Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why I am Not a Runner: the Stride

M has great legs. She also has a great stride. Her feet spring from the dirt. Her knees leap like white-water rapids. Her steps are as cool as the mountain air. M can do six minute miles and just float down the trail. She's a natural. I've run behind her enough to know.

There are three ingredients that make a great runner: 1) the Madness. 2) the Stride. 3) And a whole lot of luck. M has two out of three. Unfortunately, she easily gets injured. And she has never had a quality coach. Still, the woman has talent. It oozes from her. She's what some people call an athlete. Her abilities can take on a mythic quality that make me go, Huh? No way! I hear snippets of these stories from her dad. Here are a few:
  • M came from a poor family in west Texas, which gave her a mad determination to kick butt. In her teens, she never lost a race. She ran middle distances: 400K's and 800K's. M would show up to races in homemade clothes and thrift-store shoes. And she would leave everybody in the dust. When M was in junior high, she went to a track meet and beat all the older girls from the high school. After that, she was famous.

  • It didn't matter what sport M was competing in, she won. One day M decided to try swimming. She never had a lesson. She couldn't dive. She didn't even know the name of the strokes. No problem. M's dad took her to a swim meet. She was not wearing a slick bathing suit and a head cap. Nope. She wore her favorite Coke-a-Cola bikini. When the race started, M jumped in the pool. The other girls dove. Already in last place, M took off like a torpedo. She splashed half the water out of the pool. She left everybody in her wake. And she won first place. The other girls cried.

  • In high school, M started to hate running. She was tired of always needing to win (weird... huh?). She wanted to try drama instead. So M stopped showing up to track practice. The coaches were angry. They sent the cheerleaders and pep squad members to change her mind. But no luck. M was done. Then one day, M got busted for not wearing the proper attire. Her skirt was too short. The principal called her into his office. He made her a deal. Either she went back to track practice, or she got a month of detention.

There are more stories like this. All of them a little funny and a little sad. M took a long break from running after high school. She had stress fractures in her shins and the coaches had made her keep running on them. M sometimes wonders what would have happened if she had better coaches. Maybe she would have avoided injuries? Or gotten a scholarship to UT? But the coaches at her podunk high school were clueless. After college, M took a long break from running. And then one day, she decided to try marathons. Needless to say, she got pretty good at it.

To give you another perspective, let's focus on my stride. Have you ever read the book Frankenstein? Remember the scene where the monster is being chased by angry villagers with pitch forks and torches. Yeah. That's me. That limping, mush-brained monster. Me. Only worse. Here are a few things that give me a crappy stride:
  • Genetics. As I may have mentioned before, I tend to under-pronate, which gives me a duck walk. I come from a long line of duck-walkers. If you ever see my family walking down the street, you may have an urge to make quacking noises.

  • Bum Knees. When I was a kid, I had a growth spurt and my knees filled with cartilage. They are a constant source of pain. Also I had a bike wreck that made them even worse. Today they are not too bad, but any little bump will cause swelling.

  • Poor circulation. In junior high, I went on a camping trip and my feet got frost bit. Ever since, the circulation in my toes has been awful. My feet easily get crimped. On cold days, I have to worry about getting frost bite again. This has happened a few times while running on the peaks. My toes will turn red and the pain is horrific.

  • Tib Fib. When cycling in Boulder, I got whacked by a car. The impact snapped my tibia and fibula. The doctors had to shove a pin in my leg. Now they did an excellent job. My legs are pretty much the same length. And except for some IT-band pain, a little arthritis in my knee/ankle where the screws were, and the occasional aches when the barometer goes up, the leg does extremely well. But I did suffer nerve damage. My left foot often goes numb. Sometimes I completely forget the damn thing. And if I'm not careful, I tumble over rocks.

Enough excuses? Well gee. I can likely come up with more. I have spent many years honing my skill of sounding bitter and pathetic. Anyway . . . Me no runner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Running with the Dead: Touch of Grey

Running with the Dead: Touch of Grey
Result: Positive
Best Line: I will get by
Link: holy-crap-jerry-is-still-alive audience recording

I recall during college, wandering into a dorm room where a bunch of dead heads were sitting on the floor listening to this awful recording of a twangy guitar that bounced through the air like a fat, drowsy and overconfident bumble bee. It never landed. Nor hid from view. Nor slowed down enough to be caught. The listeners bobbed their heads in amazement. Wow. Damn. Insane. Obviously, they were hearing something that I wasn't.

If you are going to listen to the Dead, the cult of Jerry is something that has to be dealt with. Jerry Garcia was a fat man with a voice like Mickey Mouse and more drug habits than he could count on both hands (that would be nine... one of Jerry's fingers was chopped off at the age of four). Not the typical rock-n-roll star. And maybe that's why people worshiped him? When you listen to enough Dead (and enough Garcia guitar solos), one thing becomes obvious. The big guy loved the music. He played with a studious glow that would occasionally break into an infectious smile. His guitar never stopped buzzing. A hard-working drone, it sought only the sweetest riffs. And once you were familiar with it, man. His playing became as recognizable as the smell of pancakes.

As for, Touch of Grey, it's a quick and runner-friendly tune. It starts out like Bertha and keeps rolling. Unfortunately, the song also associates with the eighties and hippies-turning-into-yuppies and that MTV video with the skeletons. But so what. It is a great song. Touch of Grey became an anthem while the band toured in the late eighties, after an overweight and addicted Jerry suffered a diabetic coma (and had to relearn how to play guitar!). Listen to the version above to hear how ecstatic the fans were to have him back. I prefer an older version to run to. Back in 1984, Jerry once or twice found the song in between Scarlet > Fire. Which is pretty amazing.

During my delusional run yesterday, I saw a circle of trees and immediately associated them with the Dead. Here is the photo. Cripes. I must be losing my mind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Familiar Ground

Question: how many miles does M run given the following scenario. 1. The NYC Marathon is looming. 2. M has an injured hamstring. 3. M has not run for an entire month.

Answer: Sixteen. Duh.

Obviously, the game is rigged. I fight and scrap and nearly die for my mileage. M steps out the door, yawns, shrugs and scampers for sixteen. She likely could have done the full twenty-six. It's unfair. Which reminds me of another reason why I am not a runner. Natural Talent. M has it. I don't.

I went slow, she said. Although she went faster than I typically go. And I stayed on the flats, she said. And how was the hamstring? Not bad, she said. But I still feel it. Hmmm. I guess that's good news. I should have been happy. Oh, and I saw a red-tailed hawk. Really? Cool. M has a certain talent for seeing raptors. It's like they are drawn to her.

By the time I started running (10 AM), it was hot and dusty. I felt miserable and my nose was leaking snot. The schedule had me doing twenty-two, but I already knew that wasn't going to happen. Also, I made one major mistake. I didn't break in the new shoes. Rookie mistake. By mile four, I had a nasty blister on the inside of my right foot. I started running off-kilter. After mile five, my knee ached. And then at eight, I stubbed my toe on a rock, overstepped, and strained my hamstring. I almost laughed. Now it's my hammy! Had we switched roles again? Or had I somehow co-opted her injury? Maybe I'm like some kind of mystical healer who can subconsciously lift M's pain and transfer it to myself? Yeah, right. Not by choice. And if I did, I'm sure it wasn't an altruistic move. My hamstring screamed. Oh well, fine. Whatever. The universe was back to normal.

At mile ten (ten!), I was ready to lie down in the dirt and not budge. I had gone way off trail and was trudging at the top of an exposed mesa, moving at twelve minute miles. I hadn't seen any signs of life. No bird. No squirrel. No rat. When I pushed through a thicket of pines, I jiggled my MP3 player and it stopped playing the Dead. Some old Krishna Das started playing. Huh? This was the stuff I listened to while training for the Denver Marathon. I thought I had deleted it. Sita Ram, sita ram, sita ram. It sounded like a funeral march.

I followed highway 89 back to Fort Tuthill and luckily got back on trail. Still, I was two miles from home. I strongly considered walking. As I passed the fairgrounds, I started my post-mortem, trying to figure out what went wrong. Where did all my stamina go? Was it the heat? The pain? Something was amiss. I moved past a long racetrack and watched a pale horse being led around the track. It moved at a trot. It seemed to be grinning at me. Screw you, horse.

I ran through the Fort and entered a colonnade of elder trees. In front of me was the San Francisco Peaks. They looked unusually distant. I exited the Fort and got on the urban trail. And then, dammit, I started to walk. I was angry. Fuming. I blamed M for my poor run. She had tricked me with the shoes. I knew it was irrational, but what happened? I had done so well last week. Frack! I could barely complete a half. And maybe I was injured. At the rate I was hobbling, it would take me thirty minutes to get home. Blah. I tried to muster something, anything to start running again. But no. It didn't matter. I didn't care. I hated running again.

While walking the next quarter mile, a hawk appeared. It was yellow with brown spots. I switched off my player. The hawk circled close, almost directly overhead. And then it drifted off. I immediately thought it was M's hawk. In the depths of my muddled mind, watching the bird circle, my negative thoughts were somehow reversed. I believed that M had sent it here to fetch me. She was returning some sort of favor. M knew how much I loved to see wildlife. As the hawk circled away, I took a photo (see below). When it left, I thought, oh well. I was back on familiar ground. I sighed, switched on the Dead, and ran the final mile.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


If you thought my shoes were obnoxious, here is a shot of M's shoes. She wears the Newtons, made by a small company in Boulder. Principia Running Nutta. Speaking of M and her Newtons, her shoes have been popping up in different places around the house, as if they are teleporting. She is obviously running again. How much? The other night she revealed to me that she downloadeded a bunch of marathon training schedules, trying to find the quickest/dirtiest way to get enough training to complete 26.2. Although she was not too optimistic, I could sense an uptick in potential energy. Her shoes were gone early this morning. When she gets back, I'll check-in and ask how her hammy is doing.

With a little over a month until the marathon, I'm ready to start generating some sort of homegrown training philosophy. M challenged me to do this way back when. Not sure it will be useful to anybody, but I feel a need to document my grander epiphanies. Some of the things I was thinking of writing about. 1) Running with the fear of dying. 2) Running with a dread of every breath and stride. 3) Running with a perpetual monologue of doom-laden hellbent heart-wrenching thoughts. 4) Running when you have a faster running partner who over the years has mortar-and-pestled your ego into little bits of bile and barf. 5) Running when you honestly believe that the sport is the most banal, mind-numbing, tedious, wasteful, unfulfilling, destructive, idiotic, unproductive, and uncivilized way a human being can live his/her life. . . Excellent. That should do it. This, um, philosophy, may be a little redundant, but hey, so is running, right? And if nothing else, these pithy entries will add some gravity to this blog.

I have a big run later today (when M gets back). I still have a sinus headache, so once again, I expect it to go like crap. All in all, I am not doing too bad. I'm only a week behind M's original training schedule. As long as I get in a few more twenties, I should (knock on wood) be good.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Running with the Dead: St. Stephen

Running with the Dead: St. Stephen
Result: Negative
Best Line: Writing `what for?' across the morning sky
Link: cool audience recording from 1970-06-24

M thinks that enjoying the Dead requires drugs. Hallucinogenic drugs. Lots and lots of hallucinogenic drugs. Why else would you listen to so many songs that sound the same? But, M. I'm not on drugs when I listen to the Dead (although running may be considered a drug). You were when you first heard them, she said. You did drugs in college, right? Um. . . Crap.

I'm sure thousands (millions?) of people have enjoyed the Dead and yet have never listened while on drugs. M's thesis (drugs = likes-the-dead) is both popular and unfortunate. It causes many people to dismiss an entire catalog of high quality music (no pun intended). Or. . . maybe not. Maybe I'm on drugs? Or maybe some bands simply require a transitive experience? A mental leap. Or a bridge. Whether it's a live show, a fistful of drugs, or a serendipitous moment (. . . or extreme exercise?), something needs to trigger your brain to allow the band's sound to sink into the low levels of you brain. To rewire your cortex. I can buy that. It's happened to me with other bands. I never liked Sonic Youth until I saw them live at Red Rocks. Nor the Talking Heads until some girl I knew could not stop singing their songs. Nor the Dead, until. . . well. . . that's another story.

Speaking of drugs, St. Stephen was written at the height of the Dead's psychedelic phase. And boy, you can tell it. I really like this song, with its haunting guitar and its crashing percussion, but something happens in the middle of the tune. Right after the lyrics, lower down and lower down again, the song slows to a drip. Time stretches out. I get an urge to sit under the trees and ponder the universe. I start seeing hippies wandering through the forest. I hear a drum circle. Sparkles fill the air. Purple dragons fly overhead. . . All of which is no good for running.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Web Slingers

M ordered me a new pair of Asics Nimbus, and boy, are they obnoxious. L asked me if they light up. I think they look like something spiderman should wear.

Here's a link to a lot of good live dead shows. The soundboard recordings are the best, but you can only stream those. It takes some work to find quality audience-recorded shows, but there are a few. Many of the recordings suffer from screaming fans, muffled songs, and a constant twiddling of sound levels. But, if you need one specific song, some treasures can be found. Nuff said.

And here is a link to a crazy story about an extreme cyclist. I think it is hilarious and really illustrates the madness of some athletes. Dr. B reminded me of what we called these people back in days when we cycled together. We called them crusaders. Although, in our context, the word was highly derogatory. The crusaders were the ones who took the sport far too seriously (talking about nothing else, buying all the plastic clothes, and bugging you to sign up for every race), yet they did not necessarily possess any talent.

More news about M tomorrow. She sequestered herself with her Iphone and the calendar last night and seemed to be scheming. Not sure what she is up to. She may not have given up yet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hand-me-downs: Coffee

Before I met M, I never drank coffee. I managed to avoid it all through college. And work. And fun. But M had other ideas. She had once been a barista. She was a coffee nut (bean?). Whenever we went on a road trip, she lugged around this one-hundred-pound espresso maker that inevitably woke me up at the butt crack of dawn. On one such trip to Big Sur (for a marathon, of course), we forgot it, and I remember fearing for my life as I chauffeured an irrational pre-race M, shaking and scratching her arms, and I fretted about going off a cliff as we drove at unreasonable speeds, curving up and down the placid California coast, seeking an open coffee shop for her morning fix.

Needless to say, M eventually broke me down. She taunted me with her habit. She ground beans at 4 AM. She raved about this or that roast. And she showed me numerous articles in Runner's World or some other goofy magazine that claimed coffee would boost your performance. So I gave in. At first I drank an occasional cup of drip coffee. Then came the French Press. And now I'm up to triple espressos. Yep, my morning cannot begin without it. Otherwise I'm a zombie (the walking dead?). So here's another addiction I can blame on M. Is this a pattern?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Running with the Dead: Franklin's Tower

Running with the Dead: Franklin's Tower
Result: Positive
Best Line: May the four winds blow you safely home
Link: sweet version (lots of audience though), from 1979-10-27

My cousin, D, thinks that studio Dead is better than live. He loves the 70's albums, claiming they were signature examples of psychedelic rock. I can't argue with that. The first album. Aoxomoxoa. Anthem of the Sun. Even Mars Hotel. They are all text book. Pure San Francisco sound. But that's not what I love about the Dead. I love them live. The riffs, the hooks, the transitions, the teasers and the jams. I also love the emotion that Jerry infused in Hunter's lyrics. And the retelling of train hopping and gambling tales. To me, the Dead were the ultimate rock-n-roll band. They were a pure American brew, steeped in bluegrass, rock-n-roll, jazz, beatnik poetry, drug culture, and the lore of the old west. They were not a simulacrum of rock-n-roll like the Beatles and Stones.

That said, getting a quality live recording is key. Over two thousand Dead shows were recorded, and some of them just didn't fly. D recently delivered me a version of Franklin's Tower that was utter garbage. Jerry kept forgetting the lyrics and nobody seemed to be playing behind him. He even got confused when singing, if you get confused just listen to the music play. It was pathetic. Luckily, I found a good one from '91 which seemed to be the best time for this song. It is one of the few Dead tunes that ripened in the eighties. Which is another reason to go live. You can find the best era for a specific song. Alas, if you are in the mood for a painful rendition, the studio version of Franklin's Tower from '74 is particularly bad. It was recorded on Blues for Allah and arranged with a dippy pre-disco sound. Jerry's voice is squeaky and atonal. The song sounds like some off-key new-age polka. But not so with the '91. Franklin's Tower evolved into an upbeat, energetic tune that is perfect to run to. Roll away the dew!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aspen in the Canyon

After a few runs, M suffered more leg pain. Her p.t. wants her to limit her runs to five miles, which will make training for a marathon pretty much impossible. On Sunday, M had to go into work. It was raining. I watched the kid and didn't do my twenty miler. I feared if I missed any more long runs, I wouldn't be able to finish NYC (which may be fine). When M got back, we once again discussed canceling the race.

I feel like I need M's permission to keep running. It's her thing. She dragged me into this sport (although I didn't put up a fight). Yet, now I have a problem. My body wants to keep going. I'm over fifty percent trained. I have surplus energy. It feels weird, but now I get edgy if I don't run. M created a monster.

So, after another talk with M, I decided to set out early, at five am on Monday, and attempt the twenty miler. M told me that she would try another small run and see how it goes. Cool. We were in agreement. It was dark when I left and M was drinking her coffee. She insisted I wear bright clothing. I put on a glowing white shirt, dark shorts with a lightening stripe, and scruffy gloves. I also carried a squeeze bottle full of electric-green liquid. My feet felt heavy. My mind was corroded. Bye, M. Good luck.

When I hit the trail, I kept hearing footsteps. I'd look behind me, but there would be nobody there. The darkness played tricks on my mind. Above me, the stars were spinning and Venus was bright and oblong. As I left the urban trail, I circled a small pond and scared the crap out of these ducks, about twenty of them. They honked and flapped and made the biggest commotion. I nearly jumped out of my shoes.

I rambled towards Sandy Canyon. My body was plodding and noisy, which meant I would likely not see any elk. Yet, my legs felt fine. The sun rose and blotted out the stars. Me and Bobby McGee came on my player and I passed Fisher Point. I kept an easy eleven minute mile pace. When I entered the side canyon, I saw footprints on the trail. Bare footprints! They were clean and recent. Each toe was outlined in the dirt. Who would wander at the bottom of a canyon with bare feet? I laughed. What a nut! The trail was extremely rocky and there were thickets of weeds. At one point I saw smoke rising through the trees. Perhaps a little campfire? Would I overtake this mysterious stranger? I thought I saw somebody through the trees, a nylon jacket? But no, maybe not. It was an illusion. When I neared the smoke, it disappeared. It could have been the mist. I kept running. Shortly thereafter, the footprints disappeared too.

Somewhere in Sandy Canyon, I started climbing. I passed a small Aspen grove. There were no leaves and their limbs appeared broken. Black scars lined their trunks. They were beautiful trees, but somehow damaged. Perhaps their root system still thrived? Colonies of Aspen can survive for thousands of years. I recalled an article I recently read about the decline of Aspen on the plateau. It saddened me. This unusual grove, nestled at the bottom of a canyon, could be dying away. It was getting pushed aside by heavier pines.

When I exited the canyon, I ran up Lake Mary Road and my speed increased. But then I hit some construction and had to dodge big trucks. Their exhaust rolled over me. It made the air sour and metallic. I pushed on. I had gotten fifteen miles and still felt good. So I went for twenty. I detoured to Fort Tuthill. This was where M and I did our daily runs. We could vary the length from four to nine miles, depending on the trails. As I ran, I kept looking for M. She should have been running by now, but somehow I missed her. I did five more miles without seeing her. M was nowhere to be found.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Running with the Dead: Greatest Story Ever Told

Running with the Dead: Greatest Story Ever Told
Result: Negative/Positive
Best Line: the one thing we need is a left-hand monkey wrench
Link: audience recording from 1982... um, Brent sounds good

Since I took a shot at Jerry last time, today it's Bobby's turn. And sorry, but more often than not, his songs are duds. And when I'm running with these songs, ouch. To be fair, there are a few gems: Playing in the Band, Cassidy, and, um. . . what was that other one? Now I'm not a total Jerry nut either. And the Dead wouldn't be the Dead without Bob Weir. He was, after all, the one guy who kept Jerry's noodling from leaving the stratosphere. Jerry said it himself (from Wikipedia): there are some [...] kinds of ideas that would really throw me if I had to create a harmonic bridge between all the things going on rhythmically with two drums and Phil [Lesh's] innovative bass playing. Weir's ability to solve that sort of problem is extraordinary. [...] Harmonically, I take a lot of my solo cues from Bob.

Perhaps Bob simply got stuck with the lousy songs? It didn't help that Barlow was his chief lyricist. John Barlow, the cowboy poet turned Internet goofball, had a gift for making me cringe. In every damn song, the rain is raining, the lord is lording, the stars are spinning, the people are dancing, and some moron is pondering his navel. Maybe this is what it feels like when Barlow surfs the web?

Here are some of my favorite Barlow lyrics:
  • Here's to lightning, well you always electrify me

  • Lord made a lady out of Adam's rib, next thing you know you got women's lib

  • You know stars were spinning dizzy, Lord the band kept us so busy

  • You got to like me now, You're causing me such excitation (I think hearing this lyric is what really caused Brian Wilson to go nuts)

  • You shoot me a look that said let's go, yes and it feels just like running a red light

As for the one Phil Lesh song inherited by Bob. . . well, only one person deserves a song called, Passenger, and that would be Iggy (can you believe these songs were written in the same year?).

The only exception that I have to Bob's duds, is Greatest Story Ever Told. Bobby wrote the music and Robert Hunter (Jerry's co-conspirator) wrote the lyrics, and honestly, it may be the worst song that either wrote. It is so bad that it has drifted beyond the zero. The song is horrible. And the lyrics are even worse. It is stupid. Shallow. Goofy. Just hearing the song shaves a few points off your I.Q. Even by mistake, I would never put it on a Dead mix. But well, because the stars are spinning, and the rain is raining . . . shoot. . . I enjoy running to it.

ps. Iggy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Junk Run Junkie

Big news for M. She went to the doctor yesterday and he gave her the okay to run. It's been three weeks and she is very excited. M also visited the physical therapist yesterday and she got some bizarre frictional massage that left bruises up and down her leg. The technique is supposed to break up scar tissue and prompt muscle healing. Luckily, M is addicted to pain. The woman will do anything to run.

Mornings in Flagstaff are getting cold. In the forties. And soon it will be in the thirties. The frosty air really hurts my lungs. But pain is good, right? Besides, the marathon is November 1st in NYC. I need to be ready for the chill.

The last few mornings, I've been looking forward to my runs. This also happened when I trained for the Denver. It's an odd feeling. I'm not hooked or anything (right?), but I feel the burn. It's low-level. It emanates from my blood and bones. Yep, I'm addicted. More exertion! More pain! Less brain! I'm sure I can quit tomorrow if I wanted (right?). But I made a deal. I need to try and finish this damn thing. Maybe all this exertion will make me live longer? Sure. Right. I seriously doubt it. People who run marathons often permanently damage themselves (or just outright die). Exercise is good. But extreme exercise? Something bugs me about it. I did not choose to be a run junkie.

When I started this training, a friend asked me why I didn't just say no. This is the question. The big question. I don't know! I'm not running simply because M begged me. Jeez. I can say no to her, right? Okay, maybe not. But still, it must be more than that. I can't blame it all on M, right? . . . Damn. . . It must be something in me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saguaro Labor Day Run

Here is my relationship with M as told through one run, the Saguaro Labor Day Eight Miler in Tucson:

2002: We had recently started dating and M had begun her secret campaign to turn me into a runner. And, oh, what a long and fruitless slog it would be. A few days before the race, she coyly asked if I wanted the try the two miler. You can walk it, if you want. Fine, I said. Whatever. So, she signed me up for the race (to this date, I have never signed up for a race). Now, for my first big run, I had selected a pair of basketball shorts, black sweatpants, a torn Gap shirt, a nylon jacket, a crumpled U of A ball cap, and blue Converse All-Stars, laced all the way up. Oh, and I carried a fifteen-pound silver cassette player filled with Jane's Addiction. On the race day, we woke up at 5 AM, which I thought was obscene, and drove over to the bumbling outskirts of the Sonoran desert. If you are unaware, this is the landscape that inspired the Road Runner cartoons. Obviously, this makes me the Coyote. There were two runs: an eight-miler and a two-miler. M's race started first and I watched through blurry eyes as she bolted into the hills with the elites. When my race started, I was facing the wrong way. I spun around and took off like a mad dog. My incredible speed lasted only a few steps. After a quarter mile, I was well behind the pack. At one mile, I started shedding clothes. At a mile and a quarter I was screaming with the music. Coming down the mountain! After twenty minutes, I was a wheezing and sputtering lunatic. Dozens of children and old people passed me by. I frightened them terribly. Finally, at the finish, an eight-year-old boy zipped passed me and everybody cheered. I lowered my mass down on a curb. My legs throbbed. I could not breath. I pondered my existence. Why did I do that? She must have hypnotized me. Why else would I subject myself to such abuse? So began the wondrous and eternal mystery of me and my running. M finished the eight miler and pranced toward me. She looked as though she hadn't broken a sweat. How'd you do? she asked. Fine, I said. I finished. M beamed. That's awesome! It is? All I wanted was to crawl back in bed and die. But M had won a prize. We had to wait around in the heat for her to collect it.

2005: Three years later, I was a different man. M had broken me down. We were living together. We had moved to Denver. And I owned a pair of running shoes (Brooks). M had even succeeded in getting me to run a 10k. Also, unbeknownst to me, she was hatching a mad plot to get me to run a marathon. As fall approached, M suggested we head down to Tucson for old-times sake. If the city happened to hold a race that weekend, we should run it. Sneaky sneaky. So, I said, sure. Why not. When we arrived in the desert, I learned that I had been signed up for the eight miler. Crap. Like it or not, I would get my first introduction to the hill. We slept in a cheap hotel room and just managed to make it to the race in time. When the race started, M leapt to the front of the pack and was quickly out of sight. I stayed with the middling runners in the middle. After three miles, the blacktop sloped upwards and curved around an outcrop. I was climbing and didn't even know it. That was the way it worked. You didn't know you were on the hill, until it was too late. And soon, the damn thing was steep. So steep that I was falling backwards. At points, I was tempted to use my hands. After a mile into it, I started seeing stars. My skull was a laser show. And then I wanted to end it all. I had a bizarre urge to jump into a patch of prickly pear. Or hug a ten-foot-tall saguaro. Or lay down in some cholla. When I finally crested the hill, I cried. It was my first time since I was a kid. I was not sad or upset. My body had entered another world. I looked down from blue skies and waved myself goodbye. When my body somehow reached the end, M was waiting to collect her prize. Am I still alive? I asked. She laughed and nodded. Of course, you're alive. You did a real race. You're a runner now!

2008: Well, at this point, we had moved back to Arizona (Flagstaff). We had gotten married and had a kid. I also ran the Denver Marathon and was suffering from its after affects. So, I took a stance and refused to run. I insisted on staying on the sidelines with L. No two-miler. No nothing. I resumed my role as cheerleader. But M was having her own problems. She had suffered through a half-dozen leg injuries since she ran the Boston. Her body had not allowed her to finish another marathon. She had been forced to cut down on races. And this was a big source of frustration for M. The NYC Marathon was on the horizon, just over a year away, and she desperately wanted another shot. When we drove down to Tucson, we stayed in a Bed & Breakfast near Armory Park. Like usual, the night before a race, M was a basket case. She worried incessantly about sleep. She paced the floor, seeking out sources of noise. She played with the curtains, trying to fend off any external light. Right before she inserted her earplugs, she leaned towards me and whispered, If I win something, you will train for New York City? Please? I did not say yes. But I did not say no either. The next morning, M felt miserable. Her hamstring hurt. She was convinced she would not finish. She silently drank cold coffee and cereal. Maybe I will never run again, she moaned. I let her fight her demons and put a sleeping L in the car. We didn't talk as we drove out to the desert. At the race-start, I kissed her for good luck and she took off. As she ran, L and I meandered down a small trail. We enumerated the cacti and succulents. Everything was interwoven and green. Bold and spiky. Somehow these plants had learned to live here. They had made a side deal with the landscape. Give us enough to thrive, and we will make you beautiful. And the deal paid off. It was an improbable Eden. Arresting. . . After thirty minutes, we made our way to the finish line. The hardcore elites in red and yellow popped over the hill. A handful of males crossed the finish line. And then a few females. Most of them looked anorexic or overly buff. Maybe I'm biased, but I always think M is the best looking person in the field. And here she came. Wearing a glowing tank-top and blue shorts. Hobbled, but running fast. Damn fast. M had kicked ass. When she strode by, she gave me the middle finger and yelled, You're doing New York City!! Huh? I never agreed to that! M zipped around the corner and across the finish. Once again, she had won a prize.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Running with the Dead: Friend of the Devil

Running with the Dead: Friend of the Devil
Result: Positive/Negative
Best Line: Set out running but I take my time

I love to hear Jerry croon, but man, when he slows down, watch out. He makes me want to kick off my boots, sit by a fire, sip from a thermos of milk and whiskey, and contemplate the end of things. Sing it big bear! It is beautiful stuff. But don't ask me to listen to Jerry warble while I'm hopping down a steep trail in my Asics Nimbi.

I'm not gonna list all of Jerry's slow numbers in this blog. Some songs are losers, or so broken down, muddy and petering, that I won't even put them on my player. Others, I let hang around. And come around again. And I wait for inspiration. If my times are too high or the song makes me slow-jimmy-slow; then it's gone. For a few numbers, it depends on the version.

Friend of the Devil is a classic song that a lot of people know (That's the Dead? Wow, I had no idea), but you absolutely need a fast version. More often than not, the band would turn this into a dirge. I found a quick one (9/27/72) that works pretty well, although it is short. I like this song because I can sing to all the lyrics. A good site for Dead lyrics, by the way, is the annotated dead. It's an old site. . . I hope they keep it up.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hand-me-downs: the Garmin

M recently bought a new Garmin (with heartbeat monitoring), so she gave me her old one. Her old watch occasionally doesn't turn on and sometimes refuses to find satellites (yep, it has GPS), but for the most part, it works. Now, if you want to suck all the joy out of running, definitely buy one of these babies. The little monster constantly reports your speed, mileage, and average pace. You can't hide from it. No more faking a long run. And no more knocking a few minutes off your final time. The Garmin does not lie.

Some of the benefits of this bugger? It's easier to stay on pace, even an incredibly slow pace. And having this information quickly becomes addictive. Another plus: if you map out your distance before a run, you don't get fooled by false peaks. Also, if you are somewhere in the middle of the forest and come upon a random, unmarked trail, you don't have to fret so much. Check your mileage. If you did your homework, the chances of getting lost are greatly reduced. Lewis and Clark are turning in their graves.

One thing that puzzles me about the Garmin, is how it effects my carbon footprint. Now I'm not the greenest monkey in the tree, but one of the nice things about running is its low impact. You don't need to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment. You aren't burning fossil fuels (well, depending on your diet). And you're not rumbling through the forest in a spewing ATV. It's just you and your shoes. But then you strap on the Garmin. Bink! Instantly you've tapped into an array of multi-million dollar satellites. Dozens of them, buzzing and beeping around the globe. All for a silly run. Yeah, I'm using shared technology (as long as I can afford the gizmo). But still. It's over-the-top. Oh, and thanks for contributing to the corporate-military complex. And speaking of the green dilemma, what about that plane ride to NYC? Where's the logic there? I'm flying 2500 miles, just to run 26. And (as my friend B reminded me), what about all that waste generated by the marathon? Tons and tons of it. Okay, crap, the next time I find some litter while running through the forest, I'm picking it up. That should offset my costs, eh?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Controlled Burn

M had ridden her bike up the San Francisco Peaks early in the morning. Her hamstring still hurt and we both avoided the topic. I was procrastinating on my run, and before I left, she decided to drive down to Phoenix to visit a friend. So, as it was getting close to ten, I gave in. I left the kid with Pops and warned him I may take four hours to do my twenty. It was hot. Not Tucson hot, but still, the sun was aiming for me.

After mile two, I nearly stepped on a three foot garter snake. Not a rattler (at this altitude), but still, an ominous sign. I adjusted my expectations. Maybe I should shoot for eighteen. Or fifteen. My muscles felt like dried out husks. My joints snapped on each stride. My knees rubbed bone against bone. I was nothing but an empty-headed skeleton, jerking through the forest by electrical impulse.

Endurance is an odd thing. Your goal is to steadily push your body over the line. Incrementally. Step by step. To transform yourself into a perpetual motion machine. Some days, though, it just aint going to work. There's too many variables. And then you go off-trail. At mile eight, I was halfway through Fay Canyon and accidentally took the high road. This path was not well-worn. The grasses cut my shins. I tripped and caught myself. I stopped to pull a thorn out of my shoe and noticed a finger coated in blood. I could not find the source. They sun was nothing but a great ball of apathy. Finally, I spotted the trail.

At mile fourteen, I slowed to a trudge. The body was done. Ripple came on the player and I cried. Yeah, it was weird, but sometimes this happens when I over-exert my body. According to M, it is normal. It is an auto-response. At sixteen, my legs shut down. They refused to keep running. Sure, I had failed to get twenty, but I had a tough run.

As I walked back to the urban trail, I entered an area where the Forest Service was preparing for a controlled burn. Stacks of dead wood were piled a hundred yards apart. Small cloisters waited to be torched. I wandered through the heaps of sawed-off limbs. It was a ponderosa pine graveyard. These piles are a common sight in the woods around Flagstaff. By burning the fallen wood, the forest becomes healthier and the danger of a catastrophic fire is reduced.

Running with the Dead: Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad

Running with the Dead: Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Result: Positive
Best Line: Goin' down the road feeling bad

Sorry for the rant yesterday. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I was goin' down the road feeling bad. And speaking of sounding repetitive, this somewhat repetitive song, Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad, is a great song to run to. If for no other reason than whenever I'm going down the road, I'm feeling bad. The song is quick, steady, and if you haven't guessed it, repetitive. Find a version in the eighties with Brent on back-up vocals. Brent was one of the many doomed keyboardists of the Dead and nobody sounded like he was goin' down the road feeling bad, like Brent. He had a soulful and scratchy voice.

I think I'm over four hours now. My cousin D got me a few cd's of live dead. I just put them on my player and will try running with them during my twenty miler (which I expect will go like crap). I'm still fighting a nasty cold and my head is full of snot.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why I am Not a Runner: the Madness

M and I have lived in some of the more rabid running communities: Boulder, Tucson and (now) Flagstaff. Nothing brings out the nut-balls like high altitudes and sunny skies. The running freaks are everywhere in these towns. They jump from under rocks, sprint from behind trees, pass you on the trails, jog in place at stop-lights, and stretch in line at the grocery store. I have many names for these people. The elites. The crazies. The ego runners. The aliens. Or when I'm feeling particularly ill-tempered, the idiots.

Because M regularly meets with running groups, I occasionally find myself talking to one of these people. I pretend to listen while they boast about their killer track workouts, their three-a-day practice schedule, or their hundred-mile weeks. All I can think is, What is wrong with you? Why are you wasting your life this way? Running, running, and running. Obviously you have a mental problem. You are no better than a hamster on a wheel! It is also during these talks that I realize who I truly am. Or, actually, who I am truly not. I am not a runner.

Now, I don't dislike runners. I did marry one, after all. But I truly believe that the sport shakes loose a screw or two. To have a life purpose that involves, running faster and running longer and running more often, is ridiculous. It is a type of madness. One part addiction. One part masochism. And one part, well (sorry) shallowness. I realize this sounds harsh (and defensive?), but seriously, YOU ARE SPENDING YOUR LIFE RUNNING! You are way beyond staying in shape. You are a self-obsessed knob. You are not entertaining anybody. You are not adding anything to society. You are simply a calorie-burning automaton with the intellectual capacity of an insect! You may as well spend your life hitting your head against a wall.

Okay, I'm done with my rant. And, er, before I get in a trouble, a few disclaimers: I'm certainly not saying that I do anything better with my life (because I don't); and, um, none of the above pertains to M, of course. Anyway, here are a few key moments in my life when it became obvious that I was not a runner:

Moment 1: While living in Tucson, M and I would occasionally run into the ultra-marathoner Pam Reed. M was training for the Boston Marathon and during one of these run-ins at the fitness club, M asked Pam for some advice on the Boston. Now I realize that Pam Reed is an extreme example, but she also perfectly illustrates the madness of a real runner. I knew just by looking at this woman that she was of a different species. Pam Reed was about four-foot tall, had porcupine hair, an orange skin color that didn't exist in nature, and the attention span of a gnat. The woman had so much bottled-up energy, that she seemed on the verge of exploding. It was no wonder, she had to run ultra's. And what was Pam Reed's advice for running the Boston? Well, she told us about the time she had run it. The morning before the race, Pam Reed had become curious about the course layout. Her curiosity got the best of her, and on a whim, she decided to run the entire thing just to check it out. Effectively, she ran the Boston Marathon twice on the same day. Oh, and her times were faster than what I could run. Way faster! All I could do was stare at her and shake my head. Huh? You did what?

Moment 2: While training for the Phoenix Rock-n-Roll Marathon, M happened to drag me to a running party (imagine how fun that is?) and I had the opportunity to meet one of the world's more famous running coaches. Now, if you ever hear the name Jack Daniels and you immediately think of Tennessee, horrid hangovers, and a lost weekend in New Orleans, well, then you are like me and probably not a runner. But if you think of this guy, then you likely have the madness. Anyway, because I am a skinny man with a poor posture, when among runners, I occasionally get mistaken for an athlete. This happened when M and I walked in the door of this party. A woman looked at me and said, you must be fast. Of course, in any other context, this would NOT be a compliment. But within this company, I found it very amusing. M could only shake her head. But then we walked into the next room and Jack Daniels was sitting there, surrounded by admirers. He was thin and had a homespun face and appeared to be about one-hundred-and-five years old. Still, he had a head like a bullet and could have likely broken me in two with his pinkie. I remember saying something stupid like, Jack Daniels, straight up. But here is the thing. Here sat a man who had spent his entire life appraising runners. He could spot the madness a quarter mile away. And he didn't even give me a second look. I was a ghost. The coach could see right away that I was not one of them. But now, M, well, that's a different story. She walked right up to Jack Daniels as if he was her long lost grandpa and the old bullet head turned to her and patted her on the back and they started chatting about all sorts of silly things, like turn-over ratios, the heat in Phoenix, hamstring injuries, trail running and chocolate-chip cookie recipes.

So there you go. Not only do I know I don't have the madness. But when the pro's see me, they know it too.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I didn't run today. Fighting a head cold. According to M, it is better to run when you have a cold. It boosts your immune system. Blah. I'm not so sure. I have a big run on Sunday (20 miler), that I am trying to gear up for. In other news, I received an email from the NYC Marathon people. They found me transportation. I guess this is good news, although M is still signed up to go on the ferry:

Thank you for your email regarding transportation to the start of the 2009 ING NYC Marathon. Please be aware that options are limited at this time – we do apologize. You are now assigned to the 5:00am bus from midtown Manhattan 42nd st.

This option – cannot be changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hand-me-downs: Mundo

On shorter runs I take Mundo. I let him off leash when we reach the urban trail (less than a half mile) and he takes off like a shot, chasing birds, squirrels and rabbits. Mundo is a rez dog. If it's hot, he will lag behind, running from tree to tree. Now that I think of it, when it's cold, he also lags behind. Mundo is always on his own schedule. Often I need to turn around and yell for him. M says that when she takes Mundo running, he stays close the entire time. Not sure why Mundo feels like it is okay to lag or take off when running with me. Maybe because I'm so damn slow, he is not worried about catching up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sun Rise Rising

(this was Monday's Labor Day Run)

It was still dark when M dropped me off at Saguaro East. Cars were lined up and down the road and dozens of runners milled about. Some of them were doing warm-up sprints in the middle of the road. Idiots. I had drank some cold coffee and ate a Clif Bar for breakfast. My breathing was okay, but I was not in a very good mood. My first goal was to find a port-o-potty.

Five minutes before the race started, I made my way to the middle of the pack. Everybody was already complaining about the hill. The sun peaked above the Rincons and the entire desert flashed into existence. The morning light made the earth monochrome and two dimensional and insanely beautiful. I scowled at a saguaro and its neighbors, a long-armed ocotillo and a clan of cholla. What the hell. How can the desert be so inviting and deadly at the same time?

When the race started, I flipped on my player. My plan was to stay well below the line. The race was crowded (five hundred people?) and at first it was impossible to go faster than ten minute miles. After mile two, I studied my peers and made up stories about them. There was the ex-football coach, who felt guilty if he didn't run every year. There was the fifty-year-old mom with the purple fanny-pack and legs like tree trunks. There was the skinny ultra-marathoner with a camel pack, who used this race as his warm-up and would trudge down to the Mexican Border after the finish. There was the bronze jazzercise chick with perfect make-up. There was the injured, nylon-clad ego runner with six-hundred-dollar shoes, who bowed out at mile two, grabbing his knee and swearing loudly to let everybody know he wasn't faking it. And then, there was a guy like me? A fairly-fit doppleganger. He was bald and a little stouter than me, but still, moving at my pace. He wore headphones. I stuck with him.

And the weirdest thing about this race? I felt good. Too good. I ran 9:30's with no problem. I was well-trained and maybe I could have gone a minute faster per mile. When I hit the infamous hill (two miles straight up, with more than a few false peaks), I kept steady. The weekend warriors fell to the side. Many walked. A few stopped and bent over to catch their breath. There was human wreckage all over the road. I passed them all. At one point, I was alone. The crowd had strung out in either direction. Hey, where did everybody go? My doppleganger had disappeared. The coach. The mom. All gone. Cassidy was on my player and in the desert hills above me, rows of saguaro stood thin and proud. These were the old men of the desert. Their arms were raised to the sky. Maybe it was the heat (it was already in the nineties), but the cactus seemed to sing to me. And they sang with the Dead. Faring thee well now. Let your life proceed by its own design. Over and over. Like a mantra. I transcended the hill with a grin.

M was standing with L at the end, cheering me on. This was a first (usually I am the one cheering her on). She took a photo of me with our traditional end-of-race salute (the middle finger). I sprinted to the finish because some moron tried to pass me right at the end (my doppleganger?). And I still had more left. A lot more. I guess I really am trained for eighteen. It shouldn't have surprised me.

The rest of the day, M and I did a little shopping and took L to visit the T-Rex at the children's museum. M was still upset that she couldn't do her favorite run, but she felt good about her Mt. Lemmon ride. That afternoon, we headed out of the desert, through the endless concrete of Phoenix and back up the hill, into the elevated forest surrounding Flagstaff. There's nothing like returning to the peaks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Running with the Dead: Bertha

Running with the Dead: Bertha
Result: Positive
Best Line: I had to move, really had to move

Bertha was the first live Dead song I ever heard. Back in college I had bought an old Skull & Roses album (Dead Freaks Unite!) which I probably still have somewhere. Anyway, as of yet, this is my favorite Dead song to run to. It should work even for fast runners. When Bertha comes on my player, my head starts bobbing. My legs get a jolt. And my arms pump. It's a fun song and somewhere in the middle of it, I find myself leaning into curves like a total running dork. If I wasn't afraid of running too fast, I would fill my player with it. Just be careful when it comes on, that you don't run smack into a tree.

My Dead mix is really coming along. I have about 3.5 hours which should get me through most of a marathon. I would like at least an hour more. I posted a request for suggestions on, but it got buried in their somewhat broken and heavily-moderated forums, so I'm guessing nobody will see it. My cousin D has a lot of live Dead, so I'm also making a list for him. Here is what I have so far:
  • Hard To Handle - Pigpen

  • Lovelight - Pigpen

  • Playing in the Band - a shortish one, without a jam, if one exists?

  • Althea - early eighties

  • The Wheel - a fast version without a jam, if one exists?

  • Me and Bobby McGee

  • Scarlet Fire - I have one, but may include two on the mix

  • Franklin's Tower - I have one, but it aint too great

  • Shakedown Street - not sure if it will be good to run to...

  • Ripple - not sure if it will be good to run to...

That should get me close...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When Life Gives Mt. Lemmon

This morning, I left M and her bike at the bottom of Mt. Lemmon. Three hours later, I started up the Catalina Highway to meet her. Dark clouds gathered on the mountain, and I guessed she was getting poured on. But not me. Not where I was. I hadn't felt a drop of it and questioned whether it was real. Maybe the clouds were fake, painted on a huge stucco wall that reached nine-thousand feet into the sky.

Yep, I was back in the desert and all morning, I had been feeling its effects. My throat was scratchy. I could not breath. I felt weak. Maybe I had been living in Flag too long, but I was certain that the one-hundred-degree temps in Tucson were not safe for me. How was I going to run tomorrow? The Saguaro run was only eight miles, but it had a notorious two-mile hill in the middle of it. Not only that, the run was in the middle of the desert. All my energy was zapped. Everything outside appeared shriveled, burned out, and crumbling. Even the people.

Things got better as I drove up the mountain. It was twenty-five miles to Summerhaven, and after curving up the Catalina highway, I started seeing pines. Thank god. I got a call from M. She was still above me, biking somewhere in the clouds, but getting rained on. I picked her up and we drove into Summerhaven. She was feeling pretty good and her hammy was okay. Bad news though, the pie shop closed down. Can you believe it? What is Mt. Lemmon without pie? Luckily, I thought ahead and purchased a Xoom Juice before I drove up. This made M happy. A small musical festival was going on in Summerhaven and like true Flaggers, we waited out the heat and hid in the mountains all afternoon before heading back down.

At dinner I had a minor freak out. I had been breathing poorly all day. I told M that I was convinced my lungs would collapse if I ran the eight miler. You'll be fine, she said. The run started at 6:30 AM. To register, I would need to wake up at 5 AM. I also had to eat, get some coffee, and use the can before the thing started. I haphazardly set my alarm. What was I doing? This was M's thing. It was her sport, her trip, and her favorite run... And now I was doing it by myself!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

My New Running Cap

I'm not the kind of guy who likes to wear concert memorabilia, but I did need a new cap. So, I decided to honor my new-found respect for the Grateful Dead. I seriously believe the music is helping me survive. I'm a little worried that if I start wearing this cap, people will think I'm a total Dead Head, which I guess is fine. I only plan to wear it while I'm running. A baseball cap is essential for me when I run. I like to keep the sun out of my eyes. I also like to hide the painful expressions on my face. So, if you are in NYC during the marathon and you see a slow guy with this cap on, it is likely me. Let's hope the guy isn't lying half-dead on the side of the road.

I've done a few small runs since the gloomy eighteen. I guess that distance was a big deal (I'm two-thirds of the way there). Maybe a full marathon is possible? Still, I'm running extremely slow and I felt lousy during the entire eighteen. I need to get in five or six more long runs, a few of them over twenty. It would be nice to feel good for one of them. So far, my recovery has been okay, but now my lungs are burning. It's always something.

M has been working daily to strengthen her hamstring. She has been good about not running and instead has frequented the gym and done morning bike rides. This afternoon we head down to Tucson. Maybe I will run the Saguaro eight miler, maybe not. M has hinted that she wants to bike up Mt. Lemon. It's like twenty-five miles, straight up. I think she is nuts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Boston Marathon

Here is a funny story about M when she ran the Boston Marathon. It is a good example of her madness.

M had qualified for the Boston in 2003. She had gotten a speedy time in the Tucson Marathon (around 3:20) and was extremely happy. I was not even pretending to be a runner at that time. I planned to hang-out in Boston and cheer her on. We reserved a friend's apartment near BU and bought plane tickets and everything was a go. But we had one problem. The race was on a Monday and I needed to be back Tuesday morning to give a presentation for grad school. M had bought the tickets, thinking she had it all figured out, but our flight left Boston at 4:10 PM on the day of the race. M had assumed that like most marathons, the race would start early in the morning. Wrong. . . The Boston Marathon started at noon.

So, we had a mission impossible. To catch our plane, M would have to run the marathon in at least a 3:30 (not impossible for her, but the Boston is not an easy marathon). Then, in a mere thirty-some minutes, we would need to make it from the race-end to the subway, to Logan Airport, get our luggage and boarding passes, and wait through the security lines before the plane took off at 4:10 PM. Never mind the Boston Marathon crowds, tens of thousands of them, who would be standing in our way. The night before the race, while M tried to sleep, I pored over maps of downtown Boston, trying to figure out how the hell we would do this.

I dropped M off at the race-end at 8 AM (a bus would take her to the start). It was cold and overcast and M was freezing because she refused to wear anything but her running shorts and a t-shirt. We walked a little ways off and found a Dunkin Donuts a half-mile from the finish. Here was where we planned to meet (I love Dunkin Donuts). I said goodbye to M and wished her luck. After we parted, I found the shortest path to a subway station. I then mapped out how we would transfer to the blue line and get to the airport. While M was getting to the race start, I had a lot to do. I needed to drive to the airport, drop off the rental car, store our luggage in the terminal, and take a subway back to the finish. Because I was not familiar with Boston, this took me a while. By the time I got back to the Dunkin Donuts, she had already been running for two hours.

One of the cool things about the Boston Marathon was they had text alerts. Whenever M passed a certain point, her chip time would get recorded and I would get sent a text message with her time. There was a slight delay, but I got an alert when she passed the quarter, half, and three-quarter points. She was running pretty well, but according to the alerts, her expected time was 3:40. I already knew we would miss our flight. While standing at the Dunkin Donuts, I started seeing runners in the crowd. They stuck out because they were under-dressed and each one had a large foil cape, meant to keep them warm in the cold air. I remember waiting and waiting for the alert telling me that M passed the finish line. When I finally got it, her time was 3:43. I thought, Okay, she has a half mile to get to me. When she gets here, we will go look for a hotel and relax. We can change our flights over the phone. But then I looked up and there she was in her foil cape. And she didn't even stop to say hi. Let's go! she yelled. Our flight! M had run right through the finish line and then kept on going. I remember distinctly some guy yelling at her in a Boston accent. Hey, you. The mayothon is ovah. You can stop running now!

At first M didn't know where she was going and it took me a while to catch up with her in the crowds. When I caught up, I tried to convince her it was impossible, but she refused to give in. So I pointed her to the subway station and she sprinted ahead. We jumped in the subway car just as the doors closed. On the packed subway, she was the only runner on board and the center of attention. Everybody kept asking her questions about the race and how she did. She loved it. She stood there in her nylon running clothes and foil cape, looking like some bizarre super hero. Once we transferred to the blue line, we had less than ten minutes to make the flight.

Well, I don't know if it was the cape or what, but we breezed through the airport. I grabbed our luggage while M waited in line for our boarding passes. People in the airport seemed baffled by her presence. Not only was she wearing a foil cape, but also her running gear and a Boston Marathon bib. I started thinking we had a chance, but then we hit security. There must have been fifty people in front of us. According to my watch, we had less than two minutes to catch our flight. I turned to M to say, we are doomed, but then she was gone.

Now this is where M did something that I thought was completely bonkers. She ran up to the TSA person at the front of the security line and asked if we could cut. This was not long after 9/11 and Logan Airport was a fairly paranoid place. The airport was under constant patrol by guys with helmets, bullet-proof vests, dogs and machine guns. I was afraid we were going to be shot. Everybody watched M intently. A few shook their heads. Who's this nutcase, somebody said. Is she delusional from all that running? The TSA person told M that we could cut, but only if it was okay with everyone in line. So M immediately turns to the crowd. Excuse me? Is it okay if we cut in line. . . our flight is leaving. . . my boyfriend needs to get back. . . Blah blah blah. She explained our entire situation. She also pointed at me and everybody turned around to look. I wanted to hide. I heard a few grumbles from the crowd, but also a few, Fine. . . whatevahs. M waved me forward and I ran to the front of the line. We zipped through security. When we reached the gate, the flight attendants had to open the doors to let us on the plane, but we made it. M curled up in her seat and slept the entire way back to Tucson.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Running with the Dead: The Wheel

Song: The Wheel
Result: Negative
Best Line: The wheel is turning and you can't slow down

M read the last few blog entries and thought they were sort of downers. You saw a fox and some elk, she said. That's cool. Yeah. Yeah. That was cool. But I'm still terrified that I'm going to die. . . Okay, I'm a paranoid freak. But in my defense, the last few weeks have been miserable.

Anyway, I wish The Wheel was just a little bit faster. It has great lyrics for running. If I wanted to average twelve minute miles, the song would be perfect. As of now, it slows me down. But who knows, maybe I can run even slower? Yikes. Or maybe there is a speedy version out there? I haven't found one yet, but I will ask my cousin, D, who has a lot of live Dead on his computer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A gloomy eighteen

I was staring at the ceiling at three AM, feeling low and angry. M was also tossing, fighting her own sleep demons. At four I gave up and climbed out of bed, made some coffee, ate some cereal, and put on the damn running shorts. I had no ideas about mileage. As lousy as I was feeling, I knew I would be slow.

At five AM I got out the door. It was dark and drizzly and I headed for the urban trail and then the forest, making sure not to cross the line, checking my watch and staying well over eleven minute miles. When Birdsong came on, I saw a fox in the half-light and it stared at me and circled back. It was gray with a big tail and just off the path, less than ten feet away. It followed me for a bit. I guess it couldn't believe I was real. Two hours later I was still running.

I ended up with eighteen miles. Somewhere off the Arizona Trail, I also saw a cluster of elk, a few males, one with a massive body and rack. They stared at me, unconcerned. Did I exist? Why didn't they run away? I felt like a ghost, mindlessly moving through the woods. Although my legs were heavy, I moved at a steady pace. I continually checked in with my lungs to make sure I was still breathing.

On the way back, I got lost on a mesa in East Flag. By the time I figured out where I was, I was still three miles from home. Instead of pushing it, I called my cousin, D, and he picked me up in his VW Bus. It was brutal.