Archive for September, 2007

Unfortunately…

September 22, 2007

I will not be able to run the Twin Cities marathon.

I figured today (2 weeks before the race) was my last chance and if I didn’t improve significantly I would have to give up.

Well I didn’t.

I did improve, but oh so slightly. I’m still really bad.

Each week there has been a tiny improvement, and I need six times that to be ready to race.

It’s frightening. With an injury you have tangible proof that something is wrong and know that you just have to wait until it heals. With something which might be overtraining? Well who knows? There’s no obvious thing to fix.

Will I ever get back to where I was?

I was expecting this. It isn’t as disappointing as I had feared, not as disappointing as it was.

But a few days ago I was so depressed that I couldn’t sleep and finally I had to get out of bed and write a(n extremely self-indulgent) piece about my despair and how that just exacerbated my other insecurities (mainly my conviction that I’m an terribly dull and no one could possibly want to be my friend). Luckily I had sense enough not to post it — but writing it was cathartic.

‘ “On the Usefulness of Everything”,’ read the Muskrat, ‘But this is the wrong book, the one I had was about the Uselessness of everything.’
But the Hobgoblin only laughed.

Finn Family Moomintroll — Tove Jansson

OK. I can’t run well today, but I am getting better. There are other marathons. I will recover (I think, hope). There’s no rush.

There was a flotilla of tiny little ¿grebes? down by the waterfront this morning. I can’t identify them, but they were cheerful, silly little birds, swimming in tight circles and dipping their bills constantly into the water. And the clouds after the first rain have been beautiful.

In the mean time, I can always make pots. Making something beautiful can be very soothing. I give them away as wedding presents.

Unknown ¿Grebe?

Advertisements

Nomen Omen

September 19, 2007

The second annual “George Williams 5K” is in a month. It takes place in Raleigh, NC about 20 miles from where I grow up. My friend Nirmal noticed it last year, and asked if it were named after me.

But it isn’t mine, nor my father’s, nor any of the 5 George Williamses in my ancestry. Just some random track coach who happened to have the same name.

The thought of running a race with my name is kind of tempting, and the thought of having that on a tee-shirt even more appealing.

I remember, a number of years ago, touring a house built by great-great-grandfather (George Walton Williams the first), though it is now called the Calhoun mansion after his son-in-law. I remember the glee I felt when just before leaving, I signed the guest book “George Walton Williams V”. I don’t know if any of the docents ever noticed, but there was a certain thrill to being part of that house in a way they never could be.

But… I don’t want to fly all the way across the country to do it. And I don’t want to run a 5k.

So I think I shall put it off for another year.

Maybe next year I’ll have recovered and be able to run again.

Worry. Shame. Overtrained. Despair. Maybe?

September 12, 2007

I started having trouble about 5 weeks into marathon training.

I couldn’t do my speed work out. We had 8 km repeats at a Yasso pace. I managed two ok. On the third Bill ran beside me and encouraged me and I got through that one on pace. On the fourth I lost it and was way too slow. Rusty pulled me out at that point. I hadn’t even done half the workout.

Sigh. Well, OK, I’ve often had problems doing speed-work. As long as I do my long runs I shan’t worry.

Well the following Saturday we were to do a 2 mile warmup, 10 miles at 50~30 seconds slower than marathon pace, then 4 miles at 10 seconds slower than MP and then another 3 miles at MP. (or something like that). Even 50 seconds off MP was hard at first, but after 6 miles I had sped up to 30 seconds slower and I decided that I had finally warmed up, that was all. Then it came time to speed up. I sped up a little on the first mile, but not enough. Well, it’s an uphill mile, the next one will be easier. The next was even slower. I was back in the 30~50 range. That was worrying. I could not go any faster. When it came time to speed up to MP — I had to slow down instead.

So I talked to Rusty, and he told me to rest and gave me an easy week the following week. The speed workout was slower than 10k pace, and I managed. It felt harder than it should, but I managed. Then 8miles at MP in the middle of a 20mile run. I did the first 5 miles reasonably — but then I ran out of mile markers, not sure how I did on my last 3. I hoped ok.

At my speed workout the next week, I managed to do half of it at pace, and the rest a bit slower. Not great, but I’m focusing on the long runs. I hope? The following Saturday we had a 4 mile warmup, 4miles at tempo pace, 4 miles easy, 5 miles at MP and 7 miles easy. I did the warmup. I started with my pace group. Everyone else was chatting easily as they pulled away from me. I was breathing hard, that horrible rasping breath that says I’m completely exhausted. The first mile was slower than MP, nowhere near tempo pace. My pace group was way ahead of me now. I couldn’t even keep this up. Damn. What’s wrong with me? This should be easy. It’s the first mile for heaven’s sake. I struggled. The next mile was 8 minutes.

An 8 minute mile was the closest I could get to a tempo effort? Dianna passed me. Even that couldn’t speed me up. I couldn’t go any faster. I couldn’t keep up with her. I felt so ashamed of myself. Why couldn’t I do this? What was wrong? After another mile I just stopped. There were tears in my eyes. I couldn’t do it. And there was a throng of people about to pass me. I should be faster than all these guys, but not today.

I gave up and went back. Climbed on my bike and rode home.

It is frightening not to be able to run. I feel ashamed to run so slowly. No one else seems incapacitated. What’s wrong with me?

Rusty told me I was overtrained. Oh. There’s a name for this? It’s common? Whew. That’s a huge relief. All I need to do is rest? And I only need a week of rest? Wow. OK. Rest it is.

No more yoga. I reduce my bike riding to the bare minimum requirements of transportation. And Rusty gives me an easier schedule.

After a week I was a little better. But I wasn’t back to normal. After 10 days Rusty gave me an easy workout. A five mile progressive run each mile 10 seconds faster than the last, with the middle mile at marathon pace. Should have been easy. I managed the first four (which meant I was better off than I had been 10 days before, but I’m still in a bad way), and didn’t even attempt the last one.

I’ve three and a half weeks before my marathon — and I can’t run.


I read the section on Over Training in Advanced Marathoning. They recommend 3~5 weeks of rest (as opposed to Rusty’s 1~2), and a greater reduction in mileage. Well… if that works, I might be back to normal in time for the race. Maybe.

Chuck’s beach

September 11, 2007

16 July 2007

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand.
‘If this were only cleared away,’
They said, ‘it would be grand!’

‘If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said
That they could get it clear?’
‘I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter
And shed a bitter tear.

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

The beachThey warned us about the beach before we started. Sad that we live in a country where it is thought necessary to warn people that beaches are potentially slippery and rocky.

The start was one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. No one wanted to be at the line. We all kept moving back — away from the start line.

I didn’t want to be in front because I planned to run easily, not even a tempo run, just a nice little trot. I stood six feet behind the line, and even so there were very few people in front of me and a great crowd about 20 feet back. 🙂

I didn’t want to run hard because I was starting a 12 week marathon training program the next day (well — really that just means that Rusty’s workouts become harder), and most of the other people in my group felt the same way. So there was a little clump of us 6 feet behind the line.

They said “Go!” and off we trotted, chatting happily amongst ourselves.

It is rather pleasant not to have a goal, pleasant to run slowly and easily with friends. We had a nice early start (7:30), the sun was peeking through some low lying clouds so it was cool and not sunny. A gentle breeze in our faces.

Once again I didn’t look at the scenery. I guess I was engrossed in the conversation.

As we turned the first headland, Maggie said she wanted to run harder — she’d gotten express permission to do so because she was ill for Semena Nautica. Dianna announced that “George will run with you.”

So I did. Not quite the easy run I’d planned. Still Maggie was only going her marathon pace, and that wasn’t too bad. I admire Maggie, even when she races a 10k at her marathon pace she still wins her age-group.

So then we started passing people. It’s kind of fun taking the first quarter mile easily (really easily) and then going harder. You get to pass people twice (well, the first time they pass you) and cheer them on.

Kelp on the beachThe tide was quite low (new moon) and the beach was “messy” with patches of red algae, bits of kelp, a few morning walkers a few morning dogs, and someone had dropped rocks into the sand here and there. A bit of an obstacle course — but so a beach run should be.

No one had their mops out.

Maggie mentioned that a runner had tried to sue the Chuck’s people because she slipped on the course one year. Sigh.

Dead tree below the WilcoxSomewhere after the fallen trees from the Wilcox Aaron zoomed passed us, all alone going the other way. Then a scattering of others as we approached the turn around and then we turned ourselves.

We had just passed Desa before the turn around, but Maggie wanted to stop for water, and after that all we saw was Desa’s back. Maggie was pretty good about not being competitive and keeping her HR down to marathon pace, I was bad and kept encouraging her to catch Desa.

The little breeze was at our backs now, and totally useless for cooling us down. Near the end the sun came out from behind its clouds and it started to get hot.

And then Liz Groom started to approach from behind. That did disturb Maggie. So she ran faster from the final headland to the finish line. Not fast enough to catch Desa, but fast enough to catch one other guy (And Liz did not pass her).

I tried to take the waters after the run. Brrrrr. Even in July. Dianna jumped in and swam — I inched in, wincing with every wave, and then scuttled out before I froze.

It wasn’t my race — but I did enjoy kabitzing (or however you spell it) on Maggie’s!

Sea gull eating a crab

Gull with Crab

Summer Sunrise

September 11, 2007

12 July 2007

Out here? Out here is a sky so gentle
Five stars are ventured on it. I can see
The sky’s pale belly glowing and growing big,
Soon to deliver the moon. And I can see
A glittering smear, the snail-trail of the sun,
Where it crawled with its golden shell into the hills.
A darkening land sunken into prayer,
Lucidly, in dewdrops of one syllable,
Nunc dimittis. I see twilight madame.

The Lady’s not for Burning, Christopher Fry

I had an hour and ¾ run this morning so I was out the door at about 5:30. I had intended to run west to More Mesa but the sky was so beautiful I turned the other way and ran east to the bird sanctuary so I could look at it.

The first clear day after a week of fog (grrr — if only the fog had rolled in a day earlier. Just one day and the 4th July run would have been much nicer). There are horizontal bands of clouds across the eastern horizon — the underside a deep orange, and there, floating amid the orange bands is a thin crescent moon. By the time I’ve climbed up to the Wilcox the colour has brightened and even the wisps of cloud overhead have caught it.

Unusually for a summer’s day, the islands are clear across the channel, small flecks of clouds above them but no fog.

And then I turn away from the ocean toward the mountains as I trot up Oliver. The gold is even more intense in this direction. I really wish I’d brought my camera.

Ten minutes later and all the colour is gone.

Now the newspaper tells me that the sun rises at 5:56 in SB today, but that’s a lie. That’s when the sun hits the horizon. But in the summer the sun rises (and sets) behind the mountains. The sun did not actually look down on me until 6:25 or so.

It’s kind of neat… six months ago, at winter solstice, I went to look at both sunrise and sunset from Hendry’s beach. At that time of year the sun rises and sets over the ocean (and so the official “sunrise” time is correct — I can see the horizon). But now the sun has moved north and couches behind the hills.

I ran into Brooke along the waterfront and we commented on how beautiful the morning was.

But I was also thinking about Kornell’s comment last week telling me not to breath shallowly. I’ve been trying for deeper breathing. But I’ve also noticed that there is a reason for the shallow breathing. It means my breath is in sync with my stride. Not really a very surprising observation, any two proximate oscillators are likely to become entrained, but it does mean this is a low energy state. I also notice that each time my left foot strikes it helps to expel the breath.

So if I’m going to alter my breathing pattern I need to keep these two things in mind. One breath every two strides (or possibly every stride and a half? or three strides? whatever) and an exhale on a foot strike. If I don’t retain those two then I’ll be expending more energy, not saving it.

horizontal rule

The next day is a more normal summer’s day. A light haze means the islands are barely visible. There are no clouds and no colour. A clear blue morning, but not exciting.

Run in the Sun

September 11, 2007

4 July 2007

If I were in the desert deep in sand,
And the sun was burning like a hot pomegranate:
Walking through a nightmare in the heat of a summer day,
Until my mind was parch-éd!

The Fantasticks (Edmond Rostand, adapted by Tom Jones)

I have a superstitious dread of 15ks — the last time I ran one I fractured my pelvis. So I’ve never done this race.

Well really I’ve never done it because I thought it was too hot.

I guess I’m convinced of that now. The heat was bad — but at least I didn’t fracture anything on this race. Whew.

Jeff and I were discussing it a few weeks ago and trying to break 60 seemed like a good goal. Rusty poo-pooed that. Far too easy, try for 58. Then Travis said he’d like to run it at a 6 minute pace (~56). And Rusty thought I should hang with Travis. Ug. I should stop talking to Rusty:-)

Last Saturday Rusty had us run the course, running every other kilometer at race pace and then jogging to rest. I’m glad he did because I wasn’t sure of the route (last year the lead pack went the wrong way and took a 40 second detour). We started our practice run an hour before the race would start, but by the end of it I was feeling overheated. Ug. I hoped the weather would cool.

It did not.

As I was finishing my warmup I came upon two cyclists unfolding a map. So I asked them if they needed directions. Then I realized they were speaking French so instead asked “Puis-je vous aidez?” One of them pointed to the race badge on my singlet and said “Nous cherchons celui-ci.” Neat, they want to race, that’s easy. So I told them how to get to registration and went off to change my shoes.

I figured that given the heat there was no way I’d manage a 6 minute pace. I thought I’d try for 6:10 (didn’t even manage that, 6:14). I wanted to be fairly controlled for once and not go out too fast — that might not be possible, but that’s what I wanted. I checked with John (the race director) and learned that he’d put back all the kilometer marks that got wiped out in the resurfacing that happened last year. Good. That means I can check my pace every kilometer rather than every mile. I prefer that, they happen more frequently and I am less likely to go astray. A 6:10 mile corresponds almost exactly to a 3:50 km.

Wally said that Anglo-Saxon two letter word and the race started. A bunch of people took off ahead of me, which made me think I wasn’t going too fast. At the quarter mile I saw I was a little under 90 seconds, a little too fast but not much. At the half mile 3:01. Better. I heard Joe Hilton exclaim “Too fast, I don’t want to be under 6”. At the 1k mark I was still doing a 6 minute pace (3:43) and I passed Joe.

Around the 1 mile mark I noticed someone whose running seemed to me totally out of control — I didn’t think he’d be able to keep the pace. He then turned to me and said “If I were breathing like that I’d be all cramped up.” Oh. Well I guess I’m not perfect either:-). Nonetheless I passed him.

At the 2k mark I saw I’d slowed down too much, 3:59 (my slowest split in the race). At least I’m still on track for breaking an hour, but I should be able to do better than that. Then a long gradual uphill to the 3k mark — 3:53 — still a little slow, but not too slow. I’m passing people now. Good.

The next km always surprises me, there’s a steep hill here and I always expect it too tell against me, but there’s also a steep down hill on the other side. It’s usually fairly fast. 3:49 today. For the first time I notice Travis about 50ft ahead of me, he turns right instead of going straight (turning right is our training route, he must not be thinking). The corner guard yells to correct him, and I yell too, but I only have breath to say “Oops!” or something like that. Not as informative as it should have been. Luckily Travis turns and joins us. I don’t want to lose him this early.

At the first water stop I have three choices: ignore it, drink, or pour water on my head. I’m not sure I can drink at this pace. I’m not really thirsty (we’ve only been running for what? 15 minutes?) but I am hot. I take off my sun visor and pour water on me. It does help.

Next km is 3:46 on a fairly flat section. And it’s sort of shady as we turn down onto a residential street. I see my first walkers who are actually on the sidewalk. Thank you! In spite of the shade and a downhill section I’m slow 3:55. I realize that Lee Carter seems to be riding beside me a lot. Hunh. He’s supposed to be with the first woman, not with me. I’m not a woman. I don’t have the energy to ask about it though. He’s right beside me and I want to cross the street… He drops back a bit and I do cross and then he’s on the other side of me. Odd.

Another uphill section 3:57. Drat. I don’t seem to be anywhere near 3:50. Oh well, Travis is still 50ft in front of me or so. I guess I’m not the only one having problems.

Good heavens, I hear my friend Christine’s voice yelling “Go George.” What’s she doing here? I don’t think she’s ever watched a race before. And then the penny drops. Christine is French and her triathlete nephew and his parents are visiting — he and his father must have been the two French speakers I met earlier.

At the next water stop I try to drink and do manage to take one sip, but it’s not easy. Most of the water goes on my head again.

We pass the 8k mark (3:54) and the 5mile mark. I hear Lee saying “It’s 5 miles”, and then a female voice asking “Does that mean we’ve got 5 to go?” Oh, well that explains why Lee seems to be with me, the lead woman must be right behind me. I realize that I never look back in a race. I can usually tell if someone is passing from their footfalls. Looking back will just throw me off balance and not give any really useful information.

Hmm. I don’t think I’d waste my breath asking that question though (even if I didn’t know the answer) — she’s probably not as tired as I. She’ll probably pass me.

The important thing now is the hill right here. This is supposed to be where I can catch Travis (I’m better at hills than Travis)… and I do get closer to him, and I pass the guy who has been running with him… but I don’t catch Travis. It’s hot.

Next km is 3:58. Oh well. Lee zips ahead of the three of us and points us down onto the bike path which is a bit hillier than the roads. A very steep downhill. I guess we passed the 6 mile mark. The woman behind asks if that was 6miles. I haven’t been paying attention to the mile markers and can only say that we’ve passed the 9k mark. Then she takes off. She starts creeping up on Travis. I cheer her on. I’m beat myself. Will I be able to hold even this (relatively) slow pace? It’s so hot. My legs aren’t a problem but I don’t seem to have any energy.

Here’s the 10k (3:51), back under the freeway, fording the stream — well I would be fording the stream if there were any water in it, but it’s dry as a bone — and up the other side. Ug. The woman has caught Travis and the two are running together not far ahead.

The last water stop. Another sip and more water on the head.

Kornell appears, he’s running against the flow of the race (I guess to look at it), but he turns and runs with me for a bit. He asks if I’m catching the two in front or just hanging with them (personally I think I’m slowly losing them, but Kornell is polite enough not to suggest that). He tells me I’m breathing too shallowly, that if I could get the breath deeper into my lungs I’d go 5 seconds per mile faster with no more effort. I try to breath deeply, but my abdominals get very tight when I’m running, it’s really hard. Something to work on. Kornell peels off.

11km: 3:54.

Hmm. I’m starting to gain on the other two though. Maybe he was right.

Tara ahead of both of us12km: 3:53. Or maybe they are slowing. My pace doesn’t seem to be changing much. But I don’t feel as tired. We turn onto the final bike path, heading straight into the sun. Hmm. I really don’t feel as tired. I feel better than I did on Saturday on this stretch.

I pass the first woman. 3:50 at 13km. I’m coming up behind Travis. I debate passing him. I feel he’s going a little slowly. I hang behind him. A bunch of bikers cheer Travis on. “Hey,” I think, “what about me? I’m right here with him. I’m working hard too.” For that matter “What about her?” She can’t be far behind us — I don’t look, of course. Around 14km (3:50) the route twists a bit and I figure I’ll pass him after we get on the road and things get wider. Hubris. Travis speeds up. It’s all I can do to hang behind him — and then I can’t even do that. I say something like “Go, Travis” and fall back. I really want to rest, but I know there’s someone right behind me. I daren’t slow too much. At the corner of Hollister they say “200 meters”. It feels like more… and then someone is cheering me (“What about Travis?” I think, “It’s not fair just cheering me.” I guess there’s no pleasing me). And we cross the street — will the cops hold traffic for me as well as Travis? Yes, of course.

And there’s the clock 57:50… and Travis crosses 57:57 and the seconds tick inexorably past… Can I break 58? No, there it is: 58:00 and then I cross. 58:02. (Tara, the first woman, finished in 58:13).

It was great to have both of them to run with. If you read this, thank you for running with me!

Final split 3:44. Not bad given the heat. I drink two pints of my recovery drink and a bunch of water. I look at a thermometer (in the shade) and see it’s only 71°. Hunh? Here in the shade it’s actually cool. Chilly even when the wind blows. But, but, but it was so hot just a minute ago and there was no shade. Amazing what a difference the shade (and standing still) can make.

Family History

September 11, 2007

26 June 2007

The valleyI arrived in the valley at 2:30am. Ug. I hate traveling.

This family reunion marks the 185 year of Williamses in Nacoochee valley.

In 1820 the US signed a “treaty” with the Cherokee nation wherein the Cherokee “agreed” to leave much of Northeast Georgia and open it up to European settlers. The land was surveyed and a lottery was held. Then in 1822 my great-great-great-grandfather co-led a group into Nacoochee Valley. In ~1830 gold was discovered here and shortly thereafter there was another “treaty” and the Cherokee “agreed” to go to Oklahoma. One of the gathering points for the trail of tears was Nacoochee Valley. Presumably my ancestors were watching.

I remember botanizing in the old gold-fields as a teen-ager. At the time they were pastures with deep pits dug in them; these pits filled with water and had become a series of small deep ponds, an ecosystem unlike any other in the valley. I found my first bladderwort here, only place in the valley I ever saw duckweed. Now these have all been filled in (whether by man or nature I’m not sure), and I am saddened to see that the pools I loved in my youth have turned to ordinary pasture land now.

The house and its fenceMy great-great-grandfather (GWW I) left the valley and moved to Charleston and made his fortune. His sons returned to the valley and built second houses to which they came to escape the summer heat of Charleston. These were originally working farms, but we had to sell the fields during the depression. Now the descendants own the house and part of the mountain behind. We still return to my great-grandfather’s house for the summer.

The night was cool, but it quickly warmed in the morning. I didn’t wake until about 9 when the sun was peeking into the valley (our house is on the southwest side of Lynch mountain).

About 40 years ago I was relegated to the servants’ quarters (we no longer have servants, of course) so I sleep apart from the main house — useful when arriving after midnight. Spring leavesThe leaves are a beautiful fresh green as the sun falls through them outside the window. Eventually I struggle down to the kitchen to get some cereal before my run.

I have a 2hour run today and I worry about the heat.

My 90year old aunts immediately want to know how I think the fence should be painted. Oh, yes, we put in a new fence. In the dark, from the road it looked exactly like the old fence. I didn’t notice. I have no opinion on how it should be painted yet.

Phoebe nestingThen they want me to go look at the Pheobe nesting over the light fixture on the front porch, then listen to the chimney swifts nesting in the kitchen chimney. Then, finally, I can go for my run. (My aunts have rather different priorities:-)

Driveway at Sautee ManorOur driveway is 1/4mile long, a lovely tunnel of hemlock trees that embrace each other over the roadbed, leaving a dark secluded path to run down. This empties into the Lynch Mountain Road, a dirt road that snakes around the mountain, roughly following the Sautee creek as it goes up the valley. This road used to go right behind our house, but my great-grandmother didn’t like that, and had the road moved down into the valley Lynch Mountain Rd.below.

The valley is mostly pasture land at the moment and the road gives a pleasant, shaded (but very hilly) run with vistas across the valley over the pastures.

About a mile down the road I pass my “kissing-cousin”, Liza’s house. Her car isn’t here yet. (technically Liza is not a cousin of mine, her great-aunt married my first cousin twice removed, and then her grandmother bought a summer place here too. The valley has that effect on people). Ah well, I’ll see her later.

Sosbee BarnA little further down the road some cottontails hop away from me. Sometimes I see deer — which feed in the pastures in the early morning — but not today.

I’m now on the southeast side of the mountain, more sun here, and more wildflowers. The phlox is spectacular on the road bank, and the pachysandra is popping out.

Sadly I’ve reached the end of the dirt road and now have to run on the highway. Not a very busy one, thank goodness. Much less shade. Much hotter. I crisscross the road looking for what shade I can find.

I cross the Sautee Creek and come to another intersection, and I loop back down the valley on the other side of the creek. Still hilly, and the heat is beginning to affect me as I go up the hills (I’ve brought water, but not enough. I’m not used to Georgia heat).

Hmm, there’s a new house here. Luckily the valley has not been developed. There are more houses than there were in my youth, but no subdivisions as there are in some of the nearby valleys.

I’ve almost closed the loop when I see it’s been an hour, so I turn back to retrace my route.

I don’t like the heat. The uphills are brutal now. Finally I come to the mountain road and can turn down into the shade.

John’s Branch at the old fordI’ve run out of water, so I stop at a little brook — I press my way through the jungle of leucothoe that guards the stream and drink, and then fill my water bottles. This is a beautiful little stream, I have spent many happy hours here trying to build dams and pools as a boy, and later collecting plants to take back to my garden as a teenager. Luckily the stream has been proof against all my efforts and is as lovely as it ever was.

With the shade and the water I’m feeling better now and finish the last mile.

In a way, I’m lucky to have that shade. In about 1900 there was a lot of timbering on these mountains and most of them were clear-cut. My grandmother used to complain that we didn’t have nearly as nice views now as we used to — there were all these trees in the way.

Myself, I am glad of the trees. About 20 years ago the little community where the highways intersect got a new post office with an extremely bright streetlight (grumble, they don’t need a street light out here), but over the years the trees have grown up and we can no longer see that light from the house.

Rhod. bloomsAfter lunch my third cousin Kendal walks into the house — I hadn’t realized she was around yet, but she’s come up from Houston with her daughter. Kendal has just started swimming competitively and was first in her age group in her last meet. Her daughter turns out to be quite a runner, having done a 62second 400m on her 6th grade track team (that’s about 88%).

Rhod. bloom in the creekWe take Kendal out for a little walk down the Sautee Creek to look at the rhododendrom blooming (mostly on the other side of the river).

Two days later I am to do a tempo run — 4 mile warmup, 4 mile tempo, 4 mile cooldown.

Sprint MistSeveral of my third cousins are staying at Liza’s, and I asked them to join me on my cooldown. Liza has a longer run planned so she won’t, but the husband of one cousin has agreed to run with me.

I’m out on the road at 6:15 or so, and it’s much cooler. Humid though. The mist lies heavily across the valley. I don’t think the sun is up yet. I trot along the mountain road; I’ll go out 2 miles and return (and then repeat for the tempo). I don’t have a very accurate way of measuring 2 miles — the mailboxes are numbered with their distance from the start of the road, our mailbox is 496, so .496 miles from the start. There isn’t a mailbox at 2496 so I have to guess. It’ll do.

I’m using my HR monitor to get the effort, I want to be 165~170. Little low on the first mile but after that I’m more like 175. It’s really hilly. As I turn round the mountain I find the sun has risen. When I finish I’m disappointed to see that these 4 miles take me 29 minutes to run. Oof. That’s slow (for a tempo effort). The hills must be steeper than I thought.

phlox bloom

Phlox

I guessed that I’d be at Liza’s about 7:30 for the cooldown. Amazingly I am. I’m rarely accurate about guessing how long it will take me to run a complex workout. And there is Brad, ready to go.

🙂 I see a lama cropping the grass by the roadside — one of the farms on the road raises unusual beasts.

The valley has changed a bit over the years. It used to be mostly corn. Now it’s mostly cattle (and lamas). When I was young, it seemed that everyone in the valley was a relative. That generation has pretty much died out, and their children have (often) migrated to the cities. In the 60~70s there was an influx of counter-culture, artistic, hippy types who have made the community far more interesting (to me). There’s the blacksmith down the road, several local potters (I must admit some of whom have been here forever, others are immigrants), John Kollock who makes his living selling water-colours, and the Gourd Girls.

Every valley should have its gourd girls. This wonderful couple moved up here as schoolteachers and found that uninteresting, so they started their own business carving and painting gourds. Always cheerful, always willing to make an appalling pun (“Have a gourd day!” etc.), they have become central to the local community.

Reflections in the poolProbably my favorite run of all starts behind the house and goes straight up the mountain, climbing about 800ft in a mile and a quarter. It’s a lovely run. The trail climbs steeply from the house up to our swimming hole/fire reservoir (It used to be just for our house, but when a volunteer fire brigade started in the valley about 15 years ago we ran a line down to the road and now provide water to the fire department).

Then the trail flattens out and plunges into the woods. There is an old terra cota trough here. I remember when all the water for the house flowed through the trough, and we had to clean the dead leaves out of it every now and then (every day when we were up here in the fall). But when trees fall, terra cota breaks and we lose our water. It became too hard to maintain, so years ago we had to put in a plastic pipe running down the middle of the old trough. This section is almost level — there’s an elevation gain of about 6 feet over the entire quarter mile the trough runs.

FernsAs I go up the trough I get closer to the little stream that feeds it. This stream runs through a mountain laurel thicket which, in some years, is covered in blossoms in April. When the trough joins the stream it opens out into a cove covered with ferns (mostly New York Fern but a few Cinnamon) — a lush green of ferns below and a lush green of maple leaves above. I just love it.

Then the trail starts to climb again, up in to a darker oak-hickory forest. Some years ago I tried collecting the acorns to boil them into palatability — but I never got it to work, and I also tried harvesting the hickory nuts. Now pecans are a variety of hickory so you’d think hickory nuts would be good, but these have really tough outer shells and tiny nut meats, and are just not worth the effort.

Path down to Gunda’s favorite coveI crest the first ridge and the cove below looks like a park. There is no undergrowth and the trees are widely spaced. This was my grandfather’s favorite place. Down into the cove and up the other side.

It gets very steep here, and a little higher up the forest gets sparser and the sun beats down and it’s hot. The pine borers have been hard at work this winter and there are many trees down (which is why the forest is sparse). The path is blocked and I must scramble over tree trunks and through the undergrowth they brought down with them. I can’t really be said to be running at the moment.

Mtn. Laurel in bloom

Laurel bloom (not this year’s)

Another laurel thicket. I can see where the blooms were as the seed pods ripen.

And then a saddle. On the far side of the saddle is a little cove, the only place I know where Grass of Parnassus grows. It doesn’t flower until October though, so there is no point in going there now.

Instead I head up the last steep section. Mostly pine now, white pine on the lower slopes, virginia and some other variety here on the upper. There’s also a scrubby, ugly little black oak that scraggles around in the poor soil.

Finally the last ridge. The trail is almost flat as I head along the ridge line to the summit about 1/8 of a mile away. View from LynchAt the summit the mountain falls away into a cliff face and there is a great view of the valley and the Appalachians stretched out before me.

No rattlesnakes on the rocks this year. Good.

A brief pause to look at the view, and then back down.

This valley is an anchor for me, a place of beauty to which I always return. A place of community I love. It’s not a place I want to live (yet — too hot in the summer), but simply knowing it is there, knowing that my roots are here, matters.

I realize I am almost half a century old now. I’ve watched this valley change for a quarter of the time Europeans have been here. Men have ravaged it. In my own small way I have destroyed parts of it. But it always has recovered (except for the loss of the chestnut. sigh). It retains it hold on my heart.

The Phoebe is still on her nest when I leave.

Morning has broken

Sunset, with fountain

An unexpected visitor

September 11, 2007

14 June 2007

I just returned from a beautiful afternoon run on More Mesa, and as it was a pleasant evening I left the front door open as I went to take my shower. When I got out of the shower I discovered that the local baby skunk had wandered into my apartment and was examining the kitchen.

Removing skunks is a somewhat dicey problem. They aren’t particularly fearful, so they won’t just run away. You don’t want to annoy them too much, of course, or they will retaliate. The trick is to be mildly annoying so they’ll decide there are better places to be. Unfortunately kitchens tend to be full of interesting smells and these encourage skunks to stay.

Skunk amid the bikes

Eventually the skunk retreated, but not, as I had hoped, out the door, instead it crawled into a box behind my bike.

I decided I would give it some time to itself, hoping it would choose to leave on its own.

But it seemed to like the box and appeared to go to sleep.

After an hour in which the skunk did nothing I carefully removed the bike, picked up the box, and carried the sleeping, boxed skunk outside.

There I left it.

The skunk seemed to think this an improvement, and came out of its box after a bit and wandered off toward Arroyo Burro (where I think it makes its home).

Skunk leaving

The local skunks seem to like my house. There is a loquat tree right in front of the door and they often come there in the evening to feed on dropped loquats. Unfortunately when they are feeding I am reluctant to enter or exit my house, so I have gained some skill in the “annoy slightly but don’t frighten” behavior necessary to encourage them to move. One year I had a mother with four babies under my loquat, this year there just seems to be this one baby skunk.He’s rather cute, I hear they make good pets…

But California says it’s illegal to keep them

It’s going to hurt

September 11, 2007

10 June 2007

“It’s going to hurt,” groaned Joe at SB Running when we discussed the race. “Five minutes of pain.” said Rusty, “No, make that four, the first one won’t be bad.” “It’ll hurt, you know.” said John Brennand as I picked up my race bib.

I know.

That’s one reason I haven’t raced a mile in 30 years. My best mile was a 5:07 when I ran track as a high school junior. Those races hurt.

But I wanted to see what I could do. And a downhill course sounded as though it would be less unpleasant (honestly, I now don’t know why it sounded that way, but it did at the time). I haven’t been training for a mile, of course, no real speed work, but I’ve got a good marathon base, and I expected to do, if not well, then respectably.

Last time I tried running a mile it was ~5:30. That was by myself on a bare track. I expected in a flat race I should break 5:20. On a downhill race, I wasn’t sure. I hoped I’d break my 5:07, maybe, maybe if I were lucky I’d break 5.

Rusty said he thought I’d break 5. Maybe even 4:55. Oh dear…

I was very nervous and didn’t sleep well the night before. Nervous as I waited for my heat to be called. Nervous as we lined up and waited for the start. Heart rate already high.

Half dead at the half mile markhalf-dead at ¾ mile
Copyright © 2007
Dennis Mihora

Then the gun went off, and we did too. About 5 people zoomed off ahead of me. I’m not a miler, I don’t expect to place in this race. That’s ok. The first quarter was pretty good, running smoothly, and it’s neat to reach the first quarter this quickly. I could barely hear the guy calling out times at the quarter. 1:09, I think. Rather too fast that, better slow a bit. Then the half mile comes, not exactly painful yet, but the world is becoming unimportant, nothing matters but running. I can’t hear the guy calling the time. I fail to push the right button on my watch. And then that’s past.

My arms are getting tired.

My arms? what are they doing? I’m running on my legs, how can my arms be tired?

And now it feels harder and harder to continue. Not painful, just impossible. The third quarter approaches and it feels easier again, and then it passes (I forgot even to try to click my watch. What did time did the guy shout?) and it’s hard again. Then someone passes me and I find I can run a little harder but he still zooms off as if I were standing still. And the finish line is moving closer and closer. And…

Here. 5:02~5:03.

Wow, a (small) PR. And it wasn’t that bad.

And it is over so quickly!

But now the pain strikes. I can’t get enough to breathe. I can barely hold the plastic bag they have given me. I find a pole and lean on it. And then my throat starts to hurt. I stumble around for a bit with my friend Carrie (who has just won the women’s 40+ race at 5:45). She asks (jokingly, I hope) if she should call an ambulance. Now my lungs hurt. We sit down and eat some yoghurt. Now I’m coughing, but I’m starting to feel a bit better. And by the time the 50+s are coming in, I can actually stand up and watch.

Ug. I don’t like miles.

It did hurt.

But now I get to watch my friends, and that’s fun. Steve Miley (who has been injured with planar fasciaitis for months) ran the dog mile in about a 5:37. Nirmal ran about a minute faster than his mile pace at Vicki’s. Then Laura wins the elite women’s race, giving it her all. Joe came second in the elite masters (Joe is a master now!). And Magnificent Melissa comes in with a 4:47.

I remember now why I haven’t raced a mile in 30 years. I don’t think I need to race another.

Hmmm, warmups matter

September 11, 2007

2 June 2007

Everyone was running Vicki’s today, so I was on my own for a workout. Rusty told me to warm up, run a 6:10 mile, and then do 4 downhill quarters (the final ¼ mile of Nite Moves, down the hill from Shoreline) in 68-72 seconds. And he told me not to go all out.

I didn’t think I could run that fast. I was scared. A year or two ago I did a 75 second quarter on a treadmill and felt like I was going to fall off. Go faster than that? It seemed impossible, even downhill.

I warmed up. I went to the City College track to run my mile. I helped John get ready for Vicki’s (anything to procrastinate this workout). Did my strides. Ran my mile. I was nervous. 5:46. As though by running too fast now I wouldn’t have to run so fast later.

I jogged up to Shoreline. I did more strides.

Then I stood at the top of the hill and looked down.

I just stood there.

I couldn’t seem to start.

“What,” I asked myself, “is the worst that could happen? I’ll just run more slowly than 72 seconds. So what?” “No, the worst that could happen is that I’d try really hard and fail. And disappoint Rusty. And trying to run that fast would hurt.”

I stood there some more.

Finally I started. I couldn’t seem to run fast. My legs just wouldn’t turn over. I felt really slow. My feet were slapping the pavement in a very inefficient way. And then the slope ended. I felt I was running better now, but it was hard. The level bit seemed to stretch on for ever. Finally the finish line. 73 seconds.

I did fail.

It wasn’t as bad as I had expected, I was close at least. Still I had gone as fast as I could and it wasn’t fast enough.

The worst had happened. I trotted back to the top of the hill and headed right down. It felt a little easier this time, I guessed I wasn’t running as hard. And then I finished: 66 seconds.

Oh.

Wow.

I guess I just needed to warm up. The next two were 69 and 71. Smack where Rusty said I would be.

If running a 5:46 mile and doing a bunch of strides doesn’t warm me up, what do I need to do right before State Street?

Then I went and watched Vicki’s. That was fun. Mellisa broke the course record.