Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.86 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 = 0.85 ... 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 ...
"It's a Latrine of Legend! The Taj Mahal of Toilets!" I proclaim to all who will listen to me at the mile 23 aid station. A few minutes later when I reach the loveliest loo on the Appalachian Trail I pause to enjoy the electric lighting, stalls with doors, rolls of toilet paper, flush commodes, and warm water for hand-washing. Magnificent!
The Quad State Quad Buster is a VHTRC-sponsored fun run down the AT from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia and then into Virginia. It ends with a few bonus miles along the Loudon Heights Trail. Dead Last (or "DFL!" as friend Caren Jew taught me to describe it) is how I complete the 2010 QSQB, with an elapsed time of 13:22 for 44.3 miles by my GPS. I spend ~5 minutes in PA, 10:55 crossing MD, ~20 minutes in WV, and the remaining ~2 hours stumbling through the woods at night in search of the finish line. The trackfile map shows the route.
markers every mile - GPS trackfile mapping by GPSvisualizer - background terrain map by Google
A nearly-full moon sets in the west. At 0530 Saturday morning I park cautiously on the shoulder of US-340 behind half a dozen cars and pickup trucks. Race Director Michael Bur orchestrates the action here on the southern shore of the Potomac River. Comrades Karen Taber and Caroline Williams shiver with me in windbreakers and shorts. We pile into volunteer vehicles and carpool to the Mason-Dixon Line, almost an hour's drive north. In the back of Ben Thompson's noisy jeep his big black Labrador retriever named "Huckleberry" licks my ear as I nibble a Clif Bar and drink a Cherry Coke. Ben tells us about his through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, south-to-north, April-September last year. He's injured and can't run today.
At Pen Mar Park runners clamber out and prepare themselves; I almost trip over a trail buddy squatting behind a car. We line up for photos and at 7:10am Bur gives the "Go!" signal. Soon the faster folks are out of sight. After a few hundred yards Karen and I pause to admire a lovely vista to the west. Soon thereafter Pat Miller, Caroline, and Karen dash ahead with me in pursuit. "Hey," I call to them, "the sign here says the AT turns left!" We reassemble and proceed up a rocky slope, past campers crawling out of tents and fixing breakfasts. Within the first mile I trip on a tree root and fall onto my hands, fortunately without significant damage. It's my only tumble of the day. After three miles of steepness we're at the top of Quirauk Mountain and proceed to follow white blazes along the ridge southwest. Runners Paul Crickard, Edward Cacciapaglia, Dave Yeakel, et al. now catch up and pass us. They tell us that they got lost on the way to the start and began ~15 min late.
Nine miles into the run Karen and Caroline are out of sight ahead when I notice blue streamers hanging from a tree. Is this the first QSQB Aid Station? (Maybe I should have read the course description and paid attention at the pre-race briefing?) I take a few steps along the side path, lose confidence, turn back, and at the fork see a small wooden sign that says "
PARKING LOT". I shout "Hello!" but hear no response. After a few more moments of dithering I decide to gamble and follow the blue ribbons. A quarter mile later I emerge from the woods at Wolfsville Rd and discover a van with cheerful volunteers who record my arrival, refill my hydration backpack, and offer me food. I tell them that Karen and Caroline have gone onward and are all right. Fortified with a handful of M&Ms, I fill my pockets with packages of cheese-and-honey crackers and Halloween candy. Then I scurry back to the AT.
The next big climb takes us onto South Mountain. Halfway up I find Caroline and Karen. They report that they saw the ribbons but like me didn't know there was an aid station nearby. They decline my offer to share water but accept a little candy. Caroline regrets missing her drop bag; Karen gives her some of her Clif Bar supply. The trail crosses a power line right-of-way and then a grassy meadow where two small black-and-white cows and a steer are grazing. I eye them warily and try to confirm that the one is a peaceful steer and not an aggressive bull. The creatures eye us warily as we trot by.
Back in the woods again Caroline and I slow down as Karen zooms ahead. This is really just a training run for Caroline, who has been doing long races recently and has the Marine Corps Marathon coming next weekend. She slows and I tell her I'll go onward to find out how Karen's doing. (That's the last I see of Caroline until she materializes, cheerful as always, at the Weverton Aid Station two dozen miles ahead; she dropped from the race and hitched a ride there.)
After another rocky climb I spy Karen and close the gap with her. She tells me, wisely, that we need to push the pace if we're going to make the time limits. On semi-runnable stretches she leads the charge. I roll an ankle, but not seriously; Karen stumbles and falls, but shakes it off and continues strong. We manage a couple of 13 minute miles according to my GPS. Tourists begin to appear along the trail and we figure we're nearing the next aid station, at South Mountain State Park where the AT bridge goes over I-70 and US-40. I run ahead and see the blue ribbon markers, follow RD Bur's instructions that I remember from the start, and arrive at QSQB Aid Station #2. Karen comes in shortly behind me. We're 10 minutes ahead of the first cutoff according to the timekeeper here. We refuel, refill water bladders, thank the Aid Station folks, return from the parking lot to the AT, and cross the bridge over the Interstate highway. I Tweet at 12:10 reporting progress: five hours into the race, 18+ miles completed, an average pace of 16+ min/mi.
Now the going gets tough again. Karen sends me on ahead at about mile 19; before we part I confirm that we have each other's cell phone numbers. I tell her to look for me at the next aid station, a few miles ahead. The AT leads me through Washington Monument State Park, where I lose the trail a couple of times but cast about and soon manage to find it again. Tourists abound. Up and down through piney woods I go, looking back for Karen without luck.
QSQB Aid Staton #3 is at US Alt-40, in the Old South Mountain Inn parking lot, mile 23 by my reckoning. At last I'm in known territory: the JFK 50 Miler course goes through here, and it's a place where I've also done several training runs with friends along the trail. Pat Miller and Dave Yeakel are refueling, so I tell them about the wonderful restrooms on the AT nearby.
Dave passes me again near the the Reno Monument Road crossing. The JFK 50 Miler follows the road here; I miss the turn-off for the AT. After a quarter mile of befuddlement I ask directions from a park ranger and backtrack to find the trail at the small parking lot. The AT's up-and-down route is far more rugged than the JFK's. After a tough climb to the radio tower where the JFK rejoins the AT I pause at an overlook and say "Wow!" aloud to myself before I see a hiker with a dog nearby.
The next aid station is at Gathland Gap, aka Gapland, mile 30 according to my GPS. My watch says 3:37pm, three minutes within the official cutoff. Race Director Bur sends me on my way. During the climb out my phone rings: it's Karen Taber, reporting that she's still making progress but is now more than a mile behind. I encourage her, but sadly she reaches Gapland too late and has to stop. It's the inverse to our experience at Cheat Mountain two months ago, where I miss the final cutoff and Karen makes it by a hair.
Onward I trek, running on the few stretches where it's safe. Approaching Weverton Cliffs I pass the point where I broke my arm during a training run with Kate Abbott. I tread cautiously and call Kate to let her know of my progress. (Unprompted, she denies pushing me and causing my fall; I claim amnesia.) Here I also remember the place where I caught up with Caren Jew during the 2006 JFK, and phone her to chat and reminisce. I call home to give Paulette a status update.
At Weverton I reach the final QSQB Aid Station, my mile 37. Dave is here, as is Keith Knipling who has already finished the entire race. He acts coy when I ask him when. "Oh, just a few hours ago," he says. He reminds me to look out for the blue blazes that mark the final course segment, where the Loudoun Heights Trail leaves the AT. I refuel and head out. The AT now goes under US-340, crosses the train tracks, and joins the C&O Canal towpath.
As it has for much of the day, the chorus of the Sophie B. Hawkins song "As I Lay Me Down"  runs through my head:
As I lay me down to sleep
This I pray
That you will hold me dear
Though I'm far away
I'll whisper your name into the sky
And I will wake up happy
I wonder why I feel so high
Though I am not above the sorrow
Till you call my name
And it sounds like church bells
Or the whistle of a train
On a summer evening
I'll run to meet you
Barefoot barely breathing
Occasional interludes of Matt Nathanson's "Come On Get Higher"  fight their way into the foreground, then recede.
Along the flat towpath I make haste, running four minutes and walking one to achieve ~11 min/mi average pace. The Potomac River is noisy with rapids and geese on my left hand. After another passage under US-340 I see the pedestrian bridge to Harpers Ferry WV in front of me sooner than expected. As I climb the stairs and start to cross my watch reads an elapsed time of 10 hours 59 minutes. Can I make it across the state of Maryland on the Appalachian Trail—"The Maryland Challenge"—in under 11 hours? Past tourists ambling the other way I sprint. The state of Maryland extends to the southern edge of the river, so only after I reach the far side of the ramp and bend down to touch West Virginia soil with my fingertips do I check my GPS timer. It reads 10:59:50 ... yay!
Later trackfile analysis shows that the race this year actually begins at 39.7209 north latitude, more than a quarter mile inside Pennsylvania. It takes me about 5 minutes to get into the Free State from our 7:10am start, so I actually make the crossing in about 10:55, including half a mile or so of off-AT diversions to aid stations and wrong turns.
In Harpers Ferry I immediately lose the AT and proceed south along the freight train tracks. I wander about for several minutes and eventually, back at the bridge over the Potomac, spy white blazes leading west along a street. In the deepening gloom I climb steep stone stairs past an old church and Jefferson Rock, follow the AT along a cliffside, and descend to take it via the US-340 bridge across the Shenandoah River.
Now the sun has set and it's getting dark. I'm tempted to throw in the towel and walk along the shoulder of the highway back to my car. (I later learn that Pat Miller sensibly chooses to do so.) But fool that I am, I turn my headlamp on and proceed up the hillside following the white blazes. My pace now slows to 30-40 min/mi. I remember the murky woods I experienced in the 2010-04-03 - Chocolate Bunny run, and rediscover the best way to tell when I've wandered off-trail: the crunching sound of leaves underfoot gets louder.
Dave Yeakel once more catches up and passes me. He has run this trail in daylight, he says, but admits that it's a lot tougher at night. I follow slowly behind until, far ahead, he shouts down that he has found the Loudon Heights Trail that takes us to the finish. His light vanishes and I'm all alone again.
The full moon rises in front of me and casts avenues of light between the trees. Every few minutes a big leaf falls through my flashlight beam and looks like a bat, making me jump. My pace slows as I scan for blue blazes which fortunately are frequent. I try not to fall down.
At last I see orange ribbons hanging from a tree, but don't know what they mean and continue along the official trail until it ends at US-340. I head first east, then west until I glimpse my car parked by the road. I phone the Race Director and he tells me that they're still waiting for me at the parking lot. So I turn back and trot along the shoulder as cars whiz past. At a total time of 13 hours 22 minutes—44.3 miles by my GPS—I shake Bur's hand and finish. My prize: Bur gives me a cup of warm veggie soup that his wife made. It's great!
GPS timing information for my miles during the QSQB: 13:27 17:40 25:02 14:51 14:08 21:54 17:50 20:02 13:43 20:08 17:48 13:18 16:58 13:02 17:17 11:48 12:59 18:05 17:47 15:15 15:55 17:34 20:24 16:07 16:08 23:27 19:18 17:12 14:42 17:04 16:28 16:08 17:12 15:49 17:39 21:46 16:24 11:07 10:57 17:15 17:04 41:28 30:23 31:54 — plus 8:59 for the final 0.37 mi segment.
- Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 22:37:05 (EDT)
In Chapter 1 ("Meditation", pps. 40-41) of Meditation Eknath Easwaran relates a charming and important story:
Once I went with an old friend to a meeting in the hills. The road twisted continuously, and his driving impressed me. On hairpin turns in India I have seen drivers lunge and clasp the wheel tightly, their faces grimly set. But my friend took each curve with an easy spin of the wheel, letting it swing back on its own.
"That's amazing," I said. "How in the world did you ever manage to learn that?"
He answered tersely, "Machines obey me."
This is a good analogy with the mind that is disciplined in meditation. When we are fully concentrated on the passage, the mind obeys us. It will make the exact turn necessary. We know the road, the curves, the precipices, and where we felt intimidated before, now there is the satisfaction of mastery.
Nicely put. And at a deep enough level, if you believe in mathematics and physics as much as I do, everything is a machine!
- Friday, October 29, 2010 at 04:37:36 (EDT)
In the pre-dawn darkness, near mile 2 of Rock Creek Trail, bizarre sounds ring out. "What was that?" Cara Marie Manlandro and I ask one another. We debate and eventually decide that it must be strange birds. "Loons!" I declare.
Throughout most of this summer CM is ill, with horribly bad pneumonia. Last Wednesday she gets a clean bill of health and can run again. She does a few test miles on Saturday. At ~6am Sunday morning she drops by my home and I give her a flashlight to carry as we set off around my neighborhood loop: across the train tracks, down Ireland Dr to Rock Creek Trail, downstream to near East-West Hwy, and home via the Capital Crescent Trail and Warren St. Much good conversation ensues, as expected.
- Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 04:41:46 (EDT)
In Lunchtime Enlightenment at the end of the chapter "It's Easier Than You Think: Relaxing" Pragito Dove suggests "some simple reminders to help you reinhabit your body and come into a state of relaxation." With each she offers a brief explanation, but as a sucker for lists I like them as they are:
OK, there's redundancy there, and maybe some silliness, but nonetheless ...
- Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 06:09:19 (EDT)
In the pre-retirement class I took recently, a speaker who discussed "Networking" for job-finding said:
|You help other people, they help you ten times over!|
That's good advice, though perhaps the 10:1 ratio is a bit too optimistic. If it were that high there would probably be a runaway chain reaction of helpfulness—and the World would be a lot nicer place than it actually seems to be!
(cf. HowToSucceed, UniversalFlourishing, ...)
- Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 04:43:10 (EDT)
In the buddhist-meditative-philosophy section of the local library more than a month ago I picked up an odd-looking book by Thomas Moore titled Original Self: Living with Paradox and Uncertainty. The woodcut illustrations by Joan Hanley were crude and mostly unappealing; the text was sparse and large-print. Fifty short chapters—I glanced at a few that seemed nonsensical, and set the book aside. At intervals I've picked it up again and tried to "read" it without much success. A couple of times I almost returned it.
And yet ... and yet. Once in a while when I open it, a phrase or a paragraph or a section of Original Self echoes. Occasionally it's a chapter title:
Sometimes it's a quote that opens a segment, like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Under every deep a lower deep opens." or Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The beyond is not what is infinitely remote, but what is nearest at hand."
In other mini-essays it's a thought, like in "Our Spiritual Fire Needs a Base in the Muddy Earth.":
I once read that a renowned spiritual teacher, responding to a question about the difficulty of remaining celibate, said that all you have to do is think about what sex is and it's easy to resist. I was disappointed to read that statement coming from a person whom one would expect to be earthy and grounded. Sex is slimy from a certain point of view, but only a spirit delighting in disembodiment would not appreciate the mushy, wet, sensuous body we are and the muddy, naturally decaying world we inhabit.
Or similarly in "The Way Out of the Dehumanizing Effects of Modern Capitalism and Industrialism Is Not to Change the System But to Read Good Books.":
The images that form the raw material of our imagination are the most precious substance we have because from them we develop an attitude toward events and eventually a way of life. Education of the soul is largely a matter of creating a treasury of images and skills for dealing with them. It is as important for engineers and MBAs to read Shakespeare, a master image-maker, for this purpose as it is for the physician, the therapist, or the parent. A great deal depends on whether the books we read and the movies we see hone the imagination or make it blunt.
Finally, belatedly, I read the Preface. Moore's attempt to explain Original Self also explains why it's so nonlinear and erratic and frustrating:
The small pieces in this book together offer a comprehensive portrait of an alternative kind of person, one who lives from the burning core of the heart, with the creativity that comes from allowing the soul to blossom in its own colors and shapes. The book is like a kaleidoscope. Turning a page is like tilting the colored glass into yet another pattern. And each idea and image reflects yet another way we become an individual by following the lead of the soul.
Well, maybe and maybe not. There's much mushy mysticism in Original Self. On the other hand, the final words in the Preface offer a good summary of the mission:
... A book is a virtual space that invites contemplation and perusal. In this space one tarries and looks around, absorbing the atmosphere, and then leaves, the author hopes, happy to have visited.
Like some collections of poems, like a tarot card randomly drawn from a deck: the chapters of Original Self often fail, sometimes succeed. I should get a copy to open once in a while.
- Monday, October 25, 2010 at 04:46:45 (EDT)
As I run down Old Georgetown Rd I look toward the church on my left and suddenly discover that I'm within a few feet of an open-air wedding in progress. Today's cool and breezy afternoon sends me out along the usual circuit, fast except where downtown Bethesda clogs streets and sidewalks with an art fair. Fuel is snack-size Halloween candy: two Butterfingers and a Snickers. Big toenails are purply and pressure-sensitive from the Andiamo last week. A pebble gets into my left shoe during the final few miles and migrates from side to heel to arch to toe until it stops bothering me. At the Stone Ridge School on Cedar Lane a tiny pony is being led across the grass with a tiny child on its back.
- Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 16:37:17 (EDT)
Ernest Hemingway comes to mind, as I sit in a multi-day pre-retirement class. Specifically, I remember reading Death in the Afternoon, 40+ years ago when I was in high school. The book, Hemingway's ode to bullfighting, was kept behind the librarian's desk: you had to ask to borrow it. Why? I don't really know. It had some amount of adult naughtiness in it, though so did lots of other books that sat out openly on the shelf. The animal-rights-cruelty aspect of the "sport" wasn't likely a factor then. A mystery.
But in any case, again last week I notice in class that people are quite attached to the first chair they sit in, from Day One. It makes somebody extremely uncomfortable if someone else takes "their" seat and they have to move—precisely like the way a bull in the ring behaves. As Hemingway explains it, the bull develops a querencia, a preferred location, and becomes especially dangerous when defending it. Much like a 60+ year old civil servant!
- Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 03:54:26 (EDT)
No plans to run today until charming comrade Stephanie pings me; she's back from a long class and I'm about to go away to class for many days, so this is our chance. We do the usual two laps along the winding paved path through the woods, mostly accompanied by my monologue summary of the weekend's Andiamo ultramarathon. After the first marked mile of 10:47 I insist on a faster second, and Stephanie obliges with 8:40, plus or minus since I miss hitting my stopwatch "split" button by a few seconds. We're both out of breath after the blitz.
- Friday, October 22, 2010 at 04:38:47 (EDT)
Humming for half an hour? Dancing around the room with eyes closed? Laughing out loud, morning and night? Speaking in gibberish? I don't think so!
Logical and inhibited as I am, some of the suggestions in this book are non-starters. But Pragito Dove is a neat name, and Lunchtime Enlightenment is a neat effort: compact, thoughtful, occasionally brilliant. Its subtitle is "Meditations to Transform Your Life Now—at Work, at Home, at Play". It reminds me of Meditation Made Easy and Finding the Quiet, two other practical books on self-discovery and mindfulness.
Setting aside the bits of wackiness, Lunchtime Enlightenment offers a handbook of hard-headed techniques for mental muscle-building. Like Eknath Easwaran, Dove is eclectic. She summarizes in Part One's first chapter, "Why Meditate?":
The techniques of meditation are not the invention of any one person or one school. Observers of the human condition in many different places and times have come to the conclusion that people have greater potential for conscious awareness than they generally use. Methods were developed early in India, in the fifth to twelfth century in the Syrian and Jordanian deserts, in tenth-century Japan, in medieval European monasteries, in Poland and Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, again in India in the twentieth century, and at other times and places.
Whatever method you choose—and in this book, you will learn many—meditation is a way of getting quiet so that you can notice what's happening inside. If a man wants to break out of prison, he first has to study the layout and routine within the prison so he can see how he might break free. To break free from stress and the other patterns of behavior that lead to unhappiness, you must first get to know how you function. Then insights and understandings will arise, and a gateway to freedom will open up.
I love that jailbreak image, an apt metaphor nicely told. Likewise other remarks in Lunchtime Enlightenment. Memorable clips to follow ...
(cf. Afraid of Chairs, Cat Bellies and Dog Noses, ...)
- Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 06:10:33 (EDT)
Perhaps it's a sign of getting old that I'm reading more obituaries now, and worse, recognizing more names in them. The October 2010 issue of Physics Today features three obits that each end with amusing, thoughtful, moving comments. In his tribute to astrophysicist Geoffrey Ronald Burbidge, Jayant V. Narlikar tells of a journey from Mumbai to Bangalore:
... Those who have seen the driving on Indian highways would appreciate the risk he was taking. But then he was an old radical who cherished risky paths.
In Lee C. Teng and Roger H. Hildebrand's memorial note about the late Albert Victor Crewe, inventor of the scanning transmission electron microscope:
Crewe's outstanding contribution to science and his ever cheerful and optimistic disposition were deeply appreciated and will always be remembered by his colleagues and friends.
And concluding the eulogy to laser physicist Boris Peter Stoicheff by Richard G. Brewer:
All who knew him will miss this kind gentleman who had a special talent for making people feel better just by being in his presence.
(cf. McGs (2002-02-28), ...)
- Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 05:50:04 (EDT)
Sewer stench every mile breaks the enchantment of the Northwest Branch Trail upstream of milepost 4.5, the Adelphi Manor Park cricket pitch. I begin about 8:30am on Columbus Day federal holiday morning after dropping kids off at the nearby University of Maryland. The Andiamo 44.5 mile ultra two days ago has left me a bit tired, with small blisters on both feet and big toenails bruised but not yet purpled. My trot begins at ~10 min/mi pace and accelerates to finish breathless at ~8 min/mi. Underpasses with flood-muddy patches below New Hampshire Av and Piney Branch Rd are slippery. Construction equipment doing utility work blocks the trail just before the steep gravel Oakview Dr climb. No hillwork today!
(cf. 2008-09-11 - NWB Hill Work, 2010-04-01 - Northwest Branch Trail, ...)
- Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 04:44:11 (EDT)
At the Disney Institute in Florida some months ago a colleague took a class on creativity. She reports that the Disney Imagineering philosophy is to relentlessly separate ideas from identity. That is, if you invent something you shouldn't cling to it and feel that you must "own" it and develop it. Rather, you should share it with others and enlist their help in developing it. Collaboration is crucial in making something great. All ideas are built upon older ones.
Of course, the Disney Corporation doesn't exactly practice this philosophy itself, as it lobbies for limitless copyright and trademark extensions to keep Mickey Mouse and similar characters out of the public domain for decades or centuries!
(cf. NoGlory, DarkGlory, PublicDomain, ...)
- Monday, October 18, 2010 at 04:41:10 (EDT)
A new ^z record in late awakening: yesterday I figured out that the name of the football stadium "Cotton Bowl" in Dallas is a play on the words "cotton boll". This realization finally struck me 50 years after growing up in Texas, land of football, and picking cotton on my Grandfather's farm. Duh!
- Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 05:01:04 (EDT)
Rule #1 of Ultrarunning Pacing: Never Pass Michele Harmon! At this year's Andiamo I foolishly keep Michele, elite ultrarunner, in sight for the first several miles. She's taking her time, cruising at ~9:25 min/mi pace near the back of the pack. Near mile 7 we pause at the first aid station. I grab a handful of candy and depart ahead of Michele—and my wheels fall off at mile 20. She catches up with me at 26.2 miles (a 4:37 marathon by my GPS) and glides by. Her fiancé cheerful Joe Clapper is cycling along with her. He kindly gives me some beer, but it isn't nearly enough. Michele finishes an hour ahead of me.
This makes my third Andiamo in a row; for reports on previous events see 2008-10-04 - Andiamo 2008 and 2009-10-10 - Andiamo 2009. I clock in at 8:40:43, eleventh place out of fourteen participants. My average pace for five-mile segments of the 44.91 miles tells the sad story: 9.5, 9.6, 10.2, 10.6, 12.4, 12.6, 13.8, 13.4, and 12.0 min/mi. Overall it's 45 minutes slower than last year, 15 minutes faster than in 2008.
The Andiamo follows the length of the W&OD Trail, which currently has a construction detour that adds roughly a quarter mile to the total distance. At race mile ~8 as the course climbs a ridge near farmland I see a vulture soaring just above the trees to the south. It circles close to me, climbing out of the shadows. Beams from the rising sun make the trailing feathers on the bird's wings glow translucent as the light catches them. I'm reminded of "The Windhover" by Gerard Manly Hopkins and recite it aloud to myself:
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, — the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
The dawn-vulture really is so lovely that my heart stirs. Shortly thereafter as I trot through a suburban neighborhood I see two young ladies running ahead of me, wearing cross-country team shirts. They step off the path to do squats, jumping jacks, and other calisthenics. I try not to gawk. "You're great!" I tell them as I pass by. My heart stirs.
|The day warms and the miles grow longer. Family duties prevent any of my comrades from coming out to taunt me. That's fortunate, since after the halfway point I begin composing heart-wrenching pleas for a ride to the finish line. Fuzzy black and brown caterpillars crawl on the asphalt. I spy one small snake. I take Succeed! electrolyte capsules at frequent intervals, suck down PowerGels for energy, refill my hydration backpack at water fountains, and accept the fact that I have to walk more and more.|
With four miles to go I experience significant intestinal "distress", perhaps from dried pineapple rings that I ate a dozen miles earlier. Thank goodness I'm carrying a few paper towels. As afternoon shadows from nearby buildings lengthen I accelerate in the final few miles. I hold up my hands to surrender at the finish line.
In the days after the race I experience some of the same things that friends have reported, including weight gain, toenail bruising, and insomnia. A series of bizarre dreams feature:
And I really don't like apricot jelly!
- Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 08:57:13 (EDT)
It's important to figure out what's not important. Some excellent advice on that theme appears in The Yoga Year by Celia Toler (p. 242):
This twist warms the hips and prepares for full lotus, lengthening the thigh muscles and bringing the knee to the center. Since it is better to have good knees and no lotus, if you feel strain in the knee, perform the pose as in ...
A similarly sound suggestion is offered in Lunchtime Enlightenment by Pragito Dove (p. 13):
... For the sitting meditations, never force a posture. If you're not comfortable, any practice will simply create more tension and nothing will be achieved. If you can sit, good, but if it is a strain, try some other positions. If you cannot sit on the ground, then sit on a chair. Meditation is not afraid of chairs.
- Friday, October 15, 2010 at 04:39:26 (EDT)
On the clearance shelf of a used-book store in Austin Texas last month I found a copy of Eknath Easwaran's Meditation, a mystical yet strangely practical little tome. Easwaran's approach is that of Focus, in the taxonomy of Paul Wilson's Finding the Quiet characterization of mindfulness practices. The book's introduction offers appealing arguments for building up one's mental muscles via training the mind to think more effectively. Easwaran offers the possibility of radical self-improvement and echoes Marcus Aurelius:
It is no small thing to compose a sonnet or write a perceptive novel; we are indebted to the great composers and writers who have given us beauty and insight into human nature. But I am most moved by the beauty of the perfectly crafted life, where every bit of selfishness has been carved away and what is thought, felt, said, and done are brought into harmony.
The "Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life" occupies the remainder of the book, in eight chapters:
Easwaran is eclectic; he uses Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other faiths in his teachings. I expected to dislike this book, for many reasons. Yet every time the author seems about to drown in fuzzy thinking, he pops back to the surface with a ferociously practical example, a hilariously apt anecdote, an uncannily accurate diagnosis. Meditation is fascinating, powerful, and perhaps helpful. Not bad for a $1 remaindered paperback.
(cf. BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29), WhatIsMyLife (1999-04-30), ...)
- Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 05:44:23 (EDT)
"Here comes a group for you to look at!" Mary Ewell and I step off the trail in Rock Creek Park to admire another pack of young gazelles from the Georgetown University cross-country team as they canter by. Sorted by sex, alternate female and male hordes of half a dozen lissome runners pass us a few minutes apart. We're reminded of the awesome Adonis whom we saw near here three years ago. Mary explains her age eligibility criterion: 15 years. "They're older than that!" I argue. But Mary clarifies: 15 years plus or minus, relative to her. Mary also notes the narrow hips on the fast girls, which reminds me in turn of evolutionary biology comments in Why We Run. We philosophize and criticize as we walk and jog along.
It's a cool Sunday morning when Mary picks me up at home and drives us to the tiny parking lot on Beach Dr at the DC boundary. A pair of ladies are studying the park map, recognize me from VHTRC races, and decline my offer to advise them on routes. They salute Mary's JFK 50 Miler 2007 shirt a few minutes later when they blitz past us on the climb up the Western Ridge Trail. Mary and I enjoy the day, with much banter along the way about "non-attachment" and our need to stop clinging to delusions of speed in our running. (Easier said than done, at least for me!) We discuss yoga and meditation, Mary's Ph.D. thesis work, current politics, bicycle technology, our families, and various other fun topics. Mary almost rolls an ankle as we accelerate the pace nearing the end of our loop.
- Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 06:49:20 (EDT)
Technical terminology intrigues me. In yoga class last week the instructor introduced a vocabulary of body motion: opening and closing of joints, outward and inward rotation, etc. Her discussion of pelvic tilt was fascinating (and not just for callipygian reasons when she demonstrated it). "Cat Tilt", as she showed us, is a forward swivel of the hips, named for the yogic Cat Pose. "Dog Tilt" is an opposite turning of the tailbone in a rearward direction, as in the Downward-facing Dog position. Men, she said, tend to more commonly rotate in the Cat way, while women tend more naturally toward the Dog. Everyone needs to practice and develop consciousness of both, to avoid back problems as well as to exercise better. I've been trying to do so for some time, independently of yoga, after reading about hip rotation issues in racewalking. When I wear a backpack that hangs down in back I can feel it bumping against my butt when I exaggerate the Dog Tilt, and that helps my awareness.
Male/female differences in pelvic tilt styles reminded me of a passage in a charming book I'm currently reading, Lunchtime Enlightenment by Pragito Dove. In explaining Vipassana meditation the author describes three methods, beginning with conscious awareness and acceptance of sensations, thoughts, and emotions. She then explains the other two approaches, and postulates a masculine/feminine distinction between them:
The second practice involves becoming aware of your breathing. There is no special breathing technique; ordinary, natural breathing is fine. As you inhale, you belly naturally rises up, and as you exhale, your belly settles down again. Become aware of the belly, its rising and falling. Just the very awareness of the belly rising and falling ... it is really the life energy, the spring of life that is rising up and falling down with each breath.
As you become more aware of the belly, the mind naturally quiets, the heart becomes silent,and moods disappear. ... Just feel the belly moving up and down. Women often prefer this one.
The third technique involves awareness of the breath passing through the nostrils. Unlike the belly breathing technique, which brings warmth, this technique brings a certain coolness. Men often prefer it; it's a feeling they are more familiar with. Just feel the breath going in through the nostrils and coming out, going in, coming out....
As with other sexual dimorphisms, cat vs. dog pelvis and nostril vs. belly breath are over-generalizations with plenty of exceptions. But maybe there's some truth to such gender-linked tendencies. And they're fun to think about!
- Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 04:42:39 (EDT)
The right ribcage still aches from my fall a fortnight ago (2010-09-19 - Schaeffer Farms) but lovely cool and dry weather lures me out anyway. I do the first three miles fast, carrying a big Priority Mail envelope to the Kensington Post Office. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night ..." comes to mind. Just before the 1pm Saturday closing time I arrive and mail a book and magazine to sister-in-law Rita. Then it's Kensington Parkway to Rock Creek Trail, upstream to Cedar Lane, past NIH and south on Old Georgetown Rd. Sidewalks and roads are jammed by a "Taste of Bethesda" street party. Practicing for the Andiamo a week from now I try to push the pace but can't maintain my goal of 10 min/mi. Home via the CCT is comfortable.
- Monday, October 11, 2010 at 06:37:31 (EDT)
The metatarsal bones behind the little toes in my left foot have, since 2002, occasionally ached during long runs. Sometimes they hurt even after short walks. The cause? A great mystery. I asked my doctor about the pain, and she had no ideas. I tried changing my stride, my foot placement, my shoes, etc.—all to no avail.
But last week I think I found a cure! While I was walking home from the subway station the left metatarsals started to twinge, and inspired by yoga class and various yoga books I've been reading recently, I tried consciously spreading my toes inside my shoe. The change in alignment instantly made the achiness go away. Why didn't I think of it sooner? It worked during yesterday's 45 mile run (the 2010 "Andiamo" race), where many other things went awry but my metatarsalgia never showed its face. Whee!
(cf. countless references to left foot metatarsal pain here, e.g. Rocky Run (2002-11-17), JogsAndAmbles (2004-06-19), JoggingRecovery (2005-08-05), Gunpowder Keg Fat Ass 2007, UltraMedicine (2008-11-21), 2009-11-05 - Appalachian Trail and Canal Towpath, 2010-04-03 - Chocolate Bunny, ...)
- Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 07:46:43 (EDT)
I've been repeatedly stunned during the past few weeks at the limitations of many of my colleagues in the mathematical department:
But at least most of my colleagues can recognize a slide rule when they see it!
- Saturday, October 09, 2010 at 03:43:06 (EDT)
Deja vu: as in 2008-09-21 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon and 2009-09-20 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon, kind Christina Caravoulias drives me to Westminster in northern Maryland for this friendly race over rolling hills. We take an early 7am start with half a dozen other runners and walkers, so we get to enjoy the sunrise as we trot along country roads. At 8am the masses begin and so does the rain; it's gentle and doesn't cause us any trouble. Just before mile 8 the fastest of the 8am crew passes us. Our total time is about 2:55:16 by my watch. After the race Christina and I go to nearly Baugher's Market to buy ice cream and peaches.
(mile splits: 11:56 + 12:32 + 12:33 + 13:10 + 13:12 + 13:08 + 12:32 + 13:09 + 14:09 + 15:04 + 14:30 + 15:12 + 13:09 + 1:00 for the final fraction; cf. )
- Friday, October 08, 2010 at 04:47:43 (EDT)
At a noontime talk yesterday a physician explained the medical technique of Differential Diagnosis as the analysis of a sick patient's symptoms so as to find the most probable disease—but then he corrected himself and said, "the most probable treatable disease". If you can't do anything about it, he felt, then it's not worth thinking about.
Hmmm! Even though I'm something of a Utilitarian, I'd rather know the actual probabilities of what I might have, rather than ignore things that can't be cured. Maybe that's why I'm a "theoretician", in spirit anyway?
(cf. DiagnosisMortality (2000-07-09), PickYourDoc (2005-07-06), ...)
- Thursday, October 07, 2010 at 04:44:33 (EDT)
Like the yoga class I'm taking, John Stillwell's Roads to Infinity stretches me, sometimes painfully. As the subtitle says, it's a book about "The Mathematics of Truth and Proof". That necessarily means it's about infinity. Starting with the dot-dot-dot at the end of "1, 2, 3, ..." Stillwell takes the reader on a tour of higher and higher levels of the infinitary universe. Each chapter begins with a Preview and ends with Historical Background. Between them the math often gets hairy. But there are enough explicit examples (e.g., the discussions of Goodstein's Theorem and Tag Systems) that I managed (mostly!) to follow along, skipping harder parts as I did with Keith Devlin's Joy of Sets.
In addition to deep mathematics, Stillwell punctuates his text with engaging quotations, both serious and less so. Some examples:
Roads to Infinity might have been called "Glimpses of the Great Game". The original "Great Game" was the British vs. Russian struggle for Asian supremacy during most of the 1800's. But mathematicians have been playing a Great Game much longer, ever since they started to see the consequences and contradictions of infinity, and the implications that has for human knowledge. After centuries of progress there's still a long long way to go ...
(cf.TransfiniteMeaning (1999-07-31), Joy of Sets (2010-06-25), ...)
- Wednesday, October 06, 2010 at 04:43:02 (EDT)
Sirens wail as multiple fire trucks, ambulances, and rescue vehicles race along University Blvd and deafen me as I trot through Wheaton. It's a warm afternoon, temperature near 90°F, and my attempt to maintain a sub-10 min/mi pace fails after the first five miles. I stop at the Kensington Post Office to check my mailbox and take shameless walk breaks on the hills from there to home.
- Tuesday, October 05, 2010 at 04:37:49 (EDT)
At a dinner party with friends recently I had an abrupt epiphany: everybody's different. This obvious insight was triggered by the enthusiastic comments of a bubbling-babbling young runner who had just set a new personal record in a major race. That evening she set a PR for dispensing advice on diet, training, and how hard work plus willpower could make anybody there as thin and as fast as her.
"But when you get injured?" I asked.
"That won't happen!" she responded.
I hope so. But meanwhile, it occurs to me that I've often been guilty myself of lecturing friends and acquaintances on "improving" their running (and lots of other pursuits, come to think of it). Mea culpa! In the future, I resolve to offer guidance only diffidently, sandwiched inside disclaimers and caveats and footnotes. I'm reminded of Arnold Bennett's advice to a too-self-critical young lady: "...if you are not one of the hard-striving, resolute, persevering, teeth-clenching, totally efficient, one-ideaed, ambitious species, you need not despair." Bennett goes on to counsel moderation, honest acceptance of one's limitations, and non-envy of others who have more. Everybody's different. Some things just won't work for some people.
Not long after my dinnertable wake-up call, coincidentally, Paulette pointed out an essay by John Schwartz, New York Times columnist. He writes, "I run. Sort of." and goes on to talk about how slow he is and how it's quite all right to be blissfully unambitious. "There seem to be a lot of people out there who want to tell me how to do this running thing right, and hope to profit by the telling. But I'm doing pretty well, apparently, without their advice."
A fine thought. As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in Chapter 3 of The Lord of the Rings:
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."
"Is it indeed?" laughed Gildor. "Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. ..."
So please don't ask me how to run faster or better. The right answer is, "It depends." Best, I suspect, is to try to be more aware, non-judgmentally, of one's running, or whatever one is immersed in that moment ... and to shift from doing to being.
- Monday, October 04, 2010 at 04:43:45 (EDT)
Graffiti on the spillway gate pillars of Longhorn Dam reads "YOUR ... RELEASE ... AND ... IGNORANCE ... YOUR ... ESCAPE" as I cross toward the south side of the river on the scary-high pedestrian walkway. I run on the edge away from the precipice and hope no vertigo strikes me en route. Soon I realize that I'm seeing the words in reverse order, and missing the ending.
Tall buildings in downtown Austin have their tops airbrushed off by fog which thickens as the morning progresses. I'm doing the Lady Bird Lake loop trail on the final official day of summer, with temperate-cool (~75°F) conditions. Light drizzle begins and soon ends as I follow the path alongside South Lakeshore Blvd. A homeless person sleeps on a metal park bench.
A young lady, trotting the opposite direction with a buff young gentleman, pulls up her singlet to wipe her brow and flashes a maroon jog-bra. She wishes me good morning. I greet the pair again on the opposite side of the river when our paths cross near the I-35 bridge. A scruffy bearded man at the freeway offramp holds a sign that says, "WHY LIE? I NEED A BEER". I wonder whether it's more successful than the usual appeals.
My circuit commences before the dam at mile marker "6", by the baseball fields just east of the old Holly Power Plant. This morning seems to be Construction Day in east Austin: neighborhood streets are blocked as crews do road repair, and my attempt to get to Metz Park is thwarted by a muddy detour. As I run I discover a better place to leave a car, the little lot on Canterbury St at the north end of the dam just off N Pleasant Valley Rd. The old Beach Boys song "Pleasant Valley Sunday" runs through my head briefly. When I finish my loop and drive by, the parking lot is half full of construction equipment.
As I climb a hill I tell myself I'm running well, until footsteps behind me reveal a shirtless young fellow who speeds by leaving me feeling like a slowpoke. Friction makes me take my fluorescent-lime-green shirt off and tie it around my waist after 4 miles. My spirits flag until I suck on hard candies and take a Succeed! e-cap at the one-hour mark, after which I begin to progress somewhat better. Or maybe it's the increasing number of ladies whom I encounter on the western end of the loop trail?
The Nike "Free" slipper-shoes I wear feel good until about mile 8, at which point my feet (esp. the left metatarsals) start to twinge. Cars are stop-and-go, mostly "stop", on the major roads into town. RunTex company sponsored water coolers are a welcome gift at miles ~4 and ~7. I accelerate and manage to pull my average pace down from ~10 min/mi in the first half to ~9.6 min/mi for the second.
Ribs on the right side ache when I breathe too deeply, a phenomenon that started a few days after the fall I took on the 2010-09-19 - Schaeffer Farms run Sunday morning with Caren but which didn't much trouble me until today. I hope the old bones are just bruised and not cracked or broken!
(cf. 2006-07-08 - Town Lake Loop, 2009-07-18 - Austin Town Lake Loop, 2010-07-16 - Lady Bird Lake Loop, ...)
- Sunday, October 03, 2010 at 06:42:51 (EDT)
|Photos from Mom's album of the Zimmermann boys (and Dad) in 1958 and 1962 under the Christmas tree ...|
- Saturday, October 02, 2010 at 08:57:32 (EDT)
As the sun rises at 7am two dozen kids are walking and jogging cooldown laps on the Lyndon Baines Johnson HS track. My ladder of 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 repeats begins a bit faster than intended as the Old Man tries to impress America's Youth while showing off his eye-searing lime-green HAT Run 2008 shirt and old Nike Free shoes. The air is humid but cooler than usual for Austin Texas at this time of year, with temps in the low 70's. After the masses depart for class one young couple remains cuddling and smooching on the bleachers at the nearby baseball diamond. My splits: 1:46 + 3:44 + 5:54 + 7:51 + 5:51 + 3:52 + 1:46.
(cf. 2006-07-15 - Final Texas Heatwork, 2009-08-10 - Beep, Beep, Beep, ..., 2010-07-15 - LBJ Ladder, ...)
- Friday, October 01, 2010 at 04:53:37 (EDT)
Comment by a colleague at a class on editing yesterday, re the value of seeing something with fresh eyes:
|"There's a lot of value in the first time you read something — because you're never going to read it the first time again."|
... a concept applicable to the first time you do anything!
(cf. SeeingAndForgetting (1999-07-15), CreativeDevices (2001-01-01), ...)
- Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 09:20:28 (EDT)
A donkey brays at the dawn from across a wide hayfield. An ear of corn catches my eye and I move it to the middle of the trail, then pick a few more, husk them, and position them likewise to puzzle or amuse mountain bikers who may follow us. As usual, I'm 5 minutes early and Caren Jew is at Black Rock Mill before me. At ~0535 we start up the steep road, headlamps glowing. Jupiter sets in the west as Sirius rises. I'm wearing Nike Free slipper-shoes, an ongoing experiment in light-footedness. We enter the Farm at the gate and follow the path. Tall dry cornstalks stand brown beside us.
As we begin today's trek I note that my poison ivy and vertigo are starting to get better, but the right metatarsals feel achy. Half an hour later Caren inquires how my foot is doing. I immediately trip and fall, scraping both palms and banging my right knee and chest. Instantly my foot feels fine! My vertigo is also cured. I scramble to my feet, thanking Caren for her offer to help me up.
Caren spies big worms on the trail and points them out to me. Her sharp powers of observation remind me of "Upon First Reading Chapman's Homer" by John Keats, from which I attempt to quote: "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken / Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes / He stared at the Pacific ...". Caren and I continue our delightful long-running conversation about family, friends, and fellow runners. As we round a curve on a hilltop Caren spots our cars parked far below. We suddenly realize that we're at the shortcut back to our start. We scramble down the slope, thank each other, and head for our respective homes.
(cf. 2009-05-31 - Schaeffer Farms, 2010-07-03 - Schaeffer Farms, 2010-08-22 - Schaeffer Farms, ...)
- Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 04:36:12 (EDT)
In the fitness section of the local library used-book sale a copy of Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice seized my gaze a couple of weeks ago. It was a large-format hardback, formerly in the library's circulating collection (Dewey Decimal catalog 613.704 TUR), in reasonably good shape, with photos of an attractive young yoga practitioner. It contained lots of large-print text that at first glance looked literate. The Introduction was by Robert Thurman, a professor whose name I recognized from something that I'd read last year, largely disagreed with, but found thought-provoking. Best of all, it only cost $2. How could anyone resist that? (Did I mention that the yogini who demonstrates twisty positions is exceedingly easy on the eyes?)
Alas, when I got Living Yoga home I belatedly discovered that its author, Christy Turlington, was a world-famous supermodel. (I've never heard of her, which says something about the cave I live in.) The book is more autobiography than yoga manual. Upon reading it one is immediately smacked in the face by a constant parade of "I", "me", and "mine"—front-stage-center intrusion which feels contrary to the spirit of selflessness and nonattachment that meditative yoga ostensibly embodies. On page 16 of Chapter 2, in fact, every single sentence features a first-person pronoun! (But between the self-promotional prose sections are many pictures of a lovely lithe lady.)
I skimmed onward and felt increasing disquiet. Bizarre statements about purported health benefits of postures are presented without evidence. Incredible anecdotes are related as if historical fact. Brief descriptions conclude with quasi-advertisements, "To learn more about X, visit their website" plus URLs. The book was published in 2002 and Chapter 25, titled "Non-Attachment", reads like a last-minute pasted-in tale of the author's 9/11 experience in New York City, focused especially on how the terrorist attacks disrupted her wedding plans. Did Ms. Turlington actually write most of the text herself? The copyright page credits Sabrina Dupré as "researcher and consultant" and the dedication thanks her for "keeping me focused and supporting me along the way". Was Dupré the ghost-writer? Perhaps instead of Living Yoga the book should be titled A Celebrity Supermodel's Life: Some Yoga Included. (But on the plus side, note that Ms. T is pleasantly proportioned and singularly flexible.)
Back it goes to the used-book sale donation cart ...
(cf. Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), Total Interconnectedness (2009-12-25), ...)
- Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 04:40:32 (EDT)
The sun rises over forested ridgelines in front of me and memories of my first 50 miler, the Tussey Mountainback 2004 race, resurface. From the motel where I'm staying in State College Pennsylvania the Atherton St bikepath leads over gently rolling hills towards Boalsburg. Ultrarunner Morgan Windram let my comrade Steve Adams and me crash in her home there on the night before the race. Six years later I'm back for a couple of days, wearing a pair of Nike "Free" minimalistic slippers because they were lighter to pack than regular running shoes. Two-plus miles eastward take me past strip malls and farms to the end of the path just beyond Boalsburg Pike. On the way back I divert to loop across the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum, where a big tree has been blown down and lies, trunk shattered. I explore a side road, Warner Dr, that deadends in a swanky neighborhood. Accelerating pulls my average pace down, with GPS-estimated splits of 10:23 + 9:21 + 9:33 + 9:20 + 8:09 plus a brisk fractional mile.
- Monday, September 27, 2010 at 04:39:19 (EDT)
|An image from the Zimmermann family photo album, date unknown (ca. 1965?) — Keith, Mom, Mark, Dad.|
(thanks to Mom for saving this picture! — cf. Mark Zimmermann, Age 3, Mark Zimmermann, Age 7, Sixth Grade Photo, High School Suit, ...)
- Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 04:31:04 (EDT)
A pair of gleaming eyes peers at me through the drizzle. It's 4:30am and in the light of my headlamp a big deer stands near Rock Creek Trail milepost 3 as I pass by. A few dozen yards later three more deer on the other side of the path stare at me. Smaller beady gleams are rabbits in the brush. One darts out in front of me half a dozen miles later.
As in 2008 and 2009, I leave home a couple of hours before dawn to jog 10+ miles to Rockville where the MCRRC Parks Half Marathon begins. I'm a volunteer pacer, signed up to run steadily at 12:15 min/mi to help back-of-the-pack runners gauge their speed and run their race more effectively. The journey begins dry, but within a couple of miles sprinkles commence and grow into true rain. I take out my Marathon and Beyond magazine poncho, a glorified yellow trash bag with holes for arms and head. The hood doesn't seem necessary, so I let it hang behind me and fill with water.
My progress is steady after a brisk first couple of miles, with plenty of walk breaks and pauses to look around. I have to be careful not to stare upward, however, to avoid triggering my BPPV affliction. Poison ivy blisters on my arms, leg, and back aren't troublesome in the damp.
In Rockville I wait under the registration awning for a while, greet friends, head for the starting area, wave my "12:00+" pacer sign in the air, and eventually set off in the final wave-start group several minutes after 7am. It's an uneventful day; I hit my pace targets to within a few seconds and enjoy friend Gayatri Datta's company throughout the journey. Christina Caravoulias runs with us for a while, then slows her pace since this distance is a bit long for her right now. Other runners chat with me and progress. Near mile 11 I give a couple of S! salt capsules to an Asian lady who is cramping up. "You'll feel better in 10-20 minutes!" I promise her.
At the finish I turn in my chip and decide that the long lines to get food aren't worth the wait. Magically, however, comrade Rebecca Rosenberg materializes and charitably gives me her slice of cheese pizza. A volunteer offers us watermelons, but I decline the opportunity to carry one almost four miles. Instead I seek out Gayatri so she can use my phone to check in with her husband Atin. She then heads for her home, and I for mine. As a test I see what pace I can maintain. Even with pauses to cross Connecticut Av and visit a porta-john I manage to average a 10.3 min/mi pace for the 3.9 miles along the CCT and neighborhood streets.
(cf. 2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, 2009-09-13 - Double Parks Half Marathon, ...)
- Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 09:05:19 (EDT)
A few days ago I wake in early morning from a vivid dream. Its story, lightly edited to protect the innocent:
An ultramarathon buddy is driving a huge van, not her usual car. With us are half a dozen people, including her kids plus other runner comrades and acquaintances. We are all planning to run somehow from Massanutten valley (aka the Fort Valley) to the top of Mount Whitney—that is, from Virginia to California, a geographical impossibility. We park illegally on Connecticut Avenue, a major local thoroughfare, and go into a convenience store. The scene jumps ahead to when we get back. A couple of passing cars have sideswiped our vehicle, but damage is minor and insurance will cover it. While my friend is talking to a policeman I phone home and my wife reminds me that it's our daughter's birthday and I need to be there for the event. We all get into the van. I'm driving and my friend is sitting in the far-back corner. After dithering and hesitating, finally I decide that I really must go home. I break the news that I won't be able to run with the group. My friend becomes incredibly sad and looks like she's about to cry. But she gets her emotions under control and tells me it's OK ...
... and then I wake up. Is this telling me that I need to pay attention to family duties and cut back on excessive training time? I don't think it's a psychic premonition that my friend is going to run Badwater, the legendary 135-mile ultramarathon that ends up on top of Mount Whitney!
- Friday, September 24, 2010 at 05:33:23 (EDT)
Stephanie hauls my lazy heinie away from my desk again this morning to take advantage of the cool weather. For the first time she's not wearing a kerchief and I compliment her on dreadlocks that I hadn't previously seen. We circle the office parking perimeter's 1.5 mile sidewalk in just under 15 minutes. Our second loop is 45 seconds faster. Poison ivy on my back reminds me to stand tall.
- Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 08:24:43 (EDT)
Squirrels scamper away and crows scold me as they fly overhead. When my shirt rubs against the poison ivy rash on my back I'm reminded to stand erect and run smoothly. A cold front makes for lovely late-summer weather, dew point below 50°F, so I take advantage of the gift and push the pace. The first lap includes slight pauses to kick sticks and pine cones off the asphalt. Marked-mile times are 9:41 + 8:44 + 7:46 + 7:02. I wish I could have continued the descending pattern of the first three laps, taking 57-58 seconds off each time, but that final one was almost as fast as I could handle without risking a fall.
- Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 08:22:22 (EDT)
Smiling Stephanie arrives a minute after me and at 7:30am we emerge from the SW exit to run around the forest path on a humid morning. Good conversations ensue, including anecdotes about interracial marriage and the general improvement in US society during recent decades on racial issues. I miss taking a starting-line split for the marked-mile and estimate our first one at within a few seconds of 10:00. The second is comfortably brisker at 9:28. Stephanie keeps me honest and doesn't let me walk the steep hills.
- Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 08:20:27 (EDT)
Idle observation from a month or two ago: I was at The Container Store on a Sunday afternoon, buying bookshelves for Paulette, and virtually everybody else there was either visibly pregnant or accompanying someone who was! Maybe there really is a nesting instinct? Or maybe it was just a statistical fluctuation that I happened to notice ...
- Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 06:18:15 (EDT)
Continuing with her Potomac Heritage Trail Project, Mary Ewell invites me to join her for Part Three: Algonkian Park to Difficult Run, via Riverbend Park and Great Falls National Park. We leave the MINI Cooper in the parking lot just off Georgetown Pike (VA-193) and ride together in Mary's Prius to where we finished our prior PHT trek on the 4th of July. Mary is coming back from multiple illnesses but as usual is cheery and great fun to run with.
A svelte young lady zips by us after we've done a third of our journey and advises us on which paths to take ("Follow the River!"). Mary and Caren Jew independently tease me afterwards for remembering the color of her jog-bra top (Sky blue!). A group of dog-walkers tells us we've got some rough terrain ahead ("Barbed wire fences!"). A couple with a dog say that civilization is far far away ("We've been hiking for two and a half hours already!"). But they're all wrong in various ways. Even after taking a couple of inadvertent detours and adding half a mile to the journey, soon we familiar terrain and emerge from the woods at Riverbend Park. We're both dehydrated but Mary has cash and kindly buys me a soda and candy bar.
A few miles later after taking the blue-blazed PHT past flocks of tourists we follow the Carriage Road from the Great Falls National Park headquarters back to Georgetown Pike and my car. Mary directs me along the road to Algonkian (the Potomac Lakes SportsPlex) and then leads me in her car until I am on the right road to Carolina Brothers BBQ in old Ashburn.
Postscript: a day later both Mary and I develop poison ivy rashes and blisters on our left arms and legs. Apparently we brushed against something on that side of the trail and didn't wash the oils off in time. Fortunately the reaction isn't as bad as it sometimes is, and we're both mostly recovered within a fortnight.
(cf. 2010-06-16 - Goose Creek, 2010-07-04 - Potomac Heritage Trail, ...)
- Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 09:59:16 (EDT)
(from Minnie Merle Zimmermann's photo album — thanks, Mom! — cf. Mark Zimmermann, Age 7 (2010-07-31), High School Suit (2010-08-15), ...)
- Monday, September 20, 2010 at 17:43:29 (EDT)
It's still dark at 0600 when Gayatri Datta and I arrive at the Hamburg Rd parking lot and find, as expected, Caren Jew there awaiting us. We visit for 15 minutes, then set out northward on the Catoctin Trail. Uneventful progress ensures until we arrive at Delauter Rd ~3 miles later. I help reset Gayatri's GPS, which seems to have filled its lap memory, and we turn back. At the cars after a bit over 2 hours Caren heads for home and Gayatri and I refill bottles before proceeding southward. We go ~3 miles, mostly walking, meet some friendly mountain bikers, advise them on local trails, and return. To finish up we take a mountain-bike trail north from the Hamburg Rd parking lot. It generally parallels the Catoctin Trail, which is a few hundred feet to the east of it. We chat with some hikers using trekking poles and then retrace our path.
- Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 04:10:07 (EDT)
Gentle disagreement, with the flurry of "Never Forget!" posts that appeared a week ago, on 11 September. Why? "Never Forget" hasn't worked very well in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, etc. Similarly on an individual level, where clinging to the past destroys personal relationships. Better bumper sticker: "Let It Go!" Maybe even turn the other cheek. 
(cf. TitForTat (1999-10-31), VarietiesOfNotCaring (2004-06-19), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)
- Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 16:24:13 (EDT)
At 5:30am the Pleiades sparkle like gems overhead—but when I tip my head back to admire them vertigo strikes and my head spins. So I cautiously cut my eyes at the Seven Sisters as I set out from home. The 25-day-old crescent moon in the east casts a shadow in front of me, thin and wavery like Frodo's when wearing the One Ring. My One Ring is running, with its addictive illusion of power. I tread cautiously in the dim tunnels under trees on the rutted gravel of the Capital Crescent Trail until the sky begins to lighten at 6am. A big stag stares at me as I pass within a few feet of him near the Grubb Rd side path.
In downtown Bethesda I refill water bottle and chew a gummy strawberry-flavored Clif Blok while awaiting the arrival of the Bethesda Rebel Runner gang. There are almost a dozen here today, so at 6:40am we head west on the CCT retracing my steps until after the high trestle over Rock Creek. Then down to Meadowbrook Stables we trot. Barry Smith rolls his right ankle rather badly along the way, but after he and Sara Crum and I walk a bit together the ache decreases and he continues with us. I tell him he's being foolish; he laughs. Sam (Samantha Yerkes) carries chalk and leads the way, marking turns with arrows and a big "BRR" on the asphalt.
Back in Bethesda after 6+ miles we regroup at the water fountain. Gayatri Datta and Sara run a little way ahead of Barry and me. Along the way we're startled to see Gayatri's husband Atin, out for a Saturday morning stroll. "Lucky you weren't saying anything scandalous about him when we got within earshot!" Sara tells Gayatri. At Fletchers Boathouse Barry and Sara turn back. Gayatri and I carry on while Rebecca and others recede into the distance ahead. At the Thompson Boat Center we catch sight of the group just leaving. As we prepare to continue we hear a loud pop and see flames spreading on the water near the back of a boat at the dock. Apparently somebody was filling the tank of his outboard motor; gasoline overflowed, spilled onto the river, and caught fire. Fortunately no damage.
As we cross the Memorial Bridge into Virginia winds repeatedly blast Gayatri's cap off until she gives up and attaches it to her velcro fuel belt. Construction along the Mount Vernon Trail detours us onto a segment on the shoulder of the George Washington Memorial Parkway where we trot between jersey barriers, trapped liked marbles in a chute as cyclists speed by. We're disappointed at the Marina not to see any water fountains. At National Airport we navigate the maze of parking lot alleys and find our way to the Metro, then into the terminal concourse where we refill bottles in the water fountain outside the ladies room. I phone Rebecca to report our arrival and discover she's only a few feet away, around a corner with Sam et al. in a Cosi coffee shop. The others sip java while Gayatri and I catch the subway to Bethesda. Gayatri kindly gives me a ride home.
- Friday, September 17, 2010 at 05:57:38 (EDT)
Physicist Robert Geroch is most known for his work on general relativity, Einstein's theory of gravity. A few years ago, however, he taught a course on the theory of computation: what are the fundamental limits on various types of computers, and how fast can they solve various problems? His lecture notes have been turned into an excellent little book, Perspectives in Computation. It's far from easy material, and (as with Keith Devlin's Joy of Sets text on set theory) I found myself reading and re-reading early chapters, then skimming later ones. Geroch's treatment is highly mathematical, but grounded in practicality. It's also chatty, with humorous asides, e.g.:
Geroch's big accomplishment is to shine light on specific areas of the mathematics of computing. He develops plausible measures for computational difficulty and applies them to classical, probabilistic, and quantum computers. The startling conclusion, stated at the end of the Introduction:
We have today not one single example of a problem, together with a quantum-assisted computation of that problem, such that we can actually prove that at least the same efficiency cannot be achieved already without using quantum mechanics.
This, in spite of the apparent radical benefits of quantum mechanical processes for doing what seem to be extraordinary massively parallel computations. The bulk of Geroch's book is devoted to exploring the issue. He ends the Conclusion with a far-out speculation: "Can one, for example, imagine a plausible-looking physical theory within whose framework certain computations can be speeded up even more dramatically?" That is, if quantum mechanics offers magic, might there be something else with even more power? What in the world could that be?
- Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 05:50:52 (EDT)
Chain saws roaring, a tree-trimming crew is taking down limbs. Perhaps it was long-scheduled, or perhaps it's in anticipation of Hurricane Earl that might come through in a few days? I'm planning on running anyway but Stephanie's request confirms the decision. We do two 1.5-mile loops together around the parking lot periphery in ~16 min and ~15 min respectively. Then I continue for a solo circuit as hard as I can, 11:25 the result.
- Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 04:39:12 (EDT)
Two big deer race across the trail in front of Stephanie and me, the buck with velvet antlers chasing the doe. Today I don't plan to run, but Stephanie shames me into going out with her for a couple of laps on the paved trail through the forest. We chatter about my recent runs and Stephanie and her husband's new home that they've just moved into. Our mile splits are 11:08 and 10:23. The first lap is slowed as we have to walk for several seconds behind a little motorized vehicle being driven in reverse down the asphalt, a guy on the back (effectively front) blowing leaves off the course. What a waste!
- Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 04:36:52 (EDT)
Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich is really three books: a fine autobiography of a champion ultramarathoner, a somewhat suspect set of essays on evolutionary biology, and a rather idiosyncratic running manual. The story of Heinrich's 1981 US National Championship 100 km race is grippingly told, so much so that I had to skip ahead to the final chapters of Why We Run to see how it ended before I read the body of the book. Similarly exciting are tales of his preparation for other races.
On the downside, however, the chapters suggesting that natural selection produced a homo sapiens born to run are distractingly silly in many places, speculative just-so stories reminiscent of Desmond Morris's old book The Naked Ape. In particular Chapter 13, "Evolution of Intelligent Running Ape People" seems a weak rationalization. And the advice on how to train is by turns self-contradictory and technically inaccurate. Why We Run also seems to have been haphazardly edited, or perhaps pieced together from separately published articles. Don Ritchie's quip ("To run an ultramarathon, you need good training background, and a suitable mental attitude, i.e., you must be a little crazy.") is repeated in Chapter 18 (p. 224) and in slightly different words in Chapter 20 (p. 251). In Chapter 10 (p. 137) a clumsy sentence observes, "Additional heat input from the external environment additionally threatens to overheat the animal." A couple of pages later there's the incorrect statement that pure water is absorbed more quickly than when it contains salt or sugar. Comments on lactic acid, diet, walk breaks, and male-female differences are similarly dubious.
Nevertheless, Heinrich writes well and offers some excellent thoughts, e.g. in Chapter 18 ("Training for the Race", pps. 223-224):
... The key to great ultramarathon performance is in setting goals and finding just the right balance between opposite and equally important necessities. Training must include intensely high mileage. Yet rest and recuperation are equally important. It takes rigid discipline to put in 10, 20, maybe 30 miles per day, with no excuses allowed, yet you need to be able to let up instantly when further effort might mean injury. Sometimes it's necessary to pay immediate attention to the first hint of a blister or a slight muscle tear, while at other times you've got to be able to ignore pain for hours on end. Racing mentality requires a steady, unflappable calmness, and also a devil-may-care abandon where all the stops are pulled. Success requires uncompromising logic, and subservience to an overall goal that has, as life itself, no logical basis whatsoever. ...
In other words, the wisest answer to "How should I train?" is "It depends!"
- Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 08:43:40 (EDT)
"Are you Megan?" I ask the lady who waves at me in the Bethesda parking lot. Indeed she is; we ran 21 miles together a week ago, but my bad memory for faces (mild prosopagnosia?) makes me unsure. When she says "Yes!" I confess that I guessed Megan because there are two Megans and it therefore doubled my chances of being right. We laugh.
A subset of Rebecca Rosenberg's group (those not running this morning's Annapolis 10 Miler) gathers a bit after 7am and carpools in Sonia & David's car out to the soccer field on Rock Creek Trail at Veirs Mill and Aspen Hill Rd. Craig Roodenburg meets us there and we run downstream back to our start, following the final 10+ miles of the Parks Half Marathon route. The PHM is two weeks from now, so today is a preview for those who plan to run it. I'm scheduled to again pace the 12+ min/mi group, as in 2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus and 2009-09-13 - Double Parks Half Marathon. Gayatri Datta, who has been ill recently and who ran hard yesterday, hangs back with me as the other four trot ahead. We trek along, chatting and catching up on gossip about friends and fellow runners.
- Monday, September 13, 2010 at 05:14:40 (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), 0.82 (February-April 2010), 0.83 (April-May 2010), 0.84 (May-July 2010), 0.85 (July-September 2010), 0.86 (September-October 2010), 0.87 (October-December 2010), 0.88 (December 2010 - February 2011), 0.89 (February-April 2011), 0.90 (April-June 2011), 0.91 (June-August 2011), 0.92 (August-October 2011), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2011 by Mark Zimmermann.)