Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

The Rest

Long ago, I inherited one of my father’s workouts. 8-20 times 400 with 100 meter jog recovery. 400 intervals are not, as a rule, particularly hard for me. But 100 jog recovery is brutal. You have just enough time to catch your breath, say 35 seconds, and then, crap, there’s the line again. It was one of my favorites, though probably not the best workout for me. I was always good at shorter intervals, really anything up to a mile. What I needed in my running life was more long tempos. As I’ve slowly gotten back into marginal shape, I’ve been focusing on longer intervals – 4 mile threshold runs, 2 mile intervals, 1 mile repeats. However, I’m having a hard time pushing those times down because they feel fast, as my top-end speed is so slow. My body does not understand what it means to be fast anymore. I’ve lost a TREMENDOUS amount of speed.

And so, this Saturday I went to the track to do some 400 meter repeats, in hopes of slowly re-establishing some speed. I will never regain my previous speed – or anything close to it – as I am now 36, and 36 is not as fast as 26 or even 16. I peaked on speed at 21, and have been going downhill since, falling off a cliff when I had to shut down competitive running back in 2007 (at age 26).

I was a little bit encouraged by this week’s workout – 8×400 with 100 rest, first 4 in 81.3 with 40 seconds rest, next 4 in 80.1 with 45 seconds rest, then a 3:20 jog, then a 9th 400 in 75.5. And so I decided to do a deep dive and locate all of my instances of this workout, with hopes of using the information to access my fitness. Unfortunately, I’m so far off the scale this will be impossible. I don’t think there has ever been a previous instance of my running this workout where I was not in 16:30 5K shape or better, and I have little chance of sniffing that time without a year of steady training.

Sputtering through the finish, staggering punch drunk, repeating over and over again 3 to go, 3 to go, 3 to go, just 3, just 3, ugh 10 more meters to the…damn…rolling start, one more meaningful breath, and GO. Don’t think, don’t think, one foot, one foot, 300 to go, at the next line just 2.5 more to go, 1000 meters, and with recovery, there it is halfway done, halfway, stay off the rail…at the next line, 100 to go, finish this one out, bring it through the line, bring it through – you’re slipping, going to mess up your average, bring it through and split. Oogh…gasping, just 2 to go, just 2 to go, 2 to go and rolling….

I remember everything.

Before Senior year in High School
7/20/98: 8×400, 74 with 47 jog average recovery – believe that I was told that I was doing the recovery wrong after this. Too much time.
7/27/98: 12×400, 77.6 with 35 second jog
8/3/98: 16×400 76.9 with 37 rest
Before Freshmen year in College (unsanctioned workout)
7/19/99: 8×400 75.6 with 36 jog
Completely different workout, but on an indoor track, meat and potatoes training period my Junior year in college, which was not as good as either my Sophomore or Senior years..
1/22/02: 9×400: 60, 60, 60, 60, 58, 58, 59, 59, 62 with 3:00 rest – “took pace from #5 on and dropped people”. I remember that one. Lane 5 of the indoor track. I loved that workout.
6/28/03: 20×400 74.4 with 38 rest; I didn’t remember running such a serious workout so soon after I graduated. This was at Mt Hebron, a 440y track! I didn’t realize that it was 440y for another year.
3/6/04: 12×400 73.0 with 42 rest and this is the day I discovered the 440y track size. This was very early in my spring speedwork cycle for that year.
3/26/05: 12×400 in 72.0 with 39 rest on the 440y track – I used this workout as a standard candle to judge my fitness against…until I started having more pain and finding it difficult for my achilles’ to handle the longer intervals.
12/31/05: 12×400 73.1 with 38 rest, on Catonsville’s track 38 degrees and sleet. I remember that workout. That night was also the night that I got sick on Southern Comfort. Next day was 9.3 miles with comment “regular run, hung over”.
3/4/06: 1 mile in 4:56, then 12×400 in 72.5 with 39 rest and 34 degrees. Followed a week later with a 15:23 5K in Baltimore, my fastest time over that distance.
3/3/07: 8×400 74.3 and windy (rest not listed). This was after shutting down my 2006 season with achilles problems. Still hadn’t lost the fitness.
4/28/07: 8×400 72.5 with 40 rest on Mt Hebron’s 440y
7/10/07: 8×400 69.5 with 45 rest. Last 4 averaged 66 seconds. Less than two weeks later I ran the Rockville 8K in 26:09, my last competitive race.
And then today, way off. 8×400 in 80.6 with 43 rest. 11 seconds per lap. That’s a TON.

By the way, a couple of those are at Long Reach’s track, including the one this week. I’ve never run a workout on Howard’s track. I’ll be honest, I don’t care too much about the redistricting into Long Reach. I have history there.


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Not So Fast

The primary goal for the race last week was to see if I could do it without aggravating my achilles tendons. As it turns out, I had to wait several days before I knew that answer – they felt lousy on Monday and Tuesday, to the point where I modified my normal running schedule to give them another day off. The whole thing was a big bizarre to me because…I ran so slow. So, 5 K, 3.1 miles, or about 40 seconds longer than 3 miles at 6:00 pace. I ran 19:01 for fourth and my tendons felt awful afterwards. Meanwhile, my fastest 3 miles on the treadmill was 17:40 and my tendons feel fine after that – this confused me. 19:00 was my absolute outside number on the slow end. I thought I would run at least 30 seconds faster. But more importantly, I had every reason to believe that that if I did run that kind of time, my tendons would be no worse for the wear. This was a bit discouraging.

I did have a feeling I haven’t had for a long while. It was a few moments before the race; I was walking to join the other runners at the line for the start. A flashback to 10 or 12 or 15 or 18 years ago…

I had picked out the top 5 or 8 runners during the warm up. Runners know their own, and even after 10 years of not competing, I knew who the decent ones were by eye. I had no idea of names or times, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the ones who are there for some reason other than to see if they can survive the distance. I knew that none of them were extremely fast (though it turns out that the eventual winner is national caliber in his age group, at 50 year old). I walked toward the line and felt a sort of wistful sadness. I felt the beginnings of a feeling I would also get in small races like these – the feeling that it didn’t matter what the other runners thought about how the race was going to go. The feeling that I was going to go out, do what I wanted, and, in so doing, grind them to dust.

Since I’ve been a more normal person, I’ve learned that when most people go to run a road race, they are not actually doing it to race. Most aren’t even racing against a clock or against themselves, let alone racing against the other runners. Most are going to participate, to be a part of communal exertion for a cause, to encourage friends, to be social while being fit and healthy. If I think about it, it is a noble pursuit. I am an elitist to even consider this a lesser form of existing; if I received a participation medal rather than one that I earned, I would throw it out. This is not what normal people do.

But as I walked toward the line, I felt what I used to feel. My purpose was to cover the distance faster than anyone else. My purpose was to control some aspect of my life, to validate my hours and hours of training, to prove myself in some way, to earn my own approval. I rarely did, incidentally. I was reading through some old race descriptions – I document all of these. It spoke of showing up at a smallish race like this one in Mt Airy back in 2006. There, I flagged another runner in my general category. Normally, you run 400-800 meters in a 100-200 person race, and the pretenders fade away, leaving you to battle your own demons by yourself. This was the week before the last time I ran Damien’s Run. I was in peak form, immediately before my fall, and this other runner was a few ticks above the normal chaff, though a tick or two below me (I’d later learn that his half marathon PR was faster than mine, which wasn’t surprising – I was lousy beyond 10 miles). Anyway, I went out in 4:58 for the first mile, the other guy went with me. The other guy commented that he thought the pace was a bit quick – speaking in a race is a classic tell of weakness. I commented in my description that I disagreed, and proceeded to run the 2nd mile in 5:02, breaking him before struggling home myself.

That is what I wanted to do last week, but alas, I knew full well that was no where near that. I had no delusions. Instead, I went out with the top group, assessed who was who, passed the guys I should have passed, got in line, and ran by myself in 4th for the last two miles. I didn’t give much ground to the people in front, but didn’t gain either.

Anyway, my achilles feels OK now. My next training segment goes until our vacation mid-July. It will nominally consist of:
Saturday alternating between long-ish run (up to 10 miles), 5-ish mile tempo run on weekends when my wife works and I have less time, and track interval workouts before the rest of my family wakes up
Sunday 6-7 easy miles
Tuesday 4 hard-ish miles on the treadmill, until it’s under 24:00, then re-evaluate
Thursday 3-4 easy miles (when possible)

This would peak me at 25 mpw with some intensity. I’ll try to find a low key race in early August (not too many that time of year), then re-evaluate, possibly converting the easy Thursday evening run into a longer Thursday lunch run (as I lose daylight), boosting the other runs in intensity, and getting more serious about the exercise bike in the evenings. It would be nice to show up at a race like the one last week, assess the field, smirk inside, and win. That remains unlikely. But it would be nice.

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Once More into the Breech

Eleven years ago, I ran a 5K called Damien’s Run. Let me back up a bit. For the entire first hald of 2006, my running career was teetering on a razor’s edge, held hostage by my slowly declining achilles tendons. I was receiving regular massage and stim, I was doing tons of auxiliary treatment, and this was keeping them just barely serviceable. I was running 80-90 mile weeks nonetheless. A month before Damien’s Run, I ran one of the best races of my life – 52:45 for 10 miles in Broad Street Run. A month or so before that I ran 15:23 in Shamrock in Baltimore. I was likely in near to the best shape of my post-collegiate period.

But four days before the race in question, I was running an easy-ish 12 miles after work with a running buddy of mine and I badly sprained my ankle on a tree root. I know the spot to this day. It was nearly 5 miles from the parking lot when this happened. I managed to hobble back, but I knew it was bad. I had already spent $30 on a pre-registration for the race. And one of my principle rivals, Carlos, was going to be running it. Never learning the lessons of sunk costs, I took off a day or two and ran the race anyway. I never could establish a good rhythm, finishing 6th in 16:01. The winner was way out of my league, 14:30 something – I should have run around 15:40. It was some podunk 5K, like all the races I ran on my minor league circuit. It wasn’t worth it.

That ankle sprain destabilized the entire joint. My achilles went from whimpering to screaming. I took time off, then tried to ratchet back up the miles in preparation for my seeded entry into the Chicago Marathon that fall, even getting to 90+ mile weeks a few times by mid summer. Then one day tried to run at marathon pace around a dirt track on the Eastern Shore…and could not. It felt like my foot was going to rip off my calf. While I did have a meaningful two or three months of high level racing in the spring of 2007, Damien’s Run was the beginning of the end of my running career.

After that, I went from boot to self-injected acupuncture to boot to shockwave therapy back to boot to debridement to boot to sort of moving on with my life by around 2009. In the spring of 2010 I stumbled upon decent shape (we’ll call it 17:00 5K shape), but never raced; the tendons flared back up and I shut it down for weeks. In the fall of 2012 I was able to run consistently for a couple of months and actually raced – a 4 mile in 23:20, not so bad. But then things tightened back up, and I had a kid a few months later.

I am now in the best shape that I’ve been in since summer/fall 2012. It is only because of consistency, I’ve been running regularly since the fall. After all these months, my mileage remains at around 15 miles per week on 3 runs a week. Nothing. But my body is accepting it greedily. My pace is steadily improving. I feel faster than I have in a while. Some days, I actually feel fast…I have decided to run a race so that I can put a line in the sand for the future…just in case. I looked at the calendar, and low and behold, there’s Damien’s Run, now held in my favorite place in Maryland (Patapsco State Park) and at a time when my girls will be up and ready to watch it. I decided to give it a shot. It happens next Sunday.

And so, a couple of weeks ago I transitioned from running haphazardly to training. I am still doing 15 mpw; I don’t want to risk it just yet. I have, for months now, been running faster on a treadmill at the YMCA every Tuesday night; low impact stuff. I cranked the pace down further, most recently running 3 miles in 17:40. But the treadmill isn’t real running (no wind resistance for one), so last weekend, I went to the track. It was a horror. I did 2×3200 with full (8 minute) recovery. Both splits were slower than 12:00, I’m embarrassed to even say them. To put it in perspective, I came through 20 miles of my first marathon faster than 6:00 pace. That Broad Street Run was 5:16 pace for 10 miles in a row. Not being able to run 2 miles in 12:00 was very humbling.

This weekend was a little better – 3×1600 all around 5:42 though still with 6:00 rest (aka, full recovery). Not as bad. But the times aren’t that important now. More important is re-acclimating my psyche to an intentional subjection to pain. Not having enough air in my lungs. Various places in my body going number. The voices in my head telling me to stop, telling me it’s not worth it, telling me I’m weak, telling me there is no point, telling me I’ll put forth all this effort and nonetheless look like a fool. Well, fine, I am weak. But I’m still finishing the intervals. These voices were there in every race I’ve ever run; hell, they’re there whenever I do something hard. I never listen to them. I needed those workouts not because they would improve my fitness substantially in three weeks, but because I could not expect to tolerate that pain in the race if I had zero exposure to it in five years, 10 if you’re talking about the real stuff. The whole trick to being a runner is convincing your body to hurt worse than it wants to for longer than it can. That’s what all that training is for.

The course is generally flat. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am trying to decide if I should wear racing flats or stay with more supportive shoes (the achilles heel remains my Achilles heel after all). Either way, I will get a bump of adrenaline during the race. Something old, some old magic, will awaken. Though the race itself is greatly diminished in the last few years (the winners barely crack 17:00 these days), I nonetheless have no chance of winning. I do not expect a miracle. I don’t expect to not sniff 5:20 pace for 10 years, only to magically be able to string together 3 of them in a row to come away with the win. It’s not going to happen. But I’ll probably run around 18:30 give or take. 17:45 is probably the absolute fastest. 19:00 is the absolute slowest.

These days, I come home from a run and my two year old gets all perky and asks, “Good run, Daddy?” They may never know me as I really am, having amputated all four of my existential limbs from my body – Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, and Road Racing – long before they were born. And they may never see me powerfully striding away from all opponents, dominating the hobby joggers and elderly while out-dueling the handful of semi-pros for a victory in any sort of real race. My tendons may fall apart again in a week. But please God, just one race for old time’s sake. I just need to make it until the 4th – my 36th birthday by the way.

(And, if that works, I’ll add another few miles on Thursdays, start alternating Saturday between an interval workout and a long run, and then target an early August race, 30-60 seconds faster than this time. But it never works. But it might. Then there’s another day, 30 mpw, and a crack at something respectable in October. Then train through the winter and see what happens in Shamrock in March. You know, I’m only a few years away from being in the Masters division. Yes, I always chain together this many low probably events into completely unrealistic scenarios.)

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On Your Left

I spent the summer of 2001 in Pittsburgh working doing an undergraduate research project. Most days, I ran in Schenley Park; both close to the Towers of Ignorance and a pretty great place for running. I had a ~10.5 mile loop out the park and into Squirrel Hill that I did most days. One day, another runner darted out 50 yards in front of me from another trail. Having patrolled those woods for a few weeks already, I considered it my duty to follow this runner and eventually crush his will. But he was fast. Faster than me. After fruitlessly chasing him at 5:45 pace for 3 miles, as he slowly pulled away from me, he turned and I continued my loop, relieved that my pursuit was over.

Why this story? I have never been passed on a run and that was the closest I had come. Several years ago, I took a swag – I think I’ve run between 22,000 and 25,000 miles since I was in 7th grade. While fast by most standards, I was sub-elite when compared to national elite runners. But 12 years ago, if you drew a 30 mile circle centered on Baltimore, you’d probably grab 2.5 million people, only maybe 5 of which could beat me. The chances of one of them running the same route as me at the same time was next to nil. I knew that every time I stepped on the road or track or trail that I was the fastest person. I knew when I walked in a room, I was the fastest person in the room. Whatever else was going on in my life, I always had that to fall back on, and, as a matter of principle, I wasn’t interested in letting anyone take my scalp, even on an easy run through the woods.

Now, I’ve probably only run 500-1000 miles in the last 9 ish years since my Achilles finally went south. I run between 3-6 miles a week these days. I’m out of shape and slow. But when I was 15 seconds into my run today, legs creaking from disuse, and someone passed me, I knew had a streak to maintain. He was pretty decent – a halting stride but defined legs and runner approved clothing. He was a runner, and comfortable on the trails. Another tidbit though – I was superlative in the woods. My bulky, short legs may not have been ideal for a tempo run on a flat road, but they were perfect for grinding through the woods. The trail from Landing to the waterfall in Patapsco is not very hilly, but it is quite technical. I decided that in these conditions, even if the guy that passed me could put two minutes on old man me in a 5K, I could still give it a go. So, I gave him 40 meters so that he wouldn’t hear me, then latched on to see what was what. Eventually, he did hear me, eventually, I started closing, eventually I decided, yes, today was not the day that someone was going to break my streak. And then he stopped, right in the middle of the trail. And I passed him. And then a minute later, I started hearing footfalls behind me. I had turned the right past the waterfall by then, entering an even more technical and hillier section of the park. I started pressing the hills where I could induce more pain on him, started hearing the footfalls fade until a turn off when he took a hard left for the road. I decided that he was either annoyed that I was following him, or that he was doing some kind of weird fartlek run, or who knows, maybe he was just a Sunday jogger too. Regardless, this unofficial victory over a stranger was satisfying.

All of this took roughly 11 minutes. By 12 minutes, the adrenaline had worn off. A metallic burn filled my throat. My legs got heavy. I started seeing a halo in my eyes. The bounding skip up the hills from 2 minutes earlier became a slogging plod as my body ceased to respond to even modest demands. In my mind, I maintain a truism, a mantra…that there is old magic in my legs. That if I need to run a 60 second quarter or if I need to grind out a couple of fast miles on the trails, muscle memory will take over, 4 mile weeks be damned. But whereas I might have chased an elite runner for 3 miles as a rising junior in college, I have very limited supply of this residual potency left. Enough to wear down some shlub who was probably 7 miles into an easy day and not interested in ruining his upcoming speed workout on some Sunday jogger, but not enough to actually walk the walk in any real capacity. But by then I was in a more remote part of the woods, occasionally passing 50 year olds on nature walks, with no more sub-elites in sight. I trudged back to my car – a mere 27:00 and surely less than 4 miles – after I had started, red faced with lungs burning. Maybe back in the day I’d have to run 9 miles at 6:00 pace to feel like that. Now, 12 minutes at probably 6:30 pace followed by a 7:30 pace death march for another 2 miles was sufficient. But I still felt the same burn, the same flush, the same ache…and man, do I miss it.

I’m actually not sure where my non-surgically repaired Achilles will crap out these days, because my home life precludes me from running enough to stress it. It holds together pretty well at 3-6 miles a week. A couple years ago – when Abby was a baby, two months of 30 miles a week jacked it up for a few months. But before it could, I was able to patrol the woods at a decent pace, like the old days. I hope to patrol once again. One of these days, some youngster is going to pass me, and my old magic will run out. But not today.

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No Shirt and Gloves

When I used to run constantly, I had my clothing program down to a science. It was based almost entirely on the temperature at the start of the run, which I found to be the most important factor, over precip, humidity, etc. I’d be no shirt down to 62-63 degrees. Short sleeves and gloves below 57-58. Long sleeve below 49-50. Something under my shorts starting at 37-38. Pants/tights around 22-23. But while temperature drove the decisions, the other factors did play a role. I was constantly in search of a very specific scenario…the rarely encountered no shirt and gloves day.

And I think I just ran in it tonight.

The no shirt and gloves day would occur in that narrow window between gloves and no shirt, say 59-60 degrees. It has to be very humid, so humid that your body retains heat due to having problems effectively sweating. But cold enough that my hands, poor circulation and all, got raw. Typically, you’d want the run to be at moderate intensity to generate more heat. Tonight was 59 degrees, calm, humid, just barely starting to drizzle. As for intensity, everything’s a harder effort to me since my resting heart rate is like 15 beats per minute higher than it was 10 years ago. This might have been my chance. But alas, I’m not the runner I used to be. Back in the day, I’d run through Centennial Park without a shirt on a double after work when it was 63 degrees and windy. People would be wearing fall jackets and hoodies. Kids would yell at me. Parents would be confused or disgusted. I didn’t care. When you’re fast, none of that noise matters. I did exactly what served me most optimally and could care less what they thought.

These days are different. I am not in nearly the physical shape I was 10 years ago. I’m pale white (these boundary cases often happened in the fall when I was tanned from hundreds of summer miles), simultaneously less skinny but also less muscular. More importantly, I’m trudging along at 7:30 pace rather than clipping through at 6:20 pace. These days, even in the heat of summer I feel like a creepy hobby jogger when I slog through the neighborhood in my doughy old age.

I have a vague recollection of encountering these conditions several years before, toward the end of my vain efforts to prolong my running career. I’m pretty sure I pulled the trigger on it, coming home red chested, but with a well wiped nose. I’m not sure though. I do know that there was one year where I was able to run without a shirt (at lunch, from work no less – it’s hard to imagine running around the work parking lots without a shirt now…geez) for 12 straight months. It was a Tiger Slam situation – not in the same calendar year, but Feb to Jan or something. I was very proud of it at the time.

Runners are typically nudists, as are backpackers, so I pretty much have it covered from both sides. Anyway, I’ll let you know if I ever find myself in this situation again and take the plunge.

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In soft regions are born soft men.


Stephen ran a workout on Goshen’s track today. It’s 47 degrees, spitting drizzle and with a 20 mph headwind that follows you around the track, like running through 8 inches of water. It’s a feeling I know well.

In NY in the spring, if the wind isn’t in your face, it’s not because there’s no wind. Just turn left, and it’ll slap you, affronting any forward motion, insulted by your efforts to oppose it. I was jogging around in lane 4, hobbled by 25,000 miles worth of tendon degradation. It was many years ago now, 19 perhaps, when I first started running track workouts on Goshen’s track. 4×800. 5×800. 2:47. 2:44. 2:41. It was 7th grade and I was running 800 meter repeats on muggy spring evenings, the sun setting, twilight closing in, but my running life just then dawning. I’ve always loved track workouts. I can attack anything 3 minutes at a time.

Stephen’s workout today was fairly easy – nothing I couldn’t have done in my sophomore through senior years in college, even with the headwind. 5×400 in 65 with a minute and a half recovery. A split 1000 – 500, 300, 200 with 60 seconds rest between. He handled it gracefully and on perfect pace. It was a tune up, but Goshen’s track never lets you off the hook. The wind is somehow captured by the trees and hills, as it swirls in your face on the homestretch and both curves, then dies when it’s at your back.

In 8th grade, it was the 800 meter record I was after – owned by Brett Walker, 2:13. I came up a half a second short, blaming the smoke in my eyes from the starter’s pistol. In 9th grade, an epic dual with Manuel Thomas from Washingtonville. 4:39 was it? I was hobbled then by a hamstring problem – the beginning of 9 months worth of hamstring problems that left me waking in cold sweats as a dreamed of clawing my way around the track, digging my hands into the rubber trying to gallop, dragging my leg behind. Never fast enough, never fast enough, never fast enough. I still have the dream at least once a year, clawing, clawing, losing, failing.

Today I jogged in lane 4, with the clouds swirling, the leaves flailing, confused by the 47 degree highs during late May. But New York is not a place where you take your nice days for granted. The leaves said to themselves, “next Tuesday then, spring comes next Tuesday, for good this time”, only to see temperatures dip back into the 40s again – “fine, surely by mid-June, surely.”

In 10th grade, in the middle of track season, a warm day in late April, Coach Conklin tells us we’re doing 200s, at race pace. A reasonable idea. “Which race?” we ask – because this is an important piece of information. “The 200, of course!” he answers to our amusement. That’s not really how it’s supposed to work. But Brett Walker and I were very competitive, and you could never count out JB in a speed workout, and the St’s weren’t about to be exposed as slow distance runners. I remember Jeff Smith bringing it that day too. We hammered the first two in 25point. Walker, always one to fling his feet at your shins with his back-kick, clipped my hand with his foot on the second one, nearly falling. He was out of whack for two weeks. We slogged through the last 3 200s, out legs burning. 26, 27, 27 – in tatters. We can barely do the warm down and the whole team is in the tank for a week. This is why you don’t run 200s at 200 race pace.

Steve rams a 500 in 71 down the wind’s throat, coming through the 400 in a perfectly smooth 57. I pick up the pace in lane 4, giving him something to run at, in theory, but in practice just annoying him and fulfilling a never-dying urge to run fast despite screaming tendons.

In 11th grade, Cornwall comes for a dual meet in April. Kory Klowe and I lock horns in an 800 – I eek past for the win in 1:58.2, my fastest time of the season. I beat everyone that first time, but Klowe later gets into my head and takes the state meet spot come June. My house floods. I sit on the tires at the elementary school in the pouring rain and weep having lost my chance my house no place to hide from my failure. But after the 800 on that day with Cornwall, there was a 4×400. I was the anchor. I am one of the only people who negative splits 400s. I always approached it the same; I learned from my father in 7th grade. 100 as fast as you can. Ease into a fast rhythm for the next 100-150. Then pour everything you have into the finish. It’s Klowe again on the anchor. Arthur Ahr, a long-time Goshen track supporter who is thrilled to see a competitive team, is standing with 190 to go. No one else is there. I’m right on Klowe’s shoulder. “BLOW HIS DOORS OFF” he bellows. My pleasure, I think, as he fades, flushed off the back. I should have never given him my spot in that state meet.

I pick up the pace today as Steve his about to start his final 200. I’m still in lane 4, but I have a 25 meter headstart. Slowly at first, then faster, I’m on my toes, in a dead sprint as Steve marches me down on my inside. The curve ends and I hold him even for about 70 yards, my left achilles treatening to sever and my lungs tasting the iron of my own blood. “I looked up at the finish and said, ‘oh no, he’s struggling,'” says my Dad concerned about Steve’s workout, “but then I realized it was you.”

Coach Graham pulled Mike St and I aside before a Burke dual meet, of all things, in 12th grade. “I want someone to show some balls out there,” he barked. A football coach, he loved me despite the fact that I was a distance runner. I was a distance runner who always worked harder than everyone else. Who (almost) always won. Who (almost) always could be counted on. You wanted to make Coach Graham proud of you – distance runners always want football coaches to recognize that they’re as tough as their players from the fall. And he knew it. Burke had a guy that could run 4:55. Mike and I could have played with him for a few laps, dropped a 30 second 200, then jogged in with trainers if we wanted – we did such things in these sorts of dual meets. But I took it out in 63, to Graham’s delight. “BALLS” he shouted after the gun. We both run 4:22, the fastest times thus far in the state that early in April. Our fastest for the year also.

I cut the corner after my first fast 200 in several years. The sky is a little grayer, the rain a little harder, the wind a little more fierce, my achilles screaming accusations of abuse. I’m grinning from ear to ear. I just got to open my stride and run. In 12th grade, I did 12×200 in 27.5 with 90 seconds rest on that track. Always find the straight that has the wind, run into that straight. Champions never run with the wind at their back. Always into the wind. Never the easy way. That track won’t let you. The ghosts aren’t holding your legs and punching your face to make you fail; the ghosts are there to make you stronger.

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Honestly, when I heard that a bomb went off near the finish line at Boston, the first thing I thought about was what would happen if I was 100 meters away from running a 2:35 and that happened. I would have dragged myself across the line. I know it’s the incorrect perspective to have, that I should see some bigger picture. Maybe this is why I can’t run anymore, as a punishment because I had misappropriated my passions. But 8 months of training, 26.15 miles of misery, and a final breakthrough toward a time I could have died satisfied with…I was getting across the damn line. It’d not like my spent body was going to be doing much in the way of rescuing; I could barely carry myself across the line in my marathons, and that was without shrapnel.

I mentioned this to my wife. She looked at me with a placid, resigned, incredulity – the sort she uses when she says to herself, “yup, I really need an exit strategy here.”

And then, when some normal person from Grantland expressed dismay at a runner who had commented that this race was his first DNF, I had the same reaction. What was wrong with this person? He still wasn’t done running the marathon 4:09 into the race and he was complaining about DNFs?? I mean, if he were that 78 year old guy, that’s one thing. If I had gone there and run another 2:45 (you know, if I weren’t crippled – a 2:45 ever again in my life would involve an act of God) I would have been thankful to be put out of my misery.

Dear children, these are all inappropriate reactions in such an event! But when I was a senior in high school, meet officials pulled me off the track with 100 meters to go at the end of a po-dunk, 11:00, dual meet 3200 because of a very impending thunderstorm and I was FURIOUS. I could have gone home and run that time in khakis with an elegant toothpick in my mouth, and I was nonetheless irate. A marathon, a hard effort, a good result – no way.

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Don’t Call It A Comeback

I’ve been running a little bit. 5-6 miles, 3-4 times a week. The Achilles is serviceable. I’d say it’s at least as good as it was right before the surgery. My non-Achilles side calf has been bugging me; it’s annoyed that I’ve been making that leg do a disproportionate amount of work these last few months. Today, I ran my second day in a row. Legs are taking it without whining too loudly about it.

Take it slow. Take it slow.

Plan to keep this up, maybe push it to 6-7 miles 4-5 times a week by my backpacking trip in late August. If I survive that (there’s something about lugging 50 lbs of stuff up and down mountains over rocky terrain that can aggravate your feet and tendons. Bunch of cry babies.) then I try to pseudo-train for a month and run the company race. Not trying to run fast. Trying to run 6:00 pace, just to whet my whistle a bit. Then, God willing, I’ll still feel decent. That’s when we ramp to 60 mpw for Dec/Jan, start running some workouts Feb/Mar then race Shamrock in Baltimore in March. It’s a downhill course; if I am in 16:00 pace for that course, I’ll go to work a bit, try to race May/June and get my flat 5K down under 16:00. If I survive all that…back to the summer, no more than 75 mpw, more aerobic threshold, less speed, race the fall season, up to 10Ks. That’s the 15 month plan.

Lots of people ramp up to 60 mpw while having a baby, right?

But nothing’s guaranteed I’m happy to get out on the trails and run, slow though it may be. I’m not owed this. We’ll see. But I’m a runner. Runners run, we can’t help it.

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Step 1

I have a tentative outline in my head for the next year, as it relates to running. It’s hard to visualize running at the moment. My tendon and the nearby vicinity do not feel right. While the knot in the tendon (which led to the surgery) is mostly gone, the entire tendon seems thicker now. It is probably swelling – the wound and area posterior to it are bruised and somewhat irritated. In addition, the scar feels abnormal. Perhaps it’s not abnormal as far as scars such as this go, but it’s abnormal to my standard definitions of what soft tissue is supposed to feel like. I’m ice massaging it (even though it makes me vaguely nauseous to touch it) and keeping it moisturized, in an effort to keep the scar from thickening too much.

All that said, I already hardly need the crutches, a mere 4 days after getting out of the cast. Dr said 1-2 weeks of crutch assisted boot-walking. I’m going to be a good boy here – crutches till Friday, day 8. I’m walking around the house without them, but I’ll continue to use them for the long hauls at work.

Strictly speaking, step 1 is the physical therapy that starts tomorrow. I’ll be doing flexibility stuff for the next four weeks, at which point I’ll start the strengthening process (alongside ditching the boot altogether). We’ll be doing stim on the calf to keep it from atrophying further.

Also part of step 1 is the loss of weight. It’s not as though I’ve ballooned or anything. Racing weight 6 years ago was about 158-159 lbs. I’m 165 now. The plan is to lower my equilibrium weight to 158 by, say, March. If I’m going to do this for real, I’d try to push it to 154-155 by September. I love eating. I’m not going to ask my body to do 90 mpw again, so I’m going to have to cut calories if I’m going to cut lbs in a meaningful way. Still, I feel like each pound under 160 is worth about 5 seconds in the 5K for me. Even if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter – that’s what I think, and knowing is half the battle.

So, Step 1: PT and weight loss.

A preview: Step 2 is non-running boot camp in late December/early January. Step 3 is exercise bike endurance in January. Step 4 is the slow running ramp (with bike for my real fitness) in February through May. Step 5 is the start of training, basework and aerobic threshold in June-July. Step 6 is speed work and aggression in August-September. September/October, I race, leveraging the natural surge in training from the improvement in the weather.

Or, none of that. But at least I’ll have tried.

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Achilles Last Stand. Again.

The title refers to the epic Led Zeppelin song off the album Presence. It’s not the first time I’ve used it. I’m actually a little surprised that it’s only the second time.

Anyway, sometime toward the end of June in 2006, my lingering achilles tendon problems became debilitating. I took some time off and fought my way back for one more season, before finally giving up around the end of July in 2007. It’s been over 4 years of halting recoveries and ineffective miracle cures.

Today, I ran a “race”. I’ve been running about 8 miles a week since May (I actually calculated it)…so it’s not a race like what I used to do, when I was running, say, 10 times that. I had no delusions of victory, or even a decent time. I was doing it for two reasons: a lot of friends from my group at work were doing it, and I became morbidly curious about how poor my fitness really was. Also, my continued health doesn’t matter. If I can’t walk well tomorrow, it’s no big deal. I’m having surgery on the achilles on 10/26 – today I was on house money.

I figured I could probably run something like 26:00 for the 4-mile race. At this point, my body doesn’t remember how to hurt itself and I’m sure I ran 25:58 precisely because that was my goal – I scaled the pain to the time of what I thought I could do, because doing any more would have required more fortitude than I currently know how to muster. I decided not to race anyone – I went out slow, 6:47, then 6:40. I spent the entire race passing people, closing with two straight 6:16 (with the last mile up the hill) miles. I ran 20:27 on this course in 2005, for what it’s worth. 6 years. That’s a long time.

In the end, there weren’t too many people in front of me, maybe 8 or something like that. It really changed my perspective, I thought I’d be in crowds the entire time, but really, even running as slow as I was, it’s still in kind of rarefied air. Competitive runners are so much faster than non-competitive runners that I can degrade 5 and a half minutes, and still be in the former category. I also always thought that I was faster because of how hard I worked. While I think my body remembers the 25,000 miles I’ve run on it, I also think that this proves that I am just naturally talented. You’d think I would have guessed that after my grandfather was an excellent semi-pro soccer player, my father was a scholarship runner, and after my brother rose to the cusp of Olympic caliber.

The idea is not to stay in this netherworld between fast and slow after the surgery. It will be a long process. I’ll be immobilized for 2 weeks, then a long and gradual set of physical therapy will follow. I hope to be able to ride the exercise bike by sometime in December. Maybe I’ll start to jog, really, truly, slowly and shortly, jog by sometime in January. If all goes to plan, I’d go from nothing to 40 mpw by May – 5 months, that’s a slow ramp by any standard. Then to 60 mpw by July. Then fitness by September.

Who knows. I only get to play this trump once, and I’m not going to cripple myself if that’s what is required to run fast again. If running works, then I’ll keep moving up until I can see how well it works. If not, oh well. But I’m more excited than I have been in years – there’s an actual, honest to goodness chance this might work. And if it doesn’t, at least I will have tried – there will be no more what-ifs.

And next time I show up at a race, I’ll use my real name.

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Stephen has the 5K at US Nationals in Eugene, OR tomorrow night. Looks like they won’t be televising it until 11 PM on the East Coast, so no one will see it. There are two things that could happen.

First, Bernard Lagat is the prohibitive favorite. In national championship races, particularly ones where one runner is the clear favorite, everyone tends to sit back and kick. The most likely scenario is that the race will go out in 4:32 as some poor schlep get stuck up front. Lagat will sit in 3rd and eventually blast everyone.

There’s another good American in the race – Chris Solinski. He is recovering from an injury – if he weren’t he might try to hammer a fast pace and suck the kick out of Lagat. But, with his injury, he has no motivation to do that. He has the time, he just needs to be top three. It’d be foolhardy for him to risk blowing up by running in the lead.

All of this is bad for Stephen, according to me. Stephen is in fantastic shape and this is an awesome field. Unfortunately, if the race is slow, it will be hard for anyone to know this. He could run great and come in 8th…and if the race is slow, it’ll be a slow 8th. No one will be any wiser, and the great opportunity will be lost. It’s very annoying.

Best case? One or more of the few guys that don’t yet have an A standard (13:19) decides that this is the right opportunity to try to get that standard. They go out in 4:16, then 8:32. Steve can run that pace, probably sitting two seconds back in 8:34. Then, close in 4:14, moderate kick home for 13:19. It’s within the realm of possibility, but that’s not how national championships work, and it’s a damn shame.

Solution: offer a $100 for the leader at each 200 meter point through the race. 200 meters is short enough that it won’t be like people are kicking for the bonus at the intermediate locations. It will encourage people to get up front and drive the train. If someone tries to take it through fast, they could get a consolution prize of $1500 or something even if they get eaten up at the end. And the USATF would only be paying $2500 total for the privelege of hosting an event that doesn’t feature our nation’s best runners jogging in front of the 900,000 idiots that waste their sleep seeing people run slowly for 3/4 of the race. They could make a graphic of the top 3 money getters in the race, and update it real time as the race progresses. It doesn’t need to convince everyone to race out front – anybody in a national championships field could pace the rest of them fast through 3000 meters. If three unattached guys decided to duke it out up front trying to cover some of their travel expenses, it would change the complexion of the entire race.

But they won’t do that.

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Little Stevie Furst just his 13:29.05 for 5K, collecting some good scalps in the process. He was sitting in last with 5 laps to go too – not exactly sure how he pulled that out, but a 7 second PR…Good way to start a season.

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Persistently Deluded

Yesterday was the sort of day I used to love running in. It was 55 degrees and raining – not just misting: a drenching, soaking sort of rain. I haven’t been running much, maybe twice a week – things have not been good, I’ve been thinking about surgery more and more – but I wanted to run. I never know which run will be my last. The one before this one wasn’t noteworthy, and damnit, I wanted to run in the woods, in the mud, in the rain.

My little loop is only 5.3 miles. As is my custom, as I ran I fantasized about secretly getting into race shape, nibbling away at the fringes, then all the sudden returning to top form in some big race – surprising everyone, and shoot, somehow the British guy from the Penn Relays is there to give the play by play for my local 5K.

I plodded through the mud, then got back on the road, and gave it an honest sort of effort. As cars whizzed by, dousing me with water and bemused glances, I thought to myself, “these people think I’m still a real runner. There’s no way they could know differently.” In the sopping rain, I didn’t feel like a Sunday jogger fraud, I felt like I belonged out there, like I owned the roads because only people who love the roads, who love the woods visit on days like yesterday. I was proud to be me, gliding through the soup with little more than a slight hitch in my stride.

Within an hour of finishing, I couldn’t put weight on my left foot. The achilles was worse than it’s ever been. It throbbed all night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even stretch my foot to a right angle without a blast of pain. I parked as closely as I could and peg-legged into work, sad in my heart, wishing I had thought to put the damn boot on so that I could at least roll myself forward.

But if that run was the last run, at least I’ll remember it. I’m thankful for the drenching rain, for the three inches of mud, for the 5 pound soggy shoes, for the people that don’t know any better when they see me run down the road…unaware that you might as well just take me out to pasture and shoot me.

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Big Day Tomorrow

I’m back, once again, from Connecticut. Just in time to try to find Stephen’s race online tomorrow morning, live from Scotland. The Times Herald Record did a surprise article about it here. Pretty decent stuff.

The boy ran pretty well. He’s in the team race here.

Here’s a breakdown with an interview.

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New Year

Little Stevie Furst picked up what might be the biggest win of his young career, the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run in Central Park last night. He definitely wasn’t favored; Bobby Curtis and Sean Quigley were the smart bets going in, but Steve sounded confident and aggressive when we talked about the race a few days ago, and from what I hear, he ran the race confidently and aggressively.

Here’s an article from universal sports. The “balmy” conditions are a little misleading – though the weather was pleasant, I’m told the course was longer than every before, as the snow and ice at the peripheries of the entire course made it impossible to cut tangents. Could account for several seconds over a 5-mile race.

This win is a big step for Steve. First, it’s always great to get a win over top-flight competition, particularly now, leading into his big race in Scotland next week. Second, New York Road Runners are major players in the US running scene – breaking a course record at one of their premier events is a great way to get yourself established in their circles. It’s the sort of win that really helps your resume and helps grease the skids for getting into other big races.

It’s a great start to a new year. Excellent stuff.

Here’s a picture.

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118 on “Honest Format”

Steve just did his highest “honest format” week this last week. To him, that means only one long run and one recovery day. How do you get to 118 miles a week?

11/7, 10/7, 15/5, 12/7, 11/7, 19, 7

With the 10 mile as an intense hill fartlek, 8×100 on Monday and Friday, 6 x 45/45 on Thursday (45 seconds at 3000m pace, 45 seconds off), plus 2 strength circuits, 2 core days, and 1 medicine ball day. So yeah, sounds like Steve’s working hard down there.

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Globe Trotting

I do have things to post about. For instance, in the span of a week, I got a Kindle for my birthday, an internet radio (Grace WiFi w/ iPod dock) and we got an iPod Touch for Jen’s rotations. Our technological footprint just took a giant step forward. Next is a phone for me that doesn’t suck. If I ever cough up the cash for a data plan, look out. Of course, we have to get off our parents’ plans first but that’s another story…

Speaking of another story, little Stevie Furst just spent the last few days in Strasbourg, France at an engineering conference. Then he took a train to Torino, Italy, where he’ll be running in an elite international 5K. He’s rooming with Alex Kipchirchir. Whenever you’re sportsman of the year in Kenya, you’re a pretty big deal.

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I had a strange thought walking into work this morning. Let’s be honest, it was more of a hobble. My left achilles is not doing well. I have a searing pain inside of it when I stretch. I feel it when I walk, it makes me short step. Needless to say, this is not good for my unofficial plan to train for a race in the fall. Let’s shelve that thought for a second.

On TV, sometimes people say things like “Why is this happening to me?” Me? I rarely say that. I can’t recall ever saying that. I more often wonder why other worse things aren’t happening to me instead of why moderately inconvenient things are. Listen folks, I’m a runner. It’s what I am. I was hobbling in to work this morning, and I was thinking about how sometimes older people get some bug in their ear and start thinking things like “hey, how about I try to run a 10K?” or maybe “hey, I’m out of shape, I should fix that.” I was wincing, walking, and then I thought…but I won’t be able to have that thought, at least not realistically, when I’m older. Even though that is what I am, a runner, by nature. And then, for the first time in my admittedly short recollection, I wondered to myself “Why is this happening to me?” Like I’m some kind of victim of some sort of injustice.

I know why it’s happening to me. It’s happening to me because I’m genetically predisposed to this sort of thing. It’s happening because I only did almost everything right when I was a runner and not everything right. It’s happening because I knew it was happening but made the choice to continue anyway because I’m stubborn and think at some almost conscious level that I’m invincible. So, that’s why it’s happening to me…but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

I still don’t regret it. I guess that’s probably next – never been a victim, owner of few regrets, I’ll probably be whining about that soon too.

Just a few nights ago, I was telling Jen about Sisyphus as we were lying in bed. Do other couples talk about Greek mythology as they fall asleep? How many times can I try to run again, only to tumble back to the beginning, wearied and beaten, but still, despite it all, defined by my need to push the damn rock up to the top of the damn mountain again.

Anyway, thought you might like a post.

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Payton Jordan

There is a comically awful announcer for the Payton Jordan Invite, and hippies from Stanford are banging pots and pans to provide music for the event…I think it’s time for a live blog of the festivities. All times are in Eastern Time.

By the way, Steve’s in the seeded men’s 5K. I think the race is going to be substantially slower than last year. If he wants to break 13:30, he’s going to have to finish top-5. I put my guarantee on it.

11:50 PM – The women just finished. Steve up next. Garbage can bongos on hold.

11:54 – I see Bobby Mack in neon yellow up front, Steve in light blue and neon yellow in the middle of the pack. They’re working on the road crew after the race.

11:55 – Jen wishes they wouldn’t put the camera on the rabbit. Even she knows what’s going on more than the announcer and camera crew. She’s now been following track and field for about 16 months.

11:56 – Steve sitting in about 8th, on the outside, not bad position. He cannot let any gaps form, I swear on my future children’s lives, 5 people will run the time he wants, no more.

11:58 – I can’t be sure, but I think they just came through the mile in about 4:17. I was looking for lines on the track from a camera angle at ground level.

11:59 – Pace setter lasted 1700 meters. Thanks for stopping by, dude.

12:00 – Midnight here on the east coast and Steve’s sitting around 8th, in good position. Bobby’s right with him. I think they’re running pretty fast so far, but the announcer has no useful information for us. It kind of looked like they just came through the 2500 in 6:56, which would be dirt slow. Can’t be. Well, if dirt slow is 13:52 pace, that is.

12:02 – Steve in a major traffic jam, running wide, people bunching up, this is problematic. I see a gap, and Steve’s on the wrong side of it. He looks to be laboring a bit.

12:03 – This is slow, damnit, I hate being right. Steve’s in about 7th now. They’ve picked it up. Steve is strong…I think.

12:04 – I don’t think one of these guys is going to run 13:25. Steve’s on track to run about 13:36 again.

12:05 – Steve is in 5th with 600 to go. He’s running well, but he’ll barely pr if he does.

12:06 – This is going to be a giant cluster in the last lap. He’s got to find a gear or two.

12:07 – Great race for Steve, right up in 6th or something, but 13:36.25, which is about a half second pr by my reckoning. And the winner was 13:32. They must have stretched out that short track.

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Hot Dog

Today was hot dog day at work. You get a ticket, stand in line for a half an hour and get a hot dog with lots of fixins from the VPs, all in commemoration of the start of baseball season. It’s also a Tuesday. For the last several weeks now, Tuesdays are speed days. So instead of standing in line for a hot dog, I went outside to run times too slow to make me feel good about myself but too fast to make me feel physically pleasant, with an unseasonably mean sun beating down. I stumbled into the building, sweaty and bloodshot, and went into the locker room, where I almost enjoyed the broken shower, the one with no warm water. Almost.

Skipping hot dog day isn’t a major sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice. As far as I can tell, the only way to rebuild toughness is through pain and sacrifice. Today featured both, probably more of the former, but a hot dog with all the fixins…mmmm.

I’m not training, by the way. I’m pseudo-training. I’ve commissioned an exploratory committee to determine if training is plausible. I’ll let you know how it goes in June. Or maybe September.

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Little Stevie Furst opened the season at a cold, windy and rainy Raleigh Relays last night, winning against some good competition in 13:47. Definitely an encouraging start to the season. You can see an interview here.

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Often, I’ll run in the dead of winter with shorts and a t-shirt. Why? Because it’s 55 degrees sometimes in the dead of winter. Everyone else is in parkas.

Today, I ran outside in a long sleeve and gloves. Why? Because it was 47 degrees and windy. I ran by four people in t-shirts.

I have concluded that people could care less about what the weather is actually like, preferring to rely on their impression of the weather last time they were running. January is normally cold, therefore today is cold, since today is in January. Last week was unseasonably warm, therefore today is also unseasonably warm, because I can’t plan for the future and am completely reactionary.

Don’t get me started on this health care fiasco. Here’s what a learned: everyone believes what they believe no matter what and there’s no point in arguing with them. Politicians don’t believe anything, other than what they perceive is expedient for the next 5 months of their political lives. Neither of those conclusions are earth shattering.

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US XC Nats

Only one Furst has beaten Ritz...
It’s worth mentioning…Little Stevie Furst, shown here stalking American record holder in the 5000m Dathan Ritzenheim, just placed a respectable 9th at US Nationals for Cross Country in Spokane, WA. He was aggressive, sitting 4th for the first few miles, right behind some huge names and in front of some others. Bobby Mack, known for his high fiber diet was 7th in the same race. Along with John Crews, winner of all 3 marathons he’s won, including a 2:17 or something ridiculous like that, NCSt’s class of whenever they finally graduated is tearing up the professional ranks. Congratulations to all.

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Horse chart.

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Thus Quothe The Raven

A few things:
1) Tomorrow Jen and I travel to Washington/Oregon. We’ll be staying with her family for a few days, doing the Seattle tourist thing, Ranier, St Helens, then heading to Oregon for a few things and a drive up the coast etc etc. I hope sleep is involved, I’m beat.
2) Steve’s 5K at USATF Outdoor Nationals is gonna be my highlight. He’s currently declared 20th out of about 36 entries…it’s actually worst case scenario for him. By his estimation, if there were only 32 entries, they would shove it into one heat. If there were more than 40, he’d be in the faster heat. As it stands, he’ll likely be in the slow heat. His best chance is to have a bunch of guys scratch, which is actually a pretty decent possibility. If not, he’s going to be in it to win it on that second heat.
3) Jen and I signed ourselves up to Westminster Hall in Baltimore. Whenever you can have a wedding at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave site, you’ve got to pull the trigger. It’s gonna be neat, people will remember it at least.

I’m not yet retired, one day I’ll post something useful again.

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Tri As I May

In the category of “lowered expectations”, I sort of raced this morning. Here’s the story. Two years ago, after the first achilles sabbatical, I was doing well, responding to the iontophoresis and PT. My boss asked me to run a competitive triathlon relay with him. I agreed, despite the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be in shape yet. After another friend from work obliterated everyone on the bike leg, I started well in the lead and ran 35:00 all by myself on a cartoonishly hilly course. We won by a ton.

Today I got the stick well behind the one guy that I was worried about – good, I really didn’t have the capacity to race. I’ve been running 5 miles per day, 4 or 5 times a week. I checked – it’s been a month since the last time I even ran 10 kilometers, especially on this sort of terrain. When my boss asked me again a few months ago, I told him not to expect anything better than 38:00. After getting strep three weeks ago (missing a full week) and feeling horrid in general, achilles included, I told him 39:00.

Well, I ran 38:03. My last two miles were my fastest, despite the hills. I was sort of tired, but not really.


Flat (or maybe “fair”) course same conditions and effort, I’m 37:00 easy. I had an extra minute of effort in there, 36:00, on two years worth of 22 mpw with no speed work.


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Big Man On Campus

Steve just ran 13:36.42 for 5th in the 2nd heat, a fantastic showing. He did it by sticking, sticking, sticking and sticking some more, just perfect.

Better still, by my count, he was the 10th fastest American at the meet, overall. It is rare for Americans to run fast times, and meets like this are really the only opportunity – Steve beat a lot of guys who were struggling for the same at-large spots in Nationals.

He’s a decent condition for qualifying – and whenever someone pr’s by 13 seconds it’s a good day.

He’s in Section 2 of the 5K.

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14 Minutes

Or more precisely, something like 13:35. Young Stevie Furst takes his flying circus to Stanford University this weekend for the prestigious Payton Jordan Invitational, where he will run in the 5K with 25 of the best folk in the country/world. The meet is so competitive that Steve, despite being in fantastic shape, is not in the fastest heat. Everybody whose anybody in American distance running (and elsewhere) is at this race, and there is plenty of fast to go around – he should have the opportunity to run the time that he needs to get into the 5K at US Nationals out of this heat just as well as the seeded race.

Race time is 11:16 PM EST on Saturday, and you can watch it LIVE at Flotrack.com. It’s gonna be nuts. Last I saw, he had a neon yellow jersey top and he remains 2 inches taller than everyone else. In a perfect world, he’d be running 4:22 1600s for number 1 and 2, then bringing it home in 4:20 followed by a 30 second last 200. That’d be hot. I’m certain he has it in him, but it’s gonna be hard.

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I’m on my way to bed, as I need to fight off the swine flu. But before I go, congrats to Young Stevie Furst for his 3rd place finish in the Olympic Development mile at Penn – 4:01.95 for a big PR.

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Race Day

Weather is looking pleasant for the USA Cross Country Nationals in Derwood, MD (near Gaithersburg) this Saturday. Steve is slated to run the Men’s Open Championship race – 12 km on a difficult course against some of the best American distance runners. Everyone should come. Trust me, running is a lot more interesting when you know people involved. I, for one, will be running all over the course like a madman for the second half of the race.

There is no parking at the course, instead one must park at the Shady Grove Metro Station and take a free shuttle to the race. His race is at 2 PM – I’ll be dropping him off on site at 12:15 and proceeding to the Metro stop. Entry is $10. If that’s an impediment, I’ll concoct some fair method to pay you back.

Here’s some additional race info.

Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll help arrange it – my car is full but I know a couple of people are planning on coming, maybe it can be worked out with them. Plus it’s only like a half hour away – how often can you catch a national championship in your own back yard?

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I am one of the few real distance runners alive that has never read Once a Runner. It has been sold out for years, but has maintained a raucous cult following. I’ve always been torn – I never needed to read the book, as I could have written my own about its topic, at least in my quaint little microcosm. I hate doing the exact thing that everyone else is doing, and have shunned it accordingly.

But I can’t run like I used to now. I can’t hammer workouts on the track or lope through dozens of miles in the trails. I can’t smell pain and surge in a race or taste the blood in my lungs, feel the ache in my thighs. Maybe it is time to live vicariously through fictional fantasy. Or maybe it’s time to just start being a normal human being.

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Mundane Providence

I was going to stay on the south side of the Patapsco down by Daniels Rd until I passed a group of 7 horses. Staying on the south side would have meant passing them again on the way back – north side it was, horses are annoying. So, I crossed the rail bridge on the planks at the far side and started working my way back to the near side crossing by the rock quarry next to Gary United Methodist Church.

Two minutes before the bridge, I ran into a guy who had some questions about rock climbing in the area. I spent a few minutes fielding questions on where the rock faces where and the various ways to get to them, including the secret bridge crossing through the quarry’s property. It would have saved him a half hour walk. He thanked me as I went on my way.

There is a man made waterfall between where I had my conversation and where I cross the bridge. Half a second before any outside sound was swamped by the thundering water I heard a vague moan. I even asked myself outloud – “is that a train whistle?” Based on the amount of time have spent on the rails over the last 5 years, I would say that trains go down that track about 3 times a day – you need to have some pretty miserable luck to get caught by one. Still, the noise made me wary.

As I got to the second crossing, I paused before darting across. Once you’re on the bridge, you’re screwed if a train comes – you have no choice but to jump into the river 50 feet below. Sure enough, I heard that vague squealing – train sign. Unless you put your ear to the rail, you only really hear it 30-60 seconds before the train gets there.

And so, talking to the guy about the rocks prevented me from getting to the waterfall before I heard the whistle. Hearing the whistle induced me to listen for evidence of train when I got to the tracks. Hearing the train prevented me from trying to race over the bridge to beat it to the other side.

That’s the story about how I didn’t get hit by a train.

I think if I hadn’t spoken to the guy, I would have gotten off the far side of the bridge about 30 seconds before the train got there. Still, it would have been the first time I was on a bridge with a train coming – a scary thought. As I crossed the trestle, the guy was walking down the trail that intersected beneath it. I yelled down to thank him for keeping me from getting hit by a train. He shouted back incredulously, “you wanted me to walk right down the middle of the tracks!?” I get the sense he’s going to keep using the old way.

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Forward to February

After a handful of marginally painful miles with my little brother, I set him off for the remainder of his 18 mile run in Patapsco. It’s cloudy, he’s never been there before – he’ll spend most of the time having no idea where he is. In a half hour we’ll know if he figured it out. Otherwise, I guess I start looking for him in an hour.

Meanwhile, come February 7th, US Cross Country Nationals will be held in Maryland, specifically here, a peaceful 35 minute drive down back roads from Elkridge, and 20 from Columbia. Barring injury, Steve is going to run it. He’ll be very competitive. I’m planning on getting as many people as I can out to the course.

The good thing about Cross Country races is that they often set them up so that, if you can run 5:00 mile pace for a half mile at a time, you can blitz back and forth across the fields and see the race come past 7 or 8 times. For the time being, that is my training goal – be fast enough to be everywhere on the course, achilles be damned. Even normal people will be able to see the race 4 or 5 times, depending on the course. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you like the outdoors…and want to see someone you know place in the top-15 in the nation.

I followed him to the track for his workout over Thanksgiving – the kid looks like a thoroughbred. Today, however, he is prancing through the woods in red thigh length spandex. I didn’t approve, but Steve has been pushing the envelope on human dignity for a while now. 3 inch inseam shorts and spandex will do that to you. You cannot wear that unless you’re running 6:00 pace…and thankfully that’s what he’s doing.

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I will run for the first time in 6 weeks this coming Tuesday, and not a minute too soon. Unfortunately, it will be at least three months before I can do anything aggressive – I’ll probably be clinically insane by then. I should at least be able to maintain a slow burn until I can stoke the flames and start incinerating all this extra crap that’s clogging up my view.

Meanwhile, my father’s stud runner just suffered a devasting injury. Having had achilles pain on and off for a few weeks, they were being very cautious with her. Today, 300 meters from the finish…gunfire. The crowd heard it. A full rupture complete with evulsion fracture off the heel.

That does not happen. Unless you’re a football or basketball player, achilles ruptures should not happen. Three weeks of sporadic pain is not an indicator of a RUPTURE. That is not supposed to happen. Ruptures happen when you try to dunk and hit your foot funny on the plant, or when you’re shoving around a defensive lineman and your cleat gets stuck. It isn’t supposed to happen running on a cross country course.

I, for one, am very upset. Lillian, who I called Gebrselassie instead of her own similar last name, was a phenom. I first saw her run at Penn as a Frosh two and a half years ago and was mesmorized by her stride. Powerful and graceful; a true thing of beauty. She was a gazelle. This is a devastating injury. As an achilles victim myself, to see someone with such a bright future suffer the worst injury the body has to offer is exceptionally sad. It’s possible to come back. 12 months at least, more before she could actualize any benefits from training again. And right when she should be getting her scholarship locked up too. I’m sad. My father apparently wept.

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NBC didn’t let me see the 100 meter final until a few minutes ago, despite the fact that I knew what had happened 13 hours ago. Usain Bolt, OBLITERATED the field. He had such an enormous lead, he was able to prance across the line over the last 20 meters, flailing his arms and whooping to the crowd. He represents a new breed of human – one that I don’t believe we will see again for another 100 years. Tyson Gay and even Asafa Powell (poor guy – he bombed again) are both iterations of previous body types. Compact and powerful, neither stands a chance against Bolt. If he stays healthy and trains hard, he could crack 9.60 in the next year. Hell, he could have run 9.64 today if he ran through the line. The man is just qualitatively different than the other athletes.

Of course, staying healthy and remaining hungry are big ifs. Lightning Bolt’s real event is the 400 meters. He has such a long stride, the start is his only weakness. While he has a legitimate chance to threaten Michael Johnson’s previously invincible 200 meter record later in the week, he could shatter the 400 record if he tried for it. Despite his coach’s pleas, he refused to train for it, saying that training for the 400 meter is too hard of work. It is harder work; olympians chew steel and spit nails, hard work is what is supposed to fuel their forge. Bolt does it on polished talent.

Unfortunately, you saw three medalists showboating around the track after the race was over. This is why distance runners love Tyson Gay so much – he’s almost one of us. He has all the fame and notoriety of a sprinter, yet the attitude of a distance runner. He gives interviews like he’s honored that someone would want to talk to him – he gives people his time as though he’s no big thing. I wish he were healthy, but alas, he was not in top form.

I suppose I should weigh in on Tropical Storm Fay. While conditions are favorable there has been a persistent problem. Land. Hispaniola and Cuba are tropical graveyards. Expect Fay to pop off Cuba as a minimal tropical storm, then ramp up somewhat immediately before landfall in Florida. While strengthening storms are significantly stronger than weakening storms with the same reported windspeeds, I still don’t think this is a huge deal for anyone. In fact, it might help ease drought conditions in southern Georgia. Still too early to say what will happen after the first landfall.

Addendum, 2
I got a google search today for “Can Usain Bolt outrun a bear?”

Lara might say no. But I say yes. Absolutely. He’d high step away from the bear, taunting.

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I’m normally not a big fan of sprinters, as a species. They run for a handful of seconds, then stop. I’ve never understood why that is interesting – you don’t even get a sense of how fast they are when you watch them on TV.

Anyway, say what you will about sprinters in general. Tyson Gay is one of my favorite people on the entire planet. Between him and Ryan Hall, I’d be like a kid in a candy store – both seems like such neat people.

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I washed my night boot yesterday. It is the second time I have done so in the 2+ years that I have owned it. On one hand, one doesn’t often wash his shoes. On the other, he doesn’t often wear his shoes to bed. So it seemed reasonable to wash it at least occasionally.

Last time it required surgery to remove the plastic insert from the fabric casing. I learned during that process that the plastic bent, and when bent, would fit through the original hole, sans surgical expansion. So I sewed up the previous C-section and was able to remove the insert through the standard canal this time, as I had used triple thick string.

Yesterday’s main task, however, was the shorten the big strap. The velcro overshot the velcro strip, meaning that it was either loose on my calf or prone to detach. Removing three inches of run and resewing it together was all that it needed.

I can’t explain to you how nice a washed, well fitting night boot is. Really, I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s at the point where I have a hard time sleeping without the boot, but now, clean, snug, secure; it’s wonderful, I’m sorry, I’m gushing.

That’s a good thing. If I have my way, I’ll be having a non-invasive surgical procedure done to my left achilles in August. The walking boot is much more claustrophobic, and when I’m home I hope to wear the feather light night boot in its stead. Of course, one can’t walk particularly well in a night boot, but that doesn’t matter, I don’t need to walk anywhere.

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On Track 1

An unfortunate repercussion of living on the east coast is how sports drag into the dredges of the night. Last night was the first day of the Olympic Trials in Track and Field and since I’m a well behaved running lifer, I stayed up to 1 AM to watch the conclusion of the women’s 10K, of all things.

Since most of you don’t care enough about track to stay up to the ungodly hours that they show it, I’m going to take the responsibility of informing you of the goings on so that you can be excited about the Olympics when they come around in August.

Last night featured the early trials of several events, and one final (the women’s 10K).

Follow along here if you like.

W 100 trials and quarterfinals: The only thing an elite runner (candidate for the Olympic team) can do in trials and quarters is screw up. It didn’t look like any of the main players screwed up. It’s worth noting that this race is ridiculously competitive this year – any number of 6 women could medal in Beijing, and only three get to go. The big surprise as been Marshevet Hooker, who moved herself from just outside the Olympic team list (of potential qualifiers) to just inside with a stellar wind aided quarter. Lauryn Williams, who won silver in Athens as a precocious youngster showed well, as did the omni-present Torri Edwards and Allyson Felix. There are a handful of others that could contend too. I’m going to put my money on Felix (who is the best 200 meter runner in the world) being on the outside looking in, with Hooker, Edwards and Williams grabbing the spots. We’ll find out tonight. For whatever it’s worth, I think my brother, Stephen Furst, should try to get Stephanie Durst’s number. Hijinks would ensue.

W 800 quarters: Two huge stunners here – Channelle Price, the obscenely fast high school girl, and Alysia Johnson, one of the pre-meet favorites, both failed to qualify. Johnson begged out of NCAAs a couple of weeks ago, not good for one’s confidence. The word is that Price was just harried and hounded physically all race, and lacked the experience to deal with it. They had scratch starts for these races, which is odd. Another high school, a little white girl from one of the Dakotas ran 2:03 to qualify for semis. Please, please someone prevent the Clark girl from going to China, seriously, it’s time for the Clarks to go away.

M 800 quarters: The big news was the difficulty Khadevis Robinson had in qualifying. As much as I don’t want him to go (he’s always bothered me), he’s got to be the favorite. The biggest name to fail to qualify was Kevin Hicks, but otherwise all the big players made it to semis. I’d love to see Symmonds and Wheating make it to Beijing and they both have real chances. Burley was an old college rival, in that he went to Penn at the same time I was at Bucknell, not so much that I actually raced him competitively. I think he’s just too slow, though he’s got a cartoonish kick, we shall see if it’s enough. The rest of the qualifiers is a who’s who of American male 800 runners, including the ageless David Krummenacker, who has been around forever.

M 400H quarters: All the big names made it. Speaking of ageless, man would it be sweet if old man Joey Woody made it. He won’t. He’s always been the “one of these things is not like the others” in the 400H scene, mostly because he’s a tall white guy. We have exceptional 400 meter hurdlers. I’m rooting for Bershawn Jackson this year. Kerron Clement and Jeshua Anderson are my other picks.

M 5000 semis: My brother finished the year 29th on the US performance list, top-30 are considered for spots in the trials. Fortunately for him (since he stopped training after NCAAs), they only took 24 to trials. This is going to be a sick final, everyone that should be there is still there. If you put a gun to my head, I’d guess Lagat (the prohibitive favorite), Tegenkamp, and Solinsky. I’m secretly rooting for Mammoth guy Ian Dobson, since he made me chuckle internally in his most recent blog entry. Bobby Curtis has a real shot as does Riley. Rupp would too if he were running, though instead he’s just the putz that kicked it in to win his heat. Dork. Brent Vaughn looks spent, but he did run 13:18 earlier this year, so you have to keep track of him. I actually don’t know what the A standard is in this event, but I know that a few of these guys don’t have it, so hopefully the final will be fast.

W 10K final: Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan both had A standards for the Olympics and were clearly the class of the field. Despite the slow early pace, Amy Begley (formerly Yoder) managed to come within 10 seconds of her 5K PR in the second 5K of the 10K to narrowly achieve the standard and guarantee her spot on the team. A fantastic, gutsy job by her – I’m glad the two other A standard girls, who never really tried to keep up, didn’t get in.

OK, I finally found the Olympic Qualifying Standards, no thanks to Google. We could probably dig up 3 high schoolers to hit that 100 standard in the US. Kenya could say the same thing about the 5K, though we’ll be struggling. They’ll NEED to run fast in the final to get 3 guys in, if one of those three guys is going to be NCAA champ Bobby Curtis at least.

Tonight is the big night for mid-distance/distance finals, with the M/W 800 finals and M 5K all on tap.

Last night was a huge night for normal humans though, as the M 100 final was loaded front to back. Tyson Gay, who has necessarily dropped the hammer to stay on the same planet as Jamacia’s giant Usain Bolt (and old rival Asafa Powell), was spectacular, running a wind aided 9.68. That is the fastest that a human has ever been recorded covering 100 meters, a hundreth of a second faster than an extremely wind aided (and at altitude, no less) time from 12 years ago. Steve’s man from Florida State Walter Dix was a somewhat surprising 2nd (seeing as how he was 3rd at NCAAs), and fellow ACC mate Travis Padgett missed the team despite running 9.85 for 4th.

Meanwhile, Bershawn Jackson ran a strange race in the 400 H. After getting out well, he was clearly off form over the backstretch before pulling it together to run a still lightning fast 48.17. If he maintained his stride for that 2nd quarter of the race, he could easily have found himself in the 47.5 range. The favorites made the team there as well.

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It was a warm, sunny, breezy mid-September day at Orange Country Park, the year 1993. We had a dual meet against Pine Bush, the first race of the first season, on their home course. We lost. There was a tremendous hill, one that 12 year olds should not be expected to climb in their first races – I’m not sure where I finished (though I know it was in the near proximity of JB). Mostly I knew that something was beginning. This had been brewing my entire life; I was a runner, from a family of runners – a family with unfinished business and I was the herald to a new age, those the opening salvos fired by a new generation of warriors.

On a warm, sunny, breezy late May day on Princeton’s track, my last battle ended with little fanfare. I ran the best race of my life in front of a few hundred people I didn’t know. The plan was to lead off our weak leg in the 4×800 at IC4As, then follow it with our two strongest legs, Lou and I, before finishing with the gritty Walsh. I went out in 52.8 for the first quarter of the 800, desperate in my one last chance, my one last chance, my one last – I powered up to the pack in front and with 200 to go I tried to go to the jets, I swung to the outside, I swung to the outside, I…

…wasn’t fast enough. Never fast enough.

On a warm, sunny, breezy day in mid-June 2008, 15 years gone by, Stephen, at the pinnacle of his sport, ran the race of his life in front of a crowd of a few thousand people he didn’t know and a handful that he did. The rivers in Iowa were swollen to levels not seen since the last great flood, 1993. The Furst running-road-show in its last year, we traveled thousands of miles, prolonging, for one last meet, the fundamental unit of cohesion in our developmental years. The last runner in a family of runners, vindicating an injured father and a disappointing brother, he swung around to the homestretch with 500 meters to go; blood in his eyes and knives in his thighs and a top-5 finish in his soul.

Good enough to bind a nuclear family for 15 years. Good enough to smash records, raise bars to obscene heights. Good enough to belong with the best of the best, to stand toe to toe with the greats and not back down. Just that good, just that fast. But no more, but now it’s no more.

For five years my job was to cart supplies up to the front lines while Stephen waged war against enemies far too imposing for my meager munitions. For five years, he tirelessly carried the banner, until at long last, staggering punch drunk across his last finish line, he fought his last fight.

An army without a war; racers from a family of racers with no more races to run.

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I like Iowa. And I like Des Moines. From our plane’s eye vantage, everyone had a yard, there were sidewalks all over the place, trees, a cute little downtown. Wonderful looking city. Except, I guess, for the fact that it’s essentially underwater right now. These poor Iowans, their rivers overfloweth – they’re at least 5 times the size of normal. It’s pretty amazing, makes you want to get stuck in a tree, requiring a daring volunteer fireman rescue.

But that’s not all. We had a cute real dirty blonde, corn-fed, saw-toothed local waitress. And the guy at the rental car counter shook my hand for no good reason, other than the fact that he was happy to greet anyone who likes Iowa.

I love the term “corn-fed”. I want a good corn-fed girl. I want little corn-fed kids with crew cuts, wrestling with their demographically homogeneous friends and shooting beer cans off an old wooden fence, occasionally hitting each other with shrapnel, maybe losing a finger here or there. I even saw some barbed wire fence, most likely for keeping out the Injuns.

But really, I mean it, I like Iowa, and I’ve been here for 3 hours. It has a wholesome feeling to it. A corn-fed wholesome feeling.

I am here, of course, for Stephen’s 5K prelim at Nationals. He has a realistic (though by no means foregone) chance to make finals on Friday. Tonight he is fortunate enough to be in heat 2, meaning he’ll have a chance to see what the times in heat 1 look like – those in heat 2 control their own destiny. He should be able to dictate his race much more easily than at Regionals. If he can be forward mobile at 500 meters, he’ll make finals. I can almost guarantee that – the boy has a kick to rival anyone, so long as he can start it snowballing before it’s too late.

A few other notes…

My parent’s delivered my birthday presents. Running socks (always useful, though I’m embarrassed to ask for them anymore since I’m not a real runner), a fabulous book imprinter that says “From the Library of Eric J Furst”, and, almost shockingly, a technical biblical commentary on Ephesians! A new one, a Pro-Pauline/Pro-Ephesus one. Hoehner is the author, and it is extensive.

My father and the secretary at his high school (who actually insists that people refer to her as “secretary” instead of administrative assistant) came up with his sick day plan for the meet. Then, yesterday, he came in to work with a stye. “Oh, you can’t go to work like that – all the kids will be looking at you funny!” And now now he’s on 3 day stye sick leave. He only has about 237 days left of sick time to use before he retires.

I think people that weigh more than, say, 250 lbs should have to buy two seats on the airplane. Don’t give me any of this discrimination crap – if you overhang into my seat, you should have to pay for it. Lets forget about seats completely, you should buy volume when you fly. We need an Archimedean bathtub in every terminal.

I asked the guy next to me for yesterday’s USA Today, as he was going to throw it out. They had news in brief from all 50 states. Apparently Hendrix College in Arkansas had signed an agreement to host a MMA match at their school. After canceling it, claiming they were “duped” into believing it was a family friendly event, they were sued by the organizer. Hendrix College v. Bone Krusher Entertainment. Now wait a second. Bone Krusher Entertainment wants to hold “Caged Fury” at your institution – and you assume it’s a family friendly production? This is stupid even for Arkansas! They didn’t even spell “crusher” right for goodness sake, what part about the entire enterprise strikes you as being family friendly??

Regardless, I all the sudden love the Upper Midwest, north of Missouri and east of the Dakotas at least. You know what, maybe I like Nebraska too. All that dirty blonde corn-fed goodness, good bones.

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