^zhurnaly 0.89

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.89 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 = 0.88 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... RSS

2011-04-09 - Bull Run Run

50+ miles @ ~14.2 min/mi

Rain in recent days makes for high tributary streams that feed Bull Run. Concrete steppingstones that normally are dry now stand submerged by several inches. Envision this picture of Johnny Moore Creek with the water a foot or two higher, flowing fast and furious, the banks a muddy mess.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Johnny_Moore_Creek_Bull_Run_Trail_by_RA.jpgOutbound near mile 6 good friend Kate Abbott teeters and almost falls in while crossing here. I'm close enough behind to grab her arm and stabilize her. On the way back, about mile 13, Kate and the others near us decide to wade across the waist-deep flood rather than risk the steppingstones. I, on the other hand, don't want to get wet.

I make it to the last stone. Then, alas, I slip and fall sideways into the water, submerged with only my left ear sticking out. I don't recall what happens next. Kate reports that I stagger onto the shore looking like a drowned rat and say, "Well, that was rather bracing!"

Much laughter ensues among the witnesses.

(photo, taken 2010-11-19, used with kind permission of Randy Allen — who with his wife maintains that section of the blue-blazed Bull Run Trail.)

Today's Bull Run Run, my fifth in a row, is a moderately good experience. My time is the median value of the set; it improves my average by a few minutes. The GPS I wear reads low on the distance by ~10%, as it did last year. (The trackfile looks normal. Others have reported the same phenomenon. Could the course actually a few miles short?) I keep up with comrade Kate until ~mile 20, when she runs on ahead to finish in 11:24, only 2 minutes slower than we did together last year. In my opinion for her it's a "moral PR", since course conditions are far tougher this time.

BRR veteran Tom Green visits with me before the start, and we run together for a while as we did in the Bull Run Run 2008. Tom has finished every BRR since the race began — a 19-year streak — and even though his knee is bothering him he decides to enter this year at the last minute, when Race Director Anstr Davidson contacts him. He finishes well ahead of me.

My left foot troubles me; plantar fasciitis in the heel probably was triggered by a misstep in the 2010-12-11 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k along the southern part of the Bull Run Trail. When Kate and I pass the point where the bad step happened I point it out to her. My left big toe and metatarsal bones also ache, perhaps due to a too-tight shoe. My left hamstring is slightly annoying. But the big factor today is probably my under-training in recent months, due to those injuries as well as harsh winter weather.

Kate's husband Victor Perez and their three sons Sebastian, Joaquin, and Jacian are at the Do Loop aid station (miles 32.5 and 35.5). They greet me as I come through several minutes behind Kate and cheer me on my way. Soon thereafter I catch up with a young man who is wearing a kilt. "I won't ask you what you're wearing under that," I say. But he replies anyway, "Socks and shoes!"

( photo by Bobby Gill)


Curse you, Pace Card! If Ken Swab hadn't made the original version of you, which I then modify and Kate prints out and laminates, at mile 38 I wouldn't have seen that I might, pushing hard, finish in just under 12 hours. So for the last dozen miles I suck down half a dozen energy gels, run the flats, power-walk the hills, and pass at least a dozen flagging runners. And I make it, with almost 5 minutes to spare.

By the time I arrive at the finish line Kate has long since showered and changed clothes. She is shivering cold, her hands white, so I finish a fudgesicle, grab my gear, and we leave as soon as possible to get her home. We run the heater in the MINI Cooper at max, which I also appreciate.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/BRR_2011_swag.jpgThe Bull Run Run offers an embarrassing amount of what runners call "swag" — amenities to those who enter, more premiums to those who complete the event. This year's booty includes a nice cotton shirt for starters, and for finishers a technical long-sleeved running shirt. Those who picked the "winning army" (North or South, based on a point system among sub-10-hour racers) also get a kerchief. A wet mini-towel is given out at the finish line to help cool fevered brows. Members of a winning team get a monogrammed blanket (even if the team "wins" by being the slowest, as mine was).

In years past enameled BRR pins were awarded: "I" for rookies at their first success, "V" after the fifth finish, "X" for ten. The five-year pins ran out this year before I made it, and there are no plans to order more. And I had my heart set on earning one! But the five-year visor is a nice consolation prize.


I complete the race in 11:55:25 for 281st place out of 320 official finishers. The team I'm on, "MCRRC Absolute Zeros", wins a prize for slowest by a few minutes. As last of our crew I do my part in sealing the "victory". Comrade Ken Swab (11:34:19) is first, with Lawrence Bartlett and Yi Dang between us. Running buddies Kate Abbott (11:25:26), Jennifer Wieland Zuckman (11:49:22), and Caroline Williams (12:24:59) all likewise do well.

location segment
Start 00--0:000:000:000:000:00
Centreville Road 7.27.2--1:461:471:381:44
Turnaround 2.29.4--2:152:182:042:13
Centreville Road 2.211.6--2:432:482:302:42
Hemlock 516.6--4:024:153:383:47
Marina 4.521.1--5:125:254:394:45
Wolf Run Shoals 526.1--6:306:355:455:50
Fountainhead 228.17:156:597:066:156:23
Do Loop - In 4.432.58:208:038:127:177:23
Do Loop - Out 335.5--8:498:548:028:07
Fountainhead 2.437.99:459:279:318:398:40
Wolf Run Shoals 239.9--10:0010:029:139:25
Marina 544.911:3011:0511:1310:1910:36
Finish 5.550.413:0012:2512:5011:4011:2311:56

(cf. Kate Abbott's 2011 Bull Run Run 50 Mile Race Report and Ken Swab's blog report — for my past BRR notes see Bull Run Run 2007, Bull Run Run 2008, 2009-04-18 - Bull Run Run, 2010-04-10 - Bull Run Run, ...)

- Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 04:36:29 (EDT)

2011-04-06 - Belated Taper

~3 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Stephanie's first 10 miler is in 10 days, so I explain what a "taper" is to her as we do two laps around the parking lot perimeter together, the first slow, the second a little faster. The Bull Run Run 50 miler is 3 days away, so I need to taper too! A grounds-keeper kindly pauses his noisy mower as we pass.

- Monday, April 18, 2011 at 04:33:52 (EDT)

Turning Attention Inward

In Meditation for Dummies Stephan Bodian offers thoughtful suggestions for investigating consciousness. In Chapter 6 ("Meditation 101: Relaxing Your Body and Calming Your Mind") he discusses four "dimensions" to explore:

Content to process: Instead of becoming engrossed in the meaning of what you're sensing or thinking or feeling, you can shift your interest and attention to how experiencing occurs — or to the mere fact of experience itself. For example, instead of getting lost in thinking or daydreaming, you can notice how your mind flits from thought to thought — or merely observe that you're thinking. ...

Outer to inner: Initially, you need to balance your usual tendency to be so outer-directed by paying particular attention to inner experience. Eventually, you'll be able to bring the same quality of awareness to every experience, whether inner or outer.

Secondhand to direct: Even more helpful than inner and outer is the distinction between secondhand experience and direct experience. Secondhand experience has been filtered and distorted by the mind, whereas direct experience is mediated through the senses or some other form of direct awareness. ...

Doing to being: You spend virtually all your waking hours rushing from one task or project or activity to another. Do you remember what it's like to just be, the way you did when you were a baby or a little child ... ? Meditation gives you the opportunity to make this crucial shift from doing to being.

(cf. Awareness, No Blame, Change, Being with Your Breath, Breath and Awareness, Mental Noting, Not Always So, Rebalancing Doing and Being, The Watcher, Without Effort, Analysis, or Expectation, ...)

- Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 04:52:26 (EDT)

2011-04-04 - Parking Lot Laps

~3 miles @ ~8.5 min/mi

The old heart thrums like a hummingbird's at ~180 beats/min when I finish the second lap around the parking lot periphery. Pace, assuming ~1.5 miles each, descends 8.8 ⇒ 7.9 min/mi. Left heel and hamstring twingy but not bad.

- Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 04:44:03 (EDT)

Government Waste

Recent complaints in the U.S.A., about high taxes and Federal spending and bloated budget deficits, tend to ignore the fact that, as with all market goods, we pretty much get the government we pay for. Consider many countries, where civil servants are far fewer in number and are paid far less. How long does it take to get a telephone installed, or a court trial? How bad are the roads? How much do the officials have to be bribed in order to do their jobs? How good are the schools? How many people live in abject poverty? How slow is economic growth?

Hmmmm ... do we really want that kind of society?

- Friday, April 15, 2011 at 04:47:14 (EDT)

2011-04-03 - SCGT with Caren

~8 miles @ ~14 min/mi

Caren Jew shakes her fist at me as she arrives, a few minutes after I do, at the MD-355 parking lot. It's all part of our game, to get to a run early. In my defense: I phoned to let her know I was about to leave home, and I underestimated my travel time. Sorry Ms. C!

Just before 7am we set off upstream along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. My hands are clad in Caren's spare socks, since I forgot my gloves at home. A rising sun glints through the trees, reflecting off diamond-dust frost sprinkles on wooden bridges. Vultures cruise low, a woodpecker machine-gun rattles, and robins hop off the trail to let us pass. At Caren's insistence we climb the long Watkins Mill Rd hill and tag the pole at the top.

Other runners meet us on the trail. We strive to avoid taking walk breaks when they're within line-of-sight. Back at the start it's still a few minutes short of Caren's time goal (1:45) so we trot along Route 355 southward for a few blocks and climb the hill past Game Preserve Rd to near the 7-11. Caren stops her watch but kindly runs back with me to the parking lot to let my GPS click past 8.00 miles and our average pace, including all breaks, drop below 14:00 min/mi.

(cf. trackfile [1])

- Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 04:44:31 (EDT)

Upside of Irrationality

Dan Ariely's second book, The Upside of Irrationality, is perhaps inevitably less exciting than his first, Predictably Irrational. The personal anecdotes are excellent but the generalizations, especially in the first half ("The Unexpected Ways We Defy Logic at Work"), are less surprising and less rigorously argued. But Ariely is still a masterful storyteller and summarizes complex experiments well. He begins by explaining their importance in the Introduction:

Why, you may ask, do my colleagues and I put so much time, money, and energy into experiments? For social scientists, experiments are like microscopes or strobe lights, magnifying and illuminating the complex, multiple forces that simultaneously exert their influences on us. They help us slow human behavior to a frame-by-frame narration of events, isolate individual forces, and examine them carefully and in more detail. They let us test directly and unambiguously what makes human beings tick and provide a deeper understanding of the features and nuances of our own biases.

Well, experiments do that when they're well designed and properly analyzed. One can, however, question the extrapolations from toy problems to real-world issues. It's important to apply other techniques, such as statistical correlation, to larger samples and different situations. Sometimes Ariely addresses that, sometimes not.

The Upside of Irrationality does best in its second half when it analyzes human behavior away from the office environment. Chapter 6, "On Adaptation", addresses happiness and pain. The observations that Ariely makes on people who have suffered greatly from injuries (including his own case as a burn victim) are insightful and relevant to ultrarunning and extreme sports exertion. Ariely also offers insights into speed dating, online matchmaking services, charitable fund-raising, and the ever-popular "Hot or Not?" issue of perceived physical attractiveness. His conclusion is quite appropriate:

I hope that you have enjoyed this book. I also fervently hope that you will doubt your intuition and run your own experiments in an effort to make better decisions. Ask questions. Explore. Turn over rocks. Question your behavior, that of your company, employees, and other businesses, and that of agencies, politicians, and governments. By doing so, we may all discover ways to overcome some of our limitations, ant that's the great hope of social science.


P.S. Not really. These are only the first steps of exploring our irrational side, and the journey ahead is long and exciting.

Irrationally yours,

- Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 04:43:36 (EDT)

2011-04-01 - Intro to Intervals

2+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

Comrade Clair's 5k is coming in 10 days, so there's really not enough time to train significantly, but thinking ahead to future races we venture out at noon for a preview of what speedwork feels like. Blustery winds make us retract hands inside sleeves. After jogging the ~1/3 mile to the woodsy path we attack the first marked quarter mile almost as hard as Clair can run, then walk the next quarter, blast out the third quarter, walk the final quarter plus ~1/6th back to the start, and then run the first quarter hard again. The herd of five deer lurk near the course. One other person, heavily bundled against the elements, walks the loop. Our fast approximate quarters: 2:01, 1:49, 1:54.

- Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 04:22:00 (EDT)

Running to Run

Joe Henderson's 1974 book Run Gently, Run Long is full of quiet, thoughtful, Zen-like advice on the value of doing something simply for itself. All benefits are side-effects. The act is its own reward. Yes, sometimes there are unsought bonuses. Henderson describes a gift he received from not-trying:

But as soon as I quit wanting to race, all my racing immediately got faster, even short things like the mile. As soon as I quit trying to make speed come, it came. When I lost my fear of failing, I no longer could fail. Because I wasn't working hard every day any more, I was fresh and relaxed and eager for those rare hard days at races, no matter what the result.

And then, as we always do, he tried to race, trained too hard, and got hurt. Henderson quotes Jeff Kroot:

The only things a runner should be concerned with are (1) getting enough miles to be fit for what he wants to run, (2) keeping his energy reserves high, (3) avoiding injuries and (4) staying interested. As long as he's doing these things, it doesn't matter what kind of running he's doing. The "best" way to run is the way that satisfies these needs.

(cf. PleasantSurprises (2002-08-08), LoseTrack (2002-11-11), NotCare (2006-02-13)...)

- Monday, April 11, 2011 at 04:42:24 (EDT)

2011-03-30 - Past Langley HS

~4 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Stephanie's bright orange kerchief and my eye-searing lime-green shirt give the kids driving to school no excuse not to see us as we run past Langley High School and back on a drab morning. The training schedule for Ms. S tells her to do 4 miles, so we trot along chatting and dodging cars. Her first 10 miler is coming up in a few weeks.

- Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 05:58:57 (EDT)

Shoot the Moon

An article titled "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by Ben Tesdahl, in the March/April issue of Marathon & Beyond, presents a surprising story of his "first (and only) successful 100-miler". Mr. Tesdahl researched, planned, trained, tried, failed, regrouped, and on his second attempt, at Umstead in April 2005, finally succeeded. The truly startling thing is what he reports happened then:

I did not feel euphoria. My eyes did not fill with tears of joy. I did not pump my fist in the air or let out a whoop of celebration. Instead, the only feeling I had was one of relief that I had finally gotten the 100-mile monkey off my back, coupled with considerable annoyance at myself for having put that monkey there in the first place. And it was definitely not a pleasant feeling of relief. It was instead the kind of relief that you feel when walking out of the dentist's office after a root canal.

I limped to my car, slumped into a lawn chair I had placed nearby, and thought, So this is what it feels like to run 100 miles. It was not a good feeling. My legs and joints throbbed with an almost unbearable dull aching that would not subside even when lying down, and my stomach was so queasy that even cold water tasted horrible. When I thought about all of the elite ultrarunners I had read about who run multiple 100-mile races each year, I shook my head and mumbled under my breath: "What a miserable way to spend a weekend. Why would anyone want to do this more than once in a lifetime?"

Days later, Tesdahl continues to ponder his experience. He doesn't change his mind:

... I thought back on the hundreds of hours of training I had put in and the hundreds of dollars I had spent on shoes, equipment, and nutritional supplements in order to reach my goal. I thought especially about all the time I had spent pounding out training miles instead of spending high-quality time with my wife or pursuing my other abandoned hobbies. In the end, I concluded that the physical, mental, and financial cost of the journey to complete a 100-miler had not been worth the rewards of reaching that goal.

Likewise, he realizes, many of his other major life goals — college, Army Ranger School, law school, the bar exam, etc. — cost far more in "sacrifice, pain, and disappointment" than they gave him back. And he finds it disheartening that "... no matter how high I set my goals, thousands of people can reach goals that are even higher and reach them faster and better." He calls himself mediocre.

Thus Ben Tesdahl concludes:

If you have been searching for real meaning in your life and have contemplated making the leap to ultradistance races as a way to find that meaning, I recommend instead that you focus your precious free time on enjoying the company of your loved ones while you still can. I think you will find that use of your time to be far more rewarding than running all day and all night down a trail leading to nowhere.

Whew! One must thank Mr. Tesdahl for reporting a discouraging discovery about himself so forthrightly — and doubly thank M&B for printing the article. It makes quite a contrast with the conventional euphoric "My Most Unforgettable ..." essays that interest-group magazines typically feature, whose authors suddenly become enlightened as they cross the goal line, apply the final brush stroke, defeat the Balrog, dot the last "i" of the manuscript, hear the newborn baby's first cry, save the accident victim from almost certain death, etc.

But is Tesdahl really right? There's no reason to doubt his sincerity, or his courage in speaking out. But is the final negative evaluation appropriate? Is Goodness of Life best measured in units of hours spent with friends and family? Is the optimal strategy to sit back and accept mediocrity? Do all trails lead to a meaningless dead end?

Alternatives: reach for the stars once in a while. Stretch the old envelope and laugh at any stretch marks that result. Set an outrageous goal and cherish attempts to achieve it, even when they fall short. Sacrifice. Strive. Sure, spend time with loved ones, and throw your heart open to new friends. No, don't denigrate an accomplishment if others, more talented, reach it more easily. They're climbing the same mountain via a different route, with different equipment. Do your best. See if today's best can become a wee bit better tomorrow. When you can't do it any more, look back at that amazing thing you once did and salute yourself. Use your own ruler to measure audacity. Push back against the dark. Touch your scars, and smile.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled, monochromatic, mediocre life.

(cf. My Religion, Optimist Creed, Fail Again, Achieve, Not Always So, ...)

- Saturday, April 09, 2011 at 03:31:10 (EDT)

2011-03-29 - Hey Deer

~4 miles @ ~10 min/mi

In my second lap on the woodsy path near work I startle as I look up and see a big gray-brown deer a few feet away. She startles too, and steps cautiously to one side. "Hey, Deer!" I say, and repeat it to her sister nearby. A film of ice covers a puddle farther around the loop. A groundskeeper wields a bright orange magnetometer as he searches for underground pipes or cables to mark, so his colleagues digging can avoid them. North wind blows chill. My left heel hurts for the first mile, then gives up complaining and lets the left hamstring take over. Approximate marked miles: 10:02 ⇒ 8:35 ⇒ 7:36.

- Friday, April 08, 2011 at 04:35:58 (EDT)

It's Easier Than You Think

Sylvia Boorstein's It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness is a delightful little book of 64 chapters, each only a few pages long, each exploring a different facet of awareness and life and peace. Two clippings to give a flavor of her first-person style:

From "Right Speech: When You Give Someone Your Word, It Might Be Forever":

... Perhaps we think that if we are mature adults we should have gotten over the rebukes of childhood. I wonder if we ever do. I think we are all quite vulnerable, like cream puffs, crisp on the outside bur fragile inside and very sweet. ...

From "Generosity Is a Natural Act":

... I used to think that if I began seeing all beings as my kin, it would be a big burden. The opposite is true. When someone I know is doing something admirable I don't feel I need to be doing it. She is doing it on my behalf, or as me, relieving me of that particular task. Mary and Chodren are being nuns for me, Alex is teaching for me in remote places, Itzhak Perlman is me playing the violin, and Joe Montana is me, too. So is his mother.

It's Easier Than You Think is full of lovely mini-meditations, great fun to open at random, akin to Shunryu Suzuki's Not Always So or John Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are. Highly recommended; more snippets to follow ...

- Thursday, April 07, 2011 at 04:45:16 (EDT)

2011-03-27 - Bethesda and Back

~7.8 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

Early as usual, Caren Jew arrives at my home on a brisk Sunday afternoon. We marvel together at the ease of the journey to and from Bethesda today via the Capital Crescent Trail, faster pace than expected. My attempt to demonstrate the Memory Palace technique (by reciting "In My Journal" by William Stafford) is only partially successful — I need to work on methods to learn poems. Caren and I talk about what we remember from a young age, e.g., my PlasticMemory, and her recollection of falling out of a grocery cart at age 4. Ouch!

- Wednesday, April 06, 2011 at 04:40:21 (EDT)

Minimal Vision

An underachieving organization's Vision Statement: "We want to be the least mediocre in our sector!"

- Tuesday, April 05, 2011 at 04:35:21 (EDT)

2011-03-26 - National Marathon Miles 10-20

~10 miles @ ~10 min/mi

See Kate Abbott 2011 National Marathon Race Report for comrade Kate's notes on her race. I leave home near the 7am starting time and jog-walk to the Forest Glen Metro station, ~0.7 miles. The train arrives promptly and takes me to the New York Avenue station, on N St NE, from which a short walk gets me to North Capitol just south of New York Av, the National Marathon mile 10. My timing is off by almost an hour, but fortunately I've got a windbreaker and survive, goosebumps on legs. Marathon winner Michael Wardian blasts past before 8am, along with half marathon leaders.

Then the crowd of runners thickens. I watch for Kate but would have missed her had she not seen me and shouted. We run together steadily for 10 miles, with GPS splits 10:02 10:23 9:57 9:58 9:51 9:50 9:36 9:48 10:11 9:37. The GPS trackfile shows the route, including my zig-zag about marathon mile 14, near 14th Place NE and Constitution Av NE, where I go back a few yards to snag a nice orange headband that was abandoned on the ground. It matches Kate's tangerine "Cody's Crew" outfit, her group that helps raise funds for research on a childhood cancer in memory of one victim. I also pick up three unopened energy gels that runners ahead of us have dropped on the street.

Conversation along the way is fun, as always. When we pass the Folger Shakespeare Library I discuss its First Folio collection and recommend visiting it. Anne and Greg Loomis run near us for a while; Greg remembers me from 2010-10-09 - Andiamo 2010 where he finished hours ahead of me. Caren Jew and I met him at 2009-01-04 - Massanutten Mountain Mayhem which he organized. Anne and he had their first son, Jason, only 8 months ago; this is her first marathon after that blessed event.

From the beginning today I've warned Kate that I might drop out at any moment and abandon her, as she abandoned me at mile 16 of the 2011-03-05 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k. My left-heel plantar fasciitis and left-leg hamstring aren't too bad, and I manage not to fall down even though I stumble on some of the irregular cobblestones near the DC waterfront. But when we see the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium and turn to cross the bridge at mile 20, I know there's a Metro station within a few blocks. So I bid Kate adieu and cheer her on her way. She finishes strong, sub-10 minute miles from there onward.

On the Metro green line homeward I met a nice young lady who has a bicycle with her and who has just done the Half Marathon in 2:10 or so. Her name is Pamela, and she's interested in trail running (I recommended the WHM), lives in Cleveland Park or some such not far from today's race course, comes from San Francisco, and has been up Mt. Kilimanjaro a couple of times and hiked in the Himalayas. Neat!

- Monday, April 04, 2011 at 05:02:36 (EDT)

Find the Beauty

A delightful suggestion to recover mindfulness is offered in Chapter 18 ("Ten Favorite All-Purpose Meditations (Plus Two)") of Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian:

Even in the most chaotic and unappealing situations, you can attune yourself to a quality or dimension of beauty, if you try. It's like one of those figure-ground puzzles. At first, you can't even perceive the shape in the background. But once you've seen it, you just need to shift your awareness to see it again. The next time you find yourself in a mildly unpleasant place or circumstance, do the following mediation:

1. Take a moment to look for the beauty. — You may notice a patch of green grass in the distance, or a bouquet of flowers on a table, or the laughter of a child, or an aesthetically pleasing piece of furniture. Or you may just notice a warm feeling in your belly or heart.

2. Take a deep breath, shift your attention from your stress or discomfort, and enjoy the beauty. — Allow yourself to resonate with it for a few moments as you would with a favorite piece of music or a walk in the woods.

3. Shift your focus back to the situation at hand and notice whether your attitude has changed in any way. — Know that you can shift your awareness to see the beauty whenever you feel inclined.

So sweet! And much beauty (those who have been ultrarunning with me may know what I'm alluding to) is always available, in memory if not in proximity ...

(cf. Meditation Made Easy suggestion to "Pause on Each Threshold", and Portrait of the Artist discussion of æsthetics, ...)

- Sunday, April 03, 2011 at 05:25:33 (EDT)

2011-03-24 - Clair Returns

~2 miles @ 11 min/mi

Colleague Clair is back from maternity leave, and with a 5k race next month we venture out on the woodsy path to test her legs on the hills. A mile together goes by in 10:33, including the pause during the first quarter to count five deer grazing in the brush. Clair's baby Sophie is doing well!

- Saturday, April 02, 2011 at 06:45:35 (EDT)

Bob Williams Sketch - Out of the Box


One of my favorite drawings by friend Bob Williams is this self-portrait. For a while I didn't notice the box ("Reality") that he had escaped from. Sometimes he really is that far out!

(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, Bob Williams Sketch - Election Tsunami, ...)

- Friday, April 01, 2011 at 04:38:37 (EDT)

2011-03-23 - Daffodilly Deer

~4 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

By the woodsy path the mini-herd of five scrawny deer eye me hungrily. Perhaps they confuse a vegetarian with a vegetable? The Café Taj buffet of Indian food at lunch needs atonement, hence the mid-afternoon trek with miles of 10:09 ⇒ 9:30 ⇒ 8:25. Daffodils transplanted by squirrels grow in random patches far from the fence where private homes have their gardens.

- Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 04:42:52 (EDT)


Robert B. Reich's book After-Shock is a well-written and provocative analysis (published in 2010) of the US economic crisis by a former Secretary of Labor and professor of public policy. Reich argues that income distribution went badly askew in the late 1920's, and again in the past few decades:

... The share of total income going to the richest 1 percent of Americans peaked in both 1928 and 2007, at over 23 percent (see Figure 1, facing page). The same pattern held for the richest one-tenth of 1 percent (representing about 150,000 households in 2007): Their share of total income also peaked in 1928 and 2007, at over 11 percent. And the same pattern applies for the richest 10 percent, who in each of these peak years received almost half the total.

Income distribution was much less skewed in the years between 1940 and the mid-1980s, when the top 1 percent got 8-15% of national income. Reich analyzes these and other factors (e.g., growing debt and speculation), and concludes that they caused the Great Depression of the 1930s and the current Great Recession. He suggests that what has happened is not only immoral and unfair — it's also economically inefficient and likely to result in political instability, the rise of demagogues, and major social malfunctions. His proposed solutions, in brief:

Reich concludes his book:

... America has an enormous reservoir of resilience and common sense. Whenever we have faced a palpable crisis—a depression, an enveloping war, a profound threat to our civil liberties—we have put partisan politics and abstract ideology aside and gotten on with what needed to be done. Whenever we have faced the moral urgency of living up to our ideals—to recognize the rights of blacks, women, adn the disabled, for example—we have risen to the occasion.

None of us can thrive in a nation divided between a small number of people receiving an ever larger share of the nation's income and wealth, and everyone else receiving a declining share. The lopsidedness not only diminishes economic growth but also tears at the fabric of our society. America cannot succeed if the basic bargain at the heart of our economy remains broken. The most fortunate among us who have reached the pinnacles of power and success depend on a stable economic and political system.. That stability rests on the public's trust that the system operates in the interest of us all. Any loss of such trust threatens the well-being of everyone. We will choose reform, I believe, because we are a sensible nation, and reform is the only sensible option we have.

(cf. BasementWorries (2002-06-15), SocialWealth (2005-05-18), ...)

- Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 04:42:15 (EDT)

Footnote: although the historical/introductory sections and the policy recommendations of After-Shock still seem sound to me, upon reading chapters in the middle of the book I'm much less impressed. Reich's logic seems shoddy and his economic arguments weak — more of a political speech than an analysis. Too bad ... - ^z - 2011-04-02

2011-03-22 - Parking Lot Laps

~3 miles @ ~ 9 min/mi

Fueled by coffee and a Clif Bar, inspired by a story I read in the New York Times [1], and motivated by the two pounds I somehow gained since yesterday, I venture out at dawn to circle the periphery of the parking areas at work. Cars are driving worse than usual but my eye-searing lime-green HAT Run shirt deters most of them from threatening me. Pace descends from ~9.7 ⇒ ~8.5 min/mi. The left heel's plantar fasciitis is troublesome for the first half mile, after which left hamstring tightness takes over.

- Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 04:32:50 (EDT)

Ultra Beginner Advice

John Medinger, publisher of Ultrarunning magazine and highly experienced ultrarunner himself, offers some splendid suggestions for those starting out in the sport in "A Primer for the Beginning Ultra Runner" (March 2011 issue). In brief, as Medinger's subtitle says, "Keep It Simple":

My only point of skepticism: the suggestion that a particular product that claims to be "a naturally-occurring amino acid complex" actually "enhances your body's ability to metabolize fat" and can "cut your caloric needs by about half". There are plenty of anecdotal endorsements, but is this medically verified? I need to see some real, controlled studies (and a biochemical explanation) before I can begin to believe. (cf. Medicine and Statistics)

- Monday, March 28, 2011 at 04:57:04 (EDT)

2011-03-20 - Piece of Cake 10k

6.2 miles @ ~8.2 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Piece_of_Cake_10k_2011_z_by_Dan_Reichmann.jpgThe Beast wears his number inverted to avoid bad luck, and holds his hands in Parvati-statue mudra in an effort to relax into the run. After a few miles a tight left hamstring turns out to be more troublesome than mild plantar fasciitis in the left heel.

Rebecca Rosenberg rides with me to/from the race and we enjoy conversation during the journey. Christina Caravoulias volunteers at registration; Don Libes and Ken Swab taunt me at the start. The GPS trackfile gives splits of 07:43 + 07:45 + 08:18 + 08:13 + 07:55 + 08:29 with 07:04 pace for the final fraction. Overall it reads long by a few percent.

Official results put me in 126th place out of 327 runners, 96/176 males, 8/19 among the 55-59 year old male cohort, at a total time of 50:43, almost 4 minutes slower than my PR on the course of 46:57 for the 2009-03-21 - Piece of Cake 10k.

(photo by Dan Reichmann)

(MCRRC photo links: finish line [1], pre-start [2] & [3] & [4], partway along [5], later [6])

- Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 11:22:00 (EDT)

Meditation for Dummies

Lucky find at the local library used-book sale: Meditation for Dummies, a thick, highly readable guidebook by Stephan Bodian. Yes, it's repetitious and overly mystical at times. But in compensation it's well-written and quite skimmable. And there are strikingly thoughtful (sometimes even poetic) sections.

Overall Meditation for Dummies (1999) is a kissing cousin of Meditation Made Easy (1998), which I described as "... a relaxed, enthusiastic, wide-open, joyful exploration of a broad continent of concepts, led by a friendly and knowledgeable guide." Both books are rather like megamalls, with everything from big department stores down to hole-in-the-wall niche shops and tiny kiosks. Something for everybody, if you don't mind hop-skipping over silly bits.

And best of all, Meditation for Dummies is rich in my favorite feature: lists! Chapter 4 ("Laying the Foundation: Motivation, Attitude, and Beginner's Mind"), for instance, expands upon five reasons to meditate:

All noble, in distinctive yet overlapping ways. And a few pages later in Chapter 5 ("How Your Mind Stresses You Out and What You Can Do About It") author Bodian suggests:

... it's the inner turbulence and confusion through which we filter and distort our experiences that causes most of our suffering and stress, not the experiences themselves. The good news is that meditation can teach you how to calm the troubled waters of your mind and heart, turn some of your inner claustrophobia into inner spaciousness, and find your way past your filters (or avoid them altogether) so you can experience life more directly — and reduce your stress in the process. ...

Good stuff, if uneven in the execution. More thoughts from Meditation for Dummies later ...

(cf. other good books on mindfulness and meditation: Wherever You Go, There You Are, Finding the Quiet, Lunchtime Enlightenment, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, What Is Meditation, Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Fully Present, Waking Up to What You Do, ...)

- Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 06:04:42 (EDT)

2011-03-14 - Parking Lot Loops

4+ miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Comrade Stephanie is back from a fortnight away in class, and even though I've strained my left hamstring I feel obligated to run (as per Don't Wish It Were Easier) — so out we go, on the first Daylight Savings Time weekday, as soon as dawn is bright enough. Stephanie is training for a 10 miler next month, her first. We cool down and stop after ~2.7 laps around the parking periphery, when we reach the 4 miles on her schedule. My leg is semi-OK, but later in the day really begins to ache and feel weak.

- Friday, March 25, 2011 at 04:37:26 (EDT)


   Cling like burrs
   Stain like blackberry juice
   Snapshots, saved and savored
   Constellations on an inner sky

   Arc of river in valley
   Child's crib, earring sparkle
   Glimpse of thigh, splash of blood
   Thunderclap startle, glance, wink

   Touch, blush, tickle
   Proudly pregnant belly
   Cantilevered arc
   Taste of chocolate

   Fire glow, eagle talon,
   Rump curve, hair flounce
   Silence, heart-pounding fear
   Perfect invitation

   Cupped in the hands
   Like a baby bird


- Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 04:55:33 (EDT)

2011-03-13 - Schaeffer Farm Bushwhack

~5.8 miles @ ~15.5 min/mi

Ha! For a change I beat Caren Jew to the parking lot at Black Rock Mill (ok, only by 30 seconds) on this the first morning of Daylight Savings Time. Starting just before 8am we trot up Black Rock Rd to the Button Farm entrance of Schaeffer Farm (as we did in the darkness on 2010-08-22 - Schaeffer Farms). Halfway up the hill there's a scuffling noise above us. Caren touches my shoulder to stop me. Thud! A gray squirrel plummets to the ground two steps in front of us. It's dazed for a moment, then scrambles to its feet and scampers up the tree trunk. "Maybe there was some amorous behavior going on up there?" Caren speculates.

We follow the white trail along the periphery of the park, then take yellow, blue, and orange segments in a big loop. In an attempt to keep my new shoes (Brooks "Defyance" 12.5 EEs) dry I tiptoe across streams on stones as Caren runs through the water. A round metal object catches my eye and I pick it up, imagining that it's a coin or button. It turns out to be the corroded brass bottom end of a shotgun shell.

As we try to find our way back to the gate I take a wrong turn. We follow orange blazes that zig-zag through a gully that might be technically challenging for a mountain biker but that Caren finds uninspirational. Suddenly we're back at the same trail intersection where we were 10 minutes earlier. Ugh! After some studying of the map Caren leads us in a short scramble through brambles toward an old farmhouse, apparently now a campsite, and thence to the Button Farm gate where we entered more than an hour ago. The run down to our cars goes too fast, so we add an extra couple of blocks up the hill on the other side to make a full 90 minute excursion.

(cf. GPS trackfile)

- Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 04:38:40 (EDT)

Breakfast with Socrates

Alas, it's not a thoughtful conversation over eggs and cereal with a brilliant houseguest. Breakfast with Socrates is more akin to hanging around the punchbowl at a philosophy department party, overhearing fragments of sometimes-witty sometimes-drunken dialogue among the professors and their students. It's a Longines Symphonette album of musical highlights, a Bartlett's Familiar Quotations set of snippets.

Robert Rowland Smith's book is cleverly structured as its subtitle promises, "An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day", with chapters "Waking Up", "Getting Ready", "Traveling to Work", etc. until it's bedtime again. The author moves from topic to topic and applies the ideas of one noteworthy philosopher or another to common situations. Free will comes up, and so do animal rights, law, mind, God, truth, etc. The book begins strongly, as on page 2's discussion of conscious awareness:

So even though waking up might be the most foreseeable event in our lives, as dependable as the sun rising in the morning, we never actually see it coming. Predictable and unpredictable in equal measure, waking up is a paradox, a kink in the straight logic of things, which is just one of the reasons why it's worth thinking about. In fact, as ordinary as it seems, waking up is one of the profoundest actions we can take. It may sound odd to say that there is a philosophy of waking up, but in a way the whole of philosophy is about nothing else.

Nicely put, in an informal tone that's pleasant to read. But alas, just as a subject begins to get interesting, after a page or two Breakfast with Socrates drops it and moves on. And if the author is too brisk in his segues he's rather too slow in his street-dance performance, puffing up irrelevancies into paragraphs. In Chapter 11, "Taking a Bath", is it really so important to explain how to bathe, quoting Wikihow (yes, literally!) for more than a full page? How vital are the differences between bath and shower? Worth another page of quibbling?

There are far too many such digressions. Perhaps an engaging pamphlet or brilliant essay is hiding inside this book. There are many fine moments, notions that are worth further thought. Next time, instead of breakfast maybe Socrates should stay for a leisurely afternoon picnic.

- Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 04:57:02 (EDT)

2011-03-12 - CM's Comeback

10+ miles @ ~10.1 min/mi

Cara Marie Manlandro is testing the legs a week before her New York City half-marathon, her longest run since recovering from pneumonia last autumn and then winter break. At 0555 we set off for Bethesda on my usual loop, starting with the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda. About 0630 we pass the Lulelemon store, coincidentally just before a murder/scandal is discovered inside. After Old Georgetown Rd, then Cedar La across the north edge of NIH, we divert onto the neighborhood park path to avoid some hills and add a little distance. Homeward along Rock Creek Trail robins are hopping on the muddy ground. My left heel and hamstring twinge but not badly. On the final Ireland Dr climb to Walter Reed Annex as soon as my GPS reaches 9.98 CM decides it's time to take a walk break, even though I promise to note that in this report. Our splits: 10:47 9:57 10:39 9:36 10:01 9:55 9:51 9:58 10:03 10:11.

(cf. GPS trackfile, 2008-12-13 - Rock Creek West Loop, ...)

- Monday, March 21, 2011 at 04:57:34 (EDT)

Memory Palace

John Quincy Adams is doing his father's laundry in my basement. Andrew Jackson changes the furnace filter, while Martin Van Buren looks into the refrigerator. Meanwhile, John Denver sings "Rocky Mountain High" near the synagogue at mile 2.25 of Rock Creek Trail, while ultrarunner friend Caroline Williams smokes a pipe with Sir Walter Raleigh at milepost 8.

Joshua Foer has a book due to come out soon: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Hence, considerable recent buzz in the media, including an excerpt/adaptation in the New York Times. Foer writes entertainingly about how he learned to build mental associations and thereby quickly memorize cards in shuffled decks, random number sequences, poems, etc. — and thus win the 2006 U.S.A. Memory Championship. He tells how normal people can remember vast quantities of information using an ancient technique that taps into spatial areas of the brain:

The answer lies in a discovery supposedly made by the poet Simonides of Ceos in the fifth century B.C. After a tragic banquet-hall collapse, of which he was the sole survivor, Simonides was asked to give an account of who was buried in the debris. When the poet closed his eyes and reconstructed the crumbled building in his imagination, he had an extraordinary realization: he remembered where each of the guests at the ill-fated dinner had been sitting. Even though he made no conscious effort to memorize the layout of the room, it nonetheless left a durable impression. From that simple observation, Simonides reportedly invented a technique that would form the basis of what came to be known as the art of memory. He realized that if there hadn't been guests sitting at a banquet table but, say, every great Greek dramatist seated in order of birth — or each of the words of one of his poems or every item he needed to accomplish that day — he would have remembered that instead. He reasoned that just about anything could be imprinted upon our memories, and kept in good order, simply by constructing a building in the imagination and filling it with imagery of what needed to be recalled. This imagined edifice could then be walked through at any time in the future. Such a building would later come to be called a memory palace.

That's why the Presidents of the United States are hanging around my basement. Before the concert on Thursday evening I memorize the list by associating them with a walk through the house. Grover Cleveland and his twin brother Grover Cleveland are at the top and bottom of the stairs, with Benjamin Harrison trapped in between. Richard Nixon stands in the garden and peeks into a window; Gerald Ford is parked in my back yard. I can now recite the Presidents forward and backward, and tell who served before and after any one of them. Yes, just a parlor trick, but I'm frankly surprised at how well it works.

Foer talks about how people can go beyond "the O.K. plateau" and become exceptionally talented at physical or mental activities, experience that applies to countless topics:

... top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they've already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn't enough. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail. ...

After the U.S. Presidents fall victim to the Memory Palace trick before the concert even begins, I set to work on learning the U.S. states and their capitals. Rock Creek Trail stretches 14 miles, from DC upstream to Rockville, and I've run along it so often that I can visualize landmarks every quarter mile or so. Cf. Rock Creek Trail Miles 0 to 4, Rock Creek Trail Miles 5 to 9, Rock Creek Trail Miles 10 to 14, and countless Running Logbook entries.

Hmmmm, with four states every mile there's plenty of room for all fifty. Mile 0, leave DC and enter Montgomery County = Montgomery, Alabama. Mile 4, a fortress with a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise sells hot dogs = Frankfort, Kentucky. Mile 10.25, Elvis plays on the soccer field with Grand Old Oprey musicians = Nashville, Tennessee. And so forth, with silly, bizarre, and naughty images as required.

How to improve farther, in memory or other fields? The best learners of typing or memorization skills, Foer says, push themselves to go 10%-20% faster than their "comfort pace", allow themselves to make mistakes, and then analyze those errors so they can fix them. They approach the challenge:

... like a science. They develop hypotheses about their limitations; they conduct experiments and track data. "It's like you're developing a piece of technology or working on a scientific theory," the three-time world champ Andi Bell once told me. "You have to analyze what you're doing."

Useful things to do with better memory? I should learn some good poetry and literature excerpts by heart, maybe Shakespeare soliloquies. And I need to figure out how to recognize people's faces and associate them with their names, to overcome what may be a mild case of prosopagnosia. Hmmmm ...

(cf. [1], [2], ByHeart (2001-11-28), ZhurnalAnniversary2 (2001-04-04), InMyJournal (2005-01-29), Memorizing Poems (2009-04-05), ...)

- Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 13:50:41 (EDT)

2011-03-09 - Fallen Trees

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

On my first lap three deer stand at the mile marker and eye me as I pass. Next time around there are five spectators there. Then all are gone. Weekend rain and wind have felled a big cedar tree at mile 0.3 and a pine at mile 0.8, roots in the air above holes torn in the earth. Mile segments descend: 9:57 ⇒ 9:05 ⇒ 7:51.

- Friday, March 18, 2011 at 04:47:43 (EDT)

Tsunami Question

Linguistic issue: during TV coverage of Japan's earthquake disaster, many native Japanese speakers whose English seems excellent appear to employ the word tsunami without a definite article ("the") in front of it. For instance, they say "Tsunami washed away the house" or "I was on the bridge when tsunami came". Does this indicate something special about the usage of that word? Or is it just a translation slip based on the lack of articles in the Japanese language?

(cf. [1] etc.)

- Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 04:49:07 (EDT)

2011-03-08 - Parking Lot Recovery

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

A couple of days after 2011-03-05 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k I venture out for two laps on this brisk morning to test the plantar fasciitis and legs. The first ~1.5 mile orbit goes by at ~9.5 min/mi pace; the second, pushing the pace a bit, comes out ~7.7 min/mi. A few hours later my left hamstring begins to tighten up again — ouch!

- Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 04:45:33 (EDT)

Don't Wish It Were Easier

Early yesterday morning I stumbled while crossing the street and strained my left hamstring. That muscle was already sore from a few weeks ago, when I was trying to improve my balance by standing on the Metro without hanging on and the train suddenly lurched. "Ouch! Guess I'd better not exercise for a while," I told myself.

But then I saw this in the latest issue of Ultrarunning magazine:

Don't wish it were easier.
Wish you were better.

... and knew I'd have to go out and run anyway!

(from David Horton's article on the 2010 Hellgate 100k race; original quote from Jim Rohn; cf. StrongCoffee (2003-06-07), All Good (2007-01-13), ...)

- Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 04:38:06 (EDT)

Crochety Crochet

Daughter Gray is trying to teach me to crochet, but thus far I'm not a very apt student. Besides missing stitches and creating tangles, my big fault is erratic yarn tension. It would really help if I could remember to Relax Into It. Maybe I should do more yoga ...

- Monday, March 14, 2011 at 04:45:38 (EDT)

2011-03-05 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k

30+ miles @ ~ 14 min/mi

The 2011 SCGT is a rough race: plantar fasciitis in the left heel since December, mysterious weakness in the right leg, tight left hamstring, and a bad head cold that moves through the family during previous weeks and settles on me. Plenty of excuses, eh?! But it turns out OK, with an official result of 155th place (111th out of 120 males), a total time of 7:01:51. Comrade Kate Abbott does even better, coming in 20 minutes ahead of me and setting a PR by an hour. Dear friend Caren Jew is a volunteer, gives us both a ride to the starting line, and cheers us with her great enthusiasm. It's also a fine day for Ken Swab, Emaad Burki, Barry Smith, Rebecca Rosenberg, and a flock of other trail buddies. Jennifer Wieland Zuckman has a tough day, ill and undertrained like me, but finishes well.

From the start I try to follow Kate, but she sets an aggressive pace and I lose her at Clopper Lake. Before that, about a dozen miles into the race, I stumble on a root and hurt my left foot. Thoughts of dropping out dance through my head. But I trudge along and within a couple of miles the ache settles down enough that I figure I can continue. The Lake Loop that turns the trail marathon into a 50k may be a mistake, but I tackle it anyway.

Buddy CM Manlandro cheerfully checks me in at the mile ~24 aid station. Don Libes as always is high-energy and supportive, but as his photo shows I'm most interested in getting some water, sugar, and if possible caffeine into my carcass. No, I don't drink the whole bottle of Coke!

(photo by Don Libes)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/SCGT_50k_2011_z_mary_crann_by_ken_trombatore.jpgBest of all the things that happen this year: I meet yet another nice person on the trail! She's Mary Crann, whose fluorescent-orange blazer pulls me along for many miles in the second half of the race. Mary is an oncology nurse from Rockville, experienced marathoner but relatively new to ultrarunning; she ran the Stone Mill 50 Miler last year but missed a late cutoff.

Today Mary and I spend many miles together, chatting and encouraging one another. Near mile 28, however, she has to stop to stretch out some bad cramps in her hamstring. I commiserate and give her a Succeed! electrolyte capsule, which seems to help. I expect we'll be running more together in the near future. Thanks, Mary!

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

This is my 7th year in a row on for the SCGT. I'm tied with half a dozen others for third place in the longest-streak list, behind Cathy Blessing and Mike Bur, both of whom have done all 8 years that the race has been in existence. Maybe I can outlast them and move up some day!

(see the GPS track file and the official all-years finisher list; for reports of past years at the SCGT race see Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005, SenecaCreekGreenwayTrailMarathon2006, Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007, Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k 2008, 2009-03-07 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k, 2010-03-06 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k, ...)

- Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 06:41:38 (EDT)

Breath and Awareness

From Chapter 3 of Fully Present, some thoughts on not being so judgmental and instead just letting things be:

... One of the main tenets of mindfulness practice is to be aware of things exactly as they occur. We learn not to try to control our experience in life, but to let it unfold, exactly as it is. This cultivates a quality of calm acceptance of life—although we do not necessarily become passive! ... We gain skill in observation and acceptance rather than control.

A few pages later the authors, Susan Smalley and Diana Winston, discuss the need for practice and patience, reminiscent of how to learn to juggle ("drop by drop", as the saying goes):

In the beginning it may feel like you are aware of one breath but soon are lost in thought; after a while you return to your breath, but before you know it you are thinking all sorts of thoughts; you go back to your breath ... and so on. This is a completely normal meditation session! Following your breath is a practice. No one does it perfectly from the start. You simply need to keep coming back again and again. This is where the learning occurs, and ultimately you can train your mind to return more frequently and for longer periods of time. Try to be kind to yourself. Don't yell at yourself in your mind. (Get back to the breath!) You are learning a new skill that may take time; getting angry or frustrated at yourself will not make you more skilled; in fact, it will probably make you feel worse.

Think of it this way: If you want to build muscle, you need some resistance. That is why you work out with weights. Imagine how ridiculous it would be to try to build muscles by lifting a pencil. In meditation, our minds are working out too, trying to build a new brain pattern, something like a mindfulness "muscle." Resistance helps develop strength. The wandering, fantasizing, thinking mind is the resistance, and a very high-quality resistance at that. The more you train yourself to return your attention to the present moment, to your breath, the "stronger" and more skilled you will become at doing so. ...

(cf. Try It for a Few Years (2009-05-19), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), ...)

- Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 05:06:04 (EST)

Woolly Caterpillar

Forever, it seems, I've been afraid of furry brown and black caterpillars. Somehow in the dark recesses of my youth I got the notion that their coats were prickly like sea urchins or porcupines. Or maybe, I thought, they were like nettles and would irritate the skin of anyone who touched them. Yow!

But last month, don't ask me why, I managed to work up my courage. I picked up a two-inch-long brown fuzzy monster and moved it off the sidewalk near my front door, so it wouldn't accidentally get stepped on. And it didn't hurt me!

What's next on my list of terrors to overcome? Maybe I should try standing up in front of a crowd and giving a speech? Or stop procrastinating and work on the résumé that I need to prepare? Nah — that's still far too scary ...

- Friday, March 11, 2011 at 04:40:43 (EST)

Warning Sign

The other day I saw what looked like a poem on a big sign at the entrance to a high-security facility:


By entering here
all Persons and
Personal property,
including vehicles,
are subject
to inspection
at any time.
Your entry
signifies consent.

- Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 04:39:12 (EST)

Prediction Market Inefficiencies

A "prediction market" lets participants buy and sell make-believe "shares" in future events. Who will win the next election? What will the dollar be worth a year from now? When the time arrives the shares in the market are paid off according to what actually happens. Investors whose predictions were right make a profit, so they have more resources to invest in other forecasts. It's the wisdom of crowds combined with a reward mechanism. As Cass Sunstein discusses in Infotopia, for some issues prediction markets are quite accurate.

They also, however, have inefficiencies. In recent months I've been involved in a prediction market experiment and several flaws are obvious. Questions start at arbitrary prices, far from equilibrium. For example, a yes-no question begins at 50% probability no matter how unlikely one of the alternatives is. Similarly, overnight or weekend news can move the market in an event wildly the next day. In both cases a few traders who come into the office early can make a big killing, regardless of their actual expertise.

This flaw wouldn't exist if there were limitations on individual trading, specified market hours outside of which no one could buy or sell shares, and rational pre-opening-trade price setting for new issues. And perhaps to a lesser degree, participants have a strong incentive to shoot the moon, make wild speculative gambles since they don't have real money to lose and the experiment isn't going to be running long enough for slow-and-steady wisdom to overcome lucky guessing.

A prediction market is no magic crystal ball, and it doesn't apply to many issues that require deep expertise. But as a source of data for analysis and further refinement it seems promising.

- Wednesday, March 09, 2011 at 04:41:47 (EST)

Mike Broderick, R.I.P.

Club Running is a giveaway 'zine from the Road Runners Club of America. I usually glance at it and toss it into the recycling bin. But in the table of contents for the Winter 2010/2011 issue that just arrived, an article of training tips titled "Thinking About Running an Ultramarathon?" caught my eye. I turned to it and saw the author's name and photo: Mike Broderick. The brief piece is a good discussion of moving up from marathons to longer distances, with encouraging thoughts on how to train, what to expect, and "the importance of self-sufficiency and self-determination". Sadly, it was probably Mike's last publication.

Mike was a fast, strong, happy local ultrarunner, 54 years old, who died of lung cancer on 10 November 2010. He was a coach, always generous in his advice. At a training run on 10 Sep 2006 for the JFK 50 miler. I still remember Mike's helpful suggestions to Lisa ("Bernie") Sylvester and me on how to run over rocks and roots. "Practice standing on one foot, barefoot," he told us. "You need to strengthen your muscles, so they protect your tendons when you roll an ankle. It's like driving on a winding road: your tires and suspension are what steer your car. You don't want to be scraping your fenders against the guard rails! That's what relying on your tendons is like." And then there was Mike's advice on perseverance: "If the bone ain't showin', keep on goin'!"

Mike finished the Western States 100 mile race shortly before his cancer was discovered. Even as it progressed he stayed optimistic. We corresponded, and I talked about the notion of terminal illness not as a "battle" but as a "journey". I also recommended Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Full Catastrophe Living, about experiences of people in situations similar to his who tried mindfulness meditation. Always gracious and enthusiastic, on 16 October Mike replied:

Thanks so much Mark! It's really humbling and uplifting to get messages like this from folks like yourself who I have met and know but have not ever really come to know well. I appreciate your taking the time to write such a thoughtful note and for your recommendation of Full Catastrophe Living. I recently got a Kindle (which it looks like I may be getting much more use of than originally anticipated) and just downloaded a copy of the book from Amazon. It looks like it will have a lot to offer-so thank you again!


- Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 04:57:34 (EST)

October Sky Anagram

Recent discovery: the movie title October Sky is an anagram for the book title Rocket Boys! Both are the autobiography of Homer Hickam, who grew up in a poor West Virginia coal mining community but became excited about science, built model rockets in high school, made it into college, and eventually became a NASA engineer. The film is quite inspirational; the book is on my read-someday list; the anagram connection is a pleasant surprise.

(Apparently the title Rocket Boys was thought to be less marketable to women by the moviemakers. According to the Internet Anagram Server "Homer Hickam" can be rearranged into "Hammock Heir" or "'Hi Mom!' Hacker"; cf.ArsMagna (2002-09-27), HarmonicMotel (2003-10-23), ...)

- Monday, March 07, 2011 at 05:27:37 (EST)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Step aside, Michelle Meyrink (Jordan Cochran in Real Genius) and Suzy Nakamura (Betty Shin in Stark Raving Mad) — Ellen Wong has just won a new place in my pantheon of marvelous, underappreciated girl-genius actors. She's a delight to watch in the rôle of Knives Chau, precocious friend of the title character in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Based on a graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim had only a brief run in theaters during August 2010. Son Merle liked it, but alas I didn't take his recommendation seriously enough to catch the film then. My loss! When it appeared on disc early this year and the family finally saw it, we were blown away. Scott Pilgrim is a 21st-Century Big Trouble in Little China: fast and fun, rich in quotable lines, full of startling effects, finely crafted with details that reward multiple viewings. Michael Cera does a great job as the protagonist.

The only flaw: Scott Pilgrim's original final scene, available on disc as a special feature, is far better than the conventional theatrical-release conclusion that was grafted on after test screenings. (And yes, I admit that my judgment may be clouded by lovely Knives Chau's relative place in those endings!)

- Sunday, March 06, 2011 at 18:58:08 (EST)

2011-02-28 - Testing the Foot

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Kickin' sticks off the path, warm and humid at 0745, rising sun in my eyes: during lap one I pause to drag larger branches away that fell during the weekend's high winds. After 3 weeks of no running plantar fasciitis in the left heel seems no worse, maybe a bit better, definitely tolerable. At the half-mile stripe on the asphalt I meet a little orange cart going the other way, two groundskeepers cleaning debris. By the time I finish the mile-plus loop they're back to the start as well, leaf blowers blasting. Mile times accelerate: 9.6 ⇒ 8.4 ⇒ 7.7 minutes — maybe 30 s/mi slower than it feels. The next day the foot doesn't seem too bad, especially if I remember to stretch as Caren Jew and others have prescribed.

- Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 03:08:14 (EST)

Bulletproof Monk

During three weeks of stationary bike exercise in the basement I watched a variety of movies on DVD. One, chosen at the recommendation of son Robin, was Bulletproof Monk. Its story line is like Remo Williams meets Indiana Jones; it features Sean William Scott who was excellent in Dude, Where's My Car? and Stark Raving Mad.

Alas, Bulletproof Monk falls rather short of those four films in terms of twisty plot, snappy dialog, eye-catching effects, or endearing minor characters. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for tree-jumping martial-arts and stereotypical villains? Perhaps the over-the-top mysticism plus highly-predictable story line has been around the block too many times before? Or could it be that I just wasn't pedaling fast enough to knock out my critical faculties?

- Friday, March 04, 2011 at 04:34:54 (EST)

Memory Leaks

In computer jargon a "memory leak" happens when a program reserves storage space for temporary use and never releases it. If this happens often enough then eventually the machine runs out of free memory and has to be restarted. Maybe part of human aging — and eventually, not thinking so well — is related to this sort of thing? If only it were easier to forget! ... which reminds me of a comment from Chapter 2 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, wherein Sherlock Holmes explains his ignorance of common knowledge to Dr. Watson:

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

How useful is that quote for me to remember?

- Thursday, March 03, 2011 at 04:59:18 (EST)

2011-02 - Stationary Bicycle Pedaling

In an attempt to let my left-foot plantar fasciitis heal I violate conventional wisdom and don't practice "Up Your Mileage" as most would. After a painful experience (2011-02-07 - Parking Lot Laps) I avoid all running for three weeks and instead pedal on Paulette's stationary recumbent exercise bicycle in the basement while watching random movies using her portable DVD player propped up on a box nearby. Each 15 minutes corresponds to perhaps a mile of slow jogging. The logbook:

Date Duration Movie
10 Feb 201190 min Apocalypto
1390Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
1630The Lost Room (miniseries)
2090Bulletproof Monk
21120Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
2330Arrested Development (season 1)

The result of this feeble attempt to maintain some shreds of fitness? TBD. I recommence running on 28 February and thus far the left heel seems no worse. Friend Cara Marie Manlandro asks if I'm so foolish as to try a marathon this weekend. "No way!" I reply, "not a marathon. It's a 50k!" We'll see how that goes.

- Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 04:45:21 (EST)

Art of Physics

A neat definition appeared recently in an article by Dwight Neuenschwander:

Physics is the art of creating, testing, and improving a network of concepts, expressed as mathematical models, in terms of which the world becomes comprehensible.

(from "Elegant Connections in Physics: Thinking Like a Physicist about Amortization Schedules" by Dwight E. Neuenschwander, one of a series in the Fall 2010 issue of Radiations, the magazine of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society)

- Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 04:45:26 (EST)

Rebalancing Doing and Being

From Fully Present, a book on meditation by Susan Smalley and Diana Winston:

As obvious and simple as mindfulness can be, and despite its beneficial effects, doing it is another story. It is very simple to be mindful. Take a moment right now, stop reading, and feel your nose and body take one breath. You are present with that one breath. You are mindful in this single moment in time. It is simple to be mindful, but remembering to be mindful can be very difficult.

Modern society tends to condition us to be anything but mindful. The dominant American culture validates virtually mindless productivity, busyness, speed, and efficiency. The last thing we want to do is just be present. We want to do, to succeed, to produce. Those of us who are good at the doing seem to fare well in many of our institutions and corporations. Those who are not, well, they tend to fall behind. But this is life in America in the twenty-first century and, to an increasing degree, around the world. We are so focused on doing that we have forgotten all about being, and the toll this takes on our physical, mental, and emotional health is palpable. As the saying goes, we have become "human doings" instead of "human beings." ... Mindfulness is a means to rebalance doing and being.

(cf. Dimensionless and Therefore Infinite (2010-02-03), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), ...)

- Monday, February 28, 2011 at 04:44:41 (EST)

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