I’ve always run. But I never payed much attention to it. Running was a way to get from one place to another. Faster than walking, slower than the bike. I ran for transportation. Usually I didn’t run much, but it was always an option — you never know when you’ll get a flat and discover you’ve forgotten the bike pump.
I suppose I first started viewing running as a serious option when I was a little late getting out of school, and I missed the bus. I was 11. It wasn’t far, two miles perhaps three, it would be faster, or at least more fun just to run home. So I did. School uniform, shiny leather shoes, and all.
We moved back to the states, and my mother drove me to and from school (no more double decker buses, sigh). Then school acquired access to a computer! (Computers were not ubiquitous in the early seventies). There was one terminal. The person who got to it first could use it up until the start of classes. My parents (rightly) were not interested in carting me off to school early. So I started to run to school.
My mother told me that if the temperature was below 40 I had to wear a sweater. Other than that I was allowed to run to school. So I’d get up before everyone else, do my chores and run in. When the doors were unlocked I’d rush to the computer and claim the teletype.
Then the track coach noticed me. And I was forced onto the track team. I hated it. I’m not a miler. (I’m far worse at shorter distances). Once, and only once, we had a meet with a two mile race. It was the state championship for our division. I placed second in the state. My best performance in any race. Some runners from other schools came up to me afterward and congratulated me and told me they hadn’t taken me seriously because I was wearing normal shorts and not running shorts. That amused me.
After that year I refused to run track. It was too painful. I refused to run cross country too, though I might have found that more pleasant had I tried it.
Running continued to be an occasional mode of transportation.
In my mid twenties, a friend mentioned running a 6 minute mile. I wondered if I still could. I then lived in Pasadena, near CalTech, and I snuck over the fence one night and ran 4 times round the track. And, yes, I managed to break 6.
In my early thirties I was living in Boston. It was too snowy and icy to ride my bike to work that winter, so I would run. Or I’d drive one way (~8 miles), run home, run to work the next day and drive home. A friend tried to convince me to run the Boston marathon with him (mind you, neither of us had qualified). I decided to do it a week or two before the race. I did two ~30 mile runs on the remaining two saturdays before the race. So then I knew I could run that far. And then ran the race.
It was a cold day. I ran it in long pants and a button down shirt (the people at the finish line didn’t believe I’d run the whole thing because of my clothing).
I moved to SB. I started doing water quality monitoring of the state beaches around SB. One day I was biking out to Carp. and I got a flat on Ortega Hill. I looked at my watch. If I fixed my flat, I’d have to wait for the patch to dry — I would not get to Carp in time to meet the person I was helping. If I ran I thought I could make it. So I ran. It happened to be the day that the 3 day breast cancer walk was happening, and they were also walking over Ortega Hill. As I ran by someone showed out “Slow down, you idiot, it’s a walk, not a run.” Didn’t seem to occur to her that I might use running as a means of transportation rather than a way to make a statement.
I thought that was rather sad. That walking, running, are considered so unusual to us that these most natural and human (for what other animal can run as we do?) activities are only used to grab people’s attention, rather than to get places.
Later I heard about Pier to Peak. That sounded fun. No one would expect me to go fast on that race:-) I decided to run it. But not race it. So labor day morning (the day after the race) I locked my bike to Stern’s Wharf, and set off. A nice foggy morning. All the chalk marks were still visible. It took me about 2 hours to get up. I ended up racing a pair of cyclists, they were marginally faster than I, but they took breaks, so we’d pass and repass each other.
I enjoyed that. So the next year I signed up for the race (of course I still wasn’t training). It was sunny that year, and I went out far too fast, and had to stop and walk at the hairpin. Then I slowly started to train, and got more and more into running competitively.
Now I enjoy the races — except for the miles and the 5Ks. They are just too short (and too fast).
In 2005 I ran my second marathon, Big Sur, and loved it.
In 2009, to celebrate my 50th year, I ran my first 50 mile race, the White River run near Mt. Rainier. I came second in my age group (which was nice). It was also the USATF national championship race for 50 mile trail runs, and the guy ahead of me was not a USATF member — so… I became a national champion (which didn’t seem fair to the guy who beat me).
Snippets of narcissism.
When faced with ~20 different glazes in our pottery studio I set about, methodically testing every single permutation of two glazes. I threw 400 bowls for that series of tests, and another 100 odd bowls for other tests. It took me two years.
After spending years creating fonts with a font editing program, I got so frustrated that I went off and wrote my own. And have since become a font editor writer rather than a font designer.
I spent a dozen years traveling to Madagascar to study lemurs, at first as a vacation, but later I tried to become a professional primatologist — until I figured out that while I could bear a forest full of leaches for a month or two, they got annoying after four — and I regretfully had to give up that dream.
George W. Williams
Twenty-five random things virus
This is one of the few facebook viri which I have actually liked. So I import it here…
- All 8 of my great-grandparents, all 4 grandparents and both parents were born in the same city (Charleston, S.C.), but I was not.
- My father took us to London every 7 years (sabbaticals). We always lived in the same neighborhood (Blackheath). There were 4 trains an hour from Blackheath to central London.
- I was raised Episcopalian, and still am word for word on the pre-1980 prayerbook service, but I noticed in 10th grade that Christianity made no sense and became an atheist.
- My great-great-great-grandfather settled a little valley in northeast Georgia. The descendants of my great-grandfather still own half a (small) mountain on the edge of that valley and an old rambling house. We return to it every year. The valley is full of my distant cousins.
- I met my first computer in 10th grade (hmm. a lot happened that year). At first I tried to treat computer programs as mathematical proofs and they made no sense, once I realized they were completely different I became an avid programmer.
- I was taught French almost every year from first grade on.
- I was the third best first year latin scholar in North Carolina (again, in 10th grade). I remember almost no latin now.
- I used to run to school (by choice, I wanted first dibs at the one computer terminal we had and that was the only way to get it). Because of that I caught the coach’s eye and was forced to run track. I hated track. I’m a long distance runner. A mile (which was the longest race we trained for) is far too short. There was one (only one) meet where we had a two mile race — I was second best in the state for schools in our division.
- I went to school a mile from the best lemur research facility in the United States, and I never paid them any attention.
- My first job was at the local museum. The most memorable thing I did there was to paint the (full-sized) concrete Brontosaurus statue they had.
- My father directed Gilbert&Sullivan operettas when I was a child, and my siblings and I were usually walk-ons. As a senior in high-school I got my first real role (Creon in Antigone). I did no more theater until after I graduated from college. Then I got deeply involved in theater at CIT. When I moved to Santa Barbara there were two groups I loved acting with, but both died over time. My favorite role is Leonado in Much Ado, a part completely misunderstood by the movie.
- When I lived in Boston a friend convinced me to run the Boston Marathon (neither of us had qualified). I didn’t realize people were expected to train, I thought you just went out and ran. I did do a 30 mile run two days before the race, just to make sure I could go the distance. I wore long corduroy pants in the race because it was cold that day.
- I wanted to do something unusual for a vacation, so I joined an EarthWatch expedition to study caymen in Brasil. That was so much fun that I kept doing more, tracked moray eels in the Belize reef, studied bamboo houses in Thailand, mouse-opossums in Bolivia, and toque macaques in Sri Lanka.
- And I studied ringtailed lemurs in Madagascar, again, and again, and again. And lizards in Madagascar (I caught a juvenile of the smallest chameleon species in the world, which was about 1cm long). And studied other lemur species. I taught myself cartography and made maps of four different lemur study sites. I got my name as a co-author on a number of papers on lemur behavior.
- In April, lemurs go nuts and start tearing up the ground. There is a strange fruit that ripens underground (Hydnora esculenta) which lemurs love. It is the fruit of a parasitic plant with no above ground parts, just strange hexagonal roots (which latch on to the roots of Acacias and such-like), flowers which just poke above ground and these fruits which develop right below it.
- I studied bamboo lemurs too. Three species of ‘em. These little guys (they weigh a couple of kilos each) can eat enough cyanide in a day to kill a human.
- I was so traumatized by high school track that I didn’t run any more races (except for the Boston marathon) for almost 30 years. Then I learned about Pier to Peak in Santa Barbara, a half-marathon that starts at sea-level (on the pier) and climbs to the top of the tallest nearby peak, roughly 4000ft up. Ah ha! No one will expect me to go fast on that course! it sounded safe. So I tried it one year, I ran it the day after the race because I didn’t want to register and didn’t want to be a bandit. And it was fun. So the next year I ran it for real… and then I was hooked.
- I wrote a web browser/editor back in 1994.
- My father wrote a book about Renaissance printing techniques and how these affected the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays (My father is a textual bibliographer and looks for possible errors in the text of the plays and tries to second guess those errors to get at what Shakespeare actually intended to say). He turned to me one day after the book was published and told me that he expected me to write a book on digital typography. Instead I wrote what is arguably the second best font design program in the world today.
- I took up pottery shortly after I moved to Santa Barbara. It took me ten years, but eventually I became reasonably good at it . I’m now a pottery TA at the local adult ed program.
- My apartment is so full of books and pottery and computers that there is no room in it for me, much less anyone else.
- A friend dragged me off to a yoga class and I found to my amazement that I loved it. I started training to be a yoga teacher, but stopped when I discovered they really expected you to believe in a god (didn’t matter which, or what kind, but some god).
- I tried Pilates too. I enjoy that as well — it doesn’t require me to believe in a god — but the most entertaining things use a lot of equipment. So it isn’t as pristine as yoga.
- I like to walk on the beach and take pictures of the setting sun.
- I’ve just become webmaster for the local running club. The web has changed considerably from 1994.
- I make all my own bread.
- I call my parents most week-ends.