^zhurnaly 0.77

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.77 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.76 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... RSS

Catoctin 50k 2009 Addendum

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Catoctin_50k_2009_z.jpgMy arch-nemesis the digital bathroom scale says 155 lbs. before the race, maybe due to all the hot-and-sour soup and other salty foods I've been eating in subconscious anticipation of electrolyte loss during the Catoctin 50k. My weight is down to 152 afterwards, even though I eat a veggie burger and drink a couple of pounds of water and soda after finishing.

The photo here, courtesy Jim Treece, shows an atypically flat, well-marked, and runnable section of the blue-blazed Catoctin Trail.

Other tidbits from this year's Cat run:

(cf. Catoctin 50k 2008 (2008-08-10), 2009-08-01 - Catoctin 50k Trail Run (2009-08-03), ...)

- Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 04:59:43 (EDT)

Ignore the Noise

At a recent meeting concerning terrorism, one speaker observed, "We have to learn what is just noise—and learn to live with it." The comment reminded me of bomb designer Theodore Taylor's observations on the likelihood of dozens of terrorist nuclear explosions per year, and his judgment that civilization would nonetheless adapt and survive. No need to panic or overreact or obsess over fighting the previous war's last battle again and again. Just observe, assess, and respond rationally.

(cf. ThermodynamicsOfTerrorism (2002-01-15), Bruce Schneier's remarks Refuse to Be Terrorized (2008-07-16), ...)

- Monday, August 10, 2009 at 20:25:13 (EDT)

2009-08-07 - MCRRC Going Green Track Meet

2 miles @ ~ 6:51 min/mi

One pair of road shoes, three pairs of trail shoes, and three pairs of walking shoes go into the charity donation bin at tonight's race—yes, apparently I do have a propensity to accumulate running footwear—as son Robin and I arrive at Walt Whitman High School track. It's relatively cool and low-humidity, so my usual excuse for poor performance is weakened. The two mile keystone event here took me 16:02 two years ago (cf. 2007-08-03 - Two Minute Man) but given speed improvements and weight loss I should do better. Friend Kate Abbott has predicted 13:51 but I'm just hoping for sub-14. Robin and I take photos and chat with comrades. Peggy Dickison warms up with me as the first, fast heat begins. Then it's our turn. My sandbagging coach Wayne Carson is there with us. Both he and Peggy are coming back from injury and related training gaps.

As in other recent PR-setting races, the chocolate chip pancakes I ate at The Deli for lunch do their magic: laps flow by steadily, 1:46 + 1:41 + 1:41 + 1:41 + 1:43 + 1:43 + 1:46 + 1:41 by my watch, for a total of ~13:42 pending an official posting. I conscientiously stay in lane 1 on the curves and pass folks only on the straightaways. CM Manlandro and Ken Swab cheer as they await their heat. After the halfway point I feel I'm slowing and move out to lane 2 on the backstretch so a faster runner can get by inside. He pants as he passes, "Is this track etiquette?" and I puff back, "Go for it—I'm dying here!" His pace turns out to be near-perfect for me as I trail him until the final straightaway, when he kicks ahead and another runner sprints by me.

I sit out the mile, which Robin runs in good style, and then join "Team F" (you can guess why I picked that letter for our name!) for the 4x400 meter relay. Christina Caravoulias, Don Libes, and Robin Zimmermann do the first three laps, and though I try to maintain position when it's my turn two speedsters zip by and I finish DFL but happy.

- Saturday, August 08, 2009 at 04:31:07 (EDT)

2009-08-05 - Repaved Trail Loop

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Two spotted fawns stare at me and then bolt for cover as I applaud them. The pathway through the woods near the office was closed for many weeks but is open again, newly surfaced and smoother, but just as hilly. For a warm and humid afternoon the marked miles go by surprisingly well, at 9:41, 8:44, and a final blitz of 7:49 before I stagger back to work. In the evening Christina Caravoulias and I walk up and down the Mormon Temple hill three times, at 17-18 min/mi pace. Chris spots a large bunny nibbling the grass, and as dusk sets in the fireflies come out to wink at us.

- Thursday, August 06, 2009 at 04:37:23 (EDT)


Yesterday's sunrise portends a scorcher: the stars are all gone and only Venus remains, glittering like a diamond in a sapphire sky above a baby-blanket pink band that, in turn, nestles in turn on top of a dusky-blue layer that swaddles the horizon.

In spite of common usage, "Failsafe" doesn't mean something is foolproof and can't fail—it means that when it does fail, it goes into a (relatively) non-damaging state. A satellite, for instance, can be programmed to go into a safe mode when the unexpected happens; it orients itself to keep batteries charged and antennas pointed until further instructions arrive. Likewise when a train's braking system loses air pressure, the brakes are applied; it fails so that the train comes quickly to a stop.

But failing safe is harder to achieve when broken sensors give the wrong information—as comes to mind during my morning commute, traveling along the same section of track where a major accident occurred a month ago, looking at the dawn through the Metro train window ...

- Wednesday, August 05, 2009 at 04:49:48 (EDT)

Contemplative Zombie

From the chapter ""Selfing" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

So, when we speak about not trying so hard to be "somebody" and instead just experiencing being, directly, what it means is that you start from where you find yourself and work here. Meditation is not about trying to become a nobody, or a contemplative zombie, incapable of living in the real world and facing real problems. It's about seeing things as they are, without the distortions of our own thought processes. Part of that is perceiving that everything is interconnected and that while our conventional sense of "having" a self is helpful in many ways, it is not absolutely real or solid or permanent. So, if you stop trying to make yourself into more than you are out of fear that your are less than you are, whoever you really are will be a lot lighter and happier, and easier to live with, too.

(cf. ThoughtfulMetaphors (2000-11-08), LightMind (2002-08-22), FreedomEvolves (2003-07-03)...)

- Tuesday, August 04, 2009 at 04:49:32 (EDT)

2009-08-01 - Catoctin 50k Trail Run

~31 miles @ ~15.3 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Catoctin_50k_card.jpgThe Catoctin 50k is a tough trail run held in August every year. It features heat, humidity, hills, and sometimes swarms of hornets. The only prize that finishers receive is a Cat Card, shown here. Last year Caren and I didn't make it within the official cutoff time; this year, thanks to Caren's excellent coaching on the trail I come in comfortably at 7:53. And I don't fall down once!

At the End

"This is just a training run for The Ring!" Caroline Williams shouts down at me from the balcony of the Gambrill State Park Tea Room as I approach the finish line of the Catoctin 50k. She's right—The Ring, a 71-mile circuit on the Massanutten Mountain Trail on Sep 5-6 this year, will be a challenge all its own. We'll see how it goes.

During the final climb to the Tea Room I catch up with a young lady, Sue, who's moving slowly. She's suffering from muscle cramps, and I stop to give her a Succeed! electrolyte capsule from my pouch. It's too late to help her now but perhaps it will speed her post-race recovery and make the drive home more comfortable. We chat and she tells me that her previous longest run was only 13 miles. I salute her in astonishment. (But respect and admiration don't keep me from leaving her behind as I rush onward to the finish.)

In the Middle

"Mark!" shouts friend Caren Jew, across the creek that separates me from the turnaround. "Caren!" I shout back, then begin to wade the waters. Caren and her daughters are volunteering at the Manor Area aid station in Cunningham Falls State Park. Young Jenna runs with me around the required loop there, but then shyly refuses to shake my hand. She's quite sensible: I'm muddy, stinky, and dripping with sweat. For good measure I decide to empty my water bottle over my head before getting it filled with Gatorade. Jenna stands back while Caren takes a photo.

I've arrived at the turnaround point of the course in 3:44, half an hour ahead of the cutoff. Last year Caren and I traversed the segments of the course to this point only a few minutes slower each, arriving close to but within the time limit. Today, I estimate that I have a chance to make it in under 8 hours if I push, so with a wave of heartfelt thanks to Caren I hasten out, stagger across the stream, and commence the long climb back.

Before the Start

Phil Hesser, author of a tongue-in-cheek Catoctin Trail navigation guide, chats with me in the Tea Room. Registration takes only a few seconds so we have plenty of time until the pre-race briefing. Phil describes how he took a wrong turn last year and ended up DNF'ing. I remind him that Caren and I saw Kari Anderson with him then, returning to the course, but that I refrained from making up stories about what they were doing alone in the woods. Phil describes his Comrades Marathon experiences in South Africa, which include a finish within only a few seconds of the 12-hour cutoff.

Tom Green, ultrarunner extraordinaire, joins the conversation. Tom ran with me during the Bull Run Run 2008, and reports that in spite of injuries and surgery he's still continuing his consecutive-finish streak in that race—an astounding 17 years in a row. The Cat run today is more of a training excursion for him, as well as a test of his ankle. Phil and I wish him well.

Outside again I meet and greet a variety of friends and acquaintances. Jon ("Not Chuck!") Norris introduces me to his fiancé and family who are here to crew for him. He tells me about the Grindstone 100 miler that he ran last year. A few minutes later a woman mentions her interest in that race, so I lead her over to talk with Jon. Also here is Mark McKennett, preparing to be the Grim Sweeper who will trek the course after the cutoff to ensure no lost runners are left behind on the trail. Always-cheerful Gary Knipling says "Hi!" as do others who recognize me but whom I'm embarrassed not to know by name.

Race Director Kevin Sayers gives his always-enthusiastic pre-brief, is applauded by the crowd, and we're off at 8:02am by my watch.

Along the Way

From the beginning I'm trying to achieve three major goals:

I stumble a few times but tell myself "No trippage!" and manage to recover without incident. I semi-roll my ankles (three times on the right foot, once on the left) but fortunately not seriously. No major chafing today—I'm wearing my lucky "Montgomery Lacrosse" mesh shirt that saw me through my very first marathon in 2002. I bought it in a thrift store for a few dollars and it's a bit ragged now, but still holds together. My fluorescent international-orange baggy shorts should help errant hunters avoid mistaking me for a deer.

The race is generally uneventful, a Good Thing. During the first third I'm usually tagging along behind a peleton of other runners; the middle third I find myself with one or two others from time to time; the final third sees me mostly alone. Several runners recognize me (from online photos?) and tell me that they read my report on the race last year.

Hornets (or perhaps small bees?) buzz and flicker above the rocks, especially in warm sunlit areas, but don't sting me. I slow my pace on the downhills to reduce the risk of falling. The temperature begins in the lower-70s and rises to the mid-to-upper 80s, with intermittent cloud cover but no rain, unlike last year. I avoid electrolyte and nutrition problems by religiously taking a Succeed! e-cap every hour, starting before the race. I also suck down an energy gel on the half-hour when there's no aid station nearby, and drink copious quantities of Gatorade. At the aid stations I keep my bottles filled and grab cookies, watermelon slices, and whatever other munchies appeal at the moment. My goal is to keep moving and spend less than a minute refueling.

The difference between ultras and shorter races is repeatedly demonstrated today: ultrarunners are far more relaxed, far less competitive. At mile 20, for instance, I pass a suffering runner and pause to give him two ibuprofen tablets. A woman and I stop to help another runner near mile 25 who has run out of water; she gives him some of her Gatorade, he declines my offer of water, and we reassure him that an aid station is less than a mile ahead. Whenever runners pass one another, almost without exception, they exchange greetings and encouraging words. We're all in this together!

Bottom Line

The 2008 Catoctin 50k turns out ok, thanks to my wonderful friend and consummate Cat Coach Caren Jew and all the practice runs she led me along during the past many months. Caren isn't able to do the race this time; she's coming back from an injured ankle. Last year's Catoctin 50k that we ran together went better than expected, even though we DNF'd by half an hour. This year she's with me in spirit every step of the way, and thanks to her preparation I never get lost even in the trickiest sections of the course. Thank you, Caren!


cutoff dist.location 2008
1:371:371:456Hamburg Rd 1:421:42
0:402:172:359Delauter Rd 0:462:28
0:312:48--Fishing Creek Rd 0:373:05
0:273:16--Gambrill Park Rd 0:333:37
0:283:444:1515.5Manor area 0:324:10
0:424:26--Gambrill Park Rd 0:545:04
0:304:56--Fishing Creek Rd 0:395:43
0:315:276:2022Delauter Rd 0:416:24
0:466:137:1525Hamburg Rd 1:037:27
1:407:539:1531Tea Room 2:189:45

In the table distances are given in miles and paces in minutes/mile. The initial loop around the parking lot plus descent to the first crossing of Gambrill Park Rd took 12 min; returning does not require the parking lot loop and took 10 min. Those times are included in the first and last rows of the table, respectively.

- Monday, August 03, 2009 at 04:56:51 (EDT)

Failing to Fail

A comrade recently mentioned a study he's doing on successes in the organization—what we did right—in contrast to the traditional retrospective focus on mistakes and problems. We tend, he said, not to learn much from exercises that concentrate on our shortfalls. In his words those negative papers only demonstrate "How to fail at failure."

- Sunday, August 02, 2009 at 12:10:31 (EDT)

2009-07-26 - Riley's Rumble Half Marathon

~13.1 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

"I like your shirt!" I tell a young buff fellow running bare-chested near me at mile 2 of Riley's Rumble. He laughs; we chat; it's his first half-marathon and he's enthusiastic. A few miles later I'm a wee bit ahead of him. Rain and sweat have saturated my shirt, inducing me to take it off and wrap it around my arm. He greets me during an out-and-back segment and shouts in passing, "I like your shirt too!"http://zhurnaly.com/images/Rileys_Rumble_2009.jpg

Sunday morning brings an amazing ~15 minute PR improvement for me on the half marathon, with an official finish of 1:55:33 on a hilly uncertified course that some say is a bit too long. I'm 6th out of 22 in the 55-59 year old male cohort. Hmmm ... maybe training does eventually pay off? Bones and tendons on the top of my right foot have been twinging for the previous week, starting during a walk home from the subway. I tell everyone I know about the achiness and try icing the foot at work, much to the amusement of my colleagues. Caren Jew fingers the phenomenon as my usual sandbagging excuse-making before a big race. On Saturday I go to RnJ Sports to buy new walking shoes, and while there I can't resist snagging new road and trail shoes in the half-price room. Race day Sunday dawns and I put on two pairs of socks for extra padding.

I arrive early at the new Riley's Rumble course near the Montgomery County Soccerplex, get registered almost instantly, and then hang with friends. Christina Caravoulias is volunteering and taking photographs. Mark McKennett tells me about The Ring, an ultra on Massanutten Mountain that he did last year. CM Manlandro stashes her purse in my car and gives me a Succeed! e-cap plus some of her "vitamin water" before the race, and I also drink Gatorade to wash down an energy gel. Ken Swab joins us; he took my sons and me to the Frederick Keys minor-league baseball game last evening so none of us got quite as much sleep as we might have wished for. Gayatri Datta leads me on a warmup jog and immediately my foot stops hurting—good! Gayatri also shows me some yoga stretches as we wait in the crowd before the start. I demonstrate the Corpse Position (Savasana) to Ken and CM by lying down on the sidewalk.

The race begins and I thread my way forward through the crowds toward the front where I find room to trot at a comfortably brisk pace. Heavy rains fall during miles 1-2 and we're all soaking wet. I maintain a steady 8.2-9.2 min/mi pace and attempt to run the whole way, walking only for a few seconds through the aid stations where I drink Gatorade. A steep climb near mile 12, however, induces me to walk for about 45 seconds. I see CM and Ken and others at the turnarounds near miles 5 and 8, and shout encouragement to them. Don Libes and Co. offer ice pops at mile 8 but I refrain since I don't feel confident about opening and eating one on the run.

Two lovely horses stand near the country road behind a fence made of a single string looped between little sticks in the ground. The course takes us past cornfields and through woodsy valleys. Clouds are thick for the first 90 minutes, but then the sun comes out and it's suddenly steamy-warm. My left metatarsals ache for most of the race, and the rain on top of my double-thick socks and new shoes creates a big blister on the bottom of the right foot. My left foot's second toenail is purple and will probably fall off soon. Bottom line: a great race!

Splits by my watch:

0:00:1400:14to start
0:18:2218:08miles 1 & 2
0:26:4508:23mile 3
0:35:2608:41mile 4
0:53:0917:42miles 5 & 6
1:02:1309:04mile 7
1:10:3908:26mile 8
1:19:3608:56mile 9
1:28:0108:25mile 10
1:55:2527:24miles 11-13.1

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

- Saturday, August 01, 2009 at 04:40:33 (EDT)

Hospital Coffee

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Cardiac_Arrest_coffee.jpgSeton Hospital in Austin Texas has a coffee shop. On the wall outside its door there's a menu that offers the usual varieties of latte, mocha, etc. But three-quarters of the way down the list is a presumably high-caffeine entry that might be funny in other circumstances but might not be quite so appropriate in a hospital context: "Cardiac Arrest".

(cf. StrongCoffee (2003-06-07), ...)

- Friday, July 31, 2009 at 04:40:01 (EDT)

2009-07-20 - C&O Towpath with CM

15+ miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

A great blue heron strides cautiously on its stilt-legs, stalking something invisible in the stagnant waters of the C&O Canal. CM Manlandro and I are trotting toward our starting point at Carderock on a warm Monday morning. We start later than planned when I try a new route through town in an unnecessary attempt to avoid morning rush-hour on the Beltway. My bigger mistake: leaving my bum bag, salt, and two water bottles in the car in anticipation of a short out-and-back. But I discover that CM wants to go long, and with only one bottle in hand and a few hard candies I'm sweat-soaked and dehydrated after the first hour.

We start near milepost 10.5 and turn back at 18. Fortunately there's a water faucet at Swains Lock, marker 16.5ish. I'm suffering from chafing in an unmentionable male area as well as intestinal distress. Perhaps it was the moldy bread on my PBJ dinner last evening, or the week-old veggie dogs I had on the side? For whatever reason, the portajohns at Swains are a welcome sight in both directions of our journey. And I find a shiny new Lincoln cent on the floor in one of them!

CM tells me of her family camping ordeal in West Virginia last week. In turn, I faux-mock friend Kate Abbott for not joining us today. (She has only been running and doing intensive yoga for the past 18 days without a break, plus taking care of three boys and working at the office, and she's ill today.) I stop trash-talking Kate when we begin to get exhausted ourselves. At my suggestion, for the final ~4 miles of the run CM and I religiously take 1 minute walk breaks every 5 minutes. "If we schedule the walks in advance," I explain, "then we can plausibly deny that we were tired and had to take them!" When CM's GPS says we've done her goal of 15 miles we take a side path to the wrong parking lot at Carderock and walk down the road to our cars.

- Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 04:39:22 (EDT)


Tracers are pyrotechnic bullets that let gunners see where their rounds are headed; tracers are also radioisotopes and suchlike that can track flows of chemicals in the body. But words can be tracers too, for the movements of ideas. Recently my wife, Paulette Dickerson, testified to the County Council in opposition to subsidized parking for public library patrons. Among the points she made in her speech "Pay the Two Dollars" was the cost to the county imposed by non-library users who brazenly take advantage of the system:

... If the subsidy money that those scofflaws took in that one hour was put into the MCPL materials budget, the department could have purchased a children's book that would have enriched kids' lives for years. ...

That exotic word "scofflaw" showed up a week later in a memorandum on the same topic written by a county council staffer. Apparently somebody was paying attention during Paulette's talk!

- Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 04:37:25 (EDT)

2009-07-18 - Austin Town Lake Loop

~10 miles @ ~10 min/mi


Just as we did three years ago, my brother Keith picks me up at our Mother's home and takes me to the MoPac Expressway end of the Town Lake trail in Austin Texas for a morning run. He lends me his GPS to carry. We start at 7:10am and trot together for the first ~1.5 miles, at which point he turns back to get his bicycle and do a long ride while I continue along the northern shore of the lake. It's warm and humid, with large numbers of runners on the western end of the course, fewer to the east of I-35. A friendly young fellow helps me follow the tricky path around the ballfields and the power plant to Longhorn Dam, then runs on ahead. He greets me again when I make it back to the car, since coincidentally he has parked right behind us. My pace this year is ~1.5 min/mi faster than it was in 2006.

- Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 04:58:28 (EDT)

Essential Zen

In brief, Essential Zen isn't. This 1994 collection of stories and poetry, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Tensho David Schneider, stumbles and stutters. Most of the contents seem badly translated—even if the original language is English. The only striking poem is by Lou Hartmen in the section "Great Doubt":

Scalding coffee from a freezing cup.
At the rim no telling
Which is which.

That's a gem, alas a rare one among the clinkers. (Or maybe I'm too unenlightened to appreciate the rest? Or maybe the authors and editors are too enlightened?)

- Monday, July 27, 2009 at 04:39:55 (EDT)

2009-07-16 - Texas Speedwork

~9 miles @ ~10 min/mi average

Bats flitter by, out for a late night on the town as Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon hang bright in the pre-dawn sky. Daily high temperatures have been at or above 100°F for the past two weeks in Austin TX. Yesterday I arrive to visit with family, and to be here during my stepmother Dorothy's surgery. This morning I'm heading for LBJ High School, where I ran three years ago (cf. RemindMeNeverTo). I jog ~1.5 miles to the rubberized track, past the shopping center where I picked up excellent egg foo yung carry-out last evening. Spiral ramps take me over Route 183 and down again. Purple Sage Drive leads me to the nice rubberized track. I caught sight of it yesterday from the airplane window during our descent.

On 2006-07-07 I did eight 800m repeats at an average pace of 4:27 each with half a lap (~2 min) of walk-recovery between. Today I do ten of the same at 3:55 each on the average, the final one a blitz in 3:34 to impress a young lady in a quilted jacket walking along the track with weights in her hands. I'm soaking wet, dripping with sweat before I jog back to my Mother's home where I lived in the 1960s. Other folks this morning are also walking the track. They're mostly tattooed and listening to iPods. Texas seems to have become the land of big cars, something like a Soviet Union with air conditioners.

(boring list of 800m times: 3:59 + 3:58 + 3:50 + 3:59 + 3:55 + 3:55 + 3:54 + 3:53 + 3:51 + 3:34)

- Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 04:51:51 (EDT)

Slow and Tough

A mantra for my style of back-of-the-pack ultrarunning:

"If you're gonna be slow, you'd better be tough!

(seen in an article by Jon Billman, August 2008 issue of Outside magazine [1] re the Great Divide Race, a bicycle event that runs along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico; cf. BigAndStrong (2004-07-27), ...)

- Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 08:42:35 (EDT)

2009-07-14 - Langley Labyrinth

~3.5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

The neighborhood roads are like a Maze of Twisty Little Passages, that classic early-computer-era adventure-game puzzle, as I set out on an unseasonably cool and dry Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately I carry directions from a previous explorer on a torn scrap of paper, gripped tight in my hand. At the traffic light I turn right and cross Route 123 to take Merchant La to Ramshorn Dr, where I turn right again. Then it's left onto Somerset Dr, right onto Long Meadow Rd, and another right to follow Perry William Dr. So far, so good: the alternatives are marked "No Outlet", a clue to keep me on course. The houses here are large but not ridiculous. Then a left onto Stoneham La is followed by a left onto Potomac School Rd, a semi-major thoroughfare. Before I reach the fancy private school my guidelines tell me to turn right onto Evermay Dr. It dead-ends a few blocks later, but as instructed I seek a narrow gravel path between two houses. I follow it, walled in by stout wooden fences, to Lynwood Hill Rd which in turn takes me to Rt 123. Whew!

Now back on known terrain I turn left and follow 123 south. Traffic here is heavy and the shoulder is narrow and cluttered, blocked in places by brush or trash. I cautiously continue until the next corner, Ballantrae Rd. My directions describe how to add a couple of extra miles by venturing again eastward, but I have to return to finish work and then catch the bus/subway home. So instead of turning left, on I go the opposite way, across 123 and down Ballantrae past menacing stone-and-steel gates, private tennis courts, and stately mansions. I reach Old Chain Bridge Rd and pause to get my bearings. One last turn right and I emerge onto Georgetown Pike, where I've run to and from the local high school track in recent weeks. The paved asphalt path on the roadside takes me back to the office with time to spare.

- Friday, July 24, 2009 at 04:56:20 (EDT)

Six Minutes Per Week

Tara Parker-Pope's health column in the New York Times last month asks, "Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?" [1]. The article by Gretchen Reynolds quotes Japanese and Canadian experiments performed on rats and college students (hmmm!) that showed significant training effects from brief but intense exercise. Of course, this popularization of the research doesn't go into enough detail to trust the results, or even to interpret them. Do the "fitness" gains apply in general, or only to the specific actions tested? (The rodents were forced to swim while wearing weights; the collegians pedaled furiously on a stationary bicycle.) Are there general cardiovascular benefits, or only improvements to molecular systems and mitochondria in the muscles being stressed? How hard do workouts have to be for various levels of fitness? Further studies are clearly needed.

Bottom line for me: even if I could have all the health benefits of running without actually doing it, I'd still want to get out into the woods for hours and go outrageous distances—if only for the fun and friendships and scenery and stories I get from training and racing.

- Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 04:45:52 (EDT)

2009-07-12 - SCGT with Caren, PBT Lake Artemesia

9+ miles @ ~15 min/mi + ~9 miles @ ~9+ min/mi

A gibbous moon swims near Jupiter in the western sky. Caren Jew is already waiting for me at 5am when I arrive at the intersection of Brink and Wightman. We strap on our gear and head south on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, thick fog over an open meadow reflecting in our headlamps. We walk for the first half-mile until it's light enough enough to run safely. Caren taunts me into running the Watkins Mill hill up to the high school (traffic light). It's like the Mormon Temple hill but maybe 2/3rds as long. We discuss my Midsummer Night's Mile result of Friday night, a surprising new PR for me. Caren runs through a huge spider web as we approach MD-355, where we turn back. Near the end of our journey she spies deer on the trail ahead, a small group, a buck with two-point antlers already developing but still velvet-clad, a smaller buck with short spikes, plus at least one doe. Back at our cars about 7:15am I head to the bagel bakery and homeward, as Caren refuels and continues northward on the SCGT. Our time is 1:10 outbound, 1:03 returning.

At home I pick up Gray and Merle and give them a ride to UM, Gray to teach violin to her student, Merle to swim and/or work. I change socks at the car, parked across the street from the music bldg, and trot across campus to Paint Branch Trail. From milepost 1.5 down PBT to its starting point near Lake Artemesia flows at ~8.5 min/mi pace, too fast to sustain in this morning's warmth and humidity. Around the 1.35 mile LA Loop I zip by walkers and joggers three full circuits, slowing from 8.5 min/mi on the first to 9+ pace. Then it's walk breaks every half mile along the PBT at 10 min/mi back to the car. Overheated + underhydrated = bonk!

- Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 04:55:36 (EDT)

What Is Zen?

The talks by Alan Watts that comprise the book What Is Zen? are sporadically entertaining but generally unsatisfying, marred by excessive exclamation marks and a frustrating disorganization. The original lectures were given late in Watts's life (he died in 1973) and were published in 2000, transcribed from tapes and edited by his son Mark. Watts begins with the observation in his first seminar ("A Simple Way, A Difficult Way") that, "Zen is really extraordinarily simple as long as one doesn't try to be cute about it or beat around the bush!" Alas, he then proceeds immediately into coy evasion.

But there are some interesting and important tidbits. For instance, he quotes from the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:

If somebody asks you a question about matters sacred, always answer in terms of matters profane. If they ask you about ultimate reality, answer in terms of everyday life. If they ask you about everyday life, answer in terms of ultimate reality.

And in his chapter "Space" Watts tells a striking parable:

There was once an Englishman and an Indian sitting in a garden together, and the Hindu was trying to explain basic Indian philosophy to the Englishman. So he said, "Look now, there is a hedge at the end of the garden—against what do you see the hedge?"

The Englishman said, "Against the hills."

"And what do you see the hills against?"

He said, "Against the sky."

"And what do you see the sky against?" And the Englishman didn't know what to say.

So the Hindu said, "You see it against consciousness."

A wonderful image—but Rudyard Kipling perhaps did it better ...

- Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 04:46:39 (EDT)

2009-07-10 - Midsummer Night's Mile

1 mile @ 6:32 min/mi

As I tell comrade Kate Abbott the day before tonight's MCRRC track meet at Rockville High School, although last year I barely got under the 7 minute mark (6:59.74 officially) this time I think 6:45 could happen "if the planets come into alignment". What about sub-6:30, she asks? "Maybe in my fantasy world!" I reply.

A flock of friends visit with me before the start, including sandbagger Wayne Carson, lensman Christina Caravoulias, coming-back-from-medical-challenges Russ Egeland, and Mical Honigfort with husband Paul and baby Erik. Orienteerer Peggy Dickison introduces me to her family. I warm up with a slow lap, pause, then do another with my son Robin. He only really began his speedwork a few weeks ago, so perhaps he will be strong next month. This evening he runs in heat #2 and kicks hard to come in in comfortably under 8 minutes after three 2+ minute laps, respectable but slower than last year's 7:08 for him.

For me, heat #4 of the race turns out OK, to put it mildly. I start 1-2 seconds behind the line and am dead last, right where I usually am, for the first 100m or so. Then I begin to pass folks who have come out too hard. Wayne, cooling down after his run in the previous group, shouts advice to me from the far end of the track, "Push hard in laps 2 and 3!" I try not to swing out to go around people on the curves and only have to do it once, entering the second lap.

Christina reminds me to pump my arms at the end, and I do. Entering the final straightaway I'm close to a young fellow who hears me and accelerates away, for which I thank him after the finish. According to my watch the laps are roughly 1:41, 1:39, 1:37, and 1:35, a pattern that looks smoother than it feels. Officially I'm 5th out of 8 in my age/sex group at 6:31.91 mile time. Whew!

(cf. 2008-07-11 - MidSummer Night's Mile, ...)

- Monday, July 20, 2009 at 05:33:13 (EDT)

Bird's Nest on the Ground

Yesterday my Mother used a figure of speech I hadn't heard before: in the context of the Federal retirement system, she said, "You've got a bird's nest on the ground!" Apparently it's a classic East Texas metaphor that means a person has something good, since they can get the eggs without the trouble of climbing a tree.

And, in the context of my visit to relatives in Texas this week, that reminds me of Bird's Nest Airport—a little patch of land near Pflugerville and Manor, not far from where I grew up, where high school friends of mine used to take flying lessons and rent small planes to go puddle-hopping around the countryside nearby. Bird's Nest is still there, now called Austin Executive Airport. Some things change slowly ...

(cf. WrightFlight (2003-03-30), ...)

- Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 07:49:35 (EDT)

2009-07-08 - Claude Moore Colonial Farm

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

It's a warm but low-humidity afternoon and my meetings run late, but eventually I escape with less than an hour left to run. So it's down the road to a new area recommended by Peggy Dickison: the trails in the Claude Moore Colonial Farm Park. Alas, time is tight and I only can explore the path to the Pavilion area, which takes me to a narrow and somewhat overgrown "Nature Trail". I dance over roots, try not to trip, and hope that none of the encroaching brush is poison ivy. Then back to work.

- Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 18:48:44 (EDT)

SpongeBob SquarePants

Long trail runs offer ample opportunity for strange debate. During the Catoctin 50k 2008 Caren Jew and I discussed the cosmic question: Who is gentler, SpongeBob SquarePants or Hello Kitty? Until a few days ago I had never seen a significant amount of the SpongeBob cartoon series. But during my current visit to family in Texas I discovered that a SpongeBob 10th Anniversary "marathon" is underway on Nickelodeon. So of course I over-indulged.

SpongeBob is reminiscent of the long-ago "Bullwinkle & Rocky" animated series, with arch allusions that only a few in the audience are likely to get. For instance, in one show SpongeBob's friend Patrick Star is mistakenly crowned a king, heads for the restaurant, and says in passing "King needs food, badly!"—a likely reference to an old adventure game "Gauntlet" from which, son Merle tells me, a similar line has since become a popular catchphrase. Another SpongeBob episode, "Clams", is clearly riffing on the book/movie Jaws. But at one point the central character, Mr. Krabs, turns into Captain Ahab in his obsession and nails a sandwich to the mast, It's a clear homage to a dramatic scene in Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Delightful! (But I still think Hello Kitty is gentler.)

(cf. [1] and [2])

- Friday, July 17, 2009 at 09:46:14 (EDT)

2009-07-05 - Catoctin Trail with Caren

13.5+ miles @ ~16 min/mi

Less than a minute into the run today Caren Jew and I have wet feet. A few yards later we realize that we don't know where the trail is. Then I trip and fall down. None of these these three activities are unusual, but ordinarily they take me hours to accomplish. Today we're far ahead of schedule!

We've just parked at the Manor Campground Area of Cunningham Falls State Park. Mission: get some mileage in on the Catoctin Trail and revisit a key segment of the Catoctin 50k. That race is coming up on August 1 this year, and the Manor Area is the midpoint, mile 15.5. It's an afternoon excursion, constrained by Caren's family duties. She meets me at the exit from I-270 and kindly pauses at the local grocery store where I run in to buy sugar, soda water, etc. and check that job off my to-do list.

The big observation of the day: on the Catoctin trail the downhills seem a lot longer than uphills. Are we getting into better shape and not suffering on the climbs as much as we used to? Does conversation during the ascending segments distract from their duration? Is some other psychological phenomenon emerging? For whatever reason(s) we blast happily down the long long hills. In one case where the trail follows an eroded notch I tell Caren, "Doesn't it feel like we're marbles ricocheting off the sides of a chute?" She concurs.

A major stench wrinkles our noses near Gambrill Park Rd, maybe from a dead animal. Caren notes the exceptionally low water level at what's normally a treacherous-wet rock garden. We keep an eye out for our favorite blackberry bush on the long climb up from the Manor Area. Caren spies it, but today the berries are green and we decide not to tempt fate by eating any. My GPS records 6.8 miles outbound and 6.7 returning, but the actual distance is a bit more given the wiggles in the course. (The Cat 50k aid station chart says 6.5 miles, but I strongly suspect that's too low.) Our time is 1:56 to Delauter Rd and 1:45 coming back. Outbound we see a gallon jug of water by the trail, presumably a cache left by some cyclist; on the return trip we unfortunately find it empty and abandoned. I carry it to Caren's car for her to recycle. Two big deer dance across the trail in front of us as we make the final descent.

"Raptors!" Caren cries out and startles me as we drive out of the park. By the nature center she spots cages that hold a bald eagle, owls, hawks, and other big birds, rescued when injured in the wilds. These predators are a delight, dramatic to observe. We walk around the fenced area and take cellphone photos as their huge eyes follow us.

A final mini-adventure: after Caren drops me off at my car I start to drive home but suddenly realize that I'm missing my wallet and phone. Both are inside the black fanny pack I normally carry. I pull off the highway 2 miles down the road, park, and search under the seats. No joy! Likewise when I drive back and walk around the parking lot. Fortunately, when I arrive home someone has already called: apparently I left the pack on the roof of the car as I drove away. A kind fellow found it in the middle of the street. I zip back out and get it from him (and give him a well-deserved reward for his honesty and initiative).

- Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 09:47:52 (EDT)


In the chapter "Karma" of Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn describes the concept of karma as "... the sum total of the person's direction in life and the tenor of the things that occur around that person, caused by antecedent conditions, actions, thoughts, feelings, sense impressions, desires. Karma is often wrongly confused with the notion of a fixed destiny. It is more like an accumulation of tendencies that can lock us into particular behavior patterns ...". He then suggests a way to open the door to free will:

Here's how mindfulness changes karma. When you sit, you are not allowing your impulses to translate into action. For the time being, at least, you are just watching them. Looking at them, you quickly see that all impulses in the mind arise and pass away, that they have a life of their own, that they are not you but just thinking, and that you do not have to be ruled by them. Not feeding or reacting to impulses, you come to understand their nature as thoughts directly. This process actually burns up destructive impulses in the fires of concentration and equanimity and non-doing. At the same time, creative insights and creative impulses are no long squeezed out so much by the more turbulent, destructive ones. They are nourished as they are perceived and held in awareness. Mindfulness can thereby refashion the links in the chain of actions and consequences, and in doing so it unchains us, frees us, and opens up new directions for us through the moments we call life. ...

Well, maybe that's "free will" in one sense of the term, or at least an escape from obsession. Later in that same chapter, Kabat-Zinn concludes:

If we hope to change our karma, it means we have to stop making those things happen that cloud mind and body and color our every action. It doesn't mean doing good deeds. It means knowing who you are and that you are not your karma, whatever it may be at this moment. It means aligning yourself with the way things actually are. It means seeing clearly.

Where to start? Why not with your own mind? After all, it is the instrument through which all your thoughts and feelings, impulses and perceptions are translated into actions in the world. When you stop outward activity for some time and practice being still, right there, in that moment, with that decision to sit, you are already breaking the flow of old karma and creating an entirely new and healthier karma. Herein lies the root of change, the turning point of a life lived.

The very act of stopping, or nurturing moments of non-doing, of simply watching, puts you on an entirely different footing vis-à-vis the future. How? Because it is only by being fully in this moment that any future moment might be one of greater understanding, clarity, and kindness, one less dominated by fear or hurt and more by dignity and acceptance. Only what happens now happens later. If there is no mindfulness of equanimity or compassion now, in the only time we ever have to contact it and nourish ourselves, how likely is it that it will magically appear later, under stress or duress?

(cf. FreeWill (1999-04-11), No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed (2003-10-13), Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2008-06-15), Will Power (2008-07-18), ...)

- Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 04:02:46 (EDT)

2009-07-04 - Sloppy Speedwork

~4 miles @ ~ 10 min/mi

"Why don't you have a shirt on?" the tiny girl asks me in the middle of my speedwork. "I'm hot, and I sweat too much!" is my reply.

Important tip: don't try to learn the functions of a new watch while running laps! Today Robin has an appointment to give blood at the Red Cross, and I need to hit the grocery store, so there's an opportunity to run some laps during the gap between chores. I drop Robin off and head for the track at Silver Spring International Middle School. At 10:15am there's plenty of room, with only a handful of walkers, a soccer dad practicing with his kids, a couple of youngsters on bikes and trikes, etc.

So I attempt a ladder, but discover at the end of the first lap that my new watch has a different button arrangement and doesn't display individual splits during ordinary use. I can't tell my partial-lap pace, therefore—ugh! Eventually, though, I deduce how to record splits even if I can't view them until afterward. My pace averages about 1:50 per lap (splits = ?, 3:31, 5:23, 7:18, 5:51, 3:47, 1:43 for 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1 laps respectively) but I don't know if a lap is 200 meters or a quarter mile. My hip flexors feel a bit twingy; it's unclear whether that's from aftereffects of yesterday's longish run (~17 miles) or from this morning's attempt to do some yoga (the "Happy Baby" position is a wee bit stressful for me!).

- Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 04:44:46 (EDT)

Forbidden Topics

At the office certain themes repeatedly come up in conversation, to such an extent that they've become a running joke. Some people are so annoyed that they say, "You can't talk about that!" when debate begins. I haven't yet learned most of the taboo issues, but two that I'm aware of are:

Folks have suggested making a list of forbidden topics and putting up a sign that says:

___ Days Since ___ Was Discussed

... like the signage one sometimes sees at construction sites displaying how long since the last accident.

- Monday, July 13, 2009 at 04:54:47 (EDT)

2009-07-03 - Rock Creek with CM and Gayatri

17+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

The phone rings and galvanizes me into action: CM Manlandro is arriving a few minutes early. I grease up, slip into shoes, gather gear, and dash out to meet her a bit before 5am. We drive to Rock Creek Park and leave her car at the gravel pull-off inside the Beltway, mile 2.3 or so. A deer stands by the trail eying us from a few feet away as we trot past in the dawn dimness. Our miles to Cedar Lane and beyond go by at about 10-10:30 pace, and we turn back at milepost 5. Competitive juices start to flow and we do a 9:56 followed by a 9:21—oops! Today is supposed to be an easy day, before tomorrow's stressful fast-long run that CM has signed up for. Rabbits hop beside the trail. We turn back at milepost 2 and reach CM's vehicle just as Gayatri Datta arrives at 6am.

CM heads north to her lab in Baltimore; Gayatri and I head south again, through the woods and by the ballfields. The ~2.5 miles to the DC line flow at 11-12 min/mi pace. "Want to try some trails?" I ask. Gayatri is game, so we climb the Western Ridge Trail and take it all the way to Military Rd, walking the hills and pausing near the gardens to refill bottles and drink from the spigot. The paved path by Military Rd takes us to Beach Dr, from which we return to Boundary Bridge along the Valley Trail, meeting increasing numbers of runners and dog-walkers on the way. Our overall trail pace is probably 13-14 min/mi; we accelerate for the return to Gayatri's car along paved Rock Creek Trail and log a 9:53 mile before the final cooldown jog.

- Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 03:55:52 (EDT)

What Is Meditation?

The little book What Is Meditation? by Rob Nairn is sweet, simple, and helpful. It's not terribly poetic in language or style, but it makes up for that with enthusiasm, compactness, and clarity. Its subtitle is "Buddhism for Everyone" and the first half briefly summarizes that topic. The second half's chapter "What Is Meditation?" begins:

Meditation is the process of learning to work skillfully with the mind in a way that will lead by successive stages to tranquility, insight, spontaneous purification, and total liberation from all negative states. This final state is accompanied by full and total realization of one's wholesome or "divine" potential. Along the way one sees through the egocentric trap and springs it. As the process of inner discovery progresses, so the state of one's inner life improves. Inner harmony, clarity, and stability come about; the confused, scattered mind is left behind; and one's life becomes happier, more joyous, open, giving, and loving. The culmination is enlightenment—a word a little like infinity or eternity: we have a rough idea what is meant, but cannot actually grasp the full meaning. But it is certainly a state of joy that passes all understanding.

Nairn's book concludes with a short chapter titled "Finally":

Meditation cuts through all the illusion, all the projection, all the confusion we have about others and mostly about ourselves. It is coming face-to-face with the mind and with what the mind is really about. Understanding leads to penetrating insight into the illusion we have created for ourselves. This leads to liberation from suffering and a coemergent manifestation of compassion and wisdom. But we do not see it as a goal. We let go of goals and we focus on the action of meditation.

(cf. For Themselves (2003-06-08), This Is It (2008-11-14), ...)

- Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 10:01:06 (EDT)

2009-06-30 - Evening Speedwork

~3 miles @ ~9.4 min/mi

As the sun sets the track at the neighborhood middle school is thick with walkers, kids on bikes with training wheels, and errant soccer balls escaping from games on the infield. I have to circle the block to find a parking space. But my Speed Coach, Evan, has prescribed a regime for me, and strive I must to perform it. So I jog a mile in 8:38, walk a few seconds to recover, then commence a series of 8 repeats of 1/8th mile at ~43 seconds each, plus or minus two seconds. Between each half-lap I walk half a lap to recover, at an average of 1:50 each. I swerve to avoid pairs of iPod-listening ladies strolling together in lanes 1 and 2, veer around a fellow walking his Yorkshire terrier in lane 1, and swing out during my walks so that joggers can trot past me. Clouds thicken and rain begins as I drive home.

- Friday, July 10, 2009 at 04:43:24 (EDT)

Banner of Souls

"Tolkien meets Terminator" is my thumbnail summary of Liz Williams's sf novel Banner of Souls. Ms. Williams is an extraordinary writer of science fiction; her 2003 book Nine Layers of Sky is among the finest I've seen. Banner, published a year later, is severely flawed: by turns moody, ornate, perverse, poetic, and implausible. Elements of the story bring to mind the styles of writers Dan Simmons, Philip Pullman, Frank Herbert, Robert Charles Wilson, Samuel R. Delaney, and Vernor Vinge.

Horror plus high-tech works well—within limits. But Williams goes too far. Her plot threads grow to universe-saving proportions and then unravel. Her characters are flat. Lovingly-described cruelty too often takes center stage. Banner of Souls is fast reading, gothic, skillful, but dissatisfying. Maybe with the volume turned down it could have been better.

- Thursday, July 09, 2009 at 04:46:55 (EDT)

2009-06-28 - Mormon Temple Hill Familiarization

~6.5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

"Take it easy!" is apparently not in CM Manlandro's vocabulary. Yesterday she did some long fast mileage as part of her MCRRC XMP training. Today she recovers with hillwork starting at 0530, following my advice to get acquainted with the hill at the LDS Temple. We trot from Che^z down Ireland Dr to Rock Creek Trail, then attack the long climb from Beach Dr half a mile to Kent St. Three times up the 6% grade, varying our return trip: down once the regular way retracing our path; down once on Kensington neighborhood streets to Old Spring Rd; and finally down as we return to my home via Leafy House and the McKenney Hills Learning Center. Rabbits scamper away as we approach, and near Rock Creek two big deer eye us from the fringe of the woods.

- Wednesday, July 08, 2009 at 07:56:18 (EDT)

Shallow Excellence

A couple of semi-unrelated metaphors crossed my radar screen recently.

From a comment posted by "Gordon Rae" concerning an argument between two pundits
"They swim in the shallow end of the same pool."
A proverb cited by a colleague at a recent meeting, concerning over-specialization
"It's not a stovepipe, it's a cylinder of excellence!"

(cf. [1])

- Tuesday, July 07, 2009 at 05:14:50 (EDT)

2009-06-27 - CCT with Gayatri

~18 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

A lonely lightning bug, looking for love, flashes glumly back at my headlamp. Sorry, Sir, no luck for you! It's 0425 as I slouch toward Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail at ~11.5 min/mi pace, Jupiter glowing brilliant in the southern sky. At the golf course a creature, perhaps a fox, darts across the path in front of me. Then a bat flits past my forehead, swerving in search of bugs. A slight fog reflects back the light's beam and yesterday evening's thunderstorms have left the trail slightly soggy. It's still dark when I arrive at the water fountain plaza, refill my bottle, and return to the parking lot. Gayatri Datta has just arrived, and at 5am we set off on the CCT.

Gayatri and I chat about families, injuries, training programs, friends, etc. Soon it's light enough to see without my flashlight. I point out a DC Boundary Stone ("NW4"—see [1]) near the trail as we cross from Maryland into the District of Columbia. Cyclists begin to pass by us. Gayatri hasn't run much for the past week or so but we maintain a good ~11 min/mi pace down to mile marker 8.5 past Fletcher's Boathouse, pausing to refill bottles at the Dalecarlia fountain. Our return trip is slightly faster. Gayatri tells me of her broken shoulder, her plans to run the Richmond Marathon, and past races she has enjoyed. At her car she finds her sweatband, dropped on the asphalt in the dark and untouched for ~2 hours. She heads home to get ready for a family trip to Niagara Falls.

I'm totally soaked now with sweat but the old legs feel frisky, so I accelerate and do the final four miles home at ~9.5 min/mi pace. Sunbeams lance through the trees and speckle the path. After the Rock Creek trestle the scattered light is so bright that at one point it looks as though there's a gray hill rising steeply ahead of me. Then a ghostly cyclist rides through the slope and spoils the illusion.

- Monday, July 06, 2009 at 04:44:32 (EDT)


http://zhurnaly.com/images/MAPCO_Coal_logo_z.gifOne of the most brilliant logos of all time is, apparently, an orphan, nowhere to be found on the Internet via image search. It appeared in the 1970s, where I caught sight of it in the Wall St Journal. The foreground-background illusion is strong: a thick block letter "M", or divergent tangram-like arrows in a diamond with tails that almost fit together. The image here is my attempt to reproduce it from memory, and doesn't get the proportions quite right. The symbol represented MAPCO Coal Inc.
MAPCO changed its name to Alliance Coal in 1996. A company building is for sale or lease in West Virginia [1]. If you look closely above the front door you can see the old logo.http://zhurnaly.com/images/MAPCO_Coal_bldg_z.jpg

(cf. LogoVision (2003-05-03), AmigaCheck (2004-05-19), Kubota Logo Mystery (2008-02-15), ...)

- Sunday, July 05, 2009 at 07:14:57 (EDT)

Not Always So

A collection of Shunryu Suzuki lectures that I find at the library—Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen—is a diamond mine of insight and humor. From "Jumping off the 100-Foot Pole", for instance:

So the secret is just to say "Yes!" and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself in the present moment, always yourself, without sticking to an old self. You forget all about yourself and are refreshed. You are a new self, and before that self becomes an old self, you say "Yes!" and you walk to the kitchen for breakfast. So the point on each moment is to forget the point and extend your practice.

As Dogen Zenji says, "To study Buddhism is to study yourself. To study yourself is to forget yourself on each moment." Then everything will come and help you. Everything will assure your enlightenment. ...

The book's editor, Edward Espe Brown, notes that Suzuki's "... struggle to speak English invigorated his teaching. Did he, for instance, really mean to say things as it is? Was that improper English or was it a teaching? ...".

Suzuki's puckish wisdom comes through delightfully in the title talk, "Not Always So", as he observes:

The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: "Not always so." Oops—three words in English. In Japanese, two words. "Not always so." This is the secret of the teaching. It may be so, but it is not always so. Without being caught by words or rules, without too many preconceived ideas, we actually do something, and doing something, we apply our teaching.

- Saturday, July 04, 2009 at 09:52:04 (EDT)

2009-06-24 - Balls Hill Rd

~4 miles @ ~10 min/mi

The lawn sprinkler beside the sidewalk is like a tiny oasis as I run through its mist. I'm on my way toward Langley High, today from the west: a friend leaves work early and gives me a ride to the corner of Balls Hill Rd and Georgetown Pike, so I can gallop back to the office. At the school a few boys are walking and running on the track already, maybe part of some summer remedial-fitness program. The gate on this side of the field is chained shut and the gap is too narrow for me to squeeze through. So I proceed to the entrance on the east that I used yesterday. A 1:46 lap ensues, and it's back to work for me.

- Saturday, July 04, 2009 at 09:45:37 (EDT)

2009 Summer-Fall Tentative Race Calendar

One dear friend-by-correspondence has kindly told me that my interminable running reports here are not her cup of tea. Point taken! I can't promise much visible change, but I've been trying to use the Running Logbook mechanism as a vehicle to practice my writing, and I'll strive to do better. Meanwhile, as a speaker at a recent meeting said, "If you're ever bored—more bored than you are now, that is— ...".

So, for my own reference and convenience and memory, here's a tentative list of upcoming events that I hope to participate in.

Jul 10Midsummer Night's Mile track meet
Jul 26Riley's Rumble half marathon
Aug 1Catoctin 50k trail run
Aug 7Go For the Glory track meet
Aug 15Comus Run cross-country 5k
Sep 5-6The Ring Massanutten Trail, 71 miles
Sep 13Parks Half Marathon
Sep 19Gunpowder Falls 50k
Sep 26Lake Needwood cross-country 10k
Oct 10Andiamo W&OD Trail 44.5 miles
Nov 9Potomac Heritage 50k
Nov 28Northern Central Trail Marathon
Dec 12Magnus Gluteus Maximus on the Bull Run Trail

Criteria for inclusion on the above include:

In other words, if possible I try to support events that cross delightful terrain, that cost less than $1/mile, and that friends of mine are involved in as organizers or participants. What other upcoming runs have I forgotten?

- Friday, July 03, 2009 at 04:13:16 (EDT)

2009-06-23 - Langley Lap

~4 miles @ ~10 min/mi

I squint my eyes and hold my breath like a sounding whale as I dive through the dust cloud thrown up by a leaf-blower. The yard worker blasting grass clippings off the sidewalk pauses until I get past. A warm mid-afternoon lures me down Georgetown Pike to investigate the track at Langley High School. Gates in the stadium fence are chained shut, except for one which stands ajar. A young fellow is doing pushups on the side of the field. I have time for only one lap, a 1:53 brisker-than-sustainable pace, then trot back to the office.

- Thursday, July 02, 2009 at 04:41:05 (EDT)

Japanese Boyfriend Scale

A decade or two ago in a book of Japanese slang I read a list of terms that trendy young ladies can use to rank their boyfriends. "Mr. Reliable" was one of the phrases, referring to the guy you can always call at the last minute if you're desperate for a date. I can't find the book, alas, but an equally good list dated 2004 appears on [1] as "The Gyaru Boyfriend Scale" (a "gyaru" being a Japanese neologism for "girl"). Abridged:

  1. Honmei-kun: the favorite, most desirable, leader of the pack, from the horse racing term for the winning horse; tall, well-educated, with a high salary
  2. Kiipu-kun: from the English word "keeper", the boyfriend that is kept for now or just in case, until honmei-kun shows up; loveable as "good enough", but second best
  3. Mitsugu-kun: an unselfish boyfriend who gives gifts, pays for meals, etc.
  4. Asshii-kun: the boy with a car who is an available chauffeur or who will fix the gyaru's car
  5. Benri-kun: the sweet boy who's useful to have around, from the word for convenient or handy

Another discussion of Japanese slang gave various categories used by wives to describe their husbands. I still recall the meaning of "Wet Leaf Husband": the retired old man who has nothing to do and who follows his spouse around the house, like a wet leaf stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Ugh!

(perhaps my half-remembered source was the 1993 book Doing Business with Japanese Men: a Woman's Handbook by Christalyn Brannen and Tracey Wilen, where I see tantalizing fragments in an online preview; cf. They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases by Howard Rheingold, 2000)

- Wednesday, July 01, 2009 at 05:34:34 (EDT)

2009-06-21 - Father's Day in the Park

~4.5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi & ~12 miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

Comrade Caren Jew is preempted Saturday and we can't go trail running, so on Sunday morning I drive to Ken-Gar and park a bit before 6am. Ken Swab & CM Manlandro are scheduled to arrive at 7am but cars are already here—there's an MCRRC First Time Marathon (FTM) training run scheduled for 0630 or so. I greet a few folks, then jog comfortably downstream, skirting mud puddles. At the Cedar Lane water fountain I get a drink, then ramble back. It's lovely running on Rock Creek Trail alone, especially in the early hours when the woods are like the blank page between chapters of a book: a gap where one can pause before plunging back into the action.

"Runner up!" is the shout that repeatedly greets me as I return toward Ken-Gar. More than a hundred FTM participants are trotting along in mobile mobs of a few dozen. Newlywed Ken Trombatore thanks me en passant for a Fight Club quote I left on his Facebook page; he's accompanying his wife as she trains, I suspect. Back at my car the parking lot is now overflowing. I chug a can of root beer and answer the phone when Ken calls. He's in a space half a mile down the road. CM is heading that way to meet him. I jog there and as a trio we proceed to milepost 2, bantering and enjoying ourselves. By chance both Ken and I are wearing identical MCRRC shirts this morning.

I challenge CM and Ken to do hill repeats on Stoneybrook Dr by the Mormon Temple, but they decline. They also take the short cut across Connecticut Av rather than join me in traversing the tunnel below the road. The layer of mud there is thin but slippery, a chance for me to practice my mad ice-running skills. Ken and CM walk a bit to let me catch up with them both times. FTM runners meet and greet us in flocks.

Mist turns to drizzle turns to a shower turns to rain as we return. I spy a trail of blood on my shirt and re-grease a chafed nipple. Past Ken's and CM's cars we continue northward, scaring a tiny bunny rabbit that scampers into the brush. We turn at milepost 8 (Dewey Park) and accelerate our pace slightly. Back at Ken-Gar I give CM her car key, which I've been carrying for her, and peel off. Jim Rich and I chat—he's in the FTM, I assume as a teacher or pace group leader. But no, Jim tells me: he has never run a marathon, and now at age 70 is training for his first. I salute him, change my shirt, and on the way home drive by Goldberg's Bakery for bagels and bialys.

- Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 04:52:39 (EDT)

Short & Sweet

Thinking about the über-prestige factor of short names brings to mind:

What other such one-letter names are there? In the two-letter department, ultra-short amateur radio call signs were once much sought-after. I'm still hanging on to N6WX and my brother Keith is K5WX, identifiers earned decades ago after much study. Two-letter second-level domain names for ".com" are apparently no longer issued [3]. For instance, Bill Press, author of Numerical Recipes, once told me that as long as he keeps renewing http://nr.com he can keep it, but if it ever lapses it's gone ...

(cf. BooksToConsider (1999-04-16), RootingForTheYankees (2005-10-03), SilentKeys (2007-09-29), ...)

- Monday, June 29, 2009 at 05:06:14 (EDT)

2009-06-18 - Mormon Temple Hillwork

~8 miles @ ~10 min/mi

"It gets easier after a while!" I reassure a suffering lady as I jog past her on the slope that, at this point of her training, seems like a mountainside. After a warm front plus showers the humidity is high. CM is stuck in the lab so at 7pm I venture out alone via Ireland Dr to the base of the Beach Dr & Stoneybrook Dr hill. Five up journeys average 5:22 for the half mile of ~6% grade to Kent St, and four down return trips average 4:38. A few other runners materialize in the later part of my repeats. I salute them as we meet. They've left a small cluster of forlorn water bottles at the base of the rise, and mostly turn around at/near the LDS Temple driveway rather than going all the way to Kent St. The trip home is via Leafy House, McKenney Hills Center, and the neighborhood pool. No bikini babes in evidence this evening.

- Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 04:30:22 (EDT)

Wobbly Bits

A delightful British slang phrase rose above my horizon last week, as mentioned in the fashion section of the New York Times: "wobbly bits". Yes, the term could be a euphemism for something mildly naughty, but polite usage that I see refers simply to areas of the body that jiggle more than they might. And in any event, "wobbly bits" is also a fine metaphor for moments in life when things get uncomfortably stressful and out-of-kilter. Those are precisely the times to embrace, relax, accept what's awry, and "Be the Wobbly Bits!"

(cf. the NYT article "Fashion First, Whatever the Size"; the term also occurs in the movie "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" [1])

- Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 03:45:03 (EDT)

2009-06-16 - Georgetown Pike

~3.5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

It's cloudy and humid this afternoon as I jog from the office down Georgetown Pike, circle the local high school, and return in 37 minutes. The asphalt sidewalk ripples in the warmth. Private side streets with threatening No Trespassing signs interrupt the flow. Perhaps there's a good track at the high school to do laps on some day? The fences behind the school appear to be chained shut, but I see tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and a probable football field which might have a quarter-mile or 400-meter loop around it.

- Friday, June 26, 2009 at 04:48:26 (EDT)

Larger Context

In isolation it's easy to make fun of many short poems. Take William Carlos Williams's famous:

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Thin? Maybe. But in fairness, those verses can't be read alone. They're part of a matrix that includes the poet's other work, the situation he was in he wrote them, other poems of the time, etc.—all the way up to the entire human experience, from prehistory to the present moment. It's a huge setting, within which the briefest twinkle can sometimes, for some readers, have a richness beyond itself.

A haiku flutters,
Takes wing, and joins the flock of
Its butterfly kin.

(cf. PoeticProcesses (2002-03-03), BreakBlowBurn (2005-05-11), InThePalmOfYourHand (2006-09-11), ...)

- Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 05:11:26 (EDT)

2009-06-14 - UM Loop

10+ miles @ ~9.9 min/mi

The signature scene of today's run appears near the end, as I'm cantering past the Jim Henson memorial statue in front of the University of Maryland student union. A tiny girl in a white Sunday dress is standing on the granite bench next to Kermit the Frog, holding Henson's hand and looking as sweet as a kitten. What a perfect photo op—and me with no camera!

Low humidity (~35%) and light breezes make up for moderate warmth (80+°F) as I dash down Paint Branch Trail, skirt the southern shore of Lake Artemesia and the eastern end of College Park Airport, take the Northeast Branch Trail downstream, and return via the Northwest Branch Trail and University Blvd. Its a circuit I've done several times before [1]. I'm surprised when the first few mile markers flow by at a sub-10 min/mi rate. After that happens, alas, I have to keep the speedy streak alive. I manage to do so, barely, with miles 9:48, 9:59 (close!), 9:32, 9:59 (close again!), 9:34, 9:36, and 9:46. In unmeasured segments I try to stay honest and maintain my pace. Big puddles sporadically block the paved path and force detours onto the grass nearby.

- Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 04:58:09 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2010 by Mark Zimmermann.)