Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tales From The Perimeter: If Steve Were a Dog

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.

As part of my UltraRunning training, I use a BowFlex PowerPro machine in my basement. I bought it a number of years ago, but never used it in a sustained, regular manner (i.e., meaning more than say 3-4 months)…until this fall and winter, when I got serious about my training for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run.

But I still never really get excited about working out, like I do about actually running.  Others, however, feel differently.

One of our running group, now retired from Federal Service, still joins us for an occasional lunchtime run. Steve meets the definition of a gym rat—now that he’s retired, he runs 6 miles a day and works out for another 2 hours lifting weights. He is built and rock solid—never, never, would any thinking person want to engage with him in an altercation.

Anyway, I just ran across a photo that would be Steve, if only he were a dog. If I were a dog, I would not look like this (I am sorta puny).  Photo credit here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chuck Norris

(Photo credit

(Note: will hold off on additional Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run posting until official reuslts are on the race web site.  In the meanwhile, enjoy the humor!)

Now I know that Chuck Norris is no longer a Hollywood A-List actor, commanding huge fees for every movie.  But I do confess that I do enjoy reruns of his action flicks from the 80s and 90s (this despite my dislike of his politics).

That said, for some reason, the 8th grade kid I am mentoring is really big on Chuck Norris at the moment.  I have no idea why, and if all this was big several years ago, I completely missed it.  Mentee showed me a Chuck Norris humor site (actually there are numerous such sites, due, I suppose, to many poor souls not having lives). If you are interested, just go Google.

Here are some of the quotes that really tickled me.  My fav is the one about revolving doors.  Better not be drinking anything, it may spray out your nose.

--When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

--Chuck Norris sent Jesus a birthday card on December 25th and it wasn't Jesus' birthday. Jesus was too scared to correct Chuck Norris and to this day December 25th is known as Jesus' birthday.

--Multiple people have died from Chuck Norris giving them the finger.

--Chuck Norris doesn't worry about changing his clock twice a year for daylight savings time. The sun rises and sets when Chuck tells it to.

--Chuck Norris does not use spell check. If he happens to misspell a word, Oxford Dictionary will simply change the actual spelling of it.

--In the original pilot for Star Trek Next Generation, Chuck Norris can be seen powering the USS Enterprise warp drive with his roundhouse kicks.

--Chuck Norris can slam revolving doors.

--Scientists in Washington have recently conceded that, if there were a nuclear war, all that would remain are cockroaches and Chuck Norris.

--After much debate, President Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima rather than the alternative of sending Chuck Norris. It was more "humane".

--If Chuck Norris is late, time better slow the f**k down.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Results: Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race

The short version is that I ran the race of my life. Everything that could have gone well, not only went just well but went extraordinarily well. Everything that could have torpedoed me, didn’t.

Bottom line: a 22:35 finish….breaking 24 hours in a hundred is a big deal.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could break 24. In fact it never was one of my “A” list goals. My only goal, seriously, was just to finish. Must have been my day, I guess. It netted me a silver belt buckle instead of the standard brass or bronze one.

Just went to the race web site but results are not yet posted. I was hoping to see official results because they were doing computer data entry as you checked in and out of the 2 aid stations along the course. I am particularly interested in how I did overall and in my age group, now that I officially turned 58 last week.

That’s it for now. I’m home nursing my tender feet. I do have a silver dollar sized blister on the bottom of each foot, not exactly on the ball of my foot but just a bit further to the front, behind the toes. That’s pretty painful now and I am limping and walking at a old man shuffle. I realized I had the blisters in Lap 6 of 8, but they didn’t feel squishy like draining would help (and that turned out to be true) so I decided to just run on thru it. Actually running was less discomfort than walking, so that may have been a contributing factor in my time.

More details later.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Going to the Edge...or, the Unknowable

In the spirit of this blog, which purports to be about "the softer side of UltraRunning," I want to repost something I wrote back on 5 Feb 2010.  See here.  It talks to why I'm running 100 miles at Umstead (and finishing sometime thsi morning, if all has gone well)

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.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the Actual Run at Umstead

Today--Saturday--I will have seen the sun rise, run all day, seen the sun set, then run all night....then see the sun rise a second time Sunday morning over the hills of northern North Carolina.  This being the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run.

I'll have made new friends, pushed my body and mind, and found out a lot about my character.  And been outdoors on foot longer in one chunk (28 hours or so) than 99% of our sedentary public.  Just take a quick survey at work--ask your colleagues “when was the last time you were on foot—not in a car—and saw the sun rise?” 

Should be interesting....

Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Road to Umstead

Well, the witching hour is here and I launch for Umstead this morning (Friday).  Looks to be about a 6 hour drive.

Limited posting this weekend until I get back, and hopefully will have interesting tales to tell about running 100 miles....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spit, Or the Downside of the Petzl Headlamp

I've been singing the praises of my new Petzl headlamp in several previous posts. It's bright, comfortable on my head, long-lasting.  I saw no downside...until now.

This weekend, fortunately or unfortunately, the Petzl revealed something quite disgusting.  I was out my Pig Farm 10 miler route, in the pre-dawn hours.  The stars were brilliant, the roads were empty save for me, wind was was a great morning to be alive and running.  I was running as I normally do, which includes a certain amount of normal bodily functions.

Whenever I run, and particularly this winter when a nagging cold has been hovering in the background for some weeks now, I seem to generate a lot of mucous. It's easier for me to spit it out rather than swallow, and when I spit, I eject the sputum like from a blowgun, in what I always assumed was a compact wad.

Note the use of the past tense "assumed."

The truth-telling Petzl headlamp, positioned as it was on my forehead perhaps 8" above my mouth, revealed that rather than simply a small compact wad of mucous being spit, there was a huge bunch of aerosolized saliva also being launched.  It seemed to be a cloud in the brilliant beam of the lamp, like using one's high beam headlights in a snowstorm or fog (i.e., almost blinding).

This is a photo of a sneeze but the effect I saw was virtually identical (photo credit here):

Anyone downwind would surely have been in the drift path and bathed in myriad germs.

I plan to mend my ways and spit only when absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tales From the Perimeter: Go On Without Me

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.

This is a typical "touching base" email that we send among ourselves to see who is running on any given day.


I have a 10:00 AM meeting that I will characterize as "sh*t-meeting-fan" on the xxxxxxxxxx project. Thankfully, I should be one of the peanut gallery members as opposed to one of the targets.

It will undoubtedly run into the lunch hour, so don't wait up for me.


In hindsight, I should have attached the following (credit here).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Reform Passes!

Well, meaningful health care reform passed Sunday night. It may have been imperfect and in need of tweaking, but how can anyone object to the following?

From Crooks and Liars:

Here are ten benefits which come online within six months of the President's signature on the health care bill:

1. Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday
2. Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions
3. No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage
4. Free preventative care for all
10. AND no more rescissions. Effective immediately, you can't lose your insurance because you get sick.

This is not the end of life as we know it, as one might assume from listening to the Republicans. Can anyone seriously disagree with ANY of the points listed above? Health care is a basic human right and we've been treating it like a privilege (because the deciders are the HAVES and not the HAVE NOTS).

Of course, someone will bring up the issue of cost, but when we were happily kicking Iraqi butt I heard absolutely NO ONE asking how much was all this gonna cost?  And with that I direct your gaze over to the right colum and down just a bit, where I have for some time conveniently located a counter that depicts the cost of the Iraq war.  We find a way to pay for health care, because it's the right thing to do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where I Run: Pig Farm 10 Miler

This shot is of a stone wall along my Pig Farm 10 miler route.  It's nearly chest high, a real work of art. 

Here’s a bit more info on the weekend run on my Pig Farm 10 miler route.  There used to be a pig farm along this route some years back—probably 15 years or so ago—but it’s long gone. Nevertheless, the name stills sticks. When I run early, I always leave a note for the bride saying “Pig Farm 10. Be back around 7:00” or similar.

I chose to run it as my last long run prior the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run because it was a familiar, friendly run. I run this route at least twice a month, and know those roads like the back of my hand. The miles always fly by and the duration of the run always seems quick and short. Each turn, each corner, are familiar but that doesn’t lessen the expectation or enjoyment of again traversing the same route. It’s like putting on a soft slipper or a comfortable sweatshirt.

I figured that since this run is such a significant component of my running I should do it as my last double digit training run. Basically it’s a rectangular route. The 2 long sides run east-west and are about 3 miles long; the north-south roads are about 2 miles long. As for the direction of travel, I usually run it clockwise, just because it seems hillier that way and a better workout….although, of course, the elevation change is the same either direction since I start and stop at my house. It’s all in the perception, I guess.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Umstead Update--6 Days to Go

This'll be a real quick post--the weather is fine and the tilth (texture) of the garden is just right so I can work part of it with the rototiller and get some peas, broccoli, lettuce, and spinach planted.  This is probably 2 weeks earlier than usual.

And UltraRunning....I hit the Pig Farm 10 miler this morning at 5:00 am, as my last double-digit run prior running 100 on the 27th at the Umstead !00 Mile Endurance Run in Raleigh, NC.

All went well, all body systems checked out fine, as did my headlamp.  I really love that Petzl--bright, long lasting, and convenient.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comanch’s Funeral--and UltraRunning

A couple weeks ago the bride and I attended a memorial service for Wellington “Comanch” Permansu, of Greencastle, PA, a friend and former neighbor. He was 72 at the time of his death, with a wife and daughter.

Comanch had been cremated within a couple days of his death and the memorial service followed a couple weeks later at the convenience of the family. What made his memorial service unusual--and you may have figured this out from his nickname--was was that he was a Comanche Indian, born in western Oklahoma. I never even knew his real first name was Wellington...he was always just Comanch.

One Comanch’s sisters attended the memorial and provided recordings of “Amazing Grace” and the 23rd Psalm, in the Comanche language. The words were unfamiliar, but the cadence and the rhythm and the sense of soothing peace were unmistakable regardless of the language.

His obituary is here…he was a kind, gentle spirit who will be missed.  He was not a runner, but he knew that I was a long-distance runner and never failed to ask me about my running career whenever he saw me. Never failed.

Comanch could remember what was important to whomever he was talking to. And many of us are somewhat shy about talking about UltraRunning in a mixed group, just for fear of being looked at askance as being a sort of nut job.  But Comanch was interested, asked the right questions, and always made me feel that my running was important to him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thoughts on Umstead 100 Miler, With 8 Days to Go

One week from today I head down to the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. It’ll take about 7 hours of interstate driving from my home in southern PA.  Then the race begins Sat morning (27th).

I am trying my best to have a relaxed, playful attitude towards running. After all, nobody is holding a gun to my heat, forcing me to try this thing.  It's a personal quest for personal reasons, and it's not a must-win situation.  Once the Buffalo Bills NFL coach Marv Levy, from the QB Jim Kelly era, was asked whether the Super Bowl was must-win since they'd lost 2 or 3 Super Bowls in a row.  He said, "It's just a game....World War II was must-win."

I take that to heart.

As the time grows nearer, I am becoming increasingly nervous. I’ve experienced some sleeplessness, and more dreaming than usual (featuring themes of fears of being late, oversleeping, etc.). My thoughts while at work keep returning to Umstead--it’s quite difficult to stay focused.

I plan to follow the 28 hour split plan suggested by the race director. I have always had an iron stomach and never seem to have any issues with nutrition, hydration, or electrolytes in any previous race. That, however, could change in a heartbeat, so I plan to pay close attention to all this during the race.

Weather? Too far off to get an accurate forecast, so I’ll not worry about that today since it’s out of my control in any case. I will pack a variety of clothes to scatter between the 2 drop bags, so I should be covered for any weather contingency. I will say that cold is one thing and rather easily addressed; rain is another thing altogether, and of much more importance.

Worries about training? Too late, forget about it. Run the race and program for success.

The drive back after the race?  This is a major concern. I would love to sleep in my own bed Sunday night after the race…but first I have 7 hours to drive. Figuring I’ll be wired immediately after the race, I plan to start driving back and log some miles as rapidly as possible before sleepiness kicks in. Then I’ll pull over for a couple hour nap and resume the drive. I will, however, be prudent and smart about the drive home—the last thing I want to do is to pose any risk to myself or others.

Last question: am I worthy? Sounds corny, but running 100 miles is sort of a rite of passage for an UltraRunner. You have to pay your dues and respect the distance. Only a couple thousand people a year manage to finish one of these things.  I do have 100 mile finishing experience at Massanutten, VA in 1998, and on a track for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and I hope my heart is right to be a worthy participant in this event.

Relaxed and playful attitude, that's what I'm channeling....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Things I Find While Running

Let me preface this post by saying that although I am at heart a trail runner, the fact is that I do most of my running on roads. I live in a rural area and my surrounding roads are wonderful and safe for running. When I do need a trail fix, I am about 20 minutes away from the Appalachian Trail (closest access point by car is at the PA Rt 16 crossing, a couple miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line). To the south, I can be at the C&O Canal at Williamsport, MD within 30 minutes.

So...I have never found anything of note on a trail, though on trail I have lost a nice flashlight and a bandana that had great sentimental value. As for the roads, I have never found any money (I guess because it's unusual for $$ to fly out of a moving vehicle). But what I do find with some regularity, in descending order, are:

--Bungee cords: the # 1 find--probably fall off farm wagons or pickup trucks
--Alcohol: unopened cans and bottles of beer (never any hard liquor)
--Pron (misspelled intentionally for firewall and search purposes): magazines, once a DVD
--Hardware: nuts, bolts, washers, nails
--Tools: a hammer and once a big combination wrench (a 2" beast)

(Photo credit here)

I assume the pron and alcohol are items tossed by teenagers rather than risk taking them home where they could be discovered.

As for the big combination wrench, I hauled it about a mile till I got to Fort Frederick State Park (in MD) then gave it to a maintenance worker. Too heavy to lug for the remaining 3 hours back to the car.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Food and the Ironic Comment

On Monday this week (March 15th) we had our traditional Irish dinner in recognition of St. Patrick's Day. It was corned beef, first boiled, rubbed with brown sugar, studded with cloves, then roasted until it was just beginning to crisp up on the edges. In the water in which the corned beef had been boiled we cooked cabbage, potatoes, and carrots while the beef roasted.

It was simply delicious!

We did this meal 2 days early (15th vs 17th) for family schedule convenience. I commented that we actually needed a meal for the Ides of March, which happens to be the day (at least according to Shakespeare) that Julius Caesar was assassinated.

The bride says, "Then I guess we should have had Appian Way pizza."

Maybe you had to be there, but I just about blew my drink out my nose.  Her sense of the ironic comment is impeccable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Week in Memoriam

Every Sunday, Nicole Belle at the blog Crooks and Liars posts "This Week: In Memoriam," noting the passing of public figures....and, more importantly, the week's casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We lost 7 service members last week:

Army SPC Alan N Dikcis, 21, of Niagara Falls, NY
Army SGT Aaron M Arthur, 25, of Lake City, SC
Army SPC Lakeshia M Bailey, 23, of Columbus, GA
Army PVT Nicholas S Cook, 19, of Hungry Horse, MT
Army SGT Jonathan J Richardson, 24, of Bald Knob, AR
Army PFC Jason M Kropat, 25, of White Lake, NY
Marine LCpl Garrett W Gamble, 20, of Sugarland, TX

Our quest for UltraRunning perfection--which, after all, is pretty much a leisure pursuit we undertake voluntarily--pales in light of the fact that none of these folks will ever run another step.  Here's hoping that their remaining family members can achieve some peace in their loss.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Umstead Update: 2 Weeks to Go

Since this blog is self-described as "the softer side of UltraRunning," of course I have to open with some philosophy before I get to the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run stuff.  

In 2 succinct sentences, a woman long-dead explains one of the reasons that I began blogging.

Who is this long-dead woman, and what were her 2 sentences that grabbed me so? It's Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)  (photo credit to Wikipedia) who said:

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?

Not that my days are empty and in need of filling, but I have these ideas, these "butterflies of the moment," that in my delusional vanity I think should be shared with people I don't even know.

My "butterfly of the moment" is the simultaneous mixed emotion of elation plus fear that I'm definitely feeling about stepping up to the starting line at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on 27 March. Time is inexorable and unforgiving--I'm as prepped as I'm going to be. All the training miles run or not run, all those BowFlex workouts in my basement worked or not worked, are now moot points. I will go to the start of the race naked, if you will, with just what I have in my mind and in my body.

My original plan this weekend was for 15, and it wound up being 18, but 3 bonus miles are not significant either way.  I had hoped to head to the C&O Canal for my favorite 18 miler, but logistics of the morning prevailed.  I elected to run from the house, just to save the 30 minutes each way it would take to drive to the C&O Canal at Williamsport, MD.

We had some major rain the past couple days—3 to 4 inches—coupled with high winds, so I deferred running earlier in the weekend and went out at daybreak on Sunday. It was still drizzling but the wind had subsided to less than 10 MPH. Local streams were at the overflow stage, so I figured it’d be cool to run west to the Conococheague Creek and scope out the flood waters from bridges.

I crossed the creek at 4 different points on bridges, and while the bridges were not threatened, the water was very close to spilling over the road to either side of the bridge at a couple of the crossings. I’ve forded this creek numerous times in the past (most recently in January, see here), but there would be no possibility of fording it today. It had to have been neck deep in the middle, raging, brown frothy water.

I was out for 3 hours so I figure that’s some 18 miles. The first hour I needed artificial light, so I again tested my new Petzl headlamp. I left it burning after returning and it went a good 12 hours without any apparent loss of lumens, so I feel completely satisfied that one set of batteries (3 AA) will last the night at Umstead.  It gives great light and isn't heavy on my head.

Oh, and when I reached the end of my driveway and could see the house, I was quite excited that Mister Tristan's window shade was still closed.  It was 9:00 am (but really 8:00 body clock time due to the switch to Daylight Savings Time), so that was a fairly late sleep for him. That meant I could be the one to get him out of his crib and help him greet his day!

So, back to Umstead--I'm counting down from 2 weeks. I'm finalizing my race plan, my packing list, and my to-do list, so as not to have to think about anything, just follow the script.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cat Vomit

Courtesy of the Earth-Bound Misfit, who herself borrowed it from here:

Our cat population is 5 at the moment--3 of ours, one is our daughter's, and the other is our son's.  Both of the latter two will depart to their own homes at some point in the not-to-distant future.

Anyway, the sign is a familiar one to anyone who owns cats.  We have had pretty good luck with using Purina Sensitive Systems dry cat food, upon our vet's recommendation.  The incidents of cat vomit have drastically decreased.

Here are 3 of the 5:




Saturday, March 13, 2010

We Mustn't be Sentimental

One of the blogs I read a couple times a week is A Blog Arund the Clock.  One particular quote I read there back in January (it's credited to Brigid Antonia Brophy, but it's not up on the site any longer) struck me:
Whenever people say we mustn't be sentimental, you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, we must be realistic, they mean they are going to make money out of it.

I think of this when the discussion turns to health care, or social programs, or school funding....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Togetherness is a Balancing Act

Non-UltraRunning post here, on the tradeoff between social vs. defense spending. 

As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts, plus the cost of the Iraq war counter I've placed on this page, I'm not and never was a fan of our adventure in Iraq.  There's plenty that we woulda-coulda-shoulda done with those precious lives and $$, instead of just proving that we could kick some mideastern butt.

Just read a great post by Stephen Pizzo that quantifies some of those woulda-coulda-shouldas.  It's sobering.

After all, what good is to be defended well, but uneducated, living in poverty and dying young from preventable and/or curable deseases all because there's no money for schools, jobs or medical care? And the flip side is true too. What good is to have the best education and healthcare in the world if some primitive hostile force can simply march right in, starting killing folks and loot the entire enterprise right to the ground?

Let me cite one specific example from Mr. Pizzo:

CAN DO: Fund two all-out wars in the Middle East
CAN'T DO: Fund a world-class public school educational system

Please go read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 3 of 3)

This may be the "Big Rock" mentioned later in the post, just inside the treeline at the right center of the shot, immediately to the right of the large oak. 

A closer view of the rock; it's about 6' high.  Photos by the author, 9 March 2010.

My home sits along the route the Confederates used on their way both to and from Gettysburg in 1863. This post concerns a series of odd--dare I say ghostly?--personal experiences as I run along a particular section of road, between the villages of Marion and New Franklin, perhaps 5 miles from my home.  This is where the 17 mile long Confederate "wagon train of the wounded" passed on its way back to Virginia.

Following the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee entrusted the conduct of the wagon train of the wounded to Brigadier General John D. Imboden, to try to get the wounded of the Army of Northern Virginia safely back home. Imboden was a gifted writer and left behind a detailed and chilling account, excerpted here. He starts with his orders from General Lee:

We must now return to Virginia. As many of our poor wounded as possible must be taken home. I have sent for you, because your men and horses are fresh and in good condition, to guard and conduct our train back to Virginia. The duty will be arduous, responsible, and dangerous...You will re-cross the mountain by the Chambersburg road, and then proceed to Williamsport by any route you deem best....

Imboden explains the logistics:

About 4 P. M. [Gary: this was on 4 July, the day after the 3-day battle ended] the head of the column was put in motion near Cashtown, and began the ascent of the mountain in the direction of Chambersburg. I remained at Cashtown giving directions and putting in detachments of guns and troops at what I estimated to be intervals of a quarter or a third of a mile...the entire column was seventeen miles long when drawn out on the road and put in motion.

Then Imboden reveals the awful nature of the gruesome caravan:

After dark I set out from Cashtown to gain the head of the column during the night...For four hours I hurried forward on my way to the front, and in all that time I was never out of hearing of the groans and cries of the wounded and dying. Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owing to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still worse eases that had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds. Very few of the wagons had even a layer of straw in them, and all were without springs. The road was rough and rocky from the heavy washings of the preceding day. The jolting was enough to have killed strong men, if long exposed to it. From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout, came such cries and shrieks as these: "Oh God! Why can't I die? My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me Stop! Oh! For God's sake, stop just for one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside." I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?

Some were simply moaning; some were praying and others uttering the most fearful oaths and execrations that despair and agony could wring from them; while a majority, with a stoicism sustained by sublime devotion to the cause they fought for; endured without complaint unspeakable tortures, and even spoke with cheer and confront to their unhappy comrades of less will or more acute nerves. Occasionally a wagon would be passed from which only low, deep moans could be heard.

Adding another piece of the puzzle: in 1963, the 100th anniversary of the battle, the Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce published a soft-cover booklet entitled "Lee's Invasion--The Great Decision 1863."  It included some anecdotes under the heading "My Grandfather Told Me--Personal Reminiscences 100 Years Later."  One story stands out, submitted by Misses Carrie and Thelma Small of Marion, PA:

After the battle across the mountain, lots of the rebels came back to this section on their way to get home. This was the way they came and maybe they thought it was the only way back to Virginia. Two of the rebels died in the field and were buried opposite the Big Rock. When another reb was buried an Indian skeleton was found and buried back with him.

The 17 mile long wagon train of the wounded passed this way some 147 years ago. Along this section are several rock outcrops, any one of which could be the "Big Rock" of the Misses Small story. On occasion, when I have run along this stretch when it's quiet, say in the early morning or after dark, I actually sense a faint presence. It manifests itself as a sort of vague murmuring behind me, and a faint or imagined footfall in step with mine. But when I stop to listen, all I sense is an indistinct rustle that may only be the wind.

Then I resume my running, and the feeling returns that I am hearing faint footfalls or low voices.

Unlike my other local ghostly experiences while running (here and here), this is much more qualitative than sensory, and also a bit more disquieting. I was going to use the word malevolent, but that would be overstating. I do feel slightly uneasy here, but only slightly, and have never seriously considered altering my route to avoid this stretch of road.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Warriors and Explorers in UltraRunning

I'm an explorer.  Flirted with the warrior thing years ago but had the sense to back off.  That's why I'm still here, after 30 years of running, to run Umstead in 3 weeks.

I kept the following post from Geri K off the UltraList back in 2006, since I thought it was pretty smart. 

(Note: The episode she refers to at the Western States 100 Miler--I think--is where the apparent winner was pretty much comatose coming up to the finish, and I believe got DQd when someone helped him stand up and stagger across the finish line.)

Subject: Warriors & Explorers

Yesterday's heated discussion got me thinking. There seems to be at least two different attitudes in ultrarunning: "Warriors" and "Explorers." That's why there was such a split in opinions about what happened at Western States.

Warriors are mainly at war with themselves. They're fueled by the passion to prove something to themselves and the world. They're willing to push themselves beyond the point of self-preservation and ignore any thoughts of the consequences. Warriors often win because they're willing to sacrifice more. Warriors aren't always at the front of the pack. Anyone who runs themself into a longterm injury, an IV or trip to the ER is a Warrior. The Warrior attitude does not last long in ultrarunning.

Explorers run ultras to find their limits. They pick up on cues when they've had enough. They're aware of the cost of pushing too hard and don't want to pay the price. Sometimes talented explorers win races, but an equally talented warrior will beat them because warriors are willing to self destruct.

Many times warriors evolve into explorers. Explorers rarely become warriors. Runners who have been in the sport for any length of time are explorers. That's why so many longterm ultrarunners did not find what happened on the track at Western States admirable. Many have been there, done that and never want to do it again.

Feel free to disagree with me. These are just my observations. For those who don't know me, I've been involved in ultras for 15 years. During my ultra career I've been a front-, mid- and back-of the pack runner, crew, pacer, volunteer and race director. I've gone from warrior to explorer to enabler to observer. I still don't know everything. Enlighten me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Umstead Update--3 Weeks to Go

This'll be short and sweet--with 3 weeks to go, training proceeds well.

This weekend I completed my planned 10 miler--obviously a "rest" week. 

Next weekend, with 2 weeks remaining prior to race day, I'll run a 15 miler, which I'll probably lengthen to 18 to use one of my all-time favorite routes on the C&O Canal along the Potomac River, now that the snow has finally melted.

I experimented with my new Petzl headlamp on this pre-dawn run and it kicks butt.  One funny experience--there is a vacant farmhouse along the route I ran, where a group of semi-feral cats live (apparently a neighbor feeds them since they've been there for months). At any rate, they hang out on a porch where they rest on an old sofa.

From a long distance my headlamp picked up the eye reflections of a cat.  Then in rapid succession and perfect order I saw the eye reflections of cats 2 thru 5, in sequence, as they raised their heads to scope me out as I approached.  The illumination of their eyes seemed choreographed and rehearsed, it was so perfectly executed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Homage to Dr. George Sheehan (Part 3 of 3)

This is the 3rd of 3 posts. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. I'll repeat the intro below:

Back in my road racing days, before I saw the light and embraced UltraRunning, the poet-philosopher of the running boom was Dr. George Sheehan. This post is in his honor.

He was a prolific author of running books, focusing on the mental aspects of running, and was a regular contributor to Runner's World. I had several of his books and would reread them frequently, especially prior to a marathon, as the message never seemed to get old. Here are some of my all-time favorite quotes, excerpted from Running and Being--the Total Experience, by Dr. George Sheehan. These are timeless and equally apply to a 50 miler as to a road race.

I'll limit the quotes to 5, a short manageable number, and divvy up the list into 3 posts, on March 4th, 6th and 8th:

11. The man who has not seen the road in the early light of morning, cool and living between two rows of trees, does not know the meaning of hope.

12. When you see me, that lonely figure out on the road, I am looking for my territory, my self, the person I must be. There I am no longer the observer watching myself think and talk and react. I am not the person others see and meet and even love. There I am whole; I am finally who I am. And there I encounter myself. That encounter is a deep place totally isolated which cannot be understood or touched by others, a place that cannot be described as much as experienced, a state that philosophers describe as solitude.

13. I know that there is an answer to my odd union of animal and angel, my mysterious mixture of body and consciousness, my perplexing amalgam of material and spirit. And if for now that answer is only for the moment and only for me in my lowest common denominator, me the runner, it is still enough.

14. I look for those answers on the roads. I take my tools of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste and intellect and run with them. And I leave behind whatever I own, forgetting whatever I thought valuable, whatever I held dear. Naked, or almost, I come upon a new world. There on a country road, moving at eight miles an hour, I discover the total universe, the natural and the supernatural that wise men speculate about. It is a life, a world, a universe that begins on the other side of sweat and exhaustion.

15. And that perhaps is the essence of the running experience for me, and any number of different experiences for other people. The lack of anxiety, the complete acceptance, the letting go and the faith that all will be well. In running, I feel free. I have no other goal, no other reward. The running is its own reason for being.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mister Tristan Gets a Cousin

Welcome to Miss Sophia, born on 4 March!  Hopefully she will grow up to become an UltraRunner, like I hope for her sister, Miss Doodybug, and for her cousin, Mister Tristan.

I am so lucky.

Miss Sophia's birthday is also my father's birthday.  He's been gone awhile, having passed away at age 66 back in 1989.  I know that his physical conditions--heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure--are very strong motivators for me to be athletic.  He was old and unhealthy long before his time.  I fully expect to still be running ultras when I am 66.

I am so grateful that I gravitated to running in the first place, then graduated to UltraRunning.  This sport has helped me keep both my physical and mental health, so I can be there for these little ones.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Homage to Dr. George Sheehan (Part 2 of 3)

This is the 2nd of 3 posts. Part 1 is here. I'll repeat the intro here:

Back in my road racing days, before I saw the light and embraced UltraRunning, the poet-philosopher of the running boom was Dr. George Sheehan. This post is in his honor.

He was a prolific author of running books, focusing on the mental aspects of running, and was a regular contributor to Runner's World. I had several of his books and would reread them frequently, especially prior to a marathon, as the message never seemed to get old. Here are some of my all-time favorite quotes, excerpted from Running and Being--the Total Experience, by Dr. George Sheehan. These are timeless and equally apply to a 50 miler as to a road race.

I'll limit the quotes to 5, a short manageable number, and divvy up the list into 3 posts, on March 4th, 6th and 8th:

6. “Ted Williams,” wrote John Updike, “is the classic player on a hot August weekday when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Because he was one of those who always cared, who care about themselves and their art.”

7. Being an athlete introduces another decisive element. The runner-doctor knows that health has nothing to do with disease. Health has to do with functioning and wholeness and reaching your level of excellence. My health has to do with my life style, with moderation of my soul and the body. It is a matter of discipline of my total person. And my health can be maximized even when disease is present. There is, I find, a healthy way to live your disease. Disease may change or modify my excellence, but it does not remove excellence as a possibility.

8. “There are thresholds which thought alone can never permit us to cross,” wrote Gabriel Marcel. “An experience is needed.”

9. I suddenly found what must be the essence of running. I would, I said to myself, just concentrate on finding the perfect running form. I would find the pace at which I could run forever. Then let my inner body take over.

10. And in this perfection, this ease of movement, this harmony, this rhythmic breathing of life into life, I am able to let my mind wander. I absent myself from road and wind and the warm sun. I am free to meditate, to measure the importance of things.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Homage to Dr. George Sheehan (Part 1 of 3)

Back in my road racing days, before I saw the light and embraced UltraRunning, the poet-philosopher of the running boom was Dr. George Sheehan. This post is in his honor.

He was a prolific author of running books, focusing on the mental aspects of running, and was a regular contributor to Runner's World. I had several of his books and would reread them frequently, especially prior to a marathon, as the message never seemed to get old. Here are some of my all-time favorite quotes, excerpted from Running and Being--the Total Experience, by Dr. George Sheehan. These are timeless and equally apply to a 50 miler as to a road race.

I'll limit the quotes to 5, a short manageable number, and divvy up the list into 3 separate posts, on March 4th, 6th and 8th.:

1. "There are days when you can't get the ball in the basket, no matter how hard you try,” a basketball coach once told me. “But there is no excuse for not playing good defense.”

2. We are born, I suspect, with a built-in longevity quotient, which we can diminish but not increase. We are born, it seems to me, with an appointed time when noise will develop in the signals sent by our messenger RNA. When the song the molecules sing will no longer be heard by the cells. Disease, disintegration and death let us forget about is not how long you live, but how you played the game.

3. The opportunity to encounter and deal with pain is one of the aspects that makes the running experience ultimately so satisfactory.

4. For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear leaves and listen to rain and look to the day when it all is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight. For them, sport is not a test but a therapy; not a trial but a reward; not a question but an answer.

5. I am ready to start a new religion, the first law of which is, “Play regularly.” An hour’s play a day makes a man whole and healthy and long-lived. A man’s exercise must be play, or it will do him little good.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Harbingers...and Turdus migratorius

In my last long training run I did on Sunday for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, I was actually disappointed to see a harbinger of spring (note 1).

The harbinger was an American Robin (picture credit to Wikipedia)

Why was I disappointed?  See, this winter in the Keystone State has been butt-kicking. We are at or have surpassed our seasonal records for snow. And for the first time in my memory, I had not seen a robin in February....that is, until the very last day on my very last run. I was kinda hoping, I guess, that this winter's measure of severity would extend to and be represented by the postponed return until March of our most recognizable migratory bird.

I have always been amused by the scientific name of the robin: Turdus migratorius. Migrating sh*t, I guess? Not a very flattering name for such a fine bird (note 2)

I vividly recall my first ornithology course as an undergrad biology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was wandering the campus with by department-issued binoculars, and I heard a beautiful, sweet birdsong. I tracked the sound and homed in on it via the binoculars. What was producing the melodic, sweet, simple song? I was astounded to zoom in on an "ordinary" robin. These birds are so common as to be ubiquitous and almost under the radar (save in winter when everyone wants to see the first one to return from its southern migration). But can they sing!

It was a valuable lesson that the commonplace can also be extraordinary.

Note 1:  Can a harbinger be of something other than spring? I've only ever heard the word "harbinger" used in the context of spring.

Note 2:  Turdus actually means "thrush", and migratorius comes from migrare "to go".  But it's much more fun to think of turdus as sh*t, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where I Run, Part 4: The View of Mount Parnell

To the west, Pennsylvania's classic Ridge and Valley topography really kicks in. 

The first ridge to the west of the Cumberland Valley is locally known as North Mountain.  It rises to about 1800' from the valley, which is generally at 600-700' elevation. 

The peak to the right of the solitary oak is Mount Parnell, part of North Mountain, as seen from Harshman Road.  The nearest village is Fort Louden along US Route 30.  The ridge to the left and behind the oak is Tuscarora Mountain.  Yes, it's the site of the Tuscarora Trail of some UltraRunning fame.  It appears lower than North Mountain in front of it, but actually is higher, checking in at around 2000'.

Mount Parnell is privately held and without public trails or roads.  So I've never run there but I include the photo since it dominates the view to the west.  Below, in a similar aspect, is the view to the west from my driveway, which includes Mount Parnell to the right of the silo.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Umstead Update--4 Weeks to Go

Less than 4 weeks to go until the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on 27 March.

My super-duper training plan is here.  My last week's update (5 weeks to go) is here.
Training proceeds more or less as planned. This weekend just concluded I had planned a 30-miler, and executed a 25 miler.  I simply did not have sufficient time to allot to this run, which would have taken some 6 hours.  I was on the road about 5 am and needed to be back at the house around 10 am.  Thus my window was about 5 hours, which on this day suited me just fine, as I did not have it today.
Just felt sluggish on the second half of the run, and devoid of energy.  Doing lots of coughing, and the temp today was about 32 F, so extreme cold was not a factor.  Seeing the house was quite a relief.
I think I may be having a recurrence of bronchitis, which I had a couple months ago. Plus Mister Tristan has been ill for a week with a cold and gastrointestinal problems (I'm being delicate here).  Doc checked him out and both afflictions are viral and just have to run their course.  I wonder if I may be affected a bit as well.
So....bottom line is a so-so run.  I woudl have liked to really nail it, to have run 30 and feel effortless.  But I'll take the 25 and move on with the tapering  phase now over the last 4 weeks:

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)