20 April 2012

Hot Devil

Me at mile 28 of Diablo Trail Challenge 2010.  Photo Allen Lucas
With temps nearly reaching 90 degrees, tomorrow's Diablo Trail Challenge 50k should be interesting.  The point to point course, boasting 7,142 ft of climb, meanders along the South and West side of the park.  Starting at the sane hour of 8am, the race ensures even the front runners will be enjoying the mid day heat.  I ran the race in 2010 and it took me 5 hours to finish the sucker.  I'm probably in better shape now, overall, but definitely have been slacking in the training over the last month or two.

There are two sections adding up to 15 miles with just one aid station in the middle.  That's the only section I'm concerned about carrying just one handheld bottle.  I don't want to wear a vest/pack (extra heat, weight, not being able to rip off my shirt when it starts driving me nutty).  All fascinating stuff, I know.

17 April 2012

Running - 10 Years Later

It was a wet April Saturday in Boston in 2002.  The preceding 12 months had been the worst year of my life.  My father died suddenly in 2001, my job as Sales Engineer for a telecom company was eliminated when the telecom industry imploded.  My life was spiraling and I was at a point, lower than even my dark mind could've imagined.

I had taken up long walks and this particular Saturday found me wandering clear across Boston where I came upon a running store, so I walked in.  I gazed at the few dozen race brochures and flyers and one caught my eye.  The James Joyce Ramble 10k.  Being an English major and nostalgic by nature, I read that brochure.  I had never run before and the race was the following weekend but something told me I wanted to run this particular event.  So, I folded and tucked it into my back pocket and walked home.  I filled out the entry and mailed it with my check on Monday.  I ended up having to go back to the running store to buy a pair of running shoes (I think they were New Balance but not certain) for the race.  I laced them up for the first time on race morning and headed to Dedham, MA.

The race is a big one, very competitive with the top 10 typically running upper 4 min paces and usually all from Kenya but I had no way to know that or have any reference to which I could compare it.  The weather was damp but not too chilly.  I lined up with the other 2,500 runners and we took off.  I ran as hard as I felt necessary, which turned out to be about a 5:30 pace.  That lasted all of two miles, when I realized my lungs were burning with a fierceness I hadn't experienced since solo breakaways in bike racing and I knew lactic acid would turn my legs to mushy logs.  The pace slowed consistently through the hilly course.  Groups of actors were reading from Joyce's work along the course.  The rest was a blur until I crossed the finish line and realized it was the first time I felt alive since my dad died.  I finished in 272nd place in 40:05 for a 6:27 avg pace.

I won't say that running changed my life and made it great in some way but it was a bridge to get me over the chasm of darkness I was otherwise falling into.  Nothing mattered and I was doing careless things with my life, from pushing the envelope carelessly in scuba diving to darker thoughts of not wanting to face another day.  Running and racing and the people I met through it provided enough for me to look forward to that it kept me interested in existing just one more day.
Carl Long
Ten years later, I clearly see how running has formed my current life.  A $3k watch or shiny sports car used to spin me when I was younger.  Things are simpler now due in large part to the simple activity of running.

Early race directing 2004


05 April 2012


Despite the knowledge he now had, Foster clung to the idea that she was a good person and that he still loved her. What brought him to this realm of thoughts he couldn’t remember. He only knew that he was confused, frustrated, and, some might say, depressed. The solitude he was experiencing was at the same time both empowering and troubling. Why had it come to this? Which decision had brought him down this particular path? How could he find his way back? More importantly, did he want to find his way back, and to what? A light, constant drumming on the front door told him Seth was here, so he dragged himself up from the low, three-legged sofa, a cinder block supported the rear corner, to go open the door.

“Hey, s’up?” Seth said before the door was even open.
Foster greeted him, “Hey Seth, knock some of that mud off your shoes before you come in. Where the hell have you been anyway?”
“I was over at Cindy’s place. We walked down to the creek behind her house. With all this rain we’ve had there was a bunch of mud down there. Sorry.” Seth explained, then continued, “why’s it so quiet in here…and dark?”

Seth had a way of getting right to the point, regardless of the topic. He knew Foster and Lisa were on shaky ground but didn’t know why exactly. He just knew his friend had been quiet lately, even more so than usual. Seth figured it had been about a month now since Foster seemed normal. They had been friends since Seth had moved to Boston almost five years ago. They met at the bakery Seth worked at as the opening baker. Foster was waiting at the front door at 6:45AM. It always bothered Seth when people would stand around waiting for him to unlock the door at 7. It made him feel like he wasn’t doing his job or, worse yet, providing less than sparkling customer service. He simply wanted things to be ready when he opened up and didn’t like to feel rushed. That day Foster was weighed down with the duty to bring pastries and coffee to the Friday sales meeting and knew he’d be late if he wasn’t on the Redline by 7:15, so he was impatiently glancing at his watch even though he just looked at it and knew the time. He finally knocked on the locked doors which forced Seth to look up, clap his flour covered hands together and walk to the front of the store. He looked up at the clock, 6:52, and then at the sign on the door that read, “Hours: 7AM-6PM M-F, 7AM-1PM Saturday, Closed Sunday”. He twisted the lock and allowed Foster in.

“Sorry, I need two dozen pastries.” Foster said.
“What kind.” Seth replied.
“I don’t care. You choose.” Foster held back his sense of urgency.
“Well, we have all sorts of stuff. I like the raspberry strudels myself. They’re still warm.” Seth said proudly.
“Fine, what else?” Foster didn’t seem to care about how proud Seth was of his strudels. “Ok, a dozen of those then and a dozen of whatever else.” Foster said while looking again at his watch.

Once leaving the bakery, Foster glanced over his shoulder at the bakery, then reached under the cardboard flap for one of the raspberry pastries. He figured they’d be gone so quickly at the office that he might as well enjoy one himself now, especially while they were still warm.

“Uh, h-e-l-l-o, did you happen to hear me ask why it’s so quiet and dark in here?” Seth asked while knocking on his head with his forefinger knuckle.  Snapping Foster back to the present, Seth turned and walked to the living room, clicking on the TV, and plopping down on the sofa.

It wasn’t like Foster to be this inactive and down. Over the course of 18 months he had gone from being an active man both physically and mentally, running or cycling regularly, with a positive and cheerful attitude even towards strangers that crowded him on the train, to a quiet, aloof, self-consumed, hermit. Unfortunately for Seth, and every other friend of Foster’s, he didn’t talk about his crumbling relationship with Lisa. It hurt him too much to share the anguish he felt when she would go an entire day not talking to him and then get ready, in very sexy clothes that he couldn’t remember seeing her wear before, and then go out with “her girlfriends”. Those were the most difficult nights for him. He knew their relationship was over but the thought of her with someone else, hand on her hip, her hand tucked under his belt at the small of his back. It was disgusting and it raised his body temperature and adrenaline so much that he would lie awake in bed the entire night, even after she came home at 3am. He wanted to talk with her but they had gone over every aspect of the relationship so many times it was reduced to mush and bland words. There was no passion or intent in the arguing any more. It was simply habit now, the arguing. Foster caught himself wishing that he could go back. Was it six months, nine, a year? He couldn’t remember at this point when Lisa stopped being his girl. His heart was as pale as his dormant body and he didn’t know what to do to stop it.

Seth had been making himself at home, beer from the fridge, remote in hand and settled quite comfortably on the sofa he himself had helped move into Foster and Lisa’s apartment just 13 months earlier.
“Grab me another beer.” Seth yelled in the direction of the bedroom.
Foster was thankful for the interruption of his reminiscing and made his way down the narrow hall to the kitchen to retrieve a beer for Seth and one for himself.
“Did you change your cable? We’re missing a bunch of channels I like.” Seth said as Foster walked into the living room.
We’re, missing a bunch of channels? I dropped the deluxe package after I got the bill. I don’t watch all the sports and movies and whatever else you watch, so I cancelled it.” Foster replied in the sternest voice he could muster.
While twisting the cap of his beer, Seth said, “Yeah, but I watch them. We’re currently missing ‘Dance with the Hot Stars’. And pre-season football is on.”

Seth seemed one dimensional but he actually graduated near the top of his class at Cornell and went on to get his MBA at the University of Illinois, a fact that always left Foster perplexed since Seth could barely balance his checkbook. Over the course of ten years Seth had gone from junior executive at a large financial institution to working at a pet store. Granted, he had a lot of duties at the pet store, everything from grooming to keeping the books, and now baking, but still. Foster had given up trying to figure it out. He had enough problems of his own.

Seth finally went home after finishing the last beer in the fridge and watching two hours of what Foster considered mindless television. This left him to his own thoughts, which usually dimmed with solitude. He often thought about moving away from his now familiar life in the city, the freedom, starting anew, the adventure. In his mind it was like the pioneers striking out into the unknown territory with only what they could carry and lightened by hopes and dreams. The thought, though intriguing, was never a real option. Now, though, that Lisa was essentially out of the picture, why not?

He decided to invest more in that thought this morning, after nightmares about Lisa and other men, with a spontaneous run, something he hadn’t done in two months. He retrieved his left running shoe his dog, Albert, had taken ownership of under the bed and was out the door and into a loping, sleepy, and rusty gait down Massachusetts Ave. The heavy rain during the night left the neighborhood feeling cleaner than normal. The brownstones’ colors seemed to have a pulse and the median grass splitting the avenue was an unrealistic green reserved for postcard photos. After a while, all this went unnoticed to Foster. The ache in his legs and burn in his lungs were even beyond his current focus. He was consumed with the thought of leaving and breaking away to a new place, away from the thought of Lisa, his job, all of it. It wasn’t so much running away as a restlessness to find new life mixed with the realization that his life in Boston had come to an end and needed closure.

He had moved to the city eight years ago, had two significant relationships, a career that he enjoyed, all of which had come to an end recently, leaving him feeling hollow in a city that gave him so much hope when he first walked down Milk St. and made his way through North Boston to the waterfront to smell the salty Atlantic for the first time.

Forgetting his watch, he didn’t know how long it had been since leaving his apartment. He stopped and realized he was standing in front of Charlie’s in Harvard Square. He always associated Charlie’s with good hamburgers but now, in the early mist of Sunday morning, a burger didn’t sound that appealing and actually the nostalgia reinforced his desire to move away. Still thinking of Charlie’s, Foster thought of a girl he met there two months ago. It was the night he learned that Lisa had been seeing someone else. He’d had more than a few beers and felt abnormally talkative, so the conversation flowed when a slim, pretty girl (Foster called all women “girls”) sat next to him at the bar just as he was ordering himself another beer, so he ordered two, figuring that if she rejected it, he'd simply have an extra.

After ordering, Foster turned to the girl “At the risk of sounding cliché, you look familiar. Do you work here? Well, not here here but in Cambridge?”

“Well, yeah, sort of, anyway.” She responded in a hesitant yet interested way.

Foster slid the extra beer that the bartender just brought towards her, at which her eyebrows raised but she accepted the gesture by reaching for the cold bottle and asking for a glass.

“I'm Foster, what'dya mean by sort of work around here?”

“I'm Julie. I sort of lost my job today. Virgin Record Store, you know, next to the copy shop." She said while  pointing towards the back brick wall of the bar in the general direction of the record store. "Well it's closing and I just found out today. They just sort of announced it at the end of the day and said it'd be closed in two weeks.”

The rain that had begun during Foster's reminiscing brought him back to the present.  He glanced once more at Charlie's and then over his shoulder to the building that used to be Virgin Records, looked down at his soaked shoes, and resumed his run.