March 10, 2018

In which I make two references to pad the length of this post, because I don't have much to say

We'll start with the first, because there's not much to say: A Dream of Spring is the book after the book that George Martin hasn't released yet in his Song of Ice and Fire. I haven't read it; no one has. Maybe, no one will.

Which would make the title a bit appropriate, wouldn't it? Dreams, after all, are not real. And so if it's a spring that never comes, because WINTER MOTIF, then... well, that still wouldn't be very satisfying. But it would be something.

I mention that because the Pi Day Half Marathon has been my "spring is nearly here" race for about seven years now. The last five, I've won it. That counts today. I felt bad, ran my slowest time of the five, but had my biggest margin. That's something, and I'm not unhappy.

There are races I race for time--on roads, with fast fields--but this isn't one. It's on a trail, it's basically 14 miles, and winning races put on by the club that's responsible for my being a runner at all carries outsized sentimental importance, admittedly.

Which brings me to my next reference, which is less of stretch.


Scorn Defeat is a 1993 black metal album by Sigh, a Japanese band. Maybe you've clicked play by now, and yeah, the vocals are supposed to sound like that. People who like this sort of thing like this thing in particular; you'll just have to trust me that it's considered a classic.

Anyway, my tendency is to say I don't care about winning this race or others like it--or at least, to state unequivocally that I shouldn't. To the latter point... I mean, I don't know. I tend to think caring too much about trivial things is the only respite from the irrelevance of the nominally important things in our lives. So I do care. Or rather, I care independent of whether I ought to. And I didn't want to not win. So. I have another pie plate. I don't bake. The end. 

March 6, 2018

Ordinarily

Writer of things, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a thing about Roger Bannister. It's a good piece, suitably quick, and makes the point that Bannister's most famous accomplishment is, well, relatively ordinary. That was the extraordinary thing about it, of course. People can understand running because, for the most part, they've done it. Probably not as well, or as fast--except fleetingly. No, 15 mph is not "that fast", except when one does it for four laps. Gladwell, being a serious runner and--the more rare breed these days--a serious running fan knows this, and appreciates it.

We can extrapolate this principle, of course. If 15 mph is not that fast, then Kipchoge's not-WR marathon pace of (let's round it) 13.1 mph is really, really not that fast. Perhaps this is what makes running such a great participatory draw, but something less than must-see television for most people--many of whom consider their own running to be a significant part of their lives.

I have never once laced a pair of ice skates, and yet I know figure skating is hard, because the immediate aesthetic impression conveys as much. More than that, it conveys it quickly, kinetically, and artistically. Put another way: It looks cool, and you can fit the coolest looking parts in a GIF, or a tweeted video. You can say the same thing for soccer, basketball, and football; hell, the NFL combine produces more "viral content" than many sports, and it's just guys working out. Not that that isn't quality content too. Spend a little time on Instagram, and it becomes clear, quickly, how Crossfit athletes and bodybuilders are able to take advantage of the visual medium.

There are runners too, of course, and I've watched my share of rhythmic, sinewy striding. But I'm a geek about this shit, and also drawn to the projectable aspect. I'm a not-awful runner, though my knees point a bit, sometimes my left hip drops and the ankle below tilts; but what if my arms tightened, my elbows drove back, and my feet struck the ground with perfect, glancing grace? It's impossible, but... not. At least, not in the realm of imagination.

If Gladwell's hypothetical fit person might consider Bannister's 15 mph and note that they can reach it, that same person might watch one of the myriad ultrarunning videos and note that, for the length of time any elite is on camera, they probably can do what is being documented. Seven minute pace, let's say, is just not that fast; and it never really gets fast, except in the extreme.

Which is the weird thing--well, a weird thing--about ultras, and marathons too, because if we dismiss naming conventions, marathons are kinda ultras, physiologically/psychologically, for most people. They are easy to grasp in some ways, which makes them more impossible in others. Everything about them is easy, until it becomes impossible. And there is, as I mentioned in my Rocky pace report, no knowing except knowing; but even that fails. Frank Shorter talked about this, about how you have to forget every marathon to run another, and the "I'm never running again!" proclamations, after a first 100, are famous--until they sign up for another.  Maybe it's appropriate that the whole endeavor defies complete cognitive embrace, because it is, y'know, dumb as hell.

I don't have a thesis, obviously, or a conclusion. I remember thinking I could run 50 miles at nine-minute pace, because that was slow, until I tried it... and tried it... and then did it. Maybe that's the most relatable thing about Bannister, then--not the 15 mph, but the ability to project one's self forward, and the capacity to believe in something stupid. But that begins to sound like a thesis, or a conclusion, or like I have, as everyone on the internet does, "thoughts" in the worst way.

February 9, 2018

Rocky Raccoon Pace Report

Short version: My cousin ran 23:12:48 in her first 100, second ultra, and I'm very glad to have been there.

Maybe that's enough? It's not my race, after all, and so--in many respects--not my story. But I'll indulge a little, because everyone gets a platform, and this is mine.

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The long version could start in a truck, a couple medium-long trail runs she and I shared a few months ago, or maybe a few years back, in the breakfast area of a Colby, KS Holiday Inn, after I'd returned from splitting a headwind--both ways, I swear--for three hours. This is a way of saying I might be one of--though not the most prominent--the reasons she runs in the first place, and maybe it's important to establish that, because people always begin with the why.

I mean, Billy Yang just posted a movie talking about it, named after that phenomenon, and people were talking about it all around the race. Hundreds are dumb, but people do them--about twice as many try and fail, including me--and so that impetus becomes a curiosity, not just to those who "Don't even like to drive that far!" but to those who get it themselves.

This is what people mean when they talk about starting stories at the beginning. It goes beyond simple chronological comfort, and is more about the instigating action. That is, why this book, this movie, this race, right now? You could have written about anything, or spent your weekend either running normal distances or doing something decidedly less extremely bipedal.

So. I don't know. It would make a better story if I somehow caused all of this, and then paced the last 50. People like stories that bring things back around, as it were. But I already said this isn't my story, not really, and so I can't write it a certain way, and I don't know why she signed up for the race, or ran the volume she did in training.

But then, I also kind of do, and you probably do as well, if you've chanced upon this. The world is big and beyond our control, but some sliver of it does belong to us, and so every day--or nearly so--we make ourselves do this thing, a statement of control where we otherwise lack so much. Sometimes, we seek the limits of that power, whether in terms of speed, distance, or at the confluence of the two.

This is to say: It's not something she could explain to me, nor could I foist an explanation on her, but we were understood. I think that matters. I would say "mattered" except the pacing was not the thing, so much as a manifestation of it. The thing is the mileage and the race and everyone standing around and pissing in the woods and bleeding and cursing and dying and living. The thing is understanding and home, honesty and pain, honesty in pain.

But I mean, I was just there. Living it, in part, and breathing it in. Getting it. But I haven't been on the other side of 50, myself, and now she has. Maybe you know what it's like, and so she and you could nod at one another and know, while also knowing that you no longer know, because the experience is the moment, and memory fleeting fictions.

So, yeah. I was there. I jogged in the woods and we got it done and I've said a lot but only circuitously. The thing is the thing in the middle around which words circle but cannot encompass. The thing is what happened. Near as I can tell, this is how it went.

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Miles 1-25 passed in the faint drizzle, the kind of omni-directional wet that can hardly be called raining. She ran it all, not because she thought it was wise to do so, but because she knew she would. If that seems circular, well, it wasn't a looped course, so I can't even make that metaphor. Still, she had trained to run, and run a lot, and so she wanted to run. 25 miles was not far and it passed in 4:33:09. Easy.

Miles 26-50 were a different kind of wet, the kind with both direction--down--and intent. Standing at an aid station, I watched the runners come, checking the bottoms of their shoes for mud, the backs of their calves for splatter. There was some of each, then more. I cursed too much. Still, she ran the whole thing again, this time in 5:00:32. The mud had slowed her a little, and now she was willing to walk a little, too. It might be tempting to say this pacing was a mistake, but it was not done in error. She knew she couldn't run the whole way. She still wanted to run the first half. She knew people would tell her that was a bad idea. Still, her race, she did what she wanted, always mindful of what the consequences might be.

Miles 51-75 were slower, 6:25:13. We walked a bit, mostly where the dirt road sections, which--frustratingly--would have been easy running otherwise, were sloppy and slippery. For the first half, we talked a lot. For the second half, we were almost silent. The next to last aid station--Damnation, it was called--preceded a long and lonely out and back, at the far end of which you had to check in. It got dark, and it would be tempting, here, to extrapolate from that and suggest her spirits fell correspondingly. That wasn't it, though. It was a bonk. Mundane as can be. The check in point had only gels and Tailwind, both of which her stomach had rejected earlier in the day, and she wasn't willing to try them again. She also hadn't brought much food from Damnation, and I hadn't insisted, not knowing what the next not-quite aid station was like. I was, as you'd expect, not thrilled with myself. Nine miles on the wrong end of a 100, without calories, will put you in a ditch. Damnation was Salvation, though. Potatoes and any concentrated carb she could chew and we were slopping back towards a stretch of relatively dry and runnable trail. I was curious to see if she would recover--physically and otherwise--well enough to run, because that would go a long way in deciding what this race would be. She got better, and quickly. We ran a lot of the last eight or so miles.

Miles 76-100 took 7:13:54, owing to more and slower walking, much of it careful. The challenge, of course, was determining how much pushing was wise, given that a finish was essentially a given--barring injury--and sub-24 didn't exactly require hammering. I spent most of this loop a few yards in front of her, keyed in on the sound of footsteps. I'd jog when she did; I'd walk when she walked. Some pacers, I know, take more of an impetus, but I thought this the right course for this race at this time. Every aid station communicated the--relative!--ease with which she'd dip under 24, and it didn't strike me as the usual "You got this!" platitudes. It was math. If we were moving, and ran at all, it would happen. And she did run, what felt like more miles to me than the time suggests. Maybe I was getting tired, I'm not sure, though I certainly never felt it. There's a kind of focus you get when racing, and different--but no less acute--kind you get when someone else's race somewhat depends on you. I was, thus, pretty goddamn hyper, and intent to make sure the previous loop's bonk wasn't repeated. It wasn't. Damnation passed for the last time, and there was only the matter of running to the last aid station, where her dad and brother were waiting. They told me after that the time between runners was astonishing, more so even than I'd warned them it would be. (They were both surprised how much of the--to them--crazy phenomenon I'd predicted. Predictably, I was not surprised, and wasn't surprised about my lack of surprise. There's no knowing until you know.) Still, once there, we didn't take long. We had 1:45 or so to cover four miles, so it was--for all practical purposes--done. Or it seemed that way to me. She hurt, and pain demands present attention, so we weren't going to be done until we were done. We ran most of the way. She asked if this was smart: "What if I roll an ankle and have to crawl to the finish?" I just said that nothing about a 100 was smart, and we should do whatever felt good. Noting my poor word choice, she said nothing felt good, so it might as well get done faster. In any case, if she had to crawl, she'd do that. She didn't have to, though.

Done in 23:12:48

-----

We ran a mile Monday morning, and apart from some swollen ankles, she felt fine. Happy with her performance and execution, and what it had done to her. Too much running early? Maybe, but her eyes were open. Trouble with engineered nutrition and the bulk of solid food needed to manage 100 miles? Yeah, but she'd seen that coming as well. These were things to improve without additional fitness, which makes them attractive, maybe even easy (or at least simple). Even while talking about how she'd do better, she said she wasn't eager to try another. Still, there was enthusiasm in her speculation, and the only way to know is to know. She has a Western States ticket now, at least, and it will go in the lottery. If her 2% manifests, that speculation will no longer be idle, and I'll get to see the last half of a pretty famous course.

Regardless, this was one of the more satisfying things I've ever been a part of. And no matter what happens, she's done a 100, and done it in less than 24-hours. That isn't going away.

December 8, 2017

12/8/17

I have declined to write here for a while, both because I lack a keyboard at home and because Real Life made writing mostly about hobby running seem more trivial than it already does. I won't say more about the latter, not for now, because addressing it at all would seem flippant in a way even this dismissal does not.

About the running: I have done it. This will be the first year since I adopted this hobby in which I haven't completed a marathon or ultra--you might phrase that as "failed to complete", though I don't think of it that way. I've had a lot of good runs, some with several people much faster than me. That's good. Hurting for a couple days after an "easy ten" probably implies a degree of fitness has been earned; but also, it tells you where you are in the world. Not that I don't know; but there is knowing and then there is knowing. Calves that feel like gas station beef jerky looks hold a special wisdom, I think.

I raced on a track for the first time in my life, at 29 years old. I did so for five minutes, which was a second or five longer than I'd wanted to spend, as much as the novelty appealed. Road races are spread horizontally, and trail races are often lonely. The track was claustrophobic, the centrifugal force of the oval creating a permanent tension. Of course, mile pace also feels like shit. I liked it though--or rather, I liked training for it. I only came to running at 23, after spending my college years focused on aesthetics driven weight lifting, with the elliptical for "cardio". So it makes sense that I would still enjoy short bursts of intense effort, with a minute or two between. Weight lifting helps with this stuff too; though in truth I've kept at that anyway, and I'm really terrible at it.

I got third in the Thanksgiving Day 5K, beating a couple guys I don't beat. Passing them was strange, insofar as passing at all is a statement of intent. "I'm going to beat you," essentially. And as I said, I don't beat these guys. But they blew up badly, so I did. 17:10 was enough to do the job, which it wouldn't have been in any other year that I can remember--but this line of thinking tends towards an irritating degree of self effacing digression. I was happy with the time. I was happier still with this:

















My hair looks stupid; I’m “in the bucket”; my q angle is terrible; and I didn't catch second, but I nearly did. I'd be happier if I had, of course; but I didn't expect to, not at the time. So I'm happy because I tried anyway, and it nearly worked. I don't kick well, I've always said; but I closed a few yards rather quickly here. And once again, the important thing is in the choosing. It's easy to run slower--or at least, to not run faster. That's sort of how this racing thing is decided. There is fitness, of course; but as important is the fitness you're willing to access and expend. People ran faster--that guy among them--and certainly many, many people can run faster; but I fucked myself up, and that's satisfying.

Running is weird, that way. In most sports, you hurt the other person. Maybe I should say I dislike those things, but that wouldn't be honest. Concerns about barbarity and concussions and rampant financial malpractice--I could go on--aside, I like watching football, boxing, etc. On Saturday, for the first time ever, two Olympic Gold Medalist boxers will fight as professionals. I'm excited to watch, although the only way to guarantee victory is for one man to inflict severe brain damage on the other person, such that they're unresponsive for at least a count of ten. Running doesn't ask you to do that to others, or to yourself. Certainly there is pressure when someone near you begins to speed up; but you can just abstain from following. If you fail, no one hurts you. In fact you have to choose the hurting yourself in order to increase your chances of success.

It's easy to take this too far, I know. God knows the hyperbole devoted to violent sports, and to running as well. I flailed at the finish, and it doesn't matter, ultimately, not in the way that real things do. But there is significance to be found within that apparent nihilism. That is, if a thing doesn't matter, then choosing it anyway might.

April 5, 2017

In case you don't check sports illustrated for running news

Inside look: Joyciline Jepkosgei’s training ahead of half marathon world record finish

Nothing, I suspect, that will surprise you too much. A twitter thread by a couple people who would know say this is pretty much what everyone does in Iten. The difference, it is suggested, between it and "western training" is using the long run as a harder session, rather than accumulating extended time on feet for its own sake, and keeping in touch with faster stuff--even track work--while training for longer races. To be fair, I think that idea has infiltrated training thought on this continent to a significant degree. Even mainstream online calculators suggest a long run pace that's a little faster than your easy pace, these days, regardless of target distance, and significant work at marathon or half pace is par for many courses.