Sunday, January 31, 2010

I hate rude behavior in a man...I won't tolerate it.

Beyond shadow of a doubt, the miniseries "Lonesome Dove" is the best Western ever filmed.  And it has relevant lessons for us and our interpersonal relations. 

(if the video won't play try )

I go to great pains to be tolerant, and polite to everyone I encounter in my daily interactions. Perhaps I am tolerant to a fault, but I realize that I can have a bad day, and try to give the benefit of the doubt to people I encounter who seem less than friendly.

For example, some years ago I had a medical problem that caused me chronic pain until I was able to get it surgically corrected.  Frankly--and this is treading perilously close to the "too much information" threshhold, but the location is germane--the pain was down there, and I'm here to tell you that is impossible to be perky when your butt hurts. So whenever someone is rude to me I just figure that they may not just be a pain in the ass, maybe they have a pain in the ass that clouds their outlook.

That said, I would love to just vanquish some a-hole like Captain Call does in this piece. One of the funniest aspects is the fact that Captain Call feels compelled at the end to explain his actions to the stunned onlookers. Hence the statement "I hate rude behavior in a man...I won't tolerate it."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why Run 100 Miles?

I guess it does defy explanation.  That said, I'll try anyway since that's what I'll be doing on 27 March. 

Some folks wonder why anyone would want to run at all, much less 100 miles.  Again, I turn to someone who is more eloquent than I am.

The Canadian David Blaikie once had a ultra related web site (no longer active).  I got these words from there or perhaps from a post to the UltraList:

Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Emily Dickinson and Being Organized

I've previously blogged about Emily Dickinson, and as I mentioned before, you should go to this site, now, and take the time to scroll through all the pages.

There in one of her letters I also found this wonderful sentence, where Ms. Dickinson (I just don't feel like I can or should call her Emily) is talking about self-organization. The imagery of this just really struck me and I had to share it; hope it resonates with someone who also is passionate about words.

I had no monarch in my life, and cannot rule myself; and when I try to organize, my little force explodes and leaves me bare and charred.

I know well the feeling--not wishing to be in charge, preferring to be directed, but by default having to take charge...then getting overwhelmed.  I love how with her use of the words "explodes" and "charred" she makes me think of the notion of having something blow up in your face when, possibly, that phrase per se did not yet exist at the time when Ms. Dickinson wrote.

And what did she mean by the enigmatic "my little force"?  Today we rightfully perceive Ms. Dickinson as a powerful force, a veritable writing hurricane.  Yet I am certain that she viewed her life as modest, and her energy petite.

Any UltraRunning connection?  Sure--when a run is not going well, and I feel sluggish, I can't help but ponder on the term "my little force" and hope that whatver I have in the tank will be sufficient for the day's effort.  I will say that I've been at this game awhile now, and as a veteran trail runner I know that there will be strong runs and there will be not-so-strong runs.  It's all part of the experience, so when I'm struggling I don't get all wrapped around the axle, anxiously wringing my mental hands.  I just realize that it'll get better and that my little force will indeed be sufficient.

(photo from )

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Packing my Bags and Heading to Umstead with Goethe

Well, just heard from the race director--I've been accepted into the Umstead 100 Miler on 27 March!! That's North Carolina, near the state capital of Raleigh.

Back in September when entries opened I didn't get my application in early enough to gain a slot initially, but I was early enough to be placed on the waiting list. Then as registered runners dropped for whatever reason, the race director was able to offer entry to the wait listers.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the nitty gritty of such a race, here's the play-by play:

The race begins at 6:00 am on Saturday 27 March.  I (and 250 of my closest friends I have not yet met) will run by flashlight for about an hour, see the sun rise at 7:08 am, run the rest of the day, see the sun go down at 7:32 pm, see the nearly-full moon reach its zenith at 11:32 pm, run the rest of the night, see the sun rise for the second time at 7:07 am, and finally finish running prior to the 30-hour cutoff time of noon on Sunday.

The race is in 2 months. That sounds like a decent interval from now, but then when I think of it instead as being 8 weeks away, suddenly I feel a great sense of urgency. At any rate, I am now formally committed. Before--when I was on the wait list--I kept up my training but it had an air of unreality, that I was just going through the motions, that in the end I may have invested a lot of training effort, only to be told, sorry, maybe next year. But now I'm Committed with a capital C.

As usual, whenever I think about inspiration I turn to other people who have already said something better, stronger, more succinctly, etc., and a quote attributed** to Goethe comes to mind, one that I once had posted on my desk:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

**Note: the source I cite makes a strong case that Goethe is not actually the author of this quote. Regardless, the words are inspirational and I will take them to heart.

Now, lots of things to do before the race:

--Develop a weekly run plan for the remaining weeks, to include two 30 milers as the long training runs, with 10 milers on the "off" weeks, then a 3 week taper going into the race.
--Execute same!
--Develop race plan for tentative split times (the course repeats a 12.5 mile loop eight times).
--Develop drop bag plan (weather-dependent) for what running clothes I expect to need at different times of the day and night..
--Lose 5 pounds.

Stay tuned!

Addendum on 8 March 2010:  Sometime after I posted this, I noticed that the RD, Blake Norwood, also includes some Goethe references in his How to Train For and Run Your First 100 at the Umstead 100 (see here). I think this is an example of two people independently having the same thought at different times, but I feel I should credit Blake just in case I subconsciously channeled him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Have Gun - Will Travel (or, the Antihero)

The bride got me Season 3 of Have Gun--Will Travel for Christmas, and I am LOVING it!  Plus, our cable provider carries the Encore Western channel, which has also begun to show episodes.

Ever learn about the concept of the antihero back in literature class?  Antiheros were BIG back in the 1970s when I was in college but I seldom hear about the concept any more today.  Nevertheless, a quick Google reveals that some univesities still teach such a class--see Dartmouth for one example. 

Anyway, back to the concept of the antihero: think Rambo and you pretty much have it. 

Wikipedia tells us that an antihero is "...generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis."

Well, Richard Boone, playing Paladin in the show, is just a more genteel Rambo but still embodies the antihero concept.  His "normal" persona is that of an educated, suave gentleman, dressed in fine clothes, living in San Francisco.  Paladin seems to spend his days scouring the newspapers for stories of the downtrodden, or someone in distress.  He then sends the needy person his terse, 8-word business card, and the person responds by hiring the gunfighter.  Typically the next shot shows Paladin--this time dressed all in black and riding a black horse--arriving at the place where he is needed for a showdown with the "bad" guy(s).

Not every episode contains a gunfight, although many do, and Paladin is a quick draw.  But frequently he solves the problem without resorting to violence, often by convincing people just to do what is right rather than what is expedient.

Paladin is a man with no first name, a good guy with a dark side.  He is a hired gunfighter who does what's right and helps the downtrodden.  As the lead-in to the show, Paladin always draws his gun and gives a short hard-ass speech as a teaser to what's about to happen.  The show is replete with situational ethics and moral dilemmas, and sometimes is unclear as to who really is the good guy.

Maybe I'm nostalgic for the formative days of my youth, but I love this show and can't get enough of it right now.  Perhaps it's the appeal of ambiguity and the parallels with contemporary life, which seems increasingly fraught with moral dilemmas and ethical conundrums.

No UlraRunning connection here--again, I just love Westerns!

(Photos taken by me from my TV)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gays: On the Very Serious pages of the Very Serious Wall Street Journal

The Very Serious pages of the Very Serious Wall Street Journal, editorially, recently came out in favor of torture of the Christmas Bomber, and I posted a blast at them on 9 January.

Now, Sunday's WSG contained an editorial by Richard Socarides, calling on President Obama to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy about gays serving openly in the military.  Obama campaingned on ending what he called a "policy of discrimination" but has been strangely silent about it since taking office.

Richard Socarides:

Many question why the White House avoided dealing with Don't Ask, Don't Tell last year, when Democrats had big majorities in Congress and polls showed that a majority of Americans favor changing the policy. A Quinnipiac poll in April, for example, found that 56% of Americans support repealing the policy.

A big part of the reason why the White House hesitated is fear of a backlash similar to the one suffered by President Bill Clinton in 1993 when he tried to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Recently we saw the potential beginning of an antigay fear campaign—much like the one in 1993 when then Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.) was leading the charge—in the form of a leaked memo from a legal adviser to Mr. Mullen. The legal adviser opined that "now is not the time" to lift the ban because of "the importance of winning the wars we are in." Also, the New York Times reported recently that the Pentagon had begun considering "the practical implications of a repeal—for example, whether it would be necessary to change shower facilities and locker rooms because of privacy concerns."
Fortunately, these scare tactics are for the most part relics of an older era. People understand that our military needs every talented American it can get, and that excluding gays from the military detracts from our ability to win wars.

As wrong as the WSG was about torture, they are absolutely right on this one, and I am pleased to offer credit where credit is due.  This is discrimination, pure and simple, and I am disappointed that our president is bowing to political calculus rather than doing what is right.

Emily Dickinson and UltraRunning

Adding to a previous Emily Dickinson post, you should go to this site, now, and take the time to scroll through all the pages.

Our society seems preoccupied with the dangers that one might encounter outdoors.  Perhaps that's one of the reasons I am drawn to ultrarunning, because in our world it is quite unremarkable to run alone in the backcountry, or to run at night.  So imagine my joy at finding this wondrous word image (on pg 6):

When much in the woods, as a little girl, I was told that the snake would bite me, that I might pick a poisonous flower, or goblins kidnap me; but I went along and met no one but angels, who were far shyer of me than I could be of them, so I haven't that confidence in fraud which many exercise.

Many imagine Ms. Dickinson as being a fragile waif, living indoors in a world of words.  I imagine her as an ultrarunner.

As I've said before, time to get cracking on my Ms. Dickinson reading.  There are undoubtedly more delightful treasures to be found....

(Photo from )

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bad Weather = Good Running

Sunday morning I was on Mister Tristan duty, so I was unable to get in a run early. I wanted to do 10 miles, which basically consumes close to 2 hours at my leisurely pace. The bride had mentioned the day before that when she got up she was going to do a Wii Fit workout. I wanted to give that priority to her, so I kept shuffling my run plans to later in the day.

At any rate, about 12:30 pm I had my window of opportunity to get out for my run. Now, I am a morning person and strongly prefer going early if I am going—a midday run seems alien and strange to me. Plus the promised rain system was now upon us. So when I started, it was a light drizzle but slowly increased in intensity while I was out. So by the end of the run it was a steady to hard rain.

I could see it in the eyes of the passing drivers: “Are you nuts? It’s raining!” Then I’m sure that they would make some comment to their spouse or other passenger about how stupid runners are. Both of them, in their overweight and out-of-shape glory, would conclude that what I was doing was not only stupid and dangerous, but would ruin my knees (as if their obesity wasn’t ruining theirs).

I realized long ago that when the weather, by any objective standard, sucks, then I usually have a positively wonderful run. I freely admit that a large component is what I call the “smugness factor,” knowing that you’re out there and nobody else is. The feeling of accomplishment in completing a run in tough conditions is such a strong positive thing.

Sunday was no exception as I circled the Pig Farm 10 mile route, which I had not run on for several weeks. I was able to head to the east since the wind was uncharacteristically from that direction, and although I had the rain and the cold (35 F) to deal with, I had a great run. Being dressed for the weather is a big part of enjoying the run—I’ve always said that there’s really no such thing as bad weather, only weather for which you are inadequately prepared. I was wearing a wind shell with some rain resistance, tights, and a baseball cap pulled low to keep the rain off my glasses.

So I was physically comfortable, which enabled me to shrug off the “bad” conditions, and embrace the simple joy of running.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Emily Dickinson and War, in 7 Words

In my American Civil War reading (I do some research and writing in this area) I came across a reference to an Emily Dickinson quote...something about immortality or death "striking sharp and early." She lived and wrote during and after the time of that war. 

To track this down, naturally I did a Google search, whereby I encountered the site Early Women Masters , which contains the quote I was seeking.  The quote was, surprisingly, not in a poem but rather in one of her letters to a literary friend, who was then serving in the Union army.  The full quote reads:

Perhaps death gave me awe for friends, striking sharp and early, for I held them since in a brittle love, of more alarm than peace.

And then this, later in the same letter, which in 7 words may come closer to the meaning of war than any other 7 words in the English langauge:

War feels to me an oblique place.

So now death has struck, sharp and early, in that oblique place, for some 4377 US personnel in Iraq, and for some 977 US personnel in Afghanistan.

Now I must read 1) a bio of Ms. Dickinson, 2) her published works, and 3) her letters, which appear to have been separately published by various recipients.  So much to read and so little time....

Photos from

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where I Run, Part 3

This is farm country--large, prosperous family farms.  Locally this broad valley is called the Cumberland Valley, but geographically it is simply the same Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, only extended northward into Franklin and Cumberland counties in Pennsylvania.

Many local roads I run on look much like this:

Here's a close-up of the house behind the pines on the left.  Geologically, limestone dominates, and makes a wonderful building material:

Here's another limestone house along Zarger Road, about 3 miles from the one above.

On this property some ten or so years ago a local high school girl ran off the road and hit an immovable walnut tree, killing her instantly.  No drugs or alcohol, just probably took her eyes of the road for a critical moment....

Whenver I run by there I pick a wildflower and place it at the tree.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Potomac River Water....Mmmm, Good!

This is an addendum to my run report from Monday for my 25 mile run along the C&O Canal.

I left out one key detail in my haste to post, but actually the delay has provided time to better analyze results. My plan was to resupply with water and food at my car somewhere in the middle of the run. That is, I first ran downstream and back, pausing at my car, then headed upstream and back. However, in the middle of my initial downstream leg I opted to lengthen that leg to about 2/3 of the run. That meant, even in cold weather, that I ran out of water.

I knew that I would run out of water by lengthening my first segment, and had planned for that contingency--by carrying a small bottle of liquid bleach. This is a recycled infant's liquid Tylenol bottle with a dropper. A couple years ago on the Ultralist I had read a post from a university chemistry professor stating that 7 drops of bleach will purify a standard 22 oz water bottle in about 20 minutes.

I've previously used this technique perhaps half a dozen times without any adverse consequences. On Monday the Potomac River was high and brown from recent rains. I climbed down to the riverbank from the canal towpath, filled a bottle, and added the bleach. I used 10 drops due to the murkiness of the water, which was the color of very weak coffee. Twenty minutes later I happily drank the water, which really did not taste bad, either from the bleach or funky water. Now 3 days later I still have no adverse consequences.

Your mileage may vary. LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I am not a water purification expert and therefore if you try this technique you do so at your own risk. But it certainly provides an extremely useful option for water resupply while out on long runs.

Not So Brave Now, Eh?


Amanda visits one of her favorite people, the vet, for her annual shots.

Not feeling so brave at the moment.  She usually needs scruffed by the vet tech to maintain control.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tales from the Perimeter: God Made Her Barren

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity.

One of our group, CH, is a pretty religious guy. Not in-your-face preachy, but rather one who tries to take and live his Christianity seriously. For example, in the course of routine conversation, CH will frequently make allusions to God and make mention of God’s place in his life. It’s something that the rest of the running group knows about CH and accepts as a component of his personality.

One day on the perimeter in our 2nd mile, our conversation drifted to the sexuality of our children, in the context of unintended pregnancies, which has unexpectedly resulted in at least 3 pregancies and caused at least two of our group to become grandfathers.

Now, CH can really tell a story, and was mentioning an old girlfriend from high school and college, with whom he had had a sexual liaison for several years prior to settling down and marrying (someone else). CH observed, “Yeah, when I think of all that unprotected sex we had, God must have really been looking out for us to keep her from getting pregnant because we really were not ready to be parents.  It would have really messed up our plans.”

Then he observed quietly, “She and I still keep in touch, and you know, she never did have kids.”

KK then jumped right in, “God must have made her barren to keep you from ruining your military career.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where I Run, Part 2

Anybody else see the irony here?

Hades Church road is maybe 4 miles away and part of my favorite 12 mile loop.
Locally the name is pronounced so as to rhyme with "blades."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Serious post here....this is a disaster of Biblical proportions. If you have not donated money yet, please do so. We are all so concerned with our ultrarunning, but truth be told, it's largely a leisure pursuit made possible by our high standard of living. What is going on in Haiti is the real deal, life and death issues.

Donations to organizations such as the Red Cross are more immediate; personally, I am supporting Habitat for Humanity, which will assist people in in building affordable housing over the months to come. Regardless of your druthers, please be generous.

Our military presence is building and welcome. I was struck by a comment by a US paratrooper: Sorry that I can't provide the actual link....from the Guardian (UK) on-line edition (19 Jan 2010):

The US paratrooper had a simple message for the people of Haiti. Dressed in khaki, carrying an assault rifle and with the iconic sight of Black Hawk helicopters taking off behind him, he said: “I don’t plan on firing a single shot while I’m here. I’ve been in Iraq three times and I’ve done enough of that.”

(Photo from the BBC)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King...and UltraRunning

Read on, it's short, and there is in fact a connection to UltraRunning.

On this, the Federal Holiday instituted to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., please ponder two brief quotes. Inasmuch as my family contains members who are white, black or mixed, and who are all loved equally and without reservation, Dr. King and his legacy have special meaning to us.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

And of course there’s the promised Ultra connection, right?

“We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet can get us there.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Rest in peace, gentle man.  I often repeat your Montgomery words for inspiration and strength when I am struggling in the latter stages of an Ultra.  Moreover, I thank you for your words of hope for a racially agnostic world.

Navigating on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal

As I posted the other day, today is/was the day when I planned to kill 2 birds with 1 stone: testing my new Petzl headlamp in actual use, and getting in a very necessary 30 mile training run. I planned to run on the C&O Canal towpath (of JFK 50 miler fame), hoping that it would be snow-free from the remnants of about 2 ½ feet of snow the end of December.

Well, life got in the way on Sunday, effectively precluding a 3:30 am departure this morning. So the headlamp test will have to await another day (I’m not worried, it gets dark here in the Keystone state every single day!).

The towpath was 95% snow and ice free, but there were a few stretches where I just had to walk—the path was iced over, and then puddled with water from yesterday’s rain. Not the kind of surface conducive to running!

Critter count consisted of about 6 deer (they bolted quite far ahead of me) and 4 lively and amusing fox squirrels racing up and down a large tree. They’d chase each other up the tree then leap over into another tree hanging over the top of the 50’ cliff beside the towpath. I guess acrophobia is not a concern of squirrels. By the way, the fox squirrel is a larger, tawnier cousin of the familiar eastern gray squirrel.

As for the distance, I had to bail at 25 rather than the planned 30 miles. I was just out of gas. Probably just making excuses here, but I am just getting over bronchitis and am still in the middle of my course of antibiotics. So maybe my overall system is running a bit less efficiently than usual.

I’m not bummed out—I’m pleased with the distance given the situation, so that only leaves me with one long run (i.e., 30 miles) remaining in my prep for the Umstead 100 Miler on 27 March. That’s assuming that enough registered runners drop between now and then so that folks like me—on the waiting list—can be offered a slot. I’m figuring my chances at entry at about 50%, but I need to be ready if I get the call saying I’m in.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gas Masks for Children

Note: link fixed 18 Jan--Gary

What have we done to our planet that such a thing seems normal and rational, the right thing to do?  Truth be told, the gas masks are but a band-aid over the underlying problem of resorting to violence as a means of problem-solving.  "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent."
Gas masks for children:  There’s good news for the children of Israel. Every one of them will soon be getting candy, for free, from their government. Are the Israelis returning to the socialist spirit of their founding fathers? Not quite.

“Candy” is the name of a new kind of gas mask, designed especially for children. “We are the only country in the world that produces gas masks for children,” the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) website boasts. The masks even come with “a connecter to a pacifier and a bottle, especially appropriate for infants.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Come Ultra Training?

Mister Tristan got a souped-up looking tractor for Christmas, made in China, the tell being the label on the battery cover that says "Remove to access muet [sic] switch." It's approx 10" high and 12" long, has buttons on top that make it go in forward or reverse, and it plays tractor noises and music.

One of the tunes is the Chicken Dance--it's a barnyard theme, I guess--and I remarked to my daughter-in-law that I had gone 57 years and never danced the Chicken Dance. This despite numerous opportunities to do so at weddings, etc.

She said, "You're kidding. You've never done the Chicken Dance? It's fun!"

I replied, "God willing, I fully expect to pass the rest of my natural life and keep my record intact. That dance is an abomination."

I'm not anti-dancing in general, it's just not a priority with me, and I draw the line at any type of mass hysteria dances, such as this one or the Electric Slide. I have in fact taken dancing lessons (disco back in the 70s and ballroom dancing more recently), because my wife loves to dance and we do enjoy dancing together when we get a chance.

Once we were out somewhere where a lively band was playing, and at practically the first notes she was bouncing in her seat, itching to get up and dance, and said, "How can you just sit there???  Doesn't the music make you move?"

I replied--because I always need a couple tunes to get in the mood before going onto the floor--"I'm dancing right here in my head."

All that said, dancing does add to our lives. I do agree with William James (1842-1910) when he said, "Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." 

One certainly can't argue against common sense or a sense of humor, and if dancing provides a bridge between the two, then I'm there.  Time to dance, I'll be good ultra training.  Cue up the Kinks:

Friday, January 15, 2010


A geeky item, but of relevance to any human being.  This from Science Daily  (did I mention that I detest hypocrites and phonies?):

"According to our research, power and influence can cause a severe disconnect between public judgment and private behavior, and as a result, the powerful are stricter in their judgment of others while being more lenient toward their own actions."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Night Running and Walt Whitman

(Thanks to the Walt Whitman Archive for the image)

I had a great pre-dawn run the other day where the stars were about as brilliant as I have ever seen. Then I vividly recalled a Whitman poem from some long-forgotten literature class. I know that when many of us see poetry anywhere we can't hit that DELETE key fast enough.....but please read on anyway (it's short). 

And read it slowly (aloud is preferable), as though you were reading to a child--that's the secret to understanding poetry.

Old Walt sure had his stuff together:

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

I'm into science and data (my education is in the life sciences, and my present job is pretty techhie), but the astronomical facts pale in comparison to the pure magic of night running and simply gazing in awe at the stars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is the Day of the Flashlight Over?

Well, my headlamp arrived--the Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp. I never though of myself as a "headlamp guy," preferring the solid feel of a flashlight in my hand.  However, things change, and with Umstead looming on 27 March--if I rise high enough on the wait list and actually gain entry to the race--I decided to give headlamping a whirl to see if I liked it (wasn't that cool how I just managed to coin an entirely new word?).

I've tried it around the house (well, my windowless basement) and the device is BRIGHT.  And user comments on (I think) the REI web site mentioned the fact that it's so bright and long-lived that folks also use it for biking and caving, besides trail running.

I hope to get out on Monday when I'm off for the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday on Monday and test drive it.  That would involve getting up at o-dark-thirty so as to run at least 2 hours in the dark.  The run will kill 2 birds with 1 stone: testing the headlamp in actual use, and getting in a very necessary 30 mile training run without any impact on the family.  I am hoping that the C&O Canal towpath (of JFK 50 miler fame) is snow-free by then from the remnants of the 24" snowfall back on 19 Dec and another 4" a week later.

As I posted to the UltraList, I got the headlamp on eBay, where I found new ones under Buy-It-Now for $69 with free shipping.  I offered the guy $60 and we split the difference for a final price of $65 delivered.

Tales from the Perimeter: R&R

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks.   We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity.

One of our lunchtime running group, KK (a Reservist who returned from being deployed last summer), recently had surgery to fix an old injury that’d flared up. He’s been off running for a couple months now, and his return to running is still a way off. Anyway, KK emailed this morning: “First day of therapy this morning... Not as bad as I thought, but will have to wait and see how it feels later.”

Upon reading this, my mind immediately takes an abrupt turn into the gutter. Man, I could really riff on the straight line he just fed us, but I really shouldn't. Then I weakened...nah, I can't let an opportunity like this go, so I emailed back: “Kinda like the two dollar whore you visited while on R + R.”

I did go on to say that I hoped that KK would make continued progress with his rehab, but he will undoubtedly bust me as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  I'd better duck and cover.

PS.  KK does not visit prostitutes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A War of Absurdity

I'm not too shy about expressing my lefty political opinions but I do try to be respectful and not in-your-face about it. Several weeks ago I read an opinion piece by Robert Scheer on Afghanistan that pretty much took my breath away, and I feel compelled to share it.

It's a relatively short read. I pass it along to you for your consideration, asking you to bring to bear your collective wisdom as husbands or wives, mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, as taxpayers, as stewards of the world we will pass along to our descendants.

Please click over to the article, here.  The money quote from Scheer passes along a recent statement of the president's national security adviser.  This is former Marine Gen. James Jones, concerning the size of the terrorist threat from Afghanistan:
"The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

So tell me again how a war that looks to have no end in sight is making us safer?  The Afghans are fighting us just because we're there and we remain there just because they're fighting us....

Couldn't we just say to the Afghan government and the Taliban opposition that we recognize that we, collectively, are stuck in a loop?  To break the gridlock we have a bold proposal that will leave both the US and the Afghans far better off.

To wit, we're declaring a unilateral cease-fire.  And in lieu of fighting we are taking those combat dollars to dig wells, immunize children, and build roads and bridges. 

Perhaps I am naive but I do speak from the knowledge base of decades of work for the DOD, and say as I hold a grandchild on my lap, by God, we can do better than this.  We have to do better than this.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Where I Run: Swamp Fox Road

There's a little town nearby called Marion that I run through on about 1/4 of my runs. It's quaint and quiet, inhabited by perhaps 650 people. Both of its main streets, the east-west (PA Rt 914, the Swamp Fox Road) and the north-south (US Rt 11) have bypasses around them so the heart of the village remains calm.

The town is in fact named after the American Revolutionary war general Francis Marion, immortalized to my generation by a Walt Disney TV series starring Leslie Nielsen.

I've always wondered about the name--whether some person from this little village in southern Pennsylvania had some personal connection to General Marion. Or whether the village was founded at a time when there were heroes and a grateful populace named their town after such a hero.

By the way, this route is along what I call the "Pig Farm 10 miler." Although the pig farm that once existed along this road is no longer there (it's still a farm, thank goodness, they just don't raise pigs any more), the route is forever and always just the Pig Farm to me and the family.

When I slip out early for a run before anyone else is awake, I always leave a note of my whereabouts. When I run here the note just says something like: "Pig Farm, ETA 8:00 am."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

20 at 23

That's Miles and Degrees, respectively. 

Well, I got the 20 miler in. And it was cold. I left at daybreak, heading west into the wind over to the tiny village of Williamson. We had an inch + of light, fluffy new snow, and the state and township plows were out doing their thing. According to the forecast, the wind was to be light and significantly increase later, but already it was steady out of the west at 10-15 mph with higher gusts. Even the small amount of snow we had was enough to begin to drift. 

I wore my old Adidas Trail Response, into the soles of each I had screwed about a dozen ½” hex head screws for traction. These screws do not really assist with running in snow, just on ice. I use these shoes a handful of times each winter.  And with the temp in the low 20s, the snowplows could not clear the road down to bare pavement. The residual coating of snow did not melt off from the weak sun, and the traffic, light as it is on these rural roads, only served to polish the snow into ice. And so the studded shoes were perfect.

This was a good day for seeing wildlife. At mile 5, in a wooded area, about 5 deer crossed the road in front of me. The a couple miles later, again in a thickly wooded area, some sort of large raptor flew low over the road, close in front of me. Due to the angle I could not get a good look at the head to ascertain whether it was a hawk or an owl, but what was particularly striking was its rich, vibrant chestnut brown color. Then shortly after that, I noticed some large bird tracks in the snow, looked out across the fields where the tracks were heading, and saw the 4 wild turkeys that had just left those tracks moments before. It does pay to keep your head up while running and look around.

Now comes the crazy part, although to me it makes perfect sense. At mile 15 of the run I ran down Patton Bridge Road to the Conococheague Creek…where the bridge has not existed for some years now. It was old, badly in need of repair, and served relatively few people. So in this era of constrained public budgets it was sort of a no-brainer to simply tear the bridge down and not replace it. I knew the bridge was gone but I deliberately planned to wade the creek. The Conococheague (an old Indian name), here some 50’ wide, is a pretty decent sized creek that later flows into the Potomac River at Williamsport, the end point of the JFK 50 Miler. 

I got a stout stick for balance and headed into the water, past the old piers. Immediately it was mid-thigh deep, and I fervently hoped it would go no deeper. The current was moderate but not any hazard to crossing. The shock of the cold water was immediate, and within a few moments my legs were pretty cold, though not painful. The crossing went without incident—thankfully the depth remained at mid-thigh—and within a couple minutes I was scrambling up the far bank. That’s when I did feel cold and wasted no time breaking into a run as quickly as I could. Within a mile my shoes had drained and I was feeling much warmer, and I’d venture to say that within 3 miles I felt completely comfortable again (although I should note that my shoe laces quickly iced up and were hard to remove at the end). 

Why run thru an icy creek? I could say it was a component of my ultra training, to be familiar with cold-weather stream crossings and running in wet shoes. That part is factual, but at least as important was just to do something that people just don’t do. I knew that the crossing would not be dangerous—the creek not being real deep and the fact that I was only 5 miles from home. Kind of like the scene from Lonesome Dove where Gus (Robert Duvall) chases some bison just because he could (never mind the fact that Gus ran into a war party of Indians just over the rise!).

At any rate, arrived home tired but well satisfied with the run.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On the Very Serious Pages of the Wall Street Journal

On the Very Serious pages of the Wall Street Journal; (6 Jan 2010) can be found the following Very Serious words (excerpt, read the whole thing if you want to be even more disgusted):

The failed terrorist attack aboard Northwest Flight 253 is proving to be highly educational, not least about the Obama Administration and its pre-September 11 antiterror worldview. Yesterday, the White House reversed itself on repatriating Guantanamo detainees to chaotic Yemen, a step in the right direction. Now if it would only revisit its Ramzi Yousef standard for interrogating captured terrorists like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Ramzi Yousef, you may recall, was the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 who is now serving a life sentence in a supermax prison in Colorado. The Obama Administration likes to cite his arrest, conviction and imprisonment as a model for its faith that the criminal justice system is the best way to handle terrorist detainees.

The lesson of these cases, like that of Ramzi Yousef, is not that the criminal justice system can sometimes convict terrorists. It is that criminal prosecution is far less vital to U.S. security than is conducting the interrogations that can yield information that saves innocent lives.

So we have the WSJ, aguably the most influential financial newspaper in the US, if not the world, advising the Obama administration that they’d better not be such wussies and start themselves some torture, like right now!  Maybe they'd better stick to advising the banksters and the other financial masters of the universe...but we all know how that turned out, don't we?

Friday, January 8, 2010

100 Miler Limbo

In September 2009 I threw my hat into the ring, deciding to enter the Umstead 100 Miler on 27 March 2010, near Raleigh, NC. I have only attempted (and finished) one other 100 mile trail run, that at Massanutten, VA back in 1998. So I figured that if I ever was going to run another 100 I’d better do it soon, frankly, before I was too old and slow.

As some or many of you may know, Umstead is a popular race that fills virtually immediately. On-line registration opened at noon and the race was filled less than 10 minutes later. In consideration of the fact that not all prospective entrants have Internet access, a number of slots were held open for snail-mailers, so when I didn’t make it thru the narrow on-line window I immediately mailed off a hard copy entry form.

That route proved problematic as well. My app did not make it in time to snag a guaranteed entry, but I was placed on a waiting list. The waiting list is being used to feed entrants into the race as official registrants drop for various reasons.

Disclaimer: All of the above is simply to state the facts as I know them, and NOT to complain in any way about the entry procedures put in place by the race director. Believe me, I am awe of and grateful to all those RDs out there who sacrifice so much to put on a race. This is the free market at work—the RD can set up any rules desired for his/her race, and if one wishes not to be governed by same, then you take your entry application elsewhere.

No, the point of this post is just to comment upon the psychological state in which I find myself. I am WAY down on the wait list; in fact, I started out as # 51 of 53, so I am by no means guaranteed a slot. Due to some wait listers already getting entry and others dropping, looks like I am currently 30th in line. Based upon prior years, I’d guess that my chance of entry is in the 50-75% range. So if I am serious I need to commit to some serious training.

And there’s the rub—I had a real good race at the JFK 50 miler back on 21 Nov 2009, but my training since then has been marginal. I credit (or is debit a better term since I’m being negative?) this to the fact that here in the Keystone State we have had pretty crappy weather the past several weeks in terms of snow, cold temperatures, and a bunch of some seriously windy days. Now I am NOT a treadmill guy—they are a tool of Lucifer as far as I am concerned—so running outdoors is my venue. It’s just been tough to get in those weekend 10 to 20 milers to maintain my long-distance threshold.

My plan to is to get out this weekend for a 20, then on the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday do a 30 or so. Looks like I may just have to run on local roads, depending whether the C&O Canal towpath and the Appalachian trail remain seriously snow-covered. I don’t mind running in some snow, but what remains down right now is iced over, packed down, and refrozen multiple times, not the kind of tread that I’d like to tackle for several hours of running.

More to come later. The refund deadline at Umstead for entrants to get their money back if they drop is 1 Feb. Hopefully the picture will clarify some at that point as to my chances for entry.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Idea of Heaven....

I think that my notion of heaven would be to hear Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs singing all day this case, Stockton Gala Days.

This one is probably my personal fav. I often play their tunes in my head while I am running.

I do not, however, run with electronic tunes (such as an iPod). It just seems wrong, somehow, to use electronics when I'm surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. I'm trying to get away from civilization and want to be able to hear the leaves rustle from the wind or from the passage of a critter. Or to hear my footsteps--or those of someone approaching.

The use of electronics has generated some almost vehement exchanges on the UltraList, a newsgroup I subscribe to. Obviously it all comes down to personal preference. And this is a perfect example of the dichotomy I illustrated in my post of 26 Dec, from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, about there being two types of people in this world....those who run with a tune device and those who don't. 

Count me into the latter.  Firmly and irrevocably.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Security Theater

In my "Tools" post of yesterday, I got off track from geekiness to tools. In my work life I deal at times with security issues, and my original intent yesterday was to link to one of my favs in the security arena, Bruce Schneier.

In view of the recent terrorism and airline security news, check out ), and see if you don’t agree that Bruce makes a ton of sense.

One of Bruce's main points is that what passes for security is really just “security theater.” And as he points out, “Security theater consumes resources that could better be spent elsewhere.” May as well let Bruce ramble (but please do read the whole article!):

By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant "bring 'em on" rhetoric. There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.
We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice -- not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer. Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.
Supporting real security even though it's invisible, and demonstrating indomitability even though fear is more politically expedient, requires real courage. Demagoguery is easy. What we need is leaders willing both to do what's right and to speak the truth.
Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we're doing the terrorists' job for them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


In my job as well as in my personal life, I am somewhat of a geek. I love technology, I love gadgets, I love science…but only to the extent that these things make my life easier.

As many others are now questioning, I am by no means certain that computers and cell phones and texting and iPods and Facebook are tools have really and truly enriched our lives more than they have begun to control our lives. The cost-benefit line is becoming an indistinct blur.

Look up the definition of a tool sometime (and no, I’m not talking about Colin Powell).

--I checked out Free Dictionary (see ), which tells us that a tool is “a device, such as a saw, used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work.”

--Merriam-Webster (see says that a tool is “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task.”

There are other definitions, but these were the two lead entries. I am not a linguist, but I want to take both of these sources to task. Neither of these primary definitions nor any of the subsequent ones (not shown here) explicitly state one of my key criteria; i.e., that the purpose of a tool is to make life easier.

So….one of my goals in 2010 is to embrace tools—particularly those electronic--only to the extent that they make my life easier.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hey Jude

Having trouble embedding...see

Couple posts ago I mentioned listening to a classic rock station while traveling near Philly. Another tune I heard that day was “Hey Jude,” probably for the first time in a year or so.

I just heard it again on a local station. And as I did way back in high school, I had to count the number of choruses of  "Na na na na na na na, na na na na, hey Jude."

The answer is after the jump.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Running West of Route 11...Or East of I-81?

First, a couple facts:

1) Choosing where to run is an important decision, especially, since as was the case a week ago, today's run was a blustery struggle.

2) My home sits between two major north-south routes: Interstate 81 and its predecessor, US Rt 11, which at this point are perhaps 1.5 miles apart. I can look out my front door to see Rt 11, and out my back door to see I-81.

3) The prevailing wind is from the west.

Today I ran west of Route 11. This is typical of my preferred running route over the winter here in the Keystone State. Why go west (besides being so advised by Horace Greeley, who may not have coined that phrase)?

It's pretty simple, actually. It’s all about wind direction. And today, the wind was from the west, as usual, but roaring along at practically warp-speed. I wore all my wind-chill clothes, put my head down, and plowed into the gale until I reached the far side of my planned loop. Here I gradually began the return side of the loop, and the wind blessed me with an assist from behind back to my door.

When it is cold AND windy, you want to face the wind at the beginning before you get sweaty (and you WILL get sweaty regardless of how cold it is). Sure, it's tough to go out the door and immediately turn into and get hammered by the wind. But it's worse to run with the wind early on, blissfully unaware as you cruise, that payback is coming....payback in the form of an icy blast when you're sweaty.

And besides the physics of the issue, it’s a huge psychological boost to get the hard part of any task out of the way first.

So, Gary’s cold and windy rule: face the wind early so you'll have it behind you as you finish. My summer rule is the opposite: save the cooling breeze in your face for the end of your run, when you are hottest.

Thus in the winter I tend to spend much more of my running miles west of Rt 11. In the summer I see more of the terrain east of I-81, a sort of a seasonality of routes. I wonder what I’m missing?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Singing About Cigarettes

Several days ago, while driving on one of our holiday excursions (this one to the Philadelphia area) I tuned into a classic rock station and soon Bob Seeger was pouring out of the speakers. It was indeed a classic, a song called Turn the Page, about the weariness of touring life on the road. I’m too lazy to look up the lyrics here, but one of the lines is about how “You smoke the day's last cigarette.”

For some reason that lyric struck me as odd. Not odd that people smoke. Just odd that people sing about it.

I grew up in a smoking household, and while I have never smoked myself, I do understand addictions. Nevertheless, I still find it an utterly foreign concept to me that tobacco can be such a normal part of one’s life that (if you are a musician) you write it into your songs and actually sing about cigarettes and smoking. Over the years I have noted other such examples in music, that I thought at the time, hey, another song with smoking in it. You probably can supply some cases.

Then yesterday I was perusing the Jan 2010 issue of Runner’s World, and featured on the inside back cover they typically profile a celebrity runner. This month it was Alanis Morissette, now a 35 year old singer/actress. And one who has sung about cigarettes at least twice:

     Ironic: “A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break….”

     Hand in Pocket: “I’ve got one hand in my pocket. And the other is flicking a cigarette.”

Alanis is looking pretty buff, and in the interview speaks of a healthy lifestyle. I’m happy to see she’s a runner and probably doesn’t sing about smoking anymore.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I see where many liberal bloggers post cat photos on Fridays.  Maybe bloggers of other stripes do that too, but I tend to patronize folks of like mind (i.e., the liberals) so that's my sample size for now.

So here goes: