23 January 2015
[ Ed. Note: While this won’t be posted till I’m home, I won’t revise the text based on any resources available when I get there. What would be the fun of that? Also, apologies for the length…lots of time on my hands up here! ]
I’m certain I’m at least somewhat misquoting John. F. Kennedy when he stated, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I’m not in a position to check my wording, being currently about seven hundred miles south of Reykjavik and thirty-seven thousand feet up (and may I digress and note that thinking of Reykjavik brings back thoughts of Rocket John because he ran their marathon, and now nearly two years lost, we miss you…) in a plane with no WiFi, not that I’d pay for it anyway. But I’ll go further than misquoting and intentionally twist JFK’s words and note that we do things not just because they are hard, but because we can. One of the joys of being a runner is the opportunities opened up because you can.
It’s been another week of adventure in my one-seven-billionth segment of the Stories of Humanity mini-series, and one of the less mundane weeks in that story. Completing my World Financial Centers Tour (or Centres, if you prefer) which started last week in Toronto (where admittedly, at minus six Fahrenheit with a wicked northern wind and no daylight outside of business hours, I most adamantly Did Not Run), this week’s agenda was New York and London. Yes, all of that in just a week, or more accurately, four days, home to home (or at least it will be in a few hours). If that sounds rather rock ‘n roll, it has been.
Tuesday morning in New York delivered what’s become a favorite in my more-frequent-of-late visits to Manhattan, a tour through Central Park. This edition delivered perfection, a crisp thirtyish, crystal clear, the sun igniting the facades of Eighth Avenue in blinding brilliance as I circled the reservoir (which ironically is named after Jackie Kennedy, and no, that hadn’t crossed my mind when I stole Jack’s words to launch this reflection). Eight and a half miles left me awake and alert for what turned out to be a surprisingly good day of corporate training, before doing some commuter training out to Newark to catch a Dreamliner (first ride on a 787, the electronic window shades are very cool) overnight to London.
[ Roar of the engines, we’ve risen to thirty-eight thousand feet…]
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited the United Kingdom over the years. It’s approaching, if it hasn’t already hit, double digits, but almost every time I’ve popped in, it’s been into Heathrow and head west, or northwest, or southwest. Save one night in ninety-three for a quick show (Phantom! …and it was notably dark, no touring), I hadn’t been in central London since…can you believe…nineteen eighty-seven? Pushing thirty years. Finally, on this trip we were booked in the heart of the city because that’s where our customer was. Finally, it’d be nice to check out the bits that make London what London is. But business being business, and this being an itinerary from Purgatory, stretching this into a mini-vacation wasn’t an option, so the window to enjoy the city was seriously slim. But we are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
Red eye flights, well, there’s no other word. Suck. A couple hours of fitful sleep do nobody any favor. Over the years, I’ve tried all the usual methods of combating the results without materially changing the outcome. So why not try something different? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
The locals will tell you not to drive in London. The locals are right. I’ll add to that, don’t even take a cab. We tried, over the course of our one-and-three-quarter-day visit, with results ranging from decent (late at night), to slow (noon), disastrous (morning rush), and calamity of epic proportions (previous morning rush – epic as in nearly three hours shoehorned in the back of a minivan with the world’s cruelest seats; I am still lacking feeling in certain body parts – and let’s remember I’m small to begin with). The locals will tell you to take the tube, alias the Underground, and there’s something to that (day passes are quite reasonably priced). But you don’t see much while you’re underground. And walking the central city is grand, if you’ve got the time. But with only a few hours between arrival and customer time, well, that’s not gonna’ happen. So? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
Arriving just past noon Wednesday at our home away from home in the Old Street area of the City of London (the central city area), I grabbed a light lunch with my colleague and left her to retire to her hotel room to nap, or drink, or both. Around two local time, less than four hours off the plane, I hit the road. London in January, gray, overcast, but dry, mid-thirties again like New York, but a damp thirtyish that almost felt warm. Just right to keep the sweat down without freezing. (Well, technically it was three degrees, since they use Centigrade. But they mark the roads in miles and miles per hour, and their cars report miles per gallon. Yet they sell petrol by the litre. And tell you that you are five-foot-seven tall. Then sell you food in kilos. But measure your resulting weight, or mass, in stones. This is a confused country.)
That cheap mini-camera I bought for my post-surgery casual Boston back in oh-nine came in handy once again. I rarely made a quarter mile at a time without stopping to snap some pics or occasionally pester a local for a non-selfie – a collection follows the prose (easier than weaving them in when there are lots). London being London – twistier even than Boston – I got turned around a few times here and there, but not being an entirely typical male I took no shame in asking my way now and then, and thus managed to cover off the route I’d plotted and committed to memory, never unfolding the break-glass-in-emergency map in my pocket.
The afternoon quickly became a check-off list of the must-see spots of the city: St. Paul’s Cathedral. The “Shard” (a cool pointy skyscraper). The Millennium Bridge. Views to the Tower Bridge. South Thames promenade. The London Eye. Parliament Bridge, Parliament, and Big Ben (“Look kids, there’s Big Ben! …can’t look up the hyperlink to National Lampoon’s European Vacation while aloft…). Westminster Abbey. A London call box (for Dearest Offspring the Elder, the Dr. Who fan) (remarked the Londoner who shot the pic, “Pity it’s not blue!”). St. James Park. The Mall, memories of Meb’s heroic fight back to fourth place in the 2012 Olympic Marathon. Buckingham Palace. Another park who’s name I can’t remember. A famous arch who’s name I can’t remember. Even pelicans! The Serpentine, and out to the Italian Garden. All in about an hour-twenty.
Did I seriously tour any of these spots? Of course not. Was this a comprehensive expedition? No way. But how else can you take in that much of any city on very little time? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
And most importantly, I didn’t die. The Brits have a heart; they paint warnings to look right or look left at almost all crosswalks. It’s not just Americans who show up and become taxi fender fodder. Still, despite these persistent warnings, at running speed – even casual running speed – getting the brain to process which way to look first takes some practice. I’m proud to say that I only slipped up once. It was close. I can tell you exactly what the front of that cab looked like at point-blank range and I can still hear the horn. But close doesn’t count against you.
Turning at the Italian Garden, I knew I had a long stretch back to the hotel and decided it was time to dial it up from the stop-start tourist eights and nines into some real mileage on the return leg. A tip from a local put me on a quieter parallel to my planned busy-but-direct (read, less likely to get lost) route. Shortly thereafter another runner burst around the corner and settled not twelve feet ahead of me. Oblivious to my presence but moving at an ideal mid-sevens clip, this guy clearly had the left-right-don’t-become-a-hood-ornament thing down. Perfect. I had a native blocker! The next mile and a half felt like I had an escort, a bodyguard, LeGarrett Blount of the Patriots weaving through the lines, and I wondered how long before he’d notice me back there (I wasn’t stalking, he was just focused…). At last we spoke; to my surprise he was merely another Yank, though clearly a London-experienced Yank at that.
A planned eight to nine morphed into twelve miles on a two-hour tour, the last forty minutes delivering a decent workout after playing blatant tourist. I’d refreshed the memories of my last city tour twenty-eight years past. There was simply no better way to get such a tour in the time available. We are runners. We run. But best of all? Jet lag? What jet lag?
[ Air’s gotten quite rough. Hitting the right keys is getting a bit trickier, and my fellow passenger to my left reveals he’s not keen on flying. The saga continues… ]
In our client meetings that night and the next days, my co-travelling colleague continually remarked to all we met how her crazy partner got off the plane and ran twelve miles. Suspicious, worried, and pitied glances were exchanged and the local mental health authorities were put on alert. It wasn’t really worth getting into the philosophy behind what they viewed as a rather extreme life choice. And if I’d told them how effective it was on the jet lag, they’d have likely locked me up as a looney. But I think I’ve finally stumbled on the best method yet for beating the suck out of the redeye.
After a long day of meetings yesterday (highly worth the trip, for the record) and another late night, the obvious choice would be to recover and slink home the next morning. But you know I couldn’t resist one last chance.
You can count on far less than one hand the days in an average year that I’m out the door and running before six AM. Start this year’s count at one; it happened. Darkness wasn’t an issue in the well-lit city. Indeed, darkness made my traverse of the Tower Bridge (the one everyone thinks is the London Bridge) and the actual London Bridge (which is quite boring, save for its view of the Tower Bridge) into a delight. Beautifully lit, it left me a few memorable (even if of only marginal quality from the cheap mini-cam) final shots of London.
We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can. We can reap joys like running tourism. We only regret that our friends and colleagues don’t also share the fun.
Enjoy the pictures!
18 January 2015
I’m tickled when serendipity tosses a little airtime my way and a few extra eyeballs might meander into the mire of my prose. My friends at Level Renner (a fine running eZine, well worth frequent visits) were kind enough to re-post my previous penning, as well as a link to these hallowed halls of harrumphing. And for those adventurous enough to come my way this week, I offer…toenails?
I will spare you and not provide any pictures this week. At my core, I am not cruel.
I hear your voices scream in the night, why? And I respond not with the answer you expect, but with something entirely different.
What you expect is a discourse about how runners are notorious for destroying toenails. Runners are even more notorious about bragging of the toenails they’ve destroyed. Such notoriety has reached the point that we aged jaded types don’t even laugh anymore at the signs along the marathon routes which read, “Toenails are overrated.” This is news?
This isn’t about trashing a talon doing twenty or more. I haven’t actually done that in a long time. That’s not to say I don’t usually have at least one claw in a regeneration state. It’s just that I’ve figured out how to avoid this on the roads, and instead I tend to do it on the mountains – not while running, but while hiking. I will indeed brag of my masterly abilities to stumble and stub just about any part of my body while slogging through the woods. Maybe a new set of boots would help, but hiking boots become old friends, and you don’t abandon your friends just because they occasionally cause you pain.
He’s opining on relationships with leather footwear. Yep, he’s truly lost it.
No, seriously, there is a point here, just stay with me. It’s about aging.
A couple of years back when I was invited to join the Greater Boston team, when I doth protested, “I’m not worthy” and the likes, one of the key messages my GBTC introducer said to me was that in order to maintain a masters team, plenty of bodies were needed because of two reasons. First, masters, being in a different stage of life than the post-collegiate whippersnappers who make the club’s name great, have a lot more going on in their lives and just can’t make it to races as often. And second, masters, being in a different stage of life, period, break more often and take longer to heal.
I didn’t buy into that all that much. In my late forties, I was still enjoying the on-ramp to what became – at least to date – my peak (and no, I’m not saying it’s not yet re-attainable, just stating the historical facts here). Things broke, but I got over them, even if it took a year, two years, or more.
On the surface, things aren’t really that different now, in my early fifties. Things break, and I work to get over them, and it clearly is taking a year, two years, or more. I don’t know, I’m not there yet. The Achilles is far better after my late-year respite, but it’s not a hundred percent, and meanwhile other stuff hurts, pace suffers, and wind sucks. Coming back from any downturn is a long process. This time is no different. Or is it?
Late in August, Dearest Daughter the Younger and I slogged up a couple of summits in the Adirondacks. On a fine day when DDY started her ADK 46ers list (I’m nearing the halfway mark), all was joy and happiness except for two nasty toe stubs (well, and there was that bit where I walked into the tree stump with my thigh, but it left no lasting damage). While it’s not uncommon for me to trash little toes, this day was quite rare in that I managed to trash both big toes. Yah, well, whatever. A few days of tenderness, manage the damage in graphic yet proven ways that I won’t describe here, and wait six months, good as new. What else is new?
Except it’s now over four and a half months, and the renewal process is way behind schedule. The damage isn’t even half grown out. It looks like I’m going to miss the usual six month repair window by a long stretch. Maybe my recollection of the expected timeframe is misguided (it’s been a while since I previously trashed the big ones), but this seems like a notable slowdown to me.
This has no impact on my running of course, nor will it stop me from surmounting the next summit that avails itself. It is, however, a curious view of what it means to be growing older. In short, my GBTC friend appears to have been onto something, something that didn’t resonate back then, but that this little biological window has now illuminated. It’s not a surprise (indeed, Dr. Foot Doctor has made similar comments many times), it’s just something you don’t internalize until you have to.
The implications are rather interesting, in that I’d always figured as we age, our racing would slow down because our bodies would simply slow down. I’m sure that’s still true, but it’s also becoming clear that our racing will slow down also because as we age, we can’t keep up the same level of training because we just don’t repair the damage we inflict at a fast enough rate to maintain the load. Maintaining a balance of optimal strength and fitness relative to what your body can handle is a challenge at any age, but it’s becoming clear that the test gets harder, which is all the more reason for us to respect those still at it, logging the miles into later and later decades of life.
Someone telling me this a few years back made sense, but didn’t really hit home. You’ve got to get there to see the landscape. The good news is the realization that more and more becomes clear as time goes on and we never stop learning; not just about facts and details, but about life and ourselves.
All this from looking at my bashed up toenails. Yep, he’s truly lost it.
04 January 2015
When March gets here – that’s on the other end of the annual 60 Day Challenge which started a few days ago – we can talk about it coming in like a lion and leaving like a lamb (or in recollection of John Belushi’s famed take on the subject, it may come in like a wildebeest). At the moment, the New Year has just come in, and it’s arrived with a whimper. And while that’s OK with me, I refuse to whimper. Having heard in the last two weeks the tales of two friends who narrowly cheated death this past year, I’ve no right to moan and complain about a small painful bit and its resulting impact on my training and racing.
Best laid plans had me bursting dramatically and triumphantly onto the roads on Christmas Day, breaking my self-imposed injury exile with Yuletide Glee. But let’s face it, the first run back after a long break rarely results in drama or triumph; more likely – as was the case this time – it’s a slow and careful shuffle. So why waste that annual excuse to run in Christmas plumage on a jog of a mile or two? No, far better to be good and ready for that Christmas return-to-the-roads gift. Besides, knowing all the Christmas Crap (chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate-covered cranberries, chocolate-covered pine branches, chocolate-covered rocks, you know) coming in my near future, I just had to get back into it. Crank up the metabolism, kids, the onslaught is coming!
Thus I jumped the gun on my planned Christmas gift. As one who is rarely early for anything, I should probably feel a little pride, but I do recognize that heading out a few days ahead of plan probably just tempted fate. All the more reason to make the reboot a slow and ponderous process, two miles, then three, three and a half, four, no watches, no worries about slogging along at nines, and mostly, no relapse of the big Achilles woes. A twinge? Yes, a bit, it’s not perfect, and my toes are still crossed. Pain like before? No, at least not yet.
But let’s be honest. It wasn’t really dramatic and triumphant, it was still rather slow and plodding, with the primary goal of not hurting anything. As were my subsequent brief holiday week outings, wrapping up the year with almost the identical mileage and outing count as the year before. Ho-hum annual stats for a second straight year, but this was no time to try to pile it on to rescue any sort of nerdy yet meaningless numerical goals. With less than four months till Boston (yes, it’s out there), there’s a lot of work to be done, but none of it means a whit unless I’m healthy enough to help fill a corral in Hopkinton.
What’s the point of this prattle? It’s certainly my goal to get back to fightin’ shape. It’s certainly my intention to regain a competitive footing. And it’s certainly my plan to work hard to get there. But if a day, a week, a month, a season, or more of unexciting, non-racing, strength building training – the stuff that doesn’t make for extremely interesting blog posts – well, so be it. That’s what needs to happen. And I won’t whimper.
A couple weeks ago I received news from a teammate of his freak accident that resulted in a near-fatal infection. A couple days ago I received word from a former co-worker of his freak illness that resulted in not just a near-fatal, but in fact, a multiply-fatal condition – as in, the brought him back from the other side more than once during his ordeal. These stories scream the word perspective, and remind me that I’ve got no right to complain. I’m vertical and breathing, and that’s what matters.
I can hope that this year brings the fun of big gains, big races, big numbers, and big fun. But I’ll keep reminding myself that twenty-fifteen mostly needs to be the year of No Whimpering.