Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Grass of Leaves 

The boy and I went for our usual run today, out of the alley, down the street, through the seminary, across Lake Drive, and through Bay View park. The boy has been trying to change his schedule on me lately, so he was wide awake as we raced under grey skies and misty air. And raced we did. My knee can still only handle three miles, thanks to the marathon, but I can at least run those three fast.

As we dashed between the trees I could see a couple sitting on the park bench just before the trail splits down to the lake. They were embracing like only teenagers can -- with both arms holding tight and their faces locked at the mouth. As the boy and I approached them through the falling leaves to ruin their moment, the girl's fake interest in the grass and the boy's frowning eyes -- unhidden beneath the backwards baseball hat -- showed the sort of panicked, tender desperation one can only know while going through high school. And especially high school at this time of year -- with the whole weight of the rest of the year bearing down, just like the threatening clouds that kept misting us as we passed them and burned up the hill toward the next grove of shedding trees, the whole time thinking about how much farther my knee would allow this to go on.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Snap Judgments 

I guess a proper welcome is in order. It seems ol' Got Mashed Potatoes has found itself some new readership. Unfortunately, now I have to go and do one of the things I hate doing, which is explaining myself. Oh well.

You see, when one begins a website -- even one as small and insignificant as this one -- he doesn't think of his wife's ex-friends finding it. And that's OK. That's great. That's what the Internet is for. Everyone gets curious about where people ended up at some point.

And really, there are no secrets here. None published anyway. But I ought to warn against taking everything here literally or seriously. Long-time readers of the site also happen to be friends, so they already know this. For example, they probably know that the last post here was just a jumble of my observations at three in the morning, all put under the title of a Pixies lyric. The lyric came to mind because I had just read a very old email, and the sentiment of the email seemed to fit a direction I'm taking in a book I'm writing, but have no desire to attempt to publish.

See -- very simple. Very banal. Quite uninteresting, I know. So there's no reason to fly off the handle, call my wife, and ask questions about fidelity. Although, I have to admit, I'm a bit touched by the sentiment. I think.

I think this whole thing could have been avoided if people just were a bit more familiar with the Pixies. So that, to me, is the lesson of the day here: let's all go out and buy a Pixies album.

And let's hope I don't have any more explaining to do. I'd much rather get back to writing about trying to run fast, new music, and the beautiful fall air that's taken over the climate.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

So pretty when you're unfaithful to me . . . 

She refused to break up with me so I broke up with her via email, refusing to respond to her broken arrow.

I've been slouching around all week, like a guy at the fair on stilts who keeps falling off his stilts.

It's cancer's persistence that makes it so hard. Transfer that same quality to people and it just makes them look admirably desperate. Like drawing lines from word to proper definition, but running out of paper.

I'm re-reading my work, and it's better than I thought, but also harder to pick up. It's like reading an embarrasing poem over and over, and the assignment is to finish it in your own voice. I could write and write and never manage to say anything.

Someone once asked me what I could do with my major: "You gonna be a philosophist?" At the time, I corrected him, but I really shouldn't have. I should have just agreed with him and told him I was going to be the greatest philosophist the world had ever seen.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On Obstinance 

That little Lakefront Marathon occurred this past Sunday. It was a nice, cool day. Pretty. Dry. Clear.

I was nervous the day before and the day of. I kept thinking of how I dropped out of Pittsburgh in '99 with major knee pain (among other problems). It was the only option, but it still bothered me, having never dropped before. I had underestimated the marathon, and didn't want to do that again.

The game plan this time around -- with a very vague guess that I could put up with a 3:10-3:15 pace, was to run a very slow start, then settle into my happy 7:00 clip until 16. Then at 16, I would sort of perform a gut check (with the hope that the real race would start at that point).

Well, my friends, something started at that point. But it wasn't the race.

I got there on time, lined up where I wanted to be, and even calmed down enough to get excited about racing. I had my 666 BIB pinned front and center. All was well.

The gun blew and I opened with a slower-than-I-even-wanted-it-to-be 8:00 mile. I thought, "Great. No blown wad. No repeat of Pittsburgh. Good start." But looking around, I felt I didn't belong with all these 8:00-minute pacers. It felt wrong to be "racing" at a pace slower than what I run a "vanilla" run at. So, as planned, I slowly picked it up and began passing people. Many people; the crowd was very thick. And for the next 15 miles, I averaged a rough 7:00 clip. Never faster than 6:45, never slower than 7:15, but most of the miles were right in there at 7:00. Exactly to plan.

Furthermore, I hydrated at every stop. Made sure not to overhydrate, but I made sure to take time to get fluid in my system. I wanted no ugly repeat of two weeks ago. At 9 miles, I felt some wear in my upper thighs, but no tire. Just regular wear. At 10 or 11, I felt a twinge in my right knee. Not bad, and just enough to label it an ache. Certainly not tire. I could take aches and pains, just not the wall.

And all was well, I tell you. The crowds cheered. They laughed and sang at my 666 jersey, chanting my name (and the devil's). I was well up in the overall pack, but nowhere near the frontrunners. I was king of my own modest goals. And ahead of me -- there it loomed: mile 16. That fulcrum mile, in which the course suddenly veered into the neighborhood in which I grew up and began my running career.

It was as we turned onto familiar Bradley Road that I saw the bear. I looked around -- did anyone else see this? No? Just me? Apparently so, from the non-responses of my fellow competitors. Indeed, I was the only one to see the giant bear, who quickly grabbed me by the wrists and told me that I had to carry his refrigerator to the finish line. Not one to argue with a bear, I agreed.

And thus, crossing mile 16 on pace for a 3:04 marathon (keep in mind I fully expected to hit some sort of wall and finish between 3:10-3:15), I took the foot off the accelerator and felt everything move to . . . idle. I think if I could have made it to 20, I could have gutted out a 3:15, but that was not to be.

So just as I passed and passed so many people for the first 16, so did they all pass and pass me back -- most looking pretty strong -- over the last 10. I had plenty of time to watch it all happen because that last 10 took me 95 minutes. Yes. Slowest 10 miles . . . ever.

I did briefly think of pulling over at my parent's house, which was on the 20-mile mark. But I didn't want a repeat of Pittsburgh. So I threw out any remnant of pride, told myself to enjoy the nice weather, and tried not to think of my (at that point) screaming knee. Miles 17-26 reminded my of when I owned a Nissan Altima whose fuel injectors were dying. I could floor the gas, and . . . . nothing.

After mile 23, the course veered downhill, and right at the bottom of the hill, my calves began spasming. Unable to keep running, I briefly stopped, yelled out, then began cursing my calves. "Fucking work, you bastards!" I yelled, punching them with my fists, which were covered with dried gel. A few more punches, and the spasms slowly subsided. I started a ragged jog. All the sudden a runner passed me and said, "Good job." I said, "Not really, but . . . you too." He said, "Oh, no, I'm just a relay runner." At that point I wanted to ask him to leave, but . . . he was already gone.

So I ended up at 3:29 -- right in the middle of the pack of folks I started with at the first mile. But they all seemed so much more fresh than I. I guess that makes them the smarter runners, to be sure. But I don't regret the race. I never want to try a marathon in which my goal pace is slower than my training pace. I'd rather have to carry a refrigerator than lower my standards.

But the real way to do it -- if I ever do it again -- would be to wait until my boy is in school, so I can live by a workout schedule and give my legs the strength (not to mention the extra miles) they needed. Running a marathon on mere fitness is not recommended by this humble writer, please take note.

One complaint: although the course was amazing -- and filled with terrific spectators and tons of helpful volunteers -- the end of the race is awful. For 25 miles, the course is mostly a straight shot. Then for the last 1.2 miles -- the worst 1.2 of the race in my opinion -- it's left-right-left-right. So many turns. Doesn't make for an easy or exciting finish.

Otherwise, it was great and I would do it again. Although now it's a bit premature to say that since I still cannot run. The knee is still recovering (imagine how bad it could have been had I not done months of weight work to prep it for this race). Also, my quads and groin won't let me walk down stairs yet. I'm getting a good idea of what it's like to be old -- but it's getting better. Post-race, I was 105. Yesterday I was 89. Today I was 67. Tomorrow I might be middle-aged. Maybe Thursday I'll be running again.

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