September 26, 2013

Heartland, Again

Doing Heartland again. The 50.

Inspiration is where you find it, not in rationality, or the pantomime thereof.

I've found it on the night running I've been doing lately. Long, flat, cruising runs. Two to three hours, not fast, except when the legs ask for it, not slow, except when they ask for that instead. Running out of town until there is nothing but the breeze and the stars and the faint sound of cars on nearby highways.

Heartland is that. It's nothing and nowhere. An aesthetic that appeals to me. Begin at 6 PM. Forge towards the sunset, dance through Sunday. Headlamps like fireflies with broken wings, crawling on the dirt.

An honest course. Open, expansive. There are no illusions. This is where you must go. The aid stations sing for miles, sirens on an ocean of grass.

Fitness is good, but fitness is no armor. Things will hurt. Familiar things, in familiar ways. Say hello, we've met before. Finished together. Remember that? A shared bond. This year, let's win.

September 25, 2013

Is Survived By

It's a hard thing, keeping genres straight, and who occupies what. Deciding what you like is hard enough without deciding what your respective genre allegiances allow you to like. Music is kinda fucked like that, though.

If you're a hardcore kid, you're not a metal kid. Unless, of course, you're a metalcore kid. In which case, I mean, everyone just calls you emo. Which is something else entirely.

The thing is, no one really knows what any of it means. Not really.

Picture me, a noted apple devotee, glaring across the produce section at that sick fuck buying pears. It's a bit like that. (Note: Pears are great too. Really. We can all get along.)

That said, this is a... post-hardcore/screamo/melodic-hardcore album? I think so. It's a good album too. I certainly think that. If you don't care for chaotic, somewhat arrhythmic arrangements, with desperately screamed vocals, then you probably won't care for it.

As always, people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

Anyway, this is Touché Amoré's Is Survived By. It came out yesterday and of course Youtube has it. I saw them live last week and it was pretty great. I did buy the album and so here is my completely unsolicited and wholly unhelpful endorsement.

September 21, 2013


The thing about marathons is that they are really quite far. It's easy to forget this, when you associate so much with ultra-folks, and have in fact run a few ultras yourself. Easy until you run a marathon. It's far, you remember, and it hurts in its own right. You long for the aerobically comfortable ultra-shuffle, but no, no, you have to fucking go.

So if marathons are hard, then maybe, I don't know, ultras are easy? I mean, you get to go so much slower, right? Right?

The thing about ultras, though, is that they are really fucking far. Stupid far. The kind of far that you can't really get your mind around it, even if you've done it. Especially if you've done it. The mind has a way of blocking out the traumatic bits, and embracing the few seconds of holyshitI'mactuallyabouttofinishthis.

Mile 49.8-50 felt pretty fucking ace, so how bad could it have been, really?

I mean, other than the part, crouched by the side of some gravel path to hell - except hell is actually somewhere, and this is so far from anything like somewhere - promising yourself you'll never run another single solitary step in the rest of your life, that if a pack of starving wolves hurdled the barbed wire fence next to you, you'd just smile and ask politely that they consume your whole carcass, so as not to leave a mess for the race volunteers.

Another thing about ultras is that nobody ever does just one.

And the thing about fall in Kansas is that there are a lot of fucking ultras.

September 20, 2013

Past and Prologue

What's past is prologue.

It's one of Shakespeare's most famous lines (The Tempest), though it's not always - or even often - attributed to him. It's crossed over into existing as a sort of pop culture truism instead, and in so doing, having lost its original context, has lost a great deal of intent.

Typically, it's invoked as a kind of motivational quip. What's past is past. Our future lies ahead, and we can make of it what we will.

Forge ahead!


Or something.

The original context is a touch more bleak. The conversants are about to commit murder, and rationalize it as merely another domino pushed over. That is, past is prologue, inasmuch as it sets in motion the acts to come. Our past is not merely what comes before our present - it largely creates it.

We're not choosing to murder. I mean, circumstances have conspired such that we can't not murder. Right? Right. Totally.

Anyway, the latter option is basically how I feel about racing. There's a lot of anxiety at the start line, but really, the matter is largely decided. Sure, fueling and pacing matters (keeping your ass on course doesn't hurt either); but for the most part, you're going to run a time that represents your fitness. (In fact, accepting that fact can go a long way towards running a smarter pace. You can't outrun your fitness; and if you try, shit goes downhill quickly.)

I like this notion.

It robs race day of some measure of crippling fear, granting it instead a sense of discovery. How good is my fitness? Lets roll it out and see.

Moreover, it assigns real significance to daily training, which could otherwise seem something of a mundane grind. You're not just doing it because you're a crippled addict - though you are, and I am, and that's ok - but to achieve an end. You're writing the prologue for your next great act. (This is also true if you don't indulge in the everyday. Tragedy is a classic form, remember.)

But, I don't know.

Some of this - all of it? - is just my rationalizing my inability to take a single solitary day off. Half marathon a week before my target full marathon. Race like hell. Run the next day. And the next. Hills Tuesday. Trail Wednesday. Tempo Thursday, then right to a concert. Wake up twice last night to calf seizures.

Enough, maybe, to make you think about the story you're writing.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Maybe the sheer force of forward momentum perpetuates forward motion, maybe you go because you go, do because you do, past is prologue, the next step could only be what it is because what has come before is what it is.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know but it's all good because the calf feels good, and so does everything else.

September 15, 2013

Hawk Marathon 2013

It is cold, nearly, or what approximates it. Perspective is skewed after weeks of 90-plus. But this is better. The sun has not yet risen and there are hints of stars still in the sky, flecks of presence offering faint illumination.

Waiting by the fire. There are other people about and I talk with them, probably too much. People deal with nerves in different ways and this is mine. Words flow and I shiver.

Sweatpants discarded, undershirt as well. The sun cresting the horizon and evaporating the dark. The day is clear and so is the task: Run like hell. 

Chasing a bike down the opening paved quarter mile. Turning on to the trail. The first taste of dirt, firm and sure. Rocks and roots and a comfortable cadence among them. Runners behind but already some distance. 

Diving onto the trail proper and I can see no one else. My effort is high and I am chasing the ghost of three and a half hours. 

Cruising and focused. Form tight and posture correct. No wasted motion. No lapses in effort. 

The miles pass and so does the first aid station. My parents are there and so are several other people I recognize. Good people.

Rocks and winding trail. Head down and there are red flags. More red flags. I pause and there is panic in my chest. My fitness is right and this cannot be. A 50-miler, having started an hour earlier, cruises by and points me in the right direction. She tells me I need to cross the road and I do. I have lost maybe two minutes but do not worry.

Smooth dirt on the shore and nearly halfway. The trail splits and I think, no, no. I pause again and there is not panic but indignation. I think that I am lost and so choose to do the loop again. I run it more slowly this time and I am sure that there was no turn, that I am going the right way. I have nonetheless lost ten, maybe fifteen minutes. 

The halfway aid station and I ask how many passed and they say maybe two, at most. There is only one, however. He is only just ahead and I can see him in fact. Let loose choice expletives, cursing myself, not knowing my own course. I say that I will fucking get him and I do, in no more than two minutes. 

Hit the aid station again, leading again, comfortably again. More profanity. Reckless running, wasting energy. Build the lead. Margin, margin, margin. Course record? No. Fuck no. Not a chance. Halfway there and I sent myself off, cost myself too much time. It would be a near thing in the best of cases but now it would be impossible.

Final aid. Parents again and there are cheers and support. I do not try to appear pleased. There are six and a half miles to go and I want nothing to do with them. Survive. Win. At least that. My mom tells me to pick my feet up (so I don't trip) and this amuses me. I pick my feet up but my spirits do not lift and I count down the miles, run from marker to marker. Get the job done.

Think back to the tape. The moment of supreme doubt. On course or no? Turn missed? Corner cut? I should have stayed. Should have kept moving forward but I didn't know, and had to. No course cutting. Better 28 than 24. 

I pass markers, 50 and 100 milers. All offer their own support. I marvel for these moments at my petulance. Enjoy the day. Good weather. Good trails. Good people. Good running. 

I laugh at myself because there is nothing else to do, cross the finish line, utter one word: Fuck, hands on knees, spent. 

Hours more at the finish. The best people and the best times. Disappointment dissipates and I am pleased, then elated, not to have won, but to have taken part in such an event for the third consecutive year. I eat a few strawberries and limp slightly. 

Noon the next day and I see the last finisher, help clean up. Immense satisfaction and no course record but really, who gives a shit? Times are arbitrary and experiences are real. Nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather do, no one else I'd rather do it with. 

September 14, 2013

Hawk Marathon, Short Version

This is not a race report. Not yet, anyway.

It is, rather, a modest suggestion that, among the things in the world about which you should never complain, winning a race is a pristine example.

The short version, then: No course record, but I did win the race.

No complaints.

September 12, 2013

September 12

There were clouds this morning that I did not see, but which nonetheless yielded rain at their breaking. The pavement shows no evidence of this but dirt has a better memory. Mud, maybe. No matter. Things are good and I feel good. The weather looks promising. I could do with a high in the 50s, rather than 70s, but after a couple weeks spent around 100, I won't bitch.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

September 10, 2013


The marathon I'm doing is on Saturday.

I am supposed to say something about how it's a marathon, and anything can happen. That hubris is punished severely. I ought not expect an enjoyable run, comfortable for the most part, cruising.

Perhaps I should invoke war metaphors, epic descriptions of odds overcome, enemies thwarted, pain endured. 

For instance, Zatopek, before the first Olympic marathon: "Men, today we die a little."

But, no. No, I don't feel that. None of it. No fear. No trepidation. No fight. There is no violence in me, regarding this race. What I feel is something other. Something calm. Something satisfied before we start because I know the work I've done, and the distance as well.

A marathon is undiluted sensation. It is life, extracted, concentrated, consumed, and then, all consuming. It is... soon. Very soon and yet not soon enough.

September 5, 2013

September 5

I think, but don't know, can't know, because this is my first time at this, axiomatically, that there is a very strong correlation between the amount of shits you give about the weather and your age.

I would further decry this slowly encroaching doom but I feel a nap coming on and the combination of those two things is enough to induce further anxiety so I'll just stop.

Finally: Today I had espresso and it was shit. They let anyone pull shots these days, damn kids. Back in my day, we pulled shots with a 500-lb lever using beans we ground that morning using a mortar and pestle carved from the skull of a dire wolf. We heated the water with pure tenacity, grit, and moxey. The resulting shot was as black as the void, with less mercy, and tasted like the spent ambers of first fire of man, tinged with Promethean promise and decayed godhood.

From these fires rose a culture that would call this "bootcamp fitness".

Night Lights

The night sky is a tarp pulled taut and pricked with holes which effervesce light in quantities too great to comprehend yet too diminished to illuminate the sidewalk which is clear anyway.

Cars turn on their brights sometimes and my stride stretches out in front of me, long and loping. But mostly there aren't any cars out here, even a few miles from town. 

A coyote trots by and pauses. We evaluate one another and I say hello as I pass. It does not move. There are plenty of rabbits and it is surely sated. 

At the top of the hill the breeze is cool as it is slightly from the north. There is a whisper of decay on its breath. 

Another car passes and it slows slightly. I am not a deer and do not bolt in to the road and so it continues on. I prefer when there are no lights. 

September 3, 2013

Choosing Narratives

There seems to be a bit of consternation lately over the present and future of running silly distances. Road folks want more money and trail folks seem to want less. Same for organization, corporate involvement, etc.

This is not an accurate explanation or take on the issue but it is, I think, sufficient.

Whatever you want running to be in the future, it will be. Run as fast or as slow as you want to on whatever terrain you like against tens or tens of thousands of people. Get a t-shirt or don't. Give a shit about the front of the pack, or hell, try to be a part of it. Or not. Be what you want. Do what you want. Tell your own story.