Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Loud and Clear

White Clay Creek through the lens of Joel Shilliday. After two weeks of road running, I need to find a trail for a weekend run...

My training runs of the last couple weeks have largely mirrored the weather in which they've taken place. There was the 11-ish mile rain-fest, where Landy, Joel, Dominic, and I got and stayed wet with pouring rain while traveling back in time looping Oaklands into our normal Rise Up runs. I am still not sure what kind of car it was we saw, though I have seen it again while running on Oxford Road.

That run was a table-setter for this past Thursday, May 22, where Landy and I met at 3:40 a.m. on Washington Street to begin what was for me an 18-mile run, while Landy was running before and after I was to rack up 21 miles. An interesting aspect of meeting in the mornings and running from 6-12 miles regularly is that you develop a pace for that distance. For our long run, we fell into that same cadence and ended up running me to about the brink, where I never stopped to walk over the distance, but I had low energy and tired legs slogging forward and finishing in 2:42 and change, which, without bothering with the math is between 8:30 and 8:45 minute miles.

On Sunday, May 25, I decided to dust off the i-pod for a solo run to Oxford. I left my truck towards the ferry end of Morris Street, near my aunt's house, and plugged in for the run at 6:15 a.m. We generally start our runs in the dark, which is its own rush, but sleeping in a little gave me sunny skies and temperatures in the 60's.

I generally start slower, by way of warming up during the run, and run negative splits, running the second half of a run sometimes considerably faster than the first. Oxford Road had a green backdrop of woods, fields converted to wetlands, and fields ready to be planted. I took in the scenery while enjoying my self-created soundtrack and hit my 5- and 6-mile marks at just about a 9-minute pace. The clear skies and the bumping soundtrack led me to deem the day's run, "loud and clear."

I kept the same pace the next few miles, then picked it up with about 2.5 miles to go. One thing i enjoy about running with music is the rhythm and pace I develop in sync to the songs, and the additional distraction it lends if discomfort begins to take over. No discomfort on Sunday, but a methodical, mechanical stride, picking up to an outright run coming past Screamersville Road, Boone Creek Road, and into Oxford. Running against traffic around the causeway, past the Oxford Market, past the park, and to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry dock, I clocked the run at 1:42, grabbed some rations at the market and checked the distance with my truck's odometer (still too old school for a Garmin), which measured at 12 miles, gnat's ass ("spot on," thanks to Cali cartographer Bob Savage for the map term--they use it for the degree of accuracy for a map).

Tuesday morning, Dominic and I met at the standard Rise Up Run time and place (5 a.m. at the corner of Idlewild Avenue and Aurora Street) and assumed a pretty nice pace for our rounds around Easton. Warm weather, even in the dark, was abated by a light rain, and I finished right around 10 miles (still have to measure the course) in 1:18.

A couple solid weeks of training runs of 9 to 18 miles, keeping the pace in the range where I'd like to run my next road marathon. All this talk and miles of road running, however, has me picturing trails in my head. And Mike "Wood Frog" Keene's return from mountain trail-laden Utah and the Wasatch Mountains doesn't help either ;)

Here's to hoping a trail run is coming up this weekend or in the near future!

Monday, May 19, 2008

How to Respond?

A young trail runner--in April, Ava and I hit Idlewild Park in Easton, where she decided she was going to do her own trail running. Up and down the hills, turning off to stop at the top of the hills to wave, and other times just mowing by them. She kept at it, back and forth, having an absolute blast. At its best, that's what my running gets at.

A quick update from the last post--young Samuel had his first surgery this past Friday, May 16. All went well, and this afternoon, they performed the second part of the surgery, closing his chest again. He has lept the hurdles as they've come, one at a time. There are more ahead. He is likely two to three weeks from where he might be able to come home.

Watching and waiting with Samuel, Susie, Chad, and Julian, causes sensible and insensible people to ask, "What the $%# ?" Maybe me more than others, as I seem to be wired to go that route (English and philosophy are open-ended question-asking fields). One of the tenets of Buddhism is the idea that "life is suffering." So what do you do about that? How do you live your life? I tend to take a more celebratory approach, but it comes back to suffering at some point, doesn't it?

Your life is your answer to what you do about suffering, at least it seems that way to me. I don't pretend any special wisdom (or much wisdom at all), but when I look at my own life, there seem to be some recurring ingredients I throw into the crockpot full of existential stew. So here are some of said ingredients, in no particular order:

Humor - this is a big one for me. Not humor in a knock-knock joke sort of way, but in a find humor wherever it peeks around a corner, pants's you, or hits you square in the face. There have been some big dogs who go that route--from Einstein, Mark Twain, Gandhi, and one of my favorite zany writing cats, Tom Robbins, who raps whatever enlightenment he can impart in an ill-fitting, rag-tag, funny looking wrapper.

Writing - I largely attempt to make sense of things by giving them voice, airing them out, or trying to arrange them in some fashion that they either become clearer or just make room in my consciousness for something else. I've never had any talent for visual arts or music, so for me it's writing, whereas for others, you might construe it more broadly as "creating."

Running - it seems like whenever I take a break from running, it always comes back to me, somehow new. I have had some of my most "aha-ish" moments during runs--I can remember running along The Strand in Oxford when an idea for a thesis in a philosophy paper hit me, and almost began to write itself. That isn't the norm necessarily, but there are moments like that throughout my running. After moving home back home from Raleigh, getting back into running, distance running, was a big factor in transforming my life and motivation to go back to school and get off my arse.

It could be that there is in some way a microcosm for life woven into a long run--feeling good, moving along, enjoying scenery, when the energy level drops, breathing becomes labored, legs hurt, will sinks, and suffering is in full effect. I have had those moments in the JFK 50 miler (mile 30-ish), the Holiday Lake 50K, and just long runs in general--where it is all I can do to keep pushing forward, but I stumble smiling (I am demented :) and looking to finish in whatever way I can. I mentioned it in an e-mail to Joel and Landy I think, where you get to that point in a long run, where you simply stop asking why and just do it.

I have a lot of "why's," but I like not dwelling on them, pounding them out a bit on the road or trail, and then allowing myself to be okay with having why's. Where running and philosophy meets and running smacks Phil on the back, shoves him to the ground, calls him a dork, and dusts him to the finish line. Don't worry, Phil is resourceful, he's not going to just lay there.

Child's Eyes - I tend to look at life and live it, child-like. I enjoy having fresh eyes, and am constantly fascinated with how our girls see the world. I think they are right more than grown-ups in their spot assessment of many situations. And kids have more fun than most grown-ups, let's face it. In Zen Buddhism, they call this outlook, "Beginner's Mind."

Live Uniquely - I don't care much for labels, categories, or stereotypes. The coolest people I meet are those who can't fit into a broad categorization--he or she is a "blank." (I am not sure what that would look like?) I enjoy surrounding myself with said people, and trying to follow the example of living life on your own terms.

Savor - if life is suffering and there are going to be some rough spots, all the more reason to drink deeply of the good stuff.

This all sounds preachy and cliche, but I guess I am trying to jot down some of the things I can point to as helping make up my own response to suffering, to stuff that doesn't make any sense, to unforeseen hardship. A reality is that, whether or not it directly affects us at any given time, it's going on all around us all the time.

I've been trying to think of a quote or two to tie this together, though it's more like a sprawl or spew. But here are a couple worth checking out from runner, philosopher, physician, scribe George Sheehan:

"There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be."

"The answer to the big questions in running is the same as the answer to the big questions in life: do the best with what you've got."

"In facing life, no one knows exactly what is going to happen, what is going to be needed, where the search for the Grail will lead. The best we can do is be prepared. Running makes you an athlete in all areas -- trained in basics, ready for whatever comes, ready to live each day, fill each hour and deal with the decisive moment."

So there's a big, messy foil ball for you: suffering, running, humor, creativity, beginner's mind, and drinking it all in. What else? Thoughts? Bueller?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Welcome, Samuel!

Our new nephew, Samuel Robert Hutchison, was born at 8:43 a.m. on Monday, May 12, weighing 8 pounds, 8.5 ounces to proud parents Chad and Susie (my sister) Hutchison.

I was thinking my next post would be about some of the favorite running gear I have found over the last couple years and asking what others have found that they dig. And that may well be the next post, but felt insincere at the moment for where my head is.

This is a blog about running and life, and this story fits more on the life side. I enjoy running long distances and have been blessed to be able to finish a number of races. It's not always enjoyable, but finishing is, as well as the challenge, and knowing that on an aerobic, cardiovascular level, I am doing something that my heart benefits from and may even appreciate.

The heart is the connection here. I started yesterday with a great heart-pounding run around Easton, then after work, Robin and I went to visit our new nephew, Samuel Robert Hutchison, over at the Children's Hospital in Washington, DC. Samuel is a trip, looking like his brother Julian, while sporting the dapper double-chin, at an age where it's still considered cute :)

During my sister Susie's pregnancy, Samuel was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. What this means is that the left side of his heart has not and won't develop fully. The recommended course of action for his condition is a series of three heart surgeries, the first of which will happen in the next couple days, followed by the second in a couple months, and then a third somewhere between 18-24 months.

So she and her husband Chad are over in DC, spending time with Samuel, staying up to date with doctors--Chad is a veterinarian, who surprises the medical staff wherever he has been through this process since he has a solid understanding of what they are talking about--and waiting for the surgery to have a set date and time.

They know that they have a superhero team of doctors and surgeons--literally the experts and heroes in the field of children's cardiology. And they know they are in the best place they can be for Samuel. Yet they have a two-day old son who is not yet close to being able to come home to meet his brother or see his room. Man, that's tough and teary and trying.

My thoughts, prayers, morning strides in the dark or on the trail, and my words are with Samuel, Susie, Chad, and Julian. And with the great people who are surrounding and taking care of them in DC. I look forward to Samuel's first trip across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore, to seeing him at family cookouts, to watching him chase Julian around their back yard, and to seeing which one of the boys sports the curlier locks they both have working.

Welcome to the world, Samuel, and to enjoying the great and varied experiences it has to offer, and to which you add so much.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Backyard Adventures

The trail along with the White Clay Creek outside Newark, DE. Trails are always my preferred running terrain, but are they the end all? Photo by Joel Shilliday.

Last weekend we were running trails in Delaware, where I pounded my legs on hills and got in two light recovery runs this past week, each of about 40 minutes. Yesterday would have been the perfect day for a light 10-miler out at Tuckahoe or a run to St. Michaels, and we were debating which option to choose. And then I posted the Trans Tred Avon Challenge on the Rise Up Runners blog.

The goal was to do something cool for a long run, and get people thinking about when we could fit it in during the next month. Then a funny thing happened: we left the Diving Dog parking lot at 7:30 a.m., with 7 runners, to take the challenge, 48 hours after it was posted. For the full story on that run, check the RUR blog for photos, thoughts, etc.

What I thought I'd use as a point of departure here comes from a comment that Mike Keene (congratulations to the Wood Frog, by the way, for rocking his first triathlon! Read his report on his blog) made on Friday. To wit, trail running represents the kind of challenges, being in nature, pushing yourself over difficult terrain, that he wants out of his running and racing, and he would be just as happy not to run on roads at all.

Of course, I agree with him. However, I live in Easton, and the only "trail" we've got in town is actually paved. I run three times per week. On any given week, at least two out of those three are on roads. And unless we move to a house with trails in reasonably running proximity from the front door, that will remain the case.

So I'm a road runner too. What to do? The Trans Tred Avon Challenge, and other runs like it are part of my own answer. Make the runs different. Add an adventure factor. Create and tackle challenges with running friends. Yesterday's 20-21-mile run was one of the most enjoyable long distance runs I've ever done--based on how my legs felt, how nutrition went (no leg cramps, stomach issues, etc.), the perfect weather, and the fantastic company.

Our Rise Up Runs present another adventure avenue: running in the dark, earlier than most people get up. I'm not sure what the next "challenge" to be issued will be. I do know that there will be many more Trans Tred Avon runs, with ferry crossings, from various starting points--loops, point-to-points, and pool parties afterward.

The TTAC is a run I had been thinking about for a while. And all it took was 48 hours for a bunch of game-faced runners to step up and start it. What's the next Eastern Shore challenge out there? We know one is Joel Shilliday's Tuckahoe Creek Scramble. What else? Point-to-point from Easton to Tilghman? Kayak crossing of the Tred Avon, mid-run? There are so many backyard adventures, road or trail, I can't wait to see what the next run holds.