Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chips Off the Workbench

Welcome to my verbal webcam. It's been a while since I've posted anything, as I've been busy with work and the upcoming race Across the Years. Meanwhile, here are a few thoughts that pass through my eccentric mind.
  • When people ask me why I run so much at my age I tell them I'm hoping to be the fittest person in the cemetery.

  • Have you ever noticed that the spelling of subtle is subtle?

  • My daughter lives in a town in southern Indiana that's so small the mayor has to double as the village idiot.

  • It's a good thing God didn't supply bananas as manna to the Israelites. Then all the Moabites would have made fun of them, saying: "Na-na, na-na, nah, nah, you eat banana manna!"

  • The only people I've ever known to eschew so-called "higher education" (a slippery term to begin with, but that's another thread), are those who don't have any. I've never known anyone to learn something and then regret knowing it, except maybe a few who know hardly anything. Might there be a cause and effect relationship there?

  • There was a man who had three garages full of nothing but truckloads of sand and rock. Would you call him materialistic? Most people would say no; sand and rock has limited value. But why does he have three garages?

  • It is not a Law of God that I Must Go To The Kitchen to get something to eat just because the idea crosses my mind.

  • Every trail runner knows knows: M&Ms that get carried in a waist pack on a warm day are no longer M&Ms; they become transformed to MNMNMNMMNMMNMNMNMs.

  • This morning, while thinking about Mozart, I reached over and pressed the play button on iTunes, which picked up in the middle of my own composition "What Good Is a Trombone Player?" (a theater piece for trombone, tape, and girl), which sounds uncannily like a herd of frightened cattle being led to slaughter. It made for an interesting segue.

  • There are programmers and there are programmers. I fall into the first category.

  • Novice computer users think they need fancy, expensive software to edit simple plain text, such as email messages. Some users never get beyond using the mouse to cut and paste and the backspace key to delete. Not knowing how to edit a plain text document without a tool like Word is like not knowing how to brush your teeth without an electric toothbrush. Having a software tool like Emacs (or Word) and still not knowing how to edit a plain text document (it happens) is like having an electric toothbrush and an electric razor but still not knowing how to brush your teeth or how to shave.

  • The news is so boring these days. High gas prices. Cannibals. More people washed out to sea in tsunamis. Z-z-z-z.

  • People use the expression "trophy wife." I think of a trophy as something shiny, representing a conquest, but of little intrinsic value. Once I introduced myself to a friend of my wife with, "Hi, my name is Lynn. I'm Suzy's trophy husband."

  • Suzy and Cyra-Lea went with a group of twenty of our friends to see the musical Cats, which I detest. Suzy said that I wouldn't have liked the production anyhow because they didn't have a real orchestra. The music was canned. I replied: "I'm sorry to tell you this: not only that — those weren't even real cats!"

  • I'm amused by US political officials who respond to the aggressive behavior of belligerent nations with threats to "take steps," while no actual action is taken. "Okay Buster, you'd better cut that out or you'll be sorry! I'm counting to 29,748,572,184,723,793,750,871,711,772,938,767,359,841,087,239,487,171 and if you haven't stopped by then, you're going to be in Big Trouble. I'll be forced to take the Next Step! Wooooo!

  • Once a friend told me: "I've been thinking of getting into web design. I've got this neat site with lots of colors and fonts, a link to pictures of my dog, and get this: The title even blinks! It's so cool! I could probably even make some money doing it for others who have no clue how easy it is!"

  • The same friend once sat himself down on our couch with my guitar and launched (uninvited) into a rendition of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" followed by "Puff the Magic Dragon." When he was done he said, "You're probably wondering where I got all this talent." Ummm ... no, the question had not crossed my mind. A few months later he said, "So I've been thinking of going pro." I had to respond: "Pro what?" He was an exterminator by trade. I wasn't sure I wanted him in the house, because I didn't know where he'd been or what he brought with him. (And now you know where all the flowers went!)

  • I know someone whose teenage son stays in his room all day, watching the 24-hour Wickedness Channel.

  • Try to keep him away from any tools more complicated than a wheelbarrow, or he'll hurt himself.

  • Isn't making a smoking section in a restaurant like making a peeing section in a swimming pool or a farting section in church?

  • It should be obvious that diets don't work. Have you ever noticed that only fat people count calories?

  • After reading Raymond Chandler I start thinking like his characters talk. At the gym, upon seeing a pretty lady in tights, I thought: "Da goil has a derriere like a light bulb wid a crease in it! It gives a whole new meaning to da toim: da bottom line."

  • Which reminds me ... Y'know how some women have, like ... watermelons? And some have cantelopes, and others have grapefruits and some have oranges? Well this one had Mrs. Fields cookies with M&Ms in the middle.

  • When someone sends email saying "Here, run this .EXE file", it's like saying, "Turn around, grab your ankles, and trust me."

  • The middle finger of the left hand, sometime used by crass persons to make rude gestures, on the home row of a QWERTY keyboard is on the letter 'D', which in many email clients, including mine, is mapped to a 'delete' command. So whenever I receive undesirable mail I just give 'em the finger.

  • People who know me recognize me as a fluent reader. There is one word that I cannot pronounce no matter how hard I practice, and I have practiced it many times: microscopist. So I hope I never have to read or discuss that subject with someone. But I happen to have a friend who is a professor of biology and an electron microscopist, so the likelihood that I can avoid it is small.

  • When I lived in New York I lived near a cheese store and would stop in about noon almost every Saturday to get some. Being adventurous I would try some weird stuff. One day I brought home a quarter pound of cheese so strong it looked like it was sweating. It took a month to consume.

  • I've never been the sort of person to fritter my money away on necessities.

  • Some people are afraid of challenging music because they think anything interesting must come from the Devil. Perhaps they should stock their libraries with recordings of gnats blinking and breathing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Dumbing Down of Holidays

Modern American society has dumbed down so-called holidays. The word "holiday" is derived from and sounds like an Old English expression "holy day", a day set aside for religious observance, for worship of and paying tribute to God. These days few people are willing to be thought of as devoting anything whatsoever to God. To do so might be thought to be hopelessly sentimental or superstitious.

The most prominent example is Christmas, an unscriptural holiday to begin with, an occasion it never occurred to the original "Christ" of Christmas that his followers should observe. It was added by renegade imitators under the influence of the form Roman religion of the day. Nonetheless, there are millions of people who think of it as a "Christian" holiday. Ye, many see the hypocrisy of the practices, that put it in contrast with the principles of Bible-based Christianity, so rather than rejecting the holiday itself, they reject Christianity.

Today many people are proud to declare themselves non-Christians who nonetheless celebrate Christmas at least to some degree — sometimes whole hog. Why? They can't help it and don't have the fortitude to live according to their real beliefs, so they just go along with it. To make sure people don't get the wrong impression, they avoid where possible referring to the day by its original name, except with a disdainful tone of voice, though when cornered, they might refer to it in writing as Xmas, being sure to take Christ out of it.

Nowadays people have turned the original holidays into opportunities to have family time — something many scrupulously avoid the rest of the year. That becomes their excuse for consenting to go along with a tradition of which they do not personally approve. We have not yet reached the level where people are castigated for expressing a desire to be with their families. (But how many really want to do so?)

In the US the most innocuous, least offensive holiday is Thanksgiving, having only vague associations with non-Christian religious practices, and being more-or-less an expression of secular nationalism. For some Thanksgiving has become an excuse to engage in non-stop football watching on a couch, while engaging in spectacular feats of gluttony.

To me the dumbest dumbing down of them all has been with the number of people who now refer to Thanksgiving as Turkey Day, nicknaming it after the stupidest of birds, because of the traditional dinner fare consumed on that day, thereby removing any trace of an indication that they might actually use the occasion to reflect on what they have and have accomplished and be thankful for it.

To be thankful means to be full of thanks; in essence being thankful means giving thanks. But to whom is a person who has no relationship whatever with his Creator going to give that thanks and credit? To no one else. So he might as well quietly enjoy what gratefulness he feels, keep his mouth shut, and congratulate himself for his own cleverness in managing to acquire any sort of good he has happened to accomplish in his life.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Streisand Does Phoenix

When Suzy and I have told people we went to hear Barbra Streisand in concert Thursday night (November 16th) the almost universal reaction has been a discreet, "Well, Barbra Streisand is not my cup of tea, but I'm glad you had fun." Internally their reaction is roughly the same as if we had said we'd attended a public hanging.

Fortunately for Babs' career, there are quite a few people for whom she still is their cup of tea, even their choice of thirty-year-old single-malt, judging from the number of people willing to pay between $150 and $500 (and more) per ticket to experience the occasion. Given that Barbra Streisand concerts have become sufficiently rare that they have taken on the status of historical occasions, we opted to splurge and go. To heck with the mortgage payment.

The venue was the US Airways Center basketball arena — not the best setting for musical enjoyment, unless that music is electronically amplified to perversely unnatural proportions. You wouldn't want to go there to hear Gustav Leonhardt play a concert of Frescobaldi Canzonas on the clavichord. And if you happen to be sitting in one of those seats of a width appropriate for a high school cheerleader but are between two great big fatsos, your concert experience will not be an entirely pleasant one. But for music that consists of mostly amplified noise, the arena works passably well.

From where we sat — in the next to last row of the upper level, as far away as possible, but in the dead center, such that if a perpendicular were extended from the front plane of the stage it would split the seats between me and the lady on my left — Barbra was recognizable only with the aid of binoculars. This was compensated for by showing her closeups on enormous video monitors on either side of the stage, which meant that we paid $300 to fight unbelievable traffic to get to uncomfortable seats where we heard electronic renditions of Barbara Streisand singing while watching her on TV. Knowing that she was really down there in person, that speck walking back and forth on the stage, made it all worth it, I suppose.

It's an honored tradition for popular music concerts to start late, so no one bothers to come to them on time. The scheduled start time was 7:30, but not a note of music was heard until shortly after 8:00, which is unforgiveable. Some people made sacrifices to be there, and had to get up early to go to work the next day. Despite this, the last two people to arrive in our row did not arrive until 8:20, requiring everyone to stand up and let them squeeze by in the dark while the music was playing, because, of course, their seats were in the very middle of the row. Thanks.

As I looked around I noted the constituency of the audience: almost no young people at all, and an average age of around fifty, but not quite the white-haired set. I guess that would mean it's mainly baby boomers. In the world of live music performances the rule tends to be: the older the music, the older the audience. Dress was strictly informal without being gross, of the type worn by sports crowds. To my surprise, the house was only about 80% sold out by my estimation.

Our section was graced with what were inarguably the two single loudest hooters in the joint, fans who waited on the edge of their chairs for the slightest sign of recognition of a newly started song to make a scene at the top of their lungs. If I'd been performing, I would have appreciated the devotion, but hated the rude interruptions.
"Meeeeem — 'rieeees ..."

So we'd paid $300 to witness a recreation of Ted Mack's Amateur Hour? Sorry, but my classical music background simply cannot accept that low level of vociferous hick culture.

The concert itself was good and undeniably enjoyable, but far from the greatest I've ever heard. It was merely Barbra singing — which is exactly what one would hope for, and certainly what I came to hear — mostly songs everyone present had heard many times before as long as forty years ago. My personal concertgoing preference is to hear new work from artists I respect, given that we have the much better original recordings of most of this material, but I suppose that was a bit much to expect, as superstar comeback tours are almost by definition hit parade revues.

Barbra still looks great for a woman who was discouraged by her mother from going into show business because she's "not pretty." (Jewish mother syndrome noted.) Her hair is quite long and dyed light these days, and she wore attractive and ungaudy but somewhat low cut evening dresses. She complained just before intermission about the high heels hurting her feet, so in the second half she just kicked them off and did the rest of the show without them. It's her show, so nobody could blame her. High heels should be outlawed for women anyhow. But that's another rant. (They should be outlawed for men, too, for somewhat different reasons. Yet another rant.)

A full size orchestra was present, playing from a sunken split pit (or more precisely on the floor surrounded by a raised stage), strings and piano on the left, everyone else on the right, with a runway separating them. The vigorous conductor stood on the left, so could be seen by musicians on both sides. There were at least eighty musicians, and I am told that they constitute a touring orchestra rather than a pick-up group able to play the show in one or two rehearsals. (There is nothing particularly difficult about the arrangements.) It is commendable that the same group travels with the show. It's extraordinarily expensive to carry that many musicians, with their travel expenses rather than hiring locals, but it adds to the quality of the performance when players who know the music from having played it night after night for a period of time are utilized. Usually when such things are done, corners are cut by reducing the number of string players, to their credit, they didn't compromise the budget with a reduced string section, which I was happy to see. Having a large orchestra, including full strings, not only improves and balances the sound, but lends additional opulence to the show. If I pay $150, I wanna hear strings, dang it!

The only visual effects to enhance the performance were done with an enormous number of colored spotlights, always acceptably tasteful to the degree that Broadway and Hollywood art can be described that way.

One regrettable feature of the show was Barbara's accompanying act, a male quartet called Il Divo, which I think is Italian for Four Tenors on Tranquilizers. In my opinion, they totally suck. There, I said it, even though suck is not a very nice term when used in this way. Despite their obvious technical credentials and polish, their overall artistic impact rings false. This group is thoroughly worth making a special effort to avoid hearing.

I would say that I'm surprised that Barbra would even perform with a group like them, given that she exercises absolute control over her shows, but she has not been beyond sinking to the lowest depths in collaboration with other so-called musicians. The utterly execrable movie A Star Is Born, with Kris Kristofferson, is a notable case in point. When I saw this movie on video I had to leave the room halfway through it in order to avoid throwing a beer can at my TV screen.

I'm sure I could find several other examples. Remarkably, this movie soundtrack earned eight Grammy nominations, which says a lot more about the Grammys than about Streisand's choice of colleagues. "Stupid is as stupid does," as Gump's mama liked to say.

I'm sure Il Divo buzzes the drawers of a lot of middle-aged ladies (including possibly even Barbara herself), with their dashing good looks, tuxedos, and accents (a Swissman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and a Coloradan). Their mismatched bellowing voices and accents singing unexciting and overwrought arrangements left me unpositively moved.

The climax of Il Divo's performance was a rendition of Frank Sinatra's egomaniacal chest-thumper "My Way." Frankly speaking, I prefer Sinatra's way way better. Later they joined Streisand for a version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story, which although again highly Hollywoodized, was somewhat better, thanks partly to Barbra, not to mention that West Side Story is arguably the greatest American musical ever, with every single song a memorable masterpiece.

Whatever people think of Barbra Streisand personally, she remains an outstanding singer and showperson, a person gifted with a great and unique voice, one she has used magnificently at times. Her style is unique among singers. She does subtle technical things with her voice that no one else does, probably because no one else can. I'm not aware of many Streisand imitators — except among certain men who dress up and perform as women; even among them the imitation is more of her persona than her singing.

Barbra has been one of the greatest superstars for over forty years. We've all heard her recordings and seen her often horrible movies, so there's no need to describe here the way Barbra Streisand sings. Everyone in America who does not live under a rock knows the voice, recognizable in an instant.

Streisand's singing is difficult to classify. Although technically masterful, she is by no means a classical singer. Her carefully sculpted and undeviating lines prevent her from being labeled a jazz singer, nor has she ever claimed to be one. She's way too good to be lumped with most pop singers, and is no rock and roller either. The closest category that can be assigned is that of American musical theater — a good thing, because it's in that arena that Streisand has had her greatest artistic success. Her 1992 album Back to Broadway is a masterpiece, one of her best ever — preceded by plenty of mediocre offerings.

Barbra's voice has mellowed now that she's over 64 years old. She can still soar with surprising power, but the sound has lost a bit of its sleek, De Lorean stainless steel edge; her intonation, while essentially razor sharp, now suffers slightly along with spontaneous efforts at phrasing and pulling away from the beat; particularly when reaching some high notes, she had to strain a few times, barely making it up to pitch, while in previous years she could have shattered plate glass with a vocal climax. Streisand is not a notably rhythmic singer, but on her recordings her phrasing is usually impeccable. Her diction is without equal among singers, and was in full glory at Thursday's concert.

Another strong point from Barbra's days gone by is her phenomenal breath control — her ability to shape long phrases in a broad pitch and dynamic range with utter control in a single breath, not unlike a figure skater slowly working through perfect basic figures. She still has that, but less so, as I caught her taking occasional breaths in awkward places I wouldn't have expected. The funny thing about it is you notice these differences only when you've heard perfection in comparison. A lesser singer could virtually gasp, gag, and growl all the way through a performance, and if that's what you are used to hearing from that performer, you'll take it for granted as a part of that person's "style," which word is sometimes used as an excuse for a lack of vocal technique.

The show included a bit of labored patter, some of it contrived, obviously created that day for local use (jokes about Camelback mountain and Scottsdale eateries), sounding sometimes overscripted, stiff, and unrehearsed — possibly read for the first time off the teleprompter.

Early in the second half Streisand indulged in political proselytizing under the guise of comedy at the expense of the current American president, an admittedly easy target. This humor was received with a mixture of hoots and polite resignation. Some of the jokes were funny, but the subject matter was uncomfortably not so. It is probably largely because of such excursions that Barbra has earned herself an army of dislikers.

The concert's play list included almost nothing unfamiliar. Several tunes from Funny Girl were presented, the vehicle that made her famous, along with "The Way We Were", "Evergreen", and others even the most casual pop music listener has heard for many years. I'm assuming the one or two tunes I never heard before myself are just songs from long ago that I missed.

The program was not a marathon presentation, but of an appropriate length for a 64-year-old woman. Barbara seemed completely comfortable on stage, having overcome her legendary battle with stage fright, which she explained was caused by fear of forgetting words, something she did on three songs in front of 150,000 people many years ago, but has been conquered with the help of teleprompters.

She was gracious in accepting applause and cheers, seemed genuinely glad to be performing, grateful for her fans, and made her exit before becoming tiresome, while the audience still longed for just a tiny bit more.

Her final curtain call was desecrated by a cameo appearance by none other than Kris Kristofferson, who by coincidence happened to be in town performing the same night, though nobody was quite sure where, nor even cared.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On Being a Soldier

People can put any spin they want on words to defend war and those who join the military — willingly or otherwise. They can call them freedom fighters or defenders, and imply they had a choice by saying they make sacrifices. The one that gets me is when they refer to them as peacekeepers — calling black white and expecting people to accept it. However it's phrased, a soldier is a trained killer, pure and simple, a person who has been taught to take the lives of other humans, efficiently and without qualms of conscience, in the belief that they are doing it in the name of some cause not of their own origination, but which they have been induced to support — again, willingly or otherwise. Ironically, the soldiers they are trying to kill are exactly the same as they are and have had pretty much the same experience. In other circumstances they could be best friends. It makes you think, doesn't it? No? Well, it should.

To-Do Lists

I don't do things unless I've added them to a to-do list. Sometimes my wife will ask me to do something. I'll say, "But that's not on my list." She'll say, "So put it on your list." So I put it on my list. Then I'll do it — eventually. Then I get the satisfaction of deleting it from my list. It feels more like I've done something that way. And I can say to Suzy, "You know that thing you asked me to do? I did it, and crossed it off my list." And she gets to think her husband is orderly and productive.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Javelina Jundred 2006

At Javelina Jundred 100-mile trail race on November 4th and 5th, 2006, I had my toughest outing ever in that or in any other race. Less than two miles into my fifth loop at a little over 60 miles, I turned back and dropped, but I was fried both mentally and physically long before.

This experience leaves me with a record of zero for four in finishes, which no one else can claim. As fellow ultrarunner Dan Baglione reminded me: It's still a record, enviable or otherwise! Rodger Wrublik told me that if I return next year they'll have to redesign the bib because he doesn't think they can fit four skulls (representing DNFs) on it.

Months before the race I made the decision that regardless of the outcome, JJ 2006 would likely be my last attempt at a 100-mile trail race. I say "likely" only because I don't like to shut doors, but I have other plans in my immediate future that make another attempt seem unlikely.

To Begin At the Beginning

My finishing record for JJ to date had been zero for three, with physical, technical, and mental factors bringing me down each of the previous races at approximately the same point in each race — near the beginning of the sixth lap.

This year I began better prepared than ever, and in better shape, albeit a year older. At age 63, I don't expect to be doing anything more dramatic than finishing these events; but I did hope for that much. I would not enter and start a race that I did not genuinely believe I can finish.

Beginning in May, I succeeded in meeting every one of my training goals, with long runs almost every weekend (taking a short break in June for my daughter's wedding), several 20-mile runs, a 35-mile run, a 42.5-mile night run, and a 40-mile night run on Pemberton trail, the race site, on which I have run over 50 loops and could navigate in my sleep. Also, in September I covered 102.82 miles in one 9-day sequence without walking a single step of it, and after a break of four days, did another 9-day sequence of 89 miles where I did daily two-hour track runs, running four laps and walking one. Those were squeezed in between the 42.5-miler on September 2nd and the 40-miler on October 7th. The rest of October was spent tapering carefully, as I ran nothing longer than a 15-miler two weeks before the race.

In addition, I'd done far more mental and technical preparation than any prior year, designing a race plan with the greatest of attention to lap split goals, even estimating time to each aid station. After several rounds of revision, I printed the final plan, took it to Kinko's to laminate, and hung it upside down from my number belt with a couple of trimmed off cable ties, so I could flip it up and consult it at will. It was a très cool idea that worked out well for as long as I lasted.

Three days before the race I began assembling, checking, and double checking all my gear, determining an assigned and easy to reach place for each item, minimizing the amount of stuff I would have to carry on my person, deciding what I would wear, when to change clothes, how many water bottles to carry on which lap, and how to get through the aid stations with the greatest efficiency.

Above all, I had my ace in the hole — the best pacer a person could possibly acquire, with whose take-charge intelligence, and genuinely caring help I felt certain I could make it to the end this year.

If that weren't enough, I had race director Jimmy Wrublik, who was my pacer last year, and several other good running friends — among them Burke Painter and Jimmy's father Rodger — all of them busy with more important official race business, taking time out to crew me at lap turnarounds, fetching things for me, helping me to get back out as fast as possible, so that I never even had to visit the aid station area.

The Day Before

I was jumping like a chimpanzee more Friday than before any race in memory, because I longed earnestly to put an end to my pitiful dry spell, and had high expectations of doing so. Though I plodded along at some low-priority projects, productive work was out of the question. By noon I had everything as assembled as it could be, such that all that was necessary was to load up and go.

As I've done each race year, I headed to McDowell Mountain Park plenty early, so I could meet new people, renew older acquaintances, and just hang out. Rodger and timer Dave Combs were running a little late getting the goody bags stuffed with transponders, so I managed to make myself useful for a while helping out with that. In the end, most people found their own bags, then stood in line to check in, which went quickly, without need for a complicated, formal check-in process.

Jimmy, who is age 17, and both modest and shy, gave his first pre-race speech, perceptibly nervous, but before an eager audience unanimously pulling for him to score high marks in his ambitious assignment. Discussion was kept to a minimum, and soon people were scurrying off to their tents, hotels, and homes to make preparations for various nights of unrest.

In my case, Suzy made us a nutritious meal of tomato based soup with pasta and a bagel, after which I was in bed with the lights out and the covers pulled up at 7:58pm. To my surprise, I slept soundly for the first two hours, then fitfully for a while, then soundly again. My failsafe internal alarm clock caused my eyes to sproing open at exactly 2:57am, allowing me to turn off the alarm before it went off, not awakening Suzy, who is a light sleeper.

My race preparation routine has become a priestly ritual. I no longer need a reference list, but can glide through it quickly from memory. All my gear was ready to pick up and put in the car when I was ready.

This time I took particular care with preparing my feet with tape, Bag Balm, women's half-height nylons turned inside out under low-cut black Feetures running socks, with gaiters going on before my Asics 2110s. The effort served me well; after the race I detected no blisters or foot problems of any type as a result of the expedition.

It normally takes 45 minutes from driveway to trailhead to get to the park on a Saturday afternoon. On race morning, with zero traffic, it took only 40 minutes, which included a couple of minutes to stop and chat with the guy at the front guard shack, who was in a mood to talk about the weather and the moon. By 4:45am I was comfortably parked.

It was not too chilly — in the mid-50's — which may have been a bad sign, but it made getting my personal aid station set up quite easy. Jimmy and Rodger reserved a spot right next to the timing tent for me, just like last year. All I would have to do each lap was tend to my needs, turn around, and go back out. It sounded good in theory, but in practice was a little harder than that.

We're Off

The race started precisely at 6:00am, by which time light was beginning to appear. I opted to carry no headlamp, knowing from experience that for at least the first ten minutes I could see adequately by the lights of others around me, and that after that I would need no light at all, and didn't want to carry a flashlight for the duration of a 15.4-mile loop.

Despite all precautions, I did trip and scrape my knee six minutes into the race, the first time I've fallen on that trail since the middle of the night in last year's race. It was one of those falls where I bounced right back up as though nothing happened, and didn't realize until the end of the first loop that I had bloodied my right knee slightly. No matter, because it didn't hurt.

My hoped-for split times were:
Lap 1: 3:50
Lap 2: 4:05
Lap 3: 4:20
Lap 4: 4:35
Lap 5: 4:45
Lap 6: 5:15
Lap 7: 3:00 (9.2-mile partial lap)
which, if everything went perfectly, would bring me in at 11:50am the next day, ten minutes before the 30-hour cutoff. There was virtually no cushion built into those goals, particularly knowing that the totals include any turnaround time at the trailhead, which meant that they were effectively drop-dead times, but I preferred that to always thinking I could play catch-up later — because I never can.

The first lap was wonderful, as it always is. With three days of utterly no running or walking, two previous good nights sleep, three mugs of home-ground coffee, nerves supercharged with adrenalin, clear skies, and the prospect of accomplishing a long sought-after goal, I was okay to go.

Traveling in the clockwise direction, I estimated the time between aid stations to be 35%, 35%, and 30% of the total respectively, because the easy downhill jeep road on the north is so conducive to relaxed, effortless running. In the clockwise direction I estimate it's closer to even thirds between stations, with a longer overall lap time.

When I got to the first aid station (Coyote Camp) I was about two minutes ahead of schedule. Not a problem. By the second aid station, I needed to stop at the portajohn (a new and much appreciated convenience feature this year), and left still a few minutes ahead. The rest of the lap I forced myself to take several walking breaks when I would not otherwise be inclined to do so. When I crossed the mat my watch said 3:37:24 — a bit further ahead than I wanted, but still not too fast. (I've run it in 3:05.)

At that turnaround it was time for sunscreen and a second bottle, which I filled with Succeed Ultra, after first shedding my gloves, then headed out the counterclockwise direction for what was supposed to be a 4:05 lap. The weather was still pleasant, but the sun was rising, and trouble was on the way.

When I got to the Jackass Junction aid station I was still about two minutes ahead of pace. It would be the last time. Then the warmth of the day began.

Between the two outlying aid stations on the second lap, something went horribly wrong, from which I was never able to recover. This section of the course, which is the prettiest, rolls constantly, with few segments more than 50 yards at a time either up or down, and almost none that are flat. It requires constant adjustment and concentration to make optimum progress.

The temperature never rose above the mid-eighties Saturday. As an Arizona runner, this should not bother me, as I've had good training runs on this trail when it was well over 100. But for some reason, by the time I got to the next aid station, I had slowed down to the point of being about 15 minutes behind. As yet undeterred, figuring it was just warm and I had to exercise patience, I made my way back. My split time was 4:31:41, for a cumulative time that left me 14 minutes behind schedule only 30% done with the race, with the hottest part of the day yet to come.

For my third lap, with a goal of 4:20, I refilled both Ultimate Directions 24-ounce kicker valve bottles, but one had only water, because I was getting sick of Succeed Ultra. I depended on my flask of Hammer Gel and whatever I could get down at the aid station for calories, but found that anything dry, such as pretzels, would become a mushy pulp in my mouth a half mile later and would wind up being spit out. One thing that did go down easy was plain old Coke, which I could guzzle two or three cups at a time. I also took my PrincetonTek 3-LED headlamp, because it would be getting dark later in the lap, but I didn't need my big flashlight for that short period.

It was on this lap that I began to realize that finishing the race on time would be unlikely. With darkness and mercifully cooler temperatures coming, my only hope was to forget about the pace chart and push forward as hard as I could. As anticipated, I did manage to run most of the way down the jeep trail, but the
section from the north corner to the aid station, run in 24 minutes the first time around, took 34 minutes this time. How is it even possible to go that slowly and still be running?

My third lap split was 4:59:08, now about 45 cumulative minutes behind. After that I didn't pay much attention.

Enter My Secret Weapon

Readers who read my account of the 40-mile training run at Pemberton Trail on October 7th are aware that I planned to use a pacer at Javelina, namely Laura Nagy. In my summary of that highly enjoyable and successful run I lauded Laura's considerable credentials: a one-time 3:02 marathoner, multiple ultramarathon winner, triathlete, ACE certified trainer, just for starters. In addition, Laura is good company for this runner who prefers much of the time to just shut up and run.

Being the sort of person who does not like to see the unsolicited generosity of others taken for granted, I simply must let people know that what they do is genuinely appreciated. Laura made exceptional self-sacrifices to help me get through this race. When I blew up at the end, as disappointed as I was for myself, I felt even worse about letting her down, because she remained convinced I could have finished.

Laura did more than simply accompany me during the night. It was she who helped me plan my lap splits, doing research on previous race data, preparing a spreadsheet, over which we haggled about the details for weeks before the race before coming to agreement. She also offered quite a bit of helpful training advice, some of which I actually followed. And as I said, we had a de facto dress rehearsal of the race doing that night run, and foresaw no major problems. By race day I knew one thing above all, that execution according to plan would be the key to success. So I promised myself that I would try my best to submit to whatever Laura suggested during the race.

As I Was Saying ...

I was about a mile out from Jeadquarters, well behind schedule, still in a good mood, but struggling, and it had grown dark, when suddenly I heard a lady's voice: "Are you Lynn Newton?" Yes? "It's me, Laura!" She had picked up my 14-LED green flashlight and come out to meet me, thinking I might need it. I didn't, but I appreciated the gesture.

The rest of the way she talked non-stop about what we would do when we got back, while feeding me Clif Shot Blocks, a new product sort of like Gummy Bears with which I was not familiar, which turned out to be one of the only palatable foods I encountered that night.

Laura was determined to be sure I consumed about 100 calories every 25 minutes, and offered indisputable physiological reasoning why this was necessary. I had been surviving mostly on Hammer Gel and Succeed Ultra, plus I forgot to tell her I did pig out before the start of the third lap, when I could still eat. But my stomach was beginning to trouble me. After a while I began to feel like a steer being force fed and readied for slaughter.

When running an ultra a person's alimentary canal becomes like the Alaskan pipeline, hauling a huge volume of stuff in and out. We are not built to process food that rapidly, and not everybody can adjust to it. This, like the running itself, needs to be practiced for in training, not on race day. Over the years I've tended to eat less than I should, but have done better in races where I've managed to eat frequently, delivering calories in small regular doses.

Nothing takes the fun out of running like nausea. I had never barfed in my life during a run, but came very close on two occasions, both from the fructose buildup from frequent ingestations of Gatorade, which I like and can tolerate on runs up to about a half-marathon, but never use for anything longer.

The honest truth is I really hate most typical race food. I particularly don't like foods with manufactured chemical names like Endurox and CycloPower and Energine. I like foods with names like banana and lentil and yogurt. Laura kept telling me to think of it not as food but as fuel. So how did I suddenly become a diesel engine? Lately I can handle Hammer Gel — a good thing, because I got four new jugs of it not long before the race. Most race drinks, including Succeed Clip2 and Ultra, while they go down easy at first, get too disgusting to think about swallowing after a couple of hours. Happily, I can almost always consume plain old water, at least in sips, no matter how bad I feel.

At the lap turnaround, which took 4:59:08 by my watch, I changed my shirt and added a jacket, while trying to wolf down food that Laura and others were bringing me. On the way out I picked up my superlative Tektite 14 green LED flashlight, with which I have no fear of running at night at any speed I'm capable of, but I kept my Princetontek around my neck as a backup, and soon we were off on lap five. I was glad when Laura said we probably would not be increasing pace, but I also knew that we would have to keep hammering relentlessly, and I was still less than half done with the race. If you think too much about how far you have to go you will quit soon. It's much better to get from aid station to aid station.

Having a pacer is not about having company, someone to yakkety yak with. I'm perfectly capable of being by myself for endless periods of time. Rather, it's a matter of having someone who is way better and fresher than me take the lead and keep me on track — not an easy thing to do when starting from a position of being far behind.

For most of lap four Laura was ahead of me, moving at a pace that was difficult at times for me to keep up with. I'd say I felt like a sled dog, except the musher was in the lead. We didn't talk much except for necessary discussion about matters related to the race, which was fine with me, because I needed to gulp oxygen, not talk.

It was on lap four that my stomach gave me the worst trouble. When I've had nausea in the past, it's been minor, and would pass — particularly if I would just not eat and drink for a little while, which seems like the natural thing to do. I don't know anyone whose inclination is to eat something while on the verge of throwing up.

But eat I did, and it became more and more difficult. First there was a veggieburger (without bun) that was still warm enough to be consumable, though I could get only about half of it down, while leaving another one getting stone cold in the sandwich bag. Next I had several slices of boiled potato, which should go down easy, but consumed cold started to make me gag. Somewhere in there I had some lukewarm vegetable soup. And on it went, as I obediently did my best to eat and drink on schedule, but feeling worse as time went on, and more exhausted much too early than I ever expected to be. My condition was deteriorating rapidly.

The night was pleasant, and the moon was as full as could be on a cloudless night. Many runners flew by in both directions using no lights at all. Three years ago I traveled much of the night without a light because it was so bright, but having my green LED flashlight let me not have to worry at all about rocks, ditches and other hazards on the road. Before my first nighttime run I used to be terrified by the notion of running through a wilderness at night. Now I look forward to it as one of the best parts of the experience. It's much pleasanter and safer than many people might suppose.

My condition gradually degenerated over the course of the fourth lap, to the point that privately I was succumbing to the resignation that I would have to drop at the end of it, earlier than I have quit in any of my previous outings.

Already crushed with disappointment, I found that my biggest problem was not in making the decision to stop, but in how to tell Laura, who had done so much to help me out, and who was sure from our training run a month before that I would prevail. Besides, she had some training goals of her own she wanted to accomplish, so in quitting I felt that I was letting her down in a big way. But I refused to bring it up on the road.

Our time for the fourth loop, almost entirely walked, according to my Timex, was 5:03:20, including turnaround time at the beginning, faster than my fourth loop last year, and cumulatively only about 15 minutes behind my pace from last year, at which I felt vibrantly strong and enthusiastic all the way through the fifth lap, and into the beginning of the sixth lap, before melting down rapidly and dropping at Jackass Junction, barely able to walk.

At Jeadquarters I went through the ritualistic motions of getting ready for lap five, putting on a sweatshirt, trying to eat, making necessary adjustments, hoping against hope that something would happen to revive me. My head was in a fog. Finally I mustered the nerve to tell Laura I couldn't do another lap and wanted to drop.

To her credit as a pacer, she would hear nothing of it. Jimmy and Burke were also there to bolster my spirits. I had already taken too long at this layover. It was time, as Yoda says: to do or not do — there is no try. Being thoroughly disgusted for being toast with 40 miles left to go, and knowing that come what may a sixth lap would be out of the question, much less a finish, I got up and zombied my way out alone while Laura tended to putting on some tights, then caught up with me. It didn't take her long to do that, as she was still fresh enough to run the whole thing if she'd wanted to.

Clockwise loops head out to the southwest, beginning with a mile or so of short, rolling bumps in the road, then comfortably runnable downhill, until arching around a 180-degree curve that goes steeply up to a ridge that remains uphill and treacherously rocky for two or three miles. I have in the past run entire training loops of this trail without any walking except to pop electrolytes, including this nasty ridge. But as I contemplated heading up it sometime after 1:00am Sunday morning, I felt like I might need a winch to drag me up.

More than that, I considered the consequences. Every step away from Jeadquarters meant a step returning, for there are no convenient drop spots from the trail. I considered that if necessary I could have dropped at Coyote Camp and walked slowly down Tonto, but I wasn't having much fun any more, and that option would mean prolonging my misery nearly three more hours.

I was also getting sleepy, which is not normally too much of a problem for me. I always carry caffeine tablets, and had not taken one, because their effect on me is unpredictable: they either serve as a miracle drug, or they upset my stomach and have little perceptible influence on my state of wakefulness — something I did not need to have happen in my current state. Whichever happens, it happens almost instantly, within just a few minutes. In desperation, I took one, thinking it might artificially recharge me. Caffeine is known for hitting the system with noticeable within a couple of minutes.

Finally, as we headed around the curve on the approach to the uphill to the ridge, about 1.8 miles from Jeadquarters, I came to a halt, stopped Laura, and we had a heart-to-heart talk in which I expressed profusely both my gratitude and my regrets, but there was no way I was going to make it up that hill and around for another lap. I needed to turn back. "What hill?" was Laura's response. Very funny. But I knew exactly where we were on the course, and what was coming up immediately.

The matter was sealed right there when suddenly I experienced something that had never happened to me: a case of the dry heaves, coming in two waves, both times ending in a painful stomach cramp that nearly put me on the ground. Laura suggested helpfully that if I took a big drink of water I might throw up. Somehow, this did not strike me as a good idea at the time, and for the first time that night I refused to follow her suggestion! If I had any lingering doubts about my own fitness to continue, that put a lid on them right there.

After giving myself a minute to catch my breath, I straightened up, and we turned around and started walking back. Officially, I had completed four laps, which adds up to 61.6 miles counting decimals. (The park's official cartographer-measured distance for one loop is 15.4 miles, regardless of what some signs and maps report.) Unofficially, I advanced about another 1.8 miles before turning around, and believe me, I've added both that and the 1.8-mile return to my running log! I want to take credit for what I can.

Non-running would-be comforters will inevitably try to tell me that going 61.6 miles is not so bad. But — yeah it is, if it's a 100-mile race. (In JJ's case, 101.6 miles to be precise.) If a runner falls dead a foot from the finish mat, sorry, but it still goes down as: Sorry, that's a DNF, and by the way, what should we do with the body? Most people who follow ultrarunning know that very scenario almost happened at the Western States 100 this year.

My race over, we were able to enjoy some pleasant ordinary conversation on the way back, and the truth is, I felt somewhat better, probably as a result of the heaves. It's funny how it works out that way sometimes. Maybe I could have gone on after that? I'll never know, because we didn't.

It must have been around 2:30am when I passed by the timing tent and told Dave Combs I was dropping. Burke got my transponder, and that was officially the end of it for me.

I didn't spend much time sitting and watching others, even though I had a box seat, since I was tired, embarrassed, disgusted, and had nothing to celebrate. Instead, I headed to the car and slept on the front seat. But not until I had one more brief episode of dry heaves after opening the front door and dangling my sorry head out. Not good.

As disgustingly funky as I was, I managed to sleep soundly for a couple of hours, then fitfully for a while longer, before prying myself out into the chilly morning's early light.

Being in no hurry to get out, I did manage to touch base with a few people who passed through, listening to a wild story from Gary Cross, who had come to pace John Radich, about how they took a wrong turn just 0.1 miles down the trail and doing an extra seven miles (and I'm still having difficulty conceiving how that's even possible); later meeting John for the first time; and I also caught the indomitable Catra Corbett, waiting to go back out with Wonder Woman Xy Weiss, the Dirty Girl Gaiters lady. I asked Catra how she does it? "Just one foot in front of the other" was her pointed reply. Oh yeah, I must have forgotten to do that. I'll try and remember next time.

I made other new acquaintances at the race and renewed others during the race — Brian Kathol from Alberta, Lucinda Fisher, and 70-year-old Peter Fish all come to mind. During the race many people greeted me by name that I could not identify, and not just because we had our names on our bibs. I'm guessing that most were Ultra List members who have read my various posts, including race reports, and the running articles on my blog. Some have directly told me that they read my past accounts carefully in preparation for Javelina Jundred. I hope it did them some good, because most of them finished, while I have yet to do so myself.


So what went wrong? I have no idea. My training was good, I was well-prepared, I executed to the best of my ability up until the warmth of the afternoon, and I've run further and faster on numerous occasions.

I'm in better shape this year than for any of the previous three races, though to be sure, at 63 age is unquestionably beginning to be a factor. That's one reason I believed on Sunday morning I will not try another 100. What I believe tomorrow may be different. Next year at this time, barring unforeseen circumstances, I already have committed to doing something else that will make running Javelina impossible. The next opportunity I might have is in two years, at which time I'll be 65. Isn't that getting to be a bit long in the tooth to be a first-time 100-mile trail race finisher, especially for someone who is not and never has been any good at running? One thing is for certain: it's not going to be any easier at some future time. We shall just have to wait and see.

To Top It Off

My car was packed and I headed off to home about 7:00am. But two more experiences awaited me on Sunday to cap off a most eventful day.

I had driven a mile or less down the main road on the way out of the park, when I opened the window to spit out some gunk that had accumulated in my throat. Big mistake. The wind blew it back in on me, and in my brief reaction to discover where it landed, I took my concentration off the road and suddenly found myself driving on the dirt, headed toward a ditch. My instincts took over rather than the things I've learned about what to do in such situations, so my reactions were probably all wrong, as I slid and steered wildly. I skidded out of control onto both the left and right shoulders, and finally turned completely around, 460 degrees, finally coming to rest in the middle of the road, leaving a huge cloud of dust and big, black, prominent skid marks on the road. A rousing way to start my trip home. Fortunately, there was nobody in sight to witness the fiasco. (And therefore no one to worry or frighten, because I was fine.) The near accident had nothing to do with drowsiness, as I was wide awake. It was just careless inattention.

To add insult to injury, when I got home and was getting settled, being finally able to eat once again, I chowed down on something and promptly popped a crown off my lower left central incisor (tooth 24 in the tooth numbering system that dentists use). The rest of Sunday and yesterday my tongue turned into hamburger, as it seems to be universally true that people are unable to keep their tongues out of newly formed holes in their mouths. My dentist was able to re-cement it for me early Tuesday morning, much to my relief.

So you might say I had a tough weekend. But I'm not bitter! I still have Across the Years ahead of me this year, with every expectation of doing well at it.

And guess what else: I will wear the race shirt next time I go out for a run!

Abundant thanks go to Jimmy Wrublik and the many volunteers, many of whom are friends, for a fine job in putting on Javelina Jundred 2006, and above all to Laura Nagy for putting up with me. May the race continue to live on for many years.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Running Through the Night

Saturday night I ran an all-night training run at Pemberton Trail, two full 15.4-mile laps plus the 9.2-mile partial loop that comes back on the Tonto Tank trail. It was my best trail training run in years.

Not a race, but a no-cost supported run, its purpose is primarily to train for the Javelina Jundred 100-mile trail race (on November 4th). Generous aid was provided at the trailhead by JJ race director Jimmy Wrublik and his father Rodger. Jimmy reports seventeen runners showed up.

In return for my efforts I won the "Most Memorable Performance" prize, the only award given. I had the choice of a pair of Patagonia silkweight shorts and a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila. I already had a pair of the shorts from the all-night 12-hour run at Nardini Manor last year, in support of the Katrina disaster, and don't care for them, as I think they're more like a playboy's underpants than running shorts, so have never worn them. Happily, I drove off with the Jose Cuervo. I was strongly tempted to pop the lid and drink it on the way home, as the sun was just coming up.

No I wasn't. Just kidding. But the thought occurred to me as the bottle sat on the front seat next to me.

My total on-the-trail time was 10:39, but I logged it as three separate runs in my records because I had different objectives each loop. Every end I stopped my watch and took my time at the trailhead to regroup before heading out for the next. I won't have that luxury at JJ.

When I looked at my logs from 2004, at which I ran the identical workout, but unaccompanied by a pacer, I completed it nearly an hour slower. I'm in better shape now than I was then.

The weather was utterly perfect all night, with a high in the mid-seventies at the start, when it was still light, to the low sixties by approaching sunup. We had the luxury of a full moon in totally cloudless skies. Moonrise began about a half hour after we took off, and the moon still had not set when I arrived home at 6:40am. It was glorious, bright enough for us to see our shadows, and made it possible to see everything for tens of miles around.

The JJ race itself will be held four weeks from yesterday, therefore also on the night of a full moon. The RD has always aimed to schedule it as close to that celestial event as possible.

One factor that enabled me to perform my best was running the entire distance with the person who will be my pacer during the night hours until the finish at JJ in a month: Laura Nagy, a superb runner I've known almost the whole time I've been ultrarunning. In 2003 she and Alene Nitzky co-directed my favorite race Across the Years, when the regular RD took a year off, so I had pleasant opportunity to work closely them both in helping to present that.

Laura is a multi-sport athlete who trains meticulously. At one time she was a 3:02 marathoner. She has won a number of ultras, finished well in some 100-mile races, and is now training for the Phoenix Ironman next spring. Though a software jockey by profession, she is an ACE certified trainer, and thoroughly expert in the technicalities of endurance sport. Helping motivated athletes to reach their goals, both with training advice and pacing is a service she enjoys providing voluntarily to people of her own choosing.

I didn't directly ask Laura to be my pacer. She answered a query I put out to a local ultrarunning list for anyone who would be willing. Knowing her and her abilities as well as I do, I jumped at the chance.

Laura said that she had biked for three hours Saturday morning, and decided to stop because she didn't want to be "too tired" to run all night. Sheesh.

One of the advantages of having someone so competent in my company was that I knew that no matter how often or how fast I wanted to run, she would be right there. I never once had to turn around and ask if it was okay to run, or if she was doing okay and needed a break.

Last night's run was scheduled to start at 7:00pm, but as an untimed event, it didn't matter when people started, nor how much or little they ran. Laura and I arrived at the site within seconds of each other just before 6:00pm. With getting set up, suitably pottied and ready to roll, we were able to take off by about 6:15. It was still light enough to see without flashlights for the first 1.5—2.0 miles.

We were both armed with superior green-LED flashlights. I also had my 3-LED Princetontec for backup, which was useful mainly at the trailhead for fussing with gear, also on the road for digging for electrolytes.

The single biggest mistake I made of the night was a failure of preparation: As I put on my footgear, following my usual ritual of taping, lubrication, and double sock rolling, I realized to my utter consternation that I had failed to glue velcro strips to the heels of the shoes I would wear, necessary in order to attach my gaiters. My option was to wear older gaiter-prepped shoes, but the newest of them have 600 miles on them, and I wasn't willing to do that.

I definitely should have. I will never again run any trail without gaiters, as the way I run tends to kick up enough dirt and pebbles to fill the bed of a pickup, much of which ultimately finds its way beneath my feet, which comes to feel like running on a bed of pins.

In all I stopped at least eight times through the night to empty my shoes, to what I sensed was Laura's increasing frustration with me, and could have stopped many more, as I ran many miles with shoes full of rocks until I could no longer stand it. As I write this, my heels in particular are still raw. Big mistake — real big mistake. But that's what training runs are for: to rehearse our mistakes. Err ... make that to identify them so we don't make them again in a real race.

Laura had designed some sadistic plans for me, namely to run some hard uphills, and also to run a few other sections fairly hard. Though I raised an eyebrow at the notion of doing hill and speed training in a 40-mile training run, I had committed myself to trusting her guidance, as it provides for me the most realistic hope I have of making it to the end of JJ under the cutoff, after going 0-3 in that race for finishes. (The race's dropout (DNF) rate has been close to 50% all three years.)

Therefore, I suggested we do the first loop the "hard" direction, where there is a 3.2-mile jeep trail that is steady uphill (therefore all downhill in the other direction). While not a difficult stretch by any reasonable standard, it's sandy the whole span, so demands that the runner be on the lookout to plot the best line across the higher, harder-packed portions, made slightly more difficult in decreased light.

Run it I did, trying to keep my pace up, from Cedar Tank to the turn south at the northwestern extreme of the trail. The middle third of the trail I ran when I could, which was more often than not, and walked when I couldn't. When we reached the rocky 3-mile stretch along the southern ridge, which is downhill, but tricky and laden with potential for extremely unpleasant injury if one falls, I managed to run almost all of it, working as I always do in that section on my technique of spotting and planting steps carefully, and lifting my feet so as not to catch a toe. It's been a couple of years since I've tripped and fallen on that path, from which I conclude that my form has improved.

After coming down off that ridge, it's a gentle two-mile run over undulating dirt mounds back to the trailhead, of approximately equal technical difficulty (not very) in either direction, though being at the start or end of a loop respectively does have an impact on one's perception of its arduousness.

We completed the first loop in 3:32 — somewhat slower when I checked my watch than what I had guessed. I was thinking sub-3:15. Silly me. My PR for a loop, carrying only a single water bottle, is 3:04.

Our unrecorded turnaround time was somewhere around fifteen minutes, maybe a little more.

We headed out on the second loop the opposite, "easy" direction, with a different purpose in mind. We walked a fair amount of the first section, including most of the rocky ridge strip, and ran after that where we could, but I saved my best effort for the north jeep road, this time in the downhill direction. I stopped once at mid-point to empty shoes, take electrolyte and what have you, but overall it was a good piece of running. From Cedar Tank, immediately after which it becomes single track, back to the trailhead, we ran most of the downhills and walked the uphills, arriving at end-of-loop in a total of 4:23.

Regrettably, I made the mistake of inadequately replenishing my water supply after the first loop, thinking I had far more left in my 100-ounce Camelbak Mule than I did. I should have looked instead of hefting and squeezing it. Dumb mistake. As I result, I ran the whole last six miles entirely without water, and without that I was also reluctant to guzzle the chocolate Hammer Gel that I carried in a flask in my hand, that had begun to taste like medicine.

On all three loops, until the final mile, I ran ahead of Laura, being allowed to set my own pace rather than having to struggle to keep up with her, from which point I could also hear her better. (I have a slight hearing problem.) She could have run twice my speed if running for herself, but she never once suggested I should run when I was walking, or that I should pick it up. Knowing she was always right there was great incentive to keep going for longer.

We regrouped once again, perhaps a couple of minutes faster than after the first loop, and headed out for the third "Tonto" loop. Within thirty seconds I realized I didn't have my green LED flashlight, so ran back to get it, adding another minute and a half to my loop time. Big deal, but I would not have wanted to do it with just my Princetontek, so I'm glad I noticed before I got any further.

At Javelina Jundred, the final portion consists of running out the counterclockwise direction to the aid station at the west Tonto Tank trail junction, then taking the easy 2.7-mile downhill trail back to the eastern junction, followed by a one-mile return to the trailhead on the same road we came out on, a total loop distance of 9.2 miles, and making a race total of 101.6 miles.

It was my determination to power walk the portion all the way from the trailhead to the Tonto Tank turnoff. Sometimes when I'm walking with someone I tend to walk a bit slower than I'm capable of, as I believe happened last night, because we got involved in chatting. In a training run it didn't really matter. Besides which, my feet were hurting from all the rocks, both inside and outside my shoes.

When we finally hit Tonto Tank, after a final shoe-emptying session, I took off. Following a brief period where I got used to running again after not doing so for the past two hours, I started to push it as hard as I was still able, given that I already had over 36 miles on my legs for the day, that it was by this time around 4:30am, and as should go without mentioning, I'm 63 years old and have no talent for running whatever.

Soon I was in a zone, leaping over the speed bump logs placed like hurdles every 25 yards or so (an annoyance), extending both my stride and turnover, letting gravity pull me, as I tore down as fast as I dared without doing something dumb that would cause me to trip and be badly injured. A few times I checked over my shoulder to be sure Laura was still close by. How silly it was of me to think that my pace was in any way a challenge to her. The worst thing that happened was I once again had to make more adjustments in my foot placement to compensate for the confounded rocks in my shoes, which were beginning to feel like needles.

I ran every step of that stretch, all of it hard, until we reached the east terminus, upon which Laura reminded me we were not done. Oh yeah, we had another mile to go. This is when Laura at last took the lead, providing a practice session for what we will do at the end of the race, if we get that far. She began gently trotting and then walking about twenty steps each at a time, making some adjustments for the greater than average hills in that section, and gave me instructions to just follow and imitate her, which I did to the best of my ability.

The trailhead is not visible at nighttime until about 100 yards out, where there are still a few more lumpy hillettes to negotiate, but from that point on I ran it in. Laura began calling back to me from a bit before that: "It's 29:55 ... 29:56 ..." At first, being thoroughly fried, I didn't know what she was doing, but obviously she was simulating a close fight with the clock just before the cutoff. Finally, I came storming into the parking lot, and ran clear to the other side, where the aid station was still up, and a make believe finish line, before stopping my watch at 2:44:07.

Among the good things that happened last night was that I experienced not one single second of sleepiness. I carried caffeine tablets with me, but never took one, because I didn't need one. Sometimes they work for me, but sometimes they don't, or worse, they upset my stomach, so I won't take one except as a measure to ward off relentless sleepiness.

I was never discouraged, nor did I wish I could just quit. Just as well, because once you're out on that trail, quitting is not an option, short of waiting for a park ranger on an ATV or a $5000 helicopter ride to retrieve your sorry butt in the morning. When I finished my adrenalin was pumping, and save for my impaled feet, surely could have gone out for another loop if it had been in the plan. (But I'm glad it wasn't.)

We were the last ones in. We sat down to chat with Rodger and Jimmy and Robert Andrulis for a few minutes, by which time the natural cooling off of my body combined with the early morning temperature led me to feel chilly. With dawn beginning to approach in the eastern sky, we packed up and went our various ways. Believe it or not, Laura dashed off to prepare to teach Sunday school this morning at 9:30. I don't know how she does it.

For me, it's a 45-minute drive home. By the time I got into Fountain Hills the lack of sleep started to make itself felt, requiring me to drive home with the utmost concentration. I arrived home safely, took a 15-minute shower, and crawled into bed, my wife still sound asleep, at 7:45, and slept for three hours.

Laura suggested an ice bath, which sounds like a good idea, but I was much too tired for such a thing when I got in. We had to go out in the late afternoon, and I considered soaking my legs in the shallow end of our swimming pool when we got back — but I just had to watch the St. Louis Cardinals beat San Diego. While watching it I ran our excellent massage vibrator over my legs, which helped a great deal.

Despite feeling sorer and more tired than I've been following a training run in years, overall, it was an enjoyable and beneficial outing that should go a long way toward preparing me for Javelina Jundred next month.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A 42.5-Mile Night Run

As I'm training for the Javelina Jundred 100-mile trail race, my training schedule has called for a progressively increasing very long run every four weeks since May. As of today I'm still on target.

A month ago I did a 40-miler, so the objective of yesterday's run was to do 45 (maybe 50) in 12 hours if possible, but in any case, more than 40. Mission accomplished.

This was not yet another indoor track run of the type for which I have become infamous, but an all-night grind on an asphalt loop around a golf community where Gary Culver, an active local ultrarunner lives \u2014 all pre-approved by the community's recreational events management, so we wouldn't be questioned by the security patrol and run off as loonies.

The course is proclaimed by official signs with mileage markers along the way to be exactly 2.5 miles. Gary verified this as 2.501 miles on his bicycle. It's all on asphalt, almost continuously curving, but very gently so the constant turning is not a problem on the legs. There are a couple of mild rises encountered in the counterclockwise direction we chose in order to run toward traffic, compensated for by long, almost imperceptible descents. It's a perfect place to run for runners of the type who habitually get their exercise by heading out their front doors to a standard nearby location, and indeed in the early morning there were quite a few walkers and bicyclists out. Being within a gated community, traffic is was very light during the evening and early morning hours, with none at all during the dead of night. If I lived there I would probably give up my Bally's membership and get used to the heat.

There were just two of us the whole night. Many were invited but few came, to paraphrase an illustration of Jesus. No one else could be talked into this folly.

It was not to be a routine evening. When we started, at precisely 6:00am by my watch, what I was told was the edge of hurricane John was rapidly hurricane rolling in.

We ran two loops in good time while winds whipped up angrily, blowing over our tables. Some light rain pelted my skin like gravel being kicked up because of the impact of the drops caused by the wind. Incredibly evil black clouds headed our way, accompanied by disconcerting lightning. To that point it was still runnable, but the lightning was sufficiently disturbing as to cause us to have second thoughts.

Gary's wife Sandy showed up to share the weather report. (They live a quarter mile from the clubhouse where we based our aid stations.) Exercising prudence, we stopped our watches, packed everything in, threw it in our trunks, and went to Culvers' house to chat, drink coffee, and monitor the weather channel. We learned that the most dangerous part of what was to come had already passed by, and while it would continue to rain for a while, it would do so fairly hard, but not torrentially or dangerously, then would clear up by late evening.

So we headed back out. The total break from the time I punched my stop button until we started again was an hour and ten minutes.

It rained hard enough to flood the streets in places. I couldn't avoid wading through water that came up over my shoe tops, which also impeded forward progress, slowed also by the constant weaving around the puddles that was necessary rather than running the shortest path. But that and the wind served to make it pleasantly cool, and good running weather. It had been 105 during the day. I didn't mind at all running in the rain, and neither did Gary, and while running all night in the rain seemed like a crazy thing to try at the start, by a minute after beginning our second loop it seemed perfectly reasonable. The first ten miles was some of the most enjoyable running I've done in quite a while.

It stopped raining around 11:30, and while it was still plenty wet, the streets drained in the duration of a couple of laps, then nearly dried off. It rained briefly again around 4:00am, but not hard nor for long. It was never uncomfortably warm.

The rest of the night I just kept on cranking, never taking a significant break except for seven minutes to visit the comfortable, clean bathroom outside the clubhouse that by prearrangement they left unlocked for us.

My lap splits slowed incredibly, to about 160% of what I started at. I had one tough lap from 25—27.5 miles, when my stomach protested, and my will power waned, but it passed, and my next lap was one of the best of the night. Gary had a slow time of it too, though he was going faster than me. His goal was 100K, but it was soon apparent he would not make it, as I would likely not make my 50 miles.

By the time we quit, with 11:34:27 total elapsed time on my watch, and not enough time (nor heart) remaining to do another full lap, I'd gotten 17 laps, for a total of 42.5 miles, and Gary had gotten 45 miles. On a shorter course I would have had time to walk far enough to make it an even 44 miles, despite the complications of the evening. This performance falls squarely in the middle of my other four 12-hour performances, so given the conditions and other factors, I'm satisfied that I was at least on target rather than behind where I hoped to be at this time.

The aftereffects of running on asphalt are tougher than on a trail or on a rubberized track because of the more severe jolting the body experiences. I felt fine when I left, but by the time I arrived home, a thirty-minute drive, I had bound up so tight that I could have used crutches to get out of the car and in the house. My still wet and funky gear remained in the car until late evening.

It was a painful chore just to shower and get into bed at 8:00am. Usually after going all night, e.g., following Across the Years, I feel fine after three hours sleep and can function well for the rest of the day, but today I never opened my eyes until 2:15pm, and have no intention of doing much of anything the rest of this day. I'm hobbling around the house like Grandpa McCoy. It's going to take a few days to get back to normal from this one, and the only thing I can attribute the difficulty to is running on asphalt.

We were supposed to go out late this afternoon, but I opted to answer email, mess around on the computer, and sit on my butt in front of the TV. I can't remember when I've ever been so wiped out after a run of that duration. I ran a 40-miler just a month ago, and aside from some dehydration-induced cramping, was just fine the rest of the day.

Every run is a learning experience.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Running Pemberton Trail

Saturday afternoon I ran Pemberton Trail. The high in Phoenix was 102, about normal for this time of year. I didn't see another human soul out there the whole time, not even in the parking lot.

I felt good at the start, anxious to get in a good workout. I wore my light white sun running hat with the neck drape, M-Frame Oakleys newly outfitted with brand new dark gray polarized heater lens, long-sleeve CoolMax running shirt, which I wear sometimes rather than depend on a superabundance of sun screen (also applied in ample supply), bandana on my left wrist, headband and newish Timex with Big Numbers on my right wrist (lefties often wear watches on their right hand), the Champion underliners that I refer to affectionately as Big Fancy Underpants — couldn't live without them, Patagonia running shorts, new pair of women's half-height nylons underneath regular running socks, Asics Kayano shoes, and my chock-full 100-ounce Camelbak Mule carrying ID, cell phone (as an experiment), a Powerbar, and drugs. (Well ... Succeed tablets, ginger capsules, caffeine tablets, Pepcid A/C, and Advil.)

I headed off in the "hard" direction — counterclockwise, not knowing just how much I would actually be running in the heat and carrying all that stuff. I surprised myself by running at least three quarters of the loop, but eased into it by running a few steps, then walking, then running a longer stretch, and so on, until I was running all but the steeper uphills. There aren't many, at least not that last more than 40-50 feet, on the first part of the course.

A couple of miles in you hit what in the opposite direction is the end of a majorly sweet downhill that lasts for about three miles, but going counterclockwise it's (of course) uphill. By the time I got there I'd determined that I would do my best to run it rather than walk — something only a fool or an elite runner, of which I am neither, would do during a race. And run I did, with a break at the one-hour point to guzzle and slam down a Succeed!, and maybe two other brief walk breaks of thirty seconds or so each. I got to the end of that section less than ten minutes slower than it takes me to do it during ideal weather. The reason I ran it was simply because I've been delinquent about doing hill work, and with a 100-mile race coming up, I guessed I'd try to get a season's worth into a single run.

I was still doing just fine, so I continued the strategy of running the downhills and walking the harder uphills, which increase substantially at this point in the course.

Two hours into it, from the remotest point on the trail, I tried to call my wife on my cell phone, but it was futile. There is no signal at all out there, so carrying a cell phone for safety purposes is useless. That's the last time I'll try that, even though running alone in the afternoon where it's deadly hot and inhabited by snakes and other undesireables, but no humans, is not exactly the safest thing to do.

When I reached what turned out to be exactly the three-quarter mark timewise (3:00), I drained the last of my water — at a time when I had a mouth full of my last bite of Powerbar, and was hoping to have a little left to wash it down with. Ugh. Ptoooey! I had to make it the rest of the way entirely without water. It wasn't pleasant, but the only way to take more water is to add a couple more hand bottles, which adds enormously to the weight.

Usually I take just the Mule and ration the water. I've done this often enough to know that then I'll run out a mile or two from the end, and can get in before I start seeing pink elephants. This outing I decided to drink whenever I was thirsty, and allow myself to suffer the remainder. I figure the same amount of water is better off inside me doing some good than being carried on my back while becoming the temperature of fresh coffee. The difference this run is that during the hottest weather I don't usually go in this direction, and I rarely run as large a proportion as I did yesterday.

About a third of the way through the rocky section on the high south ridge I was surprised to see there's a brand new trail intersection called the Dixie Mine Trail. There's an official sign up that says Pemberton Trail in the direction you're traveling, like all the others out there, but the one pointing at right angles to the new trail, off toward the mountains, has just a piece of paper taped to it with the name, so it must still be very new. I hadn't been there since April, so hadn't seen this before. A map indicates that it leads about four miles southwest and does not reconnect with Pemberton Trail, so giving vent to my curiosity would have added about eight miles to my trek.

I still managed to run over most of the trickier rocky portions of that section — in fact, except for once at about 2:00am last October while running the fifth lap of Javelina Jundred, it's been a couple of years since I've caught a toe and bit the dust on that trail. I must be learning to pick up my feet.

There's a descent from that ridge that leads back out to the trailhead that takes me about 25 minutes to cover coming the opposite direction on fresh legs on a cool morning, but by this time it was approaching 5:00pm. For part of it I was walking straight toward the sun, and couldn't bring myself to run for several minutes. When I turned north on the piece that leads out, which is quite lumpy with short rise-and-fall hillets, it was challenging to keep going, because by this point I was mostly toast, but I still managed to make that section from the descent to the finish in 34 minutes, missing a sub-4:00 finish by 33 seconds. I headed out hoping for 4:15, so I was satisfied with that.

You may think 4:00:33 seems like a long time to cover 15.4 miles, particularly for one who claims actually to be "running" much of the way. I've run a Pemberton Trail loop in the fast direction in as little as 3:04 — in cool weather, carrying only a single water bottle, in a race (the first lap of Pemberton 50K in February, 2004), and rested from several days off in preparation. And you'd be right, it is a long time, but all I can say in response is that heat and weight and going that direction on that particular trail add a lot to the challenge.

Whew! Only six and a half of those puppies and you've done the Javelina Jundred! I think I have some training left to do.

As soon as I reached the edge of Fountain Hills, I found first that my cell phone worked again, so I could let Suzy know I was still alive and on the way home.

Then I hit the first convenience store I could find and got a drink so big it took two hands to carry it back to the car — must've been at least a half gallon. It was nearly gone by the time I got home, and when I weighed in I was still four pounds lighter than my morning weight.

This week will be an easy week, as I'm planning on running an all-night 12-hour session next Saturday
night, hoping to get close to 50 miles, and want to be well rested for it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


There's a guy who comes to Bally's gym that I call Ape. I call him that because it's his name. Well, maybe not, but it should be. What else could his mother have thought when she first saw him?

Ape works out for hours almost every day, mostly in the free weights room. He stands about six foot three and in addition to his beard and pony tail has hair coming out of most every other pore in his body, which is also heavily tattooed. His arms are fire hydrants, his chest a steel vault. To top it, he's pretty ugly.

The Bally's gym I go to is laid out like this:
| track |
| ----------------------------------------- |
| | | | |
| | aerobics room | stair | |
| | | way | |
| | | | |
| |~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ---| |
| | | | |o | |(office)
| | | X| |f | |
| | ------- ---| |
| | | |
| | machines, treadmills, etc. | |
| | | |
| | | |
| |-------------------------- | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | free weights | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| ----------------------------------------- |
| |
The track runs around the perimeter of a large, open upstairs room. (The corners are rounded. Sorry about the limitations of ASCII art.) The aerobics room is partitioned across the back (inside) and right by ceiling to floor walls, which help baffle the noise from the rest of the floor.

Recently Bally's added some new equipment in the little enclave containing the X in the diagram: punching bags, including one of those dangly doodads would-be boxers train on. I've always assumed its main purpose is to help develop hand-eye coordination rather than strength. Ape has no more need for strength. I'm sure he could lift a rock the size of Ohio.

The dangly bag hangs beneath a platform designed to resonate. When anyone hits it even once, the noise thunders throughout the gym. If someone hits it moderately hard it at first causes people to turn their heads, as if to say: Whoa, what was that?? And if someone tries to use it seriously for the purpose it was intended, it causes a disturbing racket in a room already noisy with the din of treadmills, clanking weights, testosterone-enhanced grunting, and crude music coming over the excessively loud sound system. The bag goes Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita.

Ape recently discovered the new bag. It's become his favorite toy. Ape can hit it hard. Real hard — for a long time. When Ape hits the bag he gets utterly carried away with ecstasy. It goes WHACKITA-WHACKITA-WHACKITA-WHACKITA-WHACKITA-WHACKITA. "Oooh my!!!" is what I'm sure most of the people there are thinking when Ape starts up on the bag.

Last Saturday I spent most of a day at the gym knocking off a 40-mile run. By 2:30pm I was getting pretty ragged out, but still had a couple of hours to go. Then Ape arrived for his daily workout.

On this day Ape decided that he needed to do some bag work. I'm not sure for what purpose. Suddenly it started up.

Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita-Whackita! WHAT THE!? Oh yeah, it's just him. Endure it. Time for some more.


Break time. For ten seconds.


Whew! It was pretty irritating already.

How long do you suppose this went on? Ten minutes? Guess again. Twenty? By thirty-five minutes I thought to myself: Say — he's been at that a really long time! Is he ever going to quit?

Heck, he was just getting warmed up.

Every fifteen minutes or so he would take a break and go to a machine where he could pull on weights that swelled up his enormous biceps. I believe the main reason he stopped was to let a skinny teenager use the machine for a minute or so, a kid who would make it go plunka ... plunka ... ... plunka-plunka ... plunka. When he got tired of that, or else found it's trickier than it looks, Ape would return for a little more bag work:


Okay, the answer to the question is: Ape beat on that infernal thing for a full HOUR AND A HALF!

Now, I don't fault Ape completely for this disturbance. Bally's put the bag there, loosely following the Field of Dreams dictum: If you hang it, they will punch it. Ape, as a paying club member, is as entitled to punch that bag for as long as he wants as I am to run around that track for nine hours at a time, as long as the resource is fairly shared with other customers.

But would you go up and ask Ape if it's okay for you to work in with him?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On Saying God

Near the beginning of John Updike's novel Rabbit, Run the main character Rabbit and his wife Janet are having a minor tiff while Janet watches Mickey Mouse Club on TV. Chief adult Mousketeer Jimmy appears onscreen and the following takes place, beginning with Jimmy's words:
"God doesn't want a tree to be a waterfall or a flower to be a stone. God gives to each one of us a special talent." Janice and Rabbit became unnaturally still. Both are Christians. God's name makes them feel guilty.
While ignoring the mistake that "God" is not God's name, I can nonetheless relate to what was portrayed here.

God was not talked about in my Christian home when I was growing up. Apparently my parents either thought it was inappropriate or they didn't know what to say because they didn't know anything about Him, so the safe thing was not to talk about Him at all. Such was the spiritual legacy I inherited.

For a while at age nine I had an interest in the Bible, from reading a Bible stories book for adults that my Grandmother owned. I even asked my parents to give me a real Bible of my own, a request that surprised them, but they happily complied. Because the real thing is more difficult to understand, and being given no instruction, my interest cooled quickly.

When I was in fourth grade I had to get up and read a paragraph from a book I had read in front of my class. It included some proverb that included words to the effect '... and God makes things grow.' Because I was embarrassed to say "God" in front of my class — or in front of anyone — I read instead '... and some word I don't know makes things grow.' My teacher did a double-take, knowing I was an excellent reader and would at least make a stab at some unfamiliar word, and called me on it, but she did not know the content of what I was attempting to read. Somehow I bluffed my way through it without having to say "God," but I was doubly embarrassed for being caught in what amounted to a lie.

By the time I was a teenager my father acquired the belief that it would be appropriate to say grace before dinner each night. Because he didn't know what to say himself, nor did any of the rest of us, he used a book of flowery, sentimental and religious sounding prewritten prayers he'd found somewhere, and each night would read one of them out of the book, a longer or shorter one depending on how hungry everyone was. My three younger brothers and I, perhaps intuitively sensing the inappropriateness of reading written prayers, would titter and make jokes about my father's newfound eccentricity.

Things changed later. In 1971 I became one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Thereafter I became Prayin' Sam for our family. Whenever I visited, and a need for one to pray would arise, because I was now viewed as religiously credentialed, especially once they learned that I was serving as an elder in my local congregation, with responsibilities of teaching and taking the lead in spiritual matters, I would be called upon to render the service.

But to use Jehovah's name in prayer to some people who don't know or recognize the Bible truth that Jehovah is in fact His real self-given name, that name being used as such in the original manuscripts nearly 7000 times, a Biblical fact that escaped them despite a lifetime of sporadic churchgoing, would be from their vantage point to pray to the God of Jehovah's Witnesses, which most of my relatives clearly did not want to become.

But it is not necessary to address God by his personal name each and every time, any more than it is to call a person by name, there being any number of substitutions that can be made. So in such prayers I would generally address Jehovah as "God," or as "Heavenly Father," both entirely appropriate. Of course, in doing so I was nonetheless always praying to Jehovah all along. And when those in behalf of whom I was asked to pray said "Amen," which they always did, they too thereby prayed to Jehovah.

Ha! Got 'em!

The Rudest Devices

On July 13th I became the owner of my first cell phone. My resistance to having one in the past was not entirely for financial reasons, nor because I suffer from high-tech phobias, nor because I'm an old-fashioned fuddy duddy. I've been an internetting software engineer since the mid-eighties, usually up-to-date on things that are new.

The change came because my daughter Cyra-Lea recently got married and moved to Indiana, where her husband owns a business, and is firmly rooted. While we miss her, this move is compatible with what children do — grow up and leave home, sometimes leaving families behind. Having to adjust hardly makes us unique. But in our desire to keep in touch, we got in on Cyra-Lea and Eddie's family plan, which for $15 a month per phone allows us to talk at any reasonable time, and also gives Suzy and me a means to communicate in emergencies. Our plan is to use it for little else so as not to eat into the kids' monthly allotment of minutes.

Minutes? There's a term that has taken on a whole new meaning in recent times. As in, "I can't call you tonight because I've used up my minutes!" Ten years ago someone overhearing that conversation would have no idea what it was about.

Telephones in general, as interrupt driven devices, are the rudest gizmos ever invented by mankind; I'm shocked by how enslaved people have become to them; the advent of cell phones has only served to increase their power over their owners. Users feel obliged to jump up and answer them no matter how important whatever else they are doing is.

When I worked for Motorola I would sometimes take advantage of this insight when I wanted to speak to my boss. If I went by his office and saw someone else was there, rather than stand outside and wait, or come back repeatedly, I would return to my office and call him on the phone. No matter who he was talking to, he would leap to answer the phone while the other guy had to wait. I got special pleasure out of doing that when he was busy talking to his own boss, a man I personally loathed. Meanwhile, my own problem would be resolved.

I have learned to ignore telephones. One day at Motorola my boss came by my office saying he'd tried to call me, and thought I was in. I'd forgotten that I unplugged my phone several days before when I was busy and didn't want to be interrupted and never got around to reconnecting it.

Yesterday we were doing the work Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, making return visits on people in their homes, which I sometimes refer to as "riding around in cars with girls," because of the spectacularly unproductive use of time it can be when done in the disorderly hit-and-miss manner it often is in our area. We had five in our car. I was driving. The lady in the back seat was on her cell phone more or less constantly the whole morning. As she got in the car she asked Suzy to describe Cyra-Lea's new house, and as Suzy started to talk, the inquirer punched up a number on her cell phone and began to talk to someone else. Nice.

At one home, while two people went off to talk to someone, we waited behind. I took the opportunity to call Cyra-Lea. The conversation went something like this.

"Hi Cyra-Lea, whatcha doin'?"

"Hi Dad, I'm buried in writing thank you notes. Why aren't you in field service?"

"I am in field service, waiting in the car. In fact I'm doing something right now something that I hate!"

"You hate field service!??" She took the bait.

I replied in a clear voice. "Of course not. I love field service. The thing I'm doing is taking the opportunity while I'm waiting in the car to yack on a cell phone instead of conversing with the others in the car, as though they aren't worthy of my attention. I've always hated it when other people do that to me, leaving me to stare out the window and look at my watch twice a minute, so I thought I'd try it and see if it gives me some kind of buzz that I was missing in hopes of figuring out what the appeal is."

Cyra-Lea cracked up on her end. I don't know if I made my point with the others who heard me.

A cell phone, properly used, can definitely be an advantage in simplifying communication.

On my flight to Indiana on July 13th, my flight out of Phoenix was delayed an hour so that I missed my connection. Having no cell phone, and not knowing my daughter's cell number, I had no means of reaching Cyra-Lea to tell them my arrival would be delayed two hours. As a result they wasted two hours looking, and we all missed a meeting that night.

Yes, I should have written the number somewhere I could get it so I could call from a pay phone, but I'd never had a flight bumped before, so it never occurred to me to do so. The irony was that I had my new cell phone in hand later that evening, as it was waiting for me at Cyra-Lea's house.

Upon returning I arrived at the airport to find that my flight was canceled and that I would have to stay overnight in Louisville. Suzy had preceded my return by eight hours and was planning on picking me up at 10:30pm, when she had to be up at 4:45am the next day to get to work. Without easy access to a phone it would have been tough getting in touch, as I would have had to find and dump endless quantities of change into a pay phone.

Regrettably, no protocol of etiquette regarding the proper use of cell phones has yet emerged, or if it has, I am unaware of it, and most people ignore it, as in most matters, the majority do whatever works best for them personally without regard for other people.