Archive for the ‘Running’ category

regarding leprechauns and running

October 8, 2018

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was making notes about a story with a leprechaun in it. I want to say that I don’t write fantasy, and maybe by some definitions of the genre I don’t, but I just counted, and six of my twenty-nine published stories have a fantastic element that drives the plot, seven if you want to loop in science fiction. That’s more than the number of my stories that involve running as important to the plot, which surprises me.

I “finished” the new story, the one that involves the leprechaun (though you wouldn’t recognize him as such on a first reading, and he’s not the central character). This story doesn’t change the math though since it involves both fantasy and running.

I’m calling it “BQ,” which may mean something to a few of you. It’s made clear in the story what that references. Right now it sits at 2,200+ words though I think that may increase a bit as I fortify the growth of the character in the plot.

After I wrote the last words of the story — last words that came to me unbidden and really, really summed up the theme (as though by magic) — I gave the story a read through out loud and really liked what I heard. I realize this is tempting fate, being so confident about a story at such an early stage, but sometimes my stories do develop this way. I guess this is the story I had hoped to write during my week in Seattle; it just came to me in its own time.

So I’ll let it gestate for a while and continue to tinker with it. But I already have a journal in mind that I think will like it. Nice way to start a week.

in retrospect

October 2, 2018

it may have been a bad idea to go for a bike ride Sunday after my first running race in a year. My quads are really, really angry with me right now!

UMKC Regalia Run 5K 2018 ~ race recap

October 1, 2018

About what you’d expect from someone who hadn’t run a step in 11 months and was running poorly in the six months prior to that.

So I ran the UMKC Regalia Run 5K again this year. I’ve participated it every year since its inception six years ago, and I’d decided that whatever else I might do/not do in my running life, I would continue to participate in this. It’s only due to that vow that I signed up; I haven’t found whatever spark or motivation I once had for running. I want to, and I’d taken up bike riding in the hope that it would segue into running again, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Anyway, on with the gruesome details. As I said, I hadn’t trained for this one single bit, and that certainly showed in my performance. We arrived at the University early and did our customary sitting around. In past years it has been colder, and last year it was raining, but this year was favorable: the temps were in the 60s, and while the sky was overcast, there was no threat of rain. Shortly before the race started, the start/finish arch collapsed, which some might have taken as a sign of things to come. It seems that the fan that kept the arch inflated had died. Not to worry, though, for the outfit running the event had a back-up fan installed quickly. (A random man in the crowd turned to me and said he was amazed that anyone would have thought to have a back-up fan, but I guess this has happened before.)

If you’ve read my past accounts of this race (except for last year when I didn’t post one out of disgust with myself), you know that both the start and the finish are uphill. That’s evil, of course, but it’s also tradition now. There was the usual speechifying before the start, most of which was inaudible due to poor technology. (Tech is not my thing, of course, but this hasn’t been a problem in the past.) Eventually they got to the countdown, and then we were off.

I had told myself not to expect anything, good or bad, in my performance. If by some miracle I could run long, I would. And if I needed to walk, I would. Before the first quarter mile, I was already walking. It was clear that no miracle was going to befall me this day. The run/walk strategy is what I relied on for the duration of the run. I ran as much of the downhill stretches as I could, thinking that I merely had to throw one foot in front of the other and just let gravity do the hard work, but even that wasn’t something I could sustain. I managed to run past my wife, who was stationed in her usual place about a half mile after the start. And I kept challenging myself to run to this or that point I identified on the course ahead of me. I even ran up parts of some of the long hills. But to be honest, I probably walked half of the 3.1 miles. It was not my best 5K, and I’m too intimidated to look in my records to see if it might actually be my worst 5K.

It would be easy to take discouragement from this. When I ran the KC Half Marathon in October of last year (also not documented here), I did so poorly that I asked myself why I was even doing these things at all if that was all the better I could do. I found myself asking this same question during the 5K, but I shouted it down. I knew I hadn’t trained. I knew to expect a poor performance. The fact that I’d entered at all was a contradiction of my negative mindset.

My hope is that this run will be a turning point, that I’ll lace up and get some training in now. Notably, I did not wear my running watch to the race. I think part of the reason I lost my enthusiasm for running was that I was overanalyzing my performance. Rather than just getting out and grabbing some miles for exercise and training, I was obsessing over my times and pace and distance. All I could learn from that was that I wasn’t running as I had in my youth (four whole years earlier, that is). So when I crossed the finish line at this 5K — running! uphill! — I had no idea what my time was, whether it was close to respectable or further evidence that I should quit. (And I didn’t learn my time until I got home and looked it up online.)

But some points:

  • Had I finished only four minutes faster, I would have gotten third in my age group, which I had done once before at this race.
  • Had I finished a little over six minutes faster, I would have beaten my time for the race from last year.
  • I had finished in the top two-thirds of all runners of the 5K. There were nearly 40 finishers behind me.
  • Had I trained at all for this, I am sure I could have turned in a better performance, both in terms of finish time and the physical exhaustion I felt, which strongly suggests to me that I’m not without hope (at least in terms of running).
  • No complaints.* No throbbing knees or screaming ankles. Even my hips, commonly the least enthusiastic member of the team, bitched not. My quads were a bit angry, but a brief (brief because it hurt!) session with the foam roller helped enuf that I was able to get on my bike later that day for a dozen miles. It was only at the end of the day that I took two ibuprofen.

I could say that I have nothing on my racing dance card, but that’s not quite right. In fact, I am signed up for a one mile run, a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon. All within a few days of each other. And all at Disney World in January. My offspring decided that the best way to honor my personal odometer turning over a significant number this year was to take the whole family (10 adults and six children, who will all be under 4 years old) to Disney World for a week. I’m not going to run in all of those events, but I’m thinking of doing the 5K and then the half marathon, which was always my favorite distance for a race.

*Okay, one complaint, but not from my poor body. When I finished, there were only three cartons of chocolate milk left — for everyone! This race has been bad about having chocolate milk. I think in the six years I’ve run this, only one time did they have copious amounts of chocolate milk.

so I did a thing

September 3, 2018

As you probably know, I haven’t run a step since last October. That was when I did the Kansas City Half Marathon (with essentially no training) and did so poorly that I asked myself why I was doing it at all. (I still haven’t found an answer to that, but I think I need to; I have a 5K coming up later this month.) I don’t know if I’ve walked away from the noble sport of running or if I’m merely taking a break. A break is not uncommon from what I understand, but the longer my break lasts, the harder it’s going to be to get back into running.

Perhaps to alleviate that or to find an indirect way back, I got myself a bike. This is the latest in an almost unbroken series of bikes I’ve had since my earliest memories, perhaps the most memorable being a gold Stingray bike with raised handlebars and a banana seat. I called it Tiger Paws. I went everywhere on that bike when I was a boy. My last bike was taken from me when my son moved out, as I recall. It had hung from the garage ceiling for several years, untouched because I was, well, running. When that stopped, I no longer had that bike, and with the nagging in my head to get back to running increasing, I knew I had to do something to find a way back, so I got the new bike.

It’s nothing fantastic; it’s a cross bike, halfway between a mountain bike and a racing bike, meant for pavement and casual, noncompetitive cycling. It suits me perfectly. I’ve had it for a month, and in that time the heat has traded places with rain storms frequently. The times I was free for an hour or two ride didn’t often coincide with tolerable weather, so I was only able to get out on the bike (which I haven’t named yet) three times. Twice were rides of more than ten miles, and once was a rain-interrupted jaunt that had me sheltering under a park pavilion with about forty female high school tennis players doing various stretching and jumping exercises.* (I looked at my phone.)

But yesterday, before the heat got too intense and the forecasted rain came (but after bagels) I jumped on my bike and took off. I road on the Indian Creek Trail, a place where I have logged literally thousands of miles on foot (and may again). My vague idea was to ride it to the east, beyond where I ever ran. That meant going at least ten miles on familiar trail first, which was fine. I enjoyed revisiting the old places, zipping around walkers and runners (“On your left!” — I should probably get a bell) and bouncing over walnuts. This took me into Missouri (after mile 8), which made me feel like I had gone a respectable distance. And I kept going. Soon I was riding on parts of the ICT** I had never seen before. It appeared that the trail had very recently been repaved, and not cheaply either. The trail was paved with concrete rather than asphalt, which is certainly more permanent, and less prone to cracking and heaving as asphalt will do, and I suppose that’s better for cyclists, but among runners the conventional wisdom is that concrete is harder on the lower joints than asphalt. It’s a commonly held assertion that I’ve always been skeptical of, though I like to think I could feel a difference betwixt the two when I ran on them.

The ICT runs under the interstate three times, and the extension I took when I reached its end passed under the interstate a fourth time. The trail also passes under two railroad bridges, which I don’t think I’d ever run or ridden under before. The approach (from each side) to the railroad bridges was covered with metal canopies going out fifty feet. Does a lot of debris fly from railroad tracks when a train passes? When I passed under the interstate for the fourth time, the trail I was on was diverted through a shipping container (those metal boxes you see on the back of semi trailers or stacked perilously high on cargo ships). The highway bridge is under construction, and I suppose there was a risk of falling debris here as well. Thus the short passage through the cargo container. Odd, but effective.

I kept going, telling myself that at the next landmark I could see ahead (a bridge, a soccer field filled with grown men shouting plays to each other in a language I did not know, a certain rise or dip) I would stop and turn around. But I kept going. Finally, when I paused in some shade (the heat was rising) and checked my phone, I found I had dinner plans with my son. There was more trail ahead, but I knew I had to cover all of the distance I already had just to get home, so I thought best not to add any more to it. I turned around and tried to find my way back, which wasn’t easy since I wasn’t familiar with this part of the trail and there were many spurs leading from it. Plus I was going the opposite direction, so many things that ought to have looked familiar didn’t from this opposite direction. I managed to get back to the part of the trail I knew from my running days without mishap and the rest of the way home.

I did not wear my running watch to log my distance and time. If I had, I could have plugged it into my computer and gotten a map of my journey, including mileage. Instead, I visited one of the sites that distance athletes use to record their runs and mapped my ride. It turns out that my morning adventure was 28 miles. (It would have been longer, but my house is at the top of a hill. I think you can figure out what I mean.)

So, pretty good ride. The other conventional wisdom is that the ratio of cycling to running is three to one. Three miles of cycling is equivalent (in energy used? in wear on the joints? in conditioning?) to one mile of running. Thus my little ride was a bit more than nine miles of running. If I truly am building back my heart and lung capacity (and my quads), then maybe I’ll be (somewhat) ready for that 5K later this month.


*I’ve had a number of interesting, even spooky happenings at this shelter.

**I’ve found that there are some subtle but compelling differences between running and cycling. Hills for one. I’ve found that if I haven’t built up enuf momentum and I’m not in the right gear (and even if I have and am sometimes) I can’t always ride up a steep hill. I had to stop and walk rather than try to crank the gears into a hopeless fight against gravity a few times. With running, a steep hill ain’t pleasant, but it is manageable enuf to keep moving afoot without stopping even at a walking pace. Turns are another. At cycling speeds (even my speeds), there is less room for error. And with the luxurious growth of the trees and scrub that line most of this trail, there are some more or less blind turns. Were I running, they wouldn’t be a problem; I would simply hug the right side of the trail and come upon whatever was beyond the turn with a complete ability to deal with it (usually slowing or side stepping). On a bike, there is less time to react (stop quickly!) coming around a blind turn. I didn’t have any mishaps, but had there been a young parent pushing a stroller suddenly coming into view, I might have had to steer myself into the trees rather than something worse. So my point is that rather than call it the Indian Creek Trail, I think they should call it Insufficiently Clear Turns.

2nd ugliest building in Kansas City

June 4, 2018

This was the view from my “steer and cheer” station during the Hospital Hill Half Marathon on Saturday. As you can see, a wicked storm has passed through during the night. I had to slalom through the streets on my drive here, dodging downed branches and unmoored trash bins far from their homes. When I got to my station, lightning was crackling through the sky and the clouds were growing darker. Emergency sirens were wailing throughout the neighborhood, and the race organizers were sending texts to “seek shelter” and “wait for instructions.” (I had thought about wearing short pants because of the forecasted heat, but decided not to. While waiting for whatever to transpire, I pulled on a hoodie to keep warm.) In all, a dismal portent for the race, but runners are dogged people, and running in the rain is actually kind of nice (if it is warm enuf). Eventually, I learned that the start was delayed by a half hour to let the weather pass, which it did.

I was at about mile 6.5, the halfway point. Despite the late start, it would be a half hour before even the fastest runner passed me. When he did, he made it look effortless. He was focused and didn’t acknowledge me as he kept his pace going up the hill I was on. Some people are just born with a different set of heart and lungs than the rest of us. This man was obviously born to run (though he supplemented his good genetics with lots of training and commitment I’m sure). Five or ten minutes passed before the next runners came along, and for the first half hour of my shift, the swiftest runners were spread out. The pack of runners that comprised the bulk didn’t arrive until after this.

Which gave me a lot of time for reflection and observation.

The building you see in the photo above has been called “the second ugliest building in Kansas City.” And what you see is an improvement over how it looked in the past. It happens that when I was in graduate school, I would pass this building on my way to class. I got to see it, warts and all, in the earlier days and wondered how such an eyesore could have come to pass. It was only decades later when a runner friend told me he had worked in this building for a time and that they had joked that it was the second ugliest in the city. The joke, of course, is that it was so bad it couldn’t even be called the worst. It failed at being a failure. And then there is the inevitable question, which I don’t have an answer for.

As I watched the runners (and walkers) passed, including a man in a kilt and a woman in a knee-length skirt and all manner of fitness levels (some were panting hard as they pushed up the hill, others were having casual conversations), there was another little vignette playing out before me.

On the brick wall behind that fallen tree, a juvenile starling would perch and flutter its wings. The fluttering business is how juveniles trigger the feeding response in their parents. The starling would sit on the wall and flutter for a while, then fly off, only to return a few minutes later. I’m sure it was saying “Feed me, Mom!” And the fallen tree before it suggested that the juvenile wasn’t going to get a meal, that the juvenile was probably an orphan. My guess is that its nest had been in that tree, and when the storm knocked it over, the parents were killed, with only the nestling surviving. This would explain why it was staying in that immediate area. It was hard to watch this; I’m a softy.

But runners and walkers kept flowing past me, thanking me for volunteering, and the occasional car came up behind me, hoping to somehow get to the other side of the street, beyond the flow of runners. My job was to make sure they didn’t hit anyone or even arrest the flow of the runners, so I watched for gaps and then waved the drivers through.

Oddly (sadly?), the very last person on the course, attended by two pacers who were at her side, gave up directly in front of me. She said she couldn’t go any farther — she’d gotten half way, and she was struggling up just one of the many hills still before her, but it looked clear to me that she was in distress — and so she fell back to the sag wagon and was driven to the finish.

And so I had an eventful race, standing in one place for a few hours and watching the human (and non-human) drama transpire before me. Plus I got a shirt out of it.

steer and cheer

June 1, 2018

I’ve mentioned that in the Finnegans Fogbound story I’m writing there is a half marathon and a 5K. One of my central characters walks the 5K, and the other is a course monitor on the half. She stands at an intersection and makes sure no one turns up the street she’s on by mistake since it’s not part of the course. (Seems silly, I know, but I’ve seen this happen. When runners are “in the zone” or exhausted or in pain they are no longer subject to reason or even the behavior of hundreds of other runners flowing around them. They do make wrong turns.)

I’ve been a course monitor a half dozen times, so I think I can write this bit from experience, but just to bolster my literary experience, I’m going to be one again tomorrow.

Tomorrow Kansas City will host the 45th running of the Hospital Hill Half Marathon¬†and I’ll be a course monitor at about the halfway point. The run is named for the hill in town (at about miles 3-4) where many of the hospitals were clustered back in the old days. It is considered one of the more challenging runs in town because of that hill (and others), and it’s one I never did in my years of throwing one foot in front of the other. (In fact, when I see all of the dogged runners push past me — my site is on an uphill — I’m hoping to get some inspiration not only for my story but for returning to running. We’ll see.)

So anyway, while you’re asleep abed tomorrow morning, I’ll be on a quiet corner in Kansas City, ready to steer and cheer thousands of runners and walkers on their way.

“The Kick” finds a home

March 13, 2018

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my story “The Kick” before. It’s running related (all of the running I do lately is in my fiction). Anyway, I just learned today that it’s been accepted for publication in Aethlon, in an upcoming edition.

Aethlon published my One-Match Fire story “Runaway” last year (I’m fond of that story), and it was the first and only place I sent “The Kick” for consideration. This is the second publication to accept a second story of mine. Mirror Dance did this as well many years ago.*

“The Kick” is not related to any of my other stories or characters. It’s a one-off. And though it has a first-person narrator, he/she speaks of “you” who is the subject of the story, so it verges on being a second-person narration.

Aethlon is a print publication only, so unless you subscribe, I won’t be able to share the story with you anytime soon.

Anyway, happy news.

*Update 24MAY19: Aethlon has since accepted a third story of mine: “Magic for Beantown.”