Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I Want The City, But I Want The Country Too

Wilderness Loop 15mi
There are at least three versions of every long run written before my pen ever touches the page. The first version is the pre-emptive narrative, written from above as I scan the aerials planning my next route. Some of the decisions made here are based largely on formal considerations. Curves are always better than straight lines, and smooth arcs and diagonals are always more elegant than stair-steps and zigzags. Shade, of course, is a must. Sometimes the route only reveals itself as I zoom out for a broader perspective, the tiny fissures of trails and the subtle color shift of changing vegetation suddenly coming into view. Patterns appear that beg to be circumscribed.
Of course there are requirements to be satisfied. So many miles on certain days. Areas of historical significance. Routes from home. Routes from work. And there are rules to follow.
Always run east first. In the morning the rising sun will light your way and the trees will keep it out of your eyes. As the sun gets higher and hotter, you will turn your back to it and run home. In the evening it will guide you home as it sinks below the western horizon.
I study the narrative to be recalled on the next day’s run. Here are the mile markers. Here are the names of unfamiliar streets. Here is a water fountain. A bathroom. The river.
Today’s run involved more reconnaissance than usual. I knew there was a trail connecting the Wilderness Parks of the northern Hillsborough, but I had no maps and no information on it. I’ve been reading a history of the river by Gloria Jahoda entitled “River of the Golden Ibis”. Her descriptions of this area in the days of Ponce De Leon and Hernando De Soto have pushed me to explore these northern sections of the river basin, which remain, in places, similar to the way the conquistadors found them almost five hundred years ago. I drove from park to park until finally at Flatwoods I found a photocopied flyer of the route with no scale or mile markers. The flyer said that the total length of the trail is 15 miles, but I later found some information online that showed the length to be anywhere between 17 and 20 miles. After having run the route I feel confidant that it is very close to 15 miles. A long 15 miles.
The second version of the days run is written on the trail. It is typically just a litany of complaints, punctuated by brief moments of discovery and even fear. The morning starts with a string of obstacles: oversleeping, disorganization, stomach troubles, and a dead battery in the van. By 8:00 am though I am at the trailhead, slathered in sunscreen and looking sporty in a new running outfit.
I start out running south from the Trout Creek Site along the raised levee road. The road is a good twenty feet above the surrounding landscape, but the tall pines on either side still provide a bit of shade in the low-angle morning light. After the first exposed mile, the trail ducks into the underbrush of palmettos and scrub oaks. A sandhill crane stands at the trail’s entrance to the woods, undisturbed by my passing.
The area to the east of Morris Bridge Road is a maze of trails and loops popular with mountain bikers, but the main trail is well marked and on this early weekday morning I have yet to see another human. The bugs have found me though. Twice I swat the sunglasses off of my head as I try to defend myself against the horseflies on my face.
As the trail turns north and heads back towards the river, it opens up and straightens out a bit. Either the bugs have subsided or I’ve started blocking them out.
At Morris Bridge Park, the trail parallels the road briefly, and I spot an enormous alligator sunning itself in the duckweed gathered at the base of the bridge. A mile further, bright bands of color move lazily across the trail in front of me, and I struggle to find a grade-school mnemonic in a memory bank now deprived of oxygen. “Red touch yellow kills a fellow.” Coral snake. That’s enough to bring me back to reality, and I scan the trail ahead intently. At a distance every root, tree branch, and vine becomes a coiled rattlesnake waiting to strike. A startled armadillo explodes from the dry leaves at the base of a nearby palmetto, and I decide that it’s time for a quick pee break because I’ve almost wet myself.
Around the two-hour mark, I realize that I’m running in a kind of fog. My head is just floating along, dragging my body and legs behind it like a jellyfish. The breeze is starting to give me a chill and it must be at least 85 degrees by now. I suck down one of the gel packs that I’ve brought, along with part of a Clif Bar. This perks me up a little bit, but as I wash down the sickening-sweet-cake-frosting taste of the gel pack, I take a hard pull on my drinking tube and realize that I’m out of water. This is when I start composing the opening lines for Version Two. “Everyone has a bad run sooner or later and today was just my turn…”
I’m well past the last water stop and there’s no way that I’m turning around. I slow my pace and increase the frequency of my walk breaks and soon I’m not feeling too bad. The last half hour consists of more walking than running and I still manage to finish in 2:57:00. I must have gone out way too fast, but the lack of accurate mile markers has made it hard to judge.
Back at the park I shower off, change clothes, and drink two of the best tasting sodas I’ve ever had. Hooray for 82 grams of sugar.
On the drive home, forces beyond my control bring the van to a stop in the mall parking lot where I hastily consume a large bacon cheeseburger at a brass-n-glass establishment. I sit reading “River of the Golden Ibis” while the waitress repeatedly refills my drink, and the final version of the day’s events starts to take shape. It takes a certain amount of time and distance to forget the agony of a fifteen-mile run, but as the mind and body start to replenish themselves the connections develop and I can see the banks of the river populated by the huts of Timucua and Calusa Indians long before the Seminoles came to this area. I imagine Ponce De Leon and De Soto dragging their murderous and ill-equipped vassals through the same hummocks and thickets that I’ve just emerged from. I can see them mired in the Green Swamp, headwaters of the Hillsborough, weighted down by their ridiculous armor, trying to float rafts of pigs through the dense undergrowth of the swamp. My brief loss of clarity pales in comparison as I imagine the Indians who led them to their eventual deaths, moving them ever north with the promise that the riches they sought were always just around the next bend in the river.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

And The Rains Fall Soft Upon Your Fields

Epps/Lowry 4mi

I managed to procrastinate for long enough that I had to wear a headlamp for my morning run because the sun was setting.
I spend the first of four miles trying to zero in on my pace. I’m starting to get the feel for what different paces feel like in the 8-12 minute/mile range. Today I’m trying to break my ten-minute miles into smaller increments, judging which landmarks are a tenth of a mile ahead and checking my one-minute splits against them.
I round the corner on Hanlon and remember my idea for the water tower view map as it looms into view. With its new footlights it reminds me of the Mayan ruins at Uxmal lit up nightly for the tourists.
In the coming darkness of a post-football Sunday night my familiar route takes on a new feel. Three men sit on the bank by Andrew’s shop dipping their cane poles in the black, swirling water. A couple gazes across the river from their parked motorcycle, and a group of teenagers passes a joint around a picnic table.
I dance between the pools of yellow streetlight until I reach the park where the trail shrinks to the size of my headlamp’s faint glow, and I watch the reflections of the docks and houses slide by on the river’s slick surface to my left.
Crossing Sligh Avenue again, I take the shortcut trail through to Epps Park and think again about water balloon launchers in the trees. I marvel at how we were able to simultaneously break every single rule on the park’s “WARNING:” sign during this year’s New Years celebration. At night the park’s elevation changes seem more pronounced, and as I turn west onto a section of North Street devoid of streetlights, I kill my headlamp and run in the darkness, feeling my way up and out of the river’s pull as the pavement rises to meet each step.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Negative Splits

North UTBT 3mi

Another day on duty and another three-mile run on the UTBT. I start out at a nice easy pace, slowly opening up my stride as I go. My time at the turnaround is 15:40 and I’m feeling good, so I start to crank it up for the return trip. I finish the second half in 12:20. If I can maintain this pace for a 5k (we’ll see in October), I may actually shoot for a sub-four-hour marathon. But I’m not making any promises.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Big F*#&in' Rats

West/Epps 6.3mi

I hadn’t actually looked at my training calendar for awhile and I just assumed that this week’s long run would be 12 miles, but it turns out that last week’s goal was 11-12 miles (I ran 11) and this week begins the alternation between truly long runs (greater than 10 miles) and shorter recovery runs. So, this week's Tuesday goal is only 6 miles. Of course this would generally be considered good news, but I have come to enjoy the increase in distance each week, especially now that I've gotten myself into uncharted waters. Next week will put me into half marathon territory.
I ran a 6.3-mile route staying as close to the river as possible and, as always, running upstream first and letting the current carry me back. I don’t know why, but it just feels better this way.
In the evening I did some surfing around and found that my friend Stefanie had written a response/review of this site on her own blog page.

if you squint your eyes the air sounds like water
i've been reading my friend devon's blog about his training for a marathon in tampa and now all i can think about is the centro asturiano and naviera coffee. i have been away from tampa for nearly seven years and suddenly i am intoxicated by the thought of it. such exotically familiar surroundings. he writes in depth about the routes that he painstakingly maps out and i feel as though i was asleep for the ten years i lived there. his tampa is one i only saw glimpses of. mine is only a half-real dream. disjointed memories of another life. i miss the abandoned cigar factories. the now demolished tides motel on st. pete beach watching german films projected on bedsheets. falling asleep on the beach after talking all night to a guy with hair just like mine.i miss the late nights working in our lazy-criminal infested studio. i miss watching the guys making cuban bread at four in the morning in the bakery i visited at least three times a week and now can't remember the name of. i miss the heated debate about where we should have breakfast--three coins (spinach feta omelette) or niko's (the best and surliest waitresses). i miss working in a warehouse where the only air conditioning to be found was sticking your head in the sink. i miss throwing rocks at my friend steve's window only to find him throwing rocks at mine. i miss broom hockey in the painting studio and our experimental band we liked to call: a cooking egg. i miss the intense friendships that can only be formed through youth and oppressive humidity.i miss the first house i lived in with it's stucco walls and imbedded pieces of colored glass. the porch where we drank my questionable neighbor's seemingly generous gift of moonshine. my crazy landlord, a triplet from the cayman islands and her bumbling brother who broke everything he ever fixed. the bench imbedded in the river bank. the river. our constant attempts and plans to scale the sulphur springs water tower. the inexhaustable love i had for a boy who picked me up for our first date in a canoe.

I called Stef , who I hadn’t actually spoken to in a few years, and we spent a couple hours catching up on our current pursuits and interests, and talking about Running Through Tampa. She said she felt like it was her little secret that she revealed to a select, and mostly disinterested, few, and that she had started limiting herself to reading my posts on the weekends so that she wouldn’t be disappointed if I only had one entry for the week. I was touched that there was even one person out there anxiously awaiting the next dispatch and amused that she was secreting them away like the chocolate bar that Jan hides in the refrigerator for when things get really bad.
Part of what struck me about Stef’s comments was the importance of the histories that we had created for these places ourselves, and the indelible impressions that they had left on us both. Historical research helps to fill out the body of images and memories that we have of these places, but it is the history of our own making that brings them to life.
So I return to a memory map of the river. My earliest memory involving the river is of my family launching water balloons across to the west bank from Epps Park, when my aunt lived in the now infamous North Street compound. The keys to these houses have passed through the hands of countless artists, musicians, and general misfits over the last thirty years or so. It seems like everyone in Tampa knows someone who has lived in one of these houses, and volumes could be written solely on their occupants over the years. My aunt worked in a lab and would bring home long sections of surgical tubing which we would tie between two trees with a funnel in the center. These devices were capable of launching a waterballoon clear across the river and could be used to knock revelers off of their homemade rafts during the Hillsborough River Rat Race.
Another random image: night kayaking from Ed’s house to the water tower with Mark and Kim. On the way back, in the spirit of exploration, I suggest to Mark that we paddle our kayaks up the drainage culvert beneath the Nebraska Avenue Bridge. I think we can fit if we just duck forward and paddle with our hands.
“What are you nuts?” Mark asks. “That thing’s full of rats.”
“How can there be any rats?” I say. “There’s no land in there.”
One of the quickest wits I’ve ever known, Mark turns me around mid-stroke with his curt reply. “There will be when you go in.”

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What Can I Say?

Epps/Lowry 4mi

I took a slightly modified route through Lowry Park and tried to maintain a nice brisk (for me) pace. My time at the three-mile mark was 27:00. I had to slow down some for the last mile to catch my breath and I took some extra walk breaks, but overall I felt pretty good. Today it was the lungs that couldn’t hang with the legs.
I have to say that recently I’ve had a harder time keeping up with the writing that this project involves. This could just be laziness, but I think there may be a bit of writer’s block at work as well. The vasculature of my thoughts is not one hundred percent occluded, but it may be just a little sclerotic. Part of the problem, I think, has to do with my reading list. When I started this project, I was reading material that provided a constant source of ideas and inspiration about history, cartography, memory, etc. Lately I haven’t been reading as much, and some of the connections that I was able to make easily before have been a little harder to get to on my own.
There are several streams of thought that come and go through these runs, tributaries to the main current of ideas that often go nowhere. I’ve been thinking of running mock disaster scenarios to see what Tampa would look like under varying levels of storm surge, and I’ve been pre-occupied with zones of influence, visualizing a map of the areas in Tampa that have a view of the Sulphur Springs water tower. I want to see a map of the most flood prone areas of the city overlaid with the per capita concentration of Hummer ownership.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

UTBT/Gardner 4.1mi

I missed another training session on Friday, so I traded out my cross training day and decided to run this morning. The sun is coming up a little later these days and the start of my run is pretty dark, but the solitude is nice, if not a little spooky at times. My training run pace has been slowly increasing, and I seem to be maintaining a 10-11 minute mile pretty comfortably on a run of this length.
My headlamp is having trouble penetrating the darkness, and as the sun comes up I can see that there is a thick blanket of fog creating an artificial horizon where it hangs about four feet over the trail. I plug along with my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds, a disembodied pair of legs to the passers-by.
Since the Castles Made of Sand Run on Tuesday, I’ve had an insatiable appetite for Jimi Hendrix. That afternoon I stopped at the record store and bought a couple of Hendrix cd’s that I must have lost years ago. Actually, the original copies that I had were on vinyl and they weren’t in the best of shape. Listening to my new copy of “Are You Experienced?” in the van, I realize that the version of “Purple Haze” that has been playing in my head for the last fifteen or twenty years has been permanently altered by my Uncle Steve.
As a kid, Uncle Steve was my hero. He was a sort of William Hurt-esque record producer in Nashville who claimed to have hung out and shot heroin with the likes of Jimi and Janis. He had also been the voice of Jesus for a version of the Bible on tape. Man, talk about track marks.
As young aspiring musicians, my brothers and I were always eager to impress Steve with our knowledge and interest in all things musical. On one of Steve’s trips to Florida, after what had probably been quite a few beers on his part, we all ended up in the “guy’s room” listening to records. Steve sat on the edge of a bunk bed smoking Buglers and listening patiently as we showed off our record collection. In the middle of “Are You Experienced?” Side One, Steve just reaches over and stubs his cigarette out on the record. In the middle of a song.
We just sat there aghast. Maybe it was just a mistake, but now I think this was Steve's drunken way of showing us that his connection to this music was so much deeper than ours would ever be. His relationship to it was so close that he could even commit acts of violence against it. Besides, the Columbia Record and Tape Club would send us another one for just a penny.
I can imagine myself now, not much younger than Steve was then, listening to a Minor Threat album that my nephew has “discovered”. Or, better yet, Nirvana. I’d put a cigarette out on that for sure. Right in the middle of the Ipod’s scroll wheel.
Anyhow, Steve succeeded in editing out the entire second verse of the song and that’s the way that it stayed until I finally lost the record years later. At first, the skips were infuriating because they obliterated a part of the song that I knew was in there somewhere, but over time that verse just stopped existing for me and I came to love the record for what it was. Or, rather, for what it had become: my own unique version of “Purple Haze”. I’ve listened to that record so many times now that I could notate the rhythm of the skips from memory.
Steve’s version of “Purple Haze” became even more important to me than Hendrix’s. He left a mark on that record that forever changed my perspective of something that I thought I knew, and I’m richer for it.
That’s how you make a map. Scratch your temporal existence on the infinite.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Castles Made Of Sand

Davis Island 11mi

View Interactive Map

I got a bit lazy with my route planning, but I remembered that I had a preprinted map of an 11-mile route on Davis Island that I had picked up at the downtown YMCA. This route is like a fractal variation of last week’s run, eliminating the final stretch downtown, and following the coast in greater detail to achieve the additional mileage.
Parking the van in a spot near the Y, I realize that I only have enough quarters to put two hours on the meter. Luckily, I know the mileposts by now and I can gauge my splits pretty well, but I’ll have to run a record long run pace to be back in time. The threat of a $25 ticket waiting for me when I get back proves to be a great motivator.
I run the route clockwise this time and I’m off of the exposed sections on the eastern shore before the sun gets high enough overhead to be a real nuisance. Along the coast, it seems that this entire island is under construction. This is a perfect place for a runner with stomach problems as there is a Port-O-Let every 200 yards. Today I’m in too much of a hurry to make use of them, but last week I was glad they were there.
I’m thinking about New Orleans and the change of perspective caused by rising floodwaters. My image of this island is shaped more by aerial photos than by street level views. I look at the blue-glazed ceramic tile roofs and wonder if I could pick them out on the aerial photos. The majority of people in New Orleans had an image of their city that was shaped by their mostly street level, pedestrian experience. Now their city is a series of rooftops in the Gulf of Mexico. I read that many of the first responders from other parts of the country were having difficulty finding their way around this unfamiliar city, but I would bet that many long-term residents had trouble adjusting to the sudden shift in their vantage point. What would our cities look like viewed in horizontal cross sections of 4, 6, or 10 feet of elevation? When we were hiking in Washington State, Jan and I crossed through several old avalanche zones where all of the trees had been broken off at the same height, now thirty feet above our heads. I remember standing on the trail in the ninety-degree heat, trying to imagine being in the same place at a different time, a snowfield littered with downed trees, oblivious to what lay beneath my feet.
Davis Island is a man-made dredge mound that sits in the delta of the Hillsborough River where it empties into Hillsborough Bay. If the river is our Mississippi, then this is our New Orleans, without the music, food, history, or culture. In contrast to New Orleans, here the wealthiest residents live along the coast in the island’s most flood-prone regions, perfectly poised to absorb any storm surge pushed ahead of an advancing hurricane and magnified by the constriction of the bay at this point. These people have cars though, lots of them, and they can navigate freely through the x and y of these maps we have formed, but it is only their yachts in the marina that will navigate the vertical axis of the rising tide. They will hold their positions long after the stinger-like tail of the island’s southern tip has disappeared beneath the waves.
I’m into the last mile and it looks like I can make it back in time if I don’t take any more walk breaks. Climbing the slight rise of the Platt Street Bridge, I tell myself to remember this pain. My lungs are burning and my legs are like sand bags, but I know that I’ll forget as soon as I can catch my breath. I dig in for the last quarter-mile, and my breathing is truly labored for the first time today. I cross Franklin Street at Brorein and make it to the van just in time to see the meter start flashing, “Expired”.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Training Pants

North UTBT 3mi

Seen in the light of day, my training missteps seem almost laughable sometimes. Yesterday’s sequence was as follows:
0800 alarm clock goes off, consider going to gym for cross training
0800-1000 battle with snooze button, reset alarm, reschedule training for afternoon
1300-1500 rehearse with band for evening performance, finish in time for gym
1530 succumb to urge for nap
1730 wake from nap, cancel cross training
1900 go to club for set-up
2030-2130 perform, drink beer
2200 consume large plate of barbeque chicken with baked beans, coleslaw, garlic bread
2330 sleep
0515 wake
0545 double espresso
0615 run
0625 “I don’t feel so good”
0635 walk remainder of route, concentrate on maintaining control to avoid Greta Weitz impression.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Down The Middle

Ola/YMCA 4.5mi

The run from my house to the Fort Brooke YMCA is becoming more familiar, and I can tell that my body is adjusting to the distance. What felt like a long run just a few weeks ago now truly feels like a short training run. It actually has gotten shorter because my pace is slowly improving as well.
From an aerial perspective, I like this route because it is direct. The mapped route runs due south most of the way, only taking a few jogs to the East to find the finish. The stretch along Ola is shady and traffic is sparse, allowing me to run in my favorite part of the road. Like my grandfather used to say, “Everybody is entitled to their half of the road – I like mine in the middle.”
I can feel that I’ve got a decent pace going without overdoing it. This pace would still be considered “conversational” if there were someone here for me to talk to. Thankfully, there is not.
In the last week or so the weather has begun a subtle shift away from the doldrums of summer. The temperatures haven’t really fallen any, but the humidity has broken, and suddenly I can feel that there may be an end to this heat. It’s this hope precisely that makes September the hottest month in Florida. After five months of summer, it just seems right that September should be the end, but it’s not and it never is. We could represent this cycle as “The Map of Experienced, Perceived, and Expected Temperature for Tampa, Florida.” The intersection of these three metrics defines “The Zone of Disappointment.”
Today though, the hope for new beginnings is palpable, and the feeling literally puts a little more spring in my step (and I mean ‘literally’ in the literal sense that my legs actually feel better, not in the figurative sense that the word ‘literally’ is usually used.) For the last half-mile or so, I stretch out and work on impressing the office workers on Franklin Street, checking my form in the windows as I pass.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

If Less Is More Then None Is Best

Davis Islands 10mi

View Interactive Map

I know, it’s been awhile. Today was supposed to be a rest day, but I blew off my long run yesterday and I had to make it up. I didn’t train over the weekend and all I have to offer for this is excuses. In the words of David Mamet (by way of Al Pacino), “Your excuses are your own.”
After a four-day hiatus, my legs feel great and I’m starting to think that maybe I had been overdoing it a bit. I start out from the downtown YMCA and follow the first ten miles of the Gasparilla Marathon course through Davis Islands and downtown.
As soon as I’m off of Davis Islands’ main drag, the morning traffic dies down and I run comfortably in the oncoming lane, avoiding the sidewalks as much as possible. Most of the western shore of the island is clogged with monstrous faux haciendas and starter castles, so the water views are hard to come by, but I’m enjoying the quiet of these empty streets and the cool air under overcast skies. At the island’s southern tip, I run past the airport towards the turnaround point at the yacht club. Here the view opens up and I watch the cranes and barges at work across the channel, their running lights still on in the cloudy morning twilight. I’m listening to the sound of my breathing, my footsteps on the asphalt, and the persistent clang of rigging against the masts of the sailboats at anchor in the harbor.
“Do you know how far it is from the yacht club to the roundabout,” an elderly woman asks me as I circle back past the airport. “I have no idea,” I tell her “I’m just running around aimlessly,” and I realize I must be feeling pretty good. I don’t know where any of the mile markers are and, for once, I don’t really care.

Friday, September 02, 2005

It's Not The Heat, It's The Stupidity

North UTBT 3mi

Back to work after three days of flying and not a lot of sleeping. I wasn’t able to train yesterday, but, according to my new schedule, Wednesday’s bike ride was done on my rest day so it all sort of works out.
I run the familiar UTBT three-mile route in 34 minutes, and my legs are feeling well rested and loose. It’s nice to be back home, but I sure did like those temperatures in the fifties.