Friday, January 23, 2015

Imagine a late night trail run.

I didn't have to imagine, but it could have existed on the same plane as my other imaginings.

Last night's run would fit in among all the strange dreams -- the ducks and the killer whale, softly languishing in the Charles River. The fire in the trees that raced toward Shen. Myself as someone else, standing in the middle of the uneasy ocean, at the end of a pier two miles long but an unnerving eleven inches wide.

Last night there was open water with jagged icy edges, ground that gave way, clawed tree branches that sought one's eyes out of the dark...  but it was all real. Maybe sometimes what we really need is for the environment to take us by the eyeballs and put us out onto the ice, where all the stars can see who we really are. 

Hi, my name is Unstrung and I have 753 facebook friends. There is only one who wants to run with me at 9:37pm on a weeknight through the icy forest and field, to explore new trails, to face potential wildlife and uncertainties of terrain and environment. I cannot imagine stating a number of miles that I might wish to run that would not at least get a, "Well, let's see how far we make it," if not a downright, "I'm game if you are."  This is the wonder of Scout.

On the way to Scoutland after a long-late class, in my trusty car that now goes clunk, I stumbled upon a radio station playing some really decent jazz. I listened for a while, guarded, expecting it would be bad. I was wrong - my jazz-ears came rushing back and I was happily immersed in form and phrasing, transcribing what little is allowed by my current atrophic level of perception.

The art of truly listening, globally, to a piece, while also truly understanding it -- being able to listen and know what it's doing artistically and technically, to hear the logic through which the current is being expressed, the context, the route chosen by the droplet that is the improviser -- is indeed a perishable skill. Mine is the most feeble flicker now, it seems, but it can still, for a moment, when fed, roar to life before it dies back down. 

I thought about how that was for a time, what sustained me. It was a gift to be reminded as I trundled up the Way of Mockingbird and gathered my spikes, my gps, my fleece layers, and my motivation to exist a little longer yet. Apparently it still does, in part.

The skunk was already leaving by the time we saw her. Orion looked farther away. The sky always glows a bloodied amber to the west. This morning, this afternoon, it can't seem to get up out of the pastels. I'm glad we are unable to medicate the sun when it does not, in our assessment, rise and set correctly.   

Do bats hibernate? Why does one person get squashed by a propane truck and not another? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015


A spontaneous inkling whispered Beautiful Loop to my granola-themed indecision that morning. Between shovelfuls I checked the weather: wind settling down late morning,and temps would stay in the teens.

Scout was game. I tried to remember how long Beautiful Loop usually takes.  4.5 hours?  5 hours? Scout reminded me that it is, of course, different every time.  You check how far you've gotten when you have used up half of your available time, and you either turn around, cut off on the BBU, or, on a really good day, you cross the river and keep going.

Conditions were some of the fastest and brightest and smoothest I've ever encountered. We traveled easily in spikes. Exclamations of near-shock were uttered at our relatively-fast (is what it is, but still!) pace and the blue-eyed sky. Even the rows of bleached and broken cornstalks were almost lurid, aligning in angular contrast with the other elements of the field.

It was our longest in a while at 15.2miles, 3 hours and 35 minutes. Maybe a record, for me. Strava said it was my "third fastest half marathon time" which I found amusing. Oh, Strava... 

The final third was a little softer underfoot and thus slower going. A couple of body parts were tiring but nobody suffered a MI on Lunchbreak so everything really went quite well. 

It is somehow such a relief to run long. And Beautiful Loop is all sacred. You never know what's going to happen out there. It feels remote and maybe a little dangerous. Lots of people don't know it's there or how to find it. You run it, and it feels like you've done what your deepest nature has always hoped you would. And sharing it, or, experiencing it shared-ly, is such a pleasure.

I'm excited that a piece of my writing has gotten published, not on this blog, but elsewhere. Been a while since I've set free anything other than a press release, it seems...  It isn't my finest and it's not a huge deal by any means, but I'm still grateful and a bit encouraged by it. It is a relentless etude I wrote about collagen and it's on which is like The Onion but for medical satire instead of just news. If you're feeling brave, here: Collagen Etude

School has started and I'm scrambling about as usual, signing up too late and selling contents of my closet to afford used and yet still outrageously overpriced textbooks. (Do I even have a closet?) Nothing we haven't already seen before. The torture of not knowing if I'm doing the right thing is a kindred spirit to nothing. It will not thrive in captivity but feed, it does. I believe it is the sort of thing that presents itself as directly connected to something I have done or haven't, or some decision. This is an inaccurate portrayal. I will be 84 and still meet the ravine (as it were) at the next wind in the trail.

Perhaps this is why I keep my eyes and lungs on the sunset at all times. And if the sun isn't setting at the moment, there is always Beautiful Loop.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Many good footsteps are happening at the Andy lately with Scout and Piper. 

My energy seems to be creeping back to normal (whatever that means). The weeks-long rhino invasion is finally seeming to be on its way out. Never seemed to even be a full blown cold but the sore throat thing was impossible to sleep through in the wee hours. Inconvenient! But then I'd get up and read about multi-drug-resistant TB for a while, and then of course I couldn't complain.  

(I am reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Wikipedia says: "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World (2003) is a non-fiction,biographical work by American writer Tracy Kidder. The book traces the life of physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer with particular focus on his work fighting tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru and Russia." Difficult to put it down. Enjoying it very much. Farmer is an enigma and he reminds me a bit of my friend Tom in some ways and Shepp in others. Pretty much the least likely combination, ever. A special and wonderful creature, for certain.)

Today I felt like I could have run seventy point five miles. I couldn't have, of course, yet - but I felt that way you feel when you know you can go on.  Toward the end of the run, it was getting dark and Scout occasionally called out things like "5k left!" and "I think this is the last climb," and such things. Some days these landmarks help to break it down into that which seems attainable. Today, they seemed just happenstance.  Just notes, brightly breaking up the silence. 

Distance always feels different than it did, in one way or another... It's about how you slept not just last night, but all week. Month? Life? And, everything else.  There, that sums it up. New paragraph.

Today we found a tiny snowball on a signpost and wondered if it could be a magic button.  We debated pressing it but ultimately fed it to Piper on the way back. (Too risky on the way out, not knowing what kind of button it was.) It turned out to be an "on" switch for all her crazy neurons to fire at once. She bounded about either gleefully of maniacally or both, causing amusement among the humans.

Seventy point five miles is the lengths of the Laurel Highlands Ultra, a point-to-point that I'm running in June. The number will surely crop up now and again in my thoughts here in the coming months. My longest run ever at this point is somewhere around 44+ miles at the Big Brad Ultra last October 2014. I didn't finish. And yet I've decided my training will be similar. Mistake #1?  Or solid plan #1?

 I feel a mysterious assuredness that has been accidentally imparted upon me, due to the company I lurk about.... Mostly on facebook.  Pretty unromantic, but that's usually what we have. So we do the best we can.  

The assuredness is that I will indeed have the full experience of running long, really long, I am going to learn more than I ever felt possible about how to fuel and tend to the needs of my physiology, and that chances are that the outcome will be positive. Running generally is.  Never run long and hated it. 

Injuries, though. Those are the real risk. However, they only sort of count as a non-positive thing, because one can learn a tremendous amount from them, and because the vast majority will heal.

I am not sure how cold it was but I would guess low teens, with only a very slight rustle of breeze. I wore a grid fleece and a windbloc fleece vest and my wrists/hands were very frozeny after 10.66 miles. Hat and gloves too, all of which stayed on for the whole run - unusual. I have been having weird wrist freeziness a lot lately but today was really bad. Scout (bless her Scouty ventricles) helped me as I struggled to get the Microspikes off the Hokas after the run. Might need to try some sleeves or something.  Or just wear more when it's this cold...

Before the run, coming home from Shen's -- lo, how I adore the barn in winter -- I heard on This American Life a story about expectations. Here's a link to what I hope is the right podcast. Might not be available for a couple days.   But there is a part that details giving rats to two groups of people.  Half the people were told their rats were super smart, the other half were told their rats were really dumb.  Everyone tested their rat in a maze daily.  All rats were basically, actually, the same. Outcome: The rats that people thought were smart outperformed the rats that people thought were dumb. Not by a little -- by a lot. 

So, do you think this can be applied to running?  And while we're at it, can you all please decide in your minds that I am wicked smart? Kthx...!


Moral of the story:
If it's in the teens, wear two layers on top. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Night run with Scout.
Piper bounds with boundless enthusiasm.
Huge ring adorns hazy round moon.
Long tree shadows emerge as the haze begins to lift.
Orion visits.
Two layers, three degrees, no wind, just right.

"How are your hands?" asks Scout, glancing back.
And my gloves are already off.

Weird algebra.