Thursday, June 30, 2011

#344: A Run in the Sun

I have set a speed goal for myself: an average pace of 11:00/mile for at least 2 miles. Today, in 84 degree air under a blazing sun, I came within 3 seconds of doing just that.

I know, I promised myself I was going to take it easy today. But then I got out on the trail and my stride felt so smooth and easy during warm ups, I just started pressing the pace right from the beginning. I knew I was only going out to the first mile-post and back. I also knew that the route is nearly all flat and straight. I decided to see just how fast I could go.

Used the 4:00/0:30 run/jog intervals again. I'm really starting to feel good about that rhythm, though I will definitely be walking the first few breaks during Monday's race. I want to have plenty of gas for the return trip.

Indelicate medical report: I felt a little chafing in the back of my leg... you know... where the thigh meets the bum? Of course, as I have already described, I have these empty bags of skin where the fat used to be and my bum was particularly blessed with that resource. There's a little more rubbing goes on there than I might like. Add that to one of the places I'll have "tucked" when I hit the Powerball. I'll need to make sure to apply a little Aquaphor on that "seam" before I run in the heat again.

I think this may be my last run until Monday. If I don't run again until the 10K, I'm OK with that.  In the past few weeks, I've had several quality sessions that were significantly longer than 6.2 miles. I know I can do it and I know that if I pace myself at the beginning, I can finish strong. That's my goal for the race: to finish strong.

When I registered, I had to indicate how long I thought it would take me to finish. Based on my times back then, I said 90 minutes. If I can keep from dropping anything on my foot between now and then, and the weather is at least bearable, I should be a lot closer to 70 than 90. That's not going to set the world on fire, but it would be a real milestone for me. I wouldn't mind breaking 70 minutes.

But this is my first 10K and based on the wisdom of my running elders, my goal is to finish. Just to finish. Everything else is secondary. No matter what the time, no matter what the weather, I intend to have a great day running with a few thousand of my closest friends.

Though, I wouldn't complain if we had a few early morning showers to kick off the 4th...


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#343: A Reason to Run

Doug and Bobbie Parks
Brother ended his battle yesterday. He fought to his last breath. Death delivered his body, but cancer never defeated his spirit.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

My parents couldn't give me a brother, so God did. I love you, Brother Doug.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

#342: On the Eternal Joy of Stomping in Puddles

I have always loved storms. I think it started the first time I read Moby Dick. The idea of pacing the decks of the Pequod while the wind and the sea raged about me aroused my imagination. I used to pace on our front porch during rain storms, the typhoon whipping the ropes of our canvas awnings as the waves broke over the steps and washed up against the front door of our land-locked house. Many years later, I had the opportunity to be in an actual storm at sea. The waves were so high that the sky disappeared. We lost sight of everything but the walls of water that surrounded us. I have never puked so much or so helplessly, not even during chemo. I learned that day that I prefer my tempests on land.

This morning, I awoke to flashing lights in the bedroom. At first I thought there might be an ambulance on the street, then I heard the thunder and realized that it was storming outside, just in time for my long run. I have managed to avoid running in the rain so far this summer. Sometimes I wait the weather out, but mostly, we've just had a really dry month.

Waiting wasn't really an option today. My schedule is full and putting the run off would mean putting it off till tomorrow. With my first 10K race just 8 days away, I didn't want to mess around with my training schedule, random though it may be. So I got dressed in the dark, had a cup of coffee and a Cliff bar, fed the dogs, and headed out into the early morning mist.

I was greeted by one of the biggest bolts of lightening I can ever remember seeing. It branched out across more than a quarter of the horizon like a gigantic, jagged talon reaching down to pluck trees out of the ground. I thought of the storms I had watched over the Pacific. Then I thought of the long, treeless stretch of my run along the ball field where I would be the highest point in the area. Stirring up my resolve, and trying to be as non-conductive as possible, I decided to press on ahead.

Today's rain was more of a light summer shower than a typhoon, and the lightening soon stopped. I was quickly soaked, and pressed on my warm-up a little, just to get warm. Approaching the start of my planned route, I realized that I was wearing my Nike+ gizmo, but had left my watch at home. The little keeper ring that holds down the end of the band was ripped off and I put it off to the side until I could replace the band. In all the morning's excitement, I forgot to put it on.

Forgetting the watch matters because it is the beeping pest that tells me when it's time to take walk breaks. I considered going back to the house for it, but the challenge of battling the dogs at the gate (Clare has turned into quite the escape artist) was more than I was willing to take on at 6:30 in the morning. I decided to go without it, and trust my body to tell me when it was time to take a break and to run. This didn't work to badly, though I did not take nearly enough breaks in the first two miles, and my later splits slowed down as a result.

I don't think I saw another soul during the whole 7 miles, except for a guy delivering papers who greeted me in a loud friendly voice. We exchanged "Good Morning"s and continued on our separate ways. There were lots of bunnies out playing in the wet grass, and at one point, a large brown shadow swooped down out of the trees at me. For a moment I thought I was being attacked by a bat, but when it landed, I saw that it was only a clump of dead leaves, still attached to a twig of a branch.

Here's some great news. Puddles are still great fun, even at 50. And early in the morning, before anyone is awake to see you, splashing in them isn't embarrassing at all. I highly recommend it.

My early breaks were short jogs, then after about 4 miles, I started walking every few minutes.I tried to do what I had learned: rest before you need to. There was no huffing and puffing, no pounding chest, no aching legs. Just the easy rhythm of run/walk/run as my feet patted along the wet pavement and the rain cooled me so that I barely sweated at all.

My long runs have been getting progressively shorter as I prepare for the race on the 4th, so the end of 7 miles came as a surprise to me. It didn't seem that I ran nearly long enough to go so far. When I got home, I uploaded the data from my sportband and found that I had just run my fastest 5K and my fastest 10K ever. I'm excited by the progress I'm making, and can't wait to see how the extra boost of race day affects my performance.

Somebody said yesterday that I was an inspiration: to be running after all I've been through. I'm not going to lie to you. I like the attention and the praise. but I really think people give me too much credit. While my doctors fought the cancer, and God healed my soul, I just hung on for the ride. All I really did was decide not to die. The rest just sort of happened around me. Yes, it is a miracle that I'm alive. I know that and will always be grateful. But it is a miracle that you are alive, too. You have survived troubles that might have killed other people. You have chosen to live when it would have been easier to give up. You are more strong and more loved than you can possibly imagine. We have that in common.

We are all like a Fat Man Running, lifting one foot after the other, in spite of all the reasons life gives us to stop moving. I'm just running for my life. I hope you keep running too. Even when it rains.

After all, you're never too old to stomp in puddles now and then.


Friday, June 24, 2011

#341: Unquiet Brain... Running with the Monkey Mind.

Sometimes when I run, my mind slips easily into a quiet, contemplative state. I feel my breath, I hear my footsteps. I become empty.

Today, I was haunted by what the Chinese call the "Monkey Mind." My thoughts chattered away, bouncing from one place to another like monkeys playing in the tree tops. I had so much on my mind, Brother's cancer, my play, the house, even the blog. I found myself wondering how I would write about the run, all the while ignoring the run itself as I thought about ways to describe it.

I started to get a little frustrated. This isn't why I was on the road. I came out here to stop thinking about all these things for a few minutes. What was the point of doing this if running couldn't help me relax and clear my head? My Monkey Mind had me turned all inside out.

Then, at about the half-way point of my two mile run, I realized what I was doing wrong. I was denying my own thoughts, telling myself that they shouldn't be there. I tried a different tactic. I welcomed them in. "OK, Monkey Mind. I hear you. You have a lot to say. That's all right. You're part of me and part of my run today, and you're welcome to stay as long as you like.

And the darndest thing happened. Without my even noticing, the monkees stopped their chattering. It isn't as if somone threw a switch and they went away. It's just that when I finished my run, I realized that I had stopped hearing them. As soon as I stopped fighting them, they stopped bothering me.

I think Lao Tzu would have gotten a kick out of my run today. Something tells me that this was one of those life lessons that's about a lot more than just running.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#340: Sugar, Salt, and Shame... The Detox Run

I came home from rehearsal in a funk last night. We're two weeks from opening and all of our nerves are a little strained. That's perfectly normal. I should be used to it. But for some reason, I was edgy when I walked in the door. The house was filled with psychic noise. The back porch was filled with junk from the old house that needs to be sorted and mostly thrown away. The den was blocked off to keep the dogs out because they had gotten out in the rain and soaked one another in mud. The TV was playing. The washer and dryer were running. The broadband connection was down. I felt bombarded. So I did what any mentally healthy would-be athlete would do... I began eating garbage.

Let's see if I can remember all of it. Two crab salad sandwiches. Chips and cheese dip. Several glasses of lemonade. Half a pint of Hagen-Daz Rum Raisin. A glass of milk. A sleeve of ancient Thin Mints. Oh, and of course, I sat up watching TV until 3:00 in the morning. Sometimes I think it would be simpler to be a drug addict. This morning, I stepped on the scale. I was two pounds heavier than yesterday morning. Two pounds. That's a week's work washed away in an avalanche of sugar and salt.

So what was that all about? I don't know, a whole bunch of things, I guess. Brother's brave battle with cancer. Mrs P's struggles to keep up at work. The impending closing on the old house and the necessity to vacate asap. Dwindling savings. Self doubts about the play. I missed my run yesterday. And of course, the chaotic environment when I got home last night. It all adds up. A couple of miles on the road would probably have cleared my noisy mind, but it was dark and rainy, and I was still a little spooked by Sunday's tumble and redneck encounter. So I made a whole bunch of bad choices, and woke up to the consequences.

Even as I was stuffing poison into my mouth, I was remembering the bad old days before my cancer, when food was my only comfort, my hiding place. Eating soothed me, all 400 pounds of me. I would crunch away my problems and swallow my pain. It was a cowardly kind of suicide, but it was the way I chose. I suppose it's a positive sign that this time I recognized my behavior for what it was: an attempt to bury my worries with my drug of choice. It didn't help. And I woke up feeling ashamed of myself for backsliding into behavior that I was sure I had put behind me.

So, I went for a run.

I had a two miler scheduled, and I intended to press my pace. Now there was even more reason to work hard. I had toxins to sweat out. I decided to jog instead of walking my 30 second breaks. I wanted to see if I could keep up the pace without slowing down to a walk. I ran my first mile in 11:09, faster than I have ever gone before. I felt strong and clean. As I started the long climb at the beginning of mile 2, I realized that I wasn't running to get rid of fat and sugar, I was running to sweat out the shame. The realization spurred me on. During each 3 minute run interval, I pressed to increase my turnover, moving my feet faster and faster without breaking form by over-striding or bobbing up and down. During each 30 second jog break, I tried to glide, slowing down with each step to a pace just barely faster than a walk. I glanced at my watch a couple of times, but couldn't work the math in my head. I felt like I was covering a lot of pavement, but really couldn't tell how fast I was going. I didn't know until I got home that I had run the second mile in 10:59, shaving 10 seconds off of the personal best I had just set a few minutes before. Then I ran the last .6 miles at a 10:38/mile pace. The cool down felt fantastic. I had run reverse splits, each one faster than I had ever run before. My binge had not ruined me. I had not undone all my hard work. I had made a self-destructive choice, recognized it, and changed course. I had no reason to be ashamed.

Now, let's see about putting that back porch in order.


Monday, June 20, 2011

#339: An Evening Run, a Twilight Tumble, and a Weekend with a Man of God

After a long and emotional trip to visit Brother, whose battle with cancer is almost over, we returned home weary and tear-stained. I had a long run scheduled this weekend, and by 8:00 last night, I really needed it. The sunset was just beginning as I set off on a planned 8 miles. The morning's rain and the day's heat had left the air heavy and damp, "sultry," as they say a little farther south of here. The temperature was down to 78 degrees when I left the house.

I had plotted a new route for last night's run, one that had a minimum of road without sidewalks. Even in my white shorts, I didn't want to be running the road in the fading light. So of course, the only place where I did have to run the white line was where I encountered a jerk in a pickup truck. Now there was some bad luck for him involved here. Just at the point where he would have slipped out a couple of feet to avoid me, three cars came in the opposite direction. He had to stay in the lane as I ran toward him. There is no shoulder there, so I had nowhere to go but forward. He could have done a lot of things. He could have slowed down and passed carefully. He could have rolled down his window and cussed me out. He could have swerved to the right and sent me flying into the bushes. Instead, he started laying on his horn as soon as he saw me, and continued honking like a deranged Manhattan cab driver until he came to a complete stop so he could glare as me as I passed him. I prayed a little misery on him, then shined it on.

This run takes me through a park dedicated to baseball. There are several diamonds that are always full during the day. Tonight, as I ran between two of them, a young girl was taking some batting practice while her dad pitched. A perfect Father's day scene.

Once I left the park, I entered a tree covered walking path that weaves around through a pretty posh looking development. Big, beautiful homes built on what was a big beautiful horse farm, just a few years ago. This is pretty typical here, though the slowing economy seems to be saving more farmland than all the bumper stickers and "save the Bluegrass" campaigns ever did. No use ruining some of the most beautiful country in the world when there's no money to be made.

The path opens out onto a one mile circle around the heart of the development. Essentially, it's a big office park with some retail businesses peppered in. My shrink is in this neighborhood. So is one of our favorite Mediterranean restaurants and a very fine liquor store. But on Sunday night, the businesses are closed and the sidewalks are mostly filled with lone runners and strolling couples. A very peaceful setting.

At about mile 3 1/2, I took my headphones off. I haven't run with them for a while, and thought I'd give them a try. I just found them distracting. My breath and my footsteps have become the soundtrack of my running. The concert of the world around me is so much more pleasant to listen to than recorded music in my ears. An iPod is a great way to escape from the world, but escape is the last thing on my mind when I'm running. I want to be present. I don't want to miss a thing.

Even without my headphones in, I did miss something pretty important.

The sun had set about the time I finished mile 5. Now I was running under street lights in the shady streets of my neighborhood. The homes are a little more modest, here. The people are a little less beautiful and their clothing labels aren't quite so prominent. There are more Chevys than Audis in these driveways. The sidewalks are a little older.

And there's the rub. As I crossed a driveway and stepped onto the sidewalk, my toe caught on an uneven slab of concrete. I experienced that weird slow-motion experience that you feel when you lose control of your car on a slippery road. Your senses are so heightened, taking in so much information so fast, that time seems to slow down. You cram a lot more thoughts and reactions into a few fractions of seconds than you would think possible. I stumbled, sure for a moment that I could catch myself. Soon, my experience of gravity and geometry convinced me that I was going down. I immediately thought of the blood thinners in my blood. If I cut myself, or worse, hit my head, I would be in a very bad situation. I turned my shoulder toward the grass and hoped for the best.

I don't actually remember hitting the ground. Judging from the gravel embedded in my palms, I must have landed on them first. I do remember my hip and right shoulder hitting the grass and sliding for a surprising distance. It was actually pretty cool. I felt like a running back hitting the turf, barely snagged by a shoe-string tackle after busting free for a nice gain. Once I came to a stop, I lay still for a second, taking stock. No searing pains. No broken bones. No head trauma. Just a little road rash on my elbow and what felt like a skinned knee. A pretty successful dive, all things considered. I got back on my feet and did a quick visual check. Everything looked fine. Not even a grass stain. Down the road a little, a woman and her dog had stopped to marvel at the sight of a fat man sliding across the grass, but once I was up and running again, they shook their heads and continued on their way.

I hadn't gone very far when I felt the blood running down my shin. I looked down, but in the dark, I couldn't see anything. It didn't feel like I was cut badly. There was not a river of black flowing down into my sock, and I was still a couple of miles from home. I figured there was no use stopping unless I was going to go knock on a door and ask for help. I wasn't about to present one of my neighbors with a big, sweaty,  bleeding visitor after dark unless there was bone sticking out. So, I moved along.

When I left the house, Mrs P had mentioned how handsome I looked in my running togs. That made me feel pretty good. When I returned, she gasped and went right into nurse mode, counting my wounds, sending me to the shower, and insisting that I slather myself with triple antibiotic ointment, our family's particular cure-all. My knee was skinned pretty well, but it had stopped bleeding. My palms were cut up a little from the fall, and the elbow had little more than a bad rug burn. Of course, a nasty bruise had already started on my right shoulder. I'll spare you the photos unless it turns really dramatic.

So it turns out that one of the shortcomings of running at night is that you don't see low obstacles in the shadows at your feet. Another is that all those endorphins rushing through you at 10:00 make going to sleep a pretty unlikely possibility. It was 1:00 before I put my book down and headed off to bed. I think I'm going to try to avoid evening jogs. At least until I have more reflective clothing. You feel pretty invisible crossing the road at 9:30 at night.

Still, it was good to clear my head. It had been a full weekend at the hospital. You think about a lot of things when someone you love is dying. Good stories. Hard times. Tender moments. Jokes and laughter shared. It isn't all painful, but somehow, it always hurts. The family is grieving. We hurt with him every time he reaches for the button that releases morphine into his IV. But even though he is in pain, Brother is facing his long good-bye with faith, courage, and dignity. Even from his hospital bed, the preacher is still preaching. He taught me a lot this weekend. I was glad to have the chance to run a few miles while I took it all in.

I don't know if cancer is part of God's plan. It doesn't seem like something a Dad would give his children. But I do know that God can make love grow, even among the suffering of a family facing death together. Cancer destroys. God creates. Brother has been a preacher for a long time. It wasn't always easy. Even in a little country church, politics can poison a community and drive folks away. After a long search, Brother found a church he and his family could call home. When he started getting sick, he asked his son to take over when he could no longer be their shepherd. It wasn't an easy decision, but after much prayer and I'm sure many tears, the son agreed to step into his father's pulpit. We all worshipped together on Sunday morning, before going to the hospital for what we feared would be one last visit. Just before Mrs P and I left for home, our nephew leaned over his father's hospital bed and told him about a friend who had been saved at church that morning. Brother burst into tears. After a long moment, he smiled and sobbed, "It's all going to be worth it." I knew he was talking about much more than cancer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

#338: 11 miles?

Really? It looks more like 10 on the map, but my Nike+ says 11, and it's almost always short, not long. Whichever one it was, 10 or 11, it's the farthest I've run so far. So what is it like for a Fat Man to run 10-11 miles?

I started out at 6:45. I knew it would be a long run, and I wanted to beat the heat. The early morning air was cool, probably in the mid 60s.I brought my sunglasses, but didn't need them so soon, so I put them on top of my head. The streets were so quiet. I scared some rabbits and squirrels as I trotted along, and they skittered away from the sidewalk, just in case I was a predator. From time to time, I would pass another runner. "Good Morning." "Good Morning." There is a special kinship among early morning runners. Ordinarily, I'm pretty wary about approaching strangers alone on the street, especially women. I imagine myself to be pretty big and scary looking to someone who doesn't know what a teddy bear I am. So I tend to give a lot of room to folks. But when I'm running, people seem to understand that I'm not out for trouble. It's as if we know one another. I am coming to like runners more and more.

The first mile and a half, I felt some early morning twinges. My left calf has been warming up slowly, especially high up, toward the back of my knee. It doesn't hurt, it just takes a little while longer to loosen up than the rest of my legs. It usually takes between 1 and 2 miles for me to feel like I'm firing on all cylinders. Once I did, I became conscious of my pace and really tried to keep things slow. I was headed out into uncharted waters for me. I didn't want to run out of gas after 7 or 8 miles and have to call Mrs P to come pick me up.

There were a lot of crows out yesterday morning. They called vigorously as I ran by. I never noticed how much crow's calls sound like derisive laughter before. I swear, a couple of times I thought they were making fun of me. It sort of spurred me on.

The first 3 miles are a gradual climb through shady suburban streets. Newspapers lay waiting in driveways for their sleeping readers to make coffee and pad out to pick them up. My breath and footsteps worked peacefully together to form the soundtrack for my run. I've stopped wearing my iPod when I run. The sounds of the world are becoming too good to miss.

When the road turned toward the east, I started squinting, and reached for my sunglasses. Since they had been resting on the top of my hot, sweaty head, they were badly fogged when I slipped them down. I tried running with them that way for a bit, hoping that they would clear up on their own, but eventually wound up pulling them off and wiping them down with the front of my tee shirt. After that, they were fine.

After a brief little downhill stretch, miles 4-6 are the steepest climb of the run. This is also the stretch where there are no sidewalks. I kept my head up, my eye on traffic, and my feet on the white line. Most people gave plenty of room, and I returned a thankful wave. Some other drivers made a point of not veering an inch as they sped past me. I murmured something insulting about their parents, and trotted on.

Once you reach the top of this hill, the rest of the route is a long, gentle downhill slope, with a few little rises thrown in, just to keep you honest.This was also the part of the run where I started to feel tired. Not gasping for air tired. More like heavy-legged tired. I started to notice soreness in the front of my left groin, at the abductor muscles that help pull your leg forward after a stride. I wasn't sure what could be causing this soreness, unless it was the fact that my legs now felt as if they weighed 400 pounds apiece. I started to cringe a little every time my watch would beep to tell me that my 30 second walking interval was over and it was time to run again. By mile 8, my cringing had degenerated into a quiet curse every two-and-a half minutes. No wonder the crows thought I was so funny.

At what should have been mile 9, I crossed the last busy street and checked my sport band to confirm the mileage. It said I had gone more than 10 miles. That was insane. In the first place, I mapped this route out carefully. In the second place, that was 2 miles farther than I had ever run before. And I was still a mile from home. I had a sinking feeling that if I stopped running now, I would probably sit down in the grass and go to sleep. Although it was a lovely morning, the side of a busy street was not the place I wanted to power-nap. I pressed on and made it home. I had been running for two-and-a-half hours. Made it home just in time to shower and go to church. Then I took a long nap.

I have to be honest with you. I don't really believe it was 11 miles. My wrist gizmo has about a 10% margin of error, and on a long run, an extra mile is definitely possible. On the other hand, I don't really want to measure it out again. Worst case? I ONLY ran 10 miles. That's still a very long way for a Fat Man. I'll take it.

I wish I had some kind of philosophical wrap up here. The truth is, I haven't really digested the whole thing yet. I can't imagine how people can run a marathon. I'm having a little bit of a hard time imagining myself running a half-marathon, but I'm getting closer. The good news is, I no longer have to imagine myself running 10K. I've done it. Several times. The Bluegrass 10,000 isn't going to kill me. That's pretty good to know.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

#337: Short, Swift, and Saggy

Date Time Miles MPH Min/Mile
6/9/11 00:25:48 2.35 5.47 10:59

I have a long run scheduled for the weekend, so I didn't want to wear myself down today. I also wanted to try to test my speed. I don't want to get involved in a lot of speed work, yet. My body and I still have plenty to learn about endurance, and it will be a long time before my time in a race is more important than finishing. Still, I have an ego, and would like to have a little more oomph... at least enough to keep up with the strollers and dog walkers. So today, I went as fast as I could, for as long as I could.

First of all, those are some shocking numbers for me. I don't think I've ever run that fast for that long in my life. I stuck with my Run/Walk intervals, running 2 minutes and walking 30 seconds. After that first mile, 2 minutes seemed like a very long time, but I kept pressing. I could really tell the difference between this and my usual runs.

There is still a difference between the distance I measure on and what my Nike+ gizmo indicates. I use the longer of the two distances here, because it's so much more impressive. I did mention my ego, didn't I? No matter how far it was, at the end of these miles, I was spent. I don't think running 8 miles on Sunday left me feeling this tired. I am definitely not a sprinter!

On the other hand, it felt good to seek my own limits for a little bit. My legs learned something about running at a faster cadence than they are used to. I won't try to duplicate this pace on my long run, but it will be interesting to see if this work allows me to cover a little more ground.

I've begun noticing some changes in my body. As my fat percentage continues going down, things are appearing. Hip bones. Ribs. Nurses can find the veins in my arms a little easier. I can feel separate muscles in my thighs. My face looks longer. There is one thing that bugs me, though. I have these pouches of flesh on me. 130 pounds ago, my skin got used to covering up a lot more stuff than is in there now. I can tell from the scale that I'm lighter. I can tell from my pants that I'm slimmer. But my belly is like this floppy, empty sack. Not blubbery, just baggy. The other day, I took a naked stroll into the living room and asked Mrs P if she thought my gut and thighs would eventually shrink down to normal.

"Oh, no," she answered with not enough sympathy and a little too much amusement. "You should probably get a tummy tuck."

Well, no one could fairly describe this vast expanse as a "tummy," and "tucking" it just seems inadequate. I'm thinking we may have to bundle up a couple of yards of the stuff off and donate it to science. I could probably provide grafts for several burn victims with the hide sagging from my torso. Of course, there would have to be some medical reason to do such a thing. The insurance folks won't be interested in paying for surgery just so I can have washboard abs and a tight butt. Not that any of that will matter since I'll need a zipper where my belly-button used to be.

Anybody know if looking like a half-inflated beach ball in swimming trunks is a life threatening situation?


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

#336: Running, Acting, Living


This was an easy run. I just wanted to get my muscles working after Sunday's 8 miler. I find that after adequate rest, usually 48 hours, an easy workout is the most effective way to wring the soreness out. I started pretty early for me: around 7:00. I want to get used to running early now that the summer sun is getting more serious. It was nice and cool when I started. I'm guessing in the high 60s, but it was noticeably warmer by the time I was done. All three miles were within 3 seconds of 13 minutes, so that seems like a good training pace. Charlie says that I can measure my pace with my breathing: if I can't carry on a conversation, I'm going too fast. Since I run alone, my conversations aren't really dependent on my breath, so I use my strides instead. I try to breath once for every two strides. Each time my left foot touches, I either inhale or exhale. If I need to breath more than that, I slow down.Seems to be working so far. It keeps me from huffing and puffing.

Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III.
Not a guy you'd want dating your sister.
I've started rehearsing Richard III with SummerFest. It's a play I love and know pretty well. There are several talented young actors in the cast, and as an increasingly grizzled veteran, I feel a special obligation to set a good example and offer guidance when it seems appropriate. I try not to come on like a know-it-all, that isn't my job. I'm also not trying to be a secret director. That's unethical. But I do know a little more about acting than I did when I was 17, and I learned a lot of that from the geezers who went ahead of me. I wouldn't say I'm a mentor, but I do try to sneak in a few jellybeans of wisdom in from time to time.

I was talking with one of the high schoolers in the cast about a scene we had just played. Richard had just finished manipulating and sending somebody or other to their death. It's sort of his specialty. "What a bastard he is," I said to my young scene partner. "Doesn't he just make your skin crawl?"

He seemed nonchalant. "I don't know. I just figure that's the way he always is. It doesn't really affect me."

"No," I said. "That's a mistake. Never dismiss what another actor is offering you. Always include it in. Our job as actors is to create reality, not to destroy it. Everyone on stage is either helping you to get what you want, or else keeping you from that objective. Let them change you."

He seemed worried. "Was I destroying the scene?"

"No," I reassured him. "I'm not talking about something you do. I'm talking about a way of thinking. Think in terms of what your character wants, what's actually on stage, and respond truthfully. If you do that, you will be helping to create."

Running is a lot like that. I find that having an objective really focuses me. On the days when I feel a little sore or tired, I just remember that there's a 10K race in 28 days. Even on the road, turning my mind's eye toward that goal helps me to press on. Climbing hills is easier when I remember how good it feels to reach the crest and coast down the other side. And setting a good pace and training schedule is only possible when I include what my body is really doing, as opposed to what I wish it could do. That lets me continue to grow without pushing myself to the point of injury.

The two things that kept me sane during my cancer treatment were patience and goals. I knew that I wanted to act again, and I knew that I was going to have to go through a lot of crap before I could do that. I embraced the goal, and accepted the crap. Who knew that acting class would one day help to save my life?

These were lessons from two of my best acting teachers: always make the positive choice, and always "include it in." Don't play in your imagination. Make choices that accept and add to whatever is really there. Make choices that take you down the road toward your goal. In doing this, the artist and the athlete imitate their Creator. We don't tear down, we build up.

I have a feeling that these lessons may apply to other parts of life as well, but I leave that judgment to my discerning readers.



Monday, June 6, 2011

#335: A Holy Run

Glutes: the biggest muscles you have,
except for this guy, whose shoulders
are bigger than his butt.
8.4 miles yesterday. The run felt great. Now it's the morning after, and I'm pretty stiff and sore. I just love working out so hard that my glutes hurt. You use those big butt muscles all the time, but really working them isn't easy. It feels great, but I think there are a couple of walking days in my future until the old legs recover. I actually do have a couple of short runs scheduled this week, then another long one on the weekend. After that, I'm going to taper back a little for the 10K on July 4. Yes, I've registered. I'm gonna do it.

Yesterday was my best time for 10K. It was also my longest run to date. .It was hot, between 78 and 82 degrees. I slathered on the sun screen and carried a bottle of Gatorade with me. It wasn't long before I was wishing it was ice water instead, because I really wanted to dump some on my head. I'm not going to complain about my thick, dark hair, not at my age, but it is definitely a liability when running in the sun. It wasn't long before the water was actually hot. This amused me since I was running in the same sun and probably cooking at the same rate. I had no heat illness symptoms though, so I guess I was hydrating well, even if I could have made sun tea in my hand.
I stuck with my current Run/Walk interval: 2:00 run/0:30 walk. It really worked for me and I think I'm going to keep that ratio for a while. I can cover a surprising amount of ground in 2 minutes, and the half-minute rest is just enough for me to catch my breath, check my posture, and take a sip of fluid before the watch beeps again for my next run. I keep getting faster, so something good is happening.

Pacing is hard for new runners. Without experience, it's difficult to know just how fast you are running, or how fast you should be running. It usually takes me about 2 miles to really start to feel in a groove. I always start out way too fast. I keep having to remind myself to slow. My splits were consistent, though: the fastest mile was 13:16, (stupidly, this was mile 1.) The slowest was 14:56. mile 8. That surprised me because I still felt strong. I guess I wasn't as impressive as I felt. Still, eight sub 15 minute miles felt prett good for a fat man.
A bridge on the Legacy Trail

There was something holy about yesterday's run. I don't think I experience the "runner's high" that you read about, though I was running pretty painlessly. My last mile was a lot easier than my first steps toward the bathroom this morning. The holy part came at the mile 7 mark when I realized that I was actually going to be able to do this. I had already finished 10, and in good time. I had a mile to go, and would be able to finish that, too. I even had plenty of hot Gatorade left in my hand. For the first time in a long time, I prayed. I mean, I really prayed.

In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes with groans too deep for words, and the one who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to God's will. ~ Rom 8:26-27

There is a holy place in our lives where words just can't say what needs to be said. In the arms of our beloved. At the top of a mountain. In the dressing room after a great performance. I imagine that the birth of your child is one of them, too. At times like these, our prayers really are "too deep for words," and all we can do is stand in the presence of our Creator like a child in the rain, letting the Spirit wash over us. That's what happened to me when I got in the car to drive home after my cool-down. I felt God's arms around me, God's breath breathing in my lungs, God's joyful tears cooling my face as we both celebrated the healing and resurrection that my run represented. God didn't speak to me in this moment, and I didn't speak either. We just were. We rode together in the car, sipping on a vanilla milk shake from Dairy Queen, feeling the wind on our faces and smiling. It has been hard for me to feel worshipful in church for a couple of years. I keep going back, hoping that one day I will feel my Father's presence again. Yesterday, on a sweaty, exhausting morning, with my eyes burning from the sun and my legs already stiffening, I felt Him. The Creator of the world took a moment to sit with me and smile.

These moments are rare. That's what makes them holy. Now it is time to go back to work. Our lives can be seen as a combination of worship and ministry. We come into God's presence to find the strength and the inspiration to go into the world and do the work of the kingdom among God's people. Here is one of my favorite passages from the Eucharistic Prayer.

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread. ~ Book of Common Prayer, p. 372.

From Pennsy's training table
Bread, ice cream: turns out either will work. One is just easier to break. So I continue to look for ways to minister. I serve my wife. I raise money for diabetes. I look after my animals. I bring joy to my work in the rehearsal hall. I call my Mum. And I write this blog. I don't know if any of these things is ministry, or if any of them is the reason God and my doctors brought me back from the dead. I can't tell you if I have found my true calling: my vocation. But moments like that drive home yesterday are what give me the strenth to keep looking for it.

We often enounter our holy places where we least expect them. Like somewhere between mile 7 and the Dairy Queen. I pray that you find yours today.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.


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