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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Things I Noticed

Interesting the things that emerge as notable sometimes. Specifically yesterday as I ran my fastest 5 miles ever - topping my previous record by more than 1 minute.

4.9 miles in 32:57 - or averaging approx. 6:45 per mile.

For me, that is lung-burning, heart-pounding, gut-busting fast.

But past the blaring white noise of this desire-fueled human machine, small focused shafts of surrounding reality flash mutely through the portals and ventilation shafts into the steel gray interior of resolve. The traffic, the sidewalks, trees and asphalt slip past with no impact on my mission. Running fast is all that matters and what does not hinder that mission ceases to exist. Though not entirely.

Wednesday afternoon at 4:34 I started running. Within 3/4 mile I was focused and only narrow splinters of my surroundings interrupted the perpetual systems management monitoring the efficient consumption of energy and means of propulsion.

But I noticed the guy leaning over the window of a friends car and the backup lights of a Ford Expedition 3 parking spaces away. I ran between them. I noted again with relief, for at least the tenth time, that the city had ground down a particularly hairy sidewalk transition.

Some stretches of the route are either completely obscured or blend too seamlessly into past runs for me to be convinced of them happening on Wednesday.

Yet I saw two men standing at the window of Bosco's ordering food, while 3 men stood chatting in my path on the sidewalk. Two stood near the curb while a third faced them, turned slightly my direction and monitored my approach out of the corner of his eye. No one moved but me. I sped up as I breezed between the men ordering burgers and the human bollard.

I noticed that no one was sitting smoking on the bench outside the little salon with windows angled such that I can see myself running in 3 separate panes of glass for a split second each. I tightened up my posture here and noticed to my chagrin that my tan must be fading as the season wanes.

I considered how random is my choice to run clockwise or counterclockwise around the courthouse - the apex of my out-and-back route. I chose clockwise this time, though for no other reason than that I chose at the last minute to go that particular way. I reasoned that I was not so superstitious as to think one direction or the other would guarantee a fast run. I run each direction with no certain regularity or reason. I then reconsidered, and supposed that maybe I was more superstitious than I thought - not being willing to rely on a conscious superstition but rather doubting my ability to overcome such foolishness and thereby leaving the results to the capriciousness of chance. I thus entrusted my fate to a random decision believing chance or fate to be more influential than a force I knew didn't exist. I thus continued to ponder that neither fate nor superstition could protect me from the desire to stop running. I caught myself slowing, recognized the randomness of my oxygen deprived brain, and slipped back into the machine.

Nearly to the crest of my last hill, a young woman smartly dressed in slacks and jacket crossed the road 3 paces ahead of a slouching fellow of her approximate age, struggling as hard to keep his shorts aloft as I was to breath. As I neared them she turned toward me on the sidewalk. The lines of her face and a more clear presentation of her costume revealed they were of the same cohort and no doubt led lives far harder than my own. We shared the same sidewalk, but I suspect our routines shared little else. My run had started off with Matthew West's My Own Little World, and the truth of that song stung me.

As I sit here and write I realize that is what this posting is about. Maybe the title should be "Things I Fail to Notice." Not soon after that encounter I was crowded by an SUV in an intersection and I shot the driver a glare. He dutifully returned the same. I was instantly convicted in my heart; not the pounding pulsing pulmonary muscle dutifully driving me down the hill, but rather that redeemed heart designed to drive compassion and mercy - spectacularly atrophied.

Curious the things that slip past, and more curious may be those things that find a way in. I finished and gave no more thought to backup lights, curbs, or SUV's. I went on with my own little world. One heart grew stronger, and the other may have atrophied just a bit more.

Both must grow stronger, and the effort to achieve that end may require comparable discipline and effort. Alas the daily grind will need to be punctured with more shafts of light than my weekly time trials are, and the training be no less rigorous.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Sky - Early Sunday Morning - 4 miles into a 10 mile run.

There's nothing like that sluggish, mercury in your veins feeling around mid-spring when you throw a leg back over the bike 30 miles into your first long ride of the season, or similarly, the blunt pain of a trail run - with the gusto of last season, and the stamina of your Christmas turkey baked and stuffed.

I'm gunning for bypassing those sensations this coming spring by doing something brilliant. I'm going to punish myself right through the winter. No sense postponing the burn, when I can have it all winter long. Yep, I've ramped up the cycling again and started cranking out more miles in the Reeboks.

Through a series of unexpected and unavoidable circumstances as Summer drifted down into Autumn, I slacked off my training, with the exception of a burst of activity around the running of the NorCal Tough Mudder. When I finally found time for some heart pounding activities, I found my heart and lungs, well, pounding. More than once I was dispatched to the back of a pack I should have been leading. I managed to pass some blame off on my bruised ribs (compliments of Tough Mudder), but the truth was I had slacked off. I took winter early.

There are 2 good reasons for me to abolish the slow down. First in order is the Mt. Diablo Trail Run coming up in March - and 50k (31 miles) is a long way to run. After last year's Golden Gate Headlands Marathon there was no doubt that I would run another. I developed an instant goal of running at least one marathon a year. Because cycling is difficult in the wet, dark winter, training for a marathon seemed a natural alternative. The marathon was doable thus the beginnings of a pattern was fixed. I hadn't even considered anything more than a marathon until my friend Matt sent me a link to the Mt. Diablo run. A 26 mile marathon had proved manageable, so how hard could 31 miles be? And so began my training for the 2011 - 2012 season.
The second event is my yearly Death Ride adventure. I let slip a few weeks back that I am nurturing a hope of finishing the DR in 9 hours, total of 10 hours including lunch and stops. Word spread among my cohort like a juicy rumor. The encouragement rolled in - that was good. But now I'm held accountable - that is pressure.

The side effects of the proposed "un-winter break" are yet to be set, as is the feasibility. Factors such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are likely to fall into this season, as well as school field trips, parties for the aforementioned holidays, fall planting and raking, decorating for the aforementioned holidays, shorter periods of daylight, church and choir activities for the aforementioned holidays - Need I go on?

So we shall see how this goes. Among my favorite quotations is a verse which comes from Robert Burns's To a Mouse On Turning Her up in Her Nest With The Plow:

The best-laid schemes o'

Mice an men

Gang aft agley,

An'lea'e us naught but

Grief an' pain,

For promis'd joy!

Here's holding out hope for more joy and less grief.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

House of Pain

I'm new to a ride that has been rolling through south eastern Contra Costa and Alameda Counties for many years. The original group called the route/ride the House of Pain (HOP) and is evidently (Because I am not strong enough to ride with them), frequented by racers and others much stronger than I.

All of this I am told by the group of 20 - 30 riders that frequent what is called HOP Light - a ride that starts about 30 minutes ahead of the true HOP ride but takes the identical route.

But don't be fooled, leaving around 8:45 am on Saturdays from Peets Coffee in Danville, HOP Light isn't for the slouch cyclist. Just today, after 3 weeks of practically no riding and still suffering the effects of a flu-like malady early in the week, I was barely able to hang onto the draft at the back of the group. I pulled - like a fool - out front for a few miles on and off near the beginning of the ride, but knew I was likely to suffer for it later. I did. I was unceremoniously dropped on the climb up Collier Canyon. Several others fell of the train - but I was the first to throw in the towel.

The ride is forgiving though and makes a handful of regular stops to allow any not-too-distant stragglers to regain the group.

From the top of Collier, over half way into the 50 mile combination of "out and back" and "large loop" forming on a map the image of a stout lollypop with a short stick, I was able to hang in the middle of the group. But just barely, as they could have blasted me out the back any time they wanted to.

My first 2 rounds with these guys and gals was 2 consecutive weekends over a month ago. I met many great riders and see that some of them are well respected and fairly consistent. During those first rides I found myself to be in great condition and rode strong - even up Collier Canyon - coming in 3rd at a - sort of - sprint line.

I've obviously been off the bike for too long. The 19 mph pace over the course of 50+ miles was exhausting to me this morning. No more 3 week sabbaticals.

This is a great group to ride with. They are very kind and I've learned a lot about riding in a peleton. The confined spaces at 30mph still make me jittery at times, but the communication is phenomenal and so far all the rides I've joined have been very safe.

I've made this somewhat of a default ride when nothing else is planned, and suppose I will ride with the bunch for many years to come.