Sunday, February 26, 2006

Now What?

Just a quick note to say that I ran the Gasparilla Marathon this morning. I stayed pretty close to my goal time, and most importantly, I finished! 26.2 miles in approximately 4 hours and 44 minutes. I'll have a complete posting soon. Special thanks to Jan and Carlo for getting up at 3am to be my support staff, and to everyone else who showed up to cheer me on. It's nap time.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Hypnic Jerk

Marathon Loop 26.2mi

“Well, Mom, remember my dream of owning a big house on a hill, and how I used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico? And how I always wanted a large-seat dining table in a dining room with original paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt? And remember how I always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes? And remember how I used to chitchat with dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes? Remember how much I wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how I wanted a disco room with my own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends? And remember how much I wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, S-shaped hedges, and three swimming pools? Well, I got that too.” -- Steve Martin “The Jerk”

Quality sleep in a fire station is often elusive. The beds aren’t comfortable, the air-conditioning is always too cold or too hot, and the roommates snore. Then there are those pesky alarms.
I’ve never been the type to fall asleep immediately after laying down. It usually takes awhile before my thoughts begin to slow and eventually stumble under their own weight. On busy nights at the station, this may be as far as I get before the tones go off again and I’ve spent another evening in the twilight shadow of sleep’s precipice. These hypnagogic evenings do provide some degree of rest, and in some ways they fuel the imagination and lead to connections that I would not have made before.
I think of past evenings spent in a slowly swaying Mexican hammock, lulled to sleep by the hammock’s gentle motion and the distant roar of howler monkeys in the Chiapan jungle. We would light mosquito coils and place them below us in a futile effort to keep the insects at bay. The sounds of the jungle, the bugs, and the constant motion kept me in what seemed like a waking dream where I hung, wrapped in smoke, as the earth turned slowly beneath me. Without the black timelessness of a deep sleep, the days became circular as night was experienced in its own right. At home, things were sequential. Day after day. Here time was a continuum of slightly varied dreamstates.
These days I’ve taken to listening to my headphones in bed, and I’ve found that the spoken word provides a sufficient distraction from the litany of late-night thoughts so that my mind can drift, and soon I’m off to sleep, guided through my dreams by the voices in my ears.
My lullaby for the last month has been Scott Carrier’s radio piece “Running After Antelope” produced for This American Life in 1997. This piece, along with Bernd Heinrich’s “Why We Run”, was part of what sparked my initial interest in running as a contemplative endeavor. Both authors explore the idea that man is biologically predisposed to long-distance running. Carrier believes that man’s bipedalism allows him to breathe independent of his stride, and this gives him an advantage over even the fastest of four-legged prey. Carrier makes his seemingly impossible quest to run down an antelope appear totally logical, and the mysticism and power of this pursuit provide an explanation for the primal appeal of running today.
I drift off to the soft, lilting cadence of Carrier’s voice, imagining a run through the desert’s blank canvas with no destination at all. “I have a plan, and I’m trying to follow it. But it’s hard. It’s a hard plan to follow. I’m trying to get in shape, and I’m trying to live like a primitive man…I want to wake up naked and alone in the desert. I want to eat sand and drink piss and pass out screaming from sunburn and spider bites. But I know it won’t work and I know it won’t happen, either because I’m a coward, or unable, or it’s just not possible at all for anyone.”
After my last failed long run I’ve had doubts about my own ability to complete this quest, but after enduring a few weeks of my own defeatist nature and the unsolicited advice of a few soothsayers along the way, I set off for my final long run before I start to taper for the race. I’ve laid out a marathon-length route made up of three separate loops focused on my house, allowing me to stop twice for minor adjustments, nourishment, and shoe changes if needed.
I immediately forget my plan to run the Rome Avenue loop first so that I don’t have to ascend the MLK bridge after running 12 or more miles, and out of force of habit I head north along the Sulphur Springs route. I’m taking things slowly and paying special attention to the road surface, looking for the flattest possible line. My knee feels good and my new shoes seem to help in relaxing my stride.
I feel like I’ve started to learn a few things from these long runs. A precise rationing of effort is what it takes to complete these runs, and over the last few months I’ve become more adept at the delicate titrations necessary along the way. On the Rome loop headed south I can feel my pace quicken on the flat, level surface of the sidewalk, and I short-stride my way to the top of the bridge without much of a problem. Despite the greater impact associated with running on concrete, the even camber of the sidewalk is what my legs have been craving, and I decide to modify my route for the last loop, to head for Ybor City along Central Avenue’s long, straight sidewalks.
Around mile twenty I realize that I’ve run the last few miles without thinking about my legs, my breathing, my watch, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been moving for so long now that this feels like the normal state of affairs for me.
It is in this trance-like state that, despite the dictates of common sense, running becomes a form of meditation and, consequently, a passable substitute for sleep. A dark, overcast haze has hung over me all morning and now a gentle rain begins to fall, keeping me cool and slowly rinsing the salty crust from my face. I press my face to the mist and run home, the ground moving easily beneath me like a quiet Mexican night.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

And Also You're Drunk

River/Davis 17.3mi
1/26/06 10:00 am

"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk" -- Jack Handy

I like to do my long runs during the week because the neighborhood streets are virtually deserted in the daytime, and I can run down the middle of the road, keeping an ear out for traffic coming from behind. The road’s camber is always more noticeable along its outside edges, and although it doesn’t play much of a role on my shorter training runs, it can take its toll on a run of more than twenty miles. I know because I proved it to myself today.
On an unseasonably warm Sunday morning, I start out running south along the river’s eastern bank with a twenty-three mile route in mind. Today’s forecast calls for temperatures as high as eighty-four degrees, and I’m well equipped with Gatorade mix, sunscreen, and a vague idea of the water fountains and convenient stores along the way. The first six or seven miles pass in relative comfort, and I make my way onto Davis Islands and south along the eastern shore as the temperature starts to rise.
Near the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin I see two young girls stop their bicycles to investigate something in their path. Sunlight glitters off of the surface of the road, and as I get closer I can see the outline of a large possum with the broken shards of a beer bottle scattered around its head. The scene has all the elements necessary for a great and ridiculous painting: two innocent girls bathed in the Florida morning sun peer over their tassled handlebars at the glittering mandorla of a deceased marsupial while the palm trees sway in the breeze.
As I pass, one of the girls is lifted from her reverie to give me an expression that is at once puzzled, sad, and slightly amused. I’m the only adult around and she looks at me as if to say “How could this have happened?” I don’t have the time, the energy, or even the ability to explain the complexities of this question to her. I simply shrug my shoulders and give her my best non-vocal “beats me” expression. As I continue to the south, the image of her face stays with me, but it begins to fade as the pain in my knee starts to make itself known.
Nearing the airport, the trees start to thin out and soon it’s just the sun, the heat, and my knee. The weekend traffic has forced me to the far edge of the road where I weave in and out of the double-parked BMWs that clog the streets for today’s NFL playoff parties. My knee is simply not having it. It’s hot and I’m pissed. I’m trying to think of positive mantras to get myself through, but the only thing I can come up with is one that I heard fifteen years ago at a protest against the first of the Gulf Wars. A group of middle-aged mothers and their young children were marching through the frigid January streets of Washington DC chanting “We’re tired! We’re cranky! And we don’t like the government!” Strangely enough, it seems to be working. I am! I am! And I Don’t! I need to get off of this island.
Eventually I make my way back across the bridge and up North Boulevard to the river’s western bank. At Blake High School I realize that I’ve never run this route from the south, and the hole in the chain-link fence that I usually squeeze through is like a one-way valve pointing in the other direction. I’ve been swimming upstream for the last three hours, and now, as I try to force myself through the opening, the analogy is complete. I’m a salmon caught in a gill net. I writhe around on my stomach as the barbs dig into my back and catch on my fanny pack. I try my best to ignore the pontoon boat full of Sunday smolts, but they have stopped their saltwater migration to gawk at my struggle on the shore.
Finally free of this mess, I hobble north towards Rick’s On The River. I’m still almost six miles short of my goal, but my knee is screaming and I remember the cell phone in my bag.
“Hey Mike, it’s Devon. Yeah. How’d you like to meet me for a beer?”