October 22, 2013

Don't Go Back to Rockville

Rockville Town Center
It wasn't amusing in the least, for the first few minutes anyway. Then I began to recognize it was going to be a fun ride.

It was 1988, and I'd just moved into a rental house in Arlington, Virginia. There was me—the new guy from California—and three guys from Pennsylvania. It was a typical east coast group-house of rudderless 20 somethings trying to figure things out after college. There were four small bedrooms and a little back yard with a lawn where folks could sit quietly in the 90 degree heat and enjoy the sight of mosquito clouds, hovering. 

Last week I put a song list together for a long run. My plan was lose myself for a few hours while listening to some throwback music from my past. I hoped to trigger a few fun memories. It worked.

I was unpacking at the time. With a clear view of the back yard from my room, I noticed my new roommates in the yard hanging out in a small circle and listening to music. Minding my own business, I noticed they were listening to just one song…over, and over, and over.  I still hear those lyrics....

Looking at your watch a third time
Waiting in the station for the bus
Going to a place that's far
So far away and if that's not enough
Going where nobody says hello
They don't talk to anybody they don't know

At this moment it dawned on me that I now live in a house with roommates that are listening to the same song for 20 minutes. But I had good feeling on this. I looked out the window again and noticed these guys weren't really sitting in a circle, as one would think of a group sitting like that. They were sitting in a baby pool, all three of them. A five foot round, six inch high, baby pool. I looked closer still. One of them was snorkeling.

Ok, so baby pools aren’t so cool, particularly in California. And to snorkel in a baby pool, well, that’s stupid. But when you are 25 and looking for any excuse to have fun, you make things cool all on your own. I eventually learned how to do this with that baby pool. And thank god for that. I can’t tell you how “cool” we thought we were when we invited girls over to a “pool” party. I will never forget the expressions on their faces when they rounded the corner to that back yard.

You'll wind up in some factory
That's full-time filth and nowhere left to go
Walk home to an empty house
Sit around all by yourself
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You'll be coming back before too long

Don’t go back to Rockville. Don’t go back to Rockville. And waste another year.

Thank you long runs! 

October 18, 2013

Please Don't Wake Me

We were only 5 minutes into our run last night when I realized something was terribly wrong. Across Bonita Canyon road, one of my favorite trails was being dismembered. Destroyed. Bulldozed. 

I should know better. Because I live in a place once known for sprawling orange groves but now is the epicenter of urban sprawl. Because the good ol' OC, short for what some call the Orange Curtain, once the home of a mere 1.4 million people, is now the home of more than 3 million people. Yes, 3,600 people per square mile. Only 5 other counties in the entire country have more people. Only San Francisco packs more people into one square mile in California.

I shouldn't complain. After all we have Shamrocks, beaches and Disneyland. But these new homes are slowly demolishing my favorite local trails. What is a runner to do? At what point do I go to a hypnotist and ask him not to wake me up? It works in Office Space.

October 13, 2013

The Wisdom of Master Kan

Little Corona Beach - At Dusk
I’ve read quotes by runners about running. But I have not found a quote that captures the counter-intuitive nature of running ultras better than the one below. If you’ve been reading this blog you might have noticed a preference for words and philosophies from the eastern traditions. Well, to me, they just seem to be more relevant. When it comes to making it through 100 miles by being patient, conserving your strength and finishing well, this one really resonates with me:

Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent sea. -Master Kan

October 11, 2013

Blisters, Toenails and things...

Hovercrafts - Post Vermont
There are blisters. And there are BLISTERS. The upper case ones being those that lead to something beyond everyday misery. What I didn’t realize, until recently anyway, was that it is possible to get blisters under your toenails. Can you guess what happens when you get one of those? If you are reading this while eating, I suggest you push the plate away for a minute.

But what exactly is a blister? As I write this I’m discovering it’s not an easy object to put into words. A skin balloon of bodily fluid? Or, maybe, a subcutaneous juice bag? Not easy. Like I said. How would you describe one?

Turns out, the official definition per Wikipedia is...a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by forceful rubbing(friction), burning, freezing, chemical exposure or infection. Wiki goes on to mention that the stuff inside is not really fluid or juice, but rather serum or plasma. Or blood. Or pus.

Ok, time to move on from definitions. I’m happy to report my two big toenails are slowly making a resurgence. Last July, after the Vermont 100, I noticed they were acting more like hovercrafts than a functional body appendage. I don’t want to go into a detail about toenails here, and I’m sure there is some evolutionary purpose for them, but are they all that necessary these days? I’ve been doing quite well without my two big ones for nearly three months now. It’s a lot easier to put on socks without them.

It’s not something to talk about at dinner parties, I know. But I can write about it, right? After all, how many people can say they’ve been able to reach down and pull their toe nails right off their feet? Ok, maybe they were just about to fall off, and I only had to give them a little nudge. That, my friends, is what happens when you get blisters under your toenails. You should have seen the look on the faces of my two daughters!

Keep it real runners.

October 4, 2013

Do You Long for The Fruit?

For some reason, maybe because of my state of mind at the moment, which happens to be  influenced by the fact I’m between running events, I found this conversation between Master Kan and the young student Caine to be enlightening. If you care to read it yourself, do so, and then think about what things you cling to that might be disrupting your preferred path, or even your next step toward a particular goal.

In the interest of being totally transparent, I’m the first admit that I’m clinging to more than I should, and I’m not totally sure what to do about it. It isn’t just material things, it’s also the thoughts inside my head. It’s the daily habits I’ve become accustomed to. It’s all the things that make me think that I’m not really in control.

But what is control? Is it not doing the things you feel like doing? Or is it not feeling like doing the things that you shouldn't be doing? I think the truth is somewhere inside that fine line that separates these places in which we all find ourselves. Am I strong because I overcome my weaknesses? Or am I strong because I lack weaknesses? 

Master Kan:

“The law of the fast seeks to strengthen the spirit, by purifying the body. A man may die from a hunger of the body. But whole nations have fallen from that of the spirit. Discipline. Discipline cures. The fruit of this tree is delicious. But in the discipline of our fast, no one may touch it. Not even I.

Student Caine:

“Then why show it to us master? It is already difficult for us to fast”.

Master Kan:

“To be certain you know and understand the law, it will test you.”

Ok, it doesn’t seem like much. In fact you’re probably wondering why this dialogue is even relevant to a running blog. It’s the three words that resonate with me. Discipline. Discipline cures.

And one last thing to think about. Kan's metaphor doesn't end with food. Now, do you long for the fruit? 

October 1, 2013

A Learned Skill

A few hundred yards after I rounded the corner of Rue de Saint Dominique, a narrow Parisian street, I was flying. Literally flying down the street. So much so that I put my arms out and pretended I was a bird. So there were a few pedestrians walking down the street. It didn’t matter to me.

The first two miles of this 11 mile run were, well, challenging. I had come face to face with a predicament most trail runners are not prepared for when running in a foreign city. The situation is something you just can’t plan for. Which is why by the time I reached the public restroom, or “Toilettes”, it was too late. That is the bad news. The good news is I’ve learned how to deal with this situational challenge. And, as I runner, I’ve long since accepted these moments as a vocational hazard.

I’m not at liberty to get into a lot of detail here, but I can say there is a certain skill involved in managing these moments. I call it disappearing. I’ve disappeared in the middle of city streets in Cleveland, Ohio of all places. It’s a learned skill. Training for it can be frightening at times. When you are in the “moment”, you have to let go of all inhibitions.

One of my favorite things about running in Paris is there are many parks and designated sections with no vehicle traffic that are perfect for running. On the Left Bank is The Jardine de Plant which sits right on the river Seine and is easily accessible via the Paris River walk. This is a 70 acre park that includes a zoo, a botanical school and garden with some 4,500 different types of plants.

Another great place to run is the Le Jardine de Luxumberg, a 55 acre park and garden of the French Senate. In addition to a crushed gravel surface which is perfect for running you will find over 100 statues, monuments and fountains in this park. After my mishap with the toilets I ran from the river walk to the Jardine de Plant and eventually made my way to Le Jardine de Luxumberg. When I arrived at the Lux there was 10k race going on so I jumped in for a few miles and then put a few more miles in circling the garden. Along the route I also ran by the Pantheon where the great philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau are buried and then over to Les Invalides, burial site of Mr. Waterloo himself, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Then I rounded the corner at Rue de St. Dominique and was overcome by all that I had experienced. All I could do was run. Faster and faster until I felt like I was flying.

Au revoir Paris!