Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"He may pork her Russ, just keep eating"

Rogers Hanna 10.5mi
I have said before that many of modern man’s problems stem from the fact that he no longer lives in fear of being eaten by wild animals. In his book “Why We Run”, Berndt Heinrich proposes that man the hunter is a natural distance runner who, over the ages, has used his propensity for endurance to run down the swiftest of prey. This may be the case, but interestingly enough, running is now one of the few modern-day activities that turns the tables and places man back in the position of prey. Well, me anyways.
Today’s middle-distance long run starts with a straight shot to the east, down the sidewalks of Hanna Avenue into the rising sun. Last night’s sushi is making its presence known, and about three miles in I jog into the convenient store for some antacid tablets. I have to ask the clerk for assistance because the one-dollar rolls of Tums are closely guarded behind the counter. He apologizes for the inconvenience with a conspiratorial “you know the neighborhood”. Apparently, antacid theft has reached epic proportions here, yet the beer coolers are still open to the public. The message is clear: take all the poison you want, we’ve got the antidote right here.
From here I run north to River Grove and begin following the river back to the east. I’m enjoying the cool weather, the sun, and the slight elevation changes when I see the first dog. A large, mangy chow (it’s always a chow) runs into the street from a hidden driveway and chases me for the better part of a block. I don’t even look back at it, I simply cross to the other side of the street where I’ve spotted a metal garbage can that I figure I can use as a weapon if necessary. Eventually the dog falls away and I run on, a little disappointed that I didn’t get to clobber it with a trashcan.
Finally on Ola just south of Broad, I’m almost home when I hear a dog’s low growl from behind a parked car to my left. The animal comes into view, a medium sized pit bull/boxer mix, and I slow to a walk while moving to the other side of the street. In the front yard of the house ahead of me I spot its partner, a much larger male of similar breeding. There is a man standing in the doorway of the house and I ask him to call his dogs in the calmest voice I can muster. No response. “Sir, can you please call your dogs,” and he gives a half-assed whistle to which the animals simply cock their heads momentarily before returning their growling, teeth-baring attentions to me. “Don’t worry, they won’t bite you,” he says, obviously annoyed.
This is possibly the stupidest thing that anyone could say about his or her animals. “They won’t bite” is right up there with “Hey y’all watch this” for famous redneck last words. If you ever find yourself saying this to someone, realize that your animals have already invaded their space. I am constantly telling visitors that my dog will bite them. This is not just precautionary, he has and will, but this is his home. I would never let him out in the street and expect a stranger to show the slightest deference to his Napoleonic tendencies. My dog bites. Your dog bites. And if your dog only bites one person in its life, it will be me. You may say that it’s because they smell my fear, but I believe it is my unbridled hatred for their owners that causes them to perceive me as a threat.
“Well, they’re still growling at me.”
“Only the little one,” he says.
The “little one”, so-named only in contrast to “THE BIG ONE”, still has me locked in his bloodthirsty gaze. So, with less than a mile to go, I turn around and backtrack to Broad Street where I can detour around this idiocy.
I’ve had enough of the primal roles of hunter and hunted for today, but on that final mile, it’s the National Lampoon logic that really has me incensed.
“Your dog is going to bite me”
“He’s not going to bite you”
“I still think he’s going to bite me”
“He’s only going to bite you a little”

Sunday, November 27, 2005

From Above

Epps Lowry 4mi

This is the run that brings me up to date. A familiar route run at the last minute on a day filled with sloth. When I get too far behind in my writing sometimes I feel like I can’t even live in the present until I get clear of the past. The weight of runs unwritten and posts unposted keeps me from writing and even running so that I don’t make the backlog even deeper.
Chris and I used to have a plan to become famous artists, uncorrupted by the money and power that we would inevitably have access to. We didn’t spend much time making art or even talking about how to become famous. That was a given.
The plan began at the point where we were both world-renowned painters (we were both artists but neither of us could paint to save our lives). Our works would be sought after by galleries and collectors, but we would simply refuse to sell them, preferring to throw them out the window of our Ybor City studio. Naturally, as word of this got out, crowds of people would gather on the street below our window, waiting for us to bless them with our genius. To thwart this kind of activity, we would begin stockpiling our work, waiting for months until one rainy night a lone homeless man would stagger off of the deserted street to slump against the building, and we would throw out hundreds of paintings at once.
These past few weeks I haven’t exactly been slaving away in the studio and you, dear reader, haven’t exactly been standing in the street. Nevertheless, I’m throwing all of these entries out at once. Use them to cover your head. It’s raining out there.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Platt Loop II 17mi

I’ve finally made my way back to the seventeen-mile long run that I missed several weeks ago. This week I pushed it to Thursday because of other obligations, and Thanksgiving Day seemed like the perfect time to burn off a few thousand calories. I usually spend the day cooking and, despite my gluttonous desires, when it comes time to eat, I can never really pack it in the way I would like. Today will be different.
Today we are going to a friend’s house to eat and we have only been tasked with one of the turkeys and a few sides. The turkey has been marinating in mojo for a few days, and I have talked Jan into tending to it while I run. After some last minute shopping, the bird is in the oven and I’m out the door.
I haven’t taken the time to map out a new route, so I follow the Platt Loop with a couple of changes to accommodate the increased mileage. The first mile passes easily, and I am surprised by how loose I feel. My stride is relaxed and I’m not struggling. This is usually the point where I start trying to increase the pace, but today I’m right where I need to be and I’m happy to be there. The first two miles come in right around twenty minutes and I wonder if I should hold back a little, but I’m still feeling good and I’m pretty sure that I can maintain.
I have always been fascinated with rhythm, and I think this is one of the things that attracts me to running. Somewhere inside this rhythm is where runner’s high is experienced. It’s like highway hypnosis at slower speeds. This running trance is what I crave, where my thoughts are limited to snippets of old songs, and my breaths, heartbeats, and footsteps are all multiples of each other. The feeling is hard to attain on shorter runs. It seems to take me about forty-five minutes just to get through the myriad distractions of muscle cramps, achy joints, to-do lists, and blog topics.
The Zen of running is the same as any other activity. It works best when it is completely ignored. Thinking destroys it. Concentrating on form leads to bad form.
I find it hard to understand people who say that running bores them. Boredom is the product of an active mind with a lack of adequate stimulus. When I run, the stimuli never seem to be lacking. Yet, if I’m lucky, I can block it all out and my mind will be still. I don’t think about anything at all. One. Two. Three.
My observations and writings are made after the fact. I repeat the run and follow along from above, picking out landmarks here and there, and recalling vignettes that have left an almost subliminal imprint on my memory of the day’s run.
So I can say this. I ran for three hours today and I don’t remember much about it. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. A breeze was blowing. Everything was closed for Thanksgiving. I paid four dollars for a bottle of water at the Ramada downtown.
What I remember most is a rhythm. At Blake High School I follow the sidewalk south along the seawall, across the river from Tampa Armature Works. When the wind changes direction, suddenly I can hear a burglar alarm blaring from across the river and I realize that my footfalls are in perfect time with its incessant yelp. The wind changes again and it’s just my footsteps, breathing, and the blood in my ears.
An hour later I’m running north on the river’s eastern bank with the high school across the river to my left, and I hear the alarm again. My feet are still falling in time and I’m pleased to be maintaining my pace after two hours of running. It grows louder as I cut through the park where homeless men lounge in the grass, apparently oblivious to the noise. Slowly, the sound fades as the building passes to my left, but the siren continues to broadcast my cadence to the river as I move silently towards home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Zed And Two Noughts

Rome Lowry 3.9mi

Through a combination of work, side-work, procrastination, and laziness, I’ve been getting out the door a little bit later every night. Tonight I didn’t step outside until almost 10:30. I’m tired of missing runs. Tired of not writing. Tired of working too much.
I’m working again in the morning and I should probably be sleeping right now, but this won’t take long. I could run the first part of the route with my eyes closed. I know it by feel. South on Highland past the Korean church, the cigar smoking man, the roof dogs, and then west to the park. South again behind the scratch-and-dent grocery where everything is “On Stale”, and west across the drawbridge, the metal deck sending echoes of each footstep down the river. At the palm reader’s house, grab the guardrail to make the switchback onto the sidewalk without breaking stride, and check the time at the oak tree in the middle of the road. Mile one.
Follow the river north along the sidewalk or, at this time of night, down the middle of the road. Push up the hill towards Rome Avenue, rising out of the river’s bottom. Cross Rome and follow the sidewalk north past the Church of Metaphysical Science, the Polish American Club, and the German American Club.
Here the route becomes less familiar to my pedestrian eyes. At Sligh Avenue, turn back to the east and run along the fence of the horse corral at the Lowry Park Zoo, looking for glimpses of the animals in the darkness. Soon I’m back on well-traveled ground, across the bridge and south on River Shore where I make the final push towards home, hoping to be there before midnight.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Spelunking...It's Not Just A Euphemism Anymore

Central MLK 4.9mi

Daylight Savings Time is a sham. I don’t care one way or the other but, for chrissakes, let’s decide on one way and leave it at that. It’s not like we’re adding hours to the day. We’re just giving more up front and taking it off the back end. It’s like a Bush tax refund.
What this all means is that I’m going to spend a lot more time running in the dark. That’s fine, but with my penchant for procrastination, now I have one more reason to cancel a day’s run. Tonight I fought the urge and strapped on my headlamp for some neighborhood spelunking.
The evening commute is still going full steam, and I try to stick to the areas with sidewalks and streetlights. The oak-lined streets of Seminole Heights provide new challenges at night. The thick canopy of trees provides a welcomed respite from the midday sun, but in the dark it blocks out the streetlights in the places where they are needed the most. Over the years, the tree’s extensive root systems have pushed up on the sidewalks, heaving them into jagged concrete moraines, perfect for stubbing toes and twisting ankles.
Tonight I stay to the sidewalks though, unwilling to battle the traffic in the dark, and despite the obstacles I feel like I’m really moving. At MLK I turn to the east and push against the river of headlights until I reach Central Avenue. I realize that I have never run on the eastern side of Central, so I cross the street and follow the sidewalk as it meanders up and down to connect with each cross street.
Sometimes it takes a few miles before I can get up any speed. The halfway point is usually a good point to gauge how much gas is in the tank. Today I ease up for the mile or so past the halfway point, then slowly I start to ratchet up the pace. By the last mile I’m running about an eight minute pace, hoping that I’m picking my feet up enough to avoid the broken sidewalks because now I can’t see anything at all. I have to remind myself to stop and check for traffic as I cross Florida Avenue and sprint the last tenth of a mile to the house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I ran three miles today... finally I said, "lady, take your purse."

River Central 4.7mi
Okay. After a few undocumented runs, and a full week’s running and writing hiatus, I am back at it. For now. Maybe I needed the break. Probably not, but I’ll tell myself that it was necessary.
I was having some physical problems. On my last few runs I was plagued by a tightness in my right shin that would not go away. I did an eight-mile run through Rogers Park Golf Course where I was unable to shake it off. Eventually my toes went numb and my foot started to swell. I took a few days off to recover and, the next thing I knew, a week had gone by and I hadn’t run at all.
Today I force myself out the door in the last of the evening light to run an unknown route for a yet-to-be-determined distance. Following Ola south across the river, I feel smooth and relaxed at a 10:00 minute/mile pace.
Perhaps due to my lowland upbringing, I feel especially susceptible to gravity. Isaac Newton has always had a strong hold on me. When I am in motion I tend to stay in motion, but if I am at rest I tend to stay at rest. When I am backpacking I like to think of myself as a marble, perpetually seeking the lowest of elevations. I struggle to the top of each rise only to race down the other side.
Today it is my mental inertia that must be overcome. Despite what I may tell myself, I am very comfortable with stasis. My body thrives on change, but my brain prefers a routine. The less taxing the better. Like Emo Phillips said, “I used to think the brain was the most wonderful organ in the body, then I realized who was telling me this.”