Friday, October 20, 2017

Resurrecting Myself

This blog has been inactive since 2011.
This post is simply to see if I can still post to it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I've Moved!

RhombImage via WikipediaOn July 25, 2011, I completed migrating all articles on Neologistics to my Neologistics Editing blog. I invite anyone who has subscribed to this blog, and also new visitors who happen upon it, to subscribe instead to Neologistics Editing.

It's my intent to keep Neologistics alive for the foreseeable future, but I expect this post to be the last article.

I began Neologistics in August 2005 mainly for fun — to hop on the blogging bandwagon, and to provide an outlet for short writing projects to supplement my long-existing personal website (also titled Neologistics), where I have numerous other creative projects, including a free full-length book about ultrarunning.

Historically, content on Neologistics has been unfocused, including articles on whatever topic I've felt like tackling mainly running, music, opinion, reviews, and humor. (At least I usually think the stuff is funny when I write it.)

In December 2010 I created Neologistics Editing to support my nascent freelance editing business, and began feeding the blog component with articles on topics related to the English language such as writing, editing, usage, and book reviews.

Before long it started to bother me that I was trying to grow two different blogs. An advantage I have on Neologistics Editing is that it's a WordPress site, and allows me to organize my library of posts under categories, thereby partitioning the content more logically than the simple chronological format on Blogspot allows.

Therefore, I made a decision last week to merge the two blogs. On Neologistics Editing, all the articles from Neologistics have been assigned to the category Legacy, in addition to whatever other categories apply, and the posting date of every item has been back-dated to its original posting date from Neologistics.

Dinking periodically with this site has been a lot of fun, but now it's time to move on to better things. And I thank readers who have followed this blog, and hope you will continue with its improved incarnation.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Giving Away My Roots

When I lived outside the tiny coastal town of Searsport, Maine, I had a nasty tooth problem and had to hightail it to a dentist. I knew of one in Belfast named — I'm not making this up — Dr. Blood, and his assistant was named Savage. Blood and Savage. Hmmm. I don't think so. I wanted to be cautious. After all, I was living in Stephen King country.

I decided to take my chances instead with a practice I'd seen on the edge of town in Searsport. The office was barely a mile from my house. I no longer remember that guy's name, but at least I'm fairly certain it wasn't Dr. Axemurderer.

This man's office was in his home. His wife worked as his assistant. Presumably she was qualified, but I didn't ask to see a diploma. The dentist recognized me from when I stopped at his door two months before to deliver a special invitation to come to our Kingdom Hall.

They were a chatty couple. But have you ever tried to carry on a meaningful conversation with a dentist while he's working on you?

The doctor took one look and decided to yank out the offending fang. My mouth already full of cotton, I began to tense up as he made preparations to rip a piece of my body off of me. Assuming I might be in a mood to talk about spiritual matters, he asked me: If Jesus Christ was really who he claimed to be, why did he let people do all those terrible things to him?

"Mmmmpfhm mmmph mphmmphph mmmmpfhm" was my reply. But he wouldn't buy that explanation.

Soon my mouth was thoroughly numbed and stuffed with cotton. As the dentist anchored his body weight, readying himself to perform the heinous deed, the dentist's wife-assistant asked me, "So tell me — what part of the Chicago North Shore are you from?"

"Mmmmpfhm?" was my nonplussed reply.

I've always though my speech is as free of any regional accent as can be. Someone told me once that I speak Walter Cronkitese. Besides, I hadn't said very much, but evidently some utterance gave away my roots. (I was obviously in a frame of mind to give away roots on that day.)

When I was finally able to speak clearly again, I admitted that I grew up in Wilmette, which is what I say when I tell people where I'm "from," but of course I wanted to know how Mrs. Wife-Assistant knew this.

The woman had two advantages I was unaware of. First, she had a master's degree in some category of linguistic practice, and considered herself an expert on American dialects. In addition, she got that degree from Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, the city that lies between Wilmette and Chicago on the North Shore, so lived there herself for some period of time. In fact, I lived in south Wilmette, within walking distance of the Northwestern campus, where my father also taught for a number of years.

So I guess the lesson is that just about everyone picks up little regionally-based speech idiosyncrasies. But Mrs.  Wife-Assistant never told me what it was that I said that exposed me.
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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Taking Remedial English

Alma Mater statue (Taft, 1929) in front of Alt...Image via WikipediaOne dismal February morning in 1962, near the beginning of the second semester of my freshman year at University of Illinois, I arrived late for my early morning English class, interrupting proceedings while I climbed over students in the crowded classroom in making my way to my seat.[1]

"Tedious journey, Mr. Newton?" asked the instructor, whose voice quivered with sarcasm like Paul Lynde's.

"Not nearly so much as the destination, Mr. Prahlhans," I replied, as I struggled to remove my wet overcoat.

At the university they offered new students two paths of study in basic academic subjects. I chose what was undoubtedly for me the wrong one, called DGS (for Division of General Studies) English. I adjudged the course to be trivial and the teacher to be loathsome. Always more concerned about expending time doing what I thought was interesting to myself than about superfluous abstractions like grades, I limped by, cut most of the time, and in the end managed to squeak out a D, despite having sufficient command of my native language to meet the university's low standards.

The consequence for anyone getting a D or failing grade in their freshman English class, whether DGS or traditional Rhetoric, was being forced to take a class called Remedial English — a disgraceful subject to have to stand in registration lines to sign up for, and while I accept that I'd earned that humiliation for myself by my own actions, still I grumbled about it, and blamed the inferior course and teacher I'd had the previous year.

To make matters worse, no credit was given for Remedial English, attendance was mandatory (cutting twice for any reason whatsoever meant automatic failure), and no person would be permitted to graduate without having earned at least a C (I think) in that course. A person could repeat it as many times as necessary to accomplish that end. I was in academic debtor's prison.

One relief was that there was no homework. We simply had to be present every session and listen, and we were required to write a series of six increasingly complicated essays in class, which the teacher then critiqued, graded, and returned.

For the very first exercise we had a choice of writing either about some issue of student politics on campus, about which I knew absolutely nothing, or about something having to do with Lyndon Johnson, who was then Vice President, and I cared equally little about him.[2] Being angry about the choices, in addition to having to be there in the first place, knowing that the best I could do was make something up, and so was bound to fail, I submitted an altogether stupid @#$! off-topic rant about having to write this stupid @#$! paper on this stupid @#$! topic about which I knew nothing, and having to take this stupid @#$! class. I didn't include the expletives, but was thinking them.

To my surprise, the teacher graded my paper thoughtfully and intelligently, as if it were just another badly written assignment from a clueless student (which it was). He included some written advice on how I could cope with the rest of the semester's work.

I no longer remember the name of the graduate student instructor, but for his calm handling of my tirade he deserves highest marks, perhaps even a meritorious service medal, when he could have reprimanded me, and might have griped equally from his own side of the divide about having to teach such a class to mostly morons and losers unqualified to do university level work who all needed to go get jobs pumping gas and stop spending their parents' money by being in college.

He never knew that his thoughtful comments probed a Good Attitude button in my head and triggered a permanent change in my life. Shortly thereafter my whole stance became transformed. I began to listen attentively to his carefully prepared and enthusiastically presented lectures, which constituted in toto a formal review of English, from basic grammar through advanced composition, over the course of a semester. As I listened and learned, the quality of my own writing escalated assymptotically.

As a result, despite the no-credit shameful status of Remedial English, I have always looked back on taking this course as a highlight of my undergraduate experience, and in some respects a turning point in my life, because it imposed a need for me to come directly and intelligently to grips with the techniques of writing, today one of my deepest everyday concerns. What I learned then has served me well all my adult lifetime. And it's worth noting, too, that for the rest of my academic career I never got anything but A's on term papers.

[1] Note on the image I used here. By coincidence, the classroom in which this episode took place was located in the building entered through the door under the outstretched arm of the figure in the statue.

[2] I have since learned a great deal about Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose greatest importance came after the period of this story, and find him to be a fascinating character in US history.
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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Running Only Four or Five Hours

View looking towards the Black Elk Wilderness ...Image via WikipediaLong ago I considered running the Mickelson Trail Marathon. It sounded like a good race to me, and besides, I hadn't run a regular marathon in years; but running it would have required me to travel from Arizona to South Dakota.

When I proposed the idea to Suzy, her initial reaction was: "It seems like a lot of trouble and expense just so you can run only four or five hours." Because I knew exactly what she meant, I just started to laugh, then so did she, as she quickly caught on to the double meaning of what she'd said.

Doubtless some non-running spouses are of the opinion that spending time and money traveling to races constitutes a questionable use of resources that could be better used in another way, which in some cases may be true. Not Suzy. What she meant was that it's not worth the cost for me to travel to any race that will take me less than 24 hours to finish, preferably a whole lot longer, so I get more miles and hours per dollar for the experience. And that way she gets more shopping and sightseeing time. She's an economist.

The result of that discussion was that I scrubbed my plans to run the Mickelson Trail Marathon, and instead ran the Leanhorse 100-mile trail race a few years later, which is also run on the Mickelson Trail, albeit on a different part of it. Despite my almost-made-it DNF, I got to mile 96 in 28 hours before falling down in the bushes twice in twenty yards. Therefore, I definitely got almost my money's worth out of that trip. Suzy loved it, too, because she spent the race afternoon getting a massage in town.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading in Installments

At any given time I have between one and seven books in my Recent Reading stack marked as current.  These are books that I really am reading at present.
At this writing there are six on the stack:

In addition to those, I negotiate daily reading of the Bible, and related study materials, which I don't count because such reading been an ongoing lifetime habit of mine for the past forty years, like showering and brushing my teeth.

Usually I save concentrated, uninterrupted readthroughs for lighter works, such as John Grisham's The Confession, which I finished in four sittings two weeks ago, while putting other projects on hold. In that case, one reason for the hurry was because it's a currently popular book, I had a non-renewable two-week checkout limit on my Bexley Library copy, and Suzy wanted to read it, too — and did.

When the list grows to more than two items I think of myself as reading pieces of books in installments. When it's backed up to more more than three, I almost never get to more than three on any given day.

For heavy-duty tomes of non-fiction (Washington), technical books (The Elements of Typographic Style), or reference books (The AP Stylebook), I view each time I pick them up as lessons, as though I were studying them in school.

Books I own I annotate. For those I get from the library I often collect notes in a series of commonplace notebooks, though doing so slows down my reading.

I'm not exactly slow, but I'm not an unusually fast reader either, but make no apologies for it, since I'm not competing with anyone else; and I adjust pace according to need. At times I can tear through fifty pages in an hour, but at others, in deeply technical material, an hour's labor can move me no more than six pages ahead.

Just as Indian musicians view some ragas as appropriate only on certain occasions or times of day, I categorize my reading. When I sit down with my first cup of coffee for the day (generally between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m.) is not the time to read a legal thriller or about the insane lifestyles of the Rolling Stones. I wake up quickly and tend to reach my mental peak for the day early, so find early morning is the best time to tackle spiritual, technical, reference, and historical works, often fueling me with thoughts for what I need to accomplish in the day ahead. The evening, when my work for the day is done, is the time for work that is more purely entertaining. If I fall asleep while reading, it doesn't matter.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Creative Habit — Twyla Tharp

Cover of "The Creative Habit: Learn It an...Cover via AmazonAs a sometime composer and writer, I have always been fascinated by listening to creative people of all types discuss their work, especially how they go about doing it.  Therefore, when I recently bumped up against the title The Creative Habit, a 2001 book by master choreographer Twyla Tharp, I checked it out from the library to have some airplane reading on a trip to Arizona.

Ms. Tharp's intention is to present a how-to book, replete with exercises, because she believes that (contrary to popular romantic notions about artistic inspiration) creativity is largely a matter of cultivating and practicing good work habits that allow creativity to sprout. This belief sounds like Thomas Edison's famous saying: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Routine

She writes first about the value of a regular daily routine, which for her begins with stepping into a cab early each morning to head to the gym for a workout. This is followed by blocks of time devoted to various categories of activity, such that by the end of day, all the most important tasks — workout, business, dancing, correspondence, and personal reading — have all been covered, whereupon she can retire, satisfied and ready to rest up and begin a new cycle the next day.

Forty years ago a close friend told me he had discovered that the more he repeated things — referring to the normal cycles of daily activities — the more good things happened in his life. His statement has stuck with me ever since, and I have learned it to be true.

The Box

Tharp says that before you can think outside a box, you have to have a box. To organize her projects, she uses literal, inexpensive file boxes from Office Depot to store all manner of physical materials she accumulates in the process of researching for and creating a new dance.

My boxes take the form of notebooks — many of them — paper notebooks that I carry around with me, and an array of computer-based notebooks any of which I may call up in a keystroke to prepend dated and labeled items of any length at the top. I'm presently composing this review using one of them, in which I have over 17,000 lines of text fragments that may someday see light of day in a blog article or other form of publication.

Where Ideas Come From

One of my most creative times of the day is that brief period in bed when I know I will be falling asleep momentarily, but am sufficiently conscious to enjoy the free associations running wild in my mind. Many is the time I've thought about getting out of bed to write down ideas that seemed worth preserving at the time, but I've never actually done it.

Ms. Tharp reports that Thomas Edison, famous for eschewing sleep would sit in a chair when sleepy, palms up, with a ball bearing in each hand. When one ball bearing fell to the floor, it would wake him, and he would immediately write down what he was thinking in that idea-rich neverland between sleep and wakefulness.

Reading

Tharp tells us: "Like an athlete in training, the more you read, the more mentally fit you feel." Rather than merely reading for pleasure, she devours the material, studying it, annotating the margins, and researching related topics.

Me too. That's how one thing leads to another and ultimately to good ideas. I certainly read a great deal of lighter material for pure pleasure — popular fiction, cartoon books, even occasional children's books — but whenever I read I hope to obtain something beneficial from the experience, even if it's intangible and hard to identify. I almost never read just to pass the time.

Skills

Ms. Tharp places a premium on the value of developing skills of every kind to the ultimate degree possible, illustrating: "A successful entrepreneur can do everything and anything — stock the warehouse, negotiate with vendors, develop a product, design an ad campaign, close a deal, placate an unhappy customer — as well as, if not better than, anyone working for him." She quotes golfer Gary Player as having said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get," and applies the principle to skills beyond what are most essential for her art form. As a choreographer and dancer, of course she devotes great energy to dancing itself, especially to improvisation. But she also works to understand music, literature, theater, costume design, business, and a host of other disciplines that enable her to keep a company of full-time dancers employed.

A Boo-Boo

On being in a groove, Tharp commits a minor error of musical fact, saying: "When I think of a groove, I imagine Bach bounding out of bed to compose his preludes and fugues, knowing that he had twenty-four keys to work with. 'Let's see,' he must have thought, 'today I'll tackle G-sharp major and A-flat minor.'"

Bzzzt! Wrong!

Speaking with my musical editor's hat on: the pitches we call G-sharp and A-flat are enharmonically equivalent in the equal tempered tuning system that Bach explored in Das Wohltemperierte Clavier that she alludes to; simply put, to play either one you press the same key, the middle of any of those sets of three adjacent black keys on a piano keyboard.

The key of A-flat minor is plausible but unlikely, because it would require seven flats in the key signature, so that every one of the seven scale pitches is flatted. That's a lot of flats, so Bach instead wrote the minor prelude and fugue on that pitch in G-sharp minor, which has five sharps — still a lot to remember, and not often encountered, but a bit easier to read.

But G-sharp major exists only theoretically, in that the key signature would have not merely seven, but eight sharps in it, meaning that the F would be a double sharp, raised two half tones. It's possible to go on adding as many sharps and flats as desired, but there is no point to it, because once every scale pitch has been flatted or sharped, there is an enharmonic equivalent that is simpler and a whole lot easier to read, and is why Bach stopped with twenty-four of each -- the twelve major and minor keys on each of the twelve degrees in the equal tempered system that has been the standard tuning in Western music for centuries. In this case, Bach wrote the prelude and fugue not in G-sharp major, but in A-flat major, with its key signature of only four flats.

If Ms. Tharp had proposed Bach might have thought, "Today I'll tackle A-flat major and G-sharp minor," there would have been no problem. For this minor booboo we can easily forgive her, a proven genius at her art, and knowledgeable about many subjects including music, but not necessarily expert in music theory.

Thank you, Twyla Tharp, for providing these tools by means of which I may keep my own creative skills percolating.
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Tempest

My base of operations
At 9:00 a.m. on December 29, 2010, I began to run the 72-hour race at Across the Years. By 5:30 p.m., after completing only 81 laps (40.5 km, 25.166 miles), I was packed up and on my way to my friends' house, to be their unexpected house guest for the next four days, where I would occasionally watch the progress of the race from the laptop on the kitchen counter, when it was available. The bad weather on Wednesday merely accelerated illness that had been coming on over the course of three days, and drove me to follow what was clearly the conservative course of wisdom.

After eleven consecutive races at Across the Years, being involved most of those years with helping to present the event, this was not how I wanted nor the way I expected to conclude my experience there. I regretted not being there at the end to say proper good-byes to so many people I have come to regard as friends.

Scrolling Back in Time


The year 2008 had been one of the toughest years of my life, as I lived the first eight months alone in an apartment, trying to master a new and challenging job, while my wife remained in Phoenix, working and trying to sell our house. Being consumed by these overbearing distractions, I nearly stopped running entirely, and suffered physical consequences. My personal worst performance of 134 miles at the 2008 race, all but the last half lap walked, betrayed the reality that I had lost my focus as a multiday runner.

After the 2008 race I made it known to my race organizer associates that the just-finished race would be my last, that I would not return in 2009 to run, nor would I be available to assist with the website and other responsibilities. I made the decision the previous June, but saved telling about it until after the race.

Unexpectedly (to me, as I was no longer included in the planning), the race took a hiatus in 2009, the first and only one since 1983. If there had been a race, I would not have been there, but because there wasn't, I managed to take a year off without breaking my attendance streak. Meanwhile, changes in my personal circumstances enabled me to work a little more on my running. By the end of 2009 I was ready to begin regular training once again.

In Spring 2010, an announcement appeared on the Across the Years website saying there would be a race in 2010. This was good news, but I had no intention of either running or helping out myself.

However, I'll always feel a sense of personal attachment to Across the Years. Above all, I created a relational database that records all race and runner data back to the very beginning; that history permeates the website, particularly in the biographies and statistics sections. If that were to become lost or mangled, much of the race's legacy would be gone, and along with it, much of what I was able to contribute the last several years.

Thus it came about that last Spring I made myself available to Jamil and Nick Coury, Across the Years' capable new race directors, to support the now hoary website for one more edition of the race, while they learned how to put on this race in the grand tradition that had developed around it.

My offer was with utterly no expectation of being able to be there to run myself. Financial and logistical problems aside (both huge issues for me at present), I didn't think I could get back in sufficient shape to run a 72-hour race.

As 2010 unfolded, my running improved. In late September, circumstances unexpectedly developed whereby I would be able to run the race. I had just run the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run, with encouraging results, was planning on running the Columbus Half Marathon with my daughter in mid-October (which also turned out well), and even had tentative plans to run a 50K in early December. Could I possibly be ready?

My confidence was that being in much better shape presently than I was in 2008, despite two additional years of aging (which is clearly starting to make a difference), I should at the very least be able to do better at the race than I did that year, if for no other reason than because I would be able to run a great deal more of it than I did then.

Therefore, I set my goal to reach at least 150 miles, which would have resulted in a solid mid-pack finish in a strong field, and thinking I could do even better than that if everything fell together right.

Complications


Then the complications began to set in.

I worried first about transporting my tent, but learned that space inside the tent this year would be cramped, and that the luxury condo tent I've customarily used is too big and would be unwelcome. Wimp that I am, setting up in the yard was unthinkable to me, even though some persons do well with that.

Therefore, I decided to do entirely without a tent, trying for the first time to work with just a cot, a borrowed sleeping bag, a chair, and a few cardboard boxes to keep organized. Other 72-hour runners have managed that way just fine before me. Why couldn't I?

My biggest fear was learning that the main area of the big tent would not be heated as it customarily had been, although there would be two smaller areas that would be heated toasty warm. In years past I've been uncomfortable changing clothes inside my personal tent even with the heat on. I was unsure how I'd manage under these new conditions.

Another goal I set for 2010 was to lose the 25 pounds I'd gained since moving to Ohio, which I almost accomplished by September 3, when I pulled up short with an Achilles injury while on a training run. Although it gave me no trouble at North Coast 24-hour two weeks later, or at Columbus Half Marathon in mid-October, this caused me to cut back on my training for the rest of the year, and as a consequence, I gained back six or seven pounds. I stabilized around 190, but had expected to be in the mid-170s by race day, close to my running weight when I had my best runs at Across the Years.

Ten days before the race, I began to track weather predictions, hoping for unseasonably warm weather. Ha! The earliest indications were that there might be trouble. As race day drew near, the more certain it seemed that there would be some unpleasantness. Two or three days before the race we learned that a cold front was on the way, to be preceded by heavy rain on December 29, the first day of the race. Nighttime temperatures would drop into the mid-twenties. In comparison, Columbus would warm up quite a bit. Overall, the weather would be at least as cold and a lot wetter in Arizona than at home.

These conditions all runners would share. But for me the worst news was yet to come, as two days before leaving, I sensed impending illness creeping up on me. I started popping echinacea and vitamin C, and skipped my last day of running in favor of extra rest. It was no use. Whatever was attacking me would insist on running its course, peaking on Thursday during the race.

I arrived in Phoenix at noon the day before the race and was picked up at the airport by my friend Nathan, who hauled me directly to Nardini Manor.

The afternoon before Across the Years has always seemed like a holiday to me. I love reacquainting myself with the venue, staking out my territory, and especially greeting runners as they arrive, many of whom I've now known for quite a few years.

I got my stuff set up around the cot, and sorted my gear into boxes that tucked neatly under the cot for when I wanted to lie down, and sat in a tidy row on top when I wanted access. It looked like it might work out well. Then I went into the Manor house to pick up my race stuff, and finally headed off to my hosts' house, where I was treated like royalty. (I stayed with people who have been some of our closest friends for over thirty years.)

The next shock came when Nathan informed me that because of work obligations he'd have to drop me off at Nardini Manor at 4:30 a.m., hoping that wouldn't be an inconvenience. To my surprise, it worked out well. At 6:15 p.m., after a delicious high-carb spaghetti dinner, it was 8:15 p.m. Ohio time. I'd been up since 4:45 a.m., and was already starting to nod out. So I crawled off to bed, pulled the covers around my nose at 6:30, and except for increasingly intense coughing fits during the night, slept well until 2:30 a.m., a total of eight hours in bed.

It's an hour's drive from their house to Nardini Manor. I walked into the big tent at 4:16 a.m., to find several people asleep. The temperature was not uncomfortable. I cared for a handful of necessary chores, crawled into the sleeping bag at 4:40, and other than the coughing, rested comfortably for another two hours, finally getting up at 6:50, when I heard other people stirring. In all I got a total of over ten hours of rack time before the race, which I hadn't expected.

Having no tent available, my first task was to scurry off to the bathroom to smear Bag Balm the temperature of ice and consistency of engine grease and also Vaseline onto body parts only my doctor knows the names of or has even seen.

Next I headed back to the Manor house, because I'd gotten two left gloves in my goodie bag, whereas I have only one left hand, and also a right hand that was lacking a matching glove. Another problem solved.

While packing I discovered that I'm out of Elastikon tape, and couldn't get any that day. For the first time I'd try to get through a long race with only lubricants.

I've owned and used Oakley M Frame Heater sunglasses since 1996; they live almost permanently on my head. I wear them for eye protection even in rain and darkness. They were nowhere to be found. Left them in Ohio. Dang.

Little details such as these may not seem important, but they add up, and in a long race can have a significant impact.

Finally, I set up my personal aid station near where I've always based my operations in previous years, and put a chair there (which my bottom never touched) and my Spartan collection of supplies — a smallish covered rectangular box of stuff in bottles such as electrolytes, ibuprofen and caffeine, covered by a transparent plastic bag, plus a single water bottle.

How did I feel? Still coughing frequently, but not enough to stop me from running.

The Race Begins


It was cool and overcast but not uncomfortable at the race start; we were certain that heavy rain was on the way, but everyone was in a rousing good mood.

Technically, every loop course has a net elevation gain and loss of zero feet, but every runner knows that every loop has one direction that is better for running than the other. At Nardini Manor the general consensus is that the "good" direction is counterclockwise, the direction the race starts in.

My method would be to run about two-thirds of every lap until I couldn't do it any more. In ideal conditions and earlier years, I could get through a whole 24 hours like that, with breaks only to stop at the potty.

At North Coast in September I ran a good first twelve hours, slowed down after that, but didn't sit down until fourteen and a half hours. I figured I'd be good at Across the Years until close to midnight before having to deal with significant problems.

I did well for the first two-hour segment, until we reversed directions. I had a harder time picking my run and walk spots in the clockwise direction. It seems almost all downhill to me. But I got through it.

By this time, the coughing was starting to bother me. It was hack, hack, hork, hork, spit in the bushes, and repeat, about six times per lap.

And Then the Rain


And then the rain began. It came on gradually, and at first was of little consequence. But it increased in intensity with relentless steadiness. After the first hour I scurried inside to pick up my rain gear that I'd already laid out, and got right back out.

It was fun for a while, and I heard no complaints. At the 2004 race (which became my lifetime PR year) we had an utter deluge on the first day. However, that year was not nearly as cold, and it didn't last for nearly as long.

The track began to flood and become muddy. Crews appeared with brooms, attempting to push back the puddles. Workers with shovels dug grooves to channel major water flows. Within a couple of hours it seemed pointless to even try, and the crews gave up. The path on the straightaway along the southeast end became a slick mud field. Everyone's legs were covered with mud halfway up their calves.

Adding to our running enjoyment was the strong wind that carried the ripest stench of mushy wet cow poo from the dairy farm a half mile to the north straight to our nostrils.

Some people seemed unconcerned and determined. For as long as I was there, Liz Bauer ran only in shoes, shorts, a jogbra, and Moeben sleeves, with no head covering. She looked like a desperate, drowning rat, but was running well. And she was far from the only one who seemed to be inadequately protected.

Eventually my rain gear proved to be of little help. It's plenty waterproof, but I was soaked with sweat from the inside, and with the temperature dropping, was starting to shiver in it.

I suffer from Raynaud's phenomenon. (I didn't before I moved to Ohio.) Despite this, the circulation in my hands was okay, and I endured in wet cotton gloves for several hours with no significant discomfort to my hands. After six hours I ran into the tent for the second time to get fresh, dry gloves. Thereafter, even though I kept my gloved hands tucked up inside my raincoat sleeves, these too became wet from the inside out because of the sweat.

By early in the seventh hour my right Achilles tendon began to throb badly. Was it about to explode on me? The coughing and slick mud had already reduced me to walking most of the time. I wasn't miserable yet, but wondered how much longer I could keep this up.

At this point my memory is unclear, and I don't have accurate split times to help, but as I recall, I was starting to desire some hot food. I stopped at the aid station to ask about dinner and was told it would arrive in about a half hour. I think I went in the tent for a few minutes just to see what the warm areas were like, but came back out in just a minute or two, and did one more lap. The records say that I crossed at 7:31:57 into the race, with 40.5 km, 25.166 miles. No longer thinking about a twelve- to sixteen-hour initial stretch, I'd wanted to go at least a marathon before taking any kind of break, but I was already deep into the process of shutting down.

I went first into the front warming room, where I tried to dry out my gloves while stooped over in front of the flame-belching heater. Then I went into the other warming room, where there were cots, and where the temperature was blazing hot. I was in serious need of a place to strip naked, towel off, and put on all dry clothes. There wasn't one. Other people were coping without that, but I wasn't, and had no solution, so was facing a major logistical dilemma.

I ducked my head outside for a moment. It had grown dark, and was now like Mars out there. As bad as it was inside, outside was much worse, and later the rain became torrential, and was followed by bitter cold far worse than any I'd experienced the entire thirty years I'd lived in Arizona.

I don't remember exactly at what point I realized that I couldn't fight this for another sixty-four hours, but as I contemplated the passing of the rain to be followed by cold, I knew in my heart I was done. I called Nathan to see if there was any possibility he could come and bail me out, which I realized would also make me their unexpected house guest for the next four days. He left right away. Once I knew he was on the way, there was no changing my mind, so I yanked off my chip and turned it in to Nick Coury, saying, "I can't do this," with little more explanation than that, because he was busy, and because talking about it wouldn't change anything.

While waiting, one runner commented on the conditions: "There is no competition, only survival."

I understood. Fixed-time track races are above all running events. The best performances take place under ideal physical conditions: on a flat, broad course that is long enough to keep runners from piling up on each other, in good weather, at a venue that has basic facilities adequate to care for the needs of runners in reasonable comfort. Obviously, foul weather is shared in by all participants, but can serve to introduce a level of extraneous challenge to an event that may be a disadvantage to runners whose experience has been focused on tracks, roads, and asphalt, but who have rarely had to fight the variety of difficulties that often appear in other settings, such as in long and technical trail races. On this night the trail dogs just might have had the advantage.

I arrived at my friends' house about 6:30, had a bit to eat, was in bed by around 8:30, and slept for eleven hours. The forecast said the conditions would clear up, but at 2:15 a.m. I was awakened by thunder and lightning and the heavy pounding of rain that sounded like a million elves running across the roof. Later I learned that the runners an hour away at Nardini Manor shared in that experience, which drove most of them into the tent for a while. When I got up in the morning the rain had stopped, but it remained very wet, very windy, and terribly cold all day. I spent the next three days sleeping, hanging out, reading, occasionally watching the race, and eating my generous friends' food.

Because I didn't properly conclude the race (even though there are no DNFs in fixed-time running), I'm at a loss to bring this story to a decisive end. It was what it was. I'm less disappointed than some persons might suppose I am, especially because I was able to get back one more time than I had thought possible, although I regret not seeing people who arrived after Wednesday night for the Thursday and Friday starts.

And on that note, it does seem that my days at Across the Years have finally come to an end — in the Brett Favre sense of being "done," of course! Despite the bump at the end, my time with Across the Years has been one of the great experiences of my life.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis — Columbus Museum of Art

Cover of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated...Cover via AmazonWe were present at the Columbus Museum of Art on October 7, 2010, for the members only opening of "The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis."

If you are unfamiliar with the world of comic book and cartoon art, you may not know who Robert Crumb is, known professionally as R. Crumb. But if you have had any exposure at all to that medium, you will likely know who I'm talking about, because Crumb is among the most admired of all underground comic artists. If you've ever seen the one-page comic Keep on Truckin', which was plastered everywhere starting in 1968, or are familiar with "Fritz the Cat," then you have seen a miniscule portion of Crumb's prolific output.

Crumb is not for everybody. Some of his work is vulgar, even overtly pornographic. But above all, Crumb draws well, and his work is usually at least interesting in its meticulous attention to detail, and is at times innovative.

My first conscious exposure to Crumb was by means of the collaborations he did on "American Splendor" with Cleveland comic author Harvey Pekar, who did not draw himself, but simply wrote stories about his own life, and sketched what he wanted with stick figures, leaving the drawing to others.  Crumb was still unknown and living in Cleveland in the mid sixties, when they met and struck up a friendship based on mutual tastes in music. Pekar showed Crumb his ideas for cartoons, and Crumb offered to draw some of them for him, which led to success for Pekar — as successful as underground comic artists get — resulting even in the 2003 movie entitled "American Splendor," with Paul Giamatti playing Pekar.

Meanwhile, Crumb moved on to San Francisco, other work, including such jobs as popular album covers, and eventual fame in the late sixties scene of hippies and bands and all the rest — although Crumb himself was never a hippie, nor was he much like the people he hung out with and who admired him, which included notables such as Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
Sometime in the eighties Crumb and his wife, tired of the United States, moved to an unglamorous dwelling in the south of France, where they remain to this day. He's still hard at work.

Jump forward from the sixties several decades and most of a career, to the present. One day last year, before I was conscious of the name R. Crumb, I was browsing in the art book store at OSU's Wexner Center and stumbled upon an astonishing work: "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R.  Crumb" (That's the exact full title.) As a student of the Bible for now over forty years, I was eager to see what this was about. Expecting to encounter disrespectful, gross distortions created for laughs, I was surprised to see instead a work in Crumb's polished and unmodified cartooning style that seemed to be a faithful representation of the scriptural text, and including the text itself, though using a modern translation I am not familiar with. I thumbed through just a few pages before moving on, but the experience was memorable, and I wished I had more time to look at the book.

Which brings me to the primary subject of this article. On October 7, the Columbus Museum of art opened an exhibit of not just a sampling, but of all 207 of the original pages of this book, strung at comfortable reading level in a long, snaking sequence through a series of galleries. The originals are roughly 9x12 inches each (an eyeball guesstimate), and extraordinary to look at.

It was then that I learned that every word of Genesis is written on those pages, including the genealogies, looking much like rogues galleries, and that the artist, who says he believes that Genesis is a work of men rather than the word of God, nonetheless spent five years working on the project, giving the greatest care and respect to the subject matter.  It's the juxtaposition of the sacred text with R. Crumb's uncompromised and highly distinctive style that make the work special.

Decades ago I lost track of the number of times I'd read through Genesis (and the rest of the Bible, which, in contrast to Mr. Crumb, I do believe is the word of God). It's fair to say that I know what it says.

I found at this show that it's possible for someone familiar with the source material to cover the entire exhibit meaningfully, thereby "reading" the whole book of Genesis in about an hour and a half — which is exactly what Suzy and I did — with a short break in the middle to go hear a chorus performing on the grand staircase.

Imagine my amusement when I was jolted to see part of the narrative out of sequence. On one page I saw Rebekah nursing twins, and on the next she was pregnant. These things usually happen in the opposite order. That's when I discovered that they had hung up two pages in the wrong order: 89, 91, and 90. (The numbers are written in light pencil outside the printing border.)

We finished just in time to hear the last background lecture by the show's curator, who opened things up at the end for any questions. I asked whether she had been alerted to the incorrect sequence. She replied with considerable surprise that she didn't know, was grateful to find out about it, and wondered how I knew. I said I knew because I know the Bible, and saw the story was out of sequence, but it was easy enough to verify by looking at the page numbers.

Even though hundreds of people trooped through the showing, few were making it much further than halfway; it was crowded at the front, where an anatomically correct Adam and Eve are seen standing naked, and desolate by Jacob's deathbed prophecy, as if to indicate that sampling a few dozen pages was enough for most persons to get the idea. Because it was opening night, and because likely few people were reading in much detail, it's no surprise that this hadn't been reported, but if they failed to fix it, I'm sure someone else came along later and set them straight again, so presumably it is fixed by now.

If you live in Columbus, Ohio, be sure to get over to Columbus Museum of Art before January 16, 2011, when the exhibit closes.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Daughters Are Good — Columbus Half Marathon 2010

Last spring our daughter Cyra-Lea wrote to ask if I'd be willing to pick out and run a half marathon with her this fall. I hadn't done that sort of running for several yearse. My last half marathon race was in February, 2004, my last full marathon was in May, 2005, and I haven't run anything but ultramarathons since then. But how could I say no? Not that I wanted to. I was delighted, and agreed to do it immediately. It would give me an excuse to try to get back to doing some real running.

Cyra-Lea and I have run together in the past. Her longest prior race was ten kilometers — either once or twice; the last time she was seventeen years old. She's twenty-eight now. Daughters are good!

It wasn't hard for us to determine that the best choice for a race would be the Nationwide Columbus Marathon and Half Marathon here in town on October 17, 2010 (today), which I had not run myself, but heard only good things about. We visited Cyra-Lea and her husband over the July 4th weekend, at which time we sat down at the computer and registered, engraving the decision in stone. We also worked out a twelve-week training plan for Cyra-Lea.

Cyra-Lea drove in from Charlestown, Indiana (near Louisville, Kentucky) by herself on Thursday. (Her husband is busy in school, so couldn't make it.) This gave us the opportunity to visit, drive the course that afternoon; on Friday to go for a walk and then to the expo, avoiding the weekend rush; and to have a relaxing Saturday.

Well — I did three and a half hours of leaf raking, and Cyra-Lea and Suzy spent about seven hours shopping, so it wasn't physically relaxing, but it wasn't stressful.

It's been a long time since I've had as much outright fun running a race as I did today. Over the years I've grown just a little bit cold toward certain features of mega-races: the large crowds, the high cost (especially when travel is rolled in), the crassly commercial sale of useless, cheesy memorabilia, and the vacuous hype are not my style. On the other hand, I certainly don't dislike the races themselves, and I advocate any sort of fitness activity that helps people live a healthier life style. But until a few months ago, given my own preference for ultramarathons (always much smaller), I figured my own experience with these races came an end long ago.

Now that I've experienced it, I'll give Columbus Marathon a solid five-star rating in every aspect of it that I witnessed, from the expo to the starting area, availability of parking, number of portajohns, pleasantness of the course (I'm familiar with most of the route that the marathoners run, too), timing, the website, aid stations, music on the course, crowd support, the finish, and food for finishers — all are superb. And all of it is practically in my own back yard.

This morning we were up at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Cyra-Lea was sleeping fitfully in the family room rather than the basement bedroom because as a nurse who works several night shifts a week her fractured sleep patterns are unlike those of most of us.

We had plenty of time to get ourselves out the door, and left by 6:05. It takes less than ten minutes to get downtown. (The start is less than five miles away; I could have walked to and from it, and might have considered if I'd been doing this alone.) The one big question was where I would park. I used to work downtown, and know the area well. We would have to come up Fourth Street, crossing Broad a block east of the race start. Surely it would be open at 6:15. To my relief, it was.

One amusing sight before the race was with some roads closed, the tangle of one-way streets downtown, and some signs up at the ends of some saying STREET CLOSED, watching confused drivers, many from out of town, wander the wrong direction on some of them, fishing around for parking places.

For me it was a no-brainer, as I knew exactly where to go. On Sunday parking meters are free. I used to park on weekends and holidays that I went to the office on a little one-way street called Pearl Alley, just 270 feet from where I used to work (all measurements in this report are according to Google Maps), a quarter mile from the center of Broad and High, the location of our place in the fourth corral, the one for slowpokes. Most parking spaces on the main streets were already taken, but all those in that block on Pearl Alley were still open. So I zipped in and we just sat and chatted in the car for a half hour before heading out to the start, just around the corner and up the street a couple of blocks.

Weather is something that no one can predict before signing up for a race. In mid-October it's possible to have the most glorious autumn weather imaginable. There is also every possibility for clouds, rain, and high temperatures in the forties. This year the weather could not have been more perfect if I had custom ordered it from a website called Weather-R-Us. It's has been brightly sunny all day, the temperature while waiting at the start was around 45, but completely comfortable for both of us, and ranged up to about 55 by the end of the race, with a high later in the day of 70.

We found a place to stand in our corral, but shortly after we arrived, Cyra-Lea wanted to visit a portapotty, so I followed, decided it would be stupid not to try it myself as long as I was there, and am glad I did, as it turned out to be a productive decision. After that I was definitely all set, and just wanted to get started.

The beginning is right in front of the Ohio Statehouse, at the corner of Broad and Third Street, a long block up from where we parked. The race began on time (7:30 a.m.), with the starting gun accompanied by fireworks that shot up the side of a bank. I was only a little bit worried when I realized they were shooting up the side of my bank. It was okay, because our deposits are insured.

As is customarily the case in these extravaganzas, we couldn't budge an inch for several minutes. I don't know exactly what time it was when we hit the timing mat. I was thinking 7:45, but it was apparently earlier than that. Either that, or we started a little later than I thought.

Music was everywhere on the course, and it was almost all well-played. The band at the start was especially good, as they began the race by playing Born to Run, followed by some song Cyra-Lea identified as being by the Beastie Boys. Throughout the race we were rarely more than a block out of hearing range from a live band, featuring everything from amplified soloists to a military brass band on the west side of the Statehouse on the return.

At this race I had two primary goals. Ideally, I wanted to finish one step behind Cyra-Lea. The second was to run the whole thing without walking. I accomplished the second, but at ten miles got separated from Cyra-Lea and finished before her.

Immediately upon crossing the timing mat, I started my watch. I did click mile splits when I saw the signs, all accompanied by prominent race clocks, but I never looked at my watch until I was done, because it didn't really matter. The three or four times I paid attention, I estimated my progress by subtracting ten or fifteen minutes from the displayed race time.

I knew this race would be slow. Not an event I had planned on doing myself, for me it marked a comeback from nearly two years of greatly reduced running, though I still did a great deal of walking during that period. And Cyra-Lea, who has inherited my genes, is no speedster either. Therefore, from the beginning I ran slowly, at times more slowly than is generally comfortable for me, in order to keep pace with Cyra-Lea.

Broad, which goes mostly east, but also angles slightly north, is — well — broad, which helped to minimize the problems with crowding in the early stages. We were able to utilize customary strategies so as to get around people: surging through holes, shifting left and right, etc. It wasn't hard at all despite the number of runners. But maybe that was because most runners were already ahead of us. For the first ten miles Cyra-Lea and I were either side by side or very close together.

The crowd support at this race, encouraged no doubt by the superb weather, was extraordinary. The spectators contributed to the excitement the whole way.
The best sign we saw on the first part of the course said:

RUN BETTER THAN TERELLE PRYOR

The reference is to The Ohio State University Buckeyes football team's phenom quarterback. Until yesterday the Bucks were rated number one in the country. But last night they were thoroughly trounced by Wisconsin, and were not helped by a handful of poor (in my estimation questionable) runs by Pryor, a versatile athlete who rushes more often than most quarterbacks.

Eventually, we turned north on Parkview, in the swanky part of Bexley, and ran by the governor's mansion. Governor Ted Strickland was standing on his corner, accompanied by body guards, and cheering. I'd been expecting to see him, so ran close to the curb as we approached — not close enough to high five, as I had hoped, but I did manage to make eye contact and exchange a friendly greeting. It's likely that many runners, particularly out-of-staters, had no idea who that ordinary-looking man in the brimmed hat and windbreaker was.

Two blocks later we turned south on Drexel, to go 1.36 miles, all downhill, on a wide street with beautiful homes. Suzy was waiting on the corner of Drexel and Main in downtown Bexley, the nearest point on the course to our house (about a mile and a quarter away), a bit past the five-mile point, where we saw her long enough for her to try to snap a picture, but we mostly just waved and cheered and kept moving. We were doing well, and Cyra-Lea was clearly enjoying herself.

Once we got past the shops on Main, the short unattractive segment of the course followed. We turned north on Nelson for less than half a mile, then ran across the south end of Franklin Park.
At the six-mile aid station I was able to pat hands with Cheryl Link, whom I know from Dead Runners Society and Facebook, but had never met in person. Cheryl ran a half marathon herself yesterday, and now, in the spirit of the sport, was out giving generously of her time and effort to help other runners. Volunteer support at this race was extraordinary, for which runners should always be grateful; we couldn't do it without the volunteers.

The road south of beautiful Franklin Park is narrow, hillier than most places on the course, with a surface that is a bit rough, but after coming up the west side, we were back on Broad doubling back the other way (westerly) a little over a mile, then south and into residential neighborhoods to the southeast of downtown. This took us back to Third Street, a few blocks south of where we started, where we headed south again, over the highway, and then into German Village.

By this time I was leading Cyra-Lea by an average of fifteen to twenty-five yards, and kept looking back over my shoulder, as I slowed, several times to let her catch up, but never stopped running. She took a couple of short walking breaks.

Around mile nine she decided she was pretty much toast, but was determined to keep doing her best. I kept looking back, and even ran backwards up to twenty or thirty yards at a time at least three times, hoping she would push herself to keep as close as possible.

Just after the ten-mile marker I turned to run backwards, searched, and couldn't find Cyra-Lea. She'd been doing really well, and said she was fine, so I had to make a decision whether to hang back, or press forward. Confident that she would be okay, I picked up the pace with the intent of running as hard as I could, knowing that a negative split was a real possibility given the slowness of the first half. Although I don't have the exact numbers, I'm sure I was right.

After going around Schiller Park in German Village, we came out to High Street, the main north-south drag through Columbus, another wide street, and a straight shot from the turn for nearly two miles until the turnoff onto Nationwide Boulevard, which encloses a quarter-mile finishing chute in massive chain link fences. I was able to run hard on some downhill segments of High.

The last couple of blocks before that turn is a horribly steep uphill, but once on the straightaway after the turn, it's a screaming downhill to the end, and I sprinted it in as hard as I could, trying to pass one final big guy, who edged me out. (I have no idea what his start time was.)

The organization after the chute was carried out with the precision of a military operation. In fact, they had soldiers manning some of the food tables.

I stood and waited anxiously for Cyra-Lea, not knowing whether she'd blown up or remained fairly close. In fact, her finishing time was only 5:27 behind mine. I was thrilled when I saw her come through the crowd sooner than I expected, with a finisher's medal around her neck, upon which she announced, "I did it! I'm a half marathoner."

There was food in abundance. I took only a bottle of water and a smallish Krispy Kreme. Cyra-Lea grabbed a couple of things to eat later. (I have never eaten or drunk anything during a half marathon ever, so by that time needed water and a shot of sugar.)

We weren't with anyone, don't know hardly any runners in Columbus, and were planning on going out for late brunch, so we didn't hang out to socialize, party, or listen to the band playing in Arch Park. The walk to our car was less than half a mile, and getting out was as easy as could be, since by then everything we had to cross or travel on had opened up, and Sunday morning traffic was light. We got back home by 11:00 a.m., showered, and went out to enjoy a large meal at Bob Evans, a popular and folksy but not fancy Columbus-based family restaurant chain.

The results reporting for Columbus Marathon, supplied externally by a company called MTec Results, is among the best I've ever seen. For each runner looked up, a number of statistics are shown in an impressively laid out display, including, in addition to final chip time, also ten kilometer split time, average pace, overall place, gender place, and age group pace, all in three different formats. It also shows how many runners the displayed person passed from ten kilometers to finish in the overall category, and how many passed that runner. From a software point of view, given that with chip timing, runners are running asynchronously, it's an interestingly tricky problem.

For reference, my half marathon PR is 2:03 and change, run over twelve years ago. When I was running them regularly I typically came in between 2:15 and 2:17. Given that caveat, here's what the numbers tell me about today's half marathon. The percentages shown I calculated myself, as I do for every race I run, dividing my place by the total shown.

7925 (3224 men, 4701 women) ran the half marathon

Average finish: 2:10:33 (I think that's fast for an average!)

Lynn Newton: 2:43:31 (90.4%)
I placed 28 out of 37 runners in the M6569 Age Group (75.7%)
I placed 7165 out of 7925 runners overall (90.4%)
I placed 3055 out of 3222 Males (94.8%)

Cyra-Lea Drummond: 2:48:58
She placed 7366 out of 7925 runners overall (92.9%)
She placed 4270 out of 4701 Females (90.8%)
She placed 917 out of 977 runners in the F2529 Age Group (93.4%)

From those numbers, I can see that after I surged ahead of Cyra-Lea after the ten-mile point, I finished 201 runners ahead of her, by a margin of 5:27. I was delighted that the gap was that small, and given that her own goal was to go sub-3:00, she is pleased as well.

This afternoon we are two tired but happy puppies, having accomplished our mission with pleasure and aplomb.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

I Coulda Had a Medal

It was not until August 25, 2010, that I decided to run the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run (NC24) in Cleveland, Ohio. Up until the day before, I assumed that I would not be able to participate, and have done no ultramarathon training at all since 2008.

The year 2010 has marked my return to running, following a period of inactivity resulting mostly from fallout following my move from Arizona to Ohio, the aftershocks of which continue to haunt me. During 2008, I ran less then half the mileage that I averaged the ten previous years. By the end of 2008 I decided to stick to long distance walking, declaring myself to be an Urban Walker; no longer would I run ultramarathons, except perhaps races I could walk.

Life changed in 2009. Gradually I began running again on a regular basis, at first in tiny bits, but ending the year with 650 miles more than in 2008. Beginning on January 1, 2010, I successfully negotiated a 100-day running-and-walking streak, through the ice and snow of dead winter, ending with a forty-mile walk on April 10, followed by eight non-consecutive rest days the remainder of April. On May 1, I began streaking once again, aiming to continue until Labor Day, gradually increasing the ratio of running to walking. Along with the benefits of all this has come the loss of over twenty pounds of slob, which has certainly helped my running, not to mention the general state of my health.

In late spring my daughter invited me to run a half marathon with her this fall — her first. How could I refuse? So we signed up to run the Nationwide Better Health Columbus Half Marathon on October 17, four weeks from now.

Therefore, the type of running that I've been doing lately has been focused around increasing the distance I can run continuously. It was just a few years ago that I occasionally knocked off training weeks with mileages in the seventies, and performed feats like running ten no-walking half-marathons in ten days. But I can't do that any more. So far my biggest running day of 2010 has been when I ran 12.3 non-stop miles on a hot day in late August. I stopped there because I ran out of trail, but I couldn't have gone too much further.

The last several weeks I've experienced recurring pain on the top of my left foot. It's not bad enough to make me lay off, but it hasn't gone away, either, and it's been more than a minor annoyance. I probably should do something about it, but I tend to belong to the "ignore it and maybe it'll go away" school of medical treatment.

Then, on September 2, at two and half miles into a ten kilometer out and back, disaster struck, when a sharp pain shot through my right Achilles tendon, causing me to pull up short with a howl. I knew immediately that I was injured for real, and that it would be impossible to go on. Unfortunately, there was no way to get back to my car except to limp cautiously at a twenty-four minute per mile pace. The next day was the first day I took off exercising since April 30, just a few days short of my Labor Day goal. I began immediately with stretching and icing my heel.

Starting the next day I ventured forth cautiously on a few very slow, short walks. There was little I could do but accept that I would have to endure an enforced fifteen-day taper heading into a 24-hour race that I had decided to run barely a week before.

On September 11, 2010, I experimented with a cautious run-walk strategy, in which I counted steps in cycles of four, starting with sixteen, but never going higher than eighty: 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, ... 80-2-3-4 (320 steps total), breathing in two steps, breathing out two steps. It worked so well that I was confident I would be all right on race day, so didn't run another step until the race, but did walk four, three, two, and two miles the week before race day, and took the last two days completely off.

That is — except that NC24 race director Dan Horvath asked if I could show up in Medina, Ohio, the afternoon before the race to help load the truck they'd rented. Sure, I was happy to do that — until I saw the Ryder truck big enough to move an entire warehouse together with the mass of stuff that had to be hauled out of a basement, up a hill, and loaded onto the truck, including over a hundred cases of water, forty-eight pounds each, almost as much Gatorade, and plenty of other stuff with some heft to it, upon which I began to have visions of my race about to fly out the window. Fortunately, about ten people, including Connie Gardner and Nick Coury, who both had exceptional races, also showed up to help.

Contrary to expectations, the hour and a half of non-stop lifting and carrying worked like a miracle drug, as it helped to flush out the poisons of accumulated lethargy, leaving me exhilarated rather than tired.

Between gimpy feet and having almost no time at all to prepare for the race, I did way better than expected. My elevator speech version of the race is this: I had an outstanding first twelve hours, melted down quickly after that, but did better than last year.

On race morning I timed getting ready about as perfectly as possible. I arrived at Edgewater Park at 7:35 AM, leaving me time to set up at a leisurely pace, then get over to hear the pre-race briefing, leaving almost no time to waste sitting around getting nervous.

My preference the past several fixed-time races I've run has been to operate with a minimalist trackside arrangement, consisting of a camp chair, and a small folding table with a gym bag containing a few things that might be required, most of which I didn't need at all. The table served mostly as a place to set my trusty Ultimate Direction 26-ounce water bottle, the type with a kicker valve.

While I'm happy to have a little assistance when it's available, I've long been accustomed to running these races without support. Maybe I would run them better if I had one of those spacious and festively decorated canopy tents staffed with a large crew of zealous sponsors, friends, and family who don't mind sitting outside all night while watching me lumber by and grumble at them them every fifteen minutes or so. But somehow I don't think it would help enough to make the trouble worth it.

This year the race date was bumped a couple of weeks earlier than last year in order to minimize the possibility of disagreeable weather. The temperature reached the upper seventies, probably hotter in late afternoon on this unshaded asphalt bike path. Easterners consider this to be uncomfortable, or at least a bit too warm to perform optimally, but it never was uncomfortable to this thirty-year Arizona desert man. In the evening the temperature never got below the mid-fifties, if that low. Many male runners ran shirtless all through the night, even when thick black clouds loomed up over the lake and threatened a downpour. I put on my rain slicker when rain appeared to be imminent, but we never got more than a couple of drops. Other than that and a brief experiment with a light jacket, which I shed after one lap, I never changed any item of clothing the whole race.

One thing is certain: in any given setting, weather conditions are shared equally by everyone, for better or for worse.

When the race started, I concentrated on the technique of fixed-time run-walk that worked so well for me the week before. And so it was that I shuffled along about three quarters of every 0.9-mile loop, not doing a walk-only loop until 7:20 PM (the time I finished it), then continuing until twelve hours race time, stopping only to grab something to eat or drink from the aid station table and once for a sixty-second portapotty stop.

Some sights and experiences seen along the way:

In mid-afternoon a drum circle formed in the park to the east of the race village. They must have played for three hours. Most runners were happy about their being there.

In mid-evening some pretty people showed up: a good-looking tall man and his beautiful female companion, dressed as if they were on their way to the Oscars. The man smiled from ear to ear, wore a shiny silver buckle the size of a serving tray, and glad handed every runner who passed by, including me. I'm told they were on their way to a wedding and had just stopped by to cheer someone they knew, but they were there for at least an hour. At least one briefly strapped a race number on over dress clothes, but I never saw either one run.

On one lap late at night I talked with a young woman from New York who had been stung by some inconsiderate insect. I heard her howl when it happened. She told me she had reasoned that God was punishing her because she chose to come to the race rather than observe her Day of Atonement.

Both last year and this year the lone street crossing on the course was manned for several hours during the graveyard shift by an arrogant, potbellied cop, who fouled the air with his six-inch cigar and rude language hurled at drivers who had been stopped to wait for runners; in fairness, I never heard him say anything objectionable to any runner or volunteer. But he behaved exactly the same way last year. I hope he doesn't come back again. We don't need to listen to some comic book flatfoot abusing our long-suffering family and crew members coming and going during the night.

At twelve hours I had completed forty-five miles. To be more precise, I finished my fiftieth lap of the 0.90075-mile certified loop, giving me 45.0375 miles, when the race clock said 12:00:07. I saw it turn over to 12:00:00 from a few yards out.

Whereas this mark doesn't constitute an elite performance, its value may be appreciated better by putting it in contextual perspective. The number is comparable to or better than several 12-hour races I ran when I was five to seven years younger, and in my best ultrarunning shape ever. I've recorded three 12-hour all-night races of 43.8087, 45.05, and 43.1873 miles. Also, the 12-hour splits that I have from 72-hour races are: 38.836 (2008) 39.150 (2007), 42.253 (2006), 46.292 (2005, the year I hustled to earn my 1000-mile lifetime mileage jacket), and 45.673 miles in 2004, my PR year. Last year at NC24 (2009), when I was barely breathing, I logged around 39 miles by the twelve-hour mark, and finished with a miserable 60.98 miles, walking the whole race, and sleeping about four hours.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the wheels to fall off in the second half. I decided I would walk one lap; then I walked another. Then I just kept walking and never ran another step the rest of the race.

During the first twelve hours I did all the right things. I must have drunk at least eight 26-ounce bottles of water, several cups of Vernor's ginger ale (a life-giving substance if there ever was one), and quantities of Coke and root beer. I took Succeed! electrolyte capsules no less frequently than hourly, and never felt dehydrated. I ate something at least every other lap, even if it was only a couple of cookies. I started to feel full.

From forty-five to fifty miles, my condition deteriorated rapidly, and from fifty to fifty-two miles I went into a tailspin from which I never recovered.

Eating became a problem. I tried to survive entirely on race food. Unfortunately, I don't do very well with typical race food. Dried peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares, pretzels, noodle soup and potatoes that are microwaved, but are room temperature or colder by the time I get them, get old quickly. Searingly hot food is difficult to consume, but it cools off, and needs to be palatable when it's consumed to be effective.

It must have been just after 9:00 PM when they brought out the pizza, which, unlike any of the other food, was piping hot. There were three kinds: plain (meaning cheese and tomato sauce), vegetable, and vegan, but both the latter two had olives. I don't like olives, and was in no mood to pick them off, so I went with the plain. Real big mistake. It was not long afterward when I began to feel my first pangs of nausea. It was never extreme, just sufficiently unpleasant to make me not want to start running again — or eating either, and to stop on occasion to lean over the edge of the path, just in case my body chose to spontaneously jettison the evil turbulence inside. Fortunately, I had some antacid, which helped the burning, but the nausea persisted until sunup.

During the later hours I observed that few runners were stopping at the aid station. It occurred to me that the best-fed runners are probably the ones who bring crews that serve them all their own favorite special stuff, from Scott Jurekian hummus and fruit smoothies to greasy hamburgers and fries. Different things work for different runners.

After the race we received a generous hot breakfast of egg burrito, rice, and pancakes, but I was able to swallow only about a third of it, and chucked the rest. On the way home in late afternoon I stopped at a McDonald's and bought a chocolate shake, ordinarily Something Very Bad for you, but I needed something cool and sweet and soothing. It hit the spot.

However, it was not food that was my downfall, but sleepiness — as it was also last year. I've reached the stage in life where it's not unusual for me to take a ten-minute nap in the afternoon not long after a run. There's little I can do to fight the urge, and no point in trying.

But it's different when you're in a race. I've gone a full 24 hours and longer several times without needing to sleep, including every 100-mile trail race I've ever done when I didn't DNF before that time.

At last year's NC24 I felt drugged, and experienced the same thing this year. On Saturday I went fourteen and a half hours without a single break of any kind, but during the thirteenth hour my eyelids began to droop, and soon I was walking at a 22:00 pace, zig-zagging across the path, occasionally walking off the edge, and wanting nothing more than to lie down and curl up in the grass.

I had caffeine tablets in my pocket pill dispenser, and contemplated taking one. Their effect on me is unpredictable. Sometimes they serve as a wonder drug, charging me into a dynamo; and sometimes they do nothing but make me nauseated. In 2009 my reward for taking one was the dry heaves. Since I was already experiencing that unpleasantry, I had no desire to exacerbate it, so I passed on the caffeine. Would it have helped? I'll never know.

That left only sleep as an alternative. I still don't know which is tougher in a 24-hour race: struggling to fight off the mounting sleeplessness, which does sometimes pass, or trying to get moving again after sleeping a short period and awaking to find I've locked up tight as a drum, nearly need a cane to prop myself upright, and that I walk like Frankenstein's monster for the first lap.

This year, as last year, I found that a brief nap in my chair was insufficient to knock the urge out of me. Each time I woke up, I re-evaluated my goals for the race. At twelve hours, I was optimistic that I would reach eighty miles. That hope got cut back to seventy-five, then seventy, and finally I acquiesced to the inevitability that at the very least I would do better than last year. By 6:00 AM I realized that I wasn't having a lot of fun any more, and just wanted the race to be over, so I headed to my car, where I could sit and sleep more comfortably than I had in my trackside chair, with no pillow or support. At 7:30, it was light out, and I was finally no longer sleepy, so I headed out to the track and stuck it out to the end, but still moved glacially because of the stiffness that had set in.

There is absolutely no getting around how incredibly hard these races are to do. There is no faking it if one is unprepared and hopes to go the whole twenty-four hours. The lesson may be: the secret to enjoying the experience is to be in good enough shape that the fun part lasts long enough that you never get to the miserable part, which is certain to arrive if you keep at it long enough.

My prediction proved to be accurate. My total came up to 65.514 miles, ninety-eighth place overall out of 147 runners total. At least I wasn't even close to dead last. (Ninety-eighth out of 147 puts me exactly in the sixty-sixth percentile.) Plus I really am an old guy now — it's not just something I joke about — so I can use that as an excuse.

Another state I've reached is being able to take home age group hardware by just showing up. USATF championships go deep into the age groups. Unfortunately, one must be a USATF member to get it, and I was too cheap to join. If I had, I would have gotten second place in my age group, with one of the nicer looking medals I've seen to accompany the honor. There was in fact, one person in my age group who finished after me, but he isn't in USATF either. The medals may be only so much bling, but I've never gotten an age group medal ever, and after all NC24 is a national championship, not just another race.

I could write more about the good runners who performed well, but I won't, because this is my report, not theirs. The results are on the race website for all to admire. But I was especially happy to see Nick Coury get third place in the men's division, earning an opportunity to represent the US on the national team in Switzerland next year. I've known Nick since he was eighteen, when he and his two brothers first showed up at Across the Years. As of this year, Nick and his older brother Jamil have taken over management of Across the Years as co-race directors, and I've had the pleasure of working closely with them this year once again on the race website, which will be my last year of doing so.

And although I don't know her well personally, I watched Connie Gardner hammer out a superlative race, winning it with over 141 miles, about three miles short of the record held since 1993 by the great Sue Ellen Trapp. Still no record for Connie, but no one doubts that she is one of the strongest runners currently in the game.

As for me: interestingly, my feet, which had me so worried, caused me no trouble at all. I didn't even get blisters, although I'll probably lose a couple of toenails. Sometimes my back also gives out. Not so this race. I'm sore all over, but the truth is, I'm just fine, and will be running again in a couple of days.

Most importantly, I'm happier about what I did the first twelve hours of NC24 than I am disappointed about the second twelve hours; it taught me that I can still run at least a little bit if I really want to.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Pale Fire — Vladimir Nabokov

Cover of "Pale Fire"Cover of Pale FireOn Saturday evening I finished reading Vladimir Nabokov's 1963 novel Pale Fire, a work that appears on a number of lists purporting to identify the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

I wouldn't dare to attempt a literary analysis of Pale Fire. It's been a staple of English literature classes for over forty years, and countless reviews and scholarly studies have been created for it; also a number of study guides, replete with pseudo-analyses. These are readily found on the Internet.

Recently I posted an article on this blog about the movie Bright Star, about the life of the romantic poet John Keats. Now here I am, writing a reminiscence of a novel titled Pale Fire, about a poem of the same name by a fictional poet John Shade. The title similarity amuses me.

Of course, that coincidence means nothing.

For readers unfamiliar with Nabokov's novel, the basic story goes like this: The main character is a lunatic named Charles Kinbote, who claims to be the deposed and exiled King Charles the Beloved from Zembla, located "far to the north." He moves in right next to John Shade and his wife Sybil. Shade is a highly respected poet who teaches at a college in Appalachia. Kinbote, a Shakespeare expert, has come there to teach at the same college, and befriends Shade. It becomes clear rather quickly that Shade has only courteously pretended interest in his neighbor, whereas Kinbote is sycophantically obsessed by Shade, who is hard at work on a new lengthy poem, which turns out to be autobiographical, but which Kinbote imagines will be about Zembla and his role there as king. While waiting anxiously for the completed poem, Kinbote makes a pest of himself to the Shades. Sybil Shade refers to Kinbote as "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macao worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." He has not endeared himself to the Shade household.

In the end, on the day Shade completes his poem, another lunatic, a man known as Gradus, appears out of nowhere, and shoots John Shade dead. Kinbote is convinced that the man was a professional but inept assassin whose real target was the escaped King. The police determine he is really an escapee from an asylum for the criminally insane who has come to kill a judge who sent him up, but who stupidly kills the wrong man, both in the real part of the story, and in Kinbote's imagined version of it. Kinbote steals the poem, goes into hiding, and writes the commentary that constitutes the bulk of the book.

I've obviously left out a lot, but there is far more to this novel than the story. Most unusual is its structure, which on the surface consists of a Foreword written by Dr. Charles Kinbote, followed by the 999-line poem "Pale Fire" by John Shade, and 250 pages of commentary on the poem, once again by Dr. Charles Kinbote, including an index of about ten pages. Outwardly, the book looks like a scholarly book of literary analysis. However, every word of the Foreword, poem, commentary, and index are fiction written by Vladimir Nabokov, and form a complete and engrossing novel.

Rather than write more about the story, which is obtainable elsewhere, I wish to comment on the copy I had in my possession, which came from the general circulation shelves of the Bexley Library.

After reading every single word on the jacket and in the front-matter before the novel's text begins (there's very little), I concluded that I held in my hands an genuine first edition, first impression of one of the great novels in English literature.

The cover says "Pale Fire/ A New Novel by Vladimir Nabokov/ Author of Lolita".

At the top of the inside front cover flap are the words "First Impression", and flush right at the same height it says PF/ $5.00. (Might PF stand for "prix fixe"?)

On the copyright page it says "© 1962 by G.P. Putnam's Sons," etc. There's a Library of Congress Catalog Card Number, but no ISBN number, as ISBN numbers were first instituted in 1966. And at the bottom of that few lines of text, separated by some blank space, in small caps, are once again the words "FIRST IMPRESSION".

The rest, until the back jacket cover is all Nabokov's work. On the inside back flap is a one-paragraph biography of Nabokov, current to 1962, and on the back cover, only a photo of Nabokov, with no words whatever.

The book is in excellent condition. Of course the library has stuck its own goo on it, such as the cellophane cover over the jacket, and various stickers and stamps. The binding started to come loose from the cover, but it's been well mended. On about six pages here are the scribblings of a child from a black ball point pen. (Regrettable.)

I'm humbled by the realization of what I'd been permitted to bring home from the library, to treat no differently than if it were a Sunset book on gardening or a collection of Garfield cartoons. (Which, as a respecter of library property, is carefully, regardless of content, but not everyone is so inclined.)

Pale Fire probably doesn't get checked out very often. This is the sort of item that an unscrupulous person might claim was "lost" and then resell for far more than the cost of a replacement, which would likely be some later edition, not a collector's item.

I'm no rare books collector, but for very rough comparison I found a resource on the Internet about determining the value of first edition novels that used Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five as an example. At the time it was written, the numbers looked like this, depending on the condition of the book:

Fine / Fine:$1,500
Fine / Near Fine:$1,250
Near Fine / Very Good+:$750
Very Good+ / Very Good:$400
Very Good / Very Good-:$250
Good / Good:$100

It pointed out that the first edition first pressing of Slaughterhouse Five was rather small, so available copies are extremely rare. I can't say how collectors might value a copy of Pale Fire as compared with a copy of Slaughterhouse Five in the same condition.

I wondered if the library tracks these things, so when I returned it today, I asked a librarian about it. She said that the library has no way to take special care of rare books, that the book was probably bought new and has just been on the shelves all this time. Yes, it's possible that someone could report it missing, pay the replacement cost, and sell it for personal profit.

No, I'm not thinking of doing it myself.

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