^zhurnaly 0.81

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.81 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 = 0.80 ... 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

Year of Running - 2009 - Further Observations

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/2009_distance_vs_pace.pngThe graph of distance versus pace for my runs in 2009 shows that an old rule-of-thumb—my maximum speed gets ~1 min/mi slower every time the distance doubles—seems to have altered. The dashed line at the bottom of the chart slopes at about 0.6 min/mi. My rate of breakdown is flattening!

As Year of Running - 2009 discussed, last year was a surprisingly good one for me. Among the reasons for "improvement", if such it be:

But the biggest "secret": setting the bar low by being a long-term lazy bum. This is also known as "sandbagging"—many thanks to Wayne Carson and Ken Swab, my mentors on that tactic!

(cf. SpeedUpSlowDown (2004-10-18), Running2006Analysis (2007-01-27), ...)

- Monday, February 01, 2010 at 18:06:22 (EST)

Einstein on Self

Albert Einstein once wrote:

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

This resonates strongly with comments by philosopher Daniel Dennett on how big a "Self" really is—how it's not just a pointlike mote of a mind, or a little homunculus inside a head, or a spongy network of brain tissue. "Self" extends out to encompass the whole body, its interactions with objects including other "Selves", and beyond that the entire world.

Granted, most of those interactions are slower, more intermittent, and less causally-crucial than what goes on deep in the core of the neural network. But the book in the library down the street is still a part of "me", ever since "I" read it some years ago. It continues to influence mental states and processes.

Likewise the tangled web of ^zhurnaly notes-to-"self" here ...

(Einstein quote from Chapter 12 ("Glimpses of Wholeness, Delusions of Separateness") in Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living, from the New York Times in 1972, from a 1950 letter; cf. FoamOnTheOcean (2000-07-23), UpheavalsOfThought (2002-06-29), EinsteinianAdvice (2002-11-25), EinsteinCredo (2005-01-20), Unselfing (2009-01-14), Indra's Net (2009-06-21), Unselfing Again (2009-11-01), Total Interconnectedness (2009-12-25), ...)

- Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 12:01:18 (EST)

A Tramp Abroad

Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad (the 1880 quasi-sequel to his The Innocents Abroad) is fun, occasionally, but also tiresome, frequently. Sharp observations in magical detail leap off the page. Plodding, predictable bits of exaggeration lay there. Appendix D, "The Awful German Language", is a case in point: hilarious exploration of linguistic issues of gender and declension, next to deadly-slow extended anecdotes and dictionary quotes. Perhaps an edited "best-of" version would be more readable; perhaps it should have been more harshly edited originally.

(cf. VeryGood (2001-08-18), MyMemberSays (2007-02-06), Earworms (2009-06-09), ...)

- Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 08:09:24 (EST)

Modeling versus Model

An instructor in a computer programming class observed earlier this week: "More often than not the modeling is more valuable than the model."

(echoing the proverb "Plans are worthless, but planning is essential."; cf. PlansAndSituations (1999-08-13), TooSlowAndTooFast (1999-09-25), ...)

- Friday, January 29, 2010 at 08:40:41 (EST)

Sound of One Stick

When a drummer made a mistake recently during an orchestra rehearsal the conductor threatened, "If you keep screwing up, I'll take away one of your sticks and make you come up here!"

- Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 04:48:18 (EST)

2010-01-20 - Jogging Path Speedwork

Early afternoon and work is quiet enough that I have a chance to get out and run, foolish as it may be with my right knee still twingey when I descend stairs or sit too long. The usual three fast loops on the woodsey paved trail, witnessed only by squirrels, with marked miles accelerating: 9:11 + 8:21 + 7:16, that last at near redline.

The next day my knee makes serious complaints when descending stairs. I rest it a couple of days, and over the weekend watch DVDs while pedaling on Paulette's recumbent exercise bicycle, about 90 minutes each day. The machine claims it's ~21 miles and ~700 calories, though my pulse is barely above 100. I am sweating a lot though ...

- Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 05:41:53 (EST)

Silver Contour Lines

Sunlight's sheen on spandex
Draws silver contour lines
On the rump of the runner ahead

(cf. longer version, Sun on Spandex (2010-01-20), ...)

- Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 05:22:40 (EST)

2010-01-18 - CM and Barry and Sara

3+ miles @ ~11 min/mi and 7+ miles @ ~14 min/mi

Blistering pace! CM Manlandro is wearing new shoes, and they (or her feet) still need some time to adapt. We start in front of my home at 0530 and follow neighborhood streets to the Capital Crescent Trail. After the high trestle, however, CM pauses to adjust a sock by the light of my flashlight and detects a blister forming. We turn back, take a side excursion toward Grubb Rd but decide to abandon it, and end up retracing our way home again in 38 minutes. Perhaps CM's feet were stressed out by her run yesterday in the rain, and that plus the new type of shoes (her old favorite model was discontinued) caused the problem?

I do the dishes, and when Barry Smith picks me up we proceed into Virginia, where we park at Difficult Run and Georgetown Pike just before 8am. Sara Crum appears moments later, and through the mud we go downstream on Difficult Run Trail (the Fairfax Cross County Connector Trail). The Great Falls Park trail map shows most of our route: we take the Ridge Trail to the Old Carriage Road Trail to the park visitor center. After a restroom break we continue up the Potomac River on the Pawtomack Canal Trail where we see two pairs of mallard ducks and one pair of deer. We turn back after ~53 minutes just inside Riverbend Park and retrace our path, pausing occasionally for Barry to take photos with his cellphone, and are back at the cars another 53 minutes later.

- Monday, January 25, 2010 at 04:38:07 (EST)

The Great Train Robbery

"He speaks a wave lag from Liverpool, and he can voker romeny." The most noteworthy feature of Michael Crichton's third novel, The Great Train Robbery (1975), is its adroit use of Victorian-era criminal slang as it dramatizes an 1855 British gold theft. "He was a buzzer turned rampsman." The story flows fast, the characters are exaggerated, the atmosphere is distracting, the history is partly true. "He was working his usual operation, with himself as dipper, a stickman at his side, and two stalls front and back." Much of Train Robbery reads like a movie script, which in a way it may have been. "It's fair aswarm with miltonians." Cute, lightweight entertainment.

- Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 11:34:56 (EST)

Clutter Theorem

At the office a few days ago a colleague was trying to find a lost memo, and scolded himself by quoting a rule he should have followed: "Never throw anything away!"

"Ah," I said, "but at my home by practicing 'Never throw anything away' we've proved a corollary: 'Never find anything when you need it!'"

- Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 16:42:40 (EST)

2010-01-16 - Shooting Starr on Sligo Creek

4 miles @ ~ 12.7 min/mi

The MCRRC "Shooting Starr" 4 miler begins with tension, as I try to handle my duties as a novice Parking Volunteer. After dithering between the big starting-line lot and the much smaller registration-lot I opt for the latter. I let people park there temporarily while signing up for the race, then move their cars. It seems to work, mostly. Christina Caravoulias visits with me and takes photos. Race Director Eric Bernhardt is ubiquitous and controls the chaos well; he also gives a moving pre-race talk reminding us all of Jim Starr, whose memory the event honors.

I meet Dondra Coniglio, from Columbia MD. This is her very first race ever, and she's hyper-nervous. Her training during the past month or so hasn't gone beyond 2-3 miles. I tell her to hang with me, and we do the race together, splits 12:14 + 12:39 + 13:23 + 12:26 with occasional walk breaks. We try to catch Christina but lose sight of her after about three miles. I chatter away and allot Dondra only one "I'm sorry" per mile, of which she uses two and keeps two in reserve.

- Friday, January 22, 2010 at 04:40:13 (EST)

No Method

From Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn, in the chapter "Two Ways to Think About Meditation":

This other way of describing meditation is that whatever "meditation" is, it is not instrumental at all. If it is a method, it is the method of no method. It is not a doing. There is no going anywhere, nothing to practice, no beginning, middle, or end, no attainment, and nothing to attain. Rather, it is the direct realization and embodiment in this very moment of who you already are, outside of time and space and concepts of any kind, a resting in the very nature of your being, in what is sometimes called the natural state, original mind, pure awareness, no mind, or simply emptiness. You are already everything you may hope to attain, so no effort of the will is necessary—even for the mind to come back to the breath—and no attachment is possible. You are already it. It is already here. There is no time, no space, no body, and no mind, to paraphrase Kabir. And there is no purpose to meditation—it is the one human activity (non-activity really) that we engage in for its own sake—for no purpose other than to be awake to what is actually so.

- Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 04:41:53 (EST)

Sun on Spandex

Like the shimmer of spotlights
On alabaster statues of ancient athletes —
But alive — as we climb the hill
Sunbeams glint off spandex tights,
Sketching curves, shiny contour lines,
Across the torsos of runners.

- Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 04:53:07 (EST)

2010-01-15 - Massanutten Trail over Short Mountain

~16 miles @ ~22 min/mi

I'm still #47 on the waiting list for the Massanutten Mountain 100 race this May, but comrade Kate Abbott is already in and we're training together in hopes of running it together. Today, Friday, we both play hooky from work to get a preview of the first dozen or so miles of the course, including the infamous Short Mountain. I arrive at Edinburg Gap early but miss the turn to the parking area and have to circle back to find it. My wanderings include an involuntary trip up the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Off Road Vehicle (ORV) drive, scary scraping of the MINI Cooper's chassis on the ice, and a nearly-slip-off-the-road turnaround. I'm properly parked just as Kate arrives. We leave my car behind and ride together to the Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp where the race starts and finishes this year.

Today's trek is mostly a fast walk with occasional runs where possible. In near-freezing weather just before 9am we're off, climbing steadily for the first 3+ miles along Moreland Gap Rd. At the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail we begin a segment that Kate did last year with Carolyn Gernand. Instead of thorny blackberry bushes we crunch along through brown leaves and shallow snow, sporadically interrupted by icy patches. Pickup trucks are parked on the forest road that we cross after a few miles. We take off extra layers and roll up sleeves as we warm up.

Kate's cellphone rings as we plod along the ridgeline of Short Mountain. It's Caroline Williams, fellow runner whom we helped crew for at MMT last year! (cf. Massanutten Mountain Midnight Madness) I text a memo to Twitter/Facebook: Massanutten Trail - Short Mountain ROCKS! From the start we've climbed ~1600 feet. Then it's down down down, ~1100 feet, until after ~4 hours we arrive at mile ~12, my car, and refuel. In the actual race this would be within the cutoffs, but not by much. Today we've got enough time to spare that we decide to continue for another couple of miles along the Massanutten Trail. We climb ~1000 feet to Waonaze Peak on Powell Mountain, then take the Bear Trap Trail down to the ATV/ORV path, aka Peters Mill Run Road.

I stumble on a stick and fall, but land on hands in the snow with minor abrasion. The ATV lane is covered with ice and mud, so our shoes become heavy. We're finally back at my car, ~16 miles total, and take off shoes to avoid mess. Kate returns via I-66 to pick up her sons and I take I-81 and US-340 through West Virginia and Maryland to dodge bad DC-area traffic before a holiday weekend.

- Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 04:57:10 (EST)

Numerical Epitaph

Tombstone trivia: although contrary to legend a 17-sided polygon is not inscribed on mathematician Karl F. Gauss's grave marker, there is a number featured on the headstone of physicist James P. Joule:


... his measurement of the conversion factor between mechanical energy and heat energy. The current value is a bit over 778 foot-pounds per British Thermal Unit (BTU), so Joule's value from 1878 is low by about a percent.

(see [1] and [2] for photos of Joule's memorial; cf. SeventeenSides (2005-02-10), ...)

- Monday, January 18, 2010 at 04:40:24 (EST)

2010-01-09 - Snow and Sara and Gayatri

~21 miles @ ~13 min/mi

Shoes crunch on the snow as a last-quarter moon rides high and lights the Capital Crescent Trail. Temps are in the mid-20s but when the wind pauses it feels quite warm; when it blows, rather chilly. In downtown Bethesda at 7am Sara Crum arrives halfway through my Snickers candy bar. Gayatri Datta is soon there too, so we set off along Leland St towards Rock Creek. Our route is down Beach Dr to Bingham and back, then north on Jones Bridge Rd to Rock Creek Trail and onward to the water fountain at Old Spring Rd. Loops up and down the Mormon Temple hill occupy us until Gayatri's GPS indicates it's time to head back to Bethesda via the CCT. Our conversations are splendid, as so often they are during long runs when folks can say anything. Family, injury, health, training, politics, relationships, ... all's fair game when on foot and sweaty.

As we cruise between high fences that protect the beautiful Columbia Country Club from the threat of crude runners, what should I spy beside the trail but my lost water bottle! It fell from my fanny pack here a fortnight ago (see 2009-12-27 - Icy CCT) and lies there in plain view. Contents frozen solid, duct tape and rubber band intact. Woot!

- Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 05:53:45 (EST)

Evidence-Based Medicine

Some bad poems stick in the mind. I still remember a bit of low dactylic doggerel by John W. Campbell, editor of the science-fiction magazine Analog, who wrote an editorial in the mid-1960s complaining about increased regulation of nutritional supplements. "The FDA's gunning for vitamin pills" was the refrain, and in one line Campbell took a poke at James Goddard who was then head of the Food and Drug Administration. "Someday Goddard, not God, will be dead," Campbell predicted.

Campbell (a heavy smoker) died decades ago, but his verse resurfaced in my consciousness last month when James Goddard passed away and an obituary appeared in the New York Times [1]. Goddard tried to base government regulation on evidence, not anecdote. That's hard for people to handle. Even otherwise-rational folks—like Campbell, like activist fund-raisers for medical research on particular diseases, like science writers for the NYT who should know better—often let wishful thinking and coincidence sway them into bogus beliefs. The headline-writer for a book review last year came up with a cute (if violent) metaphor for what's needed: "Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science" [2]. More target practice is needed ...

(cf. VulnerableTheories (1999-05-17), AlteredNative (2002-01-24), ModernMedicine (2005-04-29), ...)

- Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 05:40:41 (EST)

2010-01-06 - Lovers' Lane

5+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

Corner of Mackall Av and Sorell St: as I jog by the teenage couple is standing in the road, kissing, only coming up to take a breath of winter air every so often. Ten minutes later, on my way back, they're still there keeping each other warm. We're on a neighborhood byway near Langley High School. Perhaps they got lost on their walk home? (^_^)

A hawk perches on a telephone line. This afternoon Stephanie and I had planned to run together, but work preempts her so I head out alone. Snows has mostly melted off the sidewalk; a few piles remain where plows have pushed white stuff off the roads. I climb cautiously over mini-icebergs as necessary and trot west-north-west to Mackall, as Stephanie and I did a couple of months ago (2009-11-20 - Georgetown Pike). It's less than 20 minutes from my start when I arrive there, after dodging cars from high school students intent on escaping the walls of academe. I haven't checked a map and turn north on Mackall in vain hope of doing a neighborhood loop. Alas, it only leads me to a dead end at Holland St, so I have to backtrack past the young lovers in the lane.

- Friday, January 15, 2010 at 04:48:16 (EST)

Silent Spring

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) somehow escaped my reading list for decades, until Robin gave me a copy for Xmas 2009. The book depicts the hazards of chemical pesticides and herbicides in meticulous detail. Most of the science is good, though there are statistical fallacies or misunderstandings (e.g., concerning cancer rates). Carson's work was, and remains, important in its promotion of systems thinking: the need to understand interrelationships, not isolated pieces of the puzzle. Sections foreshadow recent scandals involving deadly poisons in imported foods. Silent Spring is moving, however, in spite of—not because of—literary merit. It offers a catalog of issues and ideas, but Carson's language is generally far from poetic.

Most fascinating to me, however, are tidbits about the town I grew up in and around (Austin, Texas, in Chapter 9) and a discussion of the groundbreaking work of USDA entomologist Edward Knipling. Dr. Knipling's son Gary is a local ultramarathoner whom I've had the pleasure of running with many times. Small world! And even smaller: another fellow trail runner, Lyman Jordan, tells me that he grew up near where Rachel Carson lived and wrote—only a few miles from my home. Through the neighborhood flows Sligo Creek, Lyman notes, in which he played as a boy. Then it was rich in wildlife, until overuse of pesticides killed the frogs and fish and other creatures there. It has since come back to life.

- Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 04:43:58 (EST)

Air Breathes Me

Air breathes me
Water drinks me
Earth strides beneath my feet
Sky tips up my chin, so
Stars can peer into my eyes

- Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 04:34:29 (EST)

2010-01-05 - Chilly Parking Lot

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Clair is on the recovery road from foot and knee injuries of 2009, so armored with new lavender-and-black Sugoi winter wear she ventures out with me this afternoon to circle the parking lot perimeter. We discuss aid station themes; Clair has extensive experience at the Hardrock 100 miler, and as a ski patroller. The wind cuts into us and my knees turn red. Lap one is ~10.1 min/mi. Our second circuit is ~9.9 pace, as the short walk break is canceled out by Clair's dash to the finish—or what she mistakes for the finish, which turns out to be 20 meters or so before the actual end. But she continues her kick strongly and afterwards confesses to having been a sprinter in high school. I do one additional 1.5 mile lap solo at ~7.5 min/mi. Showoff!

- Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 04:36:26 (EST)

Sitting by Fire

In the chapter "Sitting by Fire" of Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn muses on the difference between ancient times when sitting around the fire was a quiet time for reflection, as opposed to today's artificial environment:

Instead, we watch television at the end of the day, a pale electronic fire energy, and pale in comparison. We submit ourselves to constant bombardment by sounds and images that come from minds other than our own, that fill our heads with information and trivia, other people's adventures and excitement and desires. Watching television leaves even less room in the day for experiencing stillness. It soaks up time, space, and silence, a soporific, lulling us into mindless passivity. "Bubble gum for the eyes," Steve Allen called it. Newspapers do much the same. They are not bad in themselves, but we frequently conspire to use them to rob ourselves of many precious moments in which we might be living fully.

It turns out that we don't have to succumb to the addictive appeals of external absorptions in entertainment and passionate distraction. We can develop other habits that bring us back to that elemental yearning inside ourselves for warmth, stillness, and inner peace. When we sit with our breathing, for instance, it is much like sitting by fire. Looking deeply into the breath, we can see at least as much as in glowing coals and embers and flames, reflections of our own mind dancing. A certain warmth is generated, too. And if we are truly not trying to get anywhere but simply allow ourselves to be here in this moment as it is, we can stumble easily upon an ancient stillness—behind and within the play of our thoughts and feelings—that in a simpler time, people found in sitting by the fire.

- Monday, January 11, 2010 at 04:42:18 (EST)

2010-01-03 - Hilly Leland

~8 miles @ ~11 min/mi

A red-headed woodpecker blows past and perches on a tree to watch me. A discarded Christmas tree lies in the middle of the road, shoved there by 20-40 mi/hr winds. Temps are in the 'teens and the wind chill index in low single digits. I envy lady runners and their wisely warmer arrangement of certain bodily organs. The nozzle of my water bottle freezes solid after an hour and the electrolyte drink inside turns into a slush, reminding me of Barry Smith's kind offer yesterday to buy me a 7-11 "Slurpee" when he stopped to get coffee while giving me a ride home (cf. 2009-01-02 - Frigid CCT, Beach, Leland)

Today's solo run is an out-and-back from home to CCT to RCT to Candy Cane City, where I cross the footbridge and take roller-coaster Leland St to Wisconsin Av in Bethesda before turning back. Outbound facing into the wind is a bracing experience; the homeward journey feels slightly more comfortable. I kick out the final mile in ~9.5 minutes.

- Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 10:38:41 (EST)

Diary Habit

Arnold Bennett, British novelist/essayist, endorsed journal-keeping in his article "The Diary Habit" published ca. 1910 (see DearDiary here, (2001-03-19)). Perhaps in rebuttal A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, wrote a hilarious essay with the same title. An excerpt:

A newspaper has been lamenting the decay of the diary-keeping habit, with the natural result that several correspondents have written to say that they have kept diaries all their lives. No doubt all these diaries now contain the entry, "Wrote to the Daily — to deny the assertion that the diary-keeping habit is on the wane." Of such little things are diaries made.

I suppose this is the reason why diaries are so rarely kept nowadays—that nothing ever happens to anybody. A diary would be worth writing up if it could be written like this:—

MONDAY.—"Another exciting day. Shot a couple of hooligans on my way to business and was forced to give my card to the police. On arriving at the office was surprised to find the building on fire, but was just in time to rescue the confidential treaty between England and Switzerland. Had this been discovered by the public, war would infallibly have resulted. Went out to lunch and saw a runaway elephant in the Strand. Thought little of it at the time, but mentioned it to my wife in the evening. She agreed that it was worth recording."


Alas! we cannot do this. Our diaries are very prosaic, very dull indeed. They read like this:—


Wednesday.—"Played dominoes at lunch and won fivepence."

If this sort of diary is now falling into decay, the world is not losing much. But at least it is a harmless pleasure to some ... But there is another sort of diary which can never be of any importance at all. I make no apology for giving a third selection of extracts.

Monday.—"Rose at nine and came down to find a letter from Mary. How little we know our true friends! Beneath the mask of outward affection there may lurk unknown to us the serpent's tooth of jealousy. Mary writes that she can make nothing for my stall at the bazaar as she has her own stall to provide for. Ate my breakfast mechanically, my thoughts being far away. What, after all, is life? Meditated deeply on the inner cosmos till lunch- time. Afterwards I lay down for an hour and composed my mind. I was angry this morning with Mary. Ah, how petty! Shall I never be free from the bonds of my own nature? Is the better self within me never to rise to the sublime heights of selflessness of which it is capable? Rose at four and wrote to Mary, forgiving her. This has been a wonderful day for the spirit."


(for the full text of Milne's essay "The Diary Habit" see [1]; it also appears in the collection "Not That It Matters" [2] or [3] or [4])

- Saturday, January 09, 2010 at 05:40:57 (EST)

Year of Running - 2009

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/2009_z_runs.pngHere at a glance are all the runs I logged in 2009: a total of ~1486 miles on 140 days, averaging ~28 miles/week.

2009 was quite a year. Looking back, the most memorable events weren't races—they were excursions with friends, sights seen, stresses survived, and "trail talk" that can never be repeated but will long be recalled. Among those to be thanked: Barry Smith, Caren Jew, Christina Caravoulias, CM Manlandro, Emaad Burki, Gayatri Datta, Kate Abbott, Ken Swab, Mary Ewell, ... and a host of others who may prefer to remain anonymous, comrades who made (almost!) every step a delight.

But races are races, and 2009 brought a goodly number of good ones, plus a plethora of noteworthy training runs. Some salient journal entries:

Later, analysis of speed versus distance and the factors that perhaps went into a lucky 2009 ...

(cf. Running Logbook, Running2006Analysis, ...)

- Friday, January 08, 2010 at 04:44:47 (EST)

2009-01-02 - Frigid CCT, Beach, Leland

14+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

"I recognize you with your clothes on!" I tell Sara Crum when we meet at 8am in downtown Bethesda. (It's a twist on her comment when by chance she saw me in a McLean restaurant, not in running attire, and I didn't know her—cf. 2009-10-17 - Chilly CCT.) Barry Smith and Gayatri Datta are here too. I've been invited to meet some of their friends in the "Winter Maintenance" running group. Besides Sara, and Rebecca Rosenberg (2009-09-26 - CCT RCT Loop Plus), there are Amy and Ann and Casey. A subset of the crew are running next weekend at the Disneyworld marathon. Several are taking the "Goofy Challenge", a half-marathon the day before the full race.

Starting at 7am from home I jog via the Capital Crescent Trail, as the moon shines dimly through rapidly scudding clouds. Today there's a high wind alert. Temperatures hover in the 20's. Melting and refreezing makes slippery spots worse than a week ago (2009-12-27 - Icy CCT). The group heads back along that same route to Jones Mill Rd, where we turn south, then take East-West Hwy to the Meadowbrook Stables, and after a restroom break there proceed on Rock Creek Trail to Beach Dr and downstream to just past Bingham Rd. We turn back when Gayatri's new GPS says 6 miles. Half a mile north of the DC-MD line we veer from Beach onto Leland St and follow it back to our start.

Leland zigs and zags but generally trends parallel to East-West Hwy. Sara and Barry explain how to tell if you're off course: "If it's not hilly, it's not Leland!" There are challenging slopes that we charge up. Back at the parking lot Gayatri's GPS says 10.7 and I add ~4 miles for my pre-group run. Barry gives me a ride home, car heater set to max as we both attempt to thaw our frozen hands.

- Thursday, January 07, 2010 at 04:41:19 (EST)

Sunrise Worship

Pond fountain builds volcanic rime-cone
North wind blows tears into eyes
Two snowflakes sidle down to kneel
As dawn lights the altar

(another ^z winter-commute Twitter-poem effort; cf. Ice Sculptures)

- Wednesday, January 06, 2010 at 05:06:27 (EST)

2010-01-01 - New Year's Day 5k

~3.1 miles @ ~7.1 min/mi

"Go ahead, it's fine!" I encourage the women standing in line to get into the men's restroom as I'm on my way out. The MCRRC New Year's Day 5k race begins in a few minutes, and the queue outside the ladies' room is far too long. No harm; runners do far less conventional things outdoors before many races! This year the Half Beast is gone: volunteers can't give me bib #333 during the distribution of numbers, and I settle for #222, a third of the biblical Number of the Beast. I've been #333 since 2006, so it's time for change.

Gayatri Datta and I ride to today's race with Barry Smith, who is back from running the Honolulu Marathon 2009 and is signed up for the Disney Marathon next weekend. Gayatri plans to do a multiday stage race in the Himalayas come next October. We chat in the car and I salute their energy. Christina Caravoulias takes pre-race photos and runners wish one another Happy New Year. At the starting line Wayne Carson lines up near me, and sandbagging banter ensues.

Today's run turns out OK, a new PR for the 5k by about 20 seconds in spite of suboptimal pacing. Splits by my watch: 6:54 for the first mile, then 7:00, and the final ~1.1 miles in 8:02 (a pace of ~7:15). I finish 7th out of 21 in the 55-59 year male group, official time 21:54. After the race Mical Honigfort tells me about the group run yesterday on the Appalachian Trail that I skipped due to snow and freezing rain.

- Tuesday, January 05, 2010 at 05:02:53 (EST)

William Wycherley

For Xmas this year I got a copy of the 1928 book What to Read in English Literature by Jack R. Crawford. Like a smart tour guide, Crawford offers advice on which authors and books are worth seeking out. Many names on his list are new to me. In particular, my eye was soon caught (for reasons those who know me will have no trouble identifying) by William Wycherly. Crawford observes:

William Wycherley (1640?-1716) brought comedy to the lowest point of degradation that the English stage has witnessed. It is true that he had predecessors in this art in Dryden and Mrs. Aphra Behn, but Wycherley's work is worse because it is written with skill and remarkable literary power. He is a great writer, although he chose to write filth.

Not only does The Country Wife (a comedy that the squeamish reader will not venture to read aloud in the family circle) reflect the intense enjoyment of the followers of Charles II in the only joke many of them seem to have appreciated, but it also relates dramatically the quest for the only object that appears to have been worth a Restoration gentleman's efforts. Nevertheless, the comedy has such vigour and power, such wit of epigram and is such a total negation of all decency that it succeeds with a reader by its sheer force and skill. It is a masterpiece of the pornographic, (1675).

Wow! Both filth and comedy—what's not to like? But alas, standards have changed; The Country Wife turns out to be rather milder to modern eyes than perhaps it seemed a century or more ago ...

(see [1] for discussion, and [2] or other sources for the full text)

- Monday, January 04, 2010 at 04:42:03 (EST)

2009-12-28 - More Parking Lot Loops

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Kate Abbott warns me that it's cold outside, and I soon discover how right she is. Three afternoon laps accelerate, from ~9.5 to ~8.8 to ~7.7 min/mi pace, as wind gusts blast from the northwest and my eyes water. A single other runner, dressed in black and lavender head-to-toe, is circling the perimeter in the opposite direction.

- Sunday, January 03, 2010 at 05:28:13 (EST)


Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment.

... a comment by Dogen-zenji (1200-1253), as quoted in "Mistakes in Practice" in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (1970)

- Saturday, January 02, 2010 at 05:35:28 (EST)

2009-12-27 - Icy CCT

9+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

In the overnight parking/maintenance lot a fleet of buses idles noisily, fog rising above them, at 0655 as I crunch past on the Capital Crescent Trail headed west. Dawn glows fuchsia in the southeast and I can make out a few of the ice hazards underfoot. Parts of the CCT are clear, in various cases due to recent rain, sunlight, salty runoff from nearby roads, reflected heat from local buildings, or public-spirited shoveling. Other parts of the trail are refrozen-slippery, and though the bank thermometer and the official NOAA weather page say temperatures are in the mid-to-upper 30's, frosty patches on cars and puddles testify otherwise.

I manage not to fall in the dark, in spite of several "Oops!" moments, and arrive safely in downtown Bethesda (~4 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi). Other runners are getting ready to venture out and we chat about the relative treachery of the trail surface in various directions. Then Emaad Burki and Alyssa Smith arrive, followed soon by Ken Swab and then CM Manlandro. Everyone is wearing tights except me. We admire the flashy harlequin-checkered Eric Clifton leggings that Santa brought Ken, and proceed southwest. Ken and I take the lead, chattering about the Miwok 100k in California. It's Ken's next big race, on 1 May 2010.

After about 0.7 miles we look behind us and see Emaad, Alyssa, and CM far in the distance. Returning to them we learn that for multiple reasons they don't actually want to get seriously damaged today. Emaad and Alyssa both are recovering from injuries (hip and calf problems, respectively) and have the Disney Marathon in a few weeks. CM is young and would have more years to suffer than the rest of us if she got hurt. So we head back cautiously and proceed through the CCT tunnel under Wisconsin Av to the next mile marker (~12 min/mi pace).

The rest of the group sees the icy trail ahead and decides to run along plowed/salted neighborhood streets to get their mileage in. I continue homeward, but in the light of day realize how dangerous the ice was that I couldn't see before sunrise. The final miles are relatively clear, however, so I accelerate to do them in 10:35 and 9:14 respectively. Belatedly I discover that my water bottle has bounced out of my fanny pack somewhere near the Columbia Country Club. It was ~7 years old, a giveaway from RnJ sports, with duct tape and a rubber band around it. May it rest in peace.

- Friday, January 01, 2010 at 18:28:00 (EST)

Night Glasses

From the mad scientists who brought you Powr SpüngZ, Bäkn StripZ, and CPAP BongZ, a new product you never knew you couldn't live without: NiTie-NiTe GlasseZ!

You're signed up for an ultramarathon, say your first 100 miler, that's going to demand overnight running. You plan, sensibly, to practice in the darkness, a new challenge. But your family and your work make it impossible to get away for large chunks of time between sunset and sunrise. What to do?

Just put on a pair of NiTie-NiTe GlasseZ at midday and start crusing! Our custom-made goggles use only the finest #14 welder's glass to turn noon to night. They produce a stygian darkness that you've gotta experience to believe. In the middle of your field of view you will see, as dimly as if lit by a headlamp with dying batteries, faint glimpses of the world in front of you.

Fall down? You bet! Stagger into trees? Fer sure! Get lost? No question! NiTie-NiTe GlasseZ gives it all to you—and more. Your friends will chortle as you stumble off course and wander aimlessly down the street. Each pair of NiTie-NiTe GlasseZ comes with a free time-lock-on headband to keep you from taking them off prematurely. Put NiTie-NiTe GlasseZ on and you're committed ... or you should be! Call now—operators are standing by.

- Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 08:25:07 (EST)

2009-12-23 - Three More Parking Lot Laps

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

For variety I go counter-clockwise instead of my habitual clockwise circuit around the parking lot perimeter. Today it's a bit chillier than yesterday, with a gusty northwest wind. As I begin a young man in black tights with a red-trimmed cap zips past me. I resist temptation to give chase (fortunately for me it's not a young lady) and let him build up a lead. He reverses course after a mile and thereafter we encounter each other twice every go-around. My pace accelerates steadily: 9.7 on the first orbit, then 8.8, and finally 7.9 min/mi.

- Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 04:49:05 (EST)

Death of Achilles

The Death of Achilles by "Boris Akunin" (a pseudonym) is one of those rare books that I abandoned after less than 100 pages. It's a mystery novel featuring Erast Fandorin, described in the blurbs on the jacket as "a Slavic Sherlock Holmes"; the author is praised and compared to Gogol, Chekhov, Poe, Dumas, and Ian Fleming. The plot crawls, the prose plods, the characters stagger, and the 1882 Moscow setting droops. When the hero immerses himself in ice water. meditates, and then practices martial arts with his Japanese quasi-ninja manservant I think of Inspector Clouseau, not James Bond. But the book isn't funny enough to be a pastiche of the detective genre. Perhaps the translation is troubled, or perhaps I'm just not in the mood?

- Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 04:38:34 (EST)

2009-12-22 - Four Parking Lot Laps

~6 miles @ ~9 min/mi

"It's warm outside!" the young lady tells me in the hallway when, on her way back from her run, she sees me outbound.

"But your legs are glowing," I note, observing her flushed-pink thighs.

"No, you'll be fine," she insists again, immediately arousing my suspicions. "You don't even need gloves."

"That's good, since I forgot mine!" I reply. But she's right, mostly. The temperature is in the upper 30's and I pull my sleeves down over my hands. When the parking lot perimeter aims me into the north wind I do get chilly during my first couple of laps. But once I begin to pick up the pace—or perhaps once everything is comfortably numb?—I don't notice the cold. Four roughly 1.5-mile circuits go by at paces of about 9.9, 9.6, 9.0, and 7.8 min/mi. The propane-fueled snow-melter is spewing out dirty water. When I head indoors to change back to work clothes, I see my own flushed-pink thighs.

- Monday, December 28, 2009 at 04:54:31 (EST)

Ice Sculptures

Ice sculptures
Tickled by silver moonbeams
Melt into giggles

- Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 05:11:30 (EST)

Pepys on Matrimony

From the diary of Samuel Pepys, 25 Dec 1665:

To church in the morning, and there saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another, and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them. ...

(ref. [1] or [2]; cf. DearDiary (2001-03-19), TidyTime (2001-04-28), PeepingSam (2001-06-05), TripleThrills (2003-01-11), HolyMatwimony (2003-12-13), ...)

- Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 07:04:37 (EST)

Total Interconnectedness

Anger, a wee little book by Robert Thurman in the "Seven Deadly Sins" series, is a heavy-handed mystical sermon—mostly uninteresting. But one paragraph lept out at me, a discussion of the essence of mind from a Buddhist philosophical/theological perspective:

... The Buddha discovered in himself the delusional, self-absolutizing habit-pattern at instinctual and intellectual levels, and took up the challenge to verify if he really did exist in that substantial, unique, independent manner. He dissected his mindbody complex with intensive critical insight and one-pointed concentration, and eventually broke through the delusion by failing to discover any absolute self within. He then avoided reifying that failure by taking mere nothingness as a self, as some modern materialist thinkers have done. Instead he understood the ramifications of that failure as being the absolute relativity of the self, its total interconnectedness, its illusoriness or virtuality, and so on. This freed him to develop his relative, virtual self as a living work in progress, actually limitless in horizons of excellence, given endless time for evolution.

This resonates strongly with (my impressions of) philosopher Daniel Dennett's comment: "You'd be surprised how much you can internalize, if you make yourself large." ... and with Ken Knisley's remark about people as ongoing projects: "How should one ongoing project, like me or like you, think of and deeply regard this panoply of other ongoing projects, peculiar living creatures that they are?" ... and with the beautiful reflexive-reflective image of Indra's Net.

- Friday, December 25, 2009 at 07:38:28 (EST)

A Jerk on One End

Robert Hughes, Australian art critic, is also an angler. His little book A Jerk on One End (1999) is subtitled "Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman". It combines sharp prose and commentary with delightful self-deprecating humor. In Part I, for instance, Hughes muses about seeing:

... To fish at all, even on a humble level, you must notice things: the movement of the water and its patterns, the rocks, the seaweed, the quiver of tiny scattering fish that betrays a bigger predator under them. Time on the pier taught me to concentrate on the visual, for fishing is intensely visual even—perhaps especially—when nothing is happening. It is easy to look, but learning to see is a more gradual business, and it sneaks up on you unconsciously, by stealth. The sign that it is happening is the fact that you are not bored by the absence of the spectacular. ...

... and a little later, a parallel between fishing and writing:

... The fundamental experience of fishing consists of dropping a line into the unknown. You can guess at what is down there; you can make your best estimates based on tide, habitat, feeding patterns, and so forth; but you do not really know. Whatever takes your hook therefore has a character of revelation, even if it's only a flounder. It may be edible or not; thorny, spiny, or beautifully sleek; equipped with gnashing jaws or relatively passive; but there is always, assuming that you aren't sight-fishing, the magic moment when the thing struggling on your line down there could be anything. The similarities between the writer's work and the angler's need not be labored, but they exist: The writer lets down his or her hook into the deposit of memory and experience, the semiconscious fluid—not the dark, abyssal unconscious, which is out of reach, but the tidal zone where word, phrase, idea, and memory circulate in a kind of half-light, forming their unpredicted patterns. With luck, you bring something up. If it is undersize, you toss it back.

... and in Part III, a whimsical-shocking turn of the tables:

Fishing is a cruel sport. All blood sports are, though that is not necessarily a reason for abolishing them. How would you like it if fish and angler were reversed? It is a bright, breezy May day and you are strolling along one of the piers at Malibu. You stop at a vendor's cart and buy a hot dog with mustard and relish. You lean on the railing and take a first bite. Suddenly your gullet is convulsed with a choking pain and a sharp pull snaps your head forward and down. Something hard, sharp, and metallic is stuck in your throat. The shock is completely outside your experience. In an effort to resist it, you run frantically back and forth on the pier, but the pressure is inexorable, and your lungs have begun to fill with blood. Over the side you go, and hit the watr wildly struggling. The unidentifiable force drags you down. On the bed of the bay, something enormous and unknown grabs you and, if you are lucky, kills you with a blow to the back of the head. If you are not so lucky, death comes more slowly by drowning. Either way, perhaps mercifully, you cannot hear or understand the Thing on the seabed chatting to its fellow Things about how well you fought.

Shocking and debatable, yes. Hughes admits that we can't really know what it feels like to be a fish. And Nature in our absence is cruel. But nevertheless, even putting aside an individual fish's potential suffering, there's the larger question of overfishing, extinction of entire species, pollution of waterways and the oceans, etc. Big issues, worth pondering. Hughes addresses them thoughfully.

(cf. SeeingAndForgetting (1999-07-15), ArtNewspaper (2001-08-04), Omnivore's Dilemma (2009-05-16), ...)

- Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 07:40:24 (EST)

2009-12-18 - 5 x The Silencer

~7.5 miles @ ~11 min/mi

The air is pregnant with a looming blizzard that will bring 20" of snow tomorrow. Paulette and Gray are visiting Deb Sagerholm's shop, Marco Polo's Treasures, where I leave the car. I know I've seen this industrial park from Rock Creek below, so with a zig and a zag around the outside perimeter of security fences I stumble my way downhill. Two friendly dogs bark at me from the Purple blazed trail where their owner is letting them roam. I progress upstream for about a mile, losing the trail and re-finding it repeatedly. Then I join Rock Creek Trail near the Beltway and commence five up-and-downs on the big hill by the Mormon Temple, the hill CM Manlandro calls "The Silencer". From Beach Dr to Kent St along Stoneybrook I go, about half a mile at 6% grade (150 feet climb) and the same amount down. My up times average 5:03 (fifth one = 4:49) and down times average 4:36. At 5pm sharp the Xmas lights click on and visitor's cars begin to cruise the Temple parking lot. I head home via Ireland Dr, up the grade that CM cursed when I snookered her into ascending it at the end of her first 15 mile training run (cf. 2008-12-13 - Rock Creek West Loop).

- Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 04:40:29 (EST)

Tough-Minded Optimists

Kind correspondent Lila Das Gupta clearly knows how much I like (1) lists, (2) self-improvement homilies, and (3) optimism; she recently offered these "Twelve Characteristics of Tough-Minded Optimists" from Alan Loy McGinnis's The Power of Optimism:

  1. Optimists are seldom surprised by trouble.
  2. Optimists look for partial solutions.
  3. Optimists believe they have control over their futures.
  4. Optimists allow for regular renewal.
  5. Optimists interrupt their negative train of though.
  6. Optimists heighten their powers of appreciation.
  7. Optimists use their imagination to rehearse success.
  8. Optimists are cheerful even when they can't be happy.
  9. Optimists believe they have an almost unlimited capacity for stretching.
  10. Optimists build lots of love into their lives.
  11. Optimists like to swap good news.
  12. Optimists accept what cannot be changed.

... and Lila points out that these also work for marathon runners!

(see also Lila's blog and OptimistCreed (1999-04-16), MoveOn (2007-01-16), SolveTheProblem (2007-05-24), ...)

- Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 04:45:43 (EST)

Jim Gray and Jon Mathews

Computer scientist Jim Gray vanished in 2007 while sailing on the ocean. He came to mind again recently when a New York Times book review appeared of The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery, a collection of essays in Gray's honor by his colleagues.

I only met Jim Gray briefly, a dozen or more years ago at a long-forgotten group project meeting. Of him I only recall his grizzled beard, his friendliness, his sensible remarks, and his habit of standing up to stride quietly around the room while others talked. He was suffering from back pain at the time, he explained, and this kept it under control.

Gray was a database expert who thought big, orders of magnitude larger than current information technology capabilities. His Turing Award lecture explores a dozen key research challenges. It includes part of a delightful list that Gray attributes to David Huffman, another famous CS researcher:

... charming thoughts, if a bit too CS-centric. I would correct it to say that Physics holds patents on space-time and mass-energy—but yes, I'm a physicist! (^_^)

Reading about and remembering Jim Gray brought to mind Jon Mathews, who also sadly was lost at sea during a 1979 sailing voyage around the world. I took a few classes from Mathews and admired him greatly. Perhaps over the years I've become more like him than I anticipated (or could have hoped). The thoughtful remarks by Robert Walker [1] sharpen the memories:

Jon was not like most of the other people on the physics faculty at Caltech in his motivations and his approach to science. He had great versatility — as do some of the others — but I think his most outstanding characteristic was that he was a scholar, and his scientific motivations stemmed from that. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes the various characters traveling together on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Among them was a scholar, about whom he said:

A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
That un-to logik hadde longe y-go ....
Of studie took he most cure and most hede.
Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence,
Souninge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he Ierne, and gladly teche.

I think the last line describes Jon particularly well. What really interested him was learning a new subject, which he did with great intensity and remarkable intellectual power, but he was never so involved with his own long-range research that he was unwilling to be diverted and give attention to a new problem — provided you could get him interested. Then he would be of great help.

A scholar: learning and helping others. Another way in which Jim Gray resembled Jon Mathews. I'd like to be more like that ...

- Monday, December 21, 2009 at 06:59:22 (EST)

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), 0.82 (February-April 2010), 0.83 (April-May 2010), 0.84 (May-July 2010), 0.85 (July-September 2010), 0.86 (September-October 2010), 0.87 (October-December 2010), 0.88 (December 2010 - February 2011), 0.89 (February-April 2011), 0.90 (April-June 2011), 0.92 (August-October 2011), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2011 by Mark Zimmermann.)