Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.76 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 = 0.75 ... 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 ...
Fascinating things happen when I get drowsy at a concert, during a boring meeting, etc. Image processing in the brain breaks down, depth cues stop working, objects adjacent to one another are no longer properly separated, and the "two-and-a-half dimensional sketch" made by the visual cortex becomes full of errors. Vertical lines develop subtle, vibrating jogs; hues shift and grays take on faint orange casts.
But there's a countermeasure that I've discovered: find somebody else who's falling asleep and observe them. Somehow, when I'm watching another person struggling to remain conscious, I become more wakeful. Why?
(cf. DreamData (2002-03-22), ...)
- Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 05:21:20 (EDT)
"I don't like the looks of that," Kate Abbott says quietly to me, as we spy a line of half a dozen ominous silhouettes blocking the W&OD Trail ahead. It's like a scene out of a Western movie, but at 6am and near a suburban golf course. We're less than an hour into our run. Kate and I move onto the parallel gravel horse path to avoid the crowd. One or two of them shift likewise. "Now I like this even less. We could end up dead in the bushes by the side of the trail," Kate whispers.
"Hope not!" I joke, ever the optimist. "There's poison ivy there and I don't want to be all itchy in the afterlife. Let me take the lead now." Chivalrously or foolishly I jog ahead. Fortunately for us the crew turns out to be non-menacing: it's just some boys and a girl, roughly high school age, perhaps walking home after a late-night graduation party. I greet them and they respond in friendly fashion. Whew!
Kate and I are enjoying a long run this warm and humid Saturday morning. Along the way we see a red fox, a woodchuck, and a rabbit. We start at 5:15am from Reston Town Center and finish a bit over 4 hours later. A gibbous moon hangs close to Jupiter in the morning sky. Our initial miles flow by at a consistent 10.3-10.7 min/mi pace.
At milepost 24.5 we meet Kate's young friend Jorge. Earlier this year she led him through the National Marathon, his first. We chat, until suddenly I realize that we must have missed Mary Ewell half a mile back, where the trail arches over Rt 28 and milepost 24 was covered with brush. Oops!
I phone Mary and we all trot back so she can join us. Mary is training at a slightly slower pace right now and only has about four miles on her plan for the day, so after a mile we let Kate and Jorge sprint ahead. Mary and I trek on to milepost 26, then back to 24, at a roughly 12 min/mi rate. We chatter about family, training, and Mary's preparations for her wedding in a fortnight. I congratulate her, give her a butterscotch candy and a root beer barrel, shake her hand, and she heads for home.
Then it's westward ho! for me again: a couple of brisk miles at sub-10 pace with segments on the horse trail for variety. I peer through the brush hoping not to miss Kate. Just before marker 26.5 we spy one another converging and wave frenziedly. Together the return trip to our starting point goes smoothly at ~11 min/mi, including a water stop in downtown Herndon where a flea market is underway. Salty sweat drips into our eyes as the morning heat increases. At our cars we salute one another. Kate heads off to her yoga classes with 22+ miles under her belt. I've done about a mile less, and go home to nap.
- Monday, June 22, 2009 at 05:07:07 (EDT)
Recently I came across a fascinating self-referential image. In Finding the Still Point: A Beginner's Guide to Zen Meditation John Daido Loori writes (Chapter 11: The Great Way):
One thing, all things, move among and intermingle without distinction ... refers to the metaphor of the Diamond Net of Indra. Everything throughout space and time is interconnected, and at each connection—at each point—is a diamond that reflects every other diamond, so that in this vast net, each diamond contains every other diamond. ...
Indra's Net  is discussed in various places, e.g. in Hunab Ku: 77 Sacred Symbols for Balancing Body and Spirit by Karen and Joel Speerstra (Chapter 36: Dolphin):
The Buddhists have a wonderful concept of the universe called the Diamond Net of Indra. They say there is a vast net containing everything, everywhere, and a multifaceted diamond is caught at each nexus point in the net. Like a sparkling hologram, each diamond reflects every other diamond. Looking at one, you see the entire net throughout space and across all time. If you shake one piece of the net, all other parts tremble; each is codependent on the others. ...
And I saw, but totally failed to remember, a discussion of Indra's Net more than two decades ago in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, where Douglas Hofstadter notes (Part I, Chapter IX: Mumon and Gödel):
... The endless connections which all things have to each other is only hinted at here, yet the hint is enough. The Buddhist allegory of "Indra's Net" tells of an endless net of threads throughout the universe, the horizontal threads running through space, the vertical ones through time. At every crossing of threads is an individual, and every individual is a crystal bead. The great light of "Absolute Being" illuminates and penetrates every crystal bead; moreover, every crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net—but also every reflection of every reflection throughout the universe.
How many other such images have I forgotten? Apparently my crystal bead is rather cloudy!
- Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 04:34:23 (EDT)
The little bird tries to scrape a dried worm off the sidewalk, then flitters away as I approach. It's hot enough that I can identify with that worm. Again today thunderstorms are portended but haven't yet arrived at 2:30pm. I undertake three laps around the parking lot perimeter at work—and this time, in spite of eating too much at the Indian restaurant's buffet for lunch, my times improve relative to 2009-06-09 - Heat Acclimation: ~1.5 mile circuits of 14:20 + 14:02 + 13:18. Perhaps the clouds help a bit.
- Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 05:15:10 (EDT)
The rear window wiper blade on Paulette's MINI Cooper goes slower than the front windshield wipers. It also moves sporadically, not constantly. That makes sense as an engineering design feature: during ordinary operation much less water gets onto the back window. But a discovery that took me almost five years to notice: the rear wiper makes precisely one swipe for every three that the front wipers make. This relationship applies when the front wipers are running at any speed: intermittent, slow, or fast. It only breaks down when the front wipers are turned off entirely, in which case the rear wiper goes at its slowest rate. Fascinating—to somebody like me, anyway, who enjoys seeing silly patterns ...
(cf. IpodMiniCooperAccessory (2004-07-06), ...)
- Friday, June 19, 2009 at 04:42:53 (EDT)
"And I thought I was crazy!" the friendly pedestrian says to me as I jog past. The temperature is in the mid-80's with high humidity and an early afternoon sun beaming down—perfect to begin getting used to upcoming summer heat. Three laps around the ~1.5 mile parking lot perimeter at the office take me about 14:30 + 14:15 + 13:45, to which add 1.5 minutes getting to/from the door. I'm soaked with sweat.
- Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 04:39:23 (EDT)
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh is a thoughtful little book that I read a few decades ago and then largely forgot. Maybe putting it aside to gestate for a while and then coming back to it with fresh eyes was helpful? Regardless, rereading it recently I appreciated Hahn's comments on following the breath a bit more. From Chapter Four ("The Pebble"):
During meditation, various feelings and thoughts may arise. If you don't practice mindfulness of the breath, these thoughts will soon lure you away from mindfulness. But the breath isn't simply a means by which to chase away such thoughts and feelings. Breath remains the vehicle to unite body and mind and to open the gate to wisdom. When a feeling or thought arises, your intention should not be to chase it away, even if by continuing to concentrate on the breath the feeling or thought passes naturally from the mind. The intention isn't to chase it away, hate it, worry about it, or be frightened by it. So what exactly should you be doing concerning such thoughts and feelings? Simply acknowledge their presence. For example, when a feeling of sadness arises, immediately recognize it: "A feeling of sadness has just arisen in me." If the feeling of sadness continues, continue to recognize "A feeling of sadness is still in me." If there is a thought like "It's late but the neighbors are sure making a lot of noise," recognize that the thought has arisen. If the thought continues to exist, continue to recognize it. If a different feeling or thought arises, recognize it in the same manner. The essential thing is not to let any feeling or thought arise without recognizing it in mindfulness, like a palace guard who is aware of every face that passes through the front corridor.
(translation by Mobi Ho; cf. EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Midcourse Correction 2009-02-13), Try It for a Few Years (2009-05-19), ...)
- Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 06:34:35 (EDT)
In the post-finish-line chute the fellow in front of me ducks under the side rope, crosses the path to a small tree, and throws up. The rest of us watch, pant, and wait for him to return. We've just finished a 5k MCRRC race in a time almost a minute faster than I've ever done the distance before. I credit good training with wonderful friends plus a bit of weight loss and not-too-bad pacing during the event.
When I arrive at the starting line area Emaad and Saira Burki greet me and tell me that Caren Jew is already here. I jog down the Capital Crescent Trail a quarter mile seeking her and warming up, chat briefly with Betty Smith, and return as Emaad joins me. The kid's run starts and I spy Wayne Carson. We chat, then Caren materializes, dressed all in black and ready to race. Ken Swab is here too, and CM Manlandro. Mical and Paul Honigfort show off their cute baby Erik, and Mical and I discuss our hopes for the run. We're cagey; neither of us will commit to anything more specific than "23ish".
My pumpkin-orange "12:00+" pacer singlet gives merriment to many who notice it. At the gun CM and I start off together, chatting and weaving through the dense crowd on the narrow bikepath. I wave my arms about to maintain a little personal space. After a minute the crush thins. "Let's run!" I tell CM and dart ahead, not looking back, figuring she's on my heels. Soon I catch Wayne who tells me that we're doing about a 7 min/mi pace. "Too fast!" I warn, but keep pushing onward. The course is slightly downhill from here to the turnaround, which obviously implies a gently uphill finish.
Mile One is 6:56, an unsustainable pace. Two young ladies swerve daintily to avoid a shallow mud puddle at the base of the River Rd bridge. I fearlessly run across it thanks to Caren's careful coaching, push hard climbing the bridge's arch, and try not to slow on the way down. The leaders are now coming back from the turnaround ahead. I shout "Good run!" at them, and soon it's time for me to round the midcourse cone and begin the return trip. Wayne is a handful of seconds behind, followed by CM and the rest of the gang.
The Mile Two marker eludes my observation but I feel I'm slowing. My average pace for miles 2 and 3 together is 7:17 and I arrive at Mile Three at the 21:30 point. Then it's dash to the finish in 45 more seconds for a total time of 22:15, a PR for me by 59 seconds. Whew!
- Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 05:01:46 (EDT)
"Seize the Breath!" Paying attention to one's inhalations and exhalations is a classic way to develop mindfulness—deliberate, nonjudgmental awareness. (cf. Present-Moment Reality) A standard method is to count breaths, from 1 to 10, then start over. But my attention constantly wanders and suddenly I realize, often quite belatedly, that I've become distracted and lost count. Embarrassing, but no problem: just start over with "1", and don't worry.
But how to bring myself back to self-consciousness efficiently and with shorter gaps? What I really need is a gentle reminder, a trigger that happens frequently but not so often to lose effectiveness. The "Pause on Each Threshold" technique, for instance, is wonderful but it only works intermittently and when walking about, and I generally forget to apply it. Likewise for the other approaches I've heard of.
But I've come up with a new trick that seems to have great potential: I try to awaken whenever I think about—hmmm, how to put this politely?—grace, beauty, pulchritude. Yes, s*e*x, but in the nicest way, those slightly spicy moments with a gentle charge of eros. A toss of hair. The curve of a calf. A glint from a diamond ear stud. A glimpse of decolletage or hint of thigh, if clothing slips slightly—when "A sweet disorder in the dress / Kindles in clothes a wantonness". A womanly-mathematical hip-to-waist ratio. The Big Bopper's lyric: "Chantilly lace and a pretty face / And a pony tail hanging down / That wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk".
There are enough such voluptuous moments in everyday life to bring me back to occasional self-awareness ...
(cf. RearAdmiralLowerHalf (2003-07-01), AwesomeProwess (2003-07-17), ...)
- Monday, June 15, 2009 at 04:54:54 (EDT)
In case young bikini-clad ladies are cavorting in the parking lot (cf. 2009-05-31 - Schaeffer Farms) I arrive at Drop Zone X-Ray shortly after 4am—alas, no such luck. Caren Jew is already there; maybe she sent them home? Regardless, Caren drives us out to her beloved Catoctin Trail where we reach the trailhead in Gambrill State Park before dawn. We pause until it's light enough that we can avoid tripping over rocks and roots, and at 0515 set off. Caren and I are training for the Catoctin 50k to be held 1 August this year. (cf. Catoctin 50k 2008 for details of last year's race) The morning is cool at first—Caren dons her zebra-striped sleeves for warmth—but we soon warm up.
We trot along the (relatively few) smooth segments, walk the hills, and wade through high-water streams. Conversation ranges over favorite comic strips, quirky-comic TV shows, crossword puzzles, etc. Caren identifies a birdcall, then loses confidence and retracts her judgment; I tell her never to admit a mistake and that she could easily have continued to fool me. A three-inch-long tangerine-orange newt stands sentry in the middle of the trail, definitely alive (we poke it gently) but slowed to a crawl by the chill. After 1:48 outbound we reach the pond a few minutes short of Hamburg Rd and turn back, since I have to get home early—comrades David & Diana have invited Paulette & me to their engagement luncheon at a Thai restaurant.
Our return trip brings encounters with hikers and other runners, some in big packs. We go off course twice, once when going too fast and debating whether the trail here is "quite runnable" vs. "highly runnable". The other time we're again blasting along and fail to pay enough attention while challenging each other to attack the hill ahead. In both cases our detour is soon recognized and only adds a quarter mile or less to the journey. In spite of extra distance we're back at Caren's car in 1:41, significantly faster than the outbound trip.
- Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 09:43:29 (EDT)
"Love Story" is a popular song by Taylor Swift that steps to the brink of greatness and then backs off. It's ostensibly "country" music but gets considerable airplay on rock stations. The lyrics tell the Romeo and Juliet story, loosely but movingly, until the final verse—when the boy proposes marriage to the girl and says, "I talked to your dad / go pick out a white dress". What? Is that all there is to the family rivalry? Even the Leonardo DiCaprio "Romeo + Juliet" modernized movie version was brave enough to keep the original tragic ending. How anticlimactic ...
- Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 03:26:34 (EDT)
This note is mostly for myself (but then, so is everything else here!) to help me remember. There are several ways to make a backup, but one of the simplest and fastest at the moment:
lftp -u userid,password zhurnaly.comto connect to zhurnaly.com as userid using password "password"
lcdto the local directory for backup
cd httpdocs/oddmuse/page/to the Oddmuse page directory on the server
mirrorto back up all pages
One can also use
lftp to update a prior backup and save considerable time if not much has changed. To do that, navigate with
lcd to the local archive directory, navigate with
cd to the Oddmuse page directory, and use
mirror -ev to download new files and delete files which no longer exist on the server (v = verbosely). Backing up other files can be done similarly ...
- Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 03:22:11 (EDT)
"Make Way for Ducklings!" Or rather, ducklings make way for me, hastily escorted by their parents off the path and into Lake Artemesia as I pass by. It's a Wednesday evening and I've got an hour to invest before time to pick up kids from the University. So at 7:45pm I park by the Paint Branch Trail near US Route 1 and jog to mile marker 1.5 behind the Engineering bldg. From there it's downstream through and around big flood-puddles left by this afternoon's thunderstorms. First mile 9:22, then the fragment to the lake loop, around which I do two more laps at 9:22 and 8:26 pace, according to pavement mile markings.
Lightning bolts in the east reflect ominously off the surface of the water. A MARC train idles on the track for a few minutes, then pulls away. At first I think I have the lake to myself, but then a handful of others appear, fishermen leaving for the day, a cyclist, a couple of other runners. Green Line metro trains rumble past, almost empty. The final mile is 7:50 in ominous near-darkness under overhanging trees. Sagging bamboo fronds slap me in the face. Intermittent rain during the run becomes steady after I get back to the car.
- Friday, June 12, 2009 at 04:42:57 (EDT)
|If we remembered it all,|
Every flare, flash, flicker,
New images every moment:
Would we overflow,
Like a cup under a waterfall?
Swell and stretch,
Burst like a balloon,
Slide into madness,
Memories jostling, crowding,
Erasing one another?
If every stone were a diamond,
Would they lose all value?
- Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 04:55:17 (EDT)
(Map of our route, gray line added to base map , starting at lower-right corner and passing through numbers 3, 2, 1, 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 15, 14, 13, 11, 10, 6, 5, and then exiting again at lower-right)
"Slow down! You're going too fast!" the voice shouts at Caren Jew and me as we trot along the mountain bike path. We look around, expecting to see a cyclist zooming toward us—but it's Mark McKennett, parked at a trail junction and pulling our legs. I last saw Mark at 2am on Massanutten Mountain, at the fire ring for the Gap Creek Aid Station where he was waiting to take on pacer duty with a 100 mile racer. Today he's exploring the bike paths, as we are. He shows us a photo on his Blackberry from his run on the Appalachian Trail yesterday with Cathy Blessing.
Today Caren and I are enjoying a Sunday afternoon trek, and it's truly a delight in spite of warm weather. Both of us arrive a quarter hour early at Black Rock Mill, where I find it difficult to prepare for the run as bikini-clad girls cavort nearby and prepare to jump into Seneca Creek with their friends. As Caren observes, they're "obviously very comfortable with their bodies", though they do appear to risk falling out of their garments (cf. "Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown" and BrainyJogbra). But eventually I manage to tie my shoes.
Caren and I climb the steep hill from Black Rock Rd to join the Schaeffer Farm labyrinth at the white-blazed trail near where a bicycle hangs high in a tree. The first park map we consult is covered with daddy-long-legs spiders. Caren has ridden her bike here some years ago and suggests a lovely roundabout route that leads us across fields and over hills. She neglects to mention half a dozen water crossings, where streams are swollen from recent heavy rains. That's OK, though I'm still more timid than I should be about getting wet feet. But the waters do wash off some of the mud from our shoes.
Oddly enough, ~80% of the bikers we meet here are impolite and don't even respond to our greetings. But the day remains splendid, with noteworthy sweet-smelling honeysuckle in bloom, a tree covered in mysterious red/black berries, and a garter snake which Caren spies slithering away. We remember running here with Mary Ewell almost a year ago (see 2008-06-20 - Blowdown Town). A cellphone tower stands so far away across the fields of soybeans that I find it hard to believe it's the same landmark when the trail takes us to its base after a roundabout meander through the forest. And there's the photo I wish I had taken, as Caren's fuchsia top contrasts with the verdant hillside in our crossing of an open meadow. Of course, as a male I don't remember the color-name "fuchsia"—I call it chartreuse, much to Caren's amusement. But I do remember the girls in their swimsuits ...
- Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 05:22:10 (EDT)
Several months ago comrade Dave Ward and I were discussing songs that get stuck inside one's head. Dave told me that they're called "earworms", and we each offered up examples to annoy the other, e.g., "It's a Small World"—that infamous bit of fluff that I heard decades ago playing on a loop at Disneyland . Alas, I still can't forget it.
And that discussion reminded me of the Robert McCloskey "Homer Price" stories that I read a decade or so before that . In one, an earworm spreads like a plague through the small town where Homer lives. Our boy hero has to find and unleash a countermeasure earworm to save everyone. It's like the notion of fighting computer virus infections with counter-infections, but far ahead of its time. And amazingly, Mark Twain was there even earlier . A 2007 blog post by "The Old Coot"  summarizes the situation:
Back a long time ago, Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain, wrote a short story called "Punch, Brothers, Punch" (included in Punch, Brothers, Punch! And Other Sketches, 1878) which featured the following little verse:
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
The idea of the story was that anyone who read or heard those lines was totally unable to get them out of his/her/its head. ... The only way to exorcise oneself was to recite the verse to another person, who promptly became hag-ridden in turn.
Robert McCloskey, in one of his Homer Price stories ("Pie and Punch and You-Know-Whats," in Centerburg Tales, 1951), took the idea a little farther. In this story, it's a song about a "hip-high hippopotamus" that is driving the residents of Centerburg crazy. In this case, however, singing the song to another person simply means that two people are singing it instead of just one. Finally Homer comes up with an idea, and leads the affected (afflicted) citizens to the library. Unfortunately, he can't remember what the book looks like, but finally he finds it - and loudly recites "Punch, brothers...." This does the trick, of course, and now everyone is babbling about trip slips instead of the hippopotamus. Conveniently, the librarian, who is on her way out of town on vacation, walks in on them. "Tell her, everybody!" Homer cries, and tell her they do, in unison. This lifts the curse for them, and someone escorts the librarian to the train station (so she can carry the poem out of town) while everyone else collapses in exhaustion from all the singing.
Thankfully, merely reading about the earworm in a book didn't result in spreading it.
- Tuesday, June 09, 2009 at 04:58:27 (EDT)
No, she's not really a wimp, though she calls herself one today! CM Manlandro usually trains within 30 seconds of racing speed. After 10 uncharacteristically slow miles and her apology I remind her that "normal" people train 1-2 min/mi under race pace. (I also caution her that she's not allowed to say "I'm sorry" more than once per mile; she stays within that budget.) Maybe she's coming down with a cold? We follow my Bethesda Loop, starting from home at 5:30am, to the Capital Crescent Trail mile marker 3.5, then out Old Georgetown Rd to Cedar Ln and back home via Rock Creek Trail and Ireland Dr. Although CM's GPS says it's 11.4 miles I've been claiming "~11" for the past few years—typical sandbagging underestimation on my part? Two deer on the CCT stare at us, flick their tails, then retreat into the brush.
- Monday, June 08, 2009 at 04:52:13 (EDT)
Massanutten Mountain Midnight Madness described some of what went on 16-17 May 2009 at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler, as seen from the viewpoint of Kate Abbott and me. Three more observations, all involving glimpses of light:
- Sunday, June 07, 2009 at 06:16:57 (EDT)
From the chapter "Posture" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Mindful sitting meditation is not an attempt to escape from problems or difficulties into some cut-off "meditative" state of absorption or denial. On the contrary, it is a willingness to go nose to nose with pain, confusion, and loss, if that is what is dominating the present moment, and to stay with the observing over a sustained period of time, beyond thinking. You seek understanding simply through bearing the situation in mind, along with your breath, as you maintain the sitting posture.
Although it is tempting to do so, you can't just think that you understand how to be mindful, and save using it for only those moments when the big events hit. They contain so much power they will overwhelm you instantly, along with all your romantic ideas about equanimity and knowing how to be mindful. Meditation practice is the slow, disciplined work of digging trenches, of working in the vineyards, of bucketing out a pond. It is the work of moments and the work of a lifetime, all wrapped into one.
(cf. Work of a Lifetime (2009-02-01), ...)
- Friday, June 05, 2009 at 04:48:52 (EDT)
The jogging path is rumored to be closed today so I try an excursion down Savile Lane, a somewhat hilly road apparently traveled largely by BMWs and Jaguars. It winds past gated mansions and after a mile dead-ends just short of the GW Memorial Parkway at a for-sale sign. I turn around rather than cut through, fortunately for me: when I look back I see a police car. Perhaps the locals called the constabulary out of concern over a scruffy ruffian running through their rich neighborhood? In any case I retreat the way I came, chase a dragonfly beside the highway, and discover that the jogging path is available after all. So I try one loop there as a pace check. A wee lavender butterfly flutters by as I clock a marked mile in 9:51. Churned mud with tread tracks from a mini-dozer show where trailside brush has been cleared.
- Thursday, June 04, 2009 at 05:45:28 (EDT)
How to Do Things Right: The Revelations of a Fussy Man by L. Rust Hills is actually three books in one: a comedy, a tragedy, and an extended philosophy essay. The comic routines are reminiscent of Mark Twain with a sprinkling of Jerome K. Jerome. The tragic component is most visible in the uncomfortably honest Epilogue "What Finally Happened to Me" of Book Two, where the author discusses the breakdown of his marriage and much of his sanity, along with his eventual reconstitution. The philosophical segment in Book Three is the least satisfying, often lapsing into crude immorality and idiosyncratic cynicism/pessimism.
But there are enough gems sprinkled in the muck to make at least the first half of How to Do Things Right worthwhile. For instance, in the Postscript of Book One, "Delight in Order", a discussion of Disorder as the ultimate evil and Order as the initial good shines a bright light where it belongs:
The thing about both order and disorder is that they spread. Disorder, as is well known (i.e., a cliché), spreads like wildfire—that is, I suppose, much too fast and out of control. But order spreads too—not far, not fast, not like wildfire certainly, but it still spreads. How order spreads is in an orderly way: slowly, calmingly, carefully, even neatly. But the key thing about how order spreads is that it spreads from the inside out.
If you get yourself straightened out and settled down, it's going to help your spouse to get in order too; it's bound to. And this in turn will have a good effect on the kids. Maybe even the dog will get less yappy and nervous, and that will please the neighbors. Order spreads slowly, but it spreads. Real order, the order which is worth seeking, begins with the composed, balanced, secure individual (you); spreads (one hopes) through the composed, balanced, secure family; extends (perhaps) to the composed, balanced, secure community; and thence (with the participation of millions) to the nation; and from there (triumphantly) to an ordered, composed, balanced (and grateful) world. But you have to start with yourself—you first, then your spouse and kids, and only after the dog do you tackle Town Hall.
That's rather serious if tongue-in-cheek. Sillier are some of the bits like "How to Eat an Ice Cream Cone", "How to Daydream", and "How to Cut Down on Smoking and Drinking Quite So Much". In between are parts of Book Two on retirement such as "'Getting to Know Thyself,' as a Pursuit" which includes:
We have already noticed how dangerously easy it is for a retired man to "decide" to "become" a writer. It is even easier, of course, and probably even more dangerous, for a retired man to "decide" or "realize" that he's something of a thinker or philosopher. It is one of the first illusions that besets one in retirement, that one is thinking clearly for the first time in one's life. What is actually happening, in fact, though, is that one is getting more and more out of touch with the way things are. More and more one substitutes opinion for information in one's thinking. One tends to begin to think in terms of ends or goals or absolutes or ideals rather than in terms of means. In retirement, the illusion that one has thought things through and has an opinion formed on his own is just fantastically difficult to avoid.
Hills only partially avoids that illusion himself. He was for many years fiction editor for Esquire magazine, and passed away late last year.
- Wednesday, June 03, 2009 at 04:47:06 (EDT)
| Be Aware |
Be Very Aware
- Tuesday, June 02, 2009 at 05:04:59 (EDT)
"You're gaining on me!" I tell the pair of runners when I meet them for the third time. They're going counter-clockwise around the parking lot perimeter road, and I'm heading clockwise, so we see each other twice per 1.5 mile circuit, and our encounters are shifting forward a few tens of meters each time. Fortunately for me, today I only have time to do two quick loops, accelerating the pace for the final one. Clouds and a cool front make the weather tolerable.
- Monday, June 01, 2009 at 04:52:45 (EDT)
29,000 feet above a sere west Texas landscape I read the first few pages of Verlyn Klinkenborg's book The Rural Life, about what he wants to record in his journal, and I realize that specificity is key to good writing—not just who/what/when facts, but the tiny diamond stud in the nose of the high school girl napping by me in seat 16B, brown puppy-eyes closed behind long lashes and too much makeup, streaky blonde hair pulled back tight, on her way to Puerto Rico while I head for home and my daughter crosses the stage in her graduation ceremony without me, becapped and begowned, red tassel for honors.
- Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 07:24:25 (EDT)
CM Manlandro meets me in the elementary school parking lot a little after 6am. Sue & Connie's Run, an MCRRC 4 miler, starts here at 8am, so we have plenty of time to get some training on this humid morning. We follow the race course to Rock Creek Trail and trot a few miles upstream at ~10.5 min/mi pace, take a short break to admire Lake Needwood, then return and proceed further on RCT to turn around when CM's GPS suggests that we'll achieve the 8 mile total she seeks. Our pace now is ~9.8 min/mi, and we dare each other into doing the final mile on S&C's Run route at 8:56. Christina Caravoulias snaps our photo as we approach the start/finish area and Lyman Jordan announces to all that we've been warming up. After a half-hour break the race itself begins. Chris and I get splits of 10:23 + 11:13 + 12:05 + 12:23. Ken Swab and I are by coincidence both wearing "Run for Roses" technical shirts. We pose for pictures together.
- Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 04:28:48 (EDT)
Bo Leuf and I first met in early February 2001 when he sent me a note with background information on a journal item I had recently posted. Bo was then, as I saw so many times thereafter, simply being helpful. He frequently gave excellent advice, ideas, and information-handling services to others. Bo's book (with Ward Cunningham) The Wiki Way was published a few months later. It had a profound influence on my thinking. The Wiki Way brought wiki to life, and thereby enriched and empowered countless indviduals. It was a huge gift from Bo to the world.
In mid-2001 Bo began hosting a wiki for me on one of his servers. I had been keeping my online journal for two years, and spent several days converting 600+ individual posts into wiki pages. It was the best investment I ever made. Within a couple of years, again with Bo's help, my ZhurnalyWiki moved into its own domain. Bo Leuf built, maintained, and enhanced the entire software base behind it. He added new features, some at my suggestion, some on his own initiative. Always he was a delight to work with, enthusiastic and thoughtful, generous and creative, a teacher and a leader.
In mid-2007 the ZhurnalyWiki began to outgrow Bo's system and it was time to start moving it to other hosting. Both Bo and I regretted the need to transition but continued as friends to discuss and work together on a variety of tasks. In a sad coincidence, a few months later Bo was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He remained active and met a series of health challenges with the same vigor and spirit that he showed in all his work. In April 2008 when he saw many of his former friends turning away from him, Bo made a public pledge :
Whatever the reason, I cannot let their problems due to attitudes toward terminal illness become my pain. I cannot afford such wallowing but must instead try to lead a normal, outgoing life. If necessary, as seems to be the case, I will make new friends.
Life is, after all, itself a "terminal" condition. I fully intend to live whatever allotment I have, heal as much as I can, and be "healthy, happy and successful" to the greatest degree possible. As for the doctors' diagnosis, I respectfully acknowledge only that it is to the best of their knowledge and not an absolute given. So far, my degree of recovery has surpassed expectations both in degree and time. I find the surprise elicited as a very hopeful indicator that there is more to regaining health than the medical experts know.
Bo kept that pledge. On 24 April 2009, he died. He will long be remembered.
| Bo Leuf |
(cf. In Memoriam, a poem I wrote as a small gift to Bo in October 2007)
- Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 04:47:07 (EDT)
A black creature darts from the underbrush toward Caren Jew's feet. "Eeee!" It's 4:10am on a sultry Sunday morning and we're running along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail surrounded by inky darkness. But the adrenaline moment soon passes: it's just a shadow cast by Caren's bobbing flashlight beam as she leads the way through a dewy meadow. I'm keeping her company, blathering away as usual about whatever crosses my mind—which when I realize it reminds me to tell Caren about an observation local runner Tim Ramsey made in his notes  on the Comus cross-country run last August:
... I was passed by a group of about 8 runners at about the 3/4 mile mark as I walked up a short steep hill. Included in this pack was Mark Zimmermann, who has to be about the happiest (and chattiest) runner I know. ...
Caren was with me on that run (2008-08-16 - Comus Run 2008) and testifies to Tim's accuracy. Today our trot through the woods is a peaceful one. We start at Brink Rd after an astronomy lecture in which I point out Venus brilliant in the east, Jupiter high in the south, and the summer triangle of first-magnitude Vega, Deneb, and Altair overhead. Caren kindly demonstrates for me how to run through the ankle-deep waters of Magruder Branch, far safer than tip-toeing on the rocks. My soggy shoes make squish-squish sounds for a few miles after the lesson. We trek northward to Damascus Regional Park where at dawn a deer eyes us from close to the path, then retreats to join her companion in the thickets. Our turnaround is at the two-hour mark, 7 miles upstream, and now that it's light we go ~3 min/mi faster in returning to the cars. A big rabbit poses for us, and a crimson male cardinal flits ahead.
After ditching our flashlights and refueling we continue briskly downstream to Watkins Mill Rd and add a little extra hillwork to make a 3 mile round trip. On this segment several trail girls greet us as we run—happily they don't spy us during a walk break. Caren recognizes some of them from past training and race-volunteer encounters. She points out that one of them was wearing a Bull Run Run t-shirt. I claim not to have noticed, since it would be impolite for a gentleman to stare at a lady's chest, or at least to admit doing so. A dead raccoon at trailside is a sad reminder of mortality in nature as enhanced by human automotive traffic. Back at Brink Rd again, 4.5 hours after our start, we wave at comrade Wayne Carson as he drives past.
- Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 05:11:39 (EDT)
|every moment seems the same:|
the same bud,
about to bloom into a unique new flower;
the same egg,
about to hatch into a unique new life;
the same glow,
about to dawn into a unique new day.
- Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 04:45:31 (EDT)
Amy and Mark drive me to Alameda Blvd, the north end of the Paseo del Bosque bike path that runs along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque NM. It's 6:15pm, and I'm starting ~75 minutes earlier and 5+ miles upstream of yesterday's run. A passing shower has dropped temps to the 70s and clouds keep it cool.
I pause to retie my shoelaces, and Don and Diane catch up with me. They're finishing up a tempo run loop; we chat about their racing plans, which focus on the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque this fall and a variety of other events. Don points out pheasants, white rings around black necks. They peel off to finish their loop and I chat on the phone with Paulette.
A little bird that looks like a cartoon roadrunner scurries across the path in front of me. More geese than yesterday stand tall in the brush, four pairs of adults with their goslings and one pair with half a dozen babies. A kayaker paddles up the drainage ditch. I follow the left side of Avenida César Chávez where there are more sidewalks and fewer construction zones. Lawn sprinklers cool my legs.
- Monday, May 25, 2009 at 20:11:32 (EDT)
The May/June 2009 issue of Marathon and Beyond magazine contains a delightful interview/profile of elite distance runner Michael Wardian, written by Jeff Horowitz. Wardian breaks all the rules: he's his own coach; he works at a regular job; he runs dozens of major races a year; he's got a family and kids, and he doesn't ignore them. Yet he also wins national championships and qualified to compete in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic marathon trials. He takes responsibility for his own training. "It's not that hard to figure out what works for you if you're motivated," he tells Horowitz. "It's just running, at the end of the day." He treats himself rough. "I usually don't eat or drink too much on runs as I like to train in the worst possible condition, so on race day, when I have water and PowerGel, it really works." (He's a vegetarian too.)
But as Jeff Horowitz observes in the thoughtful conclusion to his article:
... [W]e need to watch this man because he is not just another elite runner following a predictable training and racing schedule toward a career of moderate success. Wardian is different. He is an experiment.
Michael Wardian is straddling an ocean of running talent. On one shore stands a huge group of runners. They are the ones who toe the line on race day not because they ever expect to win or because anyone else might even notice that they're there, but simply because they love to run. These are the people who are in love with the motion of their bodies and with the pain and suffering that tell them that they're alive, and better yet, that they are part of that small percentage of people on the planet who can cover a marathon course. They are almost equally male and female and they are in all shapes, sizes, and ages, They are the pople who consider qualifying for Boston to be one of their greatest dreams, and if they are lucky enough to make that dream come true, one of their greatest achievements.
And then there are the people on the other shore. They are runners, too, but there are not very many of them. They are generally small, thin, and youngish. They are the ones who have their own personal water bottles set aside on a special table at the race aid stations. They are the ones who get all the room they need to warm up in the elite corral before each race, with access to private port-a-johns. They try to spot their competition at every race starting line, and they check their rankings. They are the ones with Boston race numbers in the single and double digits. They love running as much as the group on the other shore does, but they experience it in a different way.
Wardian stands on both shores, Horowitz explains, and by his mere existence he may be starting to prove that "... it is possible to have it all, to race as many of us do—or try to do—but at an elite level, without major injury or interruption."
In other words Wardian is an existence proof, in the same way that Raymond Chandler saw Dashiell Hammett's writing as a proof that the mystery genre could support good writing. Like the one-legged dancer Crip Heard, Wardian can be "a sensation and an inspiration to us all".
(cf. Eric Clifton (2004-10-01), ...)
- Sunday, May 24, 2009 at 16:04:45 (EDT)
|"Vote for Santa!" was the mantra at Christina Caravoulias's award-winning aid station for the American Odyssey Relay 2009 race. The AOR was a 200 mile team relay event from Gettysburg to Washington DC held on 24-25 April. Teams of a dozen (or fewer) runners took turns doing legs of half a dozen miles or so. Christina designed and managed the Aid Station at Lander MD on the C&O Canal towpath; a couple of other volunteers and I helped her. Chris's theme: "Christmas in April"! She prepared signs and decorations. My rôle: simply to dress as Santa Claus and cheer runners/crews in the holiday spirit.|
|Here Santa and elves practice a yoga position that, some speculated, might lure annoying insects away from people's faces. Race day was hot and countless bugs swarmed around the aid station. The theory was that pesky flying critters would seek the highest point in a victim: in this case, hands held overhead. It didn't seem to work ...|
- Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 08:00:00 (EDT)
Two geese stand tall and swivel their necks as I pass. They bob their heads menacingly to keep me away from their three downy goslings that huddle together on the flood control berm by the Rio Grande. I'm trotting down the Paseo del Bosque bike trail through Albuquerque, NM. At 7:30pm, a few minutes ago, colleagues Mark and Amy dropped me off at the end of Candelaria Av. The sun slips behind clouds in the west, and under Interstate 40 a trio of fishermen pull their lines out of the water and head for home.
Dried salt makes a scratchy noise as I rub my brow. The temperature hovers near ~80°F, but with a humidity of only ~20% and 10-20 mi/hr easterly winds I'm quite comfy. Before starting I chug a can of Dr. Pepper, since the only water I have to carry with me is a small 10 oz. bottle. After I leave the trail at Bridge St. and proceed eastward along Avenida César Chávez the high arching bridge over the railroad tracks scares me as I look down 100 feet at the trains below. Sidewalks are intermittent and at times I'm forced to run on sand/gravel, or take to the bike lane when construction blocks the shoulder. I'm back at the motel in a bit under 80 minutes and greet Mark and Amy who have also just returned after sightseeing around town. Kacie Jo, a tattooed and super-nice staffer, gives me a bag of salty pretzels plus some apple juice.
- Friday, May 22, 2009 at 06:46:38 (EDT)
In 2005 David Foster Wallace, writer (1962-2008), gave a commencement address  to the graduating class at Kenyon College. He began with a parable:
... There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
... and went on to discuss the critical theme of self-awareness:
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. (May be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
- Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 09:10:06 (EDT)
At the University of Maryland to pick up daughter Gray on Sunday afternoon there's only time for a quick jaunt along Paint Branch Trail from milepost 1.5 to Cherry Hill Rd and back. I try to start slow and accelerate. The result are splits, according to the half-integer markers, of 8:53 + 8:33 + 7:52 + 7:23 with a 4:15 fraction in the middle. The cold front that came through yesterday provides 60°F comfort and I successfully dodge most of the puddles on the pathway.
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 08:04:16 (EDT)
From the chapter "Sitting Meditation" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
It is best to keep things simple and start with your breathing, feeling it as it moves in and out. Ultimately, you can expand your awareness to observe all the comings and goings, the gyrations and machinations of your own thoughts and feelings, perceptions and impulses, body and mind. But it may take some time for concentration and mindfulness to become strong enough to hold such a wide range of objects in awareness without getting lost in them or attached to particular ones, or simply overwhelmed. For most of us, it takes years and depends a good deal on your motivation and the intensity of your practice. So, at the beginning, you might want to stay with the breath, or use it as an anchor to bring you back when you are carried away. Try it for a few years and see what happens.
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 19:25:17 (EDT)
The uncertified-and-probably-short-course "5k" race around the office campus this year goes well, in spite of heat and humidity. In 2004 I managed it in 24:30, in 2006 in 25:59. Today the first lap takes me 11:18 (actually more like 11:10 given my ~8 second start behind the line) but the second is sadly slower at 11:44, for a total of 23:02. I'm happy, though: Peggy Dickison, fast ultrarunner and orienteering champ, congratulates me after the race for passing her. (I suspect she wasn't running hard.)
- Monday, May 18, 2009 at 04:14:53 (EDT)
If the ultrarunning proverb is true and CREW is an acronym for "Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting", then what does PACER stand for? I suggest "Patient and Cheerful Escort Runner"—a rôle that friend Kate Abbott played with panache during the night of 16-17 May 2009 for Caroline Williams as Caroline attempted the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler. Unfortunately, after surviving unseasonable heat and humidity from the 5am start through mid-afternoon ... followed by thunderstorms, torrential rains, and golf-ball-sized hail ... followed by slippery rocks, muddy trails, and knee-deep stream crossings ... Caroline missed the 2:15am Sunday morning cutoff at mile 64.9 by less than 15 minutes. But she had a superb race and joins the honorable list of "Visitors", those who survived the first half of MMT but haven't yet finished. (Note the word "yet"—I predict that Caroline will succeed another year!)
My great pleasure through the night was helping runners at aid stations, supporting Kate and Caroline, and meeting Caroline's real crew: her ex-husband Walker Williams, a true gentleman. Alas, my pre-race notion to pace Caroline between miles 65 and 76 didn't happen. Maybe another time! Meanwhile, Kate Abbott's lovely report on her adventure:
The MMT is a very demanding 100 mile trail race in the George Washington National Forest. It is one of the main races for the VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club) and is held in May. There is a 36 hour overall cut off, with various time limits along the way. I have ventured into the ultra realm, with several 50 Milers under my belt, but this event seems daunting. When running partner Caroline asks Mark and me to pace her for portions of the race we jump feet first into the idea. The plan is that I will pick her up at Mile 48 and take her to Mile 65, from 7 pm to around 2 am, and then Mark will take her to Mile 75, which will get her to daylight. Simple, right?
On the drive up to the mountain Mark reminds me that I picked the hardest climb and that it will be dark. Gulp. I am normally sound asleep by 10 p.m., preferably 9 p.m. The thunderclouds loom and the day has been very warm. The racers started at 5 am. The rain hits and I have to pull over on Interstate 81 for about 10 minutes until it passes. Mark points out the ridges to the east that we will be climbing. We reach the meeting point around 7 pm where Caroline's crew, Walker, is waiting for us. It is pouring. Runners are straggling up the hill into the aid station. One tells us he is dropping because the hail beat him up so badly. Another young man asks me if I think the rain is finished. I give him some chicken nuggets and tell him I think so. What do I know?—but I want to be positive.
Caroline appears. She is soaking wet and tell us she has had stomach issues. She staggers into the aid station and dons a couple of layers. It is raining hard. The aid station volunteers tend to her and give me some advice: "keep her moving, keep her talking, and keep her drinking." They tell me there is very little of the next eight miles that is runnable. They give me a packet of food, make sure I have a headlamp and fluids and send us on our way. We are 25 minutes behind the cut off. The first 1/3 of a mile and I realize Caroline is pretty tired. Her previous instructions to me were to stay in front of her and not worry if she is not too talkative. We turn right and head up the trail to Bird Knob. It is four miles to the aid station.
And the climb begins. A 1500 foot climb up boulders, on a narrow steep path slick with mud. Runners are coming down the hill. They all greet us. I feel like an impostor as they mistake me for a real racer and encourage me. Caroline knows everyone, it seems, and she is in good spirits. I try to stay about 30 feet in front of her and pick up the pace as she seems strong. It starts to rain even harder and the thunder booms and lightning sears the sky. The forest is, for an instant, as bright as day. As the sun sets behind the clouds it is getting dark; we pull our headlamps out and put on windbreakers. Finally we reach the ridgeline and can see lights of the town New Market below. There the trail is easier and there are pancake-like flat rocks. The rain has stopped but it is quite foggy. This scares me. I can hardly see a few feet in front of me. Steam rises off our bodies. We travel along a logging road of sorts and manage a trot for about 15 minutes before we hit the aid station at Bird Knob. This is the turnaround point, 52.1 miles
I gently urge Caroline out of the aid station and we head back to the trail. A bit more of the road and then we're back on the path, circling around to the trail down the hill. This gets pretty scary. I realize what a huge responsibility I have as I try to encourage her down the hill, keeping her moving over thick and very slippery muddy patches. The rocks are treacherous. She slips four times. I worry about our pace. Our 25 minute cushion has slipped to 15. Finally, we emerge from the mountain and reach the next aid station, the Picnic Area at mile 56.4. I have some chicken soup here. Coming out of the Picnic Area, we are 10 minutes ahead of the cut off.
The next aid station is at the US-211 crossing 1.7 miles away. The coffee with sugar hits Caroline and she is running ahead. I train my flashlight in front of her. I think I hear some traffic up ahead, which is weird. It turns out to be a huge stream created by the deluge. We wade through, ankle deep. It will be the first of many water crossings. Mark and Walker are at mile 58.1. Just under seven miles to the next cut-off, with two and a half hours to do it. We catch up to some runners as we head up another dirt road. We are moving well and talking to the other runners. One of them I recognize from BRR 50 last month. He is clearly struggling and his speech is slurred. I talk to his pacer for a while, an Air Force pilot. They slow markedly and we pass them.
The rocks start again. My Garmin loses signal so I am not at all sure of our mileage. I am very worried about the cut-off. The climb is steep. A young man, Brian, who had asked me about the rain earlier is with us. I can sense he could go faster but he does not seem to want to be alone. He stays with us. Caroline slows quite a bit and says she is at a low point. I offer her food and try to encourage her. We are climbing a steep rocky trail that has turned into a rushing stream. Our feet are cold and it is raining again. I am pretty sure we will miss the cut-off but try to keep them moving. We get off the rocky trail onto another logging road. It is a steep decent for what seems like about half an hour. Another runner passes us; he says he is struggling to meet the cut-off. The logging road emerges onto a dirt road and we turn right. It is a few minutes past 2 a.m. A car approaches us and the guy tells us that is a mile and a half to the aid station and that we have less than ten minutes. I urge Brian on ahead and we break into a trot.
We can see headlamps dancing ahead of us. I hope against hope that the mileage is less than what the fellow told us. Caroline announces that she thinks we missed the 2:15 am cut off but we keep moving. Mark and Walker emerge from the darkness and gently tell us that we are timed out. I feel heartbroken for Caroline. She looks exhausted and crestfallen but she is sweet nonetheless. She and Walker head into the aid station to sign out and Mark loads me into my car for the ride home.
Once in the car, I wonder aloud if I could have/should have pushed her harder. Mark reassures me that Caroline was in charge and it was a very tough day out there due to the weather. We decide that next year for MMT for us is too soon. I alternate between hyper awake and very sleepy. The seven hours and 17 miles is catching up with me. We switch out drivers and I get home around 4:30 am.
It was an honor to be out there and I am so glad I did it. Along the trail I reflected on the beauty of my life and, as midnight came, told those around me that today was my 17th wedding anniversary. I seemed to shake off the funk that had come over me since the BRR 50. I was grateful for the company of such wonderful friends.
(cf. 2008-01-20 - Massanutten Mountain South Training Run, 2009-01-04 - Massanutten Mountain Mayhem, 2009-01-25 - Eagle Run, 2009-02-26 - Bull Run Trail Fun, ...)
- Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 14:50:48 (EDT)
Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is well-written and scary in its unblinking analysis of the modern food "industry". Among the risks it explores are:
Omnivore also wrestles with ethical issues surrounding vegetarianism and the universal but mostly-hidden cruelty toward animals raised for their meat. Pollan dithers on the topic, admits his personal inconsistency, and tries to treat all sides fairly. In the final chapters he goes hunting, for wild pig and for mushrooms, and provides a fascinating discussion of the psychology of both endeavors. The book is far from perfect—there are jarring editorial bumps, perhaps due to the fact that much of the material was published earlier in the Sunday New York Times magazine—but overall it's important reading.
(cf. CompassionateCarnivorism (2002-11-19), CompactLiving (2007-03-08), ...)
- Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 13:09:00 (EDT)
With the local ~5k coming up in a couple of days I preview the course in late afternoon. The weather is cool and breezy but after half a lap I'm sweating. Orbits of ~1.5 miles take me 12:49 + 12:28 + 12:21, roughly 30 sec/mi faster than I did them a few months ago. Perhaps the extra training, plus a little more willingness to work hard, makes a difference?
(cf. 2009-02-24 - Office Ring Road, 2009-03-18 - Ring Road Orbits, 2009-03-24 - Parking Lot Loops, ...)
- Friday, May 15, 2009 at 04:44:27 (EDT)
A proverb, variously attributed to various football coaches, "The Military", et al.:
|If you're not five minutes early, you're late!|
(cf. "Arrive Early for Everything" in Meditation Made Easy, ...)
- Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 04:50:06 (EDT)
|Happy Mother's Day! Friend Caren Jew is celebrating this Sunday morning with a ramble along her favorite trail, and we manage to get thoroughly lost in the woods. Not to worry (too much), though: my antique GPS tells us exactly where we are. So does a trailside sign that reads Mo's Cut, near tire tracks in the mud that indicate we're following a mountain bike path. We blunder onto it half an hour ago when I miss a turn at a meadow and lead us off the Catoctin Trail. After a while the absence of blue blazes and known landmarks clue us in to our clueless state.|
Getting off course and discovering strange bike paths is a known talent of mine (cf. 2008-08-23 - Lost in the Woods and 2009-03-31 - Lost in the Woods Again), so I'm all for continuing forward—eventually it will all turn out OK, eh?—but Caren sensibly suggests, then insists, that we head back. We do, and soon thereafter find a side path that leads downhill to Gambrill Park Rd. A mile of speedy jogging along the gravel-and-dirt street takes us back to terra cognita. We figure out exactly where we went astray, then return uneventfully to Caren's car. We left it almost four hours earlier, at dawn.
See Caren's photo album for some images of the rocky terrain in this part of northern Maryland. High streams from heavy rains earlier in the week provide us with ample opportunity to get wet feet. The weather is cool and windy. We meet a dog-walker led by a matched pair of huge friendly boxers, and later some real live mountain bikers. It's a delightful day!
- Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 05:09:56 (EDT)
Good slogans are hard to find, particularly for multifacted businesses. A classic is IBM's: Think. On a printer box I recently saw another one that's perhaps even more brilliant in its simplicity. It's the motto of Brother Industries Ltd., the diversified Japanese manufacturer founded in 1908 as the Yasui Sewing Machine Company. Three little words:
|At your side.|
Assuming the corporate philosophy  isn't mere talk, what a wonderful way to summarize a "customer first" spirit!
(Hmmm ... need a catchphrase for ^zhurnaly ... maybe "Meta"? cf. DoMeta (1999-05-08), MetaMan (2001-11-14), Kubota Logo Mystery (2008-02-15), ...)
- Monday, May 11, 2009 at 04:58:24 (EDT)
Pansy, fascinating flower and soft subject for musing: the word comes from the French penseé meaning "thought". In the language of flowers leaving someone a pansy means "thinking of you". Pansies are popular in literature and poems, from Shakespearean allusion (in Hamlet Ophelia says, "There's pansies, that's for thoughts") to Robert Herrick ( & ) to modern poet Sharon Olds, whose My Mother's Pansies begins:
And all that time, in back of the house,
there were pansies growing, some silt blue,
some silt yellow, most of them sable
red or purplish sable, heavy
as velvet curtains, so soft they seemed wet but they were
dry as powder on a luna's wing,
dust on an alluvial path, in a drought
summer. And they were open like lips,
and pouted like lips, and ...
... and the rest is rather too risqué to quote here!
- Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 19:40:21 (EDT)
As per Bull Run Run 2008, for the past five years nobody who tried to run a 50 miler with me ever finished it. That curse can now officially be laid to rest: Kate Abbott did the entire BRR in my company last month quite comfortably (modulo horrible blisters, that is). Disaster did almost strike Ken Swab after 40+ miles—perhaps the hoodoo's last gasp?—but as he reported, he survived as well. Guess I'll have to come up with another silly superstition now ...
- Saturday, May 09, 2009 at 12:43:15 (EDT)
Showers at noon leave the air warm and humid as I trot out from work to do a quick triple circuit on the paved path in the woods. During my first loop I spy a couple of young runners ahead of me, and in spite of my efforts to resist I can't help but try to catch up with them. I succeed, then continue to accelerate past as they chat, with marked miles (accuracy?) of 9:02 + 8:25 + 8:11. Half a dozen walkers are ambling along the course. Jogging back to the building I'm drenched with sweat.
- Friday, May 08, 2009 at 04:51:44 (EDT)
Yesterday I mentioned to a friend my Facebook thumbnail self-description—Physicist, Bureaucrat, Ultrarunner—of which she found the "Bureaucrat" part most hilarious and incongruous, as it was meant to be. The phrase was inspired by the title character in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension who is a physicist, race-car driver, brain surgeon, and crime-fighter. (In my dreams!)
But seriously, ultrarunning is a great sport for a boring long-term government official. Both jobs demand patience, caution, and a knowledge of the rules, many of those rules being unwritten but no less crucial. The challenge in both jobs is figuring out how to bend the rules as necessary to get things done ...
- Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 05:06:38 (EDT)
Yoga class yesterday leaves me slightly sore but significantly conscious of my breath and stride, good things to be mindful of when running. New shoes from the half-price room at RnJ Sports beg to get wet, and a couple of days of rain have left huge puddles on Rock Creek Trail this cool morning. Today I have a dental appointment, a small cavity to fill. So instead of heading for the office at dawn, there's at chance to plod: at 0545 I set out on the same loop as 2009-04-28 - Bethesda Loop but in the reverse direction. Measured miles on RCT take 10:07 + 10:04 and the trek along Cedar Ln and Old Georgetown Rd is comfortable. No, I shouldn't compare myself with CM Manlandro and her latest sub-4:15 marathon—but the thought inevitably arises that I really should be less wimpy. The final four miles on the Capital Crescent Trail flow by at 8:34 + 7:51 + 8:53 + 8:57 ... but I suspect some of the distances are a little short, especially at the road crossings. Total loop time 1:48 is probably a PR.
- Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 04:59:59 (EDT)
Mysticism: Yin as dark, female, negative, nurturing, ... Yang as light, male, positive, creating, ....
My doctor tells me to take half an aspirin a day, but I don't want to waste time splitting the tablets in two, or waste money on expensive baby aspirin. When I play chess against a computer I like to have the white or the black pieces about equally often. To make the wear on my belt symmetric and keep it from getting warped it's best to sometimes put it on clockwise and other times counterclockwise. But I hate to keep track of such trivia, and it's impractical to generate a pseudo-random number every time a choice is needed.
So my method, which I hope isn't too obsessive-compulsive, is a simple odd-even choice rule. On even-numbered days I take a whole pill, play the black chess pieces, wear my belt clockwise; on odd-numbered days, the opposite. It all averages out in the long term. Silly, sure enough, but I like it—and the yin-yang metaphor reminds me ...
- Tuesday, May 05, 2009 at 05:01:44 (EDT)
At the end of today's MCRRC cross-country ramble my arms are so cold that I've lost almost all gripping strength in my fingers. I can't unpin my number-bib or even open a zip-lock bag—comrade Christina Caravoulias laughs as she does that for me. Fortunately for everyone, I manage unaided to get my car key out of the inner liner pocket of my shorts.
Temperatures are in the 50's; a light drizzle during the kids' race turns into a steady rain for the adult event. Caren Jew's lovely daughters Ashley and Jenna run well for the half mile. For the 5k XC Christina and I begin at the back of the pack and proceed cautiously with Kenna Libes, walking around puddles and striving not to slip and fall on the muddy slopes. We catch up with Shirley Sameshima and I accompany her through the rest of the race as Chris and Kenna move ahead. Shirley is entertained (or is too polite to tell me to shut up) as I describe the Cabin John Stream Valley Trail, how to recognize poison ivy, barred owls that Caren Jew and I saw along the course, my mud- and ice-running techniques, and countless other topics in a stereotypical non-stop ^z monologue.
- Monday, May 04, 2009 at 05:06:48 (EDT)
When distracting thoughts arise (as they always do) during non-judgmental self-observation (aka "mindfulness") a useful tactic may be to put a label on them to help with letting go of them: "oops, now I'm worrying" ... "hmmm, that's just reminiscing again" ... "ooh, my foot is itching" ... and so forth. In the anthology Breath Sweeps Mind: A First Guide to Meditation Practice Joseph Goldstein calls it "mental noting" and observes:
You can also use the technique of mental noting to strengthen mindful awareness. The art of mental noting, as a tool of meditation, requires practice and experimentation. Labeling objects of experimentation as they arise supports mindfulness in many different ways.
Noting should be done very softly, like a whisper in the mind, but with enough precision and accuracy so that it connects directly with the object. For example, you might label each breath, silently saying in, out, or falling. In addition, you may also note every other appearance that arises in meditation. When thoughts arise, note thinking. If physical sensations become predominant, note pressure, vibration, tension, tingling, or whatever it might be. If sounds or images come into the foreground, note hearing or seeing.
The note itself can be seen as another appearance in the mind, even as it functions to keep us undistracted. Labeling, like putting a frame around a picture, helps you recognize the object more clearly and gives greater focus and precision to your observation.
Be patient in learning to use this tool of practice. Sometimes people note too loudly, and it overshadows the experience. Sometimes people try too hard, becoming tight and tense with the effort. Let the note float down on the object, like a butterfly landing on a flower, or let it float up with the object,like a bubble rising. Be light, be soft, have fun.
(from Breath Sweeps Mind: A First Guide to Meditation Practice, Part III, "How to Meditate", from "Vipassana Meditation Instructions"; cf. NamingNames (1999-10-10), MetaMan (2001-11-14), ...)
- Sunday, May 03, 2009 at 05:59:55 (EDT)
"Excellent pacing, Sir," I pant, "Thank you!" I've just finished a mile and the lanky young fellow who materialized to lead me through laps 2 and 3 is jogging by. Half an hour earlier in semi-darkness at 0545 I dither at the end of my front steps about which way to run today. I'm taking the morning off from work to visit the dentist. The chilly air decides me: down Dale Dr to the track at the Silver Spring International Middle School. Four laps test my legs: 1:46 + 1:48 + 1:46 + 1:39 for a 6:59ish total. I hope it's a quarter mile track and not 400m. In contrast to the outbound journey I'm not at all cold during the return trek via Sligo Creek Trail and Forest Glen Rd, as I greet increasing numbers of joggers while the day brightens.
- Saturday, May 02, 2009 at 09:29:51 (EDT)
Last year comedian Louis CK did a brilliant monologue on the Conan O'Brien show  about how little we tend to appreciate the miracles of modern life:
... [E]verything is amazing right now and nobody's happy. Like in my lifetime, the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone you had to stand next to, and you had to dial it. Do you realize how primitive ... you're making sparks, in a phone! And you actually would hate people with zeroes in their numbers because it was more work. You're like 'That guy has two zeroes, screw that guy'. And then if they called and you weren't home the phone would just ring, lonely, by itself.
And then if you wanted money you had to go in the bank, which was open for like three hours. You had to stand in-line and write yourself a check like an idiot. And then when you ran out of money you'd just go "Well, I can't do any more things now." That was it. And even if you had a credit card, the guy would go "Ugh..." and he'd bring out this whole (mechanical sounds) and he'd write everything down, and he'd have to call the President to see if you have any money.
... [N]ow we live in an amazing, amazing world and it's wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don't care, because this is what people are like now. They got their phone and are like, "Eh, it won't—".
Give it a second! It's going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space? Is the speed of light too slow for you? ...
Louis CK goes on to talk about air travel and other marvels that we all complain about and take for granted. It's reminiscent of Paul Simon's song "The Boy in the Bubble":
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky ...
(cf. IngeniousDevices (1999-06-06), TechnicalMinded (2003-07-18), ThinkOurWayOut (2005-03-07), Art of Physics Appreciation (2008-09-12), ...)
- Friday, May 01, 2009 at 05:01:51 (EDT)
At 0540 it's too dim to tell sparrows from chickadees from cardinals, but after a few miles the sun rises and the birds take on their own identities. The CCT plaza area in downtown Bethesda is closed for construction work, but I'm carrying enough water to make it up Old Georgetown Rd and down Cedar Ln to the RCT park where I refill my bottle. A surprising number of early-morning weekday joggers are out and about, like me trying to beat the near-record high temps forecast for later in the day. I try to accelerate during the run, beginning with CCT miles of 10:59 + 10:16 + 10:03 + 10:01 and following a couple of young ladies (who branch off at Connecticut Av) for final measured miles on RCT of 9:02 and 8:29.
- Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 05:07:14 (EDT)
A recent seminar promoted the importance of having a "personal mission statement"—an explicit declaration of what's most important in the long term, a compass for one's life. But how to write a "Personal Mission Statement" without using the words I, me, or mine? Hmmm ... how about something like:
|Cherish the universe,|
From infinite to infinitesimal,
From the eternal to the now:
Starting with this body, this mind,
Moving through those nearest,
To all of humanity, and then,
Perhaps too vague, and yet too ambitious ...
(cf. Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)
- Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 04:51:39 (EDT)
The goose charges at Caren, hissing and with his tongue stuck out. We put on a burst of speed and escape, as he continues to pursue us, waddling on land and then paddling upstream. Was he defending a nest that we didn't see, or retaliating for half an hour earlier when I squirted him and his mate with my water bottle?
It's an unseasonably warm Sunday morning as Caren and I do a dozen miles along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. Our competition to arrive early at the starting point has gotten a little out of hand: I get to the parking lot on MD-355 at 0510 and Caren is there at 0515 for a planned 0530 start. (We must declare a truce!) After ten minutes of getting ready it's still a bit too dark to run safely so we sit in Caren's car and chat until 0535 when the trail is distinguishable from the ground enough to begin. Then upstream we trek to Watkins Mill Rd, arriving comfortably in ~43 minutes. The official sign says 2.9 miles so we run up the hill there to make it at least 3. Caren has already spotted a small herd of deer along the SCGT, and here are a couple more of the four-legged "dodos", as she calls them.
Back at our cars 41 min later we refuel quickly, then proceed downstream. My shirt is already sweat-soaked in the heat and humidity. After 40 minutes we're at trail milepost 14, Caren leading most of the way at a brisk pace. The return trip logs even faster miles, based on the markers, of 13:30, 12:30, and a half mile of 5:56 which includes our adrenaline-goosed sprint.
- Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 05:15:56 (EDT)
A recent seminar speaker discussed factors involved in the psychology of happiness. According to him, optimists and pessimists react respectively to a bad and good event by thinking that it's:
That is, when something unpleasant occurs a pessimist feels, "It's me, and it will always be this way, everywhere." An optimist believes that about something pleasant. In the converse situation, if something good happens to a pessimist s/he dismisses it as not connected to personal virtue, not likely to recur, and not universal. An optimist shrugs off misfortunes likewise.
(cf. OptimistCreed (1999-04-16), ThankGoodness (2002-12-25), OptimisticPessimism (2003-03-19), GreatAndNobleTasks (2007-06-30), ...)
- Monday, April 27, 2009 at 05:00:21 (EDT)
Three weeks ago the tenth anniversary of the ^zhurnal passed by unremarked. Most of the early entries here are embarrassingly pretentious and mercifully forgotten. But every once in a while there's a tiny flawed seed-crystal of an idea.
A few days ago two good friends and I went to a Chinese restaurant for a "philosophy lunch". We talked about utilitarianism, baseball, charity, bureaucracy, hope, and a variety of other issues. At the end of the meal my fortune cookie was amazingly apropos to this entire journal enterprise. It said:
|To truly find yourself you should play hide and seek alone.|
I'm still seeking ...
(cf. Zhurnal Zero (1999-04-04), AnnalsOfJournals (2000-04-04), ZhurnalAnniversary2 (2001-04-04), Zhurnal Three (2002-04-04), Zhurnal Themes (2003-04-04), SiMonumentumRequiris (2004-04-04), ...)
- Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 04:24:36 (EDT)
For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2010 by Mark Zimmermann.)