^zhurnaly 0.70

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads here — you're in volume 0.70 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. Briefly, it's the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.69 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... thank you!

2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods GPS Trackfile


Just how lost were we? See above for a smoothed and slightly-annotated version of Mary Ewell's GPS record of our path a fortnight ago, when she and I repeatedly went astray on the trails of Fountainhead Regional Park. Faint green connect-the-dots numbers indicate the (dis)orderly route that we followed. Lost in the Woods offers a detailed narrative. It wasn't pretty, but it was quite pleasant!

(background image copyright Google 2008; cf. Jog Log ...) - ^z

- Friday, September 05, 2008 at 05:35:41 (EDT)

Mind-Body Connection

The funniest little/literal/literary images stick in one's mind. Early one recent morning Paulette was telling me about a strange dream she had, possibly triggered by indigestion. "Maybe it's an undigested bit of beef?" I speculated. She picked up the allusion immediately, to a striking philosophical section of Charles Dickens's story A Christmas Carol:

"You don't believe in me,'' observed the Ghost.

"I don't,'' said Scrooge.

"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?''

"I don't know,'' said Scrooge.

"Why do you doubt your senses?''

"Because,'' said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!''

(cf. My Business (1999-05-30), ...)

- Thursday, September 04, 2008 at 05:34:58 (EDT)

2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods

~11 miles @ ~17 min/mi

Mary Ewell spies a slanting white-trunked tree and claims that we've passed it before. "There could be two of them," I speculate—which makes her chuckle. She really laughs when we pass the same tree again! A pile of leaves across the trail annoys me when we wade through it the first time. When we reach it once more I finally have to admit that we're running in circles.

My best decision today? Sprinting a quarter mile back to Mary's car to grab a second water bottle as we start our run. My worst mistake? Leaving my GPS at home. Today's random-walk through the woods is a splendid 3-hour adventure, a preview of the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail Run coming up in three weeks. Mary wants to test her current state-of-training against the rugged terrain of Fountainhead Regional Park. I want to enjoy some trail miles and see the infamous "DO Loop", a segment of the Bull Run Run 50 mile course that I've only visited during the race itself.

As the sun rises I arrive at Mary's home, from which we carpool almost an hour south to the start/finish area of the WHM. Deer stand by the road and threaten to cross, but kindly refrain. We set out on the trail shortly after 7am and, once I've finished my little out-and-back to retrieve a bottle forgotten on the roof of Mary's red Prius, cross the park access road and enter the woods. Immediately we're lost.

The trails in Fountainhead are well-blazed but fork, intersect, and diverge like a labyrinth that would challenge Theseus's best abilities. We stand befuddled at the first intersection, turn right, go half a mile up and around a hill, then decide we're off course. So we retrace our path, eliminate the other choices, and once more follow our first route ... only this time we persevere and find that it was correct after all—maybe. Trees and hills and stream crossings that seem strangely familiar to Mary look bizarrely different to me. At one point we find an intersection of paths and take one, only to discover that it's a mountain-bike trail. Oops! Back we go. I pick up a plastic bag and begin to accumulate detritus: dropped candy wrappers, an empty Gatorade bottle, used energy gel packets, etc.

After half an hour or so we abruptly emerge into known territory. We've found the orange-blazed DO Loop! Or have we? There are two junctions between the blue horse trail and the orange one. We pick, as usual today, incorrectly and trek along for twenty minutes. Suddenly we see the Occoquan, then the old rusted-out Nash Rambler that are our well-remembered landmarks ... but they're on the wrong side of the trail. We're doing the DO Loop backwards! OK, no problem, we'll just continue on.

When Mary and I finish the DO Loop and return to the blue horse trail we see yellow and red streamers hanging from the trees. Someone has been marking the course, thank goodness. But the landmarks for our return trip that we thought we would recognize are not there. We debate which direction to head. Mary thinks we should go one way; I recommend another. We jog for several minutes, turn back, cast about, and try another route, then another.

The song "Charley on the MTA" starts to run through Mary's mind. It's the story of a man trapped on the Boston subway:

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

We've been sharing our water and now are almost out. Yes, we're concerned—but not seriously worried. At worst, we can follow the tire tracks on one of the jeep access roads to a street someplace, then hitch-hike back to Mary's car. Or we can call someone with my cellphone and beg for help. But we're nowhere near that desperate yet. Back we go to the last cluster of yellow streamers—and to our delight we see runners passing through!

"Are you outbound, or going to Fountainhead?" I ask a young lady passing by. "Returning," she says. "Then we're following you!" Mary and I exclaim. Our guide turns out to be April, recently moved to this area from Florida, training for some upcoming non-trail half marathons, rather surprised by the steepness of the hills here. Within half an hour she and the other runners, who are only doing half a dozen miles or so today, have led us back to the Fountainhead parking lot.

We run along the road for the final segment and are delighted to see a picnic table newly set up for runners. It features water, fruit, and assorted munchies. Both Mary and I are getting a bit light-headed, probably from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I stop my watch at 3 hours 3 minutes and drink at least a pint of water. WHM Race Director Mary Campbell is there and I thank her for organizing this training run.

Back at Mary Ewell's car we blot off some of the sweat that has drenched our clothes. Mary chats with a fellow triathlete/adventure racer. Then we pack up and head for home. Quite enough adventure for one day!

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the running logbook)

- Wednesday, September 03, 2008 at 05:01:39 (EDT)

Shake the Pillars

The Onion is a satirical newspaper that on occasion offers brilliant prose. An archetypal example, my favorite Onion article of all time, appeared in the 2004-03-17 [1] issue. It begins:

Rumsfeld Hosts No-Holds-Barred Martial Arts Tournament At Remote Island Fortress

FANG ISLAND—U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has opened his fortified island headquarters to participants in his second no-holds-barred martial arts tournament, the enigmatic mastermind announced Monday.

"Warriors of the world, hear me," said Rumsfeld, seated on the onyx throne overlooking the fighting arena at the island's central volcano, surrounded by a phalanx of exotic but murderous beauties and his seven-foot-tall guard Omarra. "I declare the Eagle Fist all-styles, hand-to-hand combat world championship open once more. For the next 10 days, the world's mightiest fighters will come together here at Fang Island to compete for a prize of $1 million and the post of Associate Secretary Of Full-Contact Defense!"

Rumsfeld then declared the tournament open by symbolically shattering a block of obsidian with his prosthetic dragon's claw—the powerful weapon grafted onto his right wrist after 2003 champion Li severed his hand with manji butterfly swords.

"Who can deny that conflict is a purifying flame which sears away cowardice, hesitation, sentiment—all that which is unworthy in Man?" Rumsfeld said, stroking his albino cheetah. "And my fighting arena is the crucible which concentrates that fire into the refined white heat of invincibility. The victor of my Eagle Fist Tournament shall be, by nature and definition, unsurpassed in the ways of the warrior. Such a fighter is fit to be the instrument of Rumsfeld."

The essay concludes:

"See here," Rumsfeld said, indicating a gold-encrusted Minoan iron maiden. "It is difficult to associate horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, the knights of Europe, the Samurai. They worshipped strength, because strength is the fundament for all other values. I shall find the strongest of all, and together, we shall shake the world to its very foundations."

Somehow I just love that mock-heroic style; I wish I knew who the anonymous author was.

(The final words of the Onion piece remind me of a great line in a family-favorite movie, Big Trouble in Little China, where near the end the protagonist Jack Burton says to his comrade, "We really shook the pillars of heaven, didn't we, Wang?" ... cf. Dialogue Density (2002-05-21), ...)

- Tuesday, September 02, 2008 at 05:12:02 (EDT)

2008-08-21 - Wye Island

10+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

At 5am hunter Orion strides up the sky with dog-star Sirius following him ahead of the dawn. Shadowy silhouettes of black angus cows lurk on the other side of the fence. A gibbous moon floats high in the southwest. Laughter ripples across the water from a small boat of fishermen as I trot across the bridge onto the island. Fog floats low above corn fields. I cruise along the main road to its end, taking GPS waypoints at signposts in the Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area. Side trails bear rustic names: Osage, Schoolhouse Woods, West Corner, Holly Tree. The sun rises. During my return trip a pickup truck with a big dog standing in the front seat stirs up dust as it approaches. Then it's time to shower and get back to the conference/offsite/class.

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the running logbook)

- Monday, September 01, 2008 at 04:15:50 (EDT)

Critical Eyes

Given the applied-psychology deliberate manipulation that goes on nowadays—in advertising, sales, and marketing ... in politics ... in courtrooms ... in how-to guides for attracting and seducing other people—wouldn't it be good for society as a whole if everyone had a chance to learn, throughout their years of elementary education, how to recognize and counteract mind games?

(cf. Liberal Arts (2003-03-13), ...)

- Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 08:38:43 (EDT)

2008-08-17 - CM on the CCT

14+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

Just before 5am Cara Marie Manlandro and I arrive within 10 seconds of one another at Bethesda on a lovely-cool Sunday morning. I give CM my LED flashlight to carry, though we scarcely need it with the full moon still shining bright. We start our watches at our cars and proceed down the Capital Crescent Trail. A predawn runner heading the opposite way greets us with, "I knew there'd be somebody else out here this early!" Four deer standing by trail flee at our approach. After 87 minutes we reach the end of the trail, CM's home turf near her alma mater Georgetown University. To make sure that we've gone a full 7 miles we proceed under the Whitehurst Freeway to 33rd St. NW where we turn around. Our pace for the first half is 12.5 min/mi. The return trip is slightly uphill and we meet increasing numbers of cyclists, in-line skaters, etc. as the day brightens. We're feeling strong and do the return trip at an average 11.3 min/mi with our final mile the fastest of the day. My wet t-shirt causes abrasion in a delicate location and I ask, "Do you think we could do chromatography on blood using only a technical shirt and sweat?" Today is the longest distance CM has ever run, and it goes smoothly—she's optimistic about next month's Parks Half Marathon.

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the logbook)

- Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 05:17:59 (EDT)

Unknown Knowns

A famous Donald Rumsfeld quote goes:

There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know. ...

All well and good. But something's missing: the unknown knowns—things we don't know that we know. Subconscious wisdom and tacit knowledge, ...

(cf. Ideas and Arguments (2000-07-22), Prusak Conversation 2 (2000-10-23), BuckMantras (2001-04-13), ...)

- Friday, August 29, 2008 at 04:51:19 (EDT)

2008-08-16 - Comus Run 2008

5+ miles @ ~13 min/mi

Caren Jew is at our carpool/meeting place early, stretching when I arrive; we're on a tight schedule and have to get some extra miles in before and after the official cross-country race. This Saturday afternoon is pleasantly cool, with a good breeze. We take a fast route to the Bachman family farm near Comus MD, sign in and take off running. Soon I start to sense water splashing on the back of my legs.

"Am I leaking?" I joke. Or is the grass here wet? Are my feet kicking up droplets? I stop to feel the ground and the soles of my shoes, but they're totally dry. What's happening? Mystery soon solved: a runner behind me points out that the top of my water bottle has cracked and its contents are dribbling down from my fanny pack. It's my semi-favorite "Army of One" flag/star bottle, only three years old. Bummer!

After we return from our 22 minute preview of a ~1.5 mile segment of the course we greet Cara Marie, Emaad, and Wayne, then line up for the start of the official MCRRC 5k XC race. CM and Caren and I trot along and finish near one another under 35 minutes. We have a nice chat on the way with Mical, who's several months pregnant and enjoying herself at a comfortable pace. Then my reward: free ice cream! (I refrain from indulging in the free beer.) With a chocolate-chip-cookie ice cream sandwich in one hand the 15 minute post-race run (another ~1+ mile) with Caren goes smoothly. Then it's time to blast home to our families.

(see Jog Log for auto-generated collection of the most recent running reports)

- Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 05:02:49 (EDT)

Ten Strategies for Success

Dennis Perkins [1] spoke recently about leadership lessons from the 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton, a triumph of survival in which not a single man was lost in spite of incredible perils. As a sucker for lists I have to preserve here the 10 "Strategies for Success" that Perkins derived:

  1. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives.
  2. Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behaviors.
  3. Instill optimism and self-confidence, but stay grounded in reality.
  4. Take care of yourself: Maintain your stamina and let go of guilt.
  5. Reinforce the team message constantly: "We are one—we live or die together".
  6. Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.
  7. Master conflict—deal with anger in small doses, engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles.
  8. Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about.
  9. Be willing to take the Big Risk.
  10. Never give up—there's always another move.

Good suggestions, and quite relevant to ultrarunning as well as other parts of life!

(cf. Fifth Disciplinarians (2000-09-10), Fearless Leaders (2003-08-27), Cult of Leadership (2005-01-28), ... )

- Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 04:57:16 (EDT)

2008-08-13 - WOD Mile plus Lake Fairfax Loop

1 mile @ ~8 min/mi & 4.5+ miles @ ~15 min/mi

"I sure wish I had her body!" Mary says quietly, after we pass a bikini-clad photographer's model on the south shore of Lake Fairfax. "Nah," I reply. "She's sleek but she couldn't run this far!"

Half an hour earlier Mary & I meet at the Michael Faraday Dr ice rink parking lot. I arrive early and to pass the time run a foolishly-fast 8:02 mile along the W&OD Trail, mileposts 16.5 to 16 and back. So exhaustion and dehydration loom for me in spite of the cool dry weather and comfortable breezes. Mary kindly gives me a Succeed! electrolyte capsule before we start, and it helps; so does the lanolin she brings to deter chafing in certain delicate places.

Then Mary leads the way: she challenges the hills of Lake Fairfax Trail and wins, although she claims that she's only able to do 5 km or so at speed nowadays. She's just back today from a rock concert in Philadelphia last night, but the long drive with her Andy doesn't seem to have lowered her energy as she leads us on a new-to-me loop. We branch left before the first soccer fields and proceed northwest along a small stream feeding into the lake, through a narrow path among the weeds. Overall we spend 39 min outbound to the park restroom where I refill my water bottles, then 30 minutes back to the cars along our usual path, including a pause for me to take a stick out of my shoe plus a few minutes of getting lost at a camping area while Mary seeks the trail continuation.

Black and orange butterflies orbit us under the trees. Several fast mountain bikers blast past as we labor up the final hills; last in the group is a policeman. I've only had a Clif Bar for lunch today. Perhaps some of my fatigue is partly low blood sugar?

- Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 05:35:31 (EDT)

Fragile Foliage

In Chapter 10 of A Walk Through The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail author Bill Bryson opens my eyes to something I've seen almost every day, but never observed—a tree:

For all its mass, a tree is a remarkably delicate thing. All of its internal life exists within three paper-thin layers of tissue—the phloem, xylem, and cambium—just beneath the bark, which together form a moist sleeve around the dead heartwood. However tall it grows, a tree is just a few pounds of living cells thinly spread between roots and leaves. These three diligent layers of cells perform all the intricate science and engineering needed to keep a tree alive, and the efficiency with which they do it is one of the wonders of life. Without noise or fuss, every tree in a forest lifts massive volumes of water—several hundred gallons in the case of a large tree on a hot day—from its roots to its leaves, where it is returned to the atmosphere. Imagine the din and commotion, the clutter of machinery, that would be needed for a fire department to raise a similar volume of water.

And lifting water is just one of the many jobs that the phloem, xylem, and cambium perform. They also manufacture lignin and cellulose; regulate the storage and production of tanning, sap, gum, oils, and resins; dole out minerals and nutrients; convert starches into sugars for future growth (which is where maple syrup comes into the picture); and goodness knows what else. But because all this is happening in such a thin layer, it also leaves the tree terribly vulnerable to invasive organisms. To combat this, trees have formed elaborate defense mechanisms. The reason a rubber tree seeps latex when cut is that this is its way of saying to insects and other organisms, "Not tasty. Nothing here for you. Go away." Trees can also deter destructive creatures like caterpillars by flooding their leaves with tanning, which makes the leaves less tasty and so inclines the caterpillars to look elsewhere. When infestations are particularly severe, some trees can even communicate the fact. Some species of oak release a chemical that tells other oaks in the vicinity that an attack is under way. In response, the neighboring oaks step up their tannin production the better to withstand the coming onslaught.

By such means, of course, does nature tick along. The problem arises when a tree encounters an attacker for which evolution has left it unprepared, ...

(cf. A Walk in the Woods (2008-08-17), ...)

- Monday, August 25, 2008 at 04:58:56 (EDT)

2008-08-10 - DCRRC XC Picnic

3 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Christina Caravoulias tells me about a DC Road Runners Club cross-country race nearby, at the fancy Langdon School for boys in Bethesda. It's only $5 for nonmembers, and the big draw is that there's a catered picnic afterwards — free food! I arrive early, say hi to John Way and Warren Prunella, and visit with Priscila Prunella who is still coming back from bad injury and infection. Chris appears and we chat about the course, her race yesterday, etc. Thunderstorms loom but drift by to our south giving us only a light sprinkle during the first mile. Priscila trots ahead as Christina and I enjoy the cool breezes and canter along pine-needle-cushioned paths. Late in the race a runner lies on the ground with several others in attendance; we pause to offer water and whatever other aid we can, but are waved off. (We later hear that she is temporarily felled by an asthma attack but soon recovers.) Chris and I finish in 80th and 81st place respectively out of 82 finishers. A six-year-old boy beats us by 6 minutes and an eight-year-old girl comes in 13 minutes in front of us. Picnic food tastes excellent—but do I eat far too much, or is something on my plate tainted, or is there an incompatibility with my digestive system? For whatever reason(s) I arrive home to find that I've gained 3 lbs., but after a bit of intestinal "distress" (don't ask!) am back to normal the next morning.

- Sunday, August 24, 2008 at 04:57:46 (EDT)

Rule 6

The National Interagency Fire Center helps organize wildland firefighting; its members include the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other organizations. In its 1957 list of ten Standard Fire Orders appear a variety of sensible admonitions ("Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.", "Know what your fire is doing at all times.", "Post lookouts when there is possible danger.", etc.) applicable in wilderness fire situations. But buried in sixth place among the specifics is an absolute gem:

6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.

(cf. Knowing Choosing Doing (1999-05-29), Complex Simplicity (2000-02-12), ...)

- Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 04:15:52 (EDT)

2008-08-09 - Lost and Found

12 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi & 1+ @ ~10 min/mi

A deer on the Beltway almost turns into a venison nightmare for CM Manlandro on her way to meet me for our run. En route to Boundary Bridge I spy a deer grazing on the bushes beside Beach Dr. The headlights behind me are CM's car. We gird our loins with bottle/packs, take a Succeed! electrolyte capsule, and set off at 5am, CM wielding my flashlight like a saber.

This morning's dozen miles are a recovery run for CM: she needs to recover her mojo after the stress of her final miles at the Riley's Rumble half marathon a fortnight ago. Beach Drive is pleasant under the stars, and within an hour dawn begins to break. The humidity is low and we make excellent time. Judging by my memory of the faded Point-to-Point markers our outbound pace is about 12 min/mi. A handful of cars take advantage of the road until segments of it close at 7am.

A little lost deer dances along the path ahead of us as we reach the National Zoo. Its mother stands on the opposite side of the high fence; neither is clever enough to find the gate 50m up the road. CM and I touch the stone at the edge of the big tunnel at mile 6.1 and turn back. A couple of miles upstream, trouble: I reach back to my fanny pack and discover that my cellphone is missing! Where could it have fallen out? It's in a used blue newspaper bag to protect it from my sweat. We scan the ground for it as we trot back to our cars.

Our pace for the upstream trip is sub-12 min/mi for the first three miles and an amazing sub-11 min/mi for the final three. I shake CM's hand and award her a red-white-and-blue ribbon, litter that I picked up at the side of the road near mile 11. Looks like CM has found her mojo again! Meanwhile, my cellphone is still Missing In Action. At my request CM rings it up and we listen around the parking lot, but hear nothing.

So into DC I drive, taking neighborhood streets and then Beach Dr below the weekend closure point. No phone seen. I park at the Zoo and jog a quarter mile back to our tunnel turnaround. Still nothing. A pair of attractive young ladies pass me going northward and I follow at their brisk pace. (Hmmmm!) Half a mile later, near the Porter/Klingle Rd bridges, what do I see but my phone lying trailside in its bright blue plastic bag. I leave the girls to proceed onward and run back to my car, arriving in time to avoid paying the $10 zoo parking fee. My lucky day! I remember a fragment of a poem from Frank Herbert's Dune:

We pray to a moon: she is round –
Luck with us will then abound,
What we seek for shall be found
In the land of solid ground.

- Friday, August 22, 2008 at 18:38:58 (EDT)

Deadly Feasts

Richard Rhodes is an award-winning author, but his 1997 book Deadly Feasts: The "Prion" Controversy and the Public's Health is an uneven ride, smooth in its scientific sections but otherwise jarring. Perhaps it's Rhodes's tendency to dramatize the gruesome symptoms of kuru, Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease, scrapie, BSE, and related diseases. Perhaps it's his lasciviously detailed descriptions of cannibalism, autopsies, and slaughterhouses. Perhaps it's the first-person intrusions that lend a grating "I'm right and you'd better know it" tone to the text. Perhaps it's the heavy baggage that a central character in the story, Nobel-prize-winning researcher D. Carleton Gajdusek, picked up when he was arrested and pled guilty in 1996 of child molestation—a matter that Rhodes dismisses in a few sentences buried in the middle of Chapter 13. A parenthetical aside, "However troubling his personal life, his authority as a scientist was never in doubt." doesn't seem quite sufficient to balance earlier reams of praise.

Most likely, though, the key problem with Deadly Feasts is that the book became dated soon after its publication. Like many threatening epidemics—Black Plague, smallpox, polio, AIDS, avian influenza, anthrax, etc.—mad cow disease was terrifying only when it wasn't understood. Once medical science and public health figured out ways to identify, treat, and prevent the spread of the infection, the scare factor largely evaporated. Tragedy persists, but far short of global disaster.

Raymond Chandler's remarks about good mystery novels are relevant. A powerful story doesn't have to have a short shelf-life, if it focuses not on plot and punchline but rather on characterization, atmosphere, and drama. Likewise for a history of scientific detective-work and discovery.

(cf. Know How and Fear Not (1999-11-19), Simple Art of Murder (2005-12-04), Trouble Is My Business (2008-07-20), ...)

- Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 20:36:38 (EDT)

2008-08-02 - Catoctin 50k

~31 miles @ ~19 min/mi

See Catoctin 50k 2008 for gruesome details, including gory photos!

(and for a new experiment in producing a journal, using the <journal> tag of the Oddmuse wiki engine, see Jog Log ...)

- Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 04:56:42 (EDT)

Unwitnessed Hole in One

Friend Caren Jew recently shared a marvelous metaphor from John Morelock's column in the August 2008 Ultrarunning magazine:

I knew I could get from [trail] to [trail] in about 90 minutes of easy running, 80 minutes if I paid attention. A hundred minutes was a day of dreams and distractions. And that one day of 76 minutes was like an unwitnessed hole-in-one.

Caren's message led me to some sage advice offered on one of Morelock's web pages (still found in Google's cache, though his domain planetultramarathon.com seems to be defunct at the moment). A few excerpts:

(cf. Slower Runner's Guide (2002-10-30), Running Advice (2003-10-02), Survival Factors (2005-08-26), ...)

- Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 04:51:45 (EDT)

2008-07-27 - Catoctin Preview

~12 miles @ ~19 min/mi

Foolish? My middle name! What other word describes going out for an afternoon trail run on a warm, humid day after 13+ miles in the morning? But hey, Caren Jew and I have foolishly put our necks into the Catoctin 50k 2008 noose, and if we want to make any of the cutoffs it's time to start taking our medicine.

So following the Riley's Rumble half marathon on Sunday morning with friend Mary Ewell, I give CM Manlandro a lift to her home, then return to Che^z for a quick snack and change into dry clothes. Off I go to Drop Zone X-ray, where Caren meets me and we ride north to Gambrill State Park. The slopes of the Catoctin Trail could daunt the strongest heart. Mine quails when I face them. The Tea Room where the race begins and ends is at the top of a huge hill, but we don't know the route down to the Gambrill Park Rd lot so we leave the car there, where the trail is clearer. Today our goal is to test our speed on the hills under realistic race conditions for the first course segment.

A couple of miles later an eastern box turtle crawls across our path—it's making better time than we are. Down and up and down and up again we go, pushing hard, and finally I spy what looks like a road ahead. It turns out to be a shiny pond. Ten minutes later we make Hamburg Rd, 1:50 into our journey. The cutoff here is 1:45, and that's from the official Tea Room starting line. We had a 10 minute head start.

Our return journey is even slower. I'm carrying two bottles and soon all my water is gone. Caren kindly shares from her camelback, for which I bless her. At every stream crossing I pause to wet my head. We trudge up to Caren's car and arrive in 1:54. At a 7-11 on the way home I buy a 32 oz. Big Gulp. My body soaks it up like a sponge. When I weigh myself at home I'm still down 1 pound. D, D, D, Dehydration!/

But the good news: Caren and I both survive the journey, we're within a couple of minutes/mile of the cutoffs, and our program of acclimation to heat and hills is working. The planets just haven't come into alignment yet. Maybe Race Day Magic will save us?

- Monday, August 18, 2008 at 05:21:35 (EDT)

A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods isn't quite up to the high comic-travelogue standard set by Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat—but it often comes close. Bryson and his buddy Katz begin their trek along the Appalachian Trail at its southern origin in Georgia:

It was hell. First days on hiking trips always are. I was hopelessly out of shape—hopelessly. The pack weighed way too much. Way too much. I had never encountered anything so hard, for which I was so ill prepared. Every step was a struggle.

The hardest part was coming to terms with the constant dispiriting discovery that there is always more hill. The thing about being on a hill, as opposed to standing back from it, is that you can almost never see exactly what's to come. Between the curtain of trees at every side, the ever-receding contour of rising slope before you, and your own plodding weariness, you gradually lose track of how far you have come. Each time you haul yourself up to what you think must surely be the crest, you find that there is in fact more hill beyond, sloped at an angle that kept it from view before, and that beyond that slope there is another, and beyond that another and another, and beyond each of those more still, until it seems impossible that any hill could run on this long. Eventually you reach a height where you can see the tops of the topmost trees, with nothing but clear sky beyond, and your faltering spirit stirs—nearly there now!—but this is a pitiless deception. The elusive summit continually retreats by whatever distance you press forward, so that each time the canopy parts enough to give you a view you are dismayed to see that the topmost trees are as remote, as unattainable, as before. Still you stagger on. What else can you do?

Humorous anecdotes are interwoven with philosophical asides, as at the beginning of Chapter 6:

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.

Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It's quite wonderful, really.

Bryson's writing is delightful. Besides laughs, he offers thoughtful reflections on ecology and society, economics and geology. He meditates on evolution and extinction. His math isn't always the best though. In Chapter 10 a tree ten feet in diameter is a bit more than twenty feet around (so π ≈ 2?), and in Chapter 11 he covers 1.4 miles in only a 20 minute walk (far too fast to be credible). But that's quibbling.

Among Bryson's best meditations is one near the end, after his odyssey is complete:

I still quite often go for walks on the trail near my home, especially if I am stuck on something I am working on. Most of the times I am sunk in thought, but at some point on each walk there comes a moment when I look up and notice, with a kind of first-time astonishment, the amazing complex delicacy of the woods, the casual ease with which elemental things come together to form a composition that is—whatever the season, wherever I put my besotted gaze—perfect. Not just very fine or splendid, but perfect, unimprovable. You don't have to walk miles up mountains to achieve this, don't have to plod through blizzards, slip sputtering in mud, wade chest-deep through water, hike day after day to the edge of your limits—but believe me, it helps.

Perfect? No, but close enough ...

(many tnx to friend Caren for lending me her copy of this book!)

- Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 04:03:18 (EDT)

2008-07-27 - Riley's Rumble

13.1 miles @ ~13 min/mi

Before dawn CM Manlandro and I rendezvous at the Davis Library. I drive us via back roads to Riley's Lock on the Potomac River. Ken Swab and Mary Ewell meet us there on a moderately warm morning. Standing near friends in line for the portajohn I chat with a young man who tells me that he's just back from the Vermont 100, where he paced the winner for the final 30 miles and then went back to accompany an older gentleman over the same course segment. "Wait a minute," I say, "was that Jim Cavanaugh? Are you the Bryon-with-a-'y' I heard about?" Small world—he was indeed Jim's pacer! Bryon Powell tells me that he was always certain Jim would finish, and that his main contribution was to enforce aid-station discipline and keep Jim from socializing too much with the volunteers.

As the race begins Mary and I trot at a moderate pace and walk the first big hills while CM and Ken blast out of sight. We chat about health and diet, friends and training. Cheerful volunteers offer us water and electrolyte drinks as we attempt to stay hydrated. Don and Kenna Libes distribute ice pops at mile 5+; we see them again at mile 7+ on the return trip. Mary begins to suffer from the heat and humidity. Our 12 min/mi pace slows.

Lucky day: I spy a dime on the ground and pick it up. A "2" mini-pool ball by the roadside catches my eye and I snag it too, but set it down and forget to retrieve it at a later aid station, in my joy at discovering chocolate-peanut M&Ms there. With my sweaty palm stained in splotches of artificial color from the candies I ask Mary, "Are you starting to hallucinate? Do you see anything strange when you look at my hand?"

A young man afflicted by calf cramps at mile 10 stops to massage his legs. Mary and I ask him if we can help; I give him a Succeed! e-cap. Small world—he's the brother of my daughter's violin student! Mary and I proceed onward, our pace decelerating. The Libes van passes by and Kenna offers us ice from her volunteer's cap. We gratefully partake.

As the finish line looms Mary starts to feel significantly better and we run most of the last mile, to come in together at 2:53. Emergency medical technicians are posted nearby with their ambulance, and at my request Mary gets a quick check of blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. They're all fine; perhaps the sudden fatigue she experiences today is due to dehydration or other electrolyte imbalance. CM finishes in 2:25, a huge PR for her, but the stress of running most of the race with Ken (who makes it in 2:20) is significant. I give her a ride home where her afternoon recovery strategy is a good one: pasta, nap, repeat!

- Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 08:18:29 (EDT)

Inertialess Drive

"Mach's Principle" is the rather vague philosophical-physical notion that inertia — how hard it is to push a mass around — is related to other masses in the universe. It's named for philosopher-physicist Ernst Mach, though others came up with versions of it earlier. A classical example: take a bucket of water, set it on a turntable, and spin it. The water sloshes outward. But if there were no other objects in the universe, how could the bucket "know" it was spinning? Would the surface of the water then stay flat? (Easier asked than answered!)

Mach's principle appealed greatly to Albert Einstein, though people argue how significant (or real) the principle is. Never mind; take Mach seriously for a moment. The big trick of Einstein's theory of gravity is that it turns gravity into geometry. "Space tells matter how to move; matter tells space how to curve," in John Archibald Wheeler's mantra. Distances are affected by mass. A ray of light's path bends when it goes near the Sun. The light is still trying to move in a straight line but "straight" is different in curved space.

Which brings me to my tiny-silly idea, hatched during a walk to the subway a few days ago. Science-fiction readers of a certain age (e.g., mine) will remember E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman stories written in the 1930s and '40s. A central feature of those tales was the "Inertialess Drive", a technological plot-device that let the characters travel across and among galaxies quickly enough to fight aliens and save the universe.

So put the three together: Mach + Einstein + Smith. One can clearly work out mass distributions that stretch space locally. Would such a configuration of bodies — you'd probably need to use black holes — cause local inertial properties to change? Could "stuff" inside the magic zone "weigh less" because it's now effectively farther from all the other matter in the cosmos? It's not even a half-baked notion but maybe, with a lot of hard work and calculation, somebody more expert in General Relativity than I could compute examples to show the effect, if it exists. Maybe somebody already has.

(cf. Neighborhood Effects (1999-11-18), No Concepts at All (2001-02-22), LensManic (2001-07-16), Skylark Duquesne (2003-11-01), ...)

- Friday, August 15, 2008 at 05:55:21 (EDT)

2008-07-26 - Dark Alibi

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

The forest path is dim at 5:40am, since rosy-fingered Dawn has only just begun to stretch out her hands to tickle the last-quarter moon. Construction barriers, "CAUTION!" tape, and parked earthmoving equipment are easy to get around. "Honestly, Officer, it was too gloomy for me to read the signs!" I say to myself as I pick my way past the barriers and proceed downhill to Rock Creek Trail, moonshadow trotting in front of me. The Army is fixing the Ireland Dr "Carriage Trail" bridges, which have long been deteriorating as part of Walter Reed Annex, so I slow my pace slightly and avoid falling. I pause to tap my shoe on the newly-poured concrete at one span, to make sure it's solid. On the Rock Creek Trestle of the CCT I find 63¢: two quarters, a dime, and three pennies. The rest of the way home I try to remember something about finite-state automata, which reminds me of a Turkish obscenity that a Caltech student-friend taught me a few decades ago.

(new experiment: instead of "batch mode" jog log entries, which nobody reads and which are hard to search, I'll try to post them individually with the date at the start of the title ...)

- Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 19:52:12 (EDT)

Ninjas vs. Pirates

Sometimes less really is more: son Robin points out that, paradoxically, the more ninjas there are in a fight the weaker they become. A castle full of ninjas always falls to a single ninja attacker. Pirates, on the other hand, become far stronger as their numbers increase.

(cf. Delicate Power (1999-12-12), Pirates vs. Ninjas (2004-07-28), ...)

- Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 22:23:17 (EDT)

Franklin on Dogmatism

In his Autobiography Benjamin Franklin offers practical, psychological, and social reasons for not sounding too certain when expressing one's opinions:

My list of virtues continued at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation, that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances, I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word.

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this charge in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly.

The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with other to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.

(cf. Certainty and Doubt (1999-04-27), Deliberate Opinion (2001-10-14), Discussion and Dialogue (2006-01-07), Franklin on Pride (2008-06-03), ...) - ^z

- Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 05:57:27 (EDT)

Catoctin 50k 2008

Caren Jew and Mark Zimmermann at the midpoint of the 2008 Catoctin 50kLeft: Caren Jew and Mark Zimmermann mug for the camera at the midway aid station. Note the fashionable dirt-repellant gaiters on our shoes, with patterns selected by Caren's daughters, Ashley and Jenna. ^z's hands are full with potato chips and watermelon. He's cradling two water bottles and has another one strapped to his waist. (photo by Anstr Davidson and Mark McKennett)

Below: Electrocardiogram of ^z at ... uh, no, that's the approximate elevation profile of the Catoctin 50k race course — vertical scale 500-1800 feet, horizontal scale 0-35 miles. (GPS data by Jesse Leitner)

Catoctin 50k elevation profile

(click for larger images)


Good news: Caren and I cross the finish line of the Catoctin 50k half an hour after the ultimate cutoff, so although we complete the course, officially we Did Not Finish. My streak of never-a-DNF is broken at last — what a relief! As ultrarunning legend Tom Green told me at Bull Run Run 2008, if you never DNF then you're not trying hard enough.

Or maybe it's like the straight-A student in school: after a while, the pressure to perform becomes counterproductive. Once you get that first "B", you can relax. Whew!

The Trail You Hate to (Admit that You) Love

The Catoctin Trail is arguably one of the toughest in Maryland. It features hills far too long to climb anaerobically and their flip-side, quad-crunching descents. Rock gardens and root gnarls are poised to trip the unwary. Stream crossings cool the toes, if you don't slip and take a sudden plunge. And then there are the embarrassingly-runnable stretches that taunt you after you're too exhausted to enjoy them.

It sounds like a trail you'd love to hate, but in fact it's just the opposite. The varied terrain underfoot is a constant delight, as are the flora, the fauna, the dramatic overlooks, and the ponds that magically appear pathside every few miles. Caren ventures here frequently, and together we've done a fistful of long training runs (cf. 21 Oct 2006, 24 Dec 2006, 18 May 2008, 22 July 2008, and 27 July 2008).

We Are Not Worthy

But the Catoctin 50k Race is another matter entirely. It's a rough-and-tumble rumble on the Cat Trail, held in the furnace of late summer starting in Gambrill State Park and proceeding over the ridges of the Frederick Municipal Watershed to descend to a midpoint turnaround in Cunningham Falls State Park. The time limits are daunting to pedestrian runners like us. In all our excursions we're 2-4 minutes/mile too slow to make the cutoffs.

Caren has been training hard, built up her mileage, and thus far avoided serious injury. I'm likewise improving (albeit slowly), increasing my temperature tolerance, and attempting to prepare myself to attack long hills. But still, we both anticipate missing an early cutoff. "Maybe we've earned the first one or two," I suggest, "but everything after that will be a gift!"

I estimate our chances of finishing the race as perhaps 20%. The only factor that can help us significantly is unseasonably cold weather. I suggest begging the race director for permission to start an hour early. Caren categorically rejects the notion.

"Obviously, the main thing is to just enjoy being out there," she reassures me in an email three days before the big event. "Great trail, great company, happy to be alive."

Obviously, Caren's right!

Musical Score

Every race needs a theme song. For unknown reasons during the past few weeks "Roam" by the B-52s has been on heavy rotation inside my head:

I hear a wind
Whistling air
Whispering in my ear

Boy mercury shooting through every degree
Oh girl dancing down those dirty and dusty trails
Take it hip to hip rocking through the wilderness
Around the world, the trip begins with a kiss

Roam if you want to, roam around the world
Roam if you want to, without wings, without wheels ...

That's trail-running-related enough for me! And since literary necessity sometimes trumps chance, early Saturday morning Caren and I are careful to kiss our respective sleeping spouses before setting off to face Catoctin. Shameless setup? You bet! "Around the world, the trip begins with a kiss."

But as it turns out, my tricks are unnecessary: by chance as we approach the starting line Caren's car radio picks up the perfectly apropos "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi:

She says: We've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not.
We've got each other and that's a lot for love —
We'll give it a shot!

Oh, we're half way there
Whoa, living on a prayer

Take my hand and we'll make it, I swear ...

Absolutely! It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. Our chances to squeeze past the cutoffs? Next to nil; we're just living on a prayer. So let's give it a shot, eh?

Begin at the Beginning

And then, more undeserved luck: race day dawns with showers while a cold front approaches the region. At 0619 on the morning of 2 August Caren and I arrive near-simultaneously at our traditional I-270 parking lot rendezvous. My old car's transmission is starting to make ominous noise so Ms. C-C drives the ~40 miles north past Frederick.

At the Tea Room starting area we marvel at the splendid view of the valley below, pick up our race numbers and t-shirts, and greet friends. Jim Cavanaugh is there, still glowing happy from his first 100 miler a fortnight ago. Mark McKennett and Angelo Witten say "Hi!" — they ran 25 kilometers from the turnaround to here starting at 2:45am this morning.

Shortly before 8am a cool drizzle begins. Runners joke with one another about putting on more layers of clothing. Race Director Kevin Sayers gives the pre-event briefing from under an umbrella. His instructions are simple:

Kevin mentions that his wife Mary passed away a few months ago from metastasized breast cancer. Today's race is dedicated to her; there's a moment of silence. Then Caren and I move to the back of the assembled 131 starters, and ...

We're Off!

After a quick quarter-mile loop around the parking lot the runners head down a black-blazed trail below the Tea Room's south side. The erosion barrier logs are wet and my foot slips on one of them; a runner behind me compliments me on my "root surfing" skill when I narrowly avoid falling. We pass a playground and zig-zag steeply downward for about a dozen minutes until we cross Gambrill Park Rd at the Catoctin Trailhead parking lot, where Caren and I usually begin our training runs.

Now the speedier folk are out of sight and we can settle in to the work of the day: relentless forward progress. We push our pace on the descents, increasing the risk of a fall in exchange for extra speed that we know we'll need. Fortunately drainage on the trail is good and the rocks here aren't too slippery.

Soon we get to know a few other runners in our vicinity. Marilyn Ludwick of Libertytown sets a near-perfect pace for us, aggressive on the hills but not impossible to keep up with. She's finished the Cat 50k before, and we chat about how it was in hot conditions. Marilyn has a 7-year streak going in the JFK 50 miler, which she runs with her daughter. And then we see Kari Anderson, who met Caren at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and other MCRRC races.

We play leap-frog with Phil Hesser, veteran ultrarunner. Phil tells us anecdotes about the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler, which he began eight years and successfully finished four times. It's an incredible challenge, and Phil encourages Caren and me to consider it, perhaps as pacers for other runners along segments of the course. (In my dreams!)

Make My Day

Onward, downward, and then upward we trek. The sun hides behind morning clouds so temperatures stay merely warm, not crushingly hot. Suddenly we see a lake, one that Caren and I remember from our latest training run. It's only about 10 minutes from the Hamburg Rd aid station. Wow! Energized, I trot ahead until I see the road, then wait and join Caren to check in. "We are the champions, my friend!" I sing tunelessly.

Amazingly, we arrive at Mile 6 several minutes ahead of the time limit. In a two-minute whirlwind of activity cheerful volunteers refill our water bottles, make sure we've grabbed chips and watermelon and whatever else we want, then send us onward with their best wishes. I click my stopwatch as we exit, still 3 minutes to the good. Zounds!

The next aid station at Delauter Rd is only 3 miles ahead, with slightly less stressful terrain along the way. Caren and I are cruising now, but we're still pleasantly surprised to get there more than half a dozen minutes ahead of the cutoff. Another rapid-fire refueling, and we're outta there.

We climb to the scenic overlook marked "View" on Caren's PATC map of the Cat Trail. We're walking more, now that we've been blessed with actually surviving the first two time hacks. I remind Caren that her training schedule only shows her doing 24 miles today. Should we turn around at the crest here, mile ~12, and head back? "Let's see how we feel," is her answer.

Leaders begin to appear on their return trip, a few miles ahead of us: a few good men, then First Lady Amy Sproston. We cheer en passant and I offer anything they might need from my pouch — gel? salt? candy? — but all are happily self-sufficient as they zip by. Caren's friend Mike Acuña announces he's "having a blast!" as he finishes the mega-climb up; Joe Kilcoyne likewise looks fresh. We're about to descend the thousand feet to the turnaround at mile 15.5 now (see elevation chart above) and I ask Caren again whether we shouldn't turn around early and make it a trail marathon instead of a 50k. "Let's see how we feel," she replies.

Pink Flamingos and Wet Feet

So down down down (did I say down?) we go, past the denuded blackberry bush that we feasted on a fortnight ago. Approaching the midway aid station we see pink flamingo lawn decorations beside the path down to the Manor area, along with blue ribbon race course markers. My feet get soaked for the first time today as I wade the stream rather than risk slipping on the wobbly stepping-stones.

Comrades Lorrin Harvey, Mark McKennett, Anstr Davidson, and others are lounging here, taking photos and offering help to all. Cruel 100-mile man Jim Cavanaugh sternly rejects my request for a ride back to the start/finish Tea Room. Other volunteers check our status and make sure we've got everything we need. At my request Lorrin takes a picture of my ugly leg. During the past few days I've applied enough hydorcortisone ointment to fail a steroid test at ten paces.

^z poison ivy legAt the halfway point aid station I show off poison ivy blisters to all who will look; Caren describes the rash as "Angry!" I was exposed a week earlier, when pulling up weeds in my own front yard. Fortunately the oozing sores don't trouble me significantly today.

(photo by Lorrin Harvey)

Caren and I are now in a state of total amazement: we've reached the third cutoff with five minutes to spare! It truly is Our Day, and we're simply, deeply, profoundly grateful. With handfuls of munchies and replenished bottles we commence the long long long (did I say long?) climb back out of the valley.

Thunderstorms Three

Our return trip is a slow but happy one. We give ourselves permission to walk as often as we feel like, especially on rocky hills (and every hill is rocky!). As we approach each aid station I remind Caren that she's already "Overfulfilled The Plan", Stakhanovite-fashion, and has gone far beyond her pace and distance goals. I point out that I'm perfectly happy to hitch a ride back to her car with one of the volunteers. "Let's see how we feel," is still her reply.

At Delauter Rd my watch says we've missed the official cutoff by four minutes. I point this out to the timekeeper with the clipboard, but he just smiles and says, "Keep going!" We fuel up, take strawberry popsicles that have been chilled on dry ice, and carry them cautiously until they're warm enough not to freeze our tongues. The delightful cool weather continues. Clouds begin to thicken.

What do we talk about on the trail? At one point Caren and I debate Sponge Bob versus Hello Kitty: which one is gentler? Like the pirates vs. ninjas controversy, there are good points on both sides. Caren's fingers are getting swollen and I examine them, which leads me into a lecture on J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and what happened to one of Frodo's fingers at a climactic moment. We reminisce about playing contract bridge, Scrabble, and other board/card games. We compare notes on classic-rock music and recent movies. I pontificate on kinetic energy vs. potential energy. And we walk.

Rick and Brian, the designated Cat50k Sweepers catch up with us but refuse to push us to go any faster. We're looking healthy and making steady progress, so they're happy to be out walking the trail today, making sure that nobody gets left behind in the wilderness. We chat with them, then accelerate a bit to leave them behind for a few miles.

Near mile 24 Comrades Phil Hesser and Kari Anderson appear suddenly from a side path. What happened? They took a wrong turn — even though Phil is the author of a humorous essay titled "What the Blue Blazes? A Guide for Navigating the Catoctin 50k Trail Run". He and Kari have lost half an hour or more. Now they risk missing the cutoffs. We wish them well as they rush ahead.

Rumbles of thunder interrupt our musings as a line of storms approach. The rain begins as a barely perceptible patter on the leafy canopy above, then a few drops of wetness, and then: "Is that hail?" we ask one another? It is, baby-pea-sized pellets that rattle down on us. This is fun! It's also cool and pleasant as our dried sweat washes away.

At Hamburg Rd we're more than 10 minutes behind the penultimate cutoff and a veritable deluge has begun. A big white rental truck pulls up as we approach. Volunteers stop stowing leftovers and instead huddle under awnings to stay dry. As lightning flashes nearby and thunder booms I take a square of Reynolds Wrap and fashion myself an aluminum foil helmet; alas, no one has a camera handy, so it goes unrecorded except in memory.

Six miles to go: standing in the aid station Caren and I commence a mini-argument re riding back in the truck. It's our last chance to withdraw from the race. I insist that I'm ready to punt. Caren obstinately refuses to believe me and insists that we keep on keeping on. I salute her. We laugh together, grab some finger foods, and walk on down the trail.

Finish, Finishing, Finished

Jolly Sweepers Rick and Brian catch up with Caren and me again, and we join another Rick (from Baltimore) who's suffering and walking the final miles. I pick up trash as we go along, minor detritus such as gel pack tabs, dropped candy wrappers, etc. Brian carries a bright orange t-shirt that someone discarded trailside. We discuss theories of why fingers sometimes swell up: too much salt, or too little? It could be either, according to some medical sources.

Caren and I jog ahead of our escorts once more. Another line of thunderstorms passes by. Bright sunlight shines as rain falls, but there are too many nearby trees for us to see a rainbow. In compensation, I offer a brief lecture on reflection, refraction, and other optical phenomena. Infinitely patient Caren smiles. I force her to take our last energy gel as we enter the final hour of the race. We see a huge tree fallen beside the path which wasn't there on our outbound journey. It must have been a victim of the storm.

Caren points out my tendency, when tired, to say a staccato "yeah-yeah" instead of simply "yes". I start paying attention and discover that indeed I say that, and the related phrase "good-good", about once every mile without even realizing it. It's good-good to learn something about myself!

We catch up with another Rick, a runner from Baltimore who's walking the final miles, and chat with him as we climb out of the last big valley. The sweepers rejoin us and we discover that they've served as sweepers for the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon/50k which both Caren and I have repeatedly enjoyed running. At 5:15pm we hear a loud air-horn blast. "That's the final cutoff," one says. "At least we're close enough to hear it!"

Based on his experience in many ultramarathons Brian encourages us, "When you feel you've got absolutely nothing left in the tank, you can still go 30 miles!" I ask if that means that, for a 50k like today's, once you get past the first mile are you guaranteed to finish? Nobody answers. We run (loosely speaking) down the slight descent to the Gambrill Park Rd parking lot, and then trudge up the final black-blazed trail segment to the Tea House. Tall spikey mullen plants grow below the balcony (but I only learn their name the following day when I ask a gardener-friend). Caren calls "DFL!" and when I ask she explains that the abbreviation means she claims the right to be "Dead F*ing Last!" When we reach the finish line just before 5:45pm, however, we cross together; Rick of Baltimore is just behind us. The cheerful sweepers have turned aside to remove blue course-guide ribbons.

Homeward Bound

Everything's shutting down now; the post-race party is disbanded and the white box truck is almost all loaded. There's one veggie burger left in the Tea Room, and I grab it. Caren gets a hot dog and a volunteer in the truck opens the cooler and gives us cans of Dr. Pepper. Raindrops start to fall and more thunder growls. We limp back to Caren's car as buckets of water descend upon us. The drive in the deluge down the narrow park road is more than a little scary, but not nearly as bad as the ice-covered Massanutten Mountain training run of January this year.

Once we reach the main highway the storm passes and our ride home is uneventful. On the way Caren and I muse together, as we sometimes do, about nature, religion, and the meaning of life. I'm reminded of our Easter morning conversation on the trail many months ago. Today has been a glorious, delightful day. We know we're both going to ache tomorrow.

We finish the course but not the race. We do the distance, and we overdo the time. And it's All Good!

Data Dump

The 2008 Catoctin 50k overall victor, Angus Repper, comes in a hair under 5 hours. (Caren and I achieve the double victory of reaching the halfway point before the first finisher, and of reaching the finish line within twice the time of the winner.) Amy Sproston is First Lady at 5:54. Friend Mike Acuña is strong at 6:52 and Joe Kilcoyne likewise in 7:10. Marilyn Ludwick, our super-nice "pacer" for the first segment of the course, arrives 32 seconds before the 9:15 cutoff — hooray for her! Alas, neither Phil Hesser nor Kari Anderson appear on the list; presumably they can't make up for going off-course and doing an extra mile or two before we meet them returning to the trail.

Catoctin 50k 2008 —Timing Information for Caren Jew & Mark Zimmermann

split time cutoff dist.pace location
1:421:421:45617Hamburg Rd
0:462:282:35915Delauter Rd
0:373:05---Fishing Creek Rd
0:333:37---Gambrill Park Rd
0:324:104:1515.516Cunningham Falls State Park "Manor area"
0:545:04---Gambrill Park Rd
0:395:43---Fishing Creek Rd
0:416:246:202221Delauter Rd
1:037:277:152521Hamburg Rd
2:189:459:153123Tea Room finish line

In the table distances are given in miles and paces in minutes/mile.

Our overall average pace is ~19 min/mi: outbound ~16 min/mi, inbound ~22 min/mi. Caren and I take ~13 minutes to reach Gambrill Park Rd from the starting line, following the pack in its initial loop around the parking lot and then the steep descent down the black-blazed trail. The final return climb demands ~13 minutes to the finish line; it does not require a parking-lot circumnavigation. We spend 2-3 minutes at each aid station.

- Sunday, August 10, 2008 at 07:26:58 (EDT)

Mountain Meadows

In the 9 July 1869 entry of his journal (My First Summer in the Sierra) John Muir rhapsodizes about mountain meadows and the natural profligacy of Nature, and about the sad tendency of man (or man's domesticated animals) to despoil them:

We passed a number of charming garden-like meadows lying on top of the divide or hanging like ribbons down its sides, imbedded in the glorious forest. Some are taken up chiefly with the tall white-flowered Veratrum Californicum, with boat-shaped leaves about a foot long, eight or ten inches wide, and veined like those of cypripedium, — a robust, hearty, liliaceous plant, fond of water and determined to be seen. Columbine and larkspur grow on the dryer edges of the meadows, with a tall handsome lupine standing waist-deep in long grasses and sedges. Castilleias, too, of several species make a bright show with beds of violets at their feet. But the glory of these forest meadows is a lily (L. parvum). The tallest are from seven to eight feet high with magnificent racemes of ten to twenty or more small orange-colored flowers; they stand out free in open ground, with just enough grass and other companion plants about them to fringe their feet, and show them off to best advantage. This is a grand addition to my lily acquaintances, — a true mountaineer, reaching prime vigor and beauty at a height of seven thousand feet or thereabouts. It varies, I find, very much in size even in the same meadow, not only with the soil, but with age. I saw a specimen that had only one flower, and another within a stone's throw had twenty-five. And to think that the sheep should be allowed in these lily meadows! after how many centuries of Nature's care planting and watering them, tucking the bulbs in snugly below winter frost, shading the tender shoots with clouds drawn above them like curtains, pouring refreshing rain, making them perfect in beauty, and keeping them safe by a thousand miracles; yet, strange to say, allowing the trampling of devastating sheep. One might reasonably look for a wall of fire to fence such gardens. So extravagant is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees, but as far as I have seen, man alone, and the animals he tames, destroy these gardens. Awkward, lumbering bears, the Don tells me, love to wallow in them in hot weather, and deer with their sharp feet cross them again and again, sauntering and feeding, yet never a lily have I seen spoiled by them. Rather, like gardeners, they seem to cultivate them, pressing and dibbling as required. Anyhow not a leaf or petal seems misplaced.

(cf. Mount Dana and Mono Lake (2004-09-03), Eastern Yosemite Mountains (2006-06-02), ...)

- Friday, August 08, 2008 at 05:53:40 (EDT)

Giant of Marathon

Recently while seeking a movie about marathon running I discovered The Giant of Marathon, a swords-and-sandals spectacle set in ancient Greece and starring Steve Reeves (1926-2000). Bodybuilder Reeves's acting talents are equal to the script and directing of this entertaining 1959 made-in-Italy film. He stars as Phillippides (not "Phidippides" — was the name garbled, or deliberately altered for modern audiences?) and begins by winning essentially all the events in the Olympic games. Reeves then proceeds to unite Athens and Sparta, leads them against the invading Persian hordes, and almost single-handedly saves the day during the land battle at Marathon. Next he rides back to Athens to head off an invasion by sea. On the way he loses his horse during a river crossing and therefore must — you guessed it! — run the rest of the way. The subsequent underwater battle scenes are lovely. So is leading lady Mylène Demongeot.

(cf. Running on the Sun (2005-11-04), Without Limits (2005-02-12), Strawberry Fields (2006-11-07), The Runner (2007-02-07), ...)

- Wednesday, August 06, 2008 at 20:52:16 (EDT)

Arkhipelag Gulag

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. Much has been (and more will be) written about his life's struggle against the Soviet oppression of Russia. As an author Solzhenitsyn perhaps contributed something toward the crumbling of that oppression; then again, perhaps as Tolstoy argued, those who consciously try to affect the world have less effect than they and others imagine. Perhaps it doesn't matter.

My strongest memory of Solzhenitsyn is a linguistic/literary/metaphorical one. I'm sitting on a bus in 1980 at the Pentagon, that famous American fortress of military bureaucracy, reading the translator's note at the front of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. The book's title in Russian is Архипелаг ГУЛАГ, pronounced something like "ARK-ee-PEL-ag GOOL-ag". Those simple words have a rhythm and rhyme impossible to convey in any other language. "GULag" is the Russian acronym for the USSR's "Corrective Labor Camp" administration. An archipelago is a chain of islands. Together, a perfect metaphor: the Gulag's forced-labor camps stretched like a dotted line across the vast Russian wilderness.

I'm profoundly moved ... wish I could learn a little Russian ... wish I could write a little better. I still wish for both.

(cf. Great Writers (2003-01-02), Single Digit Run (2004-01-05), ... )

- Monday, August 04, 2008 at 06:10:12 (EDT)

Powers of Observation

They just don't print 'em as big as they used to! Dates on dimes are now unreadable, as are many footnotes. Newspapers are suddenly a challenge in poor light. And the fine print on a medicine bottle? Forget it! The ingredient list on a can of food? Fetch my magnifying glass, please. My new Web friend is the browser shortcut to make fonts larger.

Yet there's a paradox: somehow I've started to see more, and so much more clearly. Sunrises smile at me as they glint off the undersides of dappled clouds. Turtles and chipmunks, harts and hounds, dance for me in the woods. Before, I never noticed toenails and earrings, bald spots and chiseled calves. Now I cherish a glimpse of them. Faded trail blazes on weathered trees jump out at me. "Paint-by-numbers morning skies" are real, not phony-looking.

At this rate of improvement, in a few years when my eyes go completely I'll be able to see everything!

(cf. Seeing and Forgetting (1999-07-15), Opthalmalogic Inheritance (2001-11-23), ...)

- Saturday, August 02, 2008 at 04:37:01 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2010 by Mark Zimmermann.)