UMKC Regalia Run 5K 2015 recap

Posted September 28, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Regalia Run 5K kit

Sunday was the third annual UMKC Regalia Run 5K, and this was the third time I ran it. I’ve been in on this race from the start, and I hope to keep running it every year, regardless of wherever else my feet may take me.

Just as with the Plaza 10K two weeks ago, I didn’t look up my prior time; I just wanted to run this one and enjoy it rather than try to set a personal record for the third time. Rather than get up at my usual freakish time Sunday, I slept in until about 4:30 and then puttered around the house, brushing my teeth thoroughly (there’s nothing worse than finding some annoying bit of food stuck in your teeth when you have miles to pound out — really, nothing is worse), and dressing in my kit slowly. I wore what you see above plus compression shorts, calf sleeves, and socks. Look at those poor shoes of mine. They don’t even have 300 miles on them yet, but they look beat up. Most of that look is due to a patch of mud I encountered on an early morning (dark) run along the paved trail. My headlamp didn’t distinguish the mud from the dark trail, and I was well into it before I felt the squish and slide beneath my feet. So, muddy shoes. I had intended to wear a compression shirt as well to help me stay warm, but Libby deterred me, which proved to be a wise thing.

We got to the university about an hour and a half before the race, so I drove the course. It was the same course as last year, so I knew what to expect, and driving it did not turn up any surprises other than a dead animal at about mile two, smashed in the middle of the road. The route is hilly with three long hills (I’d say at least half of the 3.1 miles was uphill), and not only an uphill start but an uphill finish as well. That’s just mean.

Volunteers from the School of Nursing at the university had a tent set up and would give general medical advice as well as take your blood pressure. My BP has always been good, but I wanted to get my numbers both before and after the run, just for comparison. My pre-race blood pressure was 132/62, which the nurse assured me was very good. (Yes, the top number could have been a little lower, but she said that BP is often higher just after waking and/or consuming caffeine, and I’d had iced tea, unsweetened, of course).

There was a lot of standing around, milling about, and general waiting as the runners assembled and stood in the sun that was creeping over the trees. For whatever reason, the run did not start on time. The official start time came and went, and no one had moved to the start line. Eventually, through some unheard prompt, the crowd did head over to the start, and I joined them. I was told that there were 213 runners and walkers that morning, so I picked a spot before the arch that I thought would be near the back of the pack. I misjudged and found I was in the first third of the group. That didn’t really matter other than that it meant more people would surge past me at the start, which is fine.

The sound system was terrible; it sounded like a sick cricket, and most of the runners around me chattered away even as the “celebrity” announcers did all of the usual thank you’s and pep talk. (The celebrity announcers were a husband and wife news team on the local NBC station, both of whom happened to graduate from UMKC — as I had, but they’ve not asked me to be a celebrity announcer yet.) With all of the usual stuff out of the way, there was a countdown, and then the air horn blasted, and we were off. I got my watch online just as I crossed the starting mats, trudging up the hill and into the first turn of the morning.

I had gone into this run with some unspecified anxiety. Perhaps it was from having run a hard six miles the morning before. Or the ongoing dread of the upcoming marathon (next month). Or whatever the general malaise is that has been clouding my running life of late. Whatever the cause, the anxiety disappeared as soon as the feet began moving across the pavement. That’s nearly always the case, and it’s a good tonic. (Later that evening I succumbed to a head cold that kept me out of work today. The early stages of this probably contributed to my anxiety without me realizing it.)

With a shortish bit of uphill out of the way in the first quarter mile, we were soon on a flat section before a nice, long downhill stretch. My wife was waiting for me at a corner along this downhill, so I straightened up and closed my gaping maw long enuf to look as though I was in control and having a dandy time. She took a photo that was soon on social media, but I had miles to go, so I gave her a wave and pressed on.

The pack had thinned by this point, my lungs were reluctantly in the game, and I looked up to see who was beside me, ahead of me, behind me, and racing past me, assuming I would be with this crew, more or less, for the rest of the run. This pretty much was the case, though a few left me far behind, and a few I managed to get ahead of and stay ahead of. There was one man ahead of me, running at about my pace, who looked to be around my age. I told myself I should pass him and keep him passed, just as a challenge. But a part of me also thought that if he was in my age group, and I came in fourth (for the age group), I would regret not passing him and collecting the accolades for coming in third. I had no illusions about this, though. I didn’t come close to placing in my age group last year, and in fact, I have never placed in any of my runs. (There was a long period when I first started attending races where I successfully defended my position as last in my age group.) But it was a little mental calculus that pushed me along a bit.

I think it was Isaac Newton who said that for every downhill there is an equal and opposite uphill. That was certainly the case with this run. Since the course was the same as last year, and since my wife and I had just driven it an hour or so before, I knew that this hill was waiting for me. It was a long hill, climbing past the sculpture garden at the art museum. The sun was out. The run down the hill behind me went a little faster than I should have allowed. My cockiness in passing that man may have caught up with me, because that man now caught up with me, most likely because I stopped running and began walking up the hill. I had not wanted to do this. A 5K is only 3.1 miles. I should be able to run that whole distance without difficulty. (I’ve run 13.1 miles nonstop before.) But my body wasn’t having it. I could have staggered at something like a run up that long hill, but I think it would have pretty much destroyed whatever stamina or control I had for the rest of the run. So I walked. Maybe only a third of the hill. But I walked. I was not proud of that as I watched the man of my age run past me and continue to run up the hill.

So I did what I do in these situations. I picked a lamp post ahead of me and told myself that when I reached that point, I would begin running again. And as I usually do, I started running before I reached that lamp post. It wasn’t too long after this that I reached the top of the hill and made the turn on a short flat stretch. This was about the halfway point of the run, and ahead was the one water station. I trotted up, my hand held out so the volunteers would know to give me a cup, and I said what I usually do in these situations. I looked at the water and said, “No Bud Light?” That always gets a laugh, though I expect that eventually someone is either going to recognize me as “that guy” and not laugh or else have a can of Bud Light ready to hand me. (As funny as that would be, I wouldn’t drink it. Most runs happen in the morning, and I wouldn’t want all of that carbonation sloshing around in my stomach, especially since I couldn’t throw away the can only half emptied. That would just be wrong.)

After the water station, we had a nice, long downhill to match the uphill I had walked a part of. I had a clear view of the course before me, perhaps for as much as a mile, and I knew that once I had covered that distance, I would have only the final, cruel uphill to the finish arch. Two things happened at this point. The first was that I passed the dead animal my wife and I had spotted during our earlier drive through. It was a former opossum, it was thick with flies, and it was rank. The second thing was that I caught up with the man I had so glibly passed before. I caught up with him and I passed him again, and I decided to keep him behind me for the rest of the run. Fortunately, I had the long downhill to help me with this, and I put as much distance between us as I could on that hill.

Which may have been a tactical error because I ran out of gas with less than a half mile to go. I was walking again. The man was still behind me, but he had kept running. So I walked until I felt I was sufficiently rested, then took up my running pace again. We were back in the campus by this time, and I knew what hills remained. Basically, all of the last half mile was uphill, some of it steeper than other parts. But uphill nonetheless. I did more mental math. I looked back to see where the man was (really, you should never look back in a run) and calculated how much more rest I could grab before a face-saving sprint to the finish arch. I suspect that the man was having as much trouble with the hills as I was, and I thought his running pace would slow when he reached the steepest parts of the last bit, so I walked for a third time. This was for a much shorter distance, but it was certainly welcome. (And I had not been the only walker at any of these points.)

Coming around the last turn, I could see the green finish arch near the top of the hill. It was the same hill we waited on for the race to begin, so here at the end I would run up the part I hadn’t run up before. And I put my rest to good use, running as hard as I could up the hill and to the arch. I remember hearing several people cheering that I was giving it a hard finish. I guess I was.

I crossed the mats and turned off my watch, noting that it registered my run as only 3.02 miles, rather than the 3.1 miles of a full 5K. I can’t explain that. I didn’t cut any corners. I even ran some of the turns wide to give a high five to the police or volunteers there. Whatever the explanation, I had started and finished under the arch, and the distance was considered official.

I collected my bottle of water, had the timing chip cut from my shoe, and was given my colorful medal, as you see below. (It’s the one on the left.)

Regalia Run 5K bling

My wife found me, and I made my way over to the Nursing School tent to have my blood pressure taken again. This time is was 150/62. The nurse was amazed. The top number was expected to be higher after a run, but so was the bottom number, yet it wasn’t. She said my heart sounded strong and that the unchanged lower number (after the run) was a sign of real fitness. Me!

I then found the chocolate milk (and consumed five cartons before my wife dragged me away). Since my watch recorded a different distance, I couldn’t rely on that time to be an accurate representation of a 5K, so we waited around for official numbers to be posted.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was not my fastest 5K, and I would have guessed this one wouldn’t be a personal record given the walking I did. When I found my official number, placing me at 80th overall (out of nearly 200 who eventually completed) I didn’t take note of my time. I would be able to look it up online later. So I turned to my wife and thought about heading to a well-earned pancake breakfast.

But something about my listing made me want to go back and look at it again. There was an unlikely number in one of the columns beside my name. I wouldn’t let myself admit to what it meant, and so I waited for more of the tallies to be posted. And then it was confirmed.

I had completed third in my age group! Me!

That has never happened before. I’ve never held any expectations of placing in my age group. I’d always joked that the only time I would ever get third in my age group was when there were only two in my age group. And yet I had done it. And there were seven men in my age group for this race, so it was a legitimate win.

There would be a ceremony when age group awards would be announced and handed out, but that was most of an hour away as they waited for all of the runners/walkers on the course to come in and then hold the Kangaroo Hop for the little kids. (Kasey the Kangaroo is the mascot of UMKC. Kasey was originally drawn by Walt Disney.) With a busy day ahead of us, we didn’t want to wait around, so I went to the awards table and collected the other medal you see above. The bronze one for third in my age group. And then we left. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed for the ceremony. This may be the only time I will ever get such an award, and I should have reveled in it rather than dashing off.

I will do the Regalia Run again next year, but I expect it to be stressful since at least a part of me will want to place in my age group again. And at the least, I won’t want to be defeated by those hills, so I’ll probably train extra hard.


Plaza 10K 2015 recap

Posted September 14, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Plaza 10K 2015

This was my third year running the Plaza 10K. I have loved this run, perhaps because it is generally my first for the fall racing season, or because the course is mostly flat (except for one long but not steep hill at mile four and one steep but not long hill at mile five and a half), or because just about everyone in town runs this so I see plenty of familiar faces, or because the after party is great (even for slower runners like me who often find the goodies all gone by the time we stagger across the finish line). I had signed up for this run on the day the registration opened months and months ago.

After the last few weeks of serious competition between the heat and the humidity to see which could post a higher number at the exact hour each day when I would run, we’ve experienced a weekend respite from the heat. When I rose at my usual freakishly early hour on Sunday (3:00) and let the dogs out, the temperature was a chilly 54 degrees (though the humidity was at 80% and rose through the next few hours). I had run the morning before under nearly the same conditions — and for the same distance — and did well, so I set out a similar combination of skimpy plastic clothes and trusted that I would survive on race morning.

That’s my newish running watch in the photo above. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 15, replacing my older Nike SportWatch that I’d worn for nearly three years. The SportWatch was taking longer to find satellites and didn’t seem to be holding a charge (which was getting to be a problem since my Sunday long runs might last four or more hours — not all of that time in actual running of course). I had accumulated enuf gift cards to pay for a new watch, so I got the Garmin in the summer and began fooling around with it. It grabs a satellite almost instantly, but the little icon on the face showing battery life is frustratingly vague, so I’m never clear just how much running time I can expect from it. (I guess I’ll find out at the marathon next month.) I chose not to wear the gloves after all. Not shown are my new calf sleeves, my socks, or the compression shorts and shirt I wore as a base layer (shorts for chafing, shirt for chill and also chafing in a couple of personal areas). Those are my newish shoes. They only have about 200 miles on them, and I try to get at least 300 miles out of a pair of running shoes, but these feel completely worn out already. I get mild ankle and knee aches after every run, which are generally signs that it’s time to replace shoes. I bought these online from a discount outlet, which is something I had vowed never to do since I want to support local merchants who give advice and lore along with the shoes and gear they sell, but at less than half the retail price (even with my running club discount at the store) I felt I couldn’t  spend the extra bucks at the store. I’m now rethinking that. I wonder if the online outlet sells seconds or factory rejects or something like that.

But anyway, about the race . . .

I got to the race (the Country Club Plaza district in Kansas City) about an hour before the start and tried to stay out of the breeze since it was in the fifties then and the sun was not up (also, skimpy clothes). Crowds were gathering. Just over 3,000 runners and walkers eventually crossed the finish line (I would have guessed more), and I was among them. I was at the back of the pack in the chute waiting for the start. Even after the horn sounded and the elites took off, several minutes passed before my part of the pack was crossing the starting mats and on our way.

The course has remained unchanged in the three years I’ve run it (I can’t speak for the two years before that), so I knew what was ahead: the turns and hills and flats as well as the discouragement and the screaming lungs and the eventual resignation to see how far I could go before taking a walking break. I had a bad start, not because I was going too fast or because everyone was surging past me (both of which were true). Something is bugging me about running lately. Perhaps it is merely the summer heat and humidity that made most of my recent runs so miserable. Maybe now that better weather is here, I will come back to the satisfaction and challenge of it all. Or maybe it was from too much carb loading the day before. Or the funeral I went to then. Whatever the reason, my mind was not in the right place for this run, and I truly questioned why I was doing this to myself as I trotted along. (I got no answer.) I had done a short warm-up run before the start just to jolt my lungs into what was to be expected of them; my lungs are the least willing part of me to run, though they tend to come around after a mile or so. And the first mile passed before I realized it. (My new watch chirps at each mile, a feature that I like, so far.) So I told myself that I would push myself to run at least as far as mile two, or at the very most, to the first water station, which was just after mile 2. But then I remembered that my support crew (wife and oldest son) was going to be waiting for me somewhere along there (with phone cameras ready) and that I had to run at least until I was well past them, so I didn’t really know where I could give in to my woe and self doubt.

Fortunately, this was all along a nice flat stretch that took us into the rising sun toward an eventual long downhill. The lungs were more or less in the game by then, and the legs were doing okay. Much of running is mental, so it was really the demons in my head I was fighting. And for the moment, I was winning. I saw my wife and son just where I expected them, and since I saw them first, I straightened up, plastered something like a smile on my face, and gave them a wave. Photos of me soon wound up on social media. Then it was onward.

Part of what I like about this run is that it takes us through 6.2 of the prettiest miles in the city. After leaving the Plaza shopping district, we were soon passing the art museum and some nice homes. To our left right was Brush Creek, recently beautified by the Corps of Engineers (though they will say it was all for flood control), and we ran along this for nearly a mile before turning and running along it on the other side. As I was still heading into the sun, I could see plenty of runners already on the other side of the river, far, far ahead of me. Of course I was not racing any one of them; I was only racing with myself and maybe with last year’s finish time, though I told myself I would not try to beat it and just run for fun. (I wasn’t having the fun part however.)

Eventually my feet carried me to the bridge that turned us to the west and along the other side of the river. There is a long, gradual uphill here, and it is so gradual that it’s hard to even see it. But my lungs knew it was there. Surprisingly, I was still running. I hadn’t given in to that large part of me that said it was okay to walk. (Earlier a part of me tried to make the case that it was okay to quit. I have never done that in a race. Ever.) The second water station was about half way up this long hill. As a beginning runner, I used to disdain the water stations. I never felt thirsty, so I assumed they were there for the weak. But after I hit The Wall on my first half marathon (two years ago), I started re-thinking my fueling and hydration strategy. Now I take a cup or two from every water station (unless some group of noobs is stopped in front of it having a confab). I’ve never hit the wall since. Unfortunately, this second water station was not staged well, and there was really only one chance for me to grab an extended cup (of Gatorade) unless I was going to stop, which by then I thought maybe I just wouldn’t. The cup was larger than I’ve usually seen, and it was full. I appreciate the generosity (and the Gatorade was not watered down), but jostling a full cup of Gatorade and trying to get it mostly into my mouth resulted in much of it getting on my face, spotting my glasses and making my fingers sticky. (I learned very early in my running life how irritating little things can be when you’re stuck with them as you’re fighting to keep body and mind working toward a goal far ahead.)

But soon I was at mile five, a bit astonished that I was still running after I had promised myself that I could certainly rest — without shame — at every mile along the way. Believe me, I wanted to walk. I think that was secretly why I told myself that I wasn’t going to try to best my time from last year, that I was going to take this run more easily — so I could walk. But with little over a mile left to go, even I would be ashamed to stop running now. So on I pressed, the Gatorade spotting my glasses, my lungs periodically telling me I was an idiot, my self doubt never far away.

But the finish arch wasn’t far away either. The last real challenge of the course was a short but steepish hill at about mile 5.5. I knew it was coming. I’d run it before. It wasn’t that big. And after that, it was almost literally downhill all the way to the finish. From somewhere I had dredged up the conviction to finish the race at a run. I turned into the hill and trudged to the top (really, it was only about one block, and I doubt the elevation change was even 15 feet, so don’t let my florid words fool you). Plus, I was passing people. Not a lot of them. But for the last two miles, I was gaining on people ahead of me and then passing them.

After the top of this little hill (it really was a non-event despite my anticipation) I was in the home stretch. I doubted that I had any kick left for the last hundred feet (when I generally try to finish strong), but I knew I would run the entire distance, which was a big surprise to the man who had started the run.

The last turn was back into the Country Club Plaza, and it leads to a gentle downhill toward the finish arch. Despite my being near the back of the pack, there were still plenty of spectators along the side, cheering and waving signs and ringing cowbells. (I hate cowbells!) And though I hadn’t consciously intended it, my legs were beating out a much faster pace than I thought they could. It was as though they had decided to finish strong, even if my brain was unconvinced of the idea.

The finish chute was the usual mess of congestion. We have to stop and get the timing chips cut from our shoes. We have to collect a bottle of water if we wish. And we have to be given our finisher medal (see below) in an unceremonious and hurried manner. (I think at only two races was the medal ever hung around my neck.) All of this lead to a big pile up of people so soon after beating across the finish line as fast as I could. I know this could be organized a lot better; I’ve seen it. So it annoys me that this happens so much.

The first time I ran the Plaza 10K (three years ago) I set a personal record for that distance. Granted, I had only run four 10Ks prior to that, but the record held for the subsequent 10Ks I ran until I did the Plaza 10K a year later, setting a new personal record by nearly four minutes. And that record has been unbeaten since. As I said, I ran this year with no intention of setting a record, either for this particular event or for my 10Ks overall. For this reason, I hadn’t looked up my time from last year, so I had no idea whether my time this year was a new record or, as I felt in my heart, an embarrassment to my running life. Plus, my running watch recorded the distance as 6.33 miles, so whatever time it told me wouldn’t be a fair comparison with prior 6.2 mile runs. I had to wait until I got home and the official results were posted online to get my actual number.

And, it turned out, I had beaten my best by nearly two minutes!

I had not expected this. Not one bit. Further, I managed a negative split; my last whole mile was my fastest mile, even with that steep hill in it. (The last two-tenths of the run was even faster, but that was downhill, and my legs were in charge then.)

I collected my medal and my bottle of water, then I came across a friend and congratulated her on her finish. Soon after that my wife and son found me and we chatted as I recovered. Then I went in search of chocolate milk. (I drank seven cartons of the stuff, and every drop was delicious!). There was some milling around I could have done. Bagels I could have consumed. Swag I could have collected. The usual post-run exhibition stuff, but I was ready to go, so we left and found a salad at the same restaurant where I normally end my Sunday long runs.

The fact is, I was not happy about the run, despite my PR. I finished it and was eager to walk away. I find myself questioning why I’m doing this. That’s a strange thing to be happening in my head.

I currently have only two races on my dance card: a 5K at my old university, which I’ve run every year since its inception, and the Kansas City Marathon, which has been fomenting low-grade terror in my heart for months. Normally I would have at least one race lined up for each month this time of year (and it’s never too late to sign up for one) but I find myself reluctant and I’m not sure why. The fees aren’t that onerous (and my company pays for most of them as a benefit). I’m training as much as ever, so I feel as though I am prepared. The races are nearly always a good time and I’m glad I’ve done them when they’re behind me. But something is holding me back.

I think it is the marathon looming out there next month. I ran the Portland Marathon last year and I lived, which is a perfectly acceptable outcome for a first timer, I think. But there is something about this second attempt that worries me. I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it is merely dread of the inevitable pain and suffering to come. I suspect it’s something deeper than that though. Or maybe not. Maybe when I cross that finish line whatever anxiety I have will dissolve. Regardless, I haven’t signed up for any races beyond that as I wait to see what my running outlook will be like.

P10K bling

“Travel Light” travels again

Posted September 8, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags: ,

My previously published story “Travel Light” (Penduline Press, 2013) has been accepted for reprinting in an upcoming issue of If and Only If Journal. Specifically, it will appear in Issue 3, which means sometime next year.

If and Only If is an online magazine that features creative work about body image and eating disorders. Certainly my character, Chris Newton, can fall into that category.

I have a few stories on submission here and there. Mostly I’m getting nicely worded rejections, but it’s nice also to get the occasional acceptance.

have I read this book?

Posted September 2, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , , ,

So I completed re-reading The Flight from the Enchanter the other night, and I enjoyed my second trip through it, confirming that Iris Murdoch is worth reading and re-reading. But I must confess that I only remembered one scene and only a few of the characters from my first reading. It was as though I had never read the novel once before.

Granted, I had read it originally many years ago — as much as a decade ago. (I could look it up because, like everyone else in the world, I keep a list of the books I’ve read and the date I completed them.) But can I say I’ve actually read a book, gave it a serious and thoughtful reading, if I can’t remember it years later?

Certainly there have been many books I’ve read that are not worth remembering, and there have been many that are intentionally light weight — “beach reading” is a common term for these — that are meant to be enjoyed at the time and then left behind. But what can I say about myself and my “serious” reading if I can’t remember a novel years after I’ve read it? Did I really read it with the seriousness it deserved? Did I pause and reflect on elegant passages, humorous scenes, unexpected insights? Did I give the novel the attention it deserved?

I suppose that parts of the novel have entered the matrix of thoughts that make up what passes for my consciousness in ways I don’t recognize. (In fact, generally when I have a sudden insight about something, I question whether the thought is one of my own or something I’ve recycled from another but don’t recognize.) I suppose the first reading left impressions I’m not aware of but use in the ceaseless conversation of ideas that goes on in my head. At least, I’m going to tell myself that.

I’ve read Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer more than thirty times. I know that story well. I know the characters. The scenes. The humor. The pathos. And yet, each time I read it, I find something new in it, something I hadn’t seen in my other visits. I’ve often said that I don’t think you can begin to know a novel until you’ve read it a second time. It just bugs me with Enchanter that it is as though my second time is my first time.

when a rejection isn’t a rejection.

Posted August 31, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Okay, so it’s really an actual rejection. The magazine will not be publishing my story. But I can milk a little satisfaction out of this, can’t I?

I sent one of my Fathers and Sons stories, “Father’s Day,” to a magazine that had called for pieces that addressed catharsis in some way. Two months passed. Then I received a very nice rejection letter from the editor. She said that she really liked the 3,900 word story I’d sent but that she would have to decline it because in the two months since she made the call, she had changed her guidelines, limiting the pieces she would accept to no more than 1,500 words.

Well, darn!

Flight from the Enchanter

Posted August 24, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , , ,

So as you know since you read this humble blog so avidly, I have embarked on re-reading the entire canon of Iris Murdoch fiction. (Her nonfiction, mostly discussing moral philosophy, is so deep that it is over my head, which is a mixed metaphor if ever there was one, right?) I’m now on her second novel, The Flight from the Enchanter, which was originally published in 1956 (and which makes it even older than I am).

In addition to re-reading the novels, I am hoping to rebuild my collection of them (don’t ask me why — I don’t know), having donated most of my first set to a small town library, which actually added them to their collection. Alas, it appears that hardback copies of Murdoch novels are being collected; they are hard to find, and when I do come across them in a store or online, they are expensive. So I settled for a broken-spined paperback edition of Enchanter when I came across it at Powell’s Books on my last visit to Portland. Tattered cover. Tiny print. Brown, brittle pages. Spine barely holding it all together.

And a surprise inside.

The edition I found was printed in 1973. When I reached page 50, still sorting out all of the characters and their relationships and trying to keep the pages from falling onto the floor, I came across a small cash register receipt from the original purchase, back in July of 1973. The receipt was from the Honolulu Book Store. What a find! Someone bought this paperback when it was newly issued, perhaps hoping for some light beach reading during a summer vacation to Hawai’i. And found out that Iris Murdoch ain’t light reading. Apparently the person got as far as page 50 and gave it up.

And had no one opened this particular copy of the novel since that time? Had the receipt lay in wait for my discovery forty years later? It’s tempting to think so; little surprises/mysteries like this hold a fascination for me. (See my guerilla marketing post for something like this.) More likely, this copy has passed through many hands over the decades, in some cases never having been begun and so traded away, or in others started and given up. Or, I like to think, treated as I have. The receipt found during a reading and lovingly preserved in situ for the next reader.

I suspect I will be the last reader of this copy. I intend to keep it on my shelf indefinitely. And should it ever be taken to a bookstore or donated to a small-town library, I think it will probably be rejected as too broken down. It may be that this particular copy never falls into another reader’s hands again, and so the little surprise inside won’t delight anyone else.

Life is full of these little mysteries, I think, and the trick is to be open and on the watch for them.


running in the dark: an update

Posted August 19, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

If you read my faux-harrowing post of last week, “running in the dark,” you know that I rise at an insane hour and go running to beat the summer heat. You’ll also know that I was not accosted, molested, bested, or arrested from that “incident.”

But the frisson lingered, and I have done a little “research” since then.

Two days later, I ran much of that same route, passing through the same park and stopping at the shelter for water and a few minutes of rest. This second time through was in the late afternoon, with plenty of light and people all around. There was no hulking, humanish mass at the picnic table this time, but the bathrooms were closed and locked. In the winter they are locked because, I imagine, the water is shut off due to the freezing cold. But in the summer this park is used by runners and cyclists on the trail, families with young children who use the playground, and dozens and dozens of tennis players who pack the many courts laid out there. All of them might have use for the bathrooms on a Monday afternoon. Yet they were locked tight.

Had an incident occurred there two days before perhaps? Had that hulking, humanish mass caused some kind of trouble? I don’t know, and perhaps I don’t want to know.

But I ran the same route again last Saturday morning, coming to the shelter in the pre-dawn dark just as I had the week before. This time, however, I scanned the picnic tables as well as I could in the twilight for any masses that didn’t belong there. (Technically, I didn’t belong there either since the park officially opens at dawn.) I saw no one and was able not only to get a drink and take a few moments of rest but to use the bathroom that was unlocked and open again.

It was when I was leaving the shelter to finish the latter part of my run (another 3.5 miles or so) that I saw something else unnerving. On the sidewalk outside the shelter was a fresh, wet pool of liquid that in the pale light looked blood red. Yikes! Part of me wanted to take off running, and not on the trail but on the lighted, street-side sidewalk. But another part of me wanted to know what that blood-red liquid was. (And if it turned out to be blood, to call the police, of course.)

My phone happens to have a powerful light in it, and while I didn’t want to draw attention to myself with a bright light if I was in a freshly minted crime scene (there was a dark van parked in the lot nearby), I told myself I was being silly and that it surely wasn’t blood.

So I figured out how to use the light on my phone, and I bent over the liquid to see if I could make out what it was. And I could.

It was pasta sauce.

What pasta sauce was doing looking so freshly spilled on that bit of sidewalk at that unholy hour of the morning, I couldn’t say. It was quite liquid, and it hadn’t been discovered by the local fauna yet (no lap marks, no red paw prints nearby). But it wasn’t blood.

As the weather cools, I won’t have to start my morning runs so early. That means I probably won’t be running most of my miles in the dark and certainly, by the time I reach this park on the trail, I won’t be coming in without being able to see everything clearly.

They say runners find the bodies. I hope that never happens to me.


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