^zhurnaly 0.75

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.75 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; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.74 ... 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 ... RSS

2009-04-18 - Bull Run Run

50.4 miles @ ~13.9 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Bull_Run_Run/BRR2009_Kate_Z_finishing.jpgBefore this year's Bull Run Run 50 miler I carefully prepare a cornucopia of excuses. I've been suffering from a bad head cold for the past week. On Thursday I banged my knee on a bench in the bedroom. My broken arm last October interrupted my training. Fortunately, today no excuses are needed. Thanks to my friend Kate Abbott's smart, aggressive pacing we finish in 11:39:50, an astounding 45 minutes faster than my previous BRR personal best set in 2007. In this photo we're climbing the final hill and sprinting toward the finish line as Kate's family cheers for her.

(photo by Victor Perez)

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote ...

A lizard scampers across the trail, skittering on the brown leaves. Bluebells bloom alongside the path. Geese honk as they glide upstream. Butterflies flit past. For the second year in a row the BRR is held on an unseasonably warm spring day, with temperatures rising into the upper 70's. This time, mercifully, the humidity remains low.

"The Bull Run Run is the reason I was put on this planet," I explain to Kate. She and I began our series of long training runs last year, as she prepared for her first ultras. Kate was with me on the Appalachian Trail when I fell and fractured my humerus. We ran together on the Bull Run Trail itself to preview the course, 28+ miles one day, 32+ another. After so many hours one might think we would know each other.

But even so, Ms. Kate never ceases to surprise: today in the woods she delights me by reciting the opening lines of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in lilting Middle English. She's retaliating for my attempted performance of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I concede defeat, temporarily. Later I come back with a rendering of Shelley's "Ozymandias". I keep Keats's "Upon First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" in reserve.


How not to begin a race: five minutes before the start, standing in the crowd awaiting the prebrief, I realize that I have no water in my bottles! I rush up the hill, fill them at the drinking fountain, and make it back just in time. Whew!

This year I wear a bright orange singlet that says "12:00+" on the back. It's from the MCRRC Parks Half Marathon, where I led a 12+ minutes per mile pace group. Since Kate and I have the goal of coming in at ~12 hours I figure it applies today with total hours in place of min/mi. Perhaps several other runners do too? As we proceed upstream in the first segment of the race, I look back and see a conga line following me, twenty runners long. A few miles later the procession dissipates.

After the first aid station, mile 7.2, Kate slips and falls in the mud. Fortunately she escapes injury and only carries some splatters on calves and elbows to commemorate her fall. I'm luckier than usual and manage not to turn any of my stumbles into tumbles, though in the later part of the race I do become less stable. I handle the heat better than in past years by drinking ~20 oz/hr of Gatorade or the equivalent. In addition I take half a dozen S! electrolyte caps plus a few energy gels and small amounts of candy, chips, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, etc. from the well-stocked aid stations. Eating less than usual but drinking more seems to work today.

Down Dog

Trotting along I blow my nose trail-runner fashion, covering one nostril and snorting. I don't realize that comrade Ken Swab is right behind me. The snot-rocket hits him on the leg. Sorry, Sir!

As it turns out, that incident is not the worst that befalls Ken today. For the first 40+ miles of the BRR Ken and I have been practicing our usual banter, much to the amusement of Kate. At one point I mention the yoga class I've begun taking recently and Ken expresses interest. Kate is a yoga instructor and recommends a studio near where Ken lives. It's name is "Down Dog", a yoga position which Ken says describes his race strategy: to run like a dog until he drops, what CM Manlandro calls "Fly and Die". Alas, that metaphor becomes too true at mile ~42, as per his graphic report. Ken loses energy and becomes ill, perhaps due to dehydration and/or major electrolyte imbalance. But he finishes the BRR within the cutoffs, thanks to his toughness and the help of a fellow ultrarunner.

My road is far less rocky: I'm actually quite comfortable throughout the entire race. The following day I feel hungry and have a slight headache plus minor stiffness in the quads. Two days later I'm back to normal. Kate similarly does splendidly, except for her feet which begin to complain about the halfway point. She says a Bad Word when the first huge blister pops at mile 40, and a Very Bad Word when the next one breaks at mile 45. But Kate is strong: onward she runs.

Mark McKennett, another fellow Montgomery County runner, has shaved the letters "BRR 50" into his crewcut. He's usually far faster than me but today has joint pain, perhaps from overtraining during recent weeks. Kate and I catch up with Mark at the Do Loop aid station, and for some time thereafter we see him intermittently. In spite of his aches Mark is ever-cheerful: he hoots with joy across the valleys at me, and I hoot back. His plans include some far-more-stressful ultras in the near future. Likewise Caroline Williams greets us as we catch up with and pass her; she's aiming for the Massanutten Mountain 100 miler next month, so the BRR is merely a training run for her.

Pace Data

My watch tends to take splits when I reach up to scratch my back, but the table below has been corrected for those errors. As it shows, Kate and I gained 45 minutes over my 2007 performance during the first half of the race, and maintained precisely that advantage for the second half.

location segment
Start 00--0:000:000:00
Centreville Road 7.27.2--1:461:471:38
Turnaround 2.29.4--2:152:182:04
Centreville Road 2.211.6--2:432:482:30
Hemlock 516.6--4:024:153:38
Marina 4.521.1--5:125:254:39
Wolf Run Shoals 526.1--6:306:355:45
Fountainhead 228.17:156:597:066:15
Do Loop - In 4.432.58:208:038:127:17
Do Loop - Out 335.5--8:498:548:02
Fountainhead 2.437.99:459:279:318:39
Wolf Run Shoals 239.9--10:0010:029:13
Marina 544.911:3011:0511:1310:19
Finish 5.550.413:0012:2512:5011:40

As always, many thanks to the BRR director, organizers, volunteers, and everyone else involved!

(cf. Bull Run Run 2007, Bull Run Run 2008, ...)

- Friday, April 24, 2009 at 04:44:22 (EDT)

Through a Glass

I'm looking through the window of the train. It's spattered with dirt on the outside. The sun hasn't risen, so the glare inside reflects and makes it impossible to see out. Almost impossible. But if I put my face close to the glass and peer, I can see a few lights: a window of a house; a streetlight; maybe the flicker of a distant star. And when the dawn comes up ...

(cf. SeeingStars0 (1999-11-21), ...)

- Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 04:53:38 (EDT)

2009-04-11 - Difficult Run XC

~7.5 miles @ ~14 min/mi

Caren Jew phones me at 0530. "It's raining hard," she says, "should we run today?" I check the weather radar and forecast that the showers will stop within an hour or two, in plenty of time for the MCRRC "Difficult Run" cross-country 5-miler. As usual, I'm wrong!

At the Davis Library parking lot one car awaits when I arrive. I peer through the raindrops and wonder who it is, until the occupant emerges to introduce himself: Mike Nogan, a neighbor of Caren's. We chat, Caren soon arrives, we pile into her car, and ride together to the race. It's early so we preview the course together at a comfortable walk with intervals of slow running. Mud abounds, but not as bad as I had feared. Even the mega-hill near the start is navigable. In fact, it seems less daunting than in years past. Perhaps my training is having some slight effect.

After our loop it's almost time for the race itself, so we take off extra layers, pin on bibs, visit with friends Ken Swab, CM Manlandro, Wayne Carson, et al., and then line up for the race. Mark McKennett hammers me on the back in greeting. He's planning to run the 50k Chocolate Bunny on Massanutten Mountain tonight, so this is just a warm-up for him. He's also doing the Bull Run Run next Saturday, as I plan to. Mark runs with me behind Caren for most of the race. Another Mark, race winner Mark Hoon, almost laps us as he finishes in a bit over 33 minutes. We come in a bit under 1:06 for an average pace of 13+ min/mi.

- Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 04:43:20 (EDT)

It's About Choices

A recent "Time Management Workshop" that I attended was fascinating because it concentrated not on scheduling more things into less time, but rather on self-awareness. Among the best concepts discussed:

Well, maybe the above is really just one concept, but it's a powerful one. Some memorable aphorisms:

- Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 05:15:08 (EDT)

2009-04-09 - WOD Reston to Dunn Loring Metro

8+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

Class finishes in Reston at 4pm and the nearby W&OD Trail calls me to strip office clothes and don running gear. A Snickers bar, hard candies, and a bottle of tea-lemonade custom zelectrolyte fuels the journey. From where I join the trail just beyond milepost 16.5 the trot to Gallows Rd in Dunn Loring is uneventful, except for a search for bushes when nature calls. The sidewalk by the busy street takes me to the Metro station. Cyclists dominate at first, a mix of spandex-clad speedsters and families crusing past, but more walkers and joggers appear as I get to Vienna. Mile splits begin too fast on this warm day: 9:12 + 9:31 + 9:47 + 9:40 + 9:54 + 9:28 + 9:37. I tag the post outside the train station and stop my watch at 84 minutes. On the subway I'm sweaty and have a seat to myself most of the way home.

- Monday, April 20, 2009 at 05:10:00 (EDT)

Awareness, No Blame, Change

From the anthology Breath Sweeps Mind, in Part II ("Why Meditate?"), an excerpt from "To Transcend Everyday Consciousness" by Ayya Khema:

... "Awareness, no blame, change" is an important formula to remember: to become aware of what is going on within oneself but not to attach any blame to it. Things are the way they are, but we, as thinking human beings, have the ability to change and that is what we are doing in meditation.

(cf. Being Nobody, Going Nowhere (2008-10-18), Bringing the Mind Home (2009-02-26), Purpose of Meditation (2009-04-07), ...)

- Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 12:23:11 (EDT)

2009-04-08 - Hills with Mary

~2.4 miles @ ~12.5 min/mi

A class brings me out to Reston near the Lake Fairfax trail. After lessons are over Mary Ewell and I meet in the ice skating rink parking lot. Mary's fiance Andy reads as we run the slopes to the horse-trail marker-posts at the soccer fields and back. Dog walkers let their pets romp near the water crossings; mountain bikers startle me as they loom during our return trip. Mary is coming back into her training and runs well, ~12 min/mi outbound and ~13 during the return trip according to her GPS. She and Andy and I enjoy a dinner at the Sunflower vegetarian restaurant before they drop me off at the Vienna metro.

- Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 03:10:27 (EDT)

My Own Weather

Walking home in the rain, umbrella forgotten, I decide that from now on
   I make my own weather.

In the midst of the doldrums
   I'm a tornado of energy.

If it's snowing and my fingers and toes start to freeze,
   I relax and flood them with warm blood from my core.

When it's scorching,
   I'm the ice man, imperturbable, cool.

And inside a thunderstorm
   I am the unmoving pivot around which the world turns.

- Friday, April 17, 2009 at 04:46:14 (EDT)

2009-04-07 - Snow Flurries

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

On my second lap around the 1+ mile wiggly track through the woods the wind begins to hit with a little more force: ice pellets, or tiny snowflakes? There are only a few of them and they melt instantly. It's 1:30pm and I've tried to do a slow first lap to leave room for acceleration. So 9:41 leads to 8:27 the next time, a bit quicker than planned. It's followed by a hard 7:52 and then a cooldown trot back to the building. I pass a man walking leisurely along the path, and ahead of me see a couple sauntering away. The first few verses of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" rattle around in my head.

- Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 04:40:43 (EDT)

How to Give a Content-Free Speech

At a recent conference the substitute kickoff speaker showed a masterful command of rhetoric. He gave a talk which demonstrated the fundamental principles of filling time without saying anything:

... then hand the microphone over to the master of ceremonies and slip quietly away!

(cf. HowToDiscreditAnUnwelcomeReport (2005-06-10), SecretsOfThePaddingMasters (2006-11-27), ...)

- Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 04:40:27 (EDT)

2009-04-05 - Lake Needwood Trails

7+ miles @ ~14 min/mi

Caren Jew and I meet in early afternoon at Lake Needwood to get in a bit of springtime rambling. The bikepath and shoreline are dense with walkers, bikers, picknickers, kite-fliers, etc., so we wander farther afield on trails that take us toward the golf course on the western side of the park. After a couple of loops around the Frozen Slopes racecourse we venture down the Gude Trail. It leads us southwest across new-to-me terrain, a grassy rolling landscape that ends up at East Gude Drive. We branch into the woods on the return trip, take a side trail that dead-ends, and eventually find our way back to the lake. Caren and I take turns daring one another to run up steep hills. We venture to cross the downstream side of the dam and meet a friendly fellow who shows us the huge empty turtle shell that he found. Back at Rock Creek Trail after half a dozen miles we trot between mileposts 14 and 13 in 11:30, then enjoy a return cooldown walk.

- Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 04:48:26 (EDT)

Weight Management

Recently several friends and acquaintances have talked with me about their weight "issues"—which always means their desire to lose a few pounds. Medical research confirms common sense: total calorie consumption is what matters most. But other factors can help. I've been slightly successful in getting my weight down during the past year or two, via a combination of tactics:

In addition, "mindfulness" when eating seems worth trying—though I'm not very good at it. The notion is simply to pay conscious attention while eating, enjoy tastes more, appreciate the miracle of food, etc.

But the best way to make one's weight better is perhaps to become happy with wherever you are, and then move slowly from there towards a sensible goal. The best motivation is not to "look better". Appearance is subjective, ephemeral, always subject to debate, and a matter of the current mode—e.g., often "Rubensesque" figures are preferred. A better reason is to feel better and be healthier in the long term. And for runners a significant factor is speed: every pound lost (within reason) makes you 2 seconds faster per mile.

Plus, there's a sillier gambit I use: measuring my mass in "stone" rather than kilos or lbs. Since a stone is 14 pounds, currently I'm down from 13 stone to only 11 or so. If I can "be good" and get down to 10 stone, maybe I'll be even faster ...

- Monday, April 13, 2009 at 05:09:27 (EDT)

2009-04-04 - Rock Creek Candy Cane

~10 miles @ ~11 min/mi

"Love your calves!" I compliment Kevin, who is running in front of me and whose gastrocnemius is exceptionally sculpted. He runs a little faster to get away. Half an hour earlier Ken and I meet at Candy Cane City, where I arrived by jogging from home. We see nobody from the MCRRC Saturday morning trail clique, and kill time by running a mile upstream and back again. At 8am Barbara, Kevin, and John join us and we ramble downstream, join the Western Ridge trail, and turn east at the vegetable gardens. Ken takes the lead up the Holly Trail climb to 16th Street; John and Kevin discuss running across the Grand Canyon. A "Run for Lung Life" race is taking place along Rock Creek Trail and we encounter flocks of participants as we return.

- Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 07:27:32 (EDT)


A comrade at the office got into some slight trouble a few years ago. He had posted on the corners of his computer monitor a pair of sticky notes on which he had written:




He explained that they meant "It Does Not Matter" and "I Do Not Care", and were reminders to himself. My friend was viewed as a troublemaker. He said he was trying to turn over a new leaf. His boss took the signs as yet another passive-aggressive rebellion. I interpreted them, however, as great wisdom. As celebrity-economist Ben Stein advised in an interview, "Don't take anything as seriously as it seems at the time."

Hmmm ... perhaps I need a simple sign to coach myself with?


... meaning "No Attachments!"

- Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 05:40:52 (EDT)

2009-03-31 - Lost in the Woods Again

32+ miles @ ~14 min/mi (+ breaks)

"Gary, you're running with twice as many lovely young ladies as I am!" That's what I'm trying to figure out how to say, politely yet humorously, when Gary Knipling saves me the trouble by making the observation himself. He's got a huge twinkle in his eye, as he so often does. "Well," I parry, "you're far more mature than I am; maybe when I'm your age...".

It's a lovely spring morning on the Bull Run Trail. Friend Kate Abbott and I are playing hooky from work and enjoying an area-familiarization trek before we attempt the BRR 50 miler here on April 18. Hardly anybody else is out this Tuesday, so we're rather startled to bump into Gary, Holly Franz, and Johanna Lockner. We're ~10 miles into our journey. Gary is showing Holly and Jo the course as prep for their first 50 miler. Kate met them previously at a VHTRC run on New Year's Day. Gary confirms that he's doing the Massautten Mountain 100 miler in May. I salute him.

Gary tells us that their cars are parked at the Fountainhead lot a few miles ahead. "And is your key on top of a rear tire?" I ask. "And do you have beer in a cooler?" Since it's a state park Gary can't confess to the alcohol, but he admits that I'm right about the key. He invites Kate and me to partake of unspecified "liquid refreshment". I promise to fill the gas tank when I take his car out joy-riding. After more such banter we wish one another well and trot onward.

Today's run goes well. Both Kate and I have "adrenaline moments" as we stumble over rocks or roots, but neither of us falls. We feel no significant blisters, no major joint pain, and no precipitous drop in energy level—only minor tightnesses and twinges. If the BRR race is this smooth we won't be happy campers, we'll be ecstatic ones. After meeting Gary and the gals we proceed downstream to Fountainhead. I refill my bottles at the water fountain; Kate buys a soda from the vending machine. We take the White Loop, a two-mile well-blazed trail, and except for getting wet feet at a water crossing can't complain.

Then the real fun begins. Last August Mary Ewell and I found ourselves lost in the woods near Fountainhead while trying to locate the infamous "Do Loop". Today it's Kate's turn to get befuddled with me in the labyrinth of mountain bike paths near the shore of the Occoquan.

Fortunately, as I so often say, it all turns out OK. Our wrong turn happens after we pass two little women riding big horses along the blue-blazed track. They're putting up ribbons to mark the path for a trail ride this weekend. Kate and I proceed onward, but at a dirt road the signs confuse us. They say "Horses Only", and we read them literally. The correct interpretation is "No Bicycles". We zig-zag onto a red-blazed mountain bike path, "Loop 5".

After a mile of jogging and a climb up "Lungbuster Hill" we transition into Loop 4 and tour another peninsula of land. It takes us up "Holy Grail Hill" to Loop 3 and then Loop 2 with "Woodpecker Hill", "Daytona Curve", "Skunk Ascent", and other romantically-named steep features. A sign that says "Parking Lot" gives us hope that deliverance is near. Alas, it doesn't say how near. Heretofore we haven't seen another soul for almost an hour, unless brilliantly-hued butterflies have souls. I test a teeter-totter designed for bikers by walking along it, and it indeed tips abruptly for me.

So Kate and I continue with guarded optimism. A mile later as our route nears the water we see a boat with fishermen and glimpse in the distance what look like docks. Another mile and we're passed by two mountain cyclists and meet a fast trail runner. We emerge at the main Fountainhead parking lot. Whew!

Now it's time to really refuel. Kate leads me down the road to the Fountainhead waterfront, where I've never been before. The bait shop snack bar appears to be open, but nobody comes to the window when we ring the bell. After some dithering, desperation drives us to open the "Employees Only" door. We leave money on the counter, plus a few dollars extra for a tip, and pick up candy bars, salty chips, and drinks. As we're noshing at a nearby table the attendant returns and blesses our initiative. He identifies a feather I found as a barred owl's, and tells us about birds and snakes of the area. Then it's time for us to head out.

The return trip continues the delightful day. Daffodils and bluebells at trailside that were mere buds this morning have opened into lovely flowers in the afternoon warmth. Kate finds a brilliant blue feather and picks it up. Dog-walkers introduce their exuberant puppies to us. An energetic elderly trail worker asks if we have a minute. We stop and help him carry a big log halfway up a hill for him to install as an erosion barrier-step. "This is our cross-training!" I note. Hash-harrier flour markings that we saw on the ground half a dozen hours ago are now partly scuffed out from passing traffic. Geese march across the soccer fields near the Marina.

At a major road crossing Race Director Anstr Davidson has asked Kate to check out the new course, which leads across a jumble of small sharp-cornered boulders under the bridge. It seems rather risky to us at mile 5 in the morning, but at mile 27+ in the afternoon the passage goes much easier. Perhaps it's because now there's a flock of high school kids nearby, a crew team out training on the water. Girls are doing hillwork, running up the steep street. "Kate, I feel an urge to chase them," I whisper. "Please stop me!"

We press onward, and now it's Kate's turn as we pass a dozen buff boys working out on exercise machines. "Pssst! They're looking at you!" I tell her. We straighten up and run faster until we're out of sight from the youngsters.

Both Kate and I feel surprisingly strong now. We trot the final five miles in comfort, mutually amazed. After 8.5 hours we tag Kate's car in the Hemlock Overlook parking lot and I stop my watch. Kate's GPS has run out of power and shut down, but allowing for ~45 minutes of breaks along the way we estimate our pace at ~14 min/mile. If we can do this on race day ...

(cf. Bull Run Run 2007 (2007-04-15), Bull Run Run 2008 (2008-04-19), 2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods, 2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods GPS Trackfile, ...)

- Friday, April 10, 2009 at 19:35:50 (EDT)

Training Tactics

The article "Running on the Shoulders of Giants" by Scott Douglas offers half a dozen interesting ideas for better training. It appears in the January/February 2009 issue of Running Times, a magazine that Ken Swab passed along to me. Douglas's suggestions:

That last point is perhaps the most significant. As Douglas says, elite runners:

... have confidence that great things will happen if they do the right work. They see a fabulous workout or race as a hint of what they can achieve, not a unique occurrence.

In contrast, a couple of bad workouts, or a worse-than-expected race, are taken as aberrations. They are indications that something is amiss, and are opportunities for analysis. Am I not sleeping enough? Did I run like an idiot? Were my expectations in line with my current fitness? Am I on the verge of getting sick? And so on. ...

Marvelous advice, obviously applicable throughout life!

- Thursday, April 09, 2009 at 05:11:55 (EDT)

2009-03-29 - Short Speedwork plus Six

(1 +) 6 miles @ ~11 min/mi

With a track meet possibly coming up in a fortnight Robin wants to test his legs. The UM track is open on Sunday morning so we do four laps, swinging out in lanes two and three to avoid puddles. With ~2 minutes of recovery between each my times are 1:51 + 1:34 + 1:43 + 2:35. Robin is 2-3 seconds ahead on that far-too-fast second loop but a bit slower on the cooldown last one.

Then I head over toward Lake Needwood to meet CM Manlandro and Emaad Burki. We run downstream on Rock Creek Trail from milepost 14 to 11 and back. Our splits: 10:59 + 10:45 + 10:41 + 11:30 + 10:47 + 10:10.

- Wednesday, April 08, 2009 at 04:47:01 (EDT)

Purpose of Meditation

From the anthology Breath Sweeps Mind, at the end of Part I, "What is Meditation", an excerpt from "The Great Teacher" by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana:

The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same you that comes out the other side. It changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your arrogance evaporates and your antagonism dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smooths out. Thus meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. It reduces your tension, your fear, and your worry. Restlessness recedes, and passion moderates. Things begin to fall into place and your life becomes a glide rather than a struggle. All of this happens through understanding.

Meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power. Then, piece by piece, your own subconscious motives and mechanics become clear to you. Your intuition sharpens. The precision of your thought increases and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion. So is this reason enough to bother? Scarcely. These are just promises on paper. There is only one way you will ever know if meditation is worth the effort. Learn to do it right, and do it. See for yourself.

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-26), Meditation Made Easy (2008-11-01), ...

- Tuesday, April 07, 2009 at 04:57:46 (EDT)

2009-03-28 - Wet Mother Hen

~15 miles @ ~10.3 min/mi

"This isn't a puddle, it's an ocean!" Cara Marie Manlandro exclaims as we run through ankle-deep water along Rock Creek Trail approaching the DC line. Today when CM calls at 5am I check the weather radar and promise that the rain will stop in an hour. At 5:45 I'm sure it will be done in half an hour. CM arrives at 6am and we sit in her car still waiting for the showers to finish. Finally at 6:16am we give up and start running. CM jokes about wet t-shirt contests. By 7am the drizzle is gone. Dawn comes soon and we don't need the flashlight that I insist on carrying. Temperatures are stable in the upper 40's with a 5-10 mph northeast wind.

My mother-hen personality emerges today: "Watch out for the mud!" ... "Don't trip on that pothole!" ... "Careful, a car is coming!" ... etc. Mostly I'm talking to myself, of course. Our route is a point-to-point one suggested by CM. From my home we zig-zag on residential streets to RCT via the CCT, take Beach Drive to the National Zoo, pop Succeed! e-caps to ward off cramps, trot through the tunnel, and proceed downstream to the Kennedy Center. Crossing the road near the Memorial Bridge is a bit scary but after a brief pause we successfully scamper through traffic and pass south of the Lincoln Memorial.

Mallard ducks swim in mini-ponds on the gravel connector path that takes us toward the Washington Monument. We apologize to them for scaring them. It's the first day of the Cherry Blossom festival and the trees on the Mall are lovely but dripping. Kites are starting to fly and a "Walk For Epilepsy" fund-raiser race is taking place. (Why isn't it a "Walk Against Epilepsy" I wonder?) CM refuses to let me run across the finish line, so instead we take the path toward the southwestern corner of the Capitol. When CM's GPS reads 15 miles we stop our watches and walk to Union Station where we catch a Metro train back to Forest Glen. We're dry and warm enough on the subway to avoid any immodest wet t-shirt displays, but it's chilly walking home from there in the wind. CM leads me in a run for the 0.7 miles to my front door.

Our overall pace accelerates from ~11 min/mi for the first 5 miles to ~10.2 for the middle 5 to a surprising ~9.7 for the final 5.

- Monday, April 06, 2009 at 05:46:00 (EDT)

Memorizing Poems

"Got Poetry", a delightful essay by Jim Holt, appears at the back of the New York Times Sunday book review section today [1]. For the past few years Holt reports that he has been memorizing poems. "I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands—just another guy on an invisible cellphone." He describes his method:

[T]he key to memorizing a poem painlessly is to do it incrementally, in tiny bits. I knock a couple of new lines into my head each morning before breakfast, hooking them onto what I've already got. At the moment, I'm 22 lines into Tennyson's "Ulysses," with 48 lines to go. It will take me about a month to learn the whole thing at this leisurely pace, but in the end I'll be the possessor of a nice big piece of poetical real estate, one that I will always be able to revisit and roam about in.

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem—the "duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA" of iambic pentameter, say—and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It's a physical feeling, and it's a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It's the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory—doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer's emotions. And with poetry you don't need a piano.

Holt rejects three myths:

Myth No. 1: Poetry is painful to memorize. It is not at all painful. Just do a line or two a day.

Myth No. 2: There isn't enough room in your memory to store a lot of poetry. Bad analogy. Memory is a muscle, not a quart jar.

Myth No. 3: Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.

Holt also dismisses with humor various purported benefits of learning poems by heart. Really, as he says, "It's all about pleasure. And it's a cheap pleasure."

I concur. I'm working now on learning William Stafford's "In My Journal". As I've told friend Kate Abbott, if she starts to suffer during a long run with me I'll just recite poetry—and that will immediately distract her from any amount of pain!

(cf. ByHeart (2001-11-28), ZhurnalAnniversary2 (2001-04-04), InMyJournal (2005-01-29), ...)

- Sunday, April 05, 2009 at 13:01:58 (EDT)

2009-03-25 - No Exit

~3.5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

"This is not a pedestrian entrance, Sir!" I'm told as I try to jog out from the office complex toward the river. So I head around the parking lot and take the hilly little 1.1+ mile trail. I do a couple of laps around it, trying to go slowly, but competitive juices soon flow. I pass a red-haired lady who's wearing a long black coat and walking briskly, and wonder at what point along the loop I'll catch up with her again? Mile 1 takes 9:20. Then I accelerate and mile 2 is 8:21. I pass the walker in the inter-mile segment at the end. My baggy black shirt flaps around me. Two crows caw and fly up from the ground to perch in a tree. I wave my arms and caw back. They flee farther away from my giant were-crow apparition.

- Saturday, April 04, 2009 at 05:26:58 (EDT)

Roots of Morality

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt in an 18-minute video lecture "The real difference between liberals and conservatives" [1] discusses what he identifies as the five key values that explain a lot of human politics. His list:

As Haidt sees it, these are almost (or perhaps literally) inborn human tendencies, "... the five best candidates for the first draft of what's written on the moral mind." The largest differences in his surveys between "Liberals" and "Conservatives" are on questions of loyalty, respect, and purity. "Liberals speak for the weak and oppressed; [they] want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos. Conservatives speak for institutions and traditions; [they] want order even at the cost of those at the bottom." Both sides concur, generally, on the importance of caring and fairness.

Haidt concludes with a call for mutual understanding across political chasms:

Yin and yang don't hate each other. Yin and yang are both necessary, like night and day, for the functioning of the world. ...

Do you accept this? Do you accept stepping out of the battle of Good and Evil? Can you be not For or Against anything? ...

You can't just go charging in, saying "You're wrong and I'm right!" because as we've just heard, everybody thinks they are right.

- Friday, April 03, 2009 at 05:09:06 (EDT)

2009-03-24 - Parking Lot Loops

~4.5 miles @ ~9.3 min/mi

Meetings finish a bit after 2pm so before anything else I rush to change clothes and get a few miles in: three clockwise laps around the office complex streets. I encounter only a few walkers and one fellow runner who's heading in the opposite direction, a young lady well bundled-up against the cool (~47°) air. It's sunny, light winds, and the 1.5 mile circuits take 13:56 + 13:51 + 13:14 each.

- Thursday, April 02, 2009 at 04:56:21 (EDT)

Everything Is Symbolic

From the chapter "The Symbols of Zen" in David Fontana's Discover Zen:

There is a Zen saying that "everything is symbolic, yet there is no difference between the symbol and the thing symbolized."

(cf. No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), SoSymbolic (2005-03-28), NothingnessShowsThrough (2005-12-06), ...)

- Wednesday, April 01, 2009 at 19:52:29 (EDT)

2009-03-22 - Catoctin Reverse Psychology

~7.5 miles @ ~16 min/mi

The sun rises like a red ball of flame between the trees as we trot north along the blue-blazed trail. More than a week ago Caren Jew started her fiendish campaign to lure me into running the Catoctin Trail with her today. "You really shouldn't do it." ... "I don't want you to get injured." ... "No, you can't come out there with me." Of course, I'm unable to resist. I beg, plead, cajole, and wheedle. Eventually Caren "lets" me join her. I'm most grateful.

This morning we begin at Hamburg Rd in the Frederick Municipal Watershed area. Delauter Rd is our official destination, but to add some interest we explore whatever side trails that strike Caren's fancy. We pass the branch where Phil Hesser and Kari Anderson met us during the Catoctin 50k last August, as they returned to the course. Naughtily I speculate that they were only pretending to be lost in the woods.

We stop to take photos and talk about how the camera makes everyone look heavier—and how women care but men don't. We follow a path around the "wrong" side of a small pond. A pair of mallard ducks swim hastily away from us, the green-headed male leading the retreat, the brown female trailing. A feeder stream crossing gets our feet wet. We climb a steep but short hill back to the main path.

One hour out at Delauter Rd we turn back. Caren is supposed to get 50 minutes or so of running in today, as per her training plan while she recovers from bronchitis that hit her hard a few weeks ago. We're back at the car early and the GPS trackfile says 6.8 miles, so we head southward from Hamburg Rd for several minutes. I stumble over the big rocks. We return.

During the drive homeward Caren points out a big hawk perched in a tree. She also points out a couple of my verbal mannerisms: "It's only a game!" and "It turned out OK!"—as in "They had to cut her leg off, but it turned out OK." I plead guilty to inveterate optimism. But hey, it's only a game. And it turned out OK.

- Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 05:00:50 (EDT)

Perfectionism vs. Individualism

In Chapter 7 of Norwegian Rosemaling: Decorative Painting on Wood (by Margaret M. Miller and Sigmund Aarseth, 1974) the section "Advanced Concepts" begins with an insightful observation:

In the chapter on brush strokes perfectionism was stressed. The beginner in any art form must strive for perfection in technique, but once he achieves it he should strive to become as individualistic as he can. If he tries to suppress this individualism his work will become commercially repetitive and he will find himself doing the same things over and over; his style will be stiff, leaving no room for experimentation and development. Understand, however, that it is one thing to paint freely and another to be careless so that you have only errors. Actually, there seem to be three stages through which the proficient rosemaler passes on the way to creative individualism: the first stage is marked by the struggle to acquire technique; the second stage is marked by the ability to make strokes perfectly and the struggle with design; and the third is the stage where the artist becomes so skilled in both technique and traditional design that he can be fresh and free in the variation of each through his own individuality.

... applicable to all sorts of other crafts, including that of writing.

- Monday, March 30, 2009 at 04:51:37 (EDT)

2009-03-21 - Piece of Cake 10k

6+ miles @ ~7.6 min/mi

As Ron Ely once noted, "Training does make a difference!" Today my double-secret plan is to try to maintain an ~8 min/mi pace and come in under 50 minutes at the MCRRC 10 kilometer "Piece of Cake" race. It turns out much better than anticipated. I finish in 46:57—a ridiculous improvement of ten minutes over my previous 10k PR.

At Seneca Creek State Park more than an hour before race time I park next to Nick, who returns the "Superman" cap that I loaned him at the 2009-01-17 - Super Starr run. Temps are in the upper 20's and the ballpoint pens are balky as we sign in. Friends laugh at my bare legs and photograph my goosebumps. I snap pictures of a few folks and when Cara Marie Manlandro arrives admire the cake she's baked for today's after-race competition. (It's a huge chocolate-frosted slap of "asphalt" with white stripes and actual tiny running shoes on top!) Veteran ultrarunner Mark McKennett visits with CM and me. We line up at 9:15am and we're off!

I'm feeling suspiciously good except for frigid hands, but even they soon thaw. The first mile is crisp at 7:38 and CM, who is running with me, decides then to throttle back to a saner pace for the hills ahead. I push and start passing people to do the next mile, including a nice downhill to the dam at Clopper Lake, in 7:09. Then comes the slow climb back up to the pair of loops on the south side. I skip the aid station and focus on a lady in bright pink tights ahead of me for the next 7:41 mile, and finally pass her near mile marker 4, a 7:43 segment. Descending back to the dam comes faster in 7:25 and then the final climbing mile is the slowest of the day, 7:49, plus 1:25 for the fractional 0.215 mile to make 10k total. Whew!

- Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 04:27:57 (EDT)

All You Zombies

One of the most brilliantly paradoxical tie-yourself-in-knots time-travel tales is the 1959 short story "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein. It would be a sin to even hint at the punch-line concept, so all I can do is mention a few of the more quotable bits, like the one near the beginning that has stuck in my mind for several decades now:

Temporal agents always notice time and date; we must.

... and at the end of the yarn, some of the silly sayings posted on the wall:

I note, belatedly, that Heinlein arranged his aphorisms in order of decreasing length; maybe he (or his editor) was as obsessive about that sort of thing as I am ...

(the full text of the story is posted at [1]; cf. Languages for Smart People (2008-03-12), Aaron's Rod (2009-01-17), ...)

- Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 05:12:32 (EDT)

2009-03-19 - Quick Taper

~2 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Meetings run late so it's after 3pm when I get out, only enough time for one fast loop around the hilly trail. I blast out the marked mile in 8:03 min/mi but amble out and back slowly enough to pull my average speed down to something reasonable. Drizzle earlier has left the pavement damp and the air cool but humid.

- Friday, March 27, 2009 at 04:40:21 (EDT)

HP Mini Mi

Reading someone's comments about their computer system is the second most boring thing in the world, so I'll keep this story brief. A month or so ago I dropped my ancient Mac laptop—mea culpa—and soon thereafter the hard disk began failing, first intermittently and then more frequently. That old iBook was living on borrowed time in any event, with the letters worn off most of the keys and the power supply unable to charge the battery. I can touch-type, and I use another broken iBook as a recharger, so I kept my old box limping along for a year or two past the machine's sell-by date. Then it died the true death. R.I.P.

What to do? A new Apple Macintosh costs $1k or more; obviously as per above I'm frugal (aka cheap) and don't want to spend that kind of money. Nobody else in the family has a candidate hand-me-down that I can adopt. I don't want to run Microsoft Windows, for a host of reasons. The best solution: a wee "netbook". Son Merle let me play with his Asus unit, but the keyboard is too small for comfortable typing and I don't much like the user interface. Then I read about the Hewlett-Packard "Mini 1000: Mobile Internet Edition" and am enchanted.

Bottom line: so far, so good. The Mini Mi keyboard is small but quite usable; likewise the screen. The Linux operating system is stripped-down but works well. The H-P desktop interface on top of Linux is nicely æsthetic, maybe even lovely in its simplicity. The Mini Mi lets me browse the interwebs, chat, and do email. It even permits some limited image and music functions. And its price? A quarter that of a Mac, $250 plus shipping and tax. Now, if it keeps working for at least a couple of years I'm a happy camper. We shall see ...

- Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 05:19:30 (EDT)

2009-03-18 - Ring Road Orbits

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

After a noon seminar today I hit the road: the perimeter parking lot road, that is, and do three laps around the office building complex. It's warm, almost 60°F, with only slight breezes. The roughly 1.5 mile loops flow by nicely descending in 13:18 + 13:09 + 12:42 as I pass by walkers and greet them while watching for cars at driveway crossings and coming from behind me along the stretch where there's no sidewalk. Comrade Kate's incessant taunting has finally induced me to get out and exercise—occasionally!

- Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 04:45:54 (EDT)

Every Moment is an Opportunity

From the chapter "Vision" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

If you hope to bring meditation into your life in any kind of long-term, committed way, you will need a vision that is truly your own—one that is deep and tenacious and that lies close to the core of who you believe yourself to be, what you value in your life, and where you see yourself going. Only the strength of such a dynamic vision and the motivation from which it springs can possibly keep you on this path year in and year out, with a willingness to practice every day and to bring mindfulness to bear on whatever is happening, to open to whatever is perceived, and to let it point to where the holding is and where the letting go and the growing need to happen.


The practice itself has to become the daily embodiment of your vision and contain what you value most deeply. It doesn't mean trying to change or be different from how you are, calm when you're not feeling calm, or kind when you really feel angry. Rather, it is bearing in mind what is most important to you so that it is not lost or betrayed in the heat and reactivity of a particular moment. If mindfulness is deeply important to you, then every moment is an opportunity to practice.

- Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 07:16:41 (EDT)

2009-03-17 - Speedy Miles

~5 miles @ ~8.7 min/mi

"On your left!" I warn a lady jogger as I pass her. A 10k MCRRC race is coming up on Saturday, and I'm wondering how fast I can attempt to run it. So I eat a light lunch and in early afternoon trot out to the hilly path near the office. My first mile is a too-brisk 7:46, but the next three according to the unverified markers are a more sustainable 8:22, 8:28, and 8:16. The woman I swung by in my first lap is now reclining on a bench by the trail. "Are you OK?" I ask. She says she's just resting.

- Monday, March 23, 2009 at 04:55:35 (EDT)

Howl's Moving Castle

The fantasy novel Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones has a superb title conceit—an eccentric magician's migratory fortress—plus some engaging characters, especially the clever protagonist Sophie Hatter. It's a fast read. Teenage girls, the author comments in an interview, are enchanted by the central character and want to marry him. There are intervals of lyric language, as in Chapter 9:

They went out into the street in Porthaven. It was a bright, balmy night. As soon as they had reached the end of the street, however, Michael remembered that Sophie had been ill that morning and began worrying about the effect of the night air on her health. Sophie told him not to be silly. She stumped gamely along with her stick until they left the lighted windows behind and the night became wide and damp and chilly. The marshes smelled of salt and earth. The sea glittered and softly swished to the rear. Sophie could feel, more than see, the miles and miles of flatness stretching away in front of them. What she could see were bands of low bluish mist and pale glimmers of marshy pools, over and over again, until they built into a pale line where the sky started. The sky was everywhere else, huger still. The Milky Way looked like a band of mist risen from the marshes, and the keen stars twinkled through it.

Unfortunately, after a strong beginning the story drifts into cliché and muddle. I've seen enough pyrotechnic battles between rival wizards and witches, enough late-chapter revelations of the overlooked youth's secret powers that save the day, enough Byzantine plot-twist happy endings. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood when I read Howl's Magic Castle. Maybe I missed the deeper moral issues—love, truth, loyalty, justice, beauty, meaning, etc.—that lurk in the background of the best fantasy novels. Maybe I expected a bit too much. It's still a fun book.

- Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 04:30:52 (EDT)

2009-03-14 - CCT Canter

10 miles @ ~11 min/mi

A big deer crosses the road in front of me as I drive down Beach Dr near the Audubon Society estate. I slow, and another deer scampers out of the woods, then another, and another, and finally a fifth little one. They stand on the lawn and stare at me as I cruise cautiously by. In downtown Bethesda I visit the grocery store, then park and meet Emaad Burki, Ken Swab, and Cara Marie Manlandro who all want to run along the Capital Crescent Trail this morning.

Banter ensues. Emaad is planning to do the National Marathon next Saturday; CM is registered but dithering. She just passed her preliminary Ph.D. oral exams and is still on the rebound. We trek along at a steady ~11 min/mi pace past Fletcher's Boathouse to turn around at milepost 8.5. En route flocks of fellow runners greet us. Jim Rich runs by, and later we see his wife Patti with Julie Trapp at the Dalecarlia water fountain. They ask me the name of the trees now blooming with pink blossoms—cherry, perhaps? I'm clueless.

In the final stretch I speculate that with a sprint we could do the last mile in under 10 minutes. "Show us your heels, Emaad!" I challenge, and he obliges. His kick is incredible; we run together for 100 meters or so and he glides ahead of me with apparent ease. We finish with a 9:57 mile by my watch.

- Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 05:45:58 (EDT)

Fundamental Units

Many years ago (~1968?) I was captivated by an article in Analog magazine. Although it mainly ran science-fiction stories Analog did have occasional "science fact" essays, and the one that comes to mind was devoted to the "fundamental units" of nature. There were half a dozen, beginning with mass, length, and time of course, from the ordinary world we live in. Then add charge to bring in electricity and magnetism. To set the scale of quantum effects in atomic and subatomic phenomena there's Planck's constant. For temperature and thermodynamics, you need Boltzmann's constant that links heat to other forms of energy. The author of the Analog piece arranged these half-dozen parameters in a triangle that I can almost, but not quite, still visualize 40 years later. (I'm not sure whether or not G, the gravitational constant, was in there; maybe it replaced one of the others?)

Walking home from the Metro yesterday afternoon I got to thinking about a half dozen less fundamental units: the key character attributes in "Dungeons & Dragons" or other fantasy rôle-playing games. I even came up with a silly metaphorical mapping between them and some physical quantities:

attribute quantity
Strengthpower = force / time
Intelligencespeed = distance / time
Dexterityacceleration = distance / time2
Constitutionmomentum = mass * velocity

That leaves one final nut to crack: what is the D&D character stat Wisdom analogous to? Perhaps it's dimensionless!

- Friday, March 20, 2009 at 04:58:12 (EDT)

2009-03-13 - Knock, Knock

13+ miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

"Can Ken come out to play?" I knock on comrade Ken Swab's front door at noon, but no one answers. Every run needs a reason, and today I want to enjoy some comfortable mileage. I've never run to Ken's house in northern Bethesda, so I trot from my home to Rock Creek Trail, then head upstream to take Grosvenor Rd westward. Temperatures are in the upper 30's, and the wind chills me since I'm only wearing shorts and a single-layer technical shirt. After a quarter mile I regret the omission of gloves. I pull down the long sleeves over my hands and keep moving. As it turns out, I learn later, Ken has gotten back from family duties in New York after midnight, so he's sleeping in and does't answer the door when I rap.

From Ken's abode I return to Old Georgetown Rd and follow it south to the Capital Crescent Trail in downtown Bethesda where Priscila Prunella greets me. We chat and I learn that she works nearby and is out for a few lunchtime miles. Her husband Warren zips past on a bicycle and waves. After Priscila leaves the path to return to her office I catch up with a young lady who turns out to be from Estonia and who is interested in doing some local races; I recommend MCRRC of course. When she turns north at Connecticut Av I continue homeward, accelerating to keep warm and finishing with a couple of sub-10 minute miles.

- Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 04:47:04 (EDT)

Impute Motives

Cardinal Newman in his "Definition of a Gentleman" said that a gentleman "... is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him ..."—a remark that has long stuck in my mind because I've never been able to understand it. Now, a decade or two later, I think I may. To "impute" is to assign blame for something. "Imputing motives" must mean imagining that what somebody does is deliberate, for hurtful reasons. This mini-epiphany came to me when I saw a person flick a pencil across the table recently: I caught myself making up negative motivations for the act. In all probability it was just a slightly clumsy attempt to be helpful.

A key challenge of life is building good mental models to explain why other people do what they do. Fantasizing that many of their actions are driven by evil thoughts is silly, as well as quite counterproductive. Yep, it's one more habit I've gotta work on recognizing, and letting go of!

- Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 04:43:18 (EDT)

2009-03-09 - Recovery Run

~3 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

A heavy lunch of veggie burger, plus french fries and onion rings shared with a colleague—not the best pre-run fare! An hour later temps are in the low 50's but gusty north winds make it feel colder. From the office I jog out to the paved 1.1+ mile trail, run two laps, then return. At mile 1 see a medium-sized deer next to the asphalt. I make noise so as not to surprise her into a collision. Another deer stands by the trail a quarter mile later, and on my final lap a third has joined the first pair. They lift their heads and stare at me as I trot past.

- Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 04:58:16 (EDT)

Caught Between

Yesterday at the public library I was browsing and happened to pluck the intriguingly-titled book Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? off the shelf. I opened it at random and just had to check it out after reading this story in the chapter "caught between a tiger and a snake":

A man was being chased by a tiger in the jungle. Tigers can run much faster than a man, and they eat men too. The tiger was hungry; the man was in trouble.

With the tiger almost upon him, the man saw a well by the side of the path. In desperation, he leapt in. As soon as he had committed himself to the leap, he saw what a big mistake he had made. The well was dry and, at its bottom, he could see the coils of a big black snake.

Instinctively, his arm reached for the side of the well, where his hand found the root of a tree. The root checked his fall. When he had gathered his senses, he looked down to see the black snake raise its head to full height and try to strike him on his feet; but his feet were a fraction too high. He looked up to see the tiger leaning into the well trying to paw hm from above; but his hand holding the root was a fraction too low. As he contemplated his dire predicament, he saw two mice, one white and one black, emerge from a small hole and begin chewing on the root.

As the tiger was attempting to paw at the man, its hindquarters were rubbing against a small tree, making it shake. On a branch of that tree, overhanging the well, was a beehive. Honey began to drop into the well. The man put out his tongue and caught some.

"Mmmmm! That tastes good," he said to himself and smiled.

The author, Ajahn Brahm, goes on to explain this traditional Buddhist parable at some length, and to provide an "ending" to it. But the tale is really far better just by itself, eh?! The rest of Who Ordered doesn't look terribly exciting, alas. Perhaps that one item is enough ...

- Monday, March 16, 2009 at 04:54:19 (EDT)

2009-03-07 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k

31+ miles @ ~13 min/mi

"You look like you've lost weight," people tell me before and during today's race. The logical implication: in the past I've been fat! It reminds me of comments constantly made to Snake Plissken in the movies Escape from New York ("I thought you were dead.") and the sequel Escape from L.A. ("I thought you'd be taller."). Thanks, folks!

This year's SCGT run takes place on a too-hot-for-comfort day, with temperatures rising into the 70's. The morning begins frigid, however, at Rileys Lock when I arrive about 0530 and don windbreaker/gloves/cap to avoid hypothermia as I help set out orange traffic cones. Caren Jew, who's recuperating from illness and can't run, arrives to give a carload of folks a ride to the starting point in Damascus. As we travel Caroline Williams tells us of her plans to run a marathon in Pennsylvania tomorrow, training for her BRR 50 and MMT 100. Alyssa Soumoff is doing her first ultra today; we offer her our thoughts and advise cautious pacing. I give everyone the happy news that ultrarunner Rayna Matsuno Weise's new baby, Ananda, was born a few days ago.

Registration and bib pickup goes efficiently so with an hour to spare we sit in Caren's car and continue to chat. Ken Swab, Kate Abbott, Emaad Burki, and Wayne Carson appear and we commence teasing one another as usual. I catch sight of Cathy Blessing and snag a leftover 2008 JFK/MCRRC shirt for Kate. Ken demonstrates the "Buff" that he's wearing around his neck. It's a cleverly constructed tube of fabric that can be converted into balaclava, pirate's headscarf, sweatband, do-rag, scrunchie/barrette, and an apparently unlimited number of other useful configurations. I speculate that lady runners could wear it as a bandeau-style sports bra. Ken does not model it as such.

RD Ed gives a quick pre-race brief and we start promptly at 8am. The first few miles flow by quickly and I'm feeling uncannily good. Kate's GPS says we're doing 12 min/mi, too fast to sustain. A group of Francophone runners wearing red shirts that say "Les Fous de Bois" (does that mean "The Fools of the Woods"?) and black mesh faux-tutus all pass Kate and me. Ken, Wayne, and Emaad vanish into the distance ahead of us.

At the first major stream crossing, Magruder Branch, I apply the run-through-water technique that Caren taught me. Kate follows suit, with the disclaimer that if her feet bother her because of the moisture then she will make me suffer in the miles to come. No worries, though: we're both fine and our soggy socks soon dry. We pass Barry Smith and Emaad who are tiptoeing across on logs and stepping stones while clinging to the rope.

Kate has pockets on the back of her shorts from which strawberry energy gel has dripped down and splattered her legs slightly. "My gels are chocolate brown," I say. "Sure hope they don't leak!" Runners near us are amused. At the next road crossing Caren appears and takes photos of us. Kate and Emaad and I run mostly together until Watkins Mill Rd. Then I start to feel really strong and attack the hills aggressively. When I pass people I feel obligated to press onward, so as not to block them, and begin to open a gap on Kate and Emaad who are pacing themselves more conservatively through the pine woods. Still no sign of Ken and Wayne.

Now I'm starting to overheat. I pass a young lady wearing long sleeves and long black tights, likewise obviously suffering. We chat about the too-warm day and I commiserate with her plight, since except for slightly rolling up the cuffs she has no way to remove layers. I give up, take off my shirt, and stuff it under my belt. Before we began Wayne offered me what he said was "sunscreen" and I slathered some onto my arms and bald head. When I start to overheat and take off my shirt, however, photos show that I'm covered with a thick growth of hair—was this a controlled substance? Did Wayne get it from BALCO? Fortunately there's no drug testing today.

Approaching MD 355 I catch up with the tutu crew. "Pardonnez moi, s'il vous plait," I say, mustering the only fragments of the language I can recall. They commence talking to me in French, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't understand a word they're saying. I rush through the aid station behind them and keep glancing back in hopes of seeing Emaad and Kate. No joy.

A few miles later, climbing up from the high-tension power-line right-of-way I meet Mark McKennett, who is growing out his hair this month so he can cut it to spell "BRR" or some other race name. (I wish I had that option; maybe I can do it on my chest or back?) He's suffering knee pain and accepts a couple of my ibuprofens, then runs on ahead.

At Clopper Lake shortly after 11am I find myself still on schedule. Christina Caravoulias is here taking photos and offering encouragement. I commence the lake loop. Soon I encounter a young gentleman who ran here with Wayne and me during the 2008 SCGT. We talk, walk, and run. He remembers the place where I slipped and fell last year. I'm struck by the different tenor of conversation among males on the trails, as opposed to females. (cf. Rapport vs. Report)

From across a small bay on the south side of the lake an accusatory voice echoes out: "Sandbagger!" It's Wayne and Ken taunting me. Now they're only a quarter mile or so ahead. Is something wrong? I hope not—but also begin to fantasize that I can eventually catch up with the pair of speed demons. "Sandbaggers!" I shout back at them.

Then my cellphone rings and I take a walk break to answer it. Bad news: it's Kate, who reports that she's a couple of miles downstream from Clopper Lake. At the aid station she didn't realize—and there were no signs, and the volunteers didn't tell her—that she needed to turn left in order to add the lake loop and make it a 50k rather than a "marathon". Now she's with Anstr Davidson and although she thinks about backtracking to meet me it's clear that she's too far gone to make the cutoffs. So instead of ~32 miles she will have to settle for ~29. But she's running strong. I assure her that this is still perfect training for our joint assault on the Bull Run Run next month. (Kate also is signed up for the Nation Marathon in a few weeks, yet another reason to run conservatively today.)

At the end of the loop I pause to refill my bottles. K&W have just left, and on subsequent hills I gradually gain on them and finally join them. They are indeed jointly not happy, due to joint pain, but that doesn't stop the traditional banter among us. Before the race Ken showed me his experiment du jour: ibuprofen caplets stored between two layers of adhesive tape. Now he ruefully confesses that although the tape successfully protected the medicine from moisture, when he pulled it apart the tablets were partially reduced to powder. "And did you snort them?" I ask. "I bet that would get into your bloodstream quicker!" Wayne dares me to try the nasal route with my Vitamin I, but I respectfully decline. "The red pills would get stuck in my nose, and the doctors would laugh at me," is my excuse.

I give some ibuprofen to my companions as we trot. Approaching Riffle Ford Rd we come to the mile-long side trail (Long Slough?) that Ed has added to the course this year in overcompensation for upstream rerouting. Wayne drops back as Ken and I plow onward and we lose sight of him. Ken tells me how CM Manlandro and other friends are doing as we pick our way through the woods and over/around deadfalls that block the path. When we emerge at Riffle Ford he pauses to empty sand, gravel, leaves, etc. from his shoes. I jog on.

Now I'm starting to feel fatigue, so I walk more often but try to maintain speed on the hill climbs. I'm starting to get dehydrated and have run out of water; none is present at the Germantown Rd crossing, nor officially at Black Rock Mill. My stride suffers: I stumble and partially roll my right ankle twice, then trip about half a mile upstream of Black Rock Rd. I fall forward and land on damp dirt, catching myself on hands and waterbottle, no harm done. A safety pin holding my race number on my leg comes open and I get a little mud on my legs plus some leaves in my beard.

At Black Rock Mill—lucky me!—cheerful comrade Christina materializes and offers me a lifesaving bottle of Gatorade. I take only a third of it, and later learn that Chris has similarly been able to help Ken and Wayne behind me. Chris's friend Jaime is giving out jellybeans. I grab a fistful, then power out toward the official aid station at Rt 28 that's a bit over a mile away.

A couple of women and I encourage one another with the fantasy of beer ahead. CM Manlandro greets us and takes photographs as we enter the aid station, and helpfully refills my bottle for me. (Alas, there's no beer.) I apologize for not staying longer but dash onward. Once out of sight I recommence walking interrupted by brief intervals of slow jogging. My average pace now is 13-14 min/mi according to the markers. I phone Kate and confirm that she has made it over the big hill and is safely approaching the final road mile to the finish. She comes in under 6:20, half an hour ahead of me. Her GPS, she reports, confirms that the course is a kilometer or more longer than it was last year.

I'm passing a few more folks now, and after two dozen miles of complaining my left metatarsals give up and start to feel fine. Perhaps it's due to my efforts to modify my stride and reduce the outward-pointing waddle that my toes habitually perform? At Berryville Rd I meet Emaad, who is taking his time and enjoying the aid station fare. I gulp cola and press onward. A splashy dash through the stream crossing moistens my socks before the mega-hill climb. Midway in that steep section I pass the O'Donnells, father and son, who remember me from the same location last year. One of them comments on my apparent weight loss.

To spare the sensibilities of the finish line crew I put my shirt back on before I reach Seneca Rd. The final stretch down Tschiffley Lock Rd feels good; I trot in at sub-10 min/mi pace, passing the French gang and catching up with Luc Hale. He runs with me to the end but then sits down abruptly and calls for a medic; perhaps he's dehydrated from the warmth today? I've taken half a dozen S! caps, four energy gels, and probably half a gallon of Gatorade.

Back at the Rileys Lock pavilion I see omnipresent photographer Christina again. We chat and I visit with Caroline, Alyssa, Cathy, Ed, et al. Mical Honigfort is there with her ultra-cute baby Erik. A shy little girl is brought to me by her parents: she has identified me as Santa Claus and wants to visit. I explain that I'm trying to get into shape for next Xmas. She asks for a dollhouse, and I counsel her to be good.

Split information from my watch indicates that I arrive at MD 355 in 2:19, four minutes behind last year. I'm at Clopper Lake in 3:03, identical to 2008 modulo course changes. The lake loop takes 43 minutes, just as last year, but after that I do much better, averaging 13-14 min/mi instead of 15+ pace. My total time is officially 6:50:12, but my watch says I'm a few seconds faster. So in spite of the longer course I finish half a dozen minutes ahead of 2008 at an average pace of ~13 min/mi. Credit and thanks to CM, Caren, Mary, Kate, and other training partners—and to the ~10 lbs. that I've lost.

(cf. Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (2005-03-05), SenecaCreekGreenwayTrailMarathon2006 (2006-03-05), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007, (2007-03-04), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k 2008 (2008-03-02), ...)

- Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 15:07:23 (EDT)

At Peace With

From Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity by David Fontana (p. 42, "Zen and Nature"):

As the practice of Zen meditation progresses, so the meditator gains more control, not only over the mind but also over the body. Thus he or she remains relaxed and at peace during long periods of sitting, and becomes immune to many of the rigours of climate encountered while practising outside. The less we feel in conflict with the elements and the less we strive compulsively to change things so that they accord with our own preferences, the more we can live at peace with the world.

- Friday, March 13, 2009 at 06:20:48 (EDT)

2009-02-28 - Hashawha Hills Trail 25k

15+ miles @ ~15 min/mi (including long breaks)

Deja vu! Caren Jew is driving us to a free fun trail run in northern Maryland, and as the sun rises and we pass the town of Westminster I suddenly realize that Christina Caravoulias and I ran the Bachman Valley Half Marathon here many months ago. We arrive an hour early at Bear Branch Nature Center parking lot and listen to music on the car radio, chat, and wonder why nobody else is here. Caren spots two bushy-tailed foxes cavorting far across the field of corn stubble in front of us. Distant hikers trek along a ridgeline—a trail that we will be on, it turns out, many hours in the future.

Eventually we decide that maybe we're waiting in the wrong place. Driving back to a parking lot that was empty at 0630 when we went by, we find it now full of cars. Caren parks on the shoulder of the road in perfect time for a chilly pre-race brief by Alan Gowen, race director. We exchange greetings with Gary Knipling, Michelle Harmon, James Moore, et al., then set off. During the first part of the race Tom Green runs near us. He and I continue the conversation that we had during the final miles of Bull Run Run 2008. Tom is still recovering from recent Achilles tendon surgery, and his previous long run was only 6 miles. He tells Caren and me that he lives in Columbia MD and saw us go by his home last Sunday during the RRCA Ten Miler. Small world!

Loopbacks on the trail let us meet other folks far ahead of us. The terrain is lovely, and at mile 10.5 there's an unexpected aid station that provides boiled potatoes and salt, M&Ms, pretzels, etc. We enjoy an exciting wade-across stream crossing about mile 11 that gets our feet and ankles thoroughly wet. As the RD warned, nobody ever died walking through the water but "several have died trying to cross on the fallen log!" Near mile 14 Caren spots some raptor cages and we stop to marvel at hawks, falcons, owls. and a bald eagle. They're injured/rescued birds, unable to survive in the wild. My cap gets caught and yanked off my head as we run under a thorny tree near the end of the loop.

- Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 05:13:08 (EDT)

Rapport vs. Report

At a recent workshop/seminar on "Cross-Gender Communications" the instructor pointed out a major distinction between the classical conversational styles of the sexes: females typically talk to build rapport (social/emotional connection) while males typically try to report (convey information).

At least, that's my report on the presentation!

- Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 04:01:34 (EDT)

2009-02-26 - Bull Run Trail Fun

28+ miles @ ~16 min/mi (including half an hour of stops; ~15 min/mi not counting breaks)


(Mark, Caroline, and Kate at the northern end of Bull Run Trail)

It's Caroline Williams' birthday, and after some discussion about the Korean lunar calendar, Julian vs. Gregorian dates, etc., she and Kate Abbott and I set off for a Thursday spring ramble along Bull Run Trail. We meet at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, the start/finish of the upcoming Bull Run Run 50 miler which all of us are preparing for. We follow the race course as closely as we can, but miss part of the initial loop that spreads out the crowd before the steep descent to the BRT itself. Once there we head upstream. A bright Tiffany blue colored heron flies in front of us as we trot northward near trail milepost 2. Is it a mutant Great Blue Heron, or an out-of-place anomalously-large Lesser Blue Heron? No matter—we saw it! Likewise for the four deer that Kate spies in front of us later in the day, and the big owl gliding through the trees.

In addition to BRR race prep we're working on our excuses. I report metatarsalgia and knee pains; Kate complains of tight hamstrings. I speculate that I really should wear thicker padded socks, perhaps two pairs at once. Temperatures as the day begins are in the upper 30's but rise into the upper 50's under partly cloudy skies. We go briefly off course, realize our mistake, and backtrack to recover the blue blazed path. Caroline rolls an ankle, thankfully not seriously. The big bouncy footbridge scares us only slightly today, since it's not wet and slippery as it sometimes is. We pass the northern turnaround point for the BRR but continue onward a short distance to visit the trailhead near Route 29, where I prop my cellphone on a small bridge railing and use the self-timer to get a photo of us there, 8 miles or so into the day's trek.

At mile ~16, back at our cars, we refuel and I put on more socks to add cushioning for my wayward foot bones. Then we go downstream past the Bull Run Marina to milepost 13 (or 5, counting from the other end of the BRT) where we turn back once more, to ensure that Kate gets home in time to take her boys to their after-school activities and to let me beat the evening traffic jam. A deer carcass, half eaten, decorates the trail. We tiptoe around it and hope that it's gone by race day. On the return trip we pause to read the sign at a memorial to a young girl who died under a tree by the trail. Kate leads about 80% of the time, with Caroline and me dividing the remaining pacemaker duty. Big construction machinery makes the Marina area noisy. Caroline tells us about her family, her childhood, her training regime, and her plans for her next 100 miler, the Massanutten Mountain Trails event in May. We trot through thick mounds of brown leaves and cross intermittent muddy bogs without incident. It's a lovely long-run day.

- Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 04:48:39 (EDT)

Plenty of Time

From the chapter "How Long to Practice?" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Recall that in a line six inches long, there are an infinite number of points, and in a line one inch long there are just as many. Well, then, how many moments are there in fifteen minutes, or five, or ten, or forty-five? It turns out we have plenty of time, if we are willing to hold any moments at all in awareness.

- Monday, March 09, 2009 at 04:57:33 (EDT)

Reverse Sick Leave

A good friend was hoping to run a big race, but couldn't get permission to take the time off work. So s/he resolved to call in "sick". But on race day s/he was actually somewhat ill and couldn't run—so s/he went into the office to work!

- Sunday, March 08, 2009 at 07:27:26 (EDT)

2009-02-24 - Office Ring Road

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

On this quiet afternoon, temps in the mid-30's and 10 mi/hr northerly wind, again I'm the only one in the locker room heading outside to run. Wonder why? For variety I do two loops around the outer parking lot access roads of the office complex, reputed to be ~1.5 miles each. The first takes me ~14 min, the second ~13. Fortuitously as I'm finishing up a comrade, bundled against the chill on the way to his car, sees me and gives me a startled greeting. Like Schrödinger's Cat in quantum mechanics: crazy activity doesn't count if there's no observer, eh?!

- Saturday, March 07, 2009 at 03:35:42 (EST)

Discover Zen

David Fontana's 2001 book Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity is thin (although printed on heavy paper) and oddly illustrated. The prose often lacks poetry; many of the exercises are unæsthetic. Nonetheless, at times it shines. For instance, in the introduction ("What is Zen?") the author explains:

When asked "What is Zen?" a Zen master replied, "Your ordinary, everyday life." This is as good a place to start as any. Zen, like life, defies exact definition, but its essence is the experience, moment by moment, of our own existence—a natural, spontaneous encounter, unclouded by the suppositions and expectations that come between us and reality. It is, if you like, a paring down of life until we see it as it really is, free from our illusions; it is a mental divestment of ourselves until we recognize our own true nature. What, in fact, could be more ordinary?

Fontana ends his little book ("Conclusion") with:

No-one who studies Zen in any depth can help but be changed by it. Although firmly located within Buddhism, the Zen state of mind is a feature of all the great spiritual traditions, and we can profit from Zen without abandoning our preferred tradition. Essentially, Zen training provides us with a wise friend who is always with us—humorous, gentle and compassionate when we need humour, gentleness and compassion; stern and directive when we need sternness and direction. Zen asks us to see things as they really are, instead of living our lives in a kind of waking daydream, clouded by illusion about reality and our own nature.

- Friday, March 06, 2009 at 05:03:25 (EST)

2009-02-22 - RRCA Ten Miler

10 miles @ 10.5 min/mi

The Road Runners Club of America sponsors friendly competitions among member organizations, so when Emaad Burki & Cara Marie Manlandro offer me a free ride to/from today's race I can hardly resist a chance to canter with friends and support the MCRRC—especially when the weather forecast suggests snow (whee!). Emaad's GPS brings us early to Howard County Community College in Columbia MD where we pick up bibs and visit with comrades Wayne Carson, Jeanne Larrison, and Christina Caravoulias. Walking to the start I scan the crowds for Caren Jew. I find her just in time at the back of the pack after her pre-race ramble to log some extra distance. It's been far too long since Caren and I have had a chance to trot along together, so today is a treat. It's also good training for me after yesterday's trail excursion.

Emaad & Caren & I commence at 10-10.5 min/mi and attack the hilly suburban neighborhood course as we chatter. Emaad reminisces about his youthful track and cross-country prowess, so I sing half a verse of "Glory Days" to tease him—but I'm truly impressed with the 4:20 mile he reports doing some years ago. We commiserate over his upcoming 40th birthday and I suggest he get a motorcycle, or at least some tattoos and piercings. His wife has already rejected the sports car concept. We spy what at first looks like a dead mouse in the street, but closer inspection reveals that it's just a small smashed pine cone. Our pace slows toward the end of the race though out-of-place mile markers make it hard to quantify.

Snowflakes begin to drift down at mile 8. They're pleasant, but soon become annoying as the mini-blizzard thickens and gets in our eyes. We catch up with Mayra Fairbairn at mile 9 and visit with her, then gallop onward. Caren and I come in under 1:45, faster than we expected, with Emaad blasting out the final mile in front of us. CM in her magic tights runs far ahead and averages a sub-9 pace, finishing ahead of Wayne.

- Thursday, March 05, 2009 at 04:44:21 (EST)

Contract Scribbled on a Rain Cloud

"In Fleeting Health, Moments to Savor", an essay by Loren Berlin, appeared in yesterday's New York Times [1]. It offers a moving reminder of much that we take for granted—and of the importance of living in the present, not past or future. A key observation:

Which raises the fundamental question of expectations. As a patient with an incurable illness, should I expect to be well and be surprised when my colitis flares? Or should I expect to be sick and be surprised when I am well? My doctor would want me to expect, even demand, to be well—and that's what I want, too. But I am afraid. Afraid to believe in something so ephemeral as remission, reluctant to trust this coquettish sweetness called normalcy.

Because my current good health is so precious to me, I am anxious that it might abandon me at any moment. I can't predict, or control, the ebbs and flows of my illness. Instead, I am at its mercy. And that's what I can’t yet absorb: that I am not through with this disease, that I have just completed the first round.

I have to embrace my restored health while accepting that it may not last. It's a contract scribbled on a rain cloud. It's mine, until it's not.

So I have to take my current good health and show it off to the world. I have to visit my girlfriends in California, and gorge myself on burritos. I have to camp in the mountains, and buy a cute dress for spring. Because today, this happy body is mine. And if I lose it tomorrow, then that will happen tomorrow. Not today.

- Wednesday, March 04, 2009 at 04:39:50 (EST)

2009-02-21 - SCGT Training

~21 miles @ ~14 min/mi

On River Road a hawk stands astride its prey. It flares its wings and scares away the crow that's trying to sidle up for a piece of the action. Then the hawk grabs the roadkill critter (rabbit? squirrel? I can't identify it) and hop-drags it toward the shoulder of the asphalt. The crow, ever hopeful, follows. Dawn has broken and I'm driving to Riley's Lock where folks are gathering for a Seneca Creek Greenway Trail training run. When I arrive Ed Schultze, race director for the upcoming SCGT Marathon/50k, is already there. Others arrive and we divide into groups; my crew piles into Carolyn Gernand's new truck to ride out to Route 355 in Gaithersburg where we'll start running. Her thermometer reads 17°F.

Ed prebriefs us on route markings and aid he's prepositioned, and then we hit the trail. My neighbor Karen Donohue chats with me for a while as we go, then runs ahead. I fall in with Barry Smith, and together we make good progress. In 45 minutes we reach Clopper Lake; the SCGT has been rerouted to avoid erosion and it's much shorter on this segment than in years past. Barry and I dither, debate, and dare one another until we decide to take the 3 mile lake loop. We agree that both of us need the extra mileage.

Barry and I circle the lake in 49 minutes and proceed downstream. Just before Riffleford Rd we venture onto the yellow-blazed side trail as per Ed's instructions to add a mile to the course. Since we're last at this point we take down the bright streamer-ribbons that Ed put up to mark the way. (We later learn that others took a wrong turn ahead of us but found their way back to the trail.) In 36 minutes we're at Riffleford Rd, 34 min more brings us to Germantown Rd, and 23 min later we arrive at Black Rock Mill where Ed left a cooler of goodies. Root beer, coke, and pretzels remain for us, plus a little water. I refill one of my bottles with water and try to put root beer in the other, but it foams up and makes a geyser leaving that bottle only half full. Still far better than nothing!

After 6 minutes of R&R we jog onward. As we approach Route 28 four big deer bound across the path in front of me. Temps are well above freezing now and the trail becomes muddy in places. Barry slows and, with his permission, I trot ahead. It takes 17 minutes total from Black Rock to Rt 28 and 53 min more to Berryville Rd, as I try hard not to slip and do a sudden split (ouch!). Climbing the big hill and descending to River Rd is 20 minutes, and then I sprint down the street to tag Ed's truck 9 minutes later. Barry glides in shortly behind me. I wave to him as I drive away.

- Tuesday, March 03, 2009 at 04:49:51 (EST)

Laundromat Surprises

At 6am yesterday on a snowy Sunday morning the attendant and I are the only two people in the local laundromat. Then a little middle-aged Hispanic lady arrives. She heads for the change machine to convert paper money into quarters for her washing. I've seen her there often over the years, but aside from generic greetings we've scarcely spoken. Then she turns and asks me, "Are you a practicing Buddhist?"

I'm floored. She explains that I have a cheerful, peaceful demeanor when I'm folding clothes. (Ha! Do I have her fooled?) I confess to having started to read about and attempt a little mindfulness. She chats with me, goes out to her car, and returns with a book by Thich Nhat Hahn, The Art of Power. I show her the library copy of Breath Sweeps Mind that I'm halfway through. At intervals during the next couple of hours, as our clothes cycle through the washers and dryers, she tells me about growing up Catholic and turning to Buddhism, about working on her anger issues (though she seems quite pacific to me), about the Zen temple down the road in DC where she does sitting and walking meditation and participates in discussions on Sunday nights, etc. Her name is America. "God bless me—and the rest of you too!" she jokes.

America introduces me to a tall lanky African-American man who arrives a bit later to do his laundry on this late-wintery morning. He's a jazz musician and has a new CD that she recommends. His job is at the Federal Communications Commission downtown. He remembers meeting my sons some time ago when they got up early enough to accompany me to the laundromat. A little later, after some gentle questioning, he confesses to having a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia and a daughter who's a freshman at Pitzer College in California. We chat about energy policy and microeconomic theory (I exhaust my knowledge in a few seconds) and he recommends readings for me by Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu. I warn him that my book queue is already overflowing.

America finishes doing her clothes and prepares to leave. We take turns accusing one another of being the Buddha in disguise, "That's what you are, but what am I?" we laugh. The snow keeps falling.

(cf. UnseenUniversity (1999-08-07), Bringing the Mind Home (2009-02-26), ...)

- Monday, March 02, 2009 at 05:18:14 (EST)

2009-02-19 - Paved Office Path

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

After avoiding the locker room at the office gymnasium for a couple of decades I venture downstairs to the basement facility. If the sight of my godlike naked body makes mere mortals quail in embarrassment and/or envy, so what? Comrade Kate taunts me mercilessly about my lack of training during the week, and I've finally brought shoes, socks, shorts, and shirt in. My employer's policy encourages a few hours of fitness training weekly, and as a good worker bee I'm duty-bound to comply, eh?!

Almost all the treadmills and fancy exercise machines are occupied, but when I venture outside I have the hilly asphalt path entirely to myself. It's hard to understand why: temperatures are in the upper 30's and brisk northerly winds make for near-perfect running weather. My mile splits on three orbits are 8:49, 8:42, and 8:39, far faster than I expect. The setting sun blinds me whenever the course turns southwest. The woods are brown and dry, and no critters are out. My knees glow red from the chill as I return to the building.

- Sunday, March 01, 2009 at 04:54:51 (EST)

Slow to Catch On

Walking to the subway a few days ago I'm thinking high thoughts about James Boswell, the great biographer, and am wishing that I could write as well as he did. And then, as usual, my mind slips back into the gutter: the sound of the name "Boswell" suddenly reminds me of the buxom young "Miss Braswell". She's a well-endowed minor character in one of the late Keith Laumer's comic science fiction stories that I first read as a teenager. Could Braswell be a subtle reference to Boswell? I had always assumed that it was simply a made-up name, designed to suggest her feminine charms to the pubescent male mind. If "Braswell" is really a literary allusion, this is a new Personal Record for me in terms of how long it takes me to catch on to a joke—more than 40 years! My face is red ...

(cf. brief excerpt in from Laumer's story in AwesomeProwess (2003-03-17), Bawdy Blind Spot (2009-02-12), ...)

- Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 04:10:50 (EST)

2009-02-16 - Recovery Run

~2.5 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Christina Caravoulias and I both have the day off today (it was her birthday yesterday) so I slowly jog the 1.5 miles to meet her near Beach Dr and the Beltway, the base of the Mormon Temple long hill on Stoneybrook. When she calls and says she will be a bit delayed there's time for some brief hillwork! I attack the long rise as CM taught me to yesterday and reach the top in 5 min, then coast back down in 4.5 min. When Chris arrives we walk ~1.5 miles down Rock Creek Trail to E-W Hwy, chatting about how recent races and workouts have gone. We walk back upstream to her car and she gives me a ride home. The weather is chilly, temps in the upper 30's with strong north winds. The old legs feel quite good after yesterday's marathon.

- Friday, February 27, 2009 at 04:58:26 (EST)

Bringing the Mind Home

Metaphors involving the sky have great appeal. The lyrics of the song "Torn" (by Anne Preven), for instance, include:

Illusion never changed
Into something real
I'm wide awake
And I can see
The perfect sky is torn

So likewise my eye was caught by a lyrical description of meditation in the first section of the delightfully-named Breath Sweeps Mind, a collection of readings subtitled "A First Guide to Meditation Practice". From an excerpt of Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, "Bringing the Mind Home":

The Buddha sat in serene and humble dignity on the ground, with the sky above him and around him, as if to show us that in meditation you sit with an open, sky-like attitude of mind, yet remain present, earthed, and grounded. The sky is our absolute nature, which has no barriers and is boundless, and the ground is our reality, our relative, ordinary condition. The posture we take when we meditate signifies that we are linking absolute and relative, sky and ground, heaven and earth, like two wings of a bird, integrating the sky-like deathless nature of mind and the ground of our transient, mortal nature.

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment. ...

(cf. TheBrink (2001-04-13), SkyLights (2003-05-25), Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-26), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)

- Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 05:10:28 (EST)

2009-02-15 - Washington Birthday Marathon

26.2+ miles @ 10.3 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/GWBM_2009_CM_z.jpg"OK for me to run on ahead now?" I innocently ask at mile 23.

"No!" is Cara Marie Manlandro's reply—and her voice has teeth in it. It's CM's first marathon and she's understandably a bit tense, even though she's wearing her Magic Tights, the weather is perfect, and things are going splendidly. We're under 4 hours into the race, more than 10 minutes ahead of where I was last year at this point.

Fortunately for me I obey CM's request and escape her wrath. My calves are on the ragged edge of cramping as we climb the final hill-that-won't-quit. We round the curve at mile 25.5 and see another section to ascend. Finally CM agrees to take a brief walk break, her first (not counting strolls through aid stations to sip Gatorade). We crest the hill and start running again.

A wobbly sprint down the final path brings us to the finish line in 4:30:20. It's a "PFFA" day for CM and a 13 minute improvement to my PR set here last year. Wow!

(photo by Bobby Gill)

The fine race for me happens thanks to CM's smart, aggressive pacing plus recent months of long-run training together. Comrade Ken Swab also gets a tip of the hat: he runs with CM and me for the first dozen miles, provides helpful entertaining commentary, and strolls in 16 minutes behind us.

CM blasts home at the upper bound of my expectations; I had anticipated something 10-20 minutes slower. Yes, she has to walk backwards down stairs for several days after the event. Yes, we reach the finish line before her husband can arrive to applaud. But CM sets an unofficial half-marathon personal record at the midpoint of the race, and then smashes that PR by almost 3 minutes to negative-split the second half. And she's happy. So am I.

In the Beginning

Race day dawns with warm weather, temps in the upper 30's rising to the lower 40's and intermittent northerly winds ~10 mi/hr. I arrive at the Greenbelt Youth Center about 0845 and greet friend Kate Abbott & Caroline Williams. They're doing the 0930 early start. There's a long line for bibs and late registration—but since the GWBM is a small marathon with fewer than 200 runners, "long" means a only a 5-10 minute wait, not like a mega-race. Yesterday Caroline set a powerful 50k PR at Holiday Lake so today is just a training run for her as she prepares for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler this spring. Kate and I are getting ready for the Bull Run Run. I hang around and take photos of Race Director Pat Brown, Relay Director Bob Platt, and the start for the early group. (cf. [1])

Back at the Youth Center a few minutes later Ken Swab greets me, and then I see CM. She introduces me to her husband George Blair and friend Holly Zimmerman. A few minutes before 1030 we amble out with much banter and joking. Ken shushes me so we can hear the "GO" signal. We cross the starting line 12 seconds thereafter.

CM sets a brisk pace, 30-60 sec/mi faster than we trained at. She's intent as she attacks the hills, refusing to walk. I follow her lead and keep running; Ken drops back on the uphills but then floats past us on the downhills. He and I chatter away and entertain CM, who's concentrating on the job at hand. Various folks who have seen me race here in the past five years greet us as we trek along.

Golden Apples

The mountains of manure on the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center are downwind of us so we don't get to smell their fragrance today. Gunfire from the nearby shooting range greets us near mile 5. Ken and I attempt to recite the Gettysburg Address (text at [2]), but CM accelerates to escape and we have to stop.

Then CM takes a packet of Sports Beans out to eat and accidentally drops one. Usually I'm the bottom-feeder who picks up fallen food, but this time Ken beats me to it. I complain, so CM tosses another jellybean down for me. It skitters back and I have to reverse course to snag it. That reminds me of the Greek myth of the Golden Apples tossed down by one runner to slow another who stops to pick them up. But I garble the tale in the telling and confound it with the story of the Golden Apple awarded "To the Fairest", resulting in the Trojan War. My bad!

A mile later my favorite bum bag, a fancy Amphipod, develops a hole after years of hard usage. Ken is behind me and spots a goo packet falling out. I loop back again, pick it up, and transfer the contents of my fanny pack (paper towels, petroleum jelly, energy gels, S! electrolyte capsules, ibuprofen, antihistamine—yes, I'm a walking pharmacy today) to the pockets of my shorts. Ken's knee is starting to complain, so he takes a couple of my ibuprofen tablets. They seem to help.

About mile 7, on Springfield Rd, CM spies what appears to be a line of runners proceeding along the far side of a barren field. Ken and I believe her for a while, but after much peering and debate we figure out that they're distant pennants, markers of some sort perhaps for a farm experiment. Then just after we turn the corner onto Powder Mill Rd Ken spots a couple of Clif Blocs, gummy electrolyte candies, on the ground. I'm tired of backtracking and promise to pick them up next time around, since the course includes three 7.3 mile loops along these country roads.

Dead Skunk

CM continues to refuse to walk up any of the hills, especially after I threaten to lie down and sing the classic "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road". Ken, who has been ill in recent weeks and hasn't been able to train as much as he might like, begins to suspect that our pace is a bit too much for him today. About mile 12 he bids us farewell and throttles back about 1 min/mi, to something more sustainable. He keeps us in sight for several miles thereafter.

At mile 15 CM and I pass the same location where Ken reported candy on the ground. Only one Clif Bloc remains, and this time I pick it up and enjoy the cherry flavor for the next several miles since it sticks to my molars and refuses to come off. I've been sucking down one energy gel (chocolate with caffeine) every hour, and drinking copious quantities of Gatorade at every opportunity. Fellow MCRRC ultrarunner Jim Cavanaugh is serving at an aid station and teases me for running with a girl every time he sees me.

At mile 20 CM takes a couple of ibuprofens for muscle soreness, and at mile 22 swallows another, my last. I apologize for the shortfall and blame Ken (since he's not there) for throwing off my calculation. We're now clearly far ahead of schedule thanks to CM's hard pushing. At her request I phone her husband to alert him, but it's not quite in time for him to get back.

Kate Abbott phones me and we chat briefly; she ran a relaxed race and finished comfortably, then headed home to her family. On the final big hill we catch up with Caroline Williams who finishes only a few minutes after us.

Bottom Line

Major factors in today's extraordinary result:


(graph by CM Manlandro)

first half = 2:16:31 — second half = 2:13:49

mile split time mile split time mile split time

(cf. Washington Birthday Marathon 2004, Washington Birthday Marathon 2005, Washington Birthday Marathon 2006, Washington Birthday Marathon 2007, Washington Birthday Marathon 2008, ...)

- Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 05:06:14 (EST)

Ode Magazine

A couple of recent issues of Ode: For Intelligent Optimists fell into my hands recently. It's a magazine that I would like to like (who wouldn't, with that subtitle?) but have a tough time with. Ode is slick and photo-rich but content-thin. The ads are obtrusive and at times embarrassing (e.g., "Get More Affection with Pheromones!", "The Only Cigarette Made with 10% Organic Tobacco!", and some really strange products). The main articles in Ode are profiles of people who are doing good, or trying to. But there's a repetitive sameness to their projects, which usually involve alternative medicine, making electricity or automotive fuels in unconventional ways, achieving enlightenment, helping third-world economies, rescuing endangered creatures, and other such noble activities. All well and good—but reading uncritical coverage of long-shot experiments seems perhaps less socially useful than actually doing something oneself and helping others do likewise ...

(cf. ConspicuousAnticonsumption (2004-09-17), ...)

- Monday, February 23, 2009 at 18:54:32 (EST)

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.)