Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second of 3 posts on unexplained phenomena--ghosts, if you will--I've personally experienced on my runs.

This incident occurred only a couple hundred yards from the first story I blogged about.  It involves a Revolutionary War era cemetery, called the Brown's Mill Cemetery, close by my home.

The cemetery is surrounded by a wrought iron fence, pictured here, whose pickets are quite close together--perhaps 3-4". The fence sits close to the ground as well, and is almost chest-high. The combination of picket spacing, no room to wiggle under, and the height of the fence meant that nothing larger than a squirrel could pass from one side of the fence to the other without a major (and time-consuming) effort.

I was out for a run early one summer morning before work, pre-dawn. My route was a 4-miler, an out-n-back, and I was only about half a mile from ending up back at the house. I was running up a slight incline, on the left side of the road facing traffic, of course (although there was no traffic on this rural road at that time).

Across the road from me on the right side sat the cemetery. I was about even with the lower corner of the cemetery (in the top photo, the stone post in the lower right is at that corner), which runs some 200' uphill directly beside the road. There were some street lights in the campground across the road to the left that provided diffuse light to the road and fence where I was (i.e., no need for a flashlight there).

Suddenly I saw a movement ahead of me and across the road: it was a low, animal-like shape, right along the wrought iron fence. I immediately think "Dog" and glance down at my footing and simultaneously move more to the left, onto the gravel shoulder, to give myself the maximum berth around the animal. The shape of the object was a bit more than knee-high, and its size and outline were very collie-like, in that the back was flat and straight but with that abrupt, right-angle downturn back at the tail.

In the 1-2 seconds between seeing the shape, glancing down and moving left, and then looking again across the road to see whether this "dog" was any sort of threat to me, the form had disappeared. Vanished. And there was absolutely nowhere for it to have gone--the fence was impenetrable for a critter of that size, too low to squeeze under, and too high to jump.

Besides, by the light of the streetlights I could see across the fence into the cemetery, which was fairly open, and there was no "dog" inside. The critter could not have simply scooted along the fence to a corner and exited that way, for it was too near the middle of the 200' run of fence to reach a corner in the time it took for me to look down and back up.

It was simply gone, with no explainable way of disappearing.

Beyond the normal rush of adrenaline that any runner would get from suddenly encountering a dog whose intentions are unknown, the experience was not menacing in any way. It just was. Any me and my rational thinking cannot figure it out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Emily Dickinson and UltraRunning

Several weeks ago I did 3 posts on Emily Dickinson (here, here and here) and I just looked over some of her letters again.

Found another thought fragment that proves (at least to me!) that she had the soul of an UltraRunner. In a letter to a friend, she writes:

You ask my companions, Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know but do not tell.

Give me some hills and a sundown and a trail and I'm in heaven.  The dog is optional since I have no experience with running with a dog, but I imagine it's fun.

Photo credit to

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales From The Perimeter: Babbling and the $37,000 Thermometer

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.

In our excursions around the perimeter, we unmercifully bust on CH for talking a lot (the word babbling comes to mind). Also we bust on JH's car sometimes, referring to his Lexus as the $37,000 thermometer, since a favorite question for JH while we're changing for the run in the locker room is "What's the temperature?"

I use a page called REFDESK as my home page--great resource just to be able to find stuff, like having a library at one's fingertips. Anyway, one recent REFDESK news headline was "Driver recalls 6 miles of highway terror in Lexus."

Of course it was about the accelerator problem, but I couldn't resist the straight line opening and emailed the article to the running group with the comment:

Sounds like JH must have given CH a ride again.....

This group of guys means the world to me.  At a time when my life was quite in disarray, they helped me to keep my sanity.  In a future post I'll elaborate a bit about that.  For now, suffice it to say that we shed blood, sweat, tears, stories, and most of all, laughter.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not All of DC Shut Down During the Blizzard

These photos came from a member of our noontime running group, KK, who was just on Reserve duty in DC as a Navy Commander during the recent snows.

I've been to this place probably half dozen times and it always is a moving and sobering moment, one that every American should experience.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Icarus and UltraRunning

Icarus reminds us that UltraRunners can crash and burn, sometimes spectacularly.  But while he was flying, man, what a ride! 

Maybe running 100 miles at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run will bring me up short.  But I prefer to think that it'll be quite a ride.

Hit the link here if you need a quick Icarus refresher (photo below from that site).  Basically he flew too close to the sun, his wax wings melted, and poor Icarus plunged to his death.  


Bear with me.  I'm trying to connect Greek mythology, stages of philosophical thinking in one's life, and UltraRunning. 

I know that many of you, when you see poetry, can't hit that DELETE key fast enough. I know, I was once the same, but perhaps as you age you look for meaning and interpretation wherever you can. I can trace what's probably the typical trajectory of philosophical thought--when I was in my late teens and twenties, that was when I was burning with thoughts on the meaning of life, of hopes and fears and dreams.

Then that urgency goes latent for some decades--it doesn't vanish entirely but goes undercover--while you are busy with love and family and career. Then later in your life, perhaps triggered by grandchildren, you again begin thinking those big thoughts on the meaning of life, of hopes and fears and dreams. It's in that striving for understanding that you reach out to embrace the thinking and expressions of others, hence the return to (or the initial exploration of) poetry.

So, with that intro, I ran across Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert, a poem about falling out of love. He uses the analogy of Icarus. You can focus on the love part of the poem.  Or, as I did, you can focus on the Icarus part of the poem.

So for me, Gilbert's key point is that Icarus flew. Icarus FLEW. Read the whole thing, and pay particular attention to the first sentence and especially the last sentence, which truly resonates with me when I fall short or fail:

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It's the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean

on the other side of the island while

love was fading out of her, the stars

burning so extravagantly those nights that

anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed

like a visitation, the gentleness in her

like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back

through the hot stony field after swimming,

the sea light behind her and the huge sky

on the other side of that. Listened to her

while we ate lunch. How can they say

the marriage failed? Like the people who

came back from Provence (when it was Provence)

and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Distant Wars, Constant Ghosts

This makes all our UltraRunning concerns seem pretty insignificant....

In 2007, I was an Army lieutenant leading a group on a house-clearing mission in Baquba, Iraq, when I called in an artillery strike on a house. The strike destroyed the house and killed everyone inside. I thought we had struck enemy fighters, but I was wrong. A father, mother and their children had been huddled inside.

In fact, it's been nearly three years, and I still cannot remove from my mind the image of that family gathered together in the final moments of their lives. I can't shake it. It simply lingers.


I know something about this. The deaths that I caused also killed any regard I had for my own life. I felt that I did not deserve something that I had taken from them. I fell into a downward spiral, doubting if I even deserved to be alive. The value, or regard, I once had for my own life dissipated.


In recent months I've been trying to honor the lives I took by writing and speaking in public about my experience, to show that those deaths are not tucked neatly away in a foreign land. They may seem distant, but they are not. Soldiers bring the ghosts home with them, and it's everyone else's job to hear about them, no matter how painful it may be.

We must not forget that LT Meehan was acting in our names, and we have blood on our hands as well. It is good that he reminds us of that fact.  We may feel like bystanders, that we were not involved, but whether we advocated the war, or acquiesced in it, we share in the responsibility and the obligation help heal those wounds. 

And moreover, on behalf of all the Mister Tristans who will one day grow up to be of soldiering age, the promise to ourselves to never again take lightly the decision for war.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Umstead Update--5 Weeks to Go

Training proceeds as planned.  This weekend just concluded I had planned a 10-miler, and executed a 12 miler.

This was a run that I just love to to--it's finite, it's economical, it's practical:  last Friday, one of my vehicles was in the shop for annual inspection.  They called to say it was ready, and since I'm a regular customer for years, and I could not get there before their 5 pm close, they just locked it up with the key and receipt inside, and I would just slip a check thru the key drop slot when I came by on Saturday (they are not open weekends).

So I got up for a 6:00 am departure for the 10 mile run to the garage.  The sun soon arose, gloriously.  Traffic was light, and the roads were dry, wide, and safe (with reference to our major snow blanket from previous mid-Atlantic storms).  I elected to throw in another small loop to add a couple miles since it was such a fine day for a run at daybreak.

The big test will come on in a week--the weekend of the 27th when I have a 30 miler on tap.  Then it's all a downhill taper until race day on 27 March.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Odd Perspective on "Why?" We Aspire to Run Long

I'm still wrestling with trying to articulate why I am motivated to run 100 miles.  The following is quoted from a 1997 UltraList email from Christian Griffith (punctuation and capitalization are his!):

Imagine that, an odd perspective from me...

but, 'ever noticed that when you show up to a hotel where other racers are, and you may not know the runners you see, but you feel a sort of unsaid connection. Kinda like, "man, I know you must have been going through those same long training runs as me, talking to yourself, convincing yourself to continue, fighting the urge quit, to walk, to rationalize how/why you've gone far enough for today and can try to improve tomorrow." - "I'm sure you have the same collection of empty wrappers, plastic bottles, stinky clothes and smeared vaseline all throughout your car just like me." - "I'm sure you've held on to that pine tree just like me, with you shorts at your ankles, trying not to pee on yourself, as you stink up the woods, watching out for oncoming hikers and cursing the decision to eat Mexican the night before a 20-miler..."

We run these races because we feel like we share a big secret that others don't know or understand. A sort of secret to unlocking areas of our mind, body and spirit that usually go untapped - at least in the normal hum-drum, ritualistic lifestyle of most of us working stiffs.

and as you pass a runner in that hotel hallway, it's a nod, or a "hi" ...or whatever... and you walk away wondering, "hmmm... I wonder how fast that person will be tomorrow?" ...or, "damn, that girl is lean and bad-ass looking, why don't I look like that?" ...or, "Wow, I hope I can be running these races when I am that dude's age."

We run because we strive for our own, sliding-scale, versions of perfection.

and lastly, when you cross that finish, you notch that mental belt that adds yet one more kick-ass experience in this journey of life and for a second you are the coolest person in the whole world you.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Women's Ski Jumping, Olympics, and UltraRunning

This is likely not news to some of us, but it may take some of us by surprise. Women's Ski Jumping is not an Olympic sport. Nobody comes right out and says so, but it's an artifact of the day when women were thought of as too delicate and the sport was too dangerous. Gotta protect those sensitive body parts hanging on the outside of the female body....sure glad that no similar such design flaw exists for us men.

Guess they forgot to tell the snowboarding women about the dangers of aerial sports ...unless maybe they have an invisible safety harness that keeps them and their delicate bodies from harm.

Likewise the powers that be must have forgotten to warn (and/or bar from competition) the thousands of women who not only run Ultras but even win some outright in open, mixed gender competition. We'd better put a stop to that stuff pronto before somebody hurts themselves.

Here's some of the history, at the risk of being called lazy by quoting from Wikipedia (who also gets credit for the stamp photo above).  In what is an unfortunate choice of words,

The existence of a men's competition without a women's competition has become a major bone of contention as the field of elite female competitors has grown.
It should be noted that women can compete internationally in ski jumping, just not at the Olympics:

Currently, women ski jump internationally in the Continental cup. On 26 May 2006, the International Ski Federation decided to allow women to ski jump at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic and then to have a team event for women at the 2011 world championships. FIS also decided to submit a proposal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow women to compete at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
On 28 November 2006, the proposal for a women's ski jumping event was rejected by the Executive Board of the IOC.
A group of 15 competitive female ski jumpers filed a suit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) claiming that conducting a men's ski jumping event without a women's event in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 would be in direct violation of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The arguments associated with this suit were argued 20 to 24 April 2009 and a judgment came down on June 10, 2009 against the ski jumpers. The judge ruled that although the women were being discriminated against, the issue is a International Olympic Committee responsibility and thus not governed by the charter.

Here are some other blog reactions, some funny, some outraged, but all with a sad sense of serious injustice:

Southern Beale  and  Mother Jones go right to the relevant post.

For these two, you'll have to scroll down to find the ski jumping post:
Eschaton  and  Echidne of the Snakes

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympics, Health Care, and UltraRunning

Ran across an interesting post at the Shakesville blog.  It has an Olympics focus, yet it pertains to us UltraRunners as well, who often abuse our bodies in pursuit of Ultra excellence.

And here's something interesting I've noticed: The NBC commentators talk incessantly about the various injuries that been sustained by the athletes. I've heard about countless sprains, ligaments, broken bones. I've heard about a ruptured Achilles tendon. I've heard about a speed skater who sliced into his own leg with his skate, and a figure skater who sliced into his partner's face with his skate. I've heard about the elaborate medical procedures that were done to repair these injuries, and the extensive physical therapy that some of the athletes have done to get back to their sport.


And not once has anyone commented that these athletes are a drain on the healthcare system.


No one has complained about the "unhealthy lifestyle" Olympians engage in, and how all their totally preventable (if only they'd give up their hopes, dreams, passions, and jobs!) injuries are contributing to rising healthcare costs.

Just throwing this out as food for thought.  First, my opinion is that people who are physically active, such as we UltraRunners, probably use less health care--cumulatively--than the sedentary, but I'd also like to see some hard evidence, pro or con.  Point B: I'd be very troubled by some sort of heath care police who would rule upon whether some injury or disease was self-induced.  That is a slippery slope towards which we go at our peril.  Health care police results in health care we really want that?

For example, a few years ago there was a great outcry about so-called "crack babies" to the extent that some jurisdictions passed laws addressing expectant mothers' conduct vis-a-vis drug usage.  Now, nobody wants crack babies to be born.  But the laws ran afoul of Murphy's cousin: the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Some, perhaps many, pregnant women began to shun pre-natal care lest they be snared by such anti-drug laws.  And in the long run, many more babies were harmed than otherwise would have been the case.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The "God Factor"

When I ran 20 this past weekend, I originally was aiming for Friday, 12 Feb (I am off work every other Friday). That way the run is accomplished early in the weekend and not looming as a "must-do" for sometime later.

Well, Friday was all messed up owing to the aftermath of the 14" of snow we got last Tues/Wed. Schools were closed, there was significant drifting, and the wind was still howling.  Saturday morning was no better, with sustained winds of 20 mph with gusts to 30+. Sunday I had Mister Tristan duty in the morning, so the run became planned for 6:00 am on Monday, the Presidents' Day holiday.

This plan was actually much better--there was little to no wind, the roads were plowed wider, and I had the God Factor on my side....God Factor being the dearth of traffic early on Sundays, when people hereabouts head to church a bit later than on a workday, so a daybreak run is very quiet.

Or so I thought.  For some reason, there was much more traffic than there should have been, and finally I realized that it wasn't Sunday, it was Monday. Just felt for all the world like a Sunday morning.  And although schools, banks, and government offices were closed, there still was a bunch of traffic from everyone else going to work. My usual 1 to 2 cars per mile rule for an early Sunday run went out the window--it was more like 10+ (which still isn't bad, considering!).

I was quite sensitive to the approach of traffic, given the shrunken, snow-covered berms.  Whenever possible, I would cross the road (to the right side) to give a full lane's width cushion.  Where that was not possible, say due to traffic from both directions, I'd literally climb up onto the snow bank. 

I am mindful of the fact that whenever we are out there running on roads, we are in a sense "ambassadors of running."   So it behooves us not only to NOT be jerks, but to go beyond and give drivers a warm fuzzy feeling that we are trying to make their driving life easier, not harder.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tales From the Perimeter: Situational Ethics

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.

In our noontime runs we often discuss situational ethics.  CH takes a lot of heat because he is an overt Christian, yet sometimes justifies bending the rules when push comes to shove.  We chide him unmercifully about "rendering unto Caesar" and obeying civil authority (but he would literally give you the shirt off his back).  In our more serious moments we reflect upon what it means to claim to be Christian, our careers in working for the Defense Department (both in and out of uniform), and Jesus' words about turning the other cheek:

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Rather than move this post and blog into religious waters, let's just leave it hanging on that particular point.

So back to the main point, which was....what?  Ah yes, the point--we were talking about situational ethics (thus the example above) and how we bust CH whenever we can.  It's an inside joke among us to say WWCHD? whenever a sticky moral issue comes up

So, the other day I came across a situational ethics web page, and wasted no time in emailing it to my running buddies.  The lead-in says:

Here's a dilemma for you.... With all your honor and dignity, what would you do? This test only has one question, but it's a very important one. Please don't answer it without giving it some serious thought. By giving an honest answer you will be able to test where you stand morally.

Spend about 60 seconds, and go take the test here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Olympics

The Winter Olympics are now in progress and I'm loving it.  Being an athlete--an UltraRunner--enables me, in some small way and at least on some level, to better understand the motivations and training requirements to be at the top of one's game.

Which brings me back to President Carter's boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow. 

The 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan spurred United States President Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum that the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from the country...

At the time I strongly disagreed with this move, thinking that trying to use sports as a moral bludgeon was not only stupid but futile.  Although I was (and am) a strong Carter supporter, when he went ahead anyway with the boycott, I was bitterly disappointed.  The Soviets in turn boycotted the 1984 Oylmpics in Los Angeles.

I wonder if the Games were held in the U.S. again while we remain in Afghanistan whether there would be any serious discussion or action about a boycott based upon our ongoing "intervention" there.  We did host the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in Feb 2002, but perhaps with 9/11 so fresh and our invasion of Afghanistan pretty much accepted as justified at that time, I don't recall any discussion then whether nations elsewhere in the world might consider a boycott.

Monday, February 15, 2010

20 at 20

That's 20 miles and 20 degrees, respectively, although in this case the data are interchangeable.

This weekend I continued my training towards the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on 27 March, near Raleigh, NC.  According to my super duper training plan, I planned and executed a 20 miler.

Although it was chilly, the wind was minimal, and more out of the SW rather than the NW, so I was able to scope out some different roads from my house that I typically run on in the winter.  The Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal towpath are off-limits due to snowpack. 

I first did the Pig Farm 10 miler, passing by the house at the end of that loop, then headed west across US Rt 11 and circled around for another 10 miles.  Roads today were typically like this:

Felt pretty decent all the way and enjoyed the run immensely.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cat Blogging: The Male Butterscotch Cat

The bride maintains that the male butterscotch (orange) cat has the sweetest personality and disposition of any cat.

When Sammy lays there with his paws crossed, I have no doubt of it. Sammy is getting old, 14+ now, and is about deaf.  Possibly as a result he meows really loud these days.  But he is a real buddy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

French Scientist Calculates Pi to Record Number of Digits

For you us geeks out there, this is exciting news (seriously).

This article was sent to me by a mathematician friend.  To sum up:

A French computer scientist claims to have calculated Pi to nearly 2.7 trillion decimal places, a new record made even more impressive because he did it on a personal computer.

I'm sort of fascinated that I'm reading about it in theTehran Times.  Perhaps they are interested in science in addition to their collateral Axis of Evil duties.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Super-Duper Umstead Training Plan

Second major snowfall in 4 days hit us here in the Keystone State Tuesday night into Wednesday. So on top of the 24” over the weekend we’re seeing an additional 14” or so.

This puts a bit of a cramp into my training for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run in Raleigh, NC on 27 March. Specifically, I will unable to do any runs on the Appalachian Trail or along the C&O Canal towpath due to snow cover, which I doubt will melt anytime soon. So I’ll be a road runner for the next 40-something days.

Looking to the near term, things should be normal enough over the weekend to resume my planned training schedule.

The secret, super-duper plan for my remaining long weekend runs (please don’t share this with anyone under pain of death!):

13 Feb: 20 miles (6 weeks to go)

20 Feb: 10 miles (5 weeks to go)

27 Feb: 30 miles (4 weeks to go)

6 Mar:   10 miles (3 weeks to go)

13 Mar: 15 miles (2 weeks to go)

20 Mar: 10 miles (1 week to go)

27 Mar: 100 (race day)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lance Cpl. Michael L. Freeman

This post is dedicated to Lance Cpl. Michael L. Freeman, Fayetteville, PA, a local man who was killed in action in Afghanistan on 1 Feb 2010.  Photo is from The Public Opinion newspaper.  There is no connection to UltraRunning.

Please take the time to read the story. What strikes me is its ordinariness, a low-key, unremarkable story about a young man who died in service to his country. Lance Cpl. Freeman was neither rich nor famous, and likely no one outside of his immediate circle of friends and family will remember his name, say, some 10 years hence. You could probably substitute the name of many of the other U.S. Afghanistan war dead (nearly 1000 now), men and women from small towns all over America, and the story might read just about the same--a likeable young person who is now gone forever.

Lance Cpl. Freeman leaves a young widow; children (perhaps) who will now never be; and other loved ones, all who are struggling to find meaning in his death.

I did not know Lance Cpl. Freeman, but I mourn his loss. Moreover, I mourn the loss of many more like him who will die over the ensuing months and years as we perpetuate a seemingly endless war with no clear end in sight. Shattered lives here and a shattered country over there, with the common denominator that violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

Perhaps I am na├»ve, but I do speak from the knowledge base of decades of work for the Defense Department.  And I say as I have said here before, as I hold Mister Tristan on my lap, by God, we can do better than this. We have to do better than this.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 1 of 3)

First off, let me preface this post by saying that I pride myself on being a rational thinker, a skeptic of things paranormal. I don’t honestly think ghosts are involved here, but one particular tombstone has me scratching my head. 

Check out the dark stone along the road, on the right side of the photo.

The cemetery here, the larger one of two close by my home, is big enough to have a couple of paved lanes thru it. I frequently run thru this cemetery, and as a matter of respect, I always take off my hat, and if there are visitors present, I detour and don't run past them.

Here is the dark tombstone, centered and a bit closer.

Finally, right up close, with my JFK 50 Miler ball cap on top to give you an idea as to scale.

The tombstone is about chest-high. That is, it's chest-high today. I've not measured the stone with a tape but I have the feeling that its height changes. Much like, say, when you see your adolescent niece or nephew after not having seen them for 6 months or a year, you KNOW without actually measuring them that they have grown. They are taller than before.

Same with this tombstone. After a hiatus of some weeks or a couple months without running through the cemetery, when I do, I know that the Statler tombstone is taller than it was before. The first time I saw this phenomenon, I literally stopped in my tracks.  Can I prove it? Of course not, but it is taller, just as in the niece/nephew example above.

It's not menacing or spooky, just more of an observation.

I have a couple other ghostly anecdotes from my local runs that I'll post soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fans of Internet Privacy

Maybe this doesn't bother you, but I think that fans of Internet privacy should probably be alarmed. Via Just an Earthbound Misfit, citing this article, we hear that the FBI is pressing Internet service providers to record which Web sites customers visit and retain those logs for two years.

The ostensible reason given by the authorities seems unassailable--law enforcement believes such records could help it in investigations of child pornography and other serious crimes.  And as the Misfit says,

If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.

But to me, given the documented mission creep of NSA's surveillance activities of our telephone communications, I think there is something to fear.  It's the creeping loss of our privacy, just a little slice at a time, with very reasonable-sounding good justifications....a big swipe at the baddies with an incidental backhand glancing blow at the rest of us, that only stings for a second and then fades away.   Don't worry, you're not in favor of child pornography, are you?  This information will never be used for any other purposes, just trust us professional law enforcers to do the right thing.

Trouble is, I just don’t trust these folks.

Personal experience with people convinced that if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of?:

One of my most chilling experiences with "the authorities" came when I was working for the Army in the late 1990s. As a result of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions, the DOD Polygraph Institute was relocating to Fort Jackson, SC. My role was to make sure that their new building at Fort Jackson was properly equipped for data and voice.

On my first visit there, I got "the tour" so I'd know more about their mission, to be better able to understand their telecommunications requirements, and to ensure that their infrastructure and capabilities were sized appropriately. The PR guy I was working with gave me their standard unclassified briefing on their mission and various projects, but what I recall vividly was his repeating of the word "deception."

His agency's methods and research (including but not limited to polygraphs) were devoted to sniffing out deception....and this, obviously, was good for the good guys and bad for the bad guys. I came away feeling--no, I came away knowing--that this guy was convinced that he was one of the good guys, everybody else had something to hide, and by God, he'd root out deception and come away with THE TRUTH (presumably in support of the other two legs of the triad, Justice and The American Way).

Being in the presence of such a coldly analytical and quietly fanatical acolyte was eerie and I could not get out of there fast enough.  By the way, I vowed then and there that I NEVER would permit myself to be polygraphed, even if by so refusing I would likely cast a strong suspicion of guilt upon myself.

The parallel with the Internet Privacy issue is this: if you are in pursuit of THE TRUTH, that is good; ergo, your methods must be right. The end justifies the means.

And that's why I don't trust these folks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Where I Run: The Aftermath of the Storm

Went for an 11 miler today in brilliant sunshine with a deep blue winter sky. This in stark contrast to the 24” of snow that dropped Friday-Saturday. Here are some of the shots I took and some comments.

Note the next-to-last photo for a relevant UltraRunning tip about gaiters.

First off, the view at the top of my driveway.


 Next, heading up the hill on the west side of US RT 11.

Heading towards the replacement bridge. 

 Construction equipment at the bridge.


I wonder if this should read "Potable Ice"?

The bridge....not sure when it's supposed to be opened....maybe June?

A little bit of snow and 3 feet of rushing water do not deter the 4-wheel crowd.

Gaiters and trail shoes with an aggressive tread (these are my Vasques) are perfect for snow running.

The one-lane underpass just before reaching home and Mister Tristan.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Words of Encouragement for Newer Runners

A poster to the UltraList recently asked for members to provide some words of encouragement in an email that she would forward to friends who are running the Austin marathon and 1/2 marathon.

This is what I wrote:

“You’re tougher than you think you are...and you can do more than you think you can.”  - Ken Chlouber, Leadville 100 Race Director

You are embarked on a voyage of discovery, in which the race will help you figure out some important things about yourself. The physical race will hold a light up to how well you have trained, as well as illuminating how mentally tough you are. Especially if things are not going well you will need to dig deep and will yourself through any tough spots you encounter.

Keep a relaxed, playful attitude about the race; after all, no one is holding a gun to your head, you're doing this for fun. That said, your mindset should be not "if" I finish but "when" I finish. Crossing that finish line may be like nothing else you have ever experienced.

--my signature block deleted--

"I feel my heart pumping hard, I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings." -- Mary Oliver, 'Starlings in Winter'

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Life in a Cube Farm

Normal day at I sip some coffee, the guy in the cubicle next to me sneezes.

From somewhere close by I hear "Gesundheit."

To which the sneezer says "Danke schon."

Then I blew coffee out my nose.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Going to the Edge...or, the Unknowable

The North Carolina State Motto is: Esse quam videri (To be, rather than to seem)

This run will be a reality check of what I am, both physically and mentally, rather than what I may seem to be.

I'm not eloquent enough to devise my own quotable quotes. I have to rely on others who have more of a way with words than I do.

Over the years I have collected quotes from various sources dealing with the notion of why we run ultras, and I have been struggling to put my own efforts and motivations into words. I guess for me it boils down to what I feel is a deep-rooted human need--the desire to go to the edge and see what's there. The beauty of this is that you get to define what "the edge" is, and how hard you want to go there.

But nothing is without risk. With that intro, hear what H. L. Menken once wrote:

Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits, nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Facts about North Carolina

 As I continue training for the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run on 27 March, I am reminded what a cool state it is.  We vacation there every year at the Outer Banks, and it'll be great to see some of the interior countryside around Raleigh.

Any state whose state flower is the dogwood gets my vote.

(Photo credit

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Recreating Massanutten Mojo

My only previous 100 mile trail attempt--and I am proud to say, finish--was in 1998 at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run (Front Royal, VA). That year 100 people started, 67 finished, and I was 51st, so you can see that I am not a front-of-the-pack guy. But I’m determined and stubborn and used that to my advantage in completing that race.

Now here we are some 12 years later and I figured if I ever was going to run a trail 100 again, I’d better do it soon. Thus the background for entering this year’s Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run on 27 March. As they say, none of us are getting any younger.

In an attempt at self-inspiration, I have begun wearing my buckle from the 1998 race. Normally I don’t go for that sort of look in a belt, but the size and weight make me conscious of it and serves as a constant reminder of what I have on my plate.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Punxsutawney Phil Predicts 6 More Weeks of Winter

Who could have predicted?  Punxsutawney Phil, that's who.

In a prediction that surprises absolutely no one, the rodent says winter will remain.  Duh....although it is a pretty neat trick to see ones's shadow on an overcast day.

Moments after this photo was taken, Phil went berserk and tore off his handler's face hat.  Said Phil, "I hate top hats on a man.  Won't tolerate 'em."

We Have to Do Better

I wonder what the future holds for the Mister Tristans of the world when they reach military age?  We can do better, we have to do better. 

This from Jon Rainwater in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

In the time it takes to read this piece, the troop escalation in Afghanistan will have cost $171,000. This week, President Obama is asking Congress for an additional $33 billion to fund the misguided surge. For the sake of his domestic agenda and our national security, we need an alternative approach in Afghanistan, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should lead the charge.

Conventional wisdom tells us that Americans will not put a price on their security. However, after eight years of dismal results, many Americans struggling to get by are justifiably questioning the expense. After all, how do 100,000 troops in Afghanistan protect us from a Yemeni-trained and Nigerian-born man from London attempting to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit?

I have spoken with many on Capitol Hill who seem paralyzed by the Afghanistan dilemma. Democrats are loath to contradict a president from their own party. To their credit, some members of Congress, including Speaker Pelosi, have indicated discomfort with an intensifying military strategy. But Congress must not waste years and untold lives as it did under the Bush administration. It needs to stand up now to make the case for a comprehensive diplomacy and development-oriented alternative to a status quo that is squandering lives and undermining our security.

We are stuck in a cycle of violence with no end in sight, even with the troop escalation.  Many military experts believe that more troops on the ground will not create more security but rather simply provide more targets.

Monday, February 1, 2010

30 at 17

That’s 30 miles miles and 17 degrees, respectively.  It's been a harsher winter here in the Keystone State than in several years.  On Saturday I executed the next planned installment of my training for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on March 27.  Got up at 4:15 AM, out the door soon after.  That’s actually my normal alarm time on my regular workdays…somehow seems morally wrong, though, on a Saturday.

Since the wind was minimal, the actual air temp, while in the teens, was not much of a factor. I just dressed in another layer and ran pretty much as usual. And NO, despite conventional “wisdom” to the contrary, I did not freeze my lungs (and I didn’t ruin my knees, either).  Did freeze up my moustache, though.

I started out, predawn, carrying a flashlight. Although the skies were overcast, the nearly-full moon managed to provide some indirect, diffuse illumination, so that I did not need the light to see the road. Combined with my reflective gear, the flashlight was handy and comforting for making sure that passing cars did indeed see me.  Cars passing me on these rural roads around my house were minimal, no more than 1-2 per mile (total of both directions).

Since the Umstead course is eight repeats of a 12.5 mile course, I wanted to simulate that looping to some extent in this run, to see what the psychological effect was about running a medium distance loop, coming in for a short break (5 min) for food & drink, then immediately heading back out again.

My first loop was northeast, through Marion towards New Franklin, on the way crossing Swamp Fox Road (I love that name!). That loop was 16 miles and it was daylight when I arrived back at the house at the end of Loop 1. I came into my unheated garage, chugged a cold coffee and some water, ate a quick bagel with cream cheese, and a handful of peanut M&Ms.

I dropped off my flashlight, reflective sash, and empty water bottle. I changed my gloves to a dry pair (even in the winter, my hands sweat enough to make a pair of gloves noticeably damp), slipped a full bottle of water into my waist pack, and headed back out the door for the 14 mile Loop 2.

This loop was basically to the west. It, too, went uneventfully, and I soon arrived back home. Total elapsed time was 6 hours, not a land speed record by any stretch, but a decent time, which included recurring walking breaks on the steeper uphills.

I was slightly tired at the end of 30 miles, but definitely had miles left in the tank.  This was a good, solid training run for Umstead and a real confidence booster that my training remains on track.