Saturday, July 31, 2004

Catching up

Catching up

Quick notes on week's runs

Wednesday: 50 minutes that felt very comfortable, no post-workout soreness as sometimes has happened on Wednesday runs. Could I be getting used to the heat? Saw a young man being coached through sprints and pylometric drills. Tried a few of the drills Dave taught us. I didn't make it look pretty. Did notice though that I improved a little on the hopping one he demonstrated Saturday.

Thursday: Undecided what to do: race on Saturday, long run on Sunday, tempo run scheduled for today. Should I go ahead with the tempo run? Run easy and use the race as my workout? I decided on a compromise: pick up my pace just slightly so that I'd still be within my comfort zone, perhaps at marathon goal pace. Ran two miles in 18:49, which seemed reasonable and didn't feel too hard, then cooled down by heading for library to try to open the schedule Mike e-mailed to me. No success, but later Mike re-sent it with no difficulty on my end.

Friday, rest.


Run for the Hill of It, a 5-mile race on Forbidden Drive. This race follows a wide trail along the Wissahickon Creek, about which Poe rhapsodizes, "The Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue."* My time was an undistinguished 48:30ish (haven't checked the Lin-Mark website for exact results), the result of yet another decision-making process: how hard should I run this one if I'm running long tomorrow? I opted to start out as on Thursday, within comfort zone, but pushing it just a little, taking it step by step, and if I felt good, push more. Fortunately, I felt fine--fine, but quite slow. As it's been all week, it was muggy and warm, not a day for a personal best or even within shouting distance of a personal best.

Personal bests and I seem to have parted company quite a while ago, and now the hope of running sub-9 minute pace is gradually fading. I thought wistfully of the times when it was relatively certain that I'd be able to run a 5-mile race in the low forties and have a chance at an award. But really, the gift running offers is that with or without the fast times, my body will still benefit from the exercise. I will still have had the run, seen the Wissahickon, felt the dirt and gravel under my feet, the sweat pooling on my skin, the flush of hard effort and the deliciousness of a cooldown run. My heart isn't worried about awards and times. For the record, I'd guess I covered about seven miles counting warm-up and cooldown, and that seven miles did something for me, no matter what the race results say.

When I returned home, I took some time to meditate and pray, listening to a tape that combines loon calls and symphony music. Loons do best where people are scarce. They prefer the quiet places, and to listen to them, it's necessary to travel respectfully to those quiet places, leave behind the noise, inner and outer, and be still. Loons will be frightened away by noise. Powerboats with their invasive noise send them flying deeper into wilderness. But travel quietly by canoe or kayak into their home territory, barely splashing the lake with your paddle, listening, and they will find you and speak to you. I wonder how many of us ram through life, attached to the noise we hear and the noise we make, not hearing the haunting music of loon calling to loon. The lesson for me of that week I spent canoeing in Maine and New Hampshire was to listen, watch, feel the quiet, let the loon cry penetrate the whole body. Even if I can't travel physically to that place, I can, for a half hour travel there in my mind, remember that the numbers and the records might give me a feeling of accomplishment, but the body's rhythms lie deeper.

*from Morning on the Wissahiccon,

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Almost-attended Kerry rally, workout, and fireworks

Before the evening's workout, I stood in line waiting for a runner of another sort: John Kerry, who was due to make an appearance at the Art Museum. I arrived at Lloyd Hall around 4:30 to park stuff in a locker and change to running clothes. To also get to the workout in times, I needed to make a quick exit, very likely before the end of his speech, so wanted to get there ready to run right afterward. All the gear organizing decisions gave me a sense of how it might feel to be a triathlete. The web site instructed people not to have bags, signs, etc., which meant traveling very light to the front of the Art Museum. But how light? It had been raining off and on throughout the day, so I had an umbrella and rain jacket packed in my bag. (The reader should note that I don't run carrying an umbrella, but just prefer to start a rainy workout reasonably dry, even if I don't stay that way.) Despite the rain, it was still muggy, and a rain jacket seemed too warm. But an umbrella with running clothes would look silly. (Vain, I know, but still...) Then what about a water bottle holster? They didn't allow bags, but surely a water bottle holster with a small pouch for money and a cliff bar would look reasonably harmless. Besides, I wanted to keep sipping water until about a half hour before the workout. So I opted for the holster/water bottle, leaving behind both jacket and umbrella, taking as rain protection only my favorite old purple baseball hat.

Thus equipped, I walked/ran to the front of the Art Museum, where I bought a button and (realizing I might need it) a Kerry bandanna, and joined the ever-growing line that went on... and on.... As I stood waiting, I began to regret my decision to leave all rain gear in the locker, as it began to sprinkle, then build into a shower. Fortunately, a couple in front of me lent me and the woman beside me a spare umbrella they happened to have. This time, I had enough of vanity and gladly accepted. Gradually, the rain let up, and, while it was still raining, the sun came out again, making me think there might be a rainbow--a good sign for Kerry! I didn't see one, but perhaps someone did somewhere. ;) I also ended up not seeing Kerry. The line was making very slow progress, and at 6:10, there were still a couple hundred people in front of me, it seemed, as I stood facing the terrace and steps up to the security screening area. It was time to prioritize. Seeing Kerry would be exciting, yes, but I doubted I'd see him for more than a nanosecond. I figured it would be close to 6:30 (the start time for our workout) by the time I reached the head of the line, I'd have to surrender my water bottle--something I thought I might want with me during the workout--and then most likely would have to turn around immediately and sprint back to Lloyd Hall, not a good thing to do before a proper warm-up. It was time to wish the man well and cut out to reach my main Tuesday evening destination. And anyway, he had my vote already, so in my case, he'd be preaching to the choir.

The workout turned out to be well worth abandoning the rally line to attend:

6x1/4, 2 min. rest, mile warm-up/mile cooldown. In spite of the muggy weather, made more so by the rain which let up long enough for us to get soaked only by sweat during the workout, I felt pretty decent during this one, not trying for all-out efforts, just consistency. My times were: 2:06, 1:59, 2:05, 2:01, 2:01, 1:57. The last surprised me. The whole workout I had none of the "about to bonk" feeling I had last week.

From a mile down Kelly Drive where we were starting our repeats, we saw the fireworks set off for Kerry, although Mike said they were for us. Perhaps they were.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Easy Sunday run

July 25

Lovely, cool, breezy 90-minute run, through the park to the Upper Darby track, then around the cemetery--during which time I stopped at my mom and stepfather’s graves, placed a couple of stray wildflowers on them, and felt their presence as I kept running, returning to the track for another 15-20 minutes, and back through the park, pausing after the run to rest on the playground swing and wade across the stream. Sometimes the run is longer than the story about it. Or the story is long but I can't remember the details.

Finding the way back home

I f what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

--David Wagoner, “Lost,” in The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature, ed. Christopher Merrill (Peregrine Smith Books, 1991), p. 155.

He went on to explain how each totemic ancestor, while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints, and how these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as ‘ways’ of communication between the most far-flung tribes
   “A song,” he said, “was both map and direction-finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country.” . . . .
   In theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that . . . had not been sung. One should perhaps visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that, in which every episode was readable in terms of geology. . . .
   By singing the world into existence, he said, the Ancestors had been poets in the original sense of poesis, meaning “creation.”
--Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (Viking, 1987), pp. 13-14.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

--T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, "An accurate online text,"

*   *   *   *

July 24

This day’s run started with a dream about my mother and both the run and the dream have filled the days from then until now (July 27). Perhaps what I have been doing is following a dream-track. Sometimes that is not smooth going. It involves getting lost and loss in general, but also finding anew the way back. Or finding a new way back. Or finding, if we are still, and listen carefully, a new way in.

It was one of those dreams that feels real, tangible, as if I am wide awake. I dreamed that I overslept the morning of the group run, that it was 7 or 8 a.m. when I woke up, and I was upset at myself that I would not make the workout. But when I came downstairs from a porch room where I was sleeping (which reminded me in retrospect of a room in one of the Fire Island houses I’d inhabited during family vacations there), I encountered my mother, to whom I expressed how upset and disappointed I was to oversleep, and (while not, I think, actually saying it) wondering if she’d give me a ride there (of course, it would be too late, so it didn’t seem to make sense to ask). Somehow, we started out together, although I don’t remember our being in a car. It seemed as if we were walking. As we walked, we talked, just as we always had before, eventually reaching the Philadelphia Zoo, where we encountered Dave.

When I saw him, I explained about oversleeping and my disappointment, as he sympathized and forgave me. Then I introduced him to my mother, and as I did, it occurred to me that he had heard she died, and I realized too how grateful I was to have her back with me. I told him what a scare we’d had and how good it was that the two were getting a chance to meet. It made me so proud to introduce them to each other, and they seemed to like each other right away.

My mother and I then went on our way, and came upon a car, one that looked something like her Honda only it was a station wagon. We talked there a bit. I told her how wonderful it was to hear her voice. She said she was happy to see me too and hoped that this would help me “resolve the issues” in my life. She said that she looked back now more critically at her life than she had before—yet I didn’t get the sense of a negative judgment, just a desire to change some things and to help me heal. It was a wonderful dream. After we talked, she was helping some people in the car and also trying to secure some large containers. So it didn’t seem as if there would be room for me, but that didn’t worry me. I had a sense that--whether there was or wasn’t room for me--we would be together, and I didn’t mind that she was helping these other people. Even as I write this, the dream both gives me peace and brings tears to my eyes. I have been missing hearing her voice, talking with her, her physical presence in my life. I never want her to fade from my memory, and this was a very healing and reassuring dream. Even the purple dress she wore in the dream spoke of resurrection: it was the dress she had worn on Easter this year. I was actually surprised to awaken and find that I had not, in fact, overslept.

*   *    *    *

Now, the workout:

As previously, a few of us went to Belmont Plateau with Dave in the “team bus” (his red Saturn), and warmed up upon arriving. The speedier bunch warmed up by running there from our meeting spot at Lloyd Hall. When they arrived, Dave cast us in our roles in the drama that was to follow, dividing us into “varsity,” “JV,” and “freshmen.” I was in the last of these groups, but the upside for me and the other “freshmen” was that although a couple of us were a few (just a few) years past being freshmen even in college, we had the privilege of suddenly being made the youngest of the crew. Dave often talks about the tradition and the great runners who have raced around Belmont Plateau—perhaps the dream tracks we follow, yet the dream tracks go deeper into the soil. Sydney Maree, Marty Liquori, Frank Shorter, the great distance runners….they have followed dream tracks and so have their ancestors, and the Plateau is alive not only with their footsteps, but also the Native runners eons before cars were ever parked there for cross-country meets.

It might seem that warming up on the same course as I would later run my “tempo miles” would give me a wee bit of an advantage over the “varsity” and the “jv.” It might seem that way, but I am directionally challenged—a fact I am slowly learning to accept about myself, slowly beginning to see the opportunities inherent in “getting lost,” as expressed so well in David Wagoner’s poem, “Lost.”

Standing still—it is not something runners do readily. During our first mile, I merrily took the lead. That worked until I realized I couldn’t remember the route. And this was the “outside” mile at Belmont Plateau, simpler than the “inside mile,” most of it run on open fields. But I made too wide a turn, the other “freshmen” following me (such trusting souls!). Fortunately, someone in my group noticed that we’d gone wide of the mark and that the JV was passing us. After we corrected our course, I lost my lead to Nanci, a fellow “freshman,” who, throughout the workout seemed to gain speed after being misled.

The course correction made, we all finished relatively unscathed, if at varying speeds. Dave, our ever-optimistic coach, felt that this boded well for our attempting the “inside mile,” the one that includes the famous Parachute Hill. I was doubtful. Losing my way in an open field didn’t seem too promising. But Parachute Hill has an adventurous ring to it, and I was assured that even the most directionally challenged athletes had managed the route. Hmm, she said to herself, has Dave not seen me in action? Still, he was going to point the way at the crucial turn onto Parachute Hill. Throwing caution to the wind, I again lined up and again took the lead. All seemed to be going well. Parachute Hill is a bit of a climb to be sure, but I had run in the Mount Washington Road Race (without getting lost, although the reader may understandably view the latter as not a terribly impressive feat on a road with no forks). We reached the top of this hill and our next task was to find the route that would take us back down. This became a problem. Oh we found a downhill all right. But somewhere in the process, we made a turn and found ourselves in terra incognita—it should have been obvious when my digital watch read 12:23 that, even with the hills factored in, I’d been running too hard for that to be only a mile. Still, I was on the verge of passing Nanci, who had for the second time passed me. We then both heard voices ahead, which we presumed meant that the finish line was in sight, and that we were merely coming at it from another direction, running a longer “mile” than planned, but at least almost done.

No such luck. The voices ahead belonged to some varsity folk who were as lost as we were. At this point, we saw a truck depot and thought perhaps we could cut through it to a path we saw on the other side, one that seemed to hold some hope of leading us back to the start. Not quite.

“Hey! You can’t come in here!” The voice startled us as we passed the open gate toward the path. “You won’t get anywhere doing that except locked in here!”

The truck driver who barred our way directed us back on the path where we’d been, and told us which turn to make. Somehow, after what seemed to be an endless trek (how had it been so quick to get to that point?) we once again reached the start. You do not want to know my time for that “mile.” Nanci and I had fallen behind the others, Nanci having some knee pain, and we expected that with our arrival, everyone would be present and accounted for. Um…. No.

“Where’s Rebecca?” we were asked. “Did you see her?”
“We thought she was with you.”

Dave seemed not to be mollified by the suggestion that we were all so focused on our running that we lost our way. After sending those of us present onto our last mile (back to the “outside mile”—although I believe that was the plan to begin with, before our collective scattering to the four winds, it no doubt was a plan welcomed by all of us, including Dave), he went off in search of Rebecca. This time, I wondered if there was anything left of me to run this mile. But as Nanci opened up more ground between herself and me, I thought, “bad knees? I want bad knees that work that well!” and forget tempo pace. I dug down and pushed myself and pushed some more, taking the correct turns this time, and still my team-mate with the apparently bad knees was moving further ahead. Finally, in perhaps the last quarter mile, I gained back some ground, until, about 50 yards from the finish, I passed her. But the battle was not over. She nipped me at the last second, and “won” our “race” (which we’d run despite being advised against racing). At that point, we congratulated each other on fighting the good fight. Rebecca returned, then Dave, and confident that we could successfully reach Lloyd Hall again, Dave sent us back, running, rather than in the car. This time, we succeeded.

At no time during our wanderings in the woods of Belmont Plateau, not sure of our direction did I feel any of the panic that being lost can sometimes cause—even though memories surfaced of my 5-year-old self wandering for what seemed like hours alone in unfamiliar countryside in Western Pennsylvania, when, after a spat with my brothers and sisters, I stomped off in the opposite direction, thinking I’d find my way back to the farmhouse we left. I cried for my mother to find me, longed to see her roll up in the station wagon and reclaim her lost little girl. Eventually, someone saw me—a little girl walking along a country road crying isn’t hard to miss—and fortunately, that someone lived near the farm, knew the owner, and decided brought me back, where I was tearfully re-united with my by then very worried mother.

In the process of writing this, I found myself absent-mindedly losing objects I needed, books from which I wanted to quote, a photo I wanted to have framed, and my inner peace, frustrated so much with myself about my inability to hold on to things. I finally gave up on finding one of the books, and just walked to the library to get a copy, and as for the Eliot quote, I decided that instead of another search for my copy of Four Quartets, I would content myself with the online text. Meanwhile, perhaps significantly, I found my passport, a document that allows me to travel the world, follow dream tracks wherever they lead. I thought I’d lost that, and so when I found it where I last remembered seeing it, I decided it was a sign that I was finding my way at last.

In Shakespeare’s plays, characters lose one another on islands and in forests—and find their way back together. In the stillness of sleep, in the pause to stop and listen to voices nearby, we find, if not our way, ourselves, and the land sings to us. The sting of loss and the sweetness of reunion partake of each other, as we find the confidence to return to that place where we listen and where what a tree or bush does is not lost on us. And this morning, as I thought through all this, the words came to me intact and out of the blue, "there is nothing lost."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Off the grid

My run yesterday (Thurs. July 22) was a relatively uneventful, quiet, comfortable 47 minutes. I was one of many, many people all over the world out for a run. In itself, that fact is pretty unremarkable (although I certainly enjoyed myself) when compared with the feats of Ted Keizer, aka Cave Dog, featured in John Rothchild's article "Gonzo" in the August 2004 Runner's World.

Keizer has gone beyond marathoning, beyond even ultra-marathoning. He runs what he describes as "megamarathons" (p. 84). These include a 141-mile trip up and down all the 4000+ footers in the Adirondacks, a 10-day running tour of all the 14-ers (14,000-ft. peaks) in Colorado, a romp across the 48 highest peaks in NH's White Mountains (the Mount Washington Road Race, my one running foray in the Whites, was a stroll in the park by comparison). This Brown University graduate has lived in a cave (hence the nickname), subsisted on odd jobs since he left what seemed to be a promising career in politics to learn "about the people" he hoped to represent (p. 86).

In the same issue of RW in which the article on Keizer appears, there is another  by Amby Burfoot, "Should You Be Running Barefoot?" proclaiming the benefits of running shoeless (pp. 61-63). "When you run barefoot, your body precisely engages your vision, your brain, the soles of your feet, and all the muscles, bones, tendons, and supporting structures of your feet and legs," reports Burfoot. The result, according to Michael Warburton, a physical therapist whom Burfoot cites, is greater running efficiency. Yet there is a less quantifiable, more emotionally engaging result, if Burfoot's opening paragraphs are any guide. Reminiscing about running barefoot with his college cross-country team, he writes, "The kinesthetic memories are full-blown, from the slight chill of the grass on my feet to the heaving chest and the lightheaded dizziness of the effort. Was it the barefoot running that made the memory so vivid?"

In both of these articles, we are taken into unfamiliar territory, taken to the edge, it seems. How many of us would be prepared to follow Keizer into a nomadic life on the run up mountains and across ridges or to live in a cave on odd jobs. And isn't running barefoot something we associate with children or with runners from countries where the budget for outfitting athletes is low to non-existent? Even when the notable Abibe Bikila, winner of the 1960 Olympic Marathon entered the stadium barefoot after his 26.2 mile journey that included the cobblestones of Appian Way, that torchlit run became the stuff of myth, even if later followers of his unshod footsteps discovered the scientific benefits of barefoot running, and even if Nike has fashioned a $90 shoe (ironically called the Nike "Free") designed to simulate barefoot running without the bare feet.

The stuff of myth--this might perhaps be the unifying thread in the two articles, as well as that which unites so many of us who are drawn to running. Most of us are not likely to attempt megamarathons, and while we may appreciate the value of barefoot running, even try it (hesitantly at first perhaps), our usual urban running surfaces contain enough hazards, both hidden and visible, to make the practice riskier than we'd like. Still, there is something about running away, running barefoot, or simply the very act of running itself, that partakes of childhood and, when we tune ourselves in to the moment, has a heady, larger-than-life, mythical quality to it. In street clothes, we may be, like Clark Kent, normal working people, paying bills, making appointments, filing tax returns, and attending to all the details of contemporary life. Yet when we set out to run, there's another side of us, one perhaps we might not feel on every run (when we feel more like melting in the heat of summer), but one we aspire to: a mix of animal, superhero and wild child, flying unfettered through the countryside, defying civilized norms, out to play, out to "hunt and gather," living the lives of ancestors.

This other self, our alter-ego, sometimes makes people nervous. They sometimes try to reduce our activity in their minds by referring to it as "jogging." They assume that it's a necessary chore to perform so we can lose weight. (Someone once said to me, "why are you doing that? You're thin enough.") They tell us, "you'll wreck your knees!" I will even admit feeling, beneath my respect for Ted (Cave Dog) Keizer, that same nervousness, the sense that he'd taken a step to the dark side. In a mini-book of quotes titled The Goddess Within  ( ed. River Huston, illus. Patricia Languedoc [Running Press, 1999])  appears one by Erica Jong: "Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place it leads" (p. 121). When we commit to something that has previously felt beyond our grasp, whether a 5k race or a marathon, there is also a fear--of failure, perhaps, but also of the transformation that such a commitment brings about in our lives. The "dark place" is an unknown quantity, a new and unexplored territory. Moses, approaching the burning bush, was told to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground. Perhaps as we come closer to our outer limits, the edge of what we know about the world and about ourselves, we too, literally or symbolically, must remove our shoes as we find ourselves on holy ground--the ground where we are tested and discover what is possible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"rend it to tatters"

H.D.'s poem "Heat" always comes to mind around this time of year, so perfectly expressing the heavy stillness of life in July:
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Last night with the group,  I was in survival mode, in of wind, of breath, of inspiration. It was one of those hot, sticky nights when the setting sun seems to melt into the river, sending up steam to bathe us all. The air shimmered with heat, making the rowers and the ripples of waves on which their boats rested look like scenes from impressionist paintings.
We began with our usual warm-up--to the mile point. I may have run that a little too fast, trying to avoid falling so far behind that there would be no chance to rest a little while waiting for everyone to get there. The workout consists of a half mile, a few minutes rest, a mile, then a few minutes rest, then another half mile, followed by the usual mile cooldown back to the start. Perhaps you've heard the saying "start slow, then ease off." This would describe my rendition of the workout, except that while I slowed down throughout,  it did not feel like "easing off." No, each repeat seemed to demand more energy and yielded less speed in return. My times were 4:09 for the first half mile, 8:55 for the mile (Suzi Favor Hamilton is not getting restless in her sleep...), and 4:25 for the second half, sixteen seconds slower than the first! And by the time I finished this unlovely half mile, my legs were beginning to buckle, and I fell, but got up, while Mike and Dave were urging another runner on the other side of the bike path to do the same. Both of us, the other runner a good bit faster, pull ourselves together to jog the cooldown. Even "jog," a term runners prefer non-runners do not use to describe our efforts, however humble, was too exalted a term for my pace, which several times dissolved into a walk of sorts.
"Fruit cannot drop"--the effort seemed fruitless, and I was about to drop.
Reaching Lloyd Hall, I again needed to collapse and found a bench, where soon people in the group noticed I was in trouble. Someone brought  me water, and I took a few sips, slowly revived a bit, and retrieved my belongings from my locker. Proof that heat warps the brain: I followed the 26-2 group to the lawn behind the Art Museum for the bounding drills to which Dave has been treating us. What was I thinking? Well, that now that I was actually standing and walking unassisted that it seemed only logical to proceed to the next component of this workout. Why not? I was feeling better. That lasted through the 5 sets of ten "high knees" jumps and the 5 sets of ten "butt kick" jumps, and even through most of the sets of side-to-side bounds. But suddenly, I began to feel like a marionette puppet that someone had dropped, like Cinderella at midnight. Still, I would have kept going--what did I know at that point?--had Mike not called me over to his car (he was nearby, watching the goings on), and told me I'd had enough, time to go. I was sufficiently creamed not to protest with my usual "but I was just getting warmed up!" (it's become a running joke, pun somewhat intended.)
Today, the decision was whether I should take the scheduled day off as listed on the calendar or continue with my revision of the calendar brought about by the busy weekend. On the schedule, the long run would be Saturday, for an hour and 45 minutes. I had time when I returned from the wedding for only a half hour run, so I did the scheduled Monday half hour run on Saturday, the scheduled Saturday run on Sunday (making it two hours), and half the originally scheduled 80-minute Sunday run on Monday, the plan being to substitute the off day today with another 40-minute run. A trip outside almost convinced me to abandon the second of the two forty minute runs, but despite still feeling somewhat fried, I wanted to run. (Perhaps this was evidence in itself that the heat was getting to me.) I decided to ... start slow, then ease off. (By now you know the chorus, so please feel free to sing along.) I decided to run for about ten minutes, and if I didn't feel up to more, I'd stop. I didn't stop.
A few minutes of t'ai chi practice in my apartment energized me enough to abandon my original plan to head straight for the shelter of the air-conditioned Y and use the treadmill. Instead, I found my way to a network of trails on the opposite side of Garrett Road from where I normally run. The main trail leads from Garrett Road to Marshall Park, containing playing fields and tennis courts, a place that I've sometimes used for my hard workouts when I want to stay on grass. But before reaching the park, I turnd onto a side trail that led me to the stream. There, for a few minutes, I paused, noticing the family of ducks further upstream, and wondering if there was a trail that would get me up closer to them. But the only trail leading toward them was narrow and covered with roots. I was not prepared to "plough through" the underbrush. So I watched from a distance,  recognizing that by braving the heat, I'd been treated to this view, and noticed my steps lighter, my breath easier, mind no longer focused on the heat but on the ducks, the stream, the thickness of leafy shelter around me and around the ducks. 
I did eventually end up at the Y for the last seven minutes of my run and some weights. Walking back, I felt lighter, lifted from the summer doldrums, inhaling the day.

Monday, July 19, 2004

How do they work their magic?

It was a weekend that involved threading my running through various social commitments: a wedding on Saturday in D.C. allowed for a quick half hour run when I arrived home; time with visiting relatives on Sunday required careful apportioning of the long run, Sunday mass, and visit, so as to balance all the priorities--added to the mix was that it was raining Sunday morning as I set out, and the forecast was for more rain. Would I have it otherwise? No. People with full-time jobs, spouses, and children have trained for and run marathons. Some of them are elite athletes, but even those whose times won't get them anywhere near the Olympics have found ways to keep the flame alive, to keep training on days when it gets hard. My difficulty always with a full schedule is that I believe so strongly that good running should not be rushed--by which I don't mean that it shouldn't be fast, just that the ideal run should have at least some cushion of time preceding and following it, whereby to prepare for and then absorb the gifts the run has to give. Rushing through a run so as to get on to my next appointment can diminish the experience. But it doesn't have to. For me, it's a matter of relishing each second--or (as a man I encountered at the trolley stop this morning reminded me) each breath.
I try to breathe it all in, the spicy/minty smell of the grass near the running track, the groundhogs that dive into holes when they see me looking at them, the feel of tree bark. For a half hour or two hours, it's there to be relished. Even the rain creates a peace, a sense of shelter. Toward the end of yesterday's two-hour run, I stepped onto the high school track, the drizzle turning into a downpour, and I had the track to myself after a while, and remembered the words to the Fred Astaire song, "Singin' in the Rain" and "Dancing Cheek to Cheek." And I was in heaven, the rain my baptism. When it came time to leave the track for home, I tried a few of the bounding exercises, but my legs were somewhat leaden by that time, so my attempts lacked the grace of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers. But no one was looking, and I was free to try, free to dance in the rain--free to be a work in progress. Still, I wonder how they did it, how they executed such a complex set of steps and spins so easily, so naturally, as if they were children at play.
In the last stanza of his poem, "Among School Children," Yeats writes,
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole?
O body swayed to music, o brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?*
Yet as I watched the Olympic Trials on tv, I wondered whether there was not so much an absence of pain or despair or "blear-eyed wisdom" as a transformation of it. When Fred and Ginger take the stage, when Alan Webb stands on the starting line, when the violinist picks up her bow and plays the first note, when the gymnast stands poised to take flight, what we see is the magic, not the hours of preparation, the choices made that bring on insomnia, sore muscles, bruises and callouses. The track trials were interrupted for the announcement of the US women's gymnastics team. A group of 13 young women in warm-up suits waited for the verdict--with a cut to these girls during practice, deeply engrossed in the business of preparation, chalking hands, repeating movements ad infinitum, then back to the group as names are called--and the magicians step forward--teen-age girls, very human, very fragile, their faces full of anticipation, dreaming perhaps of Olympic glory or the time when perhaps they can freely eat a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar, the life in which they're so immersed, a life of harder choices and sacrifices.
Yet...We are "such stuff as dreams are made on,"  Shakespeare writes in The Tempest (IV, i, 156-157) 
But there is truth in the magic that Yeats evokes in the last four lines of his poem. Perhaps you remember when you spent hours struggling with a problem--whether it was how to run a mile faster or meet a deadline at work or finish a painting that "needed something" but you didn't know what. Perhaps after struggling for hours for a solution to your problem, you finally set it aside, trusted the work you put into it, and let go of control over it. Then perhaps something clicked. Perhaps you started that breakthrough race knowing it was going to be a breakthrough race. Or you dreamed you saw the unfinished painting finished. Something has come together that both partakes of all the labor pains, yet is independent of them, is its own creation.
The labor pains and the magic dance together to make happen this new creation. When each step hurts, think beyond the hurt, and remember the magic. When you feel the magic in you, the power you never knew you had, thank yourself for the courage to move through the pain and past it, and thank the power that infused you, awakened your dreams, kept your glance bright.


* William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems and Two Plays, ed. M.L. Rosenthal (Macmillan, 1962), p. 117.

Friday, July 16, 2004


In the August 2004 issue of Outside, there is an ad for a coaching/personal training company. This ad features a "BEFORE/AFTER" photo. The "before" photo shows a woman climber suspended from a rock overhang, her arms grbbing hold of the rock above, her position mostly vertical. The "after" one shows the same woman, now in a horizontal position, her hands grasping the side of a rock wall, her legs swinging out into space. This non-climber is pretty impressed with the "before" photo. The "after" one seems like a position in which I'd find myself only with a lot of trick photography and clever editing. Come to think of it, that applies to the "before" picture as well.
Presumably, the reader is being led to conclude from the ad that if s/he will only sign on with one of the coaches/training programs the company offers, s/he too will be taken from excellent to spectacular athlete. Of course, for some of us, the "before" in the photo is not just "after" but well after where we are now. Some of us seek out coaching to move up from plod to trot, from trot to run. Maybe even from run to sprint. We look with admiration and envy at the world-class runners who whiz by us occasionally on our training runs along the Wissahickon or on Kelly Drive. We watch the Olympic Trials and the Penn Relays with the fascination of a pauper looking in the window of  a jewelry store or Cinderella gazing wistfully at the gowned beauties off to the ball. Will we ever find our stride, feel the certainty and ease of movement that we see in the faster runners.
"Small steps," Mike always reminds me--I tend to get impatient with myself sometimes, wishing I could be faster, leaner,  stronger. And the truth of this becomes clearer as I continue to train.There are two temptations one faces in training for a race: Over-reaching and giving up.  Over-reach and injuries result. But take no steps, and you won't get anywhere. So the in between route is simply to step forward, not measuring yourself against the almost magical feats of the elite athletes, just against your goals. This isn't the glamor route, but if you're patient with it, your "after" photo will show a metamorphosis--maybe not the one in the Outside ad, but something that shows the effect of the choices you made. Better still, those choices will be evident in your own self-image, in the way you feel, in the way you live. 

Today, my "small steps" led me to the nearby middle school track. I had a one-hour run on my schedule, and my body was feeling a bit tight from yesterday, so my plan was to take it easy. Oh yes, did I say "tight"? I had to work to pass a power walker! But not to worry, I thought. This is a recovery day, and is just as much needed as the hard workouts on the other days. Off to the side of the track, a Chinese couple was doing t'ai chi. I'd seen the woman there before. I'd even paused in my runs to follow along with her, doing the t'ai chi movements with far less ease: I take classes at the local Y, but I'm still comparatively a beginner. At one point, she invited me to come and join the two of them, and I did for a short time. I'd progressed enough in my classes to be a little better able to keep up with the two of them--at least I knew what movements they were doing, and I had the benefit of having attended my most recent class last night. After a few minutes, I felt it was time to get back to my run.
And here was a "before"/"after" that whether or not it would show in a photo, it was plenty evident for me as I ran. Before I paused for the t'ai chi, my pace was a stiff legged, tight little jog. After the t'ai chi break, I noticed immediately how much more confidently I was running, more receptive to the energy in me and around me. And more receptive to being the runner I am at present, recognizing that I'm heading in the right direction, having fun, one small step at a time.
p.s. I just happened to pay attention today to the font and color choices provided at the top of the editing window, so now I am going from "before"--endless succession of times black--to "after," a jazzier Arial purple! Watch out, reader!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Decisions, decisions! Or... don't try this at home, kids!

As a longtime Peak Performance member, I have chosen to work with Mike's schedules, although I also like to keep track of the one in the binder that Dave provided the 26-2 group--to stay informed and occasionally to incorporate stuff into my workouts. The two schedules are mostly the same, and since I have committed to using Mike's schedule, I'll use that when there are differences. But today presented a quandary, a riddle, a challenge: Mike's schedule had on it a hill workout similar to the one we did on Tuesday night. Hmmm...I could do that. I've done it before, no problem. I love hills. Come to think of it, I'm happy with any workout you want to tack onto the calendar. It's all good! But then my curiosity got the best of me. Hmmmm... what's Dave got for today? As it turned out 100m sprints every minute. Try it barefoot. Interesting also. What to do? I like both!

"Then why not do both?" came the mischievous question I asked myself. Okay, I recognize that there are any number of logical answers to this question, one of which might involve quads, while another involves hamstrings and still another, achilles get the drift. Of course, I didn't listen to any of these logical answers.

I started warming up on the middle school track near my home, and figured I'd head across the street afterward for my hill workout. I still had the idea I'd stick with that, but there was that nice football field in the middle of the track and it invited me as a chocolate eclair invites a dieter with a sweet tooth. I practiced a few of the skips and other form drills, and the field kept beckoning. "Oh come on, won't it be cool to try this thing of taking off your shoes and running those 100 repeats?" Well, okay, but just a few to warm up for the hill workout. And, not quite trusting what kind of debris and bees I might step on (there were a lot of clover flowers...bee magnets!), I opted for keeping socks on. Started with a couple of repeats.

And I broke the world record too--in the 100-year-old category,* but it's a start.... And then, well, I got to thinking, well, it's only 100m. Why not another...and another.

Thinking along these twisted lines got me to a dozen. And then it was time to put my shoes back on. And the hill started calling my name. "You must be nuts," I replied. But heck, why not at least go up and down once, see how I felt. If I was too whipped, I could always stop. Yeah. Right. Find a gradual uphill, 90 seconds to two minutes. Well, okay 2 mins. sounds good. Let's go up for two minutes and if I'm still breathing, I'll keep going. And yes, mirabile dictu, I was indeed still breathing (not beautifully, but if aesthetics were the issue, I wouldn't have started this workout at all).

My two minutes got me to a bright red Mazda parked very visibly at the end of a driveway, making for a handy finish line. I continued my up and down progress for the designated fifteen minutes, wondering at one point if perhaps my timer had stopped and I'd found myself in a time warp. At another point, I saw a red car on its way down the hill as I was running up--yikes! my finish line was abandoning me! But no, the Mazda was still there, and my watch was still running and so was I, until I reached the Mazda for the third time.

Cooldown consisted of continuing up the road to the park entrance, then down the trail, past a playing field, crowded with summer day campers, another trail, and some long terraced steps out of the park (a crowd of noisy 10-year-olds being a bit overwhelming after such a workout...), and back down the same hill that had been the scene of my torture (no signs of blood, although the red Mazda remained parked where it had been).

* Here's the link, for those of you who are curious:

I admit I didn't beat Flying Phil on every repeat, but we won't go there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Wednesday run: "All the world's a stage"

This was quiet and relatively uneventful. My run lasted 52:01.20 minutes, and the route consisted of some track, park, and neighborhood.

Just one question I can't help asking: I noticed a woman wearing what appeared to be a warm-up suit for running--and smoking a cigarette. Further along, I saw another woman in, again, what looked like workout clothes--smoking! I don't get this. Not to say that people shouldn't dress in whatever feels comfortable. But we're all on stage in whatever clothes we choose. Some want to look like they spend their lives cruising across America on a Harley-Davidson. Others might adopt the up-and-coming Wall Street tycoon look. Still others prefer the GenX coffee bar look--throw in a nose ring, black clothes, multi-colored hair....

And for the most part, folks adopting these looks manage to do so convincingly enough. But the athletic look is a thorny area. First, it gets subdivided into the football look (jerseys, face painted in team colors...), the basketball look (team shirt and baggy shorts), etc. etc. There are more or less successful imitations of the sports heroes among the wearers of these fashions. Since I don't follow football, I'm going to guess that perhaps there are some rules that govern the painting of one's body with the team colors. I'll leave it to football fans to decide these rules. Since the basketball look is so frequently accessorized by a basketball, I am ready to concede that the wearer actually plans to play.

But there are odd ways to imitate the runner look (such as it is or isn't): Catalogs advertise "jogging suits" that don't look like anything a self-respecting runner would wear on the road (although they might be comfy for watching tv, I suppose, or out to breakfast at a diner). But stranger still are the ways in which some people accessorize these clothes--how can one convincingly wear a "jogging suit" and smoke a cigarette? Who are their casting agents?

It could be that this general confusion about what constitutes a "running outfit" is at work when people see me in denim shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals and ask me if I'm going for a run. In sandals?

But then I suppose this confusion could be a good thing too. We runners are everywhere, but I dare you to find us when we're not running! We're like secret agents. What is the Secret Agent look? You might think it's some dark suit, a trench coat, sunglasses. Ha! Way too obvious! Real secret agents travel more incognito than that. Thus, the attempt to imitate them is usually unsuccessful. And so with us runners too: you're the real thing or you're not. And the only way to prove it is not by what you wear but what you do: RUN.

Tuesday evening workout (July 13): Lemon Hill repeats

Across Kelly Drive from the bike path that we use for most of our Tuesday evening workouts is a winding, curvy road leading to a colonial house on land originally owned by Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, until Morris, somewhat overextended financially, found himself in debtors’ prison (oops! Note to self: credit card bill due!). The property was then sold to Henry Pratt who built the house now known as Lemon Hill.* This is one of the stops of the Fairmount Park Trolley house tours. Tourists can ride a bus built in the shape of an old-fashioned trolley and exit the bus at various points to look at the historic houses along the route.

Runners working out with Peak Performance/Team26-2 are not taken to Lemon Hill on a bus. After a 1.5 mile warm-up (and when we’re told to run to the ¾ mile mark on Kelly Drive, we know there are hills coming), we run sometimes uphill repeats and easy down, sometimes race pace both ways. Last night was the latter. The workout consisted of continuous running up and down for approximately fifteen minutes at hard effort, followed by a few minutes rest. For the next set, we ran half the number of up/downhill laps we’d managed to complete in the next set. For me, that would officially be 1.75 laps (since I did 3.5 laps), but math is not my strength and whatever ability is left when I'm running gets steamed out in a hill workout, so I did 2 the second time to keep it simple.

This was followed by a cool-down run along the bike path to the ½ mile point and back. Then Team26-2 and any interested members of Peak Performance assembled behind the Art Museum for form drills. The first two drills consisted of two-footed jumps that reminded me a little of the way grade school girls jump rope, then skips, then the side-to-side steps that we did on Saturday. Then some stretching.

Then ... then ... zzzzz. Don’t wake me. I’m dreaming of lemonade on Lemon Hill.

* Source:; this site is an excellent resource for information on Fairmount Park

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Simple one-hour run today--wandered through park, around track until it got too hot, took off looking for shade, which seemed in short supply, headed home. Was about to start down into the park when I saw a nice hill across the road from the park entrance. Not much shade there either, but the heck with shade, I thought. As the Outward Bound saying goes, "if you can't get out of it, get into it!" Why turn down a chance to run up a nice hill!

After enjoying this hill, I re-entered the park, where there's a lovely shaded trail--not long but covered with cedar chips and bordered by trees. It's my moment of bliss near the beginning and end of my runs. Trotted along that and down a dirt road, then came upon a man doing t'ai chi. Stopped to watch for a moment, and he then finished his routine. I complimented him. His movements were so graceful and fluid. When I told him I was learning it, he said I should keep it up, that it would be better for me than running. He said that in running, the body puts out energy, but in t'ai chi, it receives energy. After I left him, I felt a sense of peace that made me aware of how much tension I'd been holding during the run.

I don't plan to substitute t'ai chi for running, but was intrigued by what he said about receiving energy and the sense of peace I felt after leaving him. It makes me think it would be good to do some t'ai chi/chi gong exercises before a run. I think I'd run more relaxed. (I've noticed that during interval workouts, if I do some of the breathing exercises between repeats, the effort seems to yield more speed than otherwise.) It was interesting the feel of the running after I left him as compared to before I met up with him.

Yesterday, after the workout, I stopped at Borders and picked up Keith Johnsgard's _Conquering Depression and Anxiety Through Exercise_.* Johnsgard opens with the story of a man who is on the verge of death. He is obese and borderline diabetic, has high blood pressure, high cholesterol. His doctors tell him that if he puts any more stress on his system, he will die--which, in fact, he wants to do, because he is depressed, so depressed that he decides to take his life. However, "not wanting to embarrass his parents or compromise their life insurance by an obvious suicide" (p. 24), he decides instead to bring about his death by the heart attack the doctors predict. One morning before dawn, he drives to a park near his home (the idea being to find a time when the park would be deserted and so allow him to die before someone could call an ambulance), chooses a hill known as Coyote Hill, a steep two-mile rise, and sets off to run as hard as he can to the top. His reasoning is that this will surely kill him. However, instead of dying, he passes out, and when he comes to, finds a coyote staring at him, apparently smiling.

Both disappointed and intrigued, he tries his plan the next day and the day after that. The only result was not his death but the ability to go further each time. Soon enough, he realized that his will to live had resurfaced, and that he wanted to heal. With that, he commits himself to walking, then running up Coyote Hill, and grows stronger. Eventually, he runs his first race, makes friends among runners, finds a new reason to live. He remembers the coyote he'd encountered that first day at the park, and curious about its significance, learns that, "in one tribal legend the coyote played a central role in the creation of man" (p. 27). The life-giving significance of that first encounter then becomes all the more clear. In a sense, the coyote has played a central role in his re-creation.

I think of those "behold!" moments during my runs--and in daily living too--when it seems as if I can't go on for some reason or another, and I am given the gift of some special animal encounter. I am surprised into inhabiting my animal self, that self that doesn't get wound up with worry, simply lives. Of course, these encounters don't happen only when I'm depressed. Sometimes simply being receptive and ready for them brings them about. But whatever my mood, they are gifts, unexpected and lovely, like the humming, vibrating noise I heard outside my sister's window the morning after my mother died, and looked to find a hummingbird among the flowers. When I run, I signal myself ready to receive these gifts. Sometimes they come in plant form: the riot of wildflowers along a road--heather, tiger lilies, and black-eyed susans or the lacy white flowers that peeped through a dead bush (sometimes one has to look beyond the dead, dry branches to find the life underneath--so it it is with how we view people). Sometimes they come in human form: the man doing t'ai chi, the occasional elite runner I happen to see flying past with quiet grace. They come with their gifts, their own wisdom--these apparitions, these visitations--and their gifts don't cost a penny. We just need to watch and listen.

When the depressed man in Johnsgard's story made his way to the park, there was in him something preparing him to receive this gift. I believe the will to live was in him already: his concern about embarrassing his parents, his concern that the insurance not be compromised--these show that he was thinking beyond his death, beyond himself and his worries, thinking his way back to life.


* Keith Johnsgard, _Conquering Depression and Anxiety Through Exercise_ (Prometheus Books, 2004). Page references are to this edition.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Rise up so early in the morning...

July 10

Today was the first weekend early morning group run/workout. Meeting time is 7a.m. at Lloyd Hall. Even though I'm an early riser, getting out the door and somewhere specific by 7 a.m. is a logistical challenge. I tend to move slowly through my routines in the morning. I simply like the idea of getting up early so that I'll have extra time for my particular pace of life. However, I chose this group complete with its 7 a.m. weekend runs--decided that it would be a good way to learn to pull it together faster in the a.m. Of course, there's also the desire to run faster, but you knew that.

Checking the transit schedules from my apartment to Lloyd Hall, I found that I could get a trolley at 5:40 a.m. that would get me to 69th Street at 5:47, which would make it possible (with a stop at the coffee shop at 69th St., and a 15-20 min. ride on the el) to get me within walking/bus/reasonable taxi distance to Lloyd Hall by 6:30ish (the el does not run very frequently at that time of the day, especially not on weekends). Missing that early trolley would involve a walk or run to 69th Street, about a mile--since the next one, 6:27, would be much too late. So with that in mind, I set out my running clothes, then set the alarm for 4:40. Between its incessant beeping and my cat grabbing my fingertips with her claws, I was gently persuaded by around 5:00 that it was time to get up. Ready just in time to catch trolley, running for it. This will take some getting used to, I think, but now I'm on my way.

Reach Lloyd Hall by 6:45 and see Tom. We are the only ones there. The rest rooms are closed, he tells me. The main door has a grate covering it. access to the locker room. So I will need to ask Dave if his car can be the locker. Rest room problem solved in time, but the locker room remains shut.

Fortunately, Dave is willing not only to take my bag in his car, but also me and a few others of us whose pace is a bit slower than that of the others. The idea is for the group to go to Belmont Plateau, run 3x6 mins. hard, 3 mins. rest, then some form drills, then return to Lloyd Hall. Those of us who are currently ... speed challenged ... ride with Dave so as to warm up on Belmont Plateau itself, rather than get too far behind. He handles this well, I think. The goal is to have everyone do the workout together all pretty much equally warmed up. I want one of these days to be fast enough to keep up with the faster people, but I am not there yet. If I were there for the ego trip, I'd be in trouble, but I've come to learn. I'll get the speed as I go along. I see a rabbit as we pull up to Belmont Plateau. "That's good luck," I tell the others. "I've just decided that it is."

The warm-up around Belmont Plateau (2x the outside mile) is a foot wetting grass running affair that gets me used to the surface on which we'll be running the workout. I find myself huffing and puffing on the first hill, even though the pace isn't too fast, and then I realize there are still a few people behind me, so I don't have to stay right up with Dave and Tom. I relax a little, just allow myself to enjoy the rhythm, do my two laps, and feel ready to start when the others arrive.

We are separated into three groups to run the 6 min. repeats on nearly the same course some of us had run for our warm-up. My group consists of Rick, myself, Tom, Rebecca, and Patty. We start in inverse order of speed, with our group starting first. To my surprise, I find myself taking the lead, but that doesn't last long. Within about fifty yards, the first hill begins to have its way with me, and Rick passes me. It is to be the pattern. I come back and nearly catch him the first repeat, but each one takes him further ahead. Still, that one sweet moment of being in the lead is so hard to resist--even if it is followed by The Hill, where my mantra becomes, just pick them up and put them down. Just keep doing that. This uphill does end!

I am deliciously tired after the last one, and Dave is saying it's time to go back. But someone reminds him that we haven't done the bounding drills yet. Some might say that this is equivalent to the kid at school who reminds the teacher that s/he hasn't assigned homework. But when Dave asks if we're still up for it, a bunch of us say yes. We're a long way from the school kids who want to do the least amount of work. This is an enthusiastic bunch.

We head for a short but moderately steep rise, where Dave starts us off with the skips that we did Tuesday evening. These I do reasonably right, if not beautifully, and mostly manage to keep up. The next exercise is a side-to-side bound that looks a little like an Irish jig. But it's been so long since I went to the Commodore Barry Club and embarrassed my ethnic group with my attempts at 7s and 3s that I had a bit of difficulty. I could do it if I followed Dave and watched him, but not otherwise. I was reminded of t'ai chi, looking over my shoulder to watch Joe. Dave, however, was patient, and I got the idea before we finished all four sets.

After this, we set off to return to Lloyd Hall. This time, I ran, falling in with Rebecca after a bit. A Penn professor, Rebecca told me that she found a flyer in the Penn gym and decided it was "now or never." She wanted to bump up her running and increase her fitness, and this seemed to be the ideal opportunity. We both agreed that the setting was lovely for the effort, and having West River Drive closed on weekends made it all the better. I spot another rabbit.

Reaching Lloyd Hall once again, we did a series of stretches wherein I was reminded of how very tight my muscles have become. Oops! Where is that once flexible body? But that's what I'm here for, I again remind myself.

Dave reminds me to work on coordination, balance, flexibility. He thinks the t'ai chi class is a good idea for that reason.

Afterward, I head up the hill to catch one of those Phlash buses, but notice the gazebo behind the Art Museum. It's a perfect day to take in the view, so I stop there, watch a while, write in my journal as the breeze cools my sweaty self. I see Dave heading back from the new section of the bike path where he'd gone to look for his girlfriend. (He may or may not have seen me.) Watching below, I see the river, the Waterworks, the boathouses, people running, cycling, walking. And having participated in the parade, I enjoy the outlook all the more.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

"a still more excellent way"

I happened to run across this verse in Corinthians just before Paul's famous words on love that have been read at so many weddings: "But I will show you a still more excellent way." 1 Cor. 12:30.

The verse opens onto such a lovely reminder of what matters. But I like simply the words themselves, the way that they point to a future full of hope, faith not only in others but in oneself, in one's ability to "show a more excellent way." Lately when I ask myself what I hope people remember about me, the answer is what I have shown them. The "still more excellent way" can shine out in lots of ways--the sun playing on the water, the sudden brightness of tiger lilies on a hillside, the sight of a rainbow.... I hope to invite people to see deeply.

How does this relate to running or to today's run? Again it's hot today. Philly summers just don't let up, especially in July. I hadn't slept well--restless, sad, grieving my mom--woke up later than I'd hoped, and was about to resign myself to heading for the Y again to run this 8x2 mins. hard repeats that Mike had on my schedule. Yet I wanted more from this workout than the sterility of pre-set treadmill speed. That was okay for yesterday when I needed a break. But I wanted "a more excellent way." I wanted to know what I could do in these heated up conditions, wanted not to back off and be afraid of the stresses the environment was placing on me and my running. Otherwise, I'd lose the joy.

So I headed for the track, where I started with some of the skipping/bounding exercises that Dave had us doing on Tuesday. God they're fun! I did about 5 sets of the high knee drill (abt. 40 yards?), then about 5 sets of the skipping, then abt. 4 or 5 strides of about 15-25 seconds. I had some company b/c there was a guy doing similar exercises. He was smarter. He started his in the shaded part of the track, and soon I joined him there (I'd been doing mine on the sunlit straightaway).

Next was the 8x2 min. repeats, which I decided to instead to run as 1/4 miles (thinking that it normally takes me about two mins. and lately sometimes more to run quarters). To my surprise, I got almost all of these under two minutes. The times were 1:53, 1:54, 1:53, 1:55, 1:56, 2:00, 2:00, 1:59. The last felt as if it was certainly going to be over two minutes, so I was pleased to see that the time had gone back down. These were run with 2 mins. rest in between--but the interpretation of "2 minutes" got ... um ... a little more liberal as the workout continued.

While I was doing my workout, there was a girl doing intervals in a racing wheelchair. She looked very in command of her workout, very focused. (I was surprised to learn she was only 14!) Watching her, I appreciated all the more the upper body/arm strength that the wheelchairs require. Her arms/hands moved in rapid succession, her body and the wheelchair working as one! I was all the more aware that I needed to give my best to my workout, seeing her push herself as she did. I wondered if she dreamed of running the track, but there was no trace of wistfulness, just a competitor there, as I was, to find a higher gear. We were both there to test ourselves, to dare ourselves to step out into the sun, face the heat of a Philly summer. The girl's coach told me she was going to compete in Arizona, so the need to acclimatize brought them to the track this morning.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few people on the track, all at different speeds, with different goals: a father and son who (at the son's initiative) would surge from a steady walk/jog to a sprint; a man with black shoes whose pace I couldn't match in my quarters; the aforementioned man doing sprint drills; the wheelchair racer; several women, some running, some walking; a few children; an elderly man in sweats walking and occasionally stretching/swinging his arms; another older man, running shirtless, who kept saying "good girl" when I'd finish a quarter and would cheer on several others, including the wheelchair racer, the man with black shoes, and the father-son pair ("don't make him work so hard! what do you think this is, the Olympics?" alternating with "great running, son!"). There we were, quite an assorted crowd, testing ourselves in this July heat, looking for a "more excellent" way than hiding indoors, and so becoming a community of effort. With each step into that community, I find what it takes to survive.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Hot run...summer in the suburbs!

Later start than I'd hoped. Hot, bright, humid--fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk weather. Every car horn and shout magnified in volume kind of weather. (Why does hot weather seem to make noises noisier?)

Every-step-as-if-I-had-glue-on-my-shoe kind of run.

Finally retreated to the air conditioned comfort of the local Y for something that a casual onlooker would view as running, so as to get my pace in the single-digit-per-mile range.

I generally prefer outdoor running, but so grateful sometimes to open that door to the Y and feel the cool blast of air, go up the steps two at a time to the wellness center, hop on a treadmill, and stare at an LCD display telling me helpfully, if tactlessly, how far and how fast I was running.

As it happened, after a moment to get it to cruising speed, the machine carried me along at 9:40 pace for a couple of miles, then during the "cooldown" period, I dialed it back into the double digit pace range until I reached my goal of running an hour. I suppose the stuff I did outside might more or less loosely be interpreted as "running." If one was kind....

Since I was in the Y, I did a couple of the weights that didn't have someone working on them (hip adductor/abductor--Dave mentioned my hips needing more strength/flexibility).

This was one of those "survival" runs, but I survived! Note to self (with apologies to Nietzsche): "whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger"--or drive you to the treadmills at the wellness center.

July 6 Interval Workout

A mercifully less-heated-up-than-usual day, yet a day of feeling restless and vaguely uneasy, distracted, as if behind the curve. Walking down the hill from the bus stop behind the Art Museum, I thought about my mom and remembered that I'd often call her during that walk, tell her what I saw, tell her about the sun setting over the river, about the way it turned the river to gold. That last Tuesday, I told her that sometime we should all come there for a picnic, and she agreed. Two days later, I lost her, but I think that one day we will have that picnic, and in spirit, she will be there.

Oddly, although I knew that this was the 6th of the month, I was not drawing the connection between the date and the fact that it was the two-month mark until I was enroute home from the workout. I was simply feeling restless and uneasy and missing her.

Workouts on such days always bring me to a kind of center, a peace with myself, with my body. Our workout for this date was a "pyramid," consisting of a 200, 400, 600, and back down the "scale" on the other side--400, 200. This went pretty well, except that on the first, the right quad tightened up a lot. I dialed back the effort a little and concentrated on knee lift, which seemed to help. During the second 200, it was again irritated, but not as much as during the first. My times:

200 (1) 53, 400 (1) no time recorded, 600 3:03, 400 (2) 1:59, 200 (2) 56.

Wanted to do another quarter, but Mike nixed that. Then I said to myself, "what were you thinking! Your quad isn't ready for another quarter!" Trotted back on my cooldown run, but the workout was not over. The marathon group, along with Mansoor and John from the Peak Performance group, gathered at the lawn behind the Art Museum where we did skip bounds. Those are FUN! They consist of an exaggerated skipping motion that reminded me of a speeded up version of the "golden pheasant stands on one leg" t'ai chi exercise. I was worried a little that the quad would bother me, but thought if it did, I'd back off. However, the movement actually seemed to help loosen it up--making me think maybe it would be good to do these before the workout.

Mike told Nick and me that our coed masters' team had won an award in Broad Street. So in spite of my slow race, I now have a lovely silver plate for the effort! It's interesting that my slowest two Broad Street Runs are the ones for which I have awards. But perhaps there's a kind of rightness about that. The slowest races were also the most difficult to run. Four years ago, it was 90ish degrees and I had one of those crash-burn overheated races. This year, I'd just recovered from a pretty bad cold, and there just wasn't any "gas in the tank." Felt I was giving it my best effort and barely keeping the pace under 11 mins. a mile. Seeing the way things were going, I had to accept that simply finishing the race would be my day's achievement. In spite of having just recovered from a cold, in spite of having just lost my job, I wasn't drawing the connection between that and the slowed down race.

Interesting about Broad Street this year: another instance in which I had just gone through a lot of stress and yet wasn't connecting that to my performance in the race--until afterward.

All of which suggests that when I'm experiencing a fall-off in performance either physically or mentally, it's time to look (without making excuses, just with understanding) beyond the obvious causes, ask myself what is different, what's the undercurrent. A quad that tightens up is at least something definable as a cause for slowing down. A "mind cramp" doesn't yield explanations so easily, but dialing back is as important. In this case, recognizing what hurts and why isn't just about improving performance. It's about surviving. And it's as important to reward the effort when it seems too little, yet is all I can do on a particular day. It's a way of moving forward.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Rest day and book recommendation

July 5,2004

Today my schedule said rest or 30 mins. easy. Since I'd raced on Saturday as well as the weekend before, I decided to take the rest day. Past injuries have taught me that it's not wimpy to rest on such days; it's saving myself for the long run.

So instead of sharing a run, I'll recommend a wonderful book, Joe Simpson's _The Beckoning Silence_. In this book, Simpson reflects on his mountaineering experience, including some close calls, questioning whether he should give up climbing. In the closing chapters, he writes about a particularly harrowing yet much dreamed about and planned-for ascent of Eiger's North Face. It is a compelling account, in which he and his partner find themselves in the midst of very stormy conditions, learning later of the deaths of other climbers on the mountain the same day. Once again, Simpson finds himself both repelled by and attracted to the sport and the mountains.

And as a reader of this book, I also experience both the draw and the fear. Every mistake seems to loom large with consequences--an awareness that even the slightest mis-step can be fatal. Even my very limited experience with rock climbing in an Outward Bound course makes me very aware of just how frightening it would be in such a position. I feel no drive to buy rock climbing equipment and follow the author's footsteps.

Yet the attraction even to the book makes me wonder. I who wrestle with sometimes seemingly insignificant decisions--and then I realize that sometimes those small decisions can be fraught with consequence, whether or not one is suspended on a rockface thousands of feet up. I think of the day that I went with my mother to her last doctor's appointment, how near I came to missing the bus that would have gotten me to her apartment in time to accompany her and my brother to the hospital. The time that I had with her that morning was my last chance to be with her and talk with her, share photos with last chance to give her a hug. What if I'd missed that!

And yet oddly, some mistakes may become blessings in disguise: had I not lost my job, I might not have been as free to be with her that morning or to have time to enjoy lunch with her the day before.

Simpson and his friend encounter a problem with a rucksack getting stuck and their having to free it. His friend tells him they too might have been on the icefield where the others were killed.

All we can do in the face of indecision and fear of consequences is to pray for wisdom and act as best we can. And recognize that to live is to keep making choices, something that keeps demanding courage of us whether we're standing securely on solid ground (or are we ever entirely secure?) or on a mountain with rockfall all around. Simpson's words sum it up eloquently:

"We looked up at the vastness of the Eiger filled with a mixture of exaltation and apprehension about what we were about to do in the morning. To me that is everything mountain climbing is about--the outcome uncertain, the spirit subdued, the challenge open--a free choice to take up or walk away from. More than anything it is about taking part--not success or failure, simply being there and making the choice."*

Maybe that's also what life is about, whatever the choice may be.


* _The Beckoning Silence_ (Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books, 2003).

Sunday, July 04, 2004

If you build it... (7/4/04)

I was thinking during this morning's run (in between more looks at my watch than I should have taken) about that line from "Field of Dreams," "If you build it, he will come." And a magical playing field came into existence, attracting all the baseball greats, starting with Joe DiMaggio. For me, the movie was a metaphor for the preparation we need in order to attract greatness, to bring the heroes into our back yard. Build for it. Believe in the possibility of it. Listen to the voices, the intuitions, but follow up with the practical work that is needed to make them real.

Sometimes that building process seems endless and the sun too bright and progress glacial.

Ran in the Downingtown Good Neighbor Day 10k yesterday and a sluggish 90 mins. today. Downingtown's event offers a choice between 5, 10, and 15k.

I was wavering between the 10 and the 15k. Decided against the 5k, thinking it was time for a change; had done that one the last couple of years, and with the weather always hot, my times were slow and slower. So I figured if I was going to have a slow time, I should get a few more miles in. I seriously considered the 15k. But having run in a track meet a week ago, then having done two hard workouts during the week, then looking at the weather forecast and an uncertain quad (yada, yada, yada....), I chose the 10k.

But I decided to try starting out easy and progressively picking up my pace, trying the "gears" as Dave described them. Jogged the first 20 mins. (already feeling the heat somewhat, but mitigated by a breeze), then picked up to a comfortably hard pace for the next 20 mins., then pushed myself harder for the rest of the race. The result according to what was listed on the board today was 1:03 and change (my watch said 1:02:38), which isn't too fast and suggests to me not a huge difference between "jogging" and "running all out" (sigh!). First 5k (part jog, part comfortably hard) was 31 verging on 32. First two miles 21something; mile 4 40ish, so I think possibly that while I felt I was running harder at the end, the heat was eating up whatever speed I managed.

This was a bit discouraging, but I've gotten encouraging reports from others who have said that sometimes speed disappears for a while and then there's a breakthrough and not to give up. Not giving up, I stayed with the schedule, which today called for 90 minutes--for me, a rather sluggish 90 mins. It was hot and thus a run of fits and starts. Still, I'd say it was good, as even overheated runs sometimes can be.

Started through Naylor's Run Park, where I saw an instructor teaching sword t'ai chi to a woman. Watched for a short time, and finally got the courage to approach them. Asked the instructor if they were there every Sunday and he told me they were there or in a church in Lansdowne Mon. evening. Price was $15/session which is a bit on the high side for me, having invested so much in running, but it seems like a beautiful art. The instructor let me hold the sword for a moment to get the feel of it. Hefty--would be a challenge working with it.

Out of the park to make my way toward the cemetery. This route takes me onto a shaded, pleasant street, then a turn onto the concrete jungle of a road, until I reach the path that winds up behind a billboard and onto the high school grounds. If my run is an hour or less, I head for the track. More than an hour and I wander further, often toward the cemetery. Today, however, the gate where I usually enter was locked. Next one also locked. I was now doing the running I most dislike: on sidewalks full of cracks. It would be a run around the cemetery but not inside. Disappointing because I wanted to stop at the grave. As it happened, I finally came upon an unlocked gate, stopped at the grave, poured a little of my water on a very fledgling maple tree that had been cut since yesterday but still remained rooted in the ground. Gave kisses to both my mom and stepfather, laid a pine cone and a couple of clover flowers on the ground, and finally headed off. Had no wish to run, just feeling like Forrest Gump--"tarred." But along came a couple of runners and pride kicked in. I wasn't going to let them pass me, and they did not, not until I left the cemetery where I'd come in. I thanked them and my mom and stepfather who probably had somehow brought the runners to me for just that push.

After completing a full circle around the roads bordering the cemetery, I crossed the street and headed for the high school, where I saw Bob F. who told me he'd had bypass surgery. He was slowly getting back into shape, happy his doctor had pronounced him okay. Also happy with the beautiful new convertible he was driving. I think it was a well-deserved treat for him to give himself. He's given a lot to running.

I promise to say a prayer for him--and as we part, I'm reminded that running isn't something I can take for granted. Every step is a gift. On the track, there is a sparse crowd--some walkers, another runner, a family with a child on a tricycle. Normally I'm not crazy about tricycles on a track, but the family was pretty careful, and the child was in the outside lane. I was lapped twice by the runner, but I tried not to worry about that and instead focused on practicing some of the form principles Dave had mentioned. Tried some of the knee lift drills when I got into shade, but my energy just seemed pretty low. Still, I decided that anything I accomplished there put me one step ahead.

Ran back through the park for the last mile, and when I came to the stream, could not resist taking off my shoes and sox and walking back and forth across the ford, splashing up water, enjoying its coolness. Saw a runner pass by along the park road, looking smooth, running easily the way I would like to run. I thought of all the work it will take to run like that, wondered if I could, wondered if the work would pay off. But it's an act of faith, this building, this preparation. Maxine Kumin talks about going "in deep," and also about being receptive. She would put out feeders, confident that birds would arrive, and an owl "arrived, like a poem, unannounced."*

I continue to "build it," believing, yet also living in the present that each run offers, the cool splash of water, the sudden breeze, the sighting of a cardinal, the occasional glimpses of the heroes in me and the herons around me, lifting me into flight.

*Maxine Kumin, _In Deep: Country Essays_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), pp. 2, 133.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

July 1, 2004

Today was the first workout with just the marathon group. Normally, this would have been during the weekend, but the schedule was changed to accommodate the holiday weekend.

Since Dave leads the longer runs (into which he incorporates some speed/strength), I knew this would be a longer outing tonight.

I was curious about how the workout would differ from both what we do on Tuesday and from my normal pokey long runs. While Dave did outline the workouts in the schedule that each of us received, the paper version only gives you the facts; the body will tell the rest of the story.

Tonight, we started with a 50 min. warm-up, 25 mins. out, then turn around. It was pouring rain when the time came to start, and we paused a few minutes under the overhang of Lloyd Hall, hoping that the rain would stop and we could set out somewhat dry. But that didn't seem about to happen, so we started out, resigned to getting wet.

Instead of running Kelly Drive, we headed for West River Drive, less populated usually, especially in the evening. It did cross my mind that the reason it's less populated is that the reputed serial rapist tends to lurk there, but I wasn't too concerned, since we had plenty of people in the group, outnumbering anyone with unfriendly intentions.

During the warm-up, I quickly fell off the pace of the others. Initially, this was upsetting--I'd already had a stressful day--but I reminded myself that we were all going to run for the same amount of time and why ruin a perfectly nice run. By the time I reached West River Drive, crossing from the Art Museum with a caution born of once almost getting run over by a Ryder truck, the rain had stopped, and the sun had re-emerged. The smell of wet flowers, the river lit up once again, the play of clouds and sun--they all turned my attention away from any negative thoughts about not keeping up. I was here, so why not enjoy the experience? Which didn't stop me from castigating myself when I saw Dave near the turn-around, saying to him, "I'm such a slowpoke!" But then I thought, don't focus on that, just keep having fun. As it happened, I ended up passing one of the guys who was walking at that point.

I asked how he was doing. "Hurting," he said. And I realized that had I stayed with the group going out, I'd be in the same place only I'd have to walk more.

Last place is a familiar position for me in group workouts, and I've managed to find myself in that position in some races as well. In masters' track meets, I'd pretty regularly find myself lapped and alone on the track when others had finished. In the World Veterans Games 1500, in which I ran my fastest 1500 ever, 6:02 (and yes, that was a while back!), I was dropped in the last straightaway. When you love a sport and find yourself in such a position, it's very important to remind yourself of what you love about the sport. T.S. Eliot's words come to mind, "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

So with this in mind, I finished the warm-up, accepting where I was, reminding myself that if I couldn't risk looking bad, I'd never get better.

The next phase of the workout was a 2x6 min. tempo run with 3 mins. rest between. This took place on the new section of bike path that heads toward Center City--a bit less crowded. Dave set up cones that I am guessing may have been about 1/4 mile apart, and we ran from one to the other and back for six mins. at a time.

I actually found myself keeping up nicely in this phase, not anywhere near the front of the pack, but still somewhat in the thick of things, despite quads that kept reminding me of last Saturday's track meet and Tuesday's workout. (Did I mention that I'm a glutton for punishment?) Further, Dave was offering some helpful advice and suggestions as I passed him (he was observing us during this period), which when I tried, seemed to improve my pace a bit. He also advised me to slow down--oh, right, I keep forgetting I'm not doing 1/2 mile repeats! The idea was to find a "middle" gear. I tend to go to extremes, thus my slow warm-up. (Well, actually, my max effort would not to some observers seem too much at the opposite end of my slow pace, but we won't go there.) ;)

Somewhere in between the fastest and slowest gears is the pace I'll need for a marathon. And, what, am I crazy? Will I really be able to sustain something faster than a slog for 26.2 miles? I am in this group because that's what I hope to do. At this stage, it's too soon to tell, and the object is to learn, not to obsess over where I am today.

Our last segment consisted of hill drills. For that, we went to the lawn behind the Art Museum that's bordered on each side by walkways. We headed up the left side, across the middle at the base of the steps, and down the other walkway. The object when going up was to lift our knees in an exaggerated style, so as to build strength. That was difficult, and I soon found myself at the back of the pack again. But it was one of those pieces that, I figured, would get easier/better with time.

After the workout, Dave said he noticed my quads being very tight, which was why I was probably not getting the lift that I needed. He recommended some stretches/strength exercises, which I will try.

By the end of the workout, the days stresses had evaporated. Running is one of the few activities that, no matter what my performance level, I can enjoy immensely, simply the doing, simply the movement. When I'm not doing well in a work-related activity, I judge myself so much more harshly, probably let it impact my subsequent performances, feel less good about myself. But I can leave ANY run feeling good about what I've done. I can give myself credit for the effort, but more importantly, I can enjoy the experience in itself--being outdoors, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. I can find satisfaction in the process, independent of the end result. That speaks well of this sport!