July 27, 2013


There is a great deal of debate in both the philosophy and physics communities about whether our perception of time as a linear construct is accurate. To imagine that it is anything but is somewhere between trippy and impossible; to accept that reality could be anything other than how we perceive it is simply difficult.

But we're already there.

For instance: Something that appears red - a rose, say - appears that way because of the wavelengths that reach our eyes, and our ability to perceive and interpret them. But look at it through glasses with blue lenses (you have those, right?), and the rose is red no longer. Our perception of it has changed, and yet we remain confident that it remains truly red, despite the fact that our eyes now tell us differently.

Tangent aside, perception is malleable, and not wholly accurate. We trust it because we have nothing else to trust, really, and to cast too much doubt upon it would send us into an abyss of Cartesian depths.

So let's not go there.

July 24, 2013

Kids These Days

Walking down a jagged brick sidewalk with a good coffee while three young skater kids glare at me, I think, this is it, right?, this is being an adult? 

I had thought that perhaps my ascension to adulthood would be signified or codified by something I did or earned, rather than angry glances and violent whispers from adolescents. 

But I guess that's the way things work.

You spend all of pre-adulthood insisting that you're not really a kid, or at least shouldn't be treated like one.

Then you get older and everyone tells you you're an adult now, treats you like one, and you think, fuck, really? 

You never feel like what everyone else insists you are; maybe we're always the last to know.

I've managed to draw breath for 25 years, and found myself wearing khakis and drinking coffee and walking by the kids who are not in school because it's the summer but still sit just outside it, boards propped up on their legs. There is a fiend skull on a backpack and man, The Misfits broke up years before I was born, kid, do you really even know what that is? 

I think that judging what they should or should not like (or present to like) is an embodiment of everything negative they expect from adults, and nearly laugh as I catch myself. 

Even my crooked smile prompts a too aggressive What? from one of the kids. As I pass I shake my head and tell him it's all good, man, and it is. 

I am the old man walking to an office job in his khakis, and I don't want to live in a world where kids aren't instinctively, abstractly, and reactively pissed off. 

July 23, 2013

Treadmill Nirvana

Life at 40 heartbeats per minute is very different from life at 140 (and higher); and both are better, I think, than life in between.

I wrote a lot of things that basically approximate an English grad's attempt at science words but deleted them because ultimately this is not a science-grounded observation I am trying to make.

It occurs to me during nearly every run - and especially so during harder efforts - that there is a greater sense of place and lucidity which is difficult to put into words. It is the sort of thing that you can only communicate to others who know, those who do not need to be told - except, perhaps, to validate our shared insanity.

I wrote some pop psychology stuff here but deleted it too. Words are tools and I am hammering my fingers trying to use them.

If you've ever read any literature on the theory or practice of meditation I would simply say that it is like that. You are privy, as often as you choose, to a glimpse of something that feels like true experience. Better, even, is the sense of peace and lack of anxiety that permeates through the day's other waking moments.

And while I deleted all my attempts at garbling the scientific mechanisms behind these phenomena, they are both measurable and real.

Someone gave me a banana today and I was fucking stoked.

July 22, 2013

Science Faction

I think it is important, on some level, to realize that we live in a world where The New York Times writes about the plausibility of faster-than-light travel.

It is the same world where sports scientists are gearing up for the pending (ad infinitum, probably) debate on whether prosthetics are in fact an advantage, relative to normal (even elite) human tissue. Although, by 2016, it is likely the debate will have changed from "Is it an advantage?" to "Should we allow it anyway?"

I can read, on the same day, about how we've nearly exhausted the ocean's supply of several types of fish, and managed to create a field of (know one admits to a source) illegal genetically modified wheat; meanwhile, unstoppable weeds are damaging rice crops.

I'm not trying to make connections here, or make profound statements of any kind. As much as anything, I'm writing it down simply to remove the clutter from my own mind.

Making sense of things is difficult.

But I had a good cup of coffee today from a cool new place and Lawrence and that felt like it should count for something.


July 16, 2013

Mindful Self Indulgence

You'll forgive me, I hope, if my last post ended on a somewhat arrogant note. There is a hint of arrogance that comes with writing a blog - especially one that has continued for several hundred posts - and I do not pretend otherwise. I also freely admit that endurance training is an inherently selfish activity. I spend several hours a day doing something that will, if all goes well, offer nothing to anyone but me. It is completely and utterly useless except in setting myself on a trajectory towards the type of person I would like to be; and in that way, it is essential.

I don't think anyone should apologize for selfish goal seeking. I think everyone has a right and perhaps even a responsibility to find their passions and indulge in them without a shred of shame, remorse, or moderation. Not surprisingly, there is data linking a failure to do so with higher instances of clinical depression. People are happiest when each day has a purpose, representing a step towards a specific target.

I have my target and I am shamelessly fucking stoked.

Which brings me back around. This is altruism through mindful self indulgence, making one's self happy and satisfied so that others around you aren't tasked with lifting your sagging spirit, so that they have energy enough to pursue their horizons.

Your passions - like mine - are where you find them. They are what they are and never could have been anything else.

It doesn't have to make sense.

To this day I have doctors comment on the flatness of my feet. They tell me I should take care to stay off of them and to avoid working them too hard. Perhaps I could ride a bike a little, they grant, but not too much. I smile and gently inform them of my mileage that week, some of my recent race results, and my absolute lack of pain, then watch as their suppositions and expectations writhe and die.

Of course, I used to believe them. In high school, I couldn't run one mile at the pace I raced 50 in a fucking mud pit last fall. In junior high, I couldn't run one mile, period. In grade school, I finished last in every race I recall running. I was the last person you'd ever think to start logging 70 mile weeks, but here we are, and here I am.

You just never know. Unless, of course, you don't try. Then you know. Then you know you won't do it, whatever your it is.

Maybe you do try, and your well of talent just isn't too deep. That's ok. Mine isn't either. I'm targeting a sub-3:30 on a course that could produce a sub-3 if real talent did show up. And you know what? I hope it does. I hope my hometown race eventually draws a field that can produce times like that.

Because it's never really about beating everyone else, even if such a thing were possible. You beat the person you used to be every day you indulge in your passion, and in that indulgence, there is ecstatic victory, genuine and deeply felt happiness.

So, yeah, that race. I'm excited. Can you tell?

Psycho Psummer 10

It is hot and I pace a little, watching the 50K and 20 milers go. There is a very large part of me that wants to be in that field, but I promised myself something like moderation for the first half of the year, and this is the last race of that self-imposed sub-marathon/ultra season. The fall will be different. But more on that later.

I walk back and forth to and from my car, checking my phone. There is nothing there and there should not be, but I need something to pass the time.

I talk to the race director and he informs me that the course record holder will be racing today and I think that I will not beat him, because running can be starkly stratified in that there are and always will be people who are simply faster than you. I am secretly excited however, since I've never lined up with him, and I want to see exactly how much faster his faster is, and whether I might begin closing that gap, since I am 11 years younger.

There is also the Missouri runner who beat me in the 5K the week prior. He is also fast and I do not expect to beat him today. I wonder out loud if my fortunes would be different if the race were longer, and the RD and I agree that maybe it would be, but that today it is likely a race too short. Third, then, I joke.

I see another thin young person who looks nervous and hungry and is wearing salmon colored Adidas Adios 2 which is a shoe not commonly seen on slow people. He is young however and I do not recognize him, so I imagine that he will surge early and fade as quick. I am slightly nervous however because I see speed in him, and do not want to place 4th, because these things matter far too much to me.

There is further milling about and I warm up in my usual fashion only today, it feels better than usual. I am eager to start and stand off to the side of the START banner, pacing. I eventually make my way over to the line, shake the Missouri runner's hand, and face forward.

We start and thank god, because this, this is life, all of it, grinding up a hill and there are a couple hundred or so behind you, four in front, and you think that maybe that pace is not too fast, catch and pass one, then turn on to the trail. There it is a climb for a mile, twisting about and strewn with large and loose rocks and intermittent horse shit, before plunging us down at five-minute pace, quads screaming, ankles popping, eyes bleary, fucking alive.

I think of cycling and it occurs to me that this place I am in is not strategically sound. There is the breakaway ahead, composed of the CR holder, and the kids wearing the Mizzou singlet and Adidas Adios, respectively. They glance back on occasion but after two miles I am still not closing the 20-yard gap. Even on the switchbacks I see no one else, but know that the proverbial pelaton is churning behind me, a mass of runners collectively in pursuit. And I am in between, running alone. This is not where you want to be, typically, but I assess things and find that I can converse with myself, that this pace is not aerobically taxing, but fuck, my legs just don't have enough pop to close the gap.

I decide to hold, and hope for a straggler off the front. Shortly after the 5K mark, there is a downed tree blocking the trail, CR Holder and Adios Kid both surge after it, and Mizzou Singlet cannot answer. He glances back often and I am happy every time.

The middle miles are fast and less technical, new and smooth mountain bike trail with banked turns and rolling hills. There is speed to be had only I have little; still, I try. I concentrate on a high cadence and good posture, feet spinning, hips forward. And relax. We are not yet half done.

When we are just past half done we spend perhaps a quarter mile on pavement, running on top of a damn before entering the trail again. Mizzou Singlet is perhaps 50 yards ahead but I observe that his cadence does not appear as high as previously and that he is still glancing back.

A left turn and the smooth, winding singletrack resumes. I am gaining rapidly now and dial it back. When I pass I want to have enough energy to surge, to dissuade a counter. I wait for a clearing and the next aid station before passing. He tells me Good job and I say Good job and we discuss briefly the ass kicking the prospective first and second place runners are dealing us. He lets me by and I do indeed attempt to go a bit hard now, as the remaining miles are again hilly and technical.

I hear from the 50K runners that I am beginning to lap that the leaders are about five minutes ahead of me and so I attempt to stay aerobic, not to sacrifice third for an impossible attempt at second. I only regain a real attempt at a racing stride for the final hundred meters, because it is always important to finish strong for the literally TENS in attendance and to make sure you look good for the camera on hand because I decided I was going to race sans shirt, because it's fucking July, ok?, not because I'm some deluded narcissist, but because it just feels good, man. I hate running with crap. I love running without crap. Simple.

Anyway. 3rd place. 1:17 or so, which is pretty fast, I think, unless you're one actually fast reader I can think of in particular, in which case, I, uh, was sick. And I tripped. A lot. And did I mention the horse shit?

But enough about the past. Let's talk about the future. On September 14, I'm going to run a trail marathon at Clinton Lake. This is my hometown course and I basically died the last six miles last year and actually, impossibly, missed a turn. Embarrassing? Let's just say I've thought about it every day since. So this year, I'm going to run < 3:33, and break the course record. 


It's on the internet, so it has to be true.

July 11, 2013

Impossible Horizons

The Hardrock 100 is this weekend. It is a race that does not call itself a race, insisting, rather, that it is a "run". Whatever the specific impetus, however, the goal is to transverse 100 miles of Colorado's San Juan mountains. You must climb and descend nearly 34,000 feet, topping out at just over 14,000.

That is hard to put into words both because I lack the experience and vocabulary and, even were those things not true, I don't think it's a thing to be comprehended. So this is a picture.

You do that, basically. You do that for for more than a day because only one person has ever done it in less than 24 hours, and he no longer competes, having retired in his mid-20s to go farm sweet potatoes because at that point, why the fuck not? 

But  I should also say that I don't know what I'm talking about. My ultra record is not good. Two 50Ks, two 50 milers. Two shit races, two ok races. I sorta paced a guy after a marathon and covered about 100K once, but I did a fair bit of sitting around and drinking Mountain Dew in the intervening hours. Also I should probably run a halfway decent marathon before I think about racing for 10 times as long (in terms of duration, not distance). 

And oh by the way, I live in Kansas. That probably matters.

But I also know that if I could magically do any race (or run, whatever) in the world, and do it well, it would be this one. Not Western States. Not Boston. Not the Olympic whatever distance. 

To be clear, I'm not stating this is a goal, per se, because I'm far too honest about the odds. This is somewhat like a 4th grade basketball player deciding he wants to play in the NBA. It's an obscenely hard race (or run, I know, I know) to get in to, requiring completion of a difficult mountain 100 to qualify, and then it's up to a random lottery. 

And did I mention that I live in Kansas? That I haven't covered 100 consecutive miles ever, and that 50 miles/kilometers has whipped my ass 50% of the time?

But just look at that picture. Imagine a view like that in every direction, endless vistas of jagged Earth, ad infinitum, and try to quell the desire to chase the horizon until your legs and spirit are either broken or as hard and eternal as the rocks they transverse. 

I don't know that that will resonate with you, but know that it does with me. I can't tell you why, other than that there is something within me that lusts after profoundly impractical and borderline impossible things. 

But whatever. That is a distant horizon, if not an outright mirage. There are more immediate and tangible running goals for this fall, which will be the subject of the next post. Short version: I have to make good on a promise that's more than two years old now. 

July 9, 2013

It is Hot and I am Running

It is as I drive by the bank 103-degrees approximately and the air is thick with moisture, only it's the kind of moisture - like ocean water only without the salt - that seems to suffocate rather than hydrate you. I am drinking V8 which is salty and although there is actually no evidence that salt-loss directly contributes to muscles cramps via the previously hypothesized mechanism it is true that salt seems to alleviate them, if only by satisfying the central governor in your brain that no, this will not be fatal, let the legs keep turning over.

I am thinking of running 8 or 9 miles and the pace will be slow, so slow that I will not know what it is. I imagine that I will see no one else because conventional wisdom holds that what I am about to do and indeed genuinely desire to do is stupid at least and perhaps legitimately dangerous, which can be true, if you don't do the one crucial thing you absolutely must do in weather like this: Slow the fuck down.

People wonder how slow running in general could possibly make them faster much less the incredibly slow brand of slow that running in this heat demands and so many of these people hammer infrequent miles and wonder why they cannot succeed at distance running, though the answer is right there in the name, distance running. You simply have to cover miles and then more miles and then more miles and your legs change in ways that are impossibly exciting to me because mechanisms fascinate me. You get more mitochondria and capillaries and strengthen your slow twitch muscles fibers and your heart and lungs also. You do all of these things every step of every mile up to probably somewhere over 100 miles a week and this is even more true when your body is subjected to additional stress which is most often taken to mean altitude but can also mean miserable heat and humidity.

And so I am excited now because we have what may be the hottest and most humid day of the year and I am going to go run in it because that also means it is perhaps the day where you will get the most fitness return for your mileage investment and I am quite confident that this is not a buyer's market, that there are many miles not being run by many people who aspire to race either this summer or this fall.

I would write more because the physiology of training is to me perhaps the most endlessly fascinating subject in the world but it will only be so hot for so much longer and so I really must go and take advantage of the circumstances. In other words I really must go run because it is on days like this and indeed every day is in one way or another a day like this that you get better.

July 7, 2013

Psycho Psummer "Fire" 5K

5K's are, according to some numbers I think I recall but don't care to look up or verify in any way, about 96% aerobic. But that other 4% can still be a bitch, especially on a hilly (to put it mildly) course. It's not enough to have a solid aerobic metabolism; you have to have that next gear, and the ability to run fast while in it. Essentially, you must produce less lactic acid and expend less energy at your "holyshitholyshitholyshit pace" than the guys running next to you. Your legs also need more fast-twitch fibers than the typical aspiring ultra-slogger (raises hand) tends to have.

Basically, the thing is, I'm pretty fucking slow. Like, I don't really have a 5K pace - or a 10K pace, for that matter - so much as a half marathon pace with the screws tightened a bit.

Enough excuse making? Yeah, I thought so. ON WITH THE ACTION.

I sprinted to the front and then pulled back, letting a kid with a red mohawk and University of Missouri singlet spring way off down the trail. Pretty clearly, he was going to win. Two guys tried to give chase, however, and I decided to let them. A couple minutes later, they were walking hills, and I chugged on by. Again, not fast, but I can keep moving.

There were some downhill sections where some free speed was available, however, if you didn't mind risking life and limb to do so. I just spun my legs underneath me, trying to always land with a slightly bent knee. Thinking efficiency, not reckless abandon.

I cruised and saw that Mizzou Singlet had a pretty sizeable lead, at the turnaround, but that I was a couple minutes up on third. Keep on chugging.

I occupied the middle stretch with cadence counting, targeting that supposedly optimal 180(ish) steps-per-minute mark. Same on the downs. Same on the ups. No real pop in the legs to give chase, but whatever. Just cruising, inhaling steadily and rhythmically slinging sweat with every burst up a hill.

Nothing much happened. I kept running and finished second, solidly behind first and ahead of third. No drama but a good tune-up for the 11 miler on the same course next week.

Know thyself, said, uh, Socrates, right? And I know this: My "fast" ain't that fast; but my "slow" ain't that slow.

More hills, next week. This time, more than an appetizer portion.

July 5, 2013

Running Thoughts

Running yesterday and dreaming big, impossible dreams, and then stepping, ever so slightly, on the tail of a snake.

It was not so big but big enough to span the width of the singletrack, and it writhed its mass across the full breadth of the trail and thrashed and twirled and - maybe I just imagined it - lunged for me. Clinton Lake has both Copperheads and Rattlesnakes, both of which can kill you, and so quite understandably I screamed at a pitch I'm not sure I've ever reached before, turned, and ran.

I had been running before, mind you, but not really running. There is running and then there is running. Sometimes the former is called jogging, but I think that is reserved for slower people than I would like to think I am, because self image works that way. Regardless, I took off at a pace that felt pretty fast and my cadence increased progressively until I was basically sprinting, but can't have been, really, since I maintained roughly that clip for 4 miles before slowing back down again. It's not so much that I had imagined the snake was chasing me, as I chose to ride the little wave of adrenaline I'd been gifted. The earnest desire to really run like hell, like some sort of feral bipedal primate, comes only so often, and you shouldn't waste it when it visits.

That feeling vanishes though, after a little bit, and so I resumed a slow trot and considered the events that had just unfolded, me humaning along, the snake snaking across the trail, our individual natures colliding for that one brief moment. I occurred to me that, miles from the trailhead, any bite from a decidedly poisonous snake could perhaps be fatal. I don't say that to instill my daily jaunts around the lake with any false drama; it is merely an unlikely but possible outcome.

Similarly, it occurred to me that the snake was probably closer to legitimate harm than I had been. Had I landed several feet to the left, on its head, the only writhing would have been death throes. Here, this clumsy monstrosity had come plodding down the this dirt path, and stepped directly and unconsciously into the rare perfectly sunny spot on said trail, alit by a wide gap in the foliage above. I supposed that I would be angry if something 20 times my weight stepped on me while I was quite contently napping.

I thought more about the instantaneous reactions we both had. It: Writhing, twisting, biting. All faster than I could comprehend. I had nearly taken another full step before my brain managed to compute what had happened, and what was now happening. But then, I: Screaming, recoiling, leaping, and sprinting away. There was not one conscious reaction in that period for myself, or, I'm assuming, the snake. We were humaning and snaking and acting according to code that we can only overwrite with decided and premeditated effort. Otherwise, our nature is our nature. To say that "we are who we are" is to assume a defined nature of "who", which is far beyond anything I can yet grasp. But I feel comfortable saying that "we are what we are".

Another mile or so passed and my stride was once again comfortable. There was a rabbit, several feet in front of me, back turned. It did not see me nor did it hear me approaching, until I clapped, and it jolted into the tall grass. This is not uncommon. There are many rabbits at Clinton Lake and they are surprisingly oblivious. It is not at all difficult to run past them, around them, or over them. You get the sense that the reason rabbits breed like rabbits is because the adults could rather easily be killed by any predator with half a mind to do so. As I ran by I shouted back at the rabbit that it should avoid a certain intersection a certain distance away, because there was a rather angry set of serpentine fangs there presently. I do not imagine that it listened nor did I think that it would at the time, but running induced hypoglycemia and dehydration make for occasionally silly behavior.

I thought about nature and mine and the rabbit's and the snake's and that our nature is really our nature not our respective natures, rather a collective entity which cannot be separated into composite parts, and did I mention that I was basically bonked as shit? I'm not presently trying to write about the Circle of Life or suggest that we are all some greater cosmic whole, man, and that the snake and the rabbit are really the same existence, arbitrary words given to different points on one continuum, some garbled and indistinguishable parts of one ecosystem, and I as well, that the snake was not biting at me as it was biting at itself, and that the rabbit which the snake may eat in the future is like the snake eating its own tail, like the cosmic serpent of Norse mythology swallowing its own being in perpetuity, nature feasting on nature, self regulating unless we run by and fucking step on it.

People ask me what I think about when I run on that trail, often for hours at a time. This is why you'd rather not know.