Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Have Dog. Will Run...Reluctantly.

Four years ago, Rachel and I introduced a wonderful addition to our lives. She was cute and cuddly, and it was love at first sight. Of course we had to get used to one another: getting up in the middle of the night, the feedings, and the obligatory picking up of poop (which is as bad as they say it will be). Yet the good always outweighed the...the what? the bad? the gross? the undeniably, life altering circumstances? Right on! And here we are, today: proud parents of a four-year-old, four legged creature, who somehow managed to survive the tidal floods of Hurricane Katrina and make her way up to Virginia. From mangy mutt, to spoiled bitch. That's our Mattie.

Mattie is my first dog (there was a brief moment in my youth where we had a very ornery cat named, Groucho, who didn't take too kindly to my arrival, i.e. birth). And I couldn't wait to get her on the road running with me. Once she figured out -- as many of us do in our first races -- the importance of not going out too fast and running at the front, she adapted quite well. In fact, last year I had her running nine-milers with me after work. We were inseparable, Mattie and me, particularly when Rachel started commuting into D.C. every day. Running was our thing and we were out on the roads scalding dogs.

But then something happened. All of the sudden, Mattie decided she didn't like running anymore. She'd see that harness come out and she'd shirk away, head drooping between her shoulders, tail wrapped tightly around butt. I had to lure her out from under the table, ususally invovling some high-pitched emasculating voice, and once I did, we trotted down the stairs AND...she hit the brakes. I mean emergency brake style. This dog wasn't going nowheres.

I didn't know what to do at first. I tried to coax her along. She turned to sniff something in the grass. I tried the stern, parental "stop embarrassing me in front of these people" voice. She bent down and licked herself. Sure, I could have been sad. My companion ditching me after all those great trails together. F-that. I was pissed! I tugged, and I pulled, and I swore, and I muttered under my breath. And after this mature stand off, I said, "FINE," and led/force marched her back to the front door, unclipped the leash, tossed it in the house with her, and went on my merry way...alone.

*cleansing breath*

Mattie and I are fine now. Occassionally she runs with me, but mostly not. However, today became one of the few days she joined me. I took her to Burke Lake, a leafy 4.7 mile loop around, you guessed it, Burke Lake. Everything started off fine. I've tended to run slower with her whenever we do go out, so she was my built in recovery pace today. A half mile in, she stops. She gives me the look that says, "I'm done, Pop," In my head she calls me Pop. "I won't be tricked." I forgot to mention I've tried different tactics, like not bringing the harness and pretending we're just going for a walk. "That's right, see, just a nice mosey, and oh, oh, look we're running. We're running and it's fun." That only worked once. With each step back toward the car, her pace quickened. With each step forward down the trail, she stopped. After a couple rounds of this, she agreed, or relented, I'm not sure, which. She's a dog after all and can't speak.

We got through the 4.7 miles at a nice conversational pace I might add. She trotted the entire way, but a good leash length behind me...just enough so that I had to pull her along some...bitch. And now, she's sprawled out next to me, snoring softly, and dreaming the dreams of dogs. No doubt running through a field, chasing after that stupid rabbit that keeps coming into our backyard.

Anyhow, you might say that my runs have gone to the dogs. Except I wouldn't say that, because she hates it. *sigh*

Growing Good Karma

I'll be the first to admit that I'm superstitious. As an ice hockey goalie for more than 17 years, I suppose it comes with the territory. I used to take painstaking care to dress a certain way (there were good luck socks, and good luck ties, good luck t-shirts), put my pads on in a certain order (left-to-right), even the route I took to the rink or the boxers I wore to bed...it all mattered. In fact the cosmic order of the universe depended on it.

I like to think that since I stopped playing hockey, the superstitions have disappeared, but be careful not to step in the bullshit. There was a time at work I wouldn't change pens or the background on my computer because I was in the zone when it came to writing assignments...every word that dripped from that pen or onto that screen was gold, Jerry, gold!

In the NHL playoffs, it's a long standing tradition for players to grow playoff beards. Players come to resemble Scandinavian Norse Myth-men, or maybe more appropriately, Canadian lumberjacks. Some are good (thank you, Lanny MacDonald -right), some are bad (see Sidney Crosby's wispy-stache).

After battling a summer's-worth of frustration due to a recurring IT band injury, I started getting nervous that I wouldn't be ready for this weekend's Army Ten-Miler. That is until my friend and I took a hiking/camping trip out to Utah and Arizona. We piled on 51 miles of hiking and more than 2,000 miles on the car. Through it all, each morning, like Adam Banks in D-2: The Mighty Ducks,"I woke up, and the pain was gone." There was also no showering, which meant, no shaving. Thus, a beard was born.

And so, I submit to you what one of my co-workers has dubbed, "the Good Karma beard." I'm three weeks strong into this thick, coarse - and dare I say distinguished - ritual. It's been met with mixed reactions. Generally, any dudes who lay eyes on it are all for it. Is it admiration in their eyes or is that jealousy? I offer the following exchange from the elevator today, "I love that beard, man." "Thanks. It dies on Sunday night." "That is so sad to hear. Every time I tell my wife I'm going to grow a beard, she says, 'No, you're not.' Grow it for all of us." Indeed, it has taken on William Wallace proportions.

And the ladies? Well, there are two types of women in this world, those in favor of the beard and those who are not. From, "Hey, the beard is back!" to "Oh...I see the beard is back." How can such similar sentences carry such different messages. There is no middle ground with women and facial hair. Check out this Runner's World forum, spawned after one simple question, "Should I grow my beard back?"

Of course, many runners have sported the beard. Look no further than U.S. Olympic marathoner Brian Sell - he's extra bad ass because he shaves things into it. Pre didn't have the beard but he did rock a killer 70s mustache -- I think I was born in the wrong decade but that's a different blog post. There's even a group called Bearded Runners Unite, you can't make this shit up.

The real question is, "Is it working?" Of course it's working. Not only did I put in a 35 mile week two weeks ago, but I went long two weekends in a row. And the topper? How about a 32:41 five mile tempo run this evening, BY ACCIDENT? I, or should I say the beard, suddenly channeled Dathan Ritzenheim. Ladies and gentlemen, the defense rests.

I haven't told my beard yet that its time is limited, t-minus five days and counting. I prefer to let it carry on and continue to work it's good karma until after race day. Only then will I reflect on the good times we've had together. This beard has seen the Grand Canyon, L.A., been stroked in ponderous times and tugged at in stressful times. But on Sunday, as the saying goes, "If you love something, you must let it go..." And when I look down in the sink to see what's left, that may just be a single tear in my eye, shed for the good karma this beard has brought me. It shall always live on. A moment of silence please before you click on.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Start the Bus

It all started with one line. I was in the middle of "Again to Carthage," John Parker's sequel to what many would call running's equivalent to the Gospel, "Once a Runner." I settled into bed, legs stiff and achy from an interval workout, and read the following exchange between Quentin Cassidy and his coach Bruce Denton:

Still. It's just the best of times.
"Bruce," Cassidy said, muffled in the sand.
"What are you pondering?"
"I was thinking how nobody realizes how much there is to this part of it."
"What part of it?"
"Training. Hanging around. Travel someplace to race, someplace to train. More hanging around. Eating stuff, get a degree. Hang around some more."
"That's the life all right."
"What I mean is that someone sees a race, and they think that's what you do. They sort of know you had to train, but they weren't watching then, so they don't understand how incredibly much of it there is. But to us, it's almost the whole thing. Racing is just this little tiny ritual we go through after everything else has been done. It's a hood ornament."
Cassidy went silent for a time and Denton assumed he had gone to sleep.
"Bruce," Cassidy said.
"You told me once not to worry, that things would work out."
Cassidy turned his head, opened one eye.
"It's okay, Bruce."
"You don't have to worry about this on my account. I don't have anything to prove."
"I just want to make it on the bus one more time."
Cassidy hopped on the bus to qualify for the Olympic Marathon trials. My goals looked a tad more modest, say, finishing the 2008 National Half Marathon in under 1:40 (which I did). But since that race, I started talking to my Uncle, who used to coach track, and my dad, who ran at the University of Florida, and we started carving down some of those times that summer with a series of weekly interval workouts (I tapped into more than 30 years of track knowledge, which meant quad burning intervals and lung stinging tempo runs). The next thing I knew, I cruised to sub-20 minute 5Ks. Thanks to a little McMillan Running tool called the "Running Calculator," it told me I should be able to run a 3:09 marathon, i.e. a Boston Qualifying time. God bless the internet.

14 months, more than 1,000 miles, two pairs of asics, a stack of cover-to-cover worn Runner's Worlds, and a couple of empty Biofreeze tubes later, I crossed the finish line at the Vermont Marathon in 3:08:41, officially on the bus to Boston 2010.

When I line up at the start for each race, particularly the ones of the ten-miler, half- and full-marathon variety, I like to take a moment and look around at my fellow runners and take in the nervous chatter, the last minute stretching, and final equipment adjustments (gotta get that number and those shoelaces just right), and think about what they have gone through to get to that point. Were there injuries? Running in the snow, the rain, the broiling summer heat? Days where you couldn't get out of bed and days you felt you could run forever. Are they running for someone watching on the sidelines, or watching from beyond?

The point is, we have all come to that line for different reasons, from different places, and with different goals in mind. But the common thread (pardon the pun), running through all of us is we have made it to the starting line. Is my story any different? Maybe in some respects but I'm sure other runners reading this will be able to find some commonalities and relate to my stories (we've all ground out workouts, felt the guilt of missing runs, and the elation of clicking the stopwatch and seeing a new PR). But maybe you haven't seen the canons lining the top of Matthew's Hill at Manassas Battlefield and tried to feel the fear and the rush of northern soldiers running for their lives across that field, or the way the leaves look around Burke Lake when autumn is just about to disappear, or running with your dad for the first time in more than a decade to hear the stories he built over the years, spending an hour on the phone with your uncle who wants every last detail of the race you pounded out so he can tweak the training program, or what it's like to have your wife riding along side of you shivering on a bike and carrying a backpack of water for you, or to hear your mom already wanting to book tickets to Boston...11 months out from the race.

Whatever your reason, and whatever your purpose, I hope you'll come along on my journey to Boston and wherever else this bus takes me.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...