Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead Reckoning

So we're back in Flagstaff. Back among the pines and the peaks. But not in the same place. Immediately upon crossing that zany finish line in Central Park, our feet slowed. Our muscle were taut. Our bones worn. Time ebbed. A cluster of medical volunteers poked us to make sure we were still alive. They covered us in foil capes. We hobbled into the corrals like a queue of zombies, with brains making quick exits. The doors of our bodies had been left open. Wide open. And our minds really started to move. Smashing forward. In double time. Aiming for a new outpost. Go! Now this wasn't the greatest mental leap I've ever experienced, but I did enjoy a smidge of transcendence. And maybe that's why people do these stupid things.

The strangest part though was that M and I ended up in completely different (and unexpected) places.

Okay, back to the beginning. I left the hotel at 4:50 AM, under the shadow of the Empire State Building. M would leave fifteen minutes later. She was in the blue wave. I was in orange. She took the ferry to Staten Island. I was on the bus. When I climbed out of the subway at 42nd Street, runners appeared everywhere. Climbing out of tunnels. Slipping from yellow cabs. Hopping out of doorways. The city held a silent fire drill. Runners only please. Forty-three-thousand nylon-clad athletes crawled into the light.

The bus dumped me on Staten Island with nearly four hours until the race began. It was drizzling and cold. Runners huddled together. Refuge camps formed. M and I were in different camps, but I got a call from her. I knew her position. The advantage went to those familiar with the prolonged wait. Some showed up with sleeping bags and small tents. Rain gear and cook tops. Entire meals were being prepared. Before the start, you could bag all your gear and send it to the finish line. Since I got to Staten Island early, I was able to squirm into a large tent. I sat in a circle of five runners, swapping stories and laughing over our paths. They were running geeks, but fairly normal. Not idiots.

The light crept over the Verrazano Bridge and we were ordered into the corals in ten different languages. I ate my last Clif Bar, used the Port-o-Potty and rubbed Vaseline over my body. I hooked up my ear buds and turned on the Garmin. At one point, somebody bumped me. Fire on the Mountain came on. I didn't realize that it came from player. I thought it was from the overhead speakers and that the NYC Marathon was playing the Grateful Dead at the start of the race. Wow! Cosmic! But then I realized the source and felt like a moron. There were no supernatural forces at work in NYC this morning. Nothing was going to save me.

The race started with a bang and Sinatra sent us into Brooklyn. New York, New York. Okay, that made more sense. I could see the towers of Manhattan over the water. They looked gray and miniature. A long way off. When I got over the bridge and into Brooklyn, I quickly realized the best and worst parts of the NYC Marathon. The best part? The crowds. I felt like I was in the Tour de France. The crowds were three or four people deep. Cheering and ringing cow bells. The signs were a constant source of entertainment. The bands rocked. And the worst part? The pavement. Damn, those streets were rough. Bumpy and pot-holed. I was cringing after three miles. My body was used to the dirt trails in Flagstaff. My bones rattled until I thought my legs would fall off.

I wish I could say I felt good during this marathon. But, nope. Felt like crap the entire time. L had been up coughing half the night. Neither M nor I got any sleep. That said, my breathing and cardio were fine. Training at altitude must have helped. But still, my legs were like cement. I started running nine minute miles, thinking I would aim for four hours. It was not hard, but not pleasant either. Maybe it was the lack of sleep? Or the month-long sinus infection? Or my fear of running fast? Anyway, I had no juice.

The crowds were so loud in Brooklyn, that I could not hear my player. Which was fine at first. Dead or no dead, I was taking it easy. As I crossed into Queens, my Garmin freaked out. It lost all satellites. I kept peering at it, pleading, hoping it would come alive. But nope. The thing was stuck at fourteen. So I switched it off. From that point on, I was clueless. Running blind. I knew that I had slowed down, but by how much? Blah. Stupid Garmin. I put too much trust in it. Now, my only means for determining pace was the Grateful Dead. I estimated my speed by recalling the position of each song. My calculations were double-checked by cross-referencing jams, teasers and guitar solos. I was truly, dead reckoning.

So on I went. The idea of cheating never crossed my mind. I stayed safe. And well below the line. Finishing never seemed like a problem. We ran through a viaduct and wasteland in the Bronx and then headed into Harlem. The crowds were huge. Central Park was on the horizon. My legs hurt, but I never walked nor lost my hop. At one point a woman looked at me and said, you can do it!, and I nodded and thought, Yeah, I can. Big deal. Yet, my body hurt. It moved through various stages of exhaustion. And I cried.

Before the park, I stopped to pee, unconcerned about time. Whenever I passed a medical tent, I peaked inside to make sure M had not quit. I checked my phone near the end and saw that she had called. She must have finished.

At the end, I felt okay. Just like after a long run. Man, I played it safe. Maybe too safe. I came in during The Wheel. I checked the clock and calculated my time. Under four-forty-five. M had come in an hour before I did. What was I doing during that hour? Stopping for a beer in Brooklyn? Chatting with the crowd? Tying my shoes? Nope. I was just damn slow. And so here at the end, as I trudged along in my foil cape and finisher medal, was where my thoughts erupted. Where something bizarre happened at the center of my pea-sized brain. And a new and alien thought emerged. I can do better, I thought. Huh? Did I really think that? Yep. . . Had I gone insane? Maybe. And then I wondered whether I would train for another marathon. And part of me hoped I did.

And the funniest thing of all? After a mile of wandering through the corals, searching for M, I found her. She looked crazy beautiful. Wearing a silver vest, blue sweats, and covered in a red blanket. Her hair tied in pigtails. Smiling and hopping back and forth. We hugged and found an open space. And then she looked up at me, shaking her head, and said: That's it. I'm done. I never want to do a marathon again!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Finished. . . well, almost

Here is a picture from the expo for the marathon. I didn't take my camera on the run, so no race pictures . . There are some on the NYC Times website if you are curious. Also M may have some pictures on her Iphone. . . but those will have to wait. As will my final blog on this marathon. We did finish. And neither of us have died (yet). It was pretty fun, but also miserable. Both M and I felt under-trained. Also L was up most of the previous night coughing. But, enough excuses. It's done. I'm not sure about my official time. I think I got under 4:45. . . M finished an hour before me. I will post a recap when we get back to Flag.

Thanks to my friend Sam for meeting us for Thai food last night. Today we will likely go up in the Empire State Building before heading home. . . I can barely move my legs!

Oh, somebody happened to take a photo of me at the finish line. I was damn tired, but still managed to raise my arms to celebrate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In the Belly of the Beast

Hey, where is the sky?

After a brutal day of travel, we made it to our midtown hotel. The photo above is the view from our window. In a mad attempt to adjust to the three-hour timezone shift, we'll eat early and crash. L already crashed. He was coughing through most of the night in Phoenix. And again coughing on the entire five-hour-plus flight, causing passengers around us to say, how cute, while ducking their faces beneath their sweaters. Poor tyke. He did pretty well though.

M is trying to follow Greg McMillan's running tips for preparing for a marathon. So far, we are failing miserably. You are supposed to accrue sleep on the days leading up to the race and not worry about the night before. Failed. We were up half the night. Also, you are not supposed to let yourself get hungry. Failed. We rushed to the airport and had no food for the flight. Oops.

We just got some Italian food from around the corner. And filled our bellies with pasta. And let the carbo-loading begin. It was nice to walk the streets of Manhattan, even though it was only a few blocks. I've only been in the city for a few hours, but like usual, I can unequivocally say, I love New York. It's a beast. But a beautiful one. The energy. The in-your-face people. The hidden places. As we slurped our pasta, M and I had our which-city is-better-New-York-or-San-Francisco-conversation for the one billionth time. As always, she argues for SF. I for NYC. And then we drop it. It doesn't really matter. In the end, we both prefer the peaks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow and Crayons

Spent much of the past two days with a sick L at home. He is doing better this morning, but still has a cough. We'll see if they let him back in school. Notice the photo above, taken through a window, some of L's creative work. I call it Crayon on Glass with Snow.

We got a dusting of snow last night. Neither M nor I ran this morning. Too cold. And we only need a couple miles because we are in hardcore tapering. Not a big deal. We'll just do some stretching. Start packing. Put the house in order. Tonight we drive to Phoenix. Our flight for NYC leaves tomorrow early. I will tote the computer and try to post a couple things from the big city. Three more days until the race!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Running with the Dead: Final Mix

Okay, here's my final running-with-the-dead mix for the NYC Marathon. I went a little nuts with the amount of detail. Can't help it. M freaked me out the other day when she told me, the NYC Marathon does not allow players. She was messing with me. Headphones are allowed, but frowned upon. NYC is also having a bunch of live bands along the way. So, I'll keep the volume low. And be aware of my fellow runners. And yeah, enjoy the live bands. Still, I need my tunes:
  • 27:05 - Scarlet > Fire (1978/12/31 - Closing at Winterland): M bought me this cd a while back. It is clean and everybody is "on" (even Donna). It's a good starter for setting my pace.

  • 11:47 (38:52) - Birdsong (1972/09/27 Dick's Picks 11): This song keeps me calm and helps me get through my initial breathing issues. I especially like when they sing, "don't cry."

  • 4:43 (43:35) - Cassidy (1976/09/26-28 Dick's Picks 20): A reminder to run by my own design.

  • 9:40 (53:25) - U.S. Blues (1974/06/26-28 Dick's Picks 12): A very bluesy, heavy stepping version.

  • 10:42 (1h4:07) - Franklin's Tower (1991/09/25 Dick's Picks 17):Roll away one hour.

  • 6:18 (1h10:25)- Hard to Handle (from D's collection): Pigpen time.

  • 7:22 (1h17:47)- Bertha (1977/12/29 Dick's Picks 10): Should be seeing the Statue of Liberty to my left.

  • 4:06 (1h21:53)- Friend of the Devil (1972/09/27 Dick's Picks 11)

  • 14:02 (1h35:55)- The Eleven (1969/11/08 Dick's Picks 16): I thought about trying to put this song at mile eleven, but that is silly (unless I'm running way too fast). It started out here and I like it here.

  • 5:41 (1h41:36)- Me and Bobbie McGee (from D's collection): Great cover song. Especially the line, "a marathon's just another word for nothing left to lose."

  • 11:06 (1h52:42)- China > Rider (1977/12/29 Dick's Picks 10): Nice and clean. Short transition. This should push me past the first third, unless I'm dreadfully slow.

  • 6:33 (1h59:15)- Sugar Magnolia (1970/10/31 Dick's Picks 2): An early hopping beep-dah-beep version.

  • 5:16 (2h4:31)- Big River (1975/9/28 Audience recording): Another great cover. Johnny Cash. Likely hitting my first bonk. Cry cry cry.

  • 30:05 (2h34:36)- Scarlet > Touch > Fire (1984/7/13 Audience Recording): This one is speedy and I love the transition. The band seems to be heading into Fire on the Mountain, but going way too fast. Mickey starts thumping. Fire riffs fly out everywhere. And then out of nowhere, the band flips into Touch of Grey. It's unreal. This should push me well over the halfway point.

  • 4:25 (2h39:01)- Greatest Story Ever Told (1981/05/06 Dick's Picks 13): Time for a laugh. Should be in Manhattan.

  • 4:51 (2h44:52)- Deal (1972/09/27 Dick's Picks 11): Another great Dead song that I never talked about. . . Oh well. There's too many.

  • 13:17 (2h58:09)- Eyes of the World (1977/09/03 Dick's Picks 15): Wake up to find that I'm in the middle of New York City.

  • 17:09 (3h15:18)- Lovelight (from D's collection): Pigpen Part Deux.

  • 5:33 (3h20:51)- Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad (1981/05/06 Dick's Picks 13): And this is where I should really start feeling bad. Near the twenty mile mark. I haven't run over this distance in training.

  • 8:03 (3h28:54)- Mississippi Half Step (1973/11/30 Dick's Picks 14): Over the final bridge. Across that lazy river. . .

  • 5:13 (3h34:07)- Playing in the Band (1971/8/6 - Audience): an early no-jam version. I really dig this song, but I've never been a fan of Playin jams.

  • 19:14 (3h53:28)- China > Mind Body Jam > Rider (1974/06/26-28 Dick's Picks 12): Hoping to be in Central Park.

  • 11:05 (4h4:33)- Truckin (1974/06/26-28 Dick's Picks 12): Running in a typical city involved in a typical daydream. . .

  • 4:30 (4h9:03)- Ripple (D's collection): If my cup be empty, do some final hydrating.

  • 10:05 (4h19:08)- Not Fade Away (1977/12/29 Dick's Picks 10): A cover of the Buddy Holly song. If I'm doing awesome, I should finish here. . .

  • 4:51 (4h23:59)- Casey Jones (1969/11/08 Dick's Picks 16): Another song I never talked about. Nice running tune. . .

  • 11:44 (4h35:43)- Terrapin Station (1988/3/24 - Soundboard): If I'm doing okay, I should finish in Terrapin.

  • 5:23 (4h41:06)- The Wheel (1984/5/23 - Audience): Another fast one from 1984. They must have changed their drug cocktail this year.

  • 14:11 (4h56:17)- Franklin's Tower (1990/9/19 - Soundboard): If I'm doing crappy, I hope this song brings me in. Otherwise, no more Dead. My player will switch to the Dandy Warhols (and maybe I will hallucinate that I'm in Portland). This version of Franklin's is from a Madison Square Garden show. . . Come on NYC. Keep me under five hours. Show me some love!

That's it. I can make copies for anyone who is interested. Lemme know. Although, you may want to wait to see how I do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Head

I picked up L from montessori yesterday and he was a total pook. The kid was dazed and moving in slow-mo and running a temperature. Seems low grade. And not swinish. At least so far. Fingers crossed. The last time we went to NYC, he was sick as a little dog. And I had to carry him on my back for most of the trip. Hoping he gets over this by Thursday.

Of course, now M and I are in complete paranoia mode. Swallowing handfuls of vitamin C. Mixing up antioxidant cocktails. Washing our hands every other minute. M is worried that she will get the bug on the day before the race (like last time). I feel like it is a certainty. Also my sinus infection is creeping back and I'll likely hit the antibiotics again. Tis the season.

Anyway, we carved pumpkins the other night. L and I made a skeleton-pirate-monster thing (see photo). Because of the marathon we will miss Halloween in Flagstaff. M spent some time looking for a kid's party in the NYC. Of course, there are tons. Hope the kid feels better. The marathon itself is on November first, the day after Halloween. Serendipitously, that day is also a holiday, celebrated with great zeal throughout Latin America (and in parts of the US). And what is the name of that holiday? The Day of Dead. Cosmic, eh? I couldn't have planned it better.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trees through the Forest

A week until the marathon. I'm feeling better, but how will I do? Shrug. No idea. It's not like I have a fuel gauge on my forehead. My mind-body connection is not that refined.

And what about M? If she does poorly in NYC (or is forced to drop out), the long-term consequences will be dire. M will get angry. She will visit more p.t.'s and doctors. She will train even harder. And look for another marathon. Chicago? L.A.? Cleveland? Who knows. And the worst part. . . I will likely get roped in.

If M kicks butt in NYC, I don't fair much better. Her madness will envelope everything. She will glow. Sparkle. Bounce. Beam. She will ponder the possibility of better times. And imagine beating the local Flag runners. And, alas, look for another marathon.

Basically, for me, it's a lose-lose! That said. . . I want her to do well.

Yesterday we did one final big run. Since we are tapering, we lowered our mileage to a half (thirteen plus miles). We ran in shifts, like usual. M set out first, taking Mundo with her. I left an hour later. The weather was placid.

The woods were full of runners, so I didn't expect to see any wildlife. I ran Soldier's Loop, adding on a few miles from M's path to Woody Mountain. Mostly, I kept my eyes on the trail.

Even though it was warm, the sky held hints of winter. A large ufo-shaped cloud hovered over the peaks. Snow was on its way. Soon it would be near-impossible to run this trail. And while I was running it, I started actually missing it. Especially the trees. A few of the large pines had become familiar to me. They were elders. Great and silent advisers. Highly evolved life-forms, well versed in the art of standing still.

I've said it a zillion times. I'm not a runner. But just maybe, I could be a trail runner. Man, I love these pines. Tiger-striped. Towering. And touchable. Not that I'm planning on it (because I'm not). But if I die. Bury me here.

Anyway, my run went fairly well. I did 10:30's. And zoned out for most of it. Of course, I have no idea how to double it for NYC. This is the great mystery of marathon training. You cannot know how the body will do. Even in the micro-second before the race begins. It's impossible to see four-plus-hours in the future. There are too many unknowns. All I can do is listen to the my tunes, maintain my pace, and see what I see. The world of a marathon runner is very small. It is a short distance. Existing mainly between the body and the road.

As I ran the urban trail, I saw a number of squirrels. They hopped around the trees. They inspected various items in the tall grass. These are Albert's squirrels, native to the Rocky Mountains (and the Colorado Plateau). They are distinctive for their tall fuzzy ears, gray coats, and dancing white tails.

I stopped to watch a pair of them. And managed a quick photo of one. The pair seemed to be circling each other. Maintaining a perimeter. A small, secluded space. They both kept up a serious pursuit of pine cones. Seemingly unaware of each other. Until I got too close. And stepped on a twig. Crick! They scampered up the same tree.