Monday, December 31, 2007

Death's 5-year plan.

My great-grandfather died at age 71 of lung cancer. He smoked.

My grandfather died at age 66 of lung cancer. He smoked.

My father died at age 61 of lung cancer. He smoked.

Do you see a pattern here?

Twenty-five years ago today, I crushed out my last cigarette at two seconds to midnight. I haven’t had so much as a puff since.

In three and a half months I’ll be 56.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Profiling movies.

About Me. I generally look at the Profile section of any new blogger I read to try to determine something about that person. Where they live, what they read, watch, listen to. Isn't this how we get to know any new person we meet? Generally we already know their name through an introduction so then we ask, Where do you live? What book are you reading? What movie did you see last? Which song did you put on your ringtone? If the answers aren't interesting, we move on.

Changes. I'm about to change most of the answers on my Profile for the new year, but you could tell a lot about me from my current selections. Obviously I think that emphasizing that I live in DC says a lot about me. It's a great venue for running with its proliferation of trails, abundance of races and wide choice of running clubs. It is the seat of world power too. Where else could a former Yale cheerleader and an incompetent bird hunter change the existing world order so greatly in such a short time, and exert so much influence on the very principles we have lived by for well-nigh 200 years?

You speaking to me? My movie list ranges over half a century, with one choice for each decade that I have lived. My father took me to see Shane (1953) when I was a little boy, calling it the best western ever made. I remember that remark and subsequently being in the moviehouse immersed in the blazing gun battle of the penultimate scene, a noisy fight to the death between the forces of good and evil. Nowadays when I watch it, I notice the little boy, Joey, swallowing his candy cane in astonishment at the big fistfight that erupts between good and evil (obviously an attempt at diplomacy before the resort to warfare), and Joey running after the receding hero riding away calling, "Shane! Come back, Shane!" Does the movie stand for the proposition that you can never go back again? Or that you can never change your stripes? Or are both queries the same?

Open the pod bay door, HAL. Frankenstein in space, 2001 (1968) is just an awesome movie for me. Watching its light show in a Greenwich Village arthouse in 1969, the theatre filled with smoke, was an incredible experience. You hadda be there to fully appreciate it.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty. I love Alien (1979), the haunted house story set in space. Who could forget the fright of the alien spawn leaping onto the astronaut's faceshield, the horror of the chest bursting scene or the terror of Ripley in the space pod with the Alien. Things that go bump in the night.

I told the padre the truth man, I like it here. Depicting the vicissitudes of men reacting under stress, Platoon (1986) was the best war movie ever made before Saving Private Ryan. A youth with a shotgun and the power of life and death over others, the disturbed Bunny was in his element and speaks his truth about being incountry. The scene before the final apocalyptic firefight, where the competent Sgt. O'Neill, his nerve cracked, uncharacteristically asks the war-mad Sgt. Barnes to let him board a transport out of there because he's got "a bad feeling on this one," is haunting. A good man gone bad? The combat fatigued O'Neill receives the chilling answer, "Everybody gotta die sometime, Red."

Was he funny lookin' apart from that? Accurately capturing how they speak in Minnesota, Fargo (1996) is a tour de force black comedy. Aside from being a hoot thanks to the the inane chatter of the common folks of the northlands ("So, you were havin' sex with the little fellow then."), it chronicles the unintended consequences of poorly thought out choices, ending with the murderous kidnapper Carl Showalter wondering if his crime partner has noticed that he "got f***in' shot in the face!" He had just made the very poor choice of going out and burying the ransom money in a snowdrift by any old fencepost of a long straight snow fence along a nondescript portion of highway. Such is the ultimate use of bloodmoney.

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle. The musical Chicago (2002) is a thoroughly entertaining piece of flummox. I fondly remember one of my lost children singing the murderesses' song the day after I took him and his younger brother, kicking and screaming, to see it one treasured weekend. Pop, six, squish, uh uh, cicero, lipschitz! He only had himself to blame. Would you have done the same?

Cellblock Tango from Chicago.

The inner self. Are all of these movies about finding the true inner self? Will the search never end? Are heroes those souls who have found their inner self, and it is good, and they have acted upon it? I think so.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Field of Dreams

At 6:20 one morning last week I slipped out of my hotel into Denver's downtown mall. Despite the early hour, there were plenty of people on the mile long promenade, as the mall has quite a presence of homeless people, just like DC does. It was cold and crisp but not frigid. I headed west towards the Rockies. (Below: Christmastime on Denver's Mall.)

I ran down 16th Street to Wynkoop Street, where I turned north towards Coors Field. I passed Denver's imposing Union Station, where Amtrak stops just like it does at DC's Union Station. A few minutes later I ran up to the brick structure of the ballpark and discovered that because it is closely bordered on two sides by restricted roadways leading to I-25, running around the structure is a challenge. I was determined to try. It was a field of dreams for me. (Below: A Field of Dreams player outside Coors Field.)

I ran counter-clockwise around the stadium from the south on the sidewalk which borders three sides of it. You can see glimpses of the diamond, and the outfield seating beyond, through breaks in the front edifice along Blake Street. I had been on that diamond, and in those stands, before. The west side of the structure is taken up by an employee and service parking lot which is a gated space. I ducked under the gate behind the stadium, ran through the restricted lot and got to Wynkoop Street where I ran back to the Mall.

Back on 16th Street I caught a free mall bus for the half mile trip back to my hotel, just for the experience of standing in the swaying vehicle and observing the darkened shops on either side of the bricked-off street as we passed them by. It was a bittersweet half hour run for me because I left my three sons behind, perhaps forever, on Coors Field. (Below: Free buses on Denver's Mall run by practically every two minutes.)

In 2001, I took my three boys to a baseball game at Coors Field during a vacation to Colorado. My oldest son really wanted to see Mike Hampton pitching for the Rockies. The Braves won 7-2 and Hampton took the loss. A few days later us four boys toured the baseball park during an off day and went onto the field as part of the guided walkthrough. Laughing, we all stood at home plate and took a few imaginary cuts. The divorce action their Mother had filed against me, after first taking our minor children out of state to her parents home under false pretenses, was then about four months old and it was my first, and last, vacation I ever took with all three of my children. Through the very real phenomena of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), I was shortly thereafter deprived of the company of my children (I always have had full joint legal custody and plain vanilla visitation). PAS is child abuse. She had a lot of help in achieving this PAS, this complete extra-judicial stripping away of all paternal influence for children. I haven't had any meaningful contact with any of my children since March 23, 2003, even though they live two miles away in Arlington with her. None of my children has communicated a single word with a single relative on my side of the family in almost five years.

I left a lot behind on Coors Field.

Friday, December 28, 2007


During my Denver trip last week I had a RBF hookup of sorts. I was staying in a hotel on Denver's 16th Street Mall, pictured on the left, and I called up CewTwo, who lives out there. We had a very nice conversation.

I was only in Denver overnight, having to make a court appearance in the morning and catch a mid-afternoon flight out, so I didn't have time to actually run with CewTwo, which I would like to do. Next time, Charlie.

He's a gentleman who took up running later in life and, apparently, underwent a transformation. He puts in a lot of miles, approaching 1,900 for the the year, and has become really fit. You can tell this by looking at the before and after pictures on his blog.

Charlie is also a computer geek and loves to go jeeping in the many canyons afforded by the nearby front range of the rockies, exploits about which he sometimes posts pictures. Sometimes he runs with his dog Molly, and he thinks he's still in the decision stage about this, but he's going to run a marathon next year. I recommend to him the Fort Collins Old Town Marathon on May 4th (formerly the Colorado Marathon).

There's still plenty of time for him to prepare for it if he gets started soon. It's 17 miles down the beautiful Poudre River Canyon followed by a run through town to the finish line. There's a 15 mile race in conjunction with it, a Mini Marathon they call it. I did a 15-mile race once (in Ohio in January!) and it was a fun distance.

The awesome triathlete ShirleyPerly ran the Colorado Marathon and though it was her PW, she seemed to like it, calling it her Personal Best Personal Worst (PW) marathon. She runs a lot of them, as she is intending to run marathons in all 50 states within a few years (don't forget about DC, Shirley).

My profile picture is of me standing in front of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island the day before the 2006 NYCM. That bridge is a bigger version of the famed Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. In the picture to the left, I am standing in front of that bridge in June, two days after the Lake Tahoe Relay. Says this boy from Staten Island, the view is almost as good.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The current State of the Law

I was in Denver last week on business. Here is the view of Denver's downtown 16th Street Pedestrian Mall from my hotel window. That's the D & F Tower in the center of the photograph.

I was there to appear for the government in an agency case brought in federal court. It is very contentious litigation.

Since I'm new to my division and have had a lot of litigation experience, I was put on this case, which is filled with nasty motions practice (sanctions motions, threats of rule 11 motions, discussions of sanctions, phony meet-and-confer phone calls about overblown issues that potentially could lead to sanctions, casually worded assurances of applying for and winning personal sanctions at the end of the case (so they can take your house), etc.). It's what American jurisrudence has come to. After some of the calls in this case, one of my wonderful and capable co-counsels, L, soothes my outrage with the admonition, "Zen, Peter, zen."

I liken lawyers talking to kids playing in a sandbox. When the sand starts flying, I always try to be the adult. Someone has to be.

My greeting to the case from opposing counsel, when I first made an appearance by participating in a phone conference, was to be called a "jerk." Really. Then she and I had a silly extended argument over whether she said I was a jerk or said I was acting like a jerk. I insist on the former but frankly, I don't see the difference. Maybe I'm not a good enough lawyer to grasp the nuance here.

After all, opposing counsel is always telling me that I don't know the law. And she professes to like me. She always starts off with, Now Peter, you know I like you. Then she adds something like, But when this case is over, I'm going to have to file a rule 11 against you personally.

This is gibberish (you can't file for personal Rule 11 sanctions on a case, only on a motion or a pleading) but I guess that's her way of making nice. Here's to you too.

But being in Denver allowed me to see my oldest sister, who lives there, and her two children. Here they are. A just finished a year-long trip around the world. Here's a link to his travel blog relating his journey. He is hoping to move to Canada where his fiancee lives. I think his planned move has much to do with his youthful and righteous disgust at the special-interests driven, stupid and bankrupt American health-care system. We talked a lot about our travesty of a "system," and the kinder and gentler Canadian system which provides world class health care for all, during my visit. P is an architectural student finishing her last year at the University of Oregon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Some Year-End Ketchup

End of the year hodgepodge. Awhile ago I told you about H's nice first marathon, a fine 4:07 at the MCM in October here in DC. I ran with her for awhile near the end, picking her up on the 14th Street Bridge near MP 20. She came up on me very fast amidst the swirl of runners going by and I was only able to snap a herky-jerky picture of her as she approached that only caught half of her. Here is a better picture of my friend H, taken a few weeks later following an early Saturday run on the Mall. (Photo credit B.)

Soup's on! I told you earlier that unbeknownst to me, I was pictured inside the October issue of the epicurean magazine Cooking Light, in a Healthy Living feature on DC (the third best-rated city, behind Seattle and Portland on the Left Coast). The full-page photo on page 75 used two anonymous joggers running by the Jefferson Memorial to illustrate DC's "walkability" (go figure) and I was one of them. Here is the photograph, generously sent to me by the magazine and used with the gracious permission of the photographer. (Photo credit Douglas Merriam.) The actual moment captured on film didn't register with me at the time, but when I saw the picture months later while perusing the magazine rack at Union Station, I instantly remembered the situation and vaguely remembered the encounter. The photograph was taken early in the morning on Saturday, July 21st, during the second outing of the twelve week dcrrc 10-Mile Training Program leading up to the Army 10-Mile Race in October while Mary Ellen and I were running counter-clockwise around the Tidal Basin on a 3.7 mile training run at a 9:20 pace. I know I saw the photographer because I have my there's-a-tourist-shooting-a-picture fake smile plastered upon my face. From racing experience, I have learned to look up and smile whenever I see a photographer snapping pictures.

Details, details. My former running buddy A, who moved out of town last summer, has been posted on a work detail to Tokyo for a year by her law firm. She is leaving next month for Japan. Here is a picture of her on the left in DC fooling around with her friend H, who spent many hours helping her pack up her Capitol Hill apartment. She looks good running or slumming. Have a safe journey and a good year, A.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mission Accomplished

I set a goal this year of donating blood seven times. This is a little tricky to do since you have to wait eight weeks between each blood donation. Doing the math, 52 weeks divided by 8 weeks' deferral period each time, seems to indicate six donations per year. But if you get started early in the year and donate again each time as soon as you are eligible to, you can make it to seven donations in a calendar year.

Seven finger-pricks to test your blood's iron content, and seven needle inserts to take the blood, how fun. Actually, it's not bad. And you feel so smug about your goodness afterwards.

In 2007, I first donated blood on January 2d. I donated every eight weeks thereafter, culminating in my seventh donation earlier this month. I am proud of this effort.

For my next trick, I intend to donate blood 100 times in my lifetime. I am three quarters of the way there, currently working on my nine gallon pin (units of blood donated).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Remington Blue Steel Wingmaster with folding metal stock.

the shotgun sings the song (The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again)

I used to read a lot of Little Miss Runner Pants' blog, back when she concentrated on running. Her writing is absolutely hilarious. Then she went over to the dark side and started biking, and I don't read it so much anymore. My loss.

She recently posted about men and guns, and women shooting big guns. She titled it chik chik BANG! She caught the essence of shotgun shooting right there. You hear chik chik, you freeze. If you then hear Bang, you're dead. I can say that without drama, because for seven years I was a State Trooper.

Each patrol car had a Wingmaster, with metal stock folded up over the top of the barrel, nestled in a locking cradle set on the floor behind the driver's heels. The shotgun, magazine loaded with slugs, had a ready pistol grip until the stock was folded back down. It potentially was all that stood between a Patrolman and a deadly encounter. Chik chik. The universal sound of a shotgun round being chambered. Everyone freezes.

Our greatest worry was that a scumbag would know where the quick-release button for the locking cradle was and get to the weapon before the Trooper could in, say, a roadside fracas with a wanted felon or a drunk. Troopers don't have the luxury of ever losing a fight.

But the bad parts of potentially deadly work aren't what we remember afterwards, mostly it's the humorous parts. A. Maria's howlingly funny post and pictures on her first trip to the shotgun range brought back memories of my first trip to the shotgun range, when I was in the State Patrol Academy.

I grew up in suburban NYC (on "rural" Staten Island) so I didn't ever shoot as a boy. I didn't even know anyone who had a gun. At the Academy as a young man, I was not a particularly good shot. But the skeet shooting session, which was meant to familiarize us with the shotgun, was a personal disaster.

In skeet shooting, a spring-loaded device flings a clay "pigeon" across the sky when the shooter, standing a short distance away, is ready and yells "Pull!" The shooter tracks the "bird" across the sky and fires at it before it falls to the ground. If there are two pigeons thrown out at once, the shooter fires at one, pumps the handle back and forth which ejects the spent shell and loads a second round (chik chik), and tries to bring down the second bird as well.

It was the tracking part I didn't get. I'd aim at the bird and fire. I never brought one down because you have to fire at a point in front of the soaring target in order to hit it. You have to lead it.

Twenty-five shots, twenty-five misses. Everyone else, mostly boys from Colorado where hunting is widely practiced and many pickups have rifle racks in the rear window, scored multiple hits. Sometimes the clay target would burst apart with an explosive sound when it was hit dead-on, sometimes a fragment would fly off with a loud chink when it was nicked. Nothing ever happened to my targets except they all sailed out of range and crashed to the ground.

I went with the rest of the recruits to lunch after the target practice. Everyone knew that I had been skunked. I was eating in sullen silence in the bustling mess-hall, the butt of much humorous and not-so-humorous banter, when a busboy dropped a heavily-laden buspan. All the dishes in it fell to the floor with a loud crash.

In the moment of shocked silence that followed, the class clown jumped up and shouted excitedly, "Hey, did you hear that? Peter finally hit a target!"

The room exploded in laughter.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tis the Season

I am co-director of my agency's Wellness Committee. I direct its running program, taking the Hare Group out for a noontime run on the Mall once a week. I have done this for 130 straight weeks now. Three or four times someone other than me has led the run when I was away. Here is a picture of M and I on a recent snowy Hare Group run. I am the hatless one.

There is always a morning run on the day of the work holiday party. Here is the Holiday Run from 2005. I am on the left, with C and M. It was cold that day. M beat me that year in the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler for agency bragging rights. In 2005 I went one evening to Union Station and ran the Christmas Light Run along the Mall to the Ellipse and back to view the decorated trees along the way. I ran into Bex on that run, and met NBTR and Nancy Toby and Jeanne afterwards. It was the first time I ever heard the word blog. Jeanne explained to me that it meant web log. Here is a picture of me in front of the 2005 National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse (photo credit Bex), followed by a picture of Bex in front of it.

Here is my Christmas tree in 2005, set up in my middle child's room. He was 17 then. Although I had plain vanilla visitation and they lived less than two and a half miles away with their Mother, none of my minor children had been to my house in more than two and a half years by then. But that's another story called Modern American Domestic Law. You don't want to hear it, believe me. It is a Grinch's tale, and Tiny Tim dies in the end every time.

Last week on the morning of my work's holiday party, I led the Hare Group on a version of the Christmas Light Run. I called it the Holiday Light Run for obvious reasons. First stop was the Peace Officer's Memorial Tree in front of the DC Courthouse. The little decorated tree behind me in the picture was planted a few years back in memory of two DC officers killed in the line of duty that year. God bless them (photo credit K).

K and I ran on this beautiful morning to the Ellipse from there and viewed the National Christmas Tree in all its decorative glory.

Then we ran around the Ellipse to view the National Menorah before running back to our agency (photo credit K).

Afterwards I went up to Union Station to snap a picture of the Christmas Tree inside there.

Merry Christmas everyone, and have a safe and happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anticipation of 2008

As the new year approaches, I find myself thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2008.

2006: Last year was a good year, primarily because I worked the track heavily. I broke four hours for the marathon finally, and set PRs at a mile, 2K, three miles, 8K, seven miles, 15K, ten miles, 20K, the Half, twenty miles and the Whole. I traveled to Florida to run in the Inaugural Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge and to California to run in the Inaugural Disneyland Half-Marathon.

2007: This year has been a gradual winding down for me, but I did PR at the marathon and 20-mile distances, won my age group in two races (including the only race that is run in my home town--bragging rights!) and ran sub-eights in a 10-mile race and during a 14.6 mile leg at the LPRM Relay (which included winning the coed division with my partner Bex). I traveled to California to run Leg One of the Lake Tahoe Relay on Bex's team. Most gratifying, I directed three different training programs for my running club. (Above: Bex was a coach in my club's 10K Training Program which I directed. At the Program's goal race, the Capitol Hill Classic 10K, she came in first in her age group in the sister 3K race.)

2008: What are my goals for next year? I have always had the goal of breaking 22 minutes in a 3-mile race (current PR, 22:09) and breaking 12,000 meters for a sixty-minute track run (current best, 11,800 meters). I would like to PR in the Half (current PR, 1:44:18) and break 3:45 in the Full. I would like to break 1:20 at another 10-miler and run a credible Leg Six (the awfullest leg) at the Lake Tahoe Relay for Bex's team. I would like to obtain coaching certification, and have one-half of the runners in training programs I direct meet or exceed their race goal. I would like my running buddy D to come back from serious injury so he can run the hills of SW with me again. I would also like to find another two running buddies similar to Bex and A, who both moved away this year, two dedicated runners and talented ladies who are about my speed with whom I enjoyed running immensely. (Above: A was a coach in my club's 10K Training Program. Last year she ran a 10K/3K double at the Capitol Hill Classic. This year she concentrated on the 3K and came in second, fifth overall.)

What are your goals for the coming year?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Product Placements, or Injured Again

The second week of training for the National Half-Marathon, to be run fifteen weeks hence on March 29, 2008, was held yesterday morning in South Arlington. I went out with the intermediate group, and we ran seven miles out and back on the Mount Vernon Trail at a 9:09 pace. Before the run, the Reebok rep came by with running outfits for the coaches. Reebok is sponsoring the training program, while my running club is supplying the coaches. I liked the running jacket provided, it was light-weight and wind-resistant, keeping me warm on a cold windy morning without allowing too much of a heat-buildup as the run progressed. (Above: Reebok's lightweight men's running jacket. Absolutely perfect for West Point graduates.)

During the run I developed a painful cramp in my right calf muscle, which I ran through. It hurt, although I couldn't imagine how you could injure your calf by just running. Perhaps the two miles I did the night before, an 8:28 outbound mile uphill and a 7:55 return, started the problem. I really should warm up before I just "head out" when I return home from work and before I eat dinner.

I was going to do 18 miles this morning. It was in my brain that eighteen was what was on the schedule and it's so hard to give up when it's locked in. Forget about the cold pelting rain out there, other runners were out in it. But as I worried my calf "injury" with my Runner's Stick, it really hurt. Dragging the stick over my right calf twenty times, even lightly, was pure agony. I decided not to do the eighteen, nor even to run at all today even though the rain stopped. (Above: The Stick. Hey you, it's my right calf that hurts.)

I couldn't walk up the stairs but I was wrestling with guilt about not augmenting last weekend's fifteen mile run with eighteen today. I feel like a such a slug. Are runners insane or merely strange?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Busy Day of Running

Lots of running stuff happening. Yesterday was the start of the Reebok Marathon and Half Marathon Training Program for the Wirefly National Marathon on March 29, 2008, which is a must-do marathon. Reebok's training program is "powered by" my running club, and I am directing the half-marathon portion of it, operating out of the Gotta Run running store in Arlington. Four coaches took seven runners out on a 10K run in about an hour in South Arlington yesterday. You can sign up for the training program on the race website. I am very excited about this, as all of the program coaches will receive the opportunity to get coaching certification out of it.

(Left: Almost there! Approaching the bridge over Leesburg Pike WB on the W&OD. Right over the hump of the bridge is MP 7. 200 feet further and you'll be passing by my house.) This morning I ran 15 miles on the W&OD in 2:08:32 (8:38) in cold and rainy conditions. Along the way I did my eight on date eight (actually the date was the ninth) in 1:07:27 (8:26) and I completed my virtual Blue and Gray Half-Marathon run, actually held in Fredericksburg, in 1:51:51 (8:32). Jeanne and Susie and David, Susie's husband, actually ran the race in Fredericksburg. Susie achieved her excellent time of last year, David broke two hours (congratulations to him!) and Not Born To Run PRed! I'll let her tell you all about it when she posts about it, at this very moment she is limping back to DC in a car without a muffler. She called me from the road and asked if I could hear her muffler, or lack of it, over her cellphone. Naw, I said, I could hear it before you called.

NBTR reports that she called Bex after the B&GHM and Bex answered on her cellphone and reported she was at that moment at MP 11 in the Honolulu Marathon, slogging through a heavy rain on her 26 mile "training run."

Friday, December 7, 2007

December 7th

December 7, a date which will live in infamy.

On that day in 1941, Japanese naval aircraft flying off aircraft carriers bombed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack. They sank or damaged all the U.S. battleships in the Pacific. The sneak attack brought the U.S. into WW2, which changed the country, and the world, forever.

What the Japanese didn’t get at Pearl Harbor were any of the U.S. carriers, which were elsewhere. Perhaps unknown just then, carriers were the true behemoths of the oceans, and the Japanese lost the war on the first day by missing them. But it was a long and bloody road to Tokyo and Berlin from the debacle at Pearl Harbor.

My father and all of my uncles fought in WW2. One was a Marine radioman who fought in two island battles in the Pacific. One was a Marine Gunnery Officer on board a warship which participated in numerous combat operations. One was an Army officer in the Philippines engaged in mopping up scattered Japanese forces after the battle for Manila. One flew a B-25 in the North African campaign. Thankfully they all returned unscathed (except for, perhaps, horrible life-long nightmares). All have since departed except for one who lives in a nursing home in Colorado, cared for by his loving daughter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goodbye Yoga

I had my last yoga class tonight for awhile. Back when I was running really well in 2006, I was training really hard (doing track workouts) and doing yoga at least once week. It made a real difference in my times by increasing my core strength, helping my flexibility, allowing me to cope with a hamstring injury through stretching routines and teaching me better breathing techniques.

I take a Vinyasa Yoga class at my town's community center from 8 to 9 pm once a week. It forces me to leave work at 7 o'clock to get to it on time because otherwise I'm in no particular hurry to go home to an empty, cold house. (I can't get the thermostat below 49 degrees so sometimes the heat comes on and heats the entire house no matter what I wish.)

Why this brand of yoga? I like the instructor, LR. She doesn't ignore the two men in the room and she doesn't get uptight if things get a little disrupted, like people coming in late. The last class I took, the instructor locked the door right on the hour and I experienced stress whenever I heard the doorknob turn as people tried to enter at one minute past the hour. I didn't like the fact that they were shut out.

Tonight was the last night of class until February and it was a good workout. Me and Larry sort of flopped around while the rest of the class flowed through the mini-vinis. Afterwards I walked out the door of the community center and immediately broke into a run to do the town's 3K Memorial Day Fun Run course. I do that race every year and it's free, self-timed and you get a T-shirt at the end, gratis. It's also flat and short by about 500 feet, so you can get a really good time. Not that any of it is official.

The route leaves from the community center and returns there. All the Moms in the class know my routine and I think they congregate briefly in the parking lot to watch me take off running after every class. I have no doubt they have a good laugh about me after I streak off. (I have determined it is bad form to run to yoga class because no one wants to start a yoga class with a guy in there breathing heavily and already sweating up a storm.)

It's great to run footloose and carefree after spending 55 minutes stretching and 5 minutes luxuriating in a final relaxation pose (which is akin to taking a nap). The kinks are already all worked out.

Tonight I pounded out the 3K in 13:59 (7:30) in the dark. I had no drive in my legs after last weekend's exertions of 30 miles. But the run felt good. I was feeling like such a slug after not running yesterday nor this morning. Maybe I should get a life. (Left: Last Memorial Day, May 28, 2007, I ran a 12:52 (6:54) in the daylight.)

I'll miss yoga til it resumes again.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Once More

This weekend there were two races I wanted to do, a club half-marathon on Saturday and a metric marathon today. But since I didn't want to pay $40 for the metric marathon, and I like to do the worst first, I flipped the races and ran them both as virtuals yesterday and today.

The club Half would have been free for me since I'm a club member. Can you imagine, a free supported Half-Marathon? For non-members, it's $5. You can read the metric marathon account (and splits) in my last post.

That's a lot of running for me for a weekend, 16.3 miles and 13.1 miles back-to-back. I lay in bed a long time this morning feeling cozy and warm before I finally arose, laced up my Brooks Addictions and headed out to MP 7 on the W&OD Trail behind my house. After my virtual metric marathon of 2:19:58 (8:36) yesterday, I was sore and listless today. No energy. (Left: MP 7 on the W&OD on the bridge. Beyond, the blue & red sign in the second storey window is one of the two Bikram Yoga studios in the DC area. Once you do your 14 miles by running to the trail's head and back, you could go over there to get relief for your aches and pains by doing deep stretching routines in Hot Yoga.)

That was immediately apparent as my splits today started out about 30 seconds slower than yesterday's. Going to the turnaround at the trail's end, I ground out 8:30, 8:38, 8:38, 8:44, 8:44, 8:30 and 8:49. 1:00:35 (8:39) for seven miles, 3:19 slower than yesterday.

Coming back was just a slog. I felt like I was deep in the throes of a marathon and I worked on resisting the urge to walk. 8:57, 8:47, 9:07, 9:02, 9:14, 9:19, 9:14, with a finishing time of 2:04:19 (8:53) for 14 miles. A slippage of 4:37 from yesterday. My pace was off by 20 seconds per mile a day after running 16 miles. (Below: Looking WB on the W&OD Trail in Falls Church.)

Along the way, I passed by my virtual half-marathon finish line in 1:56:05 (8:52). Too bad I couldn't claim the time I passed the same line yesterday, 1:51:40, but yesterday I was working on my virtual metric marathon and you can only do one race at a time.

I just wanted to break two hours for the half today. I also wanted to see if I could do two long races, albeit virtuals, in two days. I have run thirty miles for the weekend and dropped nine pounds since Friday. I'm going out for pizza now.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What's an anomaly?

I thought that maybe running 14 miles in 1:57:26 (8:23) with M last Friday might have been an anomaly--a good training run time created by running with a considerably faster runner, having a huge tailwind for half the run, and benefiting from the subtle ministrations of M talking me past the wall as I started my typical plodding routine around the thirteenth mile.

The truth is, I haven't been pleased with my running for awhile. I was starting to suspect that maybe I was falling prey to, well, getting old. Or that perhaps my pre-race dinners of Cheez-Its and Millers were starting to catch up with me.

So this morning I set out to recreate that run alone, as part of a slightly longer run that simulated a metric marathon being held tomorrow in Columbia. That way I would save two hours driving time, gas and the $40 entry fee. I call these runs "virtual" races and I do two or three each year. 26.2 KM is 16.28 miles, BTW.

Off I set from MP 7 on the W&OD Trail behind my house. Last week's splits are listed in my last post. Today they went like this: 7:59, 7:59, 8:07, 8:13, 8:19, 8:20, 8:18 to the turnaround at MP 0 in Shirlington. 57:16 (8:11) for seven miles compared to 55:44 (7:58) a week ago. Not bad so far. I have run in three actual 7-mile races, and this would still be my second best one.

Coming back I headed into a strong wind (again) and slowed down considerably: 8:44, 8:52, 8:47, 8:50, 9:01, 9:07, 9:02 for a fourteen mile total of 1:59:42 (8:33) compared to last week's 1:57:26 (8:23). So running with a faster runner is worth about 10 seconds per mile. (Left: Looking WB on the W&OD Trail about 400 meters before the bicycle bridge.)

I stupidly hadn't brought water and I longed to go into my house at this point to get some, but I knew that if I stopped now, I'd never return to the run. I had brightly brought a solitary Gu though, and although it was hard to get down sans water, consuming it in the twelfth mile revived me and enabled me to finish the run.

A further mile out, and back again, and a guesstimate quarter-mile route to the 7-11 store brought me to the end of my virtual metric marathon in 2:19:58 (8:36). I have done one actual metric marathon and I missed beating that time by 15 seconds. Dang! I got some work to do.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Black Friday

The morning after Thanksgiving, while everybody else was out shopping, I met M at 9 o’clock at the bicycle bridge on the W&OD Trail for a medium to long run. It was forty degrees colder than the day before and windy. M has actually won a race, in 1:29 at a Half-Marathon somewhere. She modestly said that all the good runners were off doing Boston that weekend.

She came running down the trail with her husband R, who thereupon ran the mile and a half back to her parents’ home to complete his workout. He is new to running and does ten-minute miles so they run together only infrequently. (Left: M & R on the W&OD Trail.)

We set off for the turnaround in Shirlington seven miles away. Here were our splits: 8:06 (our warmup mile); 7:53; 7:55; 7:55; 7:57; 7:57; 7:57; turnaround time at 7 miles, 55:44 (7:58).

Let me here state the obvious, that seven miles is an oddball distance for a race. There is a 7-mile race in June I like that runs around the Inner Harbor of Baltimore which I have run three times. This seven miles would have been my second-best 7-mile race, and we still had seven miles to go! (Left: In the 2006 Survivor Seven Inner Harbor 7-Mile Race in Baltimore, this runner came charging by me at the end and we put on quite a show sprinting fullbore towards the finish line after seven miles. I'm the old guy getting scorched.)

M was being encouraging, saying how easily I was running (looks can be deceiving). She's great to talk with. She has a masters degree in physical therapy from an Ivy League school and we chatted about Ryan Shay's untimely death from an enlarged heart at the National Olympic Team trials (M had presented a paper on that condition previously, and received some recent calls from information seekers), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, know any runners displaying some of its symptons?) and its cousin, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder, I have at least one child so afflicted). She would elucidate interesting observations as we ran along and I would respond in ragged three-word bursts. My tongue was hanging out.

I discovered as soon as we started back why the outbound trip had been so smooth–there had been a strong wind at out back. Now it was in our faces, whistling through our gritted teeth.

Our splits weren’t so pretty going back: 8:15; 9:26 (a blessed Gu break); 8:28; 8:37; 8:42; 9:11; 9:01. The numbers confirm that I was getting tired. No negative splits there!

We finished the fourteen miles in 1:57:26 (8:23), counting the Gu stop. I waved goodbye to M as she ran on to her parents’ home, probably at her interval pace once she rounded the bend. I was wiped and I walked home on unsteady legs. But as I prepared to go to work, I knew it had been a good run for me, my best since the last time I ran with M way back in July.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My brother came down from NYC to visit for Thanksgiving, and we celebrated the day by cooking roast beef and watching football on TV. As a friend later remarked, "Two bachelors alone all day in a house with no adult supervision, priceless." This led me to quip, "And for the beer, there was Mastercard." (Left: Yeah, I cooked this meal. Photo credit J.)

I had run before dawn that morning in 60 degree temperature. As I poked along in the dark, footsteps came rapidly up behind me. It was an older gentleman, passing me purposefully.

"Way to work off your feast beforehand," I said to him as he went by. He glanced at me once and proceeded on without a word, rapidly leaving me astern.

Not even a casual retort in return, I thought as I watched his figure recede up the block. This annoyed me for some reason. It’s a male thing, I guess.

Once comfortably beyond me, the other runner slowed imperceptibly. He didn’t put me away, in other words.

I knew I could run that fast. So I did. I sped up and closed the gap that had developed between us. I settled in behind him, practically on his left hip. We silently ran on that way for several blocks.

When my turn-off loomed ahead I pulled even, and then went half a body length in front. Then I turned off. No words or further glances were exchanged.

Later that morning I called my ex-wife’s house two miles away hoping to express a happy Thanksgiving wish to my children. I last spoke with my youngest child in the spring, sometime before he graduated. I haven’t spoken with my middle child in about two years, nor with my oldest child since Super Bowl Sunday.

When there was no answer at their Mother's house, I left my youngest child a message. At noon I called again and left my middle child a message when there was no answer. Neither one returned my call.

I didn’t leave my oldest child a message since he has ignored all of my communications ever since he turned 21. I don't count him cashing the check I sent for his 21st birthday as a form of communication.

Meanwhile, I received an email from a sort-of running buddy who had come to town to visit her folks, fresh from her 3:23 NYCM. She wanted to run medium to long on the W&OD Trail the next morning. I arranged to meet her at nine o’clock to run 14 miles.

I met M at a club SLR last summer, and we ran once after that when we went 14 miles on the W&OD Trail in 2:04, a nine-minute-per-mile pace. That was in July, when I was just starting to gear up for Chicago, and I was in far better shape than I am in now.

That was my last good run, really, because shortly after that I injured my foot and I wasn’t the same when I came back from that injury. Although I had a decent time at the Charm City Twenty-Miler in September on the dirt surface of the Northern Central Railroad Trail, at Chicago in October it was ungodly hot, I was on antibiotics and by the eighth mile I was already walking and considering DNFing. Although I finished that fun run, the race officials were only too happy to help with that last thought as they cancelled the marathon midway through it after they ran out of water. (Left: Did you ever see the movie, Night of the Living Dead? That's me lurching along with 35,000 other fun runners in Chicago on October 7, 2007.)

I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of this adept runner, who is also a very accomplished and interesting person, so I retired early. Still, I was as anxious as if a race was coming up on the morrow. I didn’t know if I could string together 14 nine-minute miles anymore and I didn't want to hold M up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

My World

My running world is simple. I divide people into two groups.

Faster than me. Not.

There are some hazy persons, to be sure. Tweeners. You know the persons. Sometimes you beat them in a race or at the end of a run, and sometimes you don’t.

But you also know which camp they really belong in. Do you secretly gloat when you beat them? They’re faster. Do you worry about them all race? You’re faster, but not by much and maybe not for long.

People can move from one group to the other over time, as you get better or they get better. You see them at the track and you grumble, It's not fair! How do they have the time? So that's how they been beating me! It's time to reassign that runner.

But no one is ever not in one camp or the other for the long term. Occasional successes or failures are merely moments for euphoria or somberness. It's simple.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

For Ryan

I ran 5.5 miles this morning in memory of Ryan Shay. It's a running community thing.

I wanted the run to be memorable, so I set out at 3:30 am for old times sake. I haven't done a run in the wee hours of the morning in a while. I did quite a few during those interminable years not so long ago when implacable, crushing, financially ruinous and emotionally devastating divorce litigation was obliterating my life. (There, does that adequately sum up divorce for you?)

But this morning I remembered again the joy of running free in the absolute stillness and quiet of the early morning, after all the late-night people have gone home and before the early birds have arisen. There is a lack of other moving human things around that is profound between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. Otherwise us city-folk runners always have the bustle of human company out there in some form, a car driving by, a radio broadcasting, a person walking a dog.

You have to stick to streets with lights on them, traffic arteries of some sort, so you can see where your feet are landing. You have to be on the road and not the sidewalk because sidewalks are uneven.

This is not a time for headphones because you have to feel, hear and see cars coming up behind you. Cars make noises and approaching lights change the shadows around you. Also, you need to wear a baseball cap so you can tip your head down and use the brim to shield your eyes from the blinding headlights of cars coming at you.

Thoughts flowed through my mind. One of my children was an ADHD child. Until you have one of your own, you tend to think such children are either myths or the new-classification creations of psychologists. I thought about that son and how I doubt that he could feel, hear or see cars coming up behind him if he were running, like I can. I think there is a rush of other things going on in his mind constantly that keeps out new approaching stimuli. I tried to imagine what that would be like and I had no idea. I am so sorry for him. I have often wondered if a daily glass of wine during pregnancy could cause that.

I found a new foot trail between two lit roadways I run on a lot at night. I traversed this discovery in the dark, walking it, and discovered it went through.

I went into Arlington and ran by the house we moved into when we first came to the area. I stopped in the dark and listened for a moment of reverie to the faint sounds of three toddlers running around, two adults still acting to responsibly raise a family, and a grandmother coming to visit. The spectral images died away as the toddlers grew up and became judgmental, the adults grew to hate each other, and the grandmother passed on. I continued my run.

I went over to the Custis Trail and was surprised to see that it has lights, albeit low-powered ones. I loped along it for half a mile but I know it feeds into the W&OD Trail which doesn't have lights, so I ran back onto the streets of Arlington again.

A sea of flashing blue lights at 4:30 am attracted me. I diverted my course to run by the scene, a major intersection where signal lights control traffic exiting off the Interstate highway and traffic passing by on the six lanes of Lee Highway. Somebody had run a red light and two smashed cars were in the intersection. Firemen were still extricating one driver, with an ambulance standing by.

I am a former state trooper. I did traffic for years. I couldn't see the tell-tale skidmarks in the roadway in the dark, and I didn't think the four cops on the scene would appreciate me walking into their evidence scene to take a closer look. So I had a mental challenge, to figure out which way each wrecked car had been traveling, making the determination solely from their final resting positions and the damage each car showed. The cars were widely separated in the roadway, with one halfway onto the sidewalk below the exit ramp, pointing the wrong way for the exit ramp, and the other resting pointing SB in the NB lanes of Lee Highway.

I was reaching back twenty years with this stuff, to a time when I could do this easily with just a glance. It took a couple of minutes to process.

It had been a left front quarter panel (driver's side) to right front quarter panel high speed impact, that much was plain to see from the damage on the wrecks. All cars when they collide dispel their energy around a centerpoint and spin off or rotate from there. When they separate they travel off in the direction their spin has sent them, rotating to a greater or lesser degree. The more glancing the blow, the less rotation or spin.

The cops must have thought I was a weirder-than-usual lookey-lew as I started rotating my body with raised left arm (representing the point of impact). Perhaps they shrugged me off as a crazy early morning runner. I was getting my car spin down by circling in place, figuring out which of the two cars had been coming off the highway. It slowly came back to me.

I worked it out. The car on the sidewalk had been leaving the highway and struck the other car, pretty much quarter panel to quarter panel. The other car reached the point of impact a nano second earlier and had been knocked a glancing blow into the opposing lanes. The car on the sidewalk had done much more rotation, a full 180.

As to who ran the red light, well, I'd have to hear the drivers' stories to form an opinion versus merely being suspicious. The car exiting the highway was going a lot faster and had taken almost no evasive action, that much was clear to me. His visibility was more limited by the terrain. I imagined he might be unfamiliar with the signal light as he came off the Interstate if he was from elsewhere. The other guy was on a local road so maybe he was from around there and familiar with the intersection. I'd pencil in the guy on the sidewalk as at fault initially, easily subject to change.

Blame preliminarily assigned, I ran on. I was now back in my home town. A mile out, I kicked my lazy run into a much higher gear and ran home hard, for Ryan. I did a 7:39 for that mile, and elevens or twelves for the rest.

It was an interesting 3:30 am run, as many of them are.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Finishing

Has anyone ever died in your life? I hope not, but probably so.

Her final summer was it
And yet we guessed it not
If tender industriousness
Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life
Developed from within,--
When Death lit all the shortness up,
And made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,--
When nothing was to see
But her Carrara [marble quarry in Italy] guide post,--
At our stupidity,

When, duller than our dulness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

I remember going with a friend, not so long ago, to see her friend die. As he lay in cancerous agony in a hospital bed, with some remote relatives in the room, we came in. He knew who my friend was, and was glad to see her. She had come a long way to see him.

I stayed in the background. My Dad, and then my Mom, had died of wasting, lingering illnesses and I think I knew that people who are departing are working at leaving, but they want to leave at the exact right moment. They want to leave on their own terms. I think this is hard to do.

Somehow a political squabble developed in that hospital room. Those remote relatives weren't liberal enough or something, and ever more fervent messages, couched in subtleties, started getting passed back and forth by strangers. I looked at the agonized man. His eyes were closed tightly as the retorts gained quiet stridency.

Suddenly he sat up! Get out! Get out! he commanded. Then he sank back into his hospital bed. We all left in hushed reverie. He died a day later, with no one there. This has always bothered me. Some succor!

So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

The poet is Emily Dickinson.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ebay magic

"Send more Japs."
Through the magic of Ebay, I shed 44 years recently. With the flick of a finger on my keyboard, I became an eleven year-old again, earnestly fighting for world order.

I successfully bid on a 1963 Marx 6-inch Russian WW2 toy plastic soldier, lime green and wearing a very cool Cossack fur lined hat with the ear flaps up. He also has on killer leather boots.

He's got his rifle raised over his head, and he's about to use the butt-end of it to knock some Nazi bastard into next week. (Shouldn't he be using the business end to do this? But maybe he's out of ammo. Still, he's carrying 4 pouches (8 clips) on his belt. Maybe it's late in the day after an intense firefight on the steppes. Oh, never mind!)

This purchase transported me back to my bedroom in 1963. The Louis Marx Toy Company sold these giant toy plastic soldiers in the dimestores back then, probably at about 49 cents each. The Germans were grey, the Americans were olive drab, the Japanese (can I say Japs? That's what we called them back then) were tan and the Russians were green. There were six figures in each group, a platoon for each nationality.

I guess the Russian platoon fought the German platoon, and the American platoon (Marines) fought the Japanese platoon. I don't know where the hell the U.S. Army was. Maybe they hadn't landed in Normandy yet.

There were other 6-inch groups of six. Monsters. (They were blue; the mummy, wolfman, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, the creature from the Black Lagoon and ... I forget the sixth. Maybe the Hunchback. Can I say that?) Cavemen. (They were orange, wielding sticks and hurling rocks. Can that be depicted now?) Frontier men. (They were tan and charging with knives drawn.) Cowboys. (They were tan and in various poses of TV westerns.) Native Americans. (Could I have said Indians? That's what we called them back then.)

I had one of each. That amounted to a lot of figures. I also had about a half dozen spring-loaded toy replica .45 automatic pistols. (Back in those days, they didn't put bright orange nubs on the end of the barrels of toy pistols.) These cost about 1.99 each at the dimestore, and each one came with six rubber-tipped suction darts. They were pretty accurate up to about 14 feet.

I'd set up my 6-inch figures around my bedroom, spread out across the room and advancing upon me. I'd have my position by the bed, and they'd be on the window ledge under the curtain, over by the bookcase shielded by the Landmark books, atop my dresser hiding behind the cuff link box, across the floor in a wide swath, all of them coming for me. The march of the 6-inch Marx army. Germans, Russians, Marines, cavemen, cowboys.

"On ne passe pas."
I was Horatio at the bridge. The veneer of civilisation is very thin.

To heighten the effect, I'd close the curtains and turn out the lights. In the darkness all I had were my six pistols, 36 darts, and a flashlight.

The monsters were easy to hit and knock over because they tended to be bigger and unstable. The soldiers were harder to fell since I placed them under cover better. After one round, I'd turn on the lights, reposition the remaining figures closer and go at it again. Think of the Decider a few years ago telling the world, "Bring 'em on!" when questioned about lingering resistance in Iraq after his phony "Mission Accomplished!" photo op. But my subsequent round went a lot better than his.

I know I won several of these battles. I don't remember if I lost any. I think it was like in dreams, if you're about to get killed, you just wake up.

I can't wait for my 6-inch Russian soldier to arrive. I like shedding four decades. I'm going to put him on the shelf in son number two's bedroom. He's been absent and unheard from since 2003, but that's another story.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.

Veterans Day. Really it's Armistice Day. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, they ended the incredible slaughter of World War One.

How orderly. The Germans had already consented to the terms of their defeat, having suffered their "Black Day" after their nerve cracked on August 8, 1918, when the Allies (bolstered by the newly arriving American doughboys--Over There--) launched their counterattacks that would end The War To End All Wars.

Unbeknownst to anyone, in the mix was a Bavarian corporal on the front lines who was almost orgasmic in his love of the destruction of war. (This would be Adolph Hitler. If you didn't know this, you really need to get off the Internet and go spend some time in the library.)

People died on the front lines while waiting for the eleventh whatever to arrive. I think that's the point of the famous Erich Remarque book, "All Quiet on the Western Front." Here's the ending page. (The protagonist was the last schoolboy left out of a number of students who had marched proudly off to war in 1914.)

"He died in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long: his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."

The Academy Award winning movie had the protagonist being shot down by a sniper when he tried to cup a butterfly that had alighted atop the German trench line.

I have three sons. These young adults so love their Mother, who immediately conscripted them while they were minors to be front line soldiers in our divorce, that they haven't communicated with me for years. (They have, however, taken every single dollar I have ever sent to them without a single word of acknowledgement.)

I sent the above quote to each of them when he turned 18. I worry about them. They could be drafted for the ill-defined and apparently interminable war on terror if the draft was ever resurrected, and maimed or killed. For what?

But let me pay tribute to some real men on this special day. Thank you Uncle Harry, for your service during WW2 aboard the Cruiser Vincennes, and for your heroic actions in earning a Bronze Star as you protected your men, and us. And thank you, Dad, for doing your duty at Peleliu and Okinawa, horrifying ordeals you underwent while protecting our way of life that 99% of the persons reading this blog will never have the remotest clue about. (I miss you.)

(Below: Here's a real warrior from The Great War, my Grandfather, "Jack," from Winona, Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Navy from 5/1917 to 2/1919, patrolling aboard a Destroyer in the North Atlantic and around the British Isles.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Neighborhood Mile

I love my neighborhood mile. It's been very good to me.

I'm intimate with it. I know it like a lover. I know its moods.

It starts right outside my door. It's always there. I can glance out my window and know what kind of a day I'm in for.

Is it rain glistened? That's no trouble and it won't bother me unless it's pelting.

Is it hoary with frost? Then I'm in for a hard time and I have to approach it just right, both in dress and in footing.

Is it covered in snow? I'll appreciate it the more for its silent beauty but I'll have to be careful around it, unless its frigid and icy, in which case I'll stay away from it altogether for awhile.

It's always waiting for me. But sometimes I neglect it. Sometimes I don't visit with it for weeks. I wonder if it misses me, or resents my absence.

It always helps me. When I was suffering, and trying to hold on in the last mile of the WDWM and break 4 hours for the first time, it gave me succor. It reached out from 1,000 miles away and was with me that last mile at Disney. Suddenly I wasn't running towards Epcot with aching lungs and leaden feet at 3:45:45 anymore. No. I was standing at the head of my driveway at 0:00:00.

Punch the watch and go up the street a quarter mile. Hill at the top. Turn right at the stop sign.

Go down the level straightaway two blocks. Watch out for the divot in the middle of the road midway down.

Turn right just before the W&OD Trail and run downhill on Railroad Avenue. Circle the telephone pole at the end of that dead-end road and return. Not quite halfway yet. (Right: Looking up RR Avenue from the dead end. The W&OD Trail is off to the right.)

Come back up RR Avenue, always thinking about pace here. Faster turnover, work it, work it! Watch for the other divot in the roadway to the left near the turn back onto the two-block straightaway.

Pound down the straightaway towards the stop sign with lungs bursting. I'm always gasping audibly here from oxygen depletion. Make the last turn onto the street where I live.

Try to use the hill I labored up three minutes ago. Cut the slight curves in the road to fashion the straightest line down the roadway, going from curb to curb. Traffic behind me? That's not a problem because it's infrequent and slow. Besides, they all know this grey-haired old fool goes sprinting by here often enough.

There's my house. Dash past it towards the "mile marker" at the end, the dumpster in the strip mall parking lot a block beyond.

I allow myself a glance at my watch. It's already past 6:30. Come on, come on! My standard for a good one-mile run is anything under seven minutes. Push it, push it! Yesterday was 7:29! (Left: The final stretch. Heading past my house on the left towards the dumpster a block further on.)

The dumpster, the dumpster! Slap it and I'm done. I push the watch stop button. 6:51. Alright!

These are the solitary mile runs I do that helped me at the end of Disney last year, when desperate weariness forced me out of my head into some ethereal place. I transported myself back home to the top of my driveway, and in my mind I ran my neighborhood mile for the last mile. The comfort of being with an old friend that last mile helped me bring Disney home in under four hours. (Below: My number at the WDWM in 2006 was 4790. Only I wasn't in Orlando crossing the finish mats at the moment captured in the photo, I was at home finishing a comfortable old run.)

[Only someone cynical would say that by substituting the "speed work" of my neighborhood mile this morning for the LSD I told myself I'd do when I went to bed last night, I was merely being lazy.]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Five things you need to know, five people you need to meet

I’m going to do a meme, whatever that is. I think it’s just a blogging version of - Tag You’re It.

I tried this once before without much success. Jeanne (Not Born To Run) cooperated, so I might as well tag her again. She has to post once a day for a month anyway because of Nablopomo, whatever that is. So she’ll undoubtedly thank me. Go read her blog. She’s brilliantly funny. (Aww, anyone who reads this knows that already.)

I got the idea from reading Irene in San Diego (Magazine Smiles). She likes Led Zeppelin and I’m going through a Man With Sticks phase right now (again). It looked like it would be fun. Besides, my parents got married in San Diego, in 1944. My Dad was a young Marine about to ship out for Peleliu and Okinawa, and my Mom was a defense plant plant worker. They met at a USO dance. She was hiding in the coat room when he was getting his jacket to leave. She was lonely and shy, having grown up in Yuma, Colorado, a small farming community on the plains. My Dad, OTOH, was cosmopolitan having grown up in Winona, Minnesota, a large town on the Mississippi River. She was 20, he was barely 19. They were together til death did them part 42 years later when he died of lung cancer. I was there when his life departed. He became addicted to nicotine from smoking the three cigarettes supplied in each K-Ration during the war. He came back from the war and taught her to smoke. She died of emphysema. Those were different days. Nobody stays married now and the kids suffer. (There. You just got a lot of free information. At work, I always tell new attorneys, never give out information for free.)

Here are the Rules:
• Link to your tagger, and post these rules on your blog.
• Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
• Tag 5 people at the end of your post by their names and links to their blogs.
• Let them know they are TAGGED by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I was born in Connecticut. (I lived there all of six weeks.)

2. There were six kids in my family.

3. We weren’t Catholic.

4. I have three sons, all over 18.

5. I had never run a distance of more than seven miles at any one time when I did my first marathon, the Inaugural Baltimore Marathon in 5:05:20. (I told myself the whole last hour while I was walking it in that if I only could beat five hours, I’d never do another marathon. I missed my goal so I had to do fourteen more (and counting)).

Here are four more persons besides NBTR who are going to be mad at me.
cewtwo - why, how, what, where I run...
Dorine - she do run run
nylisa - Lisa's Running Journal
sunshine - best day of the year

Sunday, November 4, 2007

How I "Won" The NYCM

How me 'n Dave won the NYC Marathon last year.

You probably thought that Marilson Gomes dos Santos, the slight Brazilian who gave us cut-away opera gloves covering the arms as a fashion statement, broke the Africans' modern stranglehold on the New York City Marathon last year and won it. And he did win the race, tactically. But Dave and I won it strategically. (Above: Dave and I smiling before the marathon after it took us ten minutes, total, to get there. Photo credit S.)

The Problem. Everyone knows what the problem with the NYCM is. It's the 10:10 start from way down in the far corner of NYC on Staten Island. Everyone has to get there from somewhere else and it usually takes quite awhile. Official recommendation is to catch the 8 am Staten Island ferry and corresponding bus, because there are no later buses. To get to the southern tip of Manhattan to catch that ferry, many runners will be arising at 5:30 or earlier for the race.

There are buses that transport you to the race's start on Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island that leave from various parts of the city. But they leave very early, starting at 4:30 am. Don't try to catch one after 6:30 am (7 am from NJ) because they will be non-existent by then. (Left: Old Fort Wadsworth is dwarfed by the bridge.)

Stories abound about how uncomfortable the wait at Fort Wadsworth for the race to start is. Those hours are horrendous, especially for the obsessive-compulsive types (know any runners like that?) who catch the first bus in their can't-miss-the-start paranoia. It's cold in the early morning, sometimes bitterly so, and keeping warm for all that time is a problem. People bring blankets, snuggle in sleeping bags, make beds out of newspapers, beg clothes from strangers, go into a trance; all sorts of strategies are used. (Below: Fort Wadsworth.)

The race itself is fantastic, a twenty-six mile traipse through the five boroughs and over five bridges that range from the fabulous (the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge) to the interesting (the Pulaski Bridge) to the merely fun (the Willis Avenue Bridge and the Madison Avenue Bridge). Screaming spectators line much of the passage and immerse you in the diversity that is the genesis of the melting pot of America.

A funky bed and breakfast without the breakfast. When I got into the NYCM last year, I googled "bed and breakfast" and "Staten Island." Up popped a funky place on Daniel Low Terrace. It seemed roomy enough and it was only $100 a night. A call to the "hotel" gave me the owner who said he had several "units," and he'd give me the best one available when I got there. As he described each one, they were all suitable for my needs. I'd get one of them, he assured me. He told me to send a hundred dollars deposit now. Contract? Paperwork? Naw. Just the hundred, and show up.

It was a perfect location. Just off Victory Boulevard near the ferry, it was within three miles of Fort Wadsworth. Back roads would lead me right to the race's start. I received conflicting information concerning the availability on race morning of city buses running down Bay Street in Stapleton on their regular routes to Fort Wadsworth. If there were problems, I could jog the distance in thirty minutes. (Above: I watched this bridge being built out of my bedroom window when I was a boy.)

When I arrived six months later on the Friday before the race, it was funky alright. The owner was an iconoclast who had built, in stages, a series of units off the backside of his old house there in St. George. He was quite talkative and had plenty of stories about his battles with the zoning commission as his house grew. He also knew Hilary Rodham from school and ventured forth his opinion about her. It would hearten the soul of any Republican and many a misogynistic Democratic. My unit was a long narrow unit on the ground floor in the back with an outside entrance.

Dave? Dave's Not Here! I met Dave, another runner from Chicago, sitting on a settee on the house's porch enjoying the view of the lower Manhattan skyline across the harbor. Dave was in the initial throes of his discovery of running in middle age. (Left: Funky? Well yeah!)

He had run six marathons, all within the last year. His pace of running marathons was increasing. He had run two in the last five weeks. He had arrived on Wednesday to steep himself in the course. He expected to better his PR of a little over four hours because he had discerned that the course was pretty flat except for the bridges and several rolling hills on First Avenue in Manhattan.

His wife was with him, trying to share in his new found zest for life. They walked to the ferry to go into Manhattan every day and he would go scout sections of the course while she went shopping. He was leaving on Tuesday, his wife having said "no" to him staying until Wednesday to recover. "Remember the kids at Aunt Maybelle's, dear?" was how she put the reasoning behind them leaving sooner rather than later when he was explaining all of his running plans and aspirations to me. Dave was scheduled to run another marathon, necessitating another trip, two weeks after New York. She was going with him there, too. (Left: My unit stretched all the way across the back of the house.)

I got the feeling from looking at his wife as Dave spoke that this exhilarating new phase of his life, with its frequent one-on-one challenges that put new meaning into a life where awareness of mortality had intruded lately, was about to end. His wife had a tightness in her facial expressions, a quietness as he spoke animatedly, that demonstrated to me a noticeable tiredness with his ongoing personal quest into self-worth. Real life was about to descend upon this running warrior in the form of his family's real or perceived needs as mandated by the non-running member of the union. Hence, to us all when we take up running.

Dave is an electrician. I got the impression that he had mostly finished his life's work and the family was comfortable. He told me that his unit at the house was great, very comfortable and well-appointed. He told me, though, that he wouldn't stay there long-term. You really don't want to look too closely at all the new wiring in this old house, he said in mock horror. Dave and I arranged to go to the race's start together. A friend would drive us both there.

Excuse me, I've got a race to run in 55 minutes. Race day dawned cool, clear, crisp. I woke up at 8 and lay in bed thinking of the horror stories friends had told me about catching a 4:30 am bus and then spending four hours shivering in the open on Staten Island. That was a prominent memory of the race for all of them, whiling away the long hours in Fort Wadsworth. Starting the race itself was like swinging open the jailhouse doors wherein they burst onto the race course, trying to put the fresh memory of those enervating and anxious (and freezing) hours out of their thoughts.

By 9:15 I was dressed and ready to go. I met Dave and we climbed into the car. I directed the person driving onto back roads I knew from childhood, having grown up in this section of Staten Island. The trip to the race, as a matter of fact, was a trip down memory lane for me. Down St. Pauls Avenue, past my old church. Back-track on Broad Street, past the Projects which I used to walk by on my way to the den mother's house during my one year of being a Cub Scout. Then a straight shot out Tompkins Avenue past the YMCA where I used to attend summer camp to School Street, the race's entry point. Distances that had seemed to stretch out so impossibly far for a ten year old boy seemed incredibly compressed forty-four years later to a full-grown man. (Yes, on Staten Island forty-four years ago, little boys could and did walk around and play miles from their homes.) (Above: St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Staten Island.)

Encountering no traffic, we arrived at the traffic barricades half a mile from the race's actual starting line in ten minutes. Plenty of time for two visits to the port-a-potties and to find our respective starting corrals. (Below: Celebrating the finish of the 2006 NYCM with J (who is running today, good luck!), H (who ran the MCM a week ago), me and A (my charity partner who helped me finish at sultry Chicago last month)).

Last year I finished the NYCM more than a hundred minutes behind dos Santos. Dave discovered the course was hilly after all and finished a little further back. But we both strategically won the race by having pristine memories of an incredible run on a perfect fall day through the greatest city in the world, unblemished by a single bad memory of the transport to the start line or the stay in Fort Wadsworth.