 miles of the marathon.  I’d been mentally preparing for this moment for months, for years.  I wasn’t going to bonk this time, no way.  I refused to think about the long road ahead, or of trying to run back to the Art Museum.  It was baby steps, from one landmark to the next, one mile at a time.  I knew I could get to mile 21, as I’d gone that far three weeks ago in a training run.  The landmark was the CVS, the one down the block from the Main Street Regal UA Movie Theater, which I soon reached and grinded past.  Mile 22 was Falls Bridge, which stood at the top of a slight incline on Kelly Drive.  I didn’t look at the hill, or the crowds which were literally pouring into the streets.  I put my head down and pushed, one foot in front of the other, and soon I was past mile 22 and gazing ahead to the next landmark, the Strawberry Mansion Bridge.  I could see it through the haze but I didn’t look at it for very long, as it seemed impossible to reach.  I breathed deep, and meditated on the road under my feet, putting one foot in front of the other.  I passed a water station and saw dozens of crushed paper cups littering the street.

Mile 23 came and went like magic, and so did mile 24.

Incredibly, I hadn’t stopped running yet.  By now it was clear that there would be no walking during this race, not today.  I grinded out mile 25 and up the hill to the Art Museum to mile 26, hardly able to comprehend what I was doing.  The last .2 miles – 352 yards, were dreamlike.  My head was up now, and I was taking it all in: the cheering crowds on both sides, held back by steel gates; the announcer on the loud speaker, calling out random names of finishers; and the big digital race clock at the finish line.

I went into my kick, the final sprint at the end of the race.  My legs were destroyed and my shoulders were aching, but I pushed forward through the finish line and across the timing mat.

And then it was over, the race and all the glorious suffering.  I checked my watch: 3:54:41.  Holy crap, how did I do that?  I looked again, to make sure it was correct, and it was: 3:54:41.  A race volunteer put a finisher medal around my neck – a miniature Liberty Bell – and handed me a tinfoil heat-sheet to wrap around my body to keep me warm.

“Thanks,” I said, my voice dry and hoarse.  I walked through the finish area into the white tents and was handed a bottle of water, a banana and granola bar.  I was still processing what had happened, how I’d run a 8:57/mile pace and racked up a personal best by 2 minutes and 3 seconds.  I staggered through a crowd of people, knowing that if I sat down I might not be able to get back up.  I used my last bit of energy to exit the race area, going through the gate onto Spring Garden Street.  I limped the four blocks to the corner of 20th Street, and sat on the steps of a Baptist church, waiting for my wife Debra to pick me up.

Like clockwork she appeared in her blue Mini Cooper, honking and smiling.

“How’d you do?” she asked, handing me a towel.

I smiled and collapsed into the passenger seat, still trying to process what had just happened.

And I’m still processing it now.

I’m writing this on Wednesday, three days after the race.  My body is already starting to get back to normal, with the soreness and aches in my calves and quads fading by the hour.  My left knee isn’t broken after all, and it looks as though I didn’t do any real damage (it wasn’t a fracture, but most likely a bad case of “runner’s knee”).  I’ll need to rest it for at least a few more days, or as long as it takes for the irritation in the tendon to die down.  Both the race and my time have finally sunk in, and yet I still can’t believe I ran the marathon all the way through, without stopping or dropping out.  And while I have nothing to complain about in terms of the final outcome, there’s still a part of me that wonders what I would have run with a good knee, one that didn’t throb and scream at me for hours.

Maybe 3:49:00, perhaps?


I’ll find out next year, when I lay it all on the line in Philadelphia in 2022.

PA State Reps, Philly Schoolteacher Discuss CRT at Townhall

The Conservative Women of the Mainline hosted a townhall on Critical Race Theory at the Easttown Library in Berwyn, PA, featuring PA State Reps. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland) and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), and author and Philadelphia public schoolteacher Christopher Paslay.

On Tuesday, 9/28, the Conservative Women of the Mainline hosted a townhall on Critical Race Theory at the Easttown Library, featuring PA State Reps. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland) and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), and author and Philadelphia public schoolteacher Christopher Paslay.

Paslay opened the talk by discussing his book A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory, which he authored to help parents and concerned citizens understand, identify, and challenge CRT in their schools.  Paslay also outlined alternatives to CRT, which he hoped would supplement the identity-based model with a value-driven approach – focusing on universal principles that unify instead of polarize by race and social identity.

PA Sate Reps. Barb Gleim and Russ Diamond discussed current and proposed legislation addressing CRT, highlighting examples of troublesome curriculum in their home school districts brought to them by concerned parents and community members.

The townhall ended with the three speakers fielding a 30 minute Q&A from the 100 member audience.  Thanks for watching.

Let’s Multiply, Not Divide: A Closer Look at the ‘SDP Equity Framework’

There’s an old saying that a mother doesn’t divide her love among her children, but instead multiplies it like the stars.  America’s recent push for “equity” – a focus on equal outcome over equal opportunity – is sometimes viewed as being “zero-sum,” of dividing or redistributing resources rather than multiplying them.

The Philadelphia School District’s “Equity Framework” is at times zero-sum, and reveals two shifts in thinking from their traditional approach to improving schools and raising quality of instruction. One, it now uses race and social identity to guide instruction and the implementation of educational resources.  And two, it not only aims to provide extra services to marginalized students, but seeks to eliminate, disrupt, or remove so-called “dominant cultures” or systems that are viewed as privileged or predictably successful, which supposedly serve as obstacles or impediments to the success of marginalized groups.

The school district’s definition of “equity” is as follows: “Cultivating prosperity and liberation for students and staff, starting with historically marginalized populations, by removing barriers, increasing access and inclusion, building trusting relationships, and creating a shared culture of social responsibility and commitment to organizational accountability.”

I would agree that this kind of “equity” is admirable, being that it focusses resources on populations that face the biggest challenges.  No dedicated educator would object to giving extra help to children and families who need it most.  The school district’s Equity Framework becomes counterproductive, however, when it ties the success of marginalized groups to the disruption and elimination of so-called “dominant cultures,” and uses race and social identity to guide instruction and the implementation of educational resources.

One of the commitments under the Equity Framework is “redistributing resources to our most marginalized students in order to eliminate the predictability of success or failure based on historical trends.”  It’s one thing to eliminate the predictability of failure, but why get rid of a pattern of success?  Perhaps it might be better to increase the predictability of success so that it applies to all students?  Further, the notion of redistributing resources is problematic, as it suggests taking away from one group to give to another.  Which begs the question: which students from which schools/cultures are going to have things taken away from them?

The school district uses a “living glossary” of equity related terms to specifically define what they call dominant and marginalized groups.  Dominant Culture is defined as “the cultural beliefs, values, and traditions of the colonizer that are centered and dominant in society’s structures and practices,” and states that “indigenous and diverse ways of life are devalued, marginalized, and associated with low cultural capital.”

The definition leaves much to be desired, as it’s not only an overgeneralization, but insinuates the so-called “dominant culture” is negative, and assumes its dominance is arrived upon not through legitimate entrepreneurship or scientific, academic, or artistic achievement, but through oppression and the devaluing of others.

Interestingly, “Whiteness” is defined by the school district as “the component of each and every one of ourselves that expects assimilation to the dominant culture.”  This definition is not consistent with most equity-related definitions of the word, as “Whiteness” is defined by Critical Whiteness scholar Robin DiAngelo as “a term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions.”

Still, the fact that the school district defined “Whiteness” as being associated with assimilation to a negative and oppressive dominant culture is unfortunate.  If “Whiteness” is associated with all people, why use the confusing and contentious term at all? 

Although not directly stated by the school district, the dominant culture by default is made up of white, male, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, English-speaking, American citizens.  This becomes apparent when reviewing the school district’s definition of “marginalized.”

“Marginalized” groups are defined as “individuals or groups that have been systematically disadvantaged, both historically and currently, lacking representation in dominant culture and have limited to no power or capital.”  The district lists as marginalized “a person of color/non-white based on race and/or ethnicity,” as well as women, immigrants, English Language Learners, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, special education, economically disadvantaged, and non-Christians.

This is the aspect of equity that becomes zero-sum – the splitting and dividing up of groups and cultures into “dominant” and “marginalized,” and insinuating that the gaps between these groups stem solely from oppression.  In other words, the complexity of the achievement gap is boiled down to racism, which the school district wants all staff to adopt as the culprit of all racial disparities.  Which is why the school district’s Equity Framework asks staff to commit to dismantling policies and disrupting practices “steeped in institutionalized racism and other systems of oppression” in schools and classrooms throughout the city.

A closer look at the Philadelphia School District’s “Equity Professional Learning Guiding Principles” contained in their Intro to SDP Equity Framework video reveals that teachers must “acknowledge that racism is systemic,” and “woven throughout all of the structures of our nation.”  Another guiding principle is “recognizing privilege,” and instructs teachers to “acknowledge my privilege,” and to “gain resources and strategies to confront and acknowledge privilege and how this contributes to my work, my role, and the larger system I’m in.”

The core objective of recognizing so-called “privilege” is to foster tolerance, empathy, and compassion, and one could argue it would be more beneficial (and less contentious) to simply have tolerance, empathy, and compassion as a guiding principle for teachers to practice.

Whether or not Philadelphia public schools are steeped in racism and oppression is a matter of debate, but one thing is clear: the SDP Equity Framework racializes the school system from top to bottom, encouraging all people to reject Martin Luther King Jr.’s colorblind “content of character” model in exchange for a color-conscious approach that views all things through the lens of race and social identity.

While it’s important to pay attention to systemic patterns and racial disparities in order to close gaps, an overemphasis on race-consciousness can become counterproductive.  As teachers, we should all work to form strong learning partnerships with all our students, and make sure all children – regardless of race and social identity – are given equal opportunities to succeed.

Christopher Paslay is a longtime Philadelphia public schoolteacher, education writer, and coach.  His new book, A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory, is available on Amazon.

Christopher Paslay Discusses New Book Exposing Critical Race Theory on Dom Giordano Show

Christopher Paslay, author of the new book A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory: Fighting CRT in Your Child’s School, joins the Dom Giordano Program. In the new book, Paslay puts into layman’s terms the teachings of CRT, and shows parents words used to disguise the divisive agenda as it’s entered into curricula surrounding the country. Also, Paslay and Giordano discuss what’s so wrong with the theory, and tells of the negative implications of judging based on skin color rather than character.

CRT and the Law: What Parents Should Know

This video highlights Schoolhouse Rights’ CRT Checklist, and details what parents should look for when considering possible legal action in their schools. It also analyzes lectures from Penn State Professor Sam Richards – as well as “The Privilege Walk” exercise and “The Color Line” exercise – which can serve as case studies and examples of possible civil rights violations.

A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory: Fighting CRT in Your Child’s School offers other guiding questions parents can ask if they feel their child’s rights have been violated. Thanks for watching.

Conversation with Haverford Township School Board Candidate Helene Conroy-Smith

by Christopher Paslay

Transparency by school district administrators, attention to the needs of special education students, and fiscal responsibility are Conroy-Smith’s main concerns.

Helene Conroy-Smith, a special education teacher and mother of three from Delaware County, PA, is running for a seat on the Haverford Township School Board this November. A lack of transparency by Haverford Township School District administrators, along with a controversial Black Lives Matter BrainPOP video being shown to fifth graders in the school district, is what prompted her to run for school board.

“In my opinion the board and the school district administrators were not listening to the people, and so I decided . . . to run for school board,” Conroy-Smith said, explaining that her concerns over transparency and the controversial BrainPOP video were not being adequately addressed. “Once you close out parents in your community and only listen to a small body of your constituents – and it’s a very small vocal body that has political ties to large organizations – then I became the mom who was annoyed, and I had enough, and I had to step up.”

Conroy-Smith decided to become more vocal at school board meetings, presenting concerns from the “silent majority” – parents who did not like what was happening in the school district, but who were afraid to speak out.

“People are afraid to be cancelled, people are afraid to be talked about in moms groups – my name would get dragged through the mud in moms groups . . . parents are afraid, people are afraid,” Conroy-Smith said.

Because of “whispers” from concerned parents that things were going in the wrong direction, she now spends time working with moms and dads in the Haverford Township School District. “People are no longer feeling empowered,” she said, “so I’ve been working on educating them, helping them, talking about the points of their concerns and how to frame them to the school board. I have been behind the scenes working with many families.”

Many have thanked Conroy-Smith for giving them a voice.

Conroy-Smith has started a parents group called, “Give Kids Education,” which aims to put both rigor and transparency back into instruction. She believes in “equality” over “equity,” because all children are unique and are not going to end up in the same place.  “Not every kid is going to go to college, not every kid is going to join the Marines, not every kid is going to go out and get a job right away. . . . We need to look at this and say how can we give every kid an equal opportunity.”

Critical Race Theory, and its various offshoots, have made students overly race-conscious, Conroy-Smith says, which can be polarizing to children and disruptive to learning. She believes in the traditional colorblindness of the Civil Rights Movement, and supports Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” of judging people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  

She also supports diversity, and feels strongly that all children should feel welcome. However, diversity should be organic, and not contrived through identity-based school models tied to CRT.

Conroy-Smith has three major issues on her platform: One – more transparency from school district administrators, especially when it comes to curriculum and so-called “teacher resources,” which can come in through the back door from activist groups pushing CRT and other agendas. Two – more attention to the needs of special education students, who don’t always receive the rigor of instruction they need. And three – fiscal responsibility.

“When you’re implementing programs or purchasing curriculum, teachers should be appropriately using those programs,” Conroy-Smith said. “Because when you’re not using it with “integrity,” the kids are not going to necessarily learn, or have the outcomes that we usually see.”

The Haverford Township School Board general election is November 2, 2021.

A Parent’s Guide to Fighting Critical Race Theory in School

To win the battle against Critical Race Theory, parents must understand what they are up against, and learn to expose and challenge CRT where it exists. 

A Parent’s Guide to Critical Race Theory: Fighting CRT in Your Child’s School is a resource to help parents and concerned citizens understand, expose, and challenge Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools.

The first two chapters of this book detail what CRT is exactly, from its theoretical tenets as they developed in academia, to the ways in which CRT directly manifests in K-12 classrooms.

Chapter Three gives parents practical information and techniques to expose CRT in their own K-12 schools, and helps them sift through constantly changing definitions in an effort to help them navigate semantics and deal with the language games often played by school boards and CRT advocates.

Chapter Four helps parents challenge CRT in their own school districts, and provides sound alternatives that use core principles and values instead of identity to drive quality instruction for all children.

Finally, Chapter Five offers a collection of practical resources for parents to use in their fight against CRT, which include information on parent groups and toolkits, links to freedom of information forms and documents, recommended readings, and examples of curriculum and training that violate students’ and teachers’ rights, which can lead to possible legal action.

Click here to purchase the book.

Thanks for watching.

Activists Are Writing CRT Curriculum in K-12 Schools

Educational activist organizations, many of which have a clear political agenda, are continuously designing curriculum and so-called “teacher resources” for K-12 schools.  How much of this material, if any, should be used by teachers in American classrooms, and is it promoting the kinds of holistic instructional approaches we need in 21st century America?  This video analyzes one group in particular, an organization called BARWE, which stands for Building Anti-Racist White Educators.  Thanks for watching. 

Review: Robin DiAngelo’s ‘Nice Racism’

This is my review of Robin DiAngelo’s new book, Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, which I recently published in Merion West.  

To purchase my book, Exploring White Fragility: Debating the Effects of Whiteness Studies on America’s Schools, which provides an in depth critique of DiAngelo’s work as well as critical whiteness studies as a whole, click here.  Thanks for watching. 

Ibram X. Kendi Gaslights Teachers at AFT Conference

Anti-racist educator Ibram X. Kendi recently headlined the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH 21 Conference, speaking at a livestream session titled, “A Conversation with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.” The official AFT conference agenda stated, “Hear from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in this free-ranging discussion with student activists and AFT members on his scholarship and on developing anti-racist mindsets and actions inside and outside classrooms.”

During the livestream, which has not been posted on the AFT website, Dr. Kendi compared those who oppose critical race theory to Southern segregationists from the 1950s.  According to an article titled “Anti-racist education benefits all of us” published on the AFT’s website:

Ingram asked Kendi about the furor over critical race theory and related pushes against teaching about enslavement and discrimination. Kendi compared it to the reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, when some white people were fearful that desegregated schools—and the Black children in them—were going to be harmful to their children. Today’s fears are similar in that misinformation is being spread about potential harms; one bold lie is that teaching about racism conveys to white children that they are inherently evil. Kendi was clear and compassionate: He does not know of any anti-racist teacher who would believe or convey that any child or group of people is inherently bad or racist.

But Dr. Kendi misrepresents the growing concern by parents, educators, and community members over the toxic and polarizing tenets of critical race theory, and falsely states that no anti-racist educator teaches that all whites are inherently racist; Robin DiAngelo, whose anti-racist approaches are embedded in K-12 curriculum in a number of school districts – and whose book White Fragility is on recommended reading lists across America – explicitly teaches just that.

Instead of disassociating with such polarizing tenets of anti-racism – which is an example of critical pedagogy that is under critical race theory – Kendi attempts to gaslight educators when it comes to remembering his own ideas, as well as the ideas of other anti-racists who use an identity-based model, which polarizes by skin color and offers little in terms of holistic, universal solutions to the real problems of racism and racial disparities today.