It happened yesterday

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Ten years ago today, My father died. A number of years that not that long ago would have seemed incomprehensible.  The expression is cliche: It seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time. Cliches are overused for a reason: they lack original thought, because so many people experience what they convey.

I know you, dear reader, know and understand what I mean when I express to you I can still viscerally feel that last time I kissed him, held his hand and told him I would see him on Monday. It happened yesterday.

I had told him only the day before that I would see him on Monday; I didn’t know he wouldn’t live another 24-hours never mind the 48-hours Monday assumed.  On that Sunday, I had gone out with my father in law on a deep sea fishing trip we received for Fathers’ Day. My sister messaged me and told me Dad really wasn’t feeling well and can I come by today.  Later, while on my way there, I asked her if I could get him some coffee. I can still feel the blood empty from my face when I learned he was gone. That happened yesterday.

I stopped and bought him a coffee anyway. Black, two sugar. The man loved his coffee and he ought to have one last cup with his kids before his journey. I bought a coffee for my sister and one for me, and we shared them while we awaited clergy and the ambulance. I silently reflected with regret for not having been there sooner, for not having spent more time, for a whole host of short-comings as a son while the Priest granted blessings upon him. I saw his lifeless body slumped in his chair almost as though he were sleeping – I’d seen him “rest his eyes” while sitting in his chair so often over the course of my life, but never once imagined I was being conditioned to witness this moment. So clear it’s as though it happened yesterday.

Then there was my sister. She kept it together, until the Medical Examiner’s office came and packed him up. Out of her living room, they wheeled a sealed plastic body bag out on a two-wheeler, and she lost it. Fell apart. That was the moment of permanence to her, even though she sat with him as he felt his eyes become infinitely too heavy to keep open and slipped out of this life. She sat with him as his blood finally became too toxic for his heart to continue pushing through his body. It was to her he spoke his last words. It was only seeing him as the outside world now saw him that she lost it. I’m quite sure that were I to ask her, she would say that it could easily have been 10 hours ago.

Coming home was a long, hollow drive. Alone with my thoughts. That empty feeling of suddenly being quite alone in the world, that the one person to whom I meant the world was no longer. The fogginess of my thoughts and emotions of that drive home still has no equal in my life; I should be thankful, grateful for that and yet, as I write I’m sobbing as though it really did just happen yesterday.

I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. Emotionally drained and empty. We all knew this moment, this day would come sooner than later, and yet when it arrived there was literally no way to steel myself. Like knowing a lava floe was coming and all you can do is stand there and take it. He knew it. I was with him at the hospital when the doctor told him that the transfusions were becoming less effective – that his body was losing white blood cells faster than they could replace them. I was with him when he told the doctor that he wanted to stop the transfusions because he was using resources better used by someone whose body wasn’t failing in the way his was. I was there when she told him that decision was “not compatible with life.” He knew what his choice was, he knew and still abided. Either way it was a matter of time, but his way meant sooner rather than later. I lay in bed thinking about that before at some point drifting into some degree of sleep. Sad. Empty. Drained. Knowing that the next day held telling my kids that Papa had died.

All of that seems so real and raw. All of that was ten years ago today. All of that could have been yesterday.

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2018 Race Recap #28: TVFR Woodland Trail 5-Miler Series #1

PhotoPhew.  That’s a mouthful.  The Woodland Trail Series is a 3-part series of trail races through the West Hill Park in Northbridge, MA and Tri Valley Front Runners is a local (predominantly) trail running club.  My club never seems to do well at these events because, well, we’re not trail runners as a group.  BUT the registration fee for these races (3 for like $16) is just too good for any of us to pass up.  It’s pretzel logic, but it’s logic.

The race itself is not comparatively difficult: I came less than prepared for GPS and therefore had to use my FitBit, which is more or less accurate, which registered about 300′ of elevation gain.  It was in the mid-70’s but HUMID. Holy smokes, was it humid. It stopped raining just before the start of the race, which it’s hard to say whether or not that was a good thing.  It’s lightly technical; we started a single track for a bit, but otherwise it’s fire roads and hiking trails.  If you’re conditioned, it should make for a pretty fast course.  If you’re not…not so much.

I did a run on Monday, that felt pretty good overall, but woke up Tuesday with some seriously sore muscles meaning I’ve been slacking a bit on my pacing and was feeling it. That and I’ve been hacking up a lung as well.  So I know this was going to be a tough run.  My friend Dukie told me I was busy looking for excuses, and perhaps I was, but I knew it was going to be a rough run.  It was.  I wish I could tell you it was a self fulfilling prophesy, but I don’t think so.

I’ve done this particular race three times now: I ran it once each of the last two years. Last year I finished about 20 seconds slower than the year before, but I tell myself that was because it was one of my first races back after falling down the mountain.  This year, I finished about 30-seconds faster.  Roughly 2500-miles run over the last two years between running this course and I’m 30-seconds faster.  Worst? My pace was faster those times because the course registered longer. I’m so angry with my performance.  I can blame the humidity — I literally had to wring my shirt out — and I can blame respiratory issues, but at the end of the day, I just wasn’t ready.  Maybe next month.  Or maybe not.  July and 9000-degrees?  Ugh. Onward and upward.

Results:

June 2018: 50:58.39
July 2017: 51:54
July 2016: 51:38

2018 Race Recap #27: CMS 52-Week 5k

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Like so many other areas of my life.  13th of 25 runners. The low side of average.
Where to begin.  I’ve run this race many times over the last three years, so there’s really not much to describe in terms of the course: start at Worcester State University, run in either clockwise or counter-clockwise direction make a couple of turns, and, depending on the direction you’re running, you finish in front of a bus stop or in front of Aristotle.  Today, it was clockwise which means Aristotle was the finish line.

For what seems like forever at this point, I’ve been battling dents and dings related to running: jacked my piriformis doing the To Hale and Back trail race, tried to push through it at varying intervals, which led to shin splints…both of which reduced the amount of actual running and HIIT bootcamp training I could do so basically despite having had a few decent outings, my conditioning is not what it needs to be.

This is the first time I’ve run this course in this direction since February, when I finished with a 24:16 time.  In February and March, I was really at my peak form: hitting personal best times all over the place and feeling AWE-SOME about the whole thing.  The last few months have really kind of sucked and more and more lately I find myself asking no one in particular when I’m going to feel “good” again. The shin splint comes and goes – kind of like a roommate you don’t particularly like or want around – just long enough to take the wind out of my running sails.  I find myself limping sometimes and I’m not really sure if it’s because my shin actually hurts or because I’ve just become accustomed to it.

It seems disingenuous to say my conditioning is for crap because I’m basically running at the pace I was running most of last year, but I’m certainly not where I was the last time I ran this particular course.

Today was a glorious day outside, perfect weather. Perhaps a touch too much pollen in the air, but then again I’m probably just looking for excuses.  I got a quick warm up run in around the WSU campus.  Running in this direction I will often run as fast as I can the first mile – it’s pretty much downhill – and then find a comfortable pace to latch onto for the final two as there is some gradual elevation gain, but it’s otherwise so flat as to not be noticed.

So the result? About a minute slower than the last time I ran it: twenty seconds a mile.  When written out it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re hauling your butt across 3.1 miles it seems like forever.  Not quite as slow as I ran it in January – by about 7-seconds – but basically it tells me I’ve been shuffled back to where I was 5 months ago.

Time for some more long runs and more frequent longer distances.  This race has a special place in my heart as it was this that gave me the benchmark I needed to see progress when I first started running, it was frequent (and CHEAP!!!) enough that I could keep doing it, and it introduced me to a running community I don’t think I would have kept running without.  That’s why my backsliding hurts so much: it’s literally the benchmark I use for everything else and how I’m feeling about my running condition.

Clockwise (last 5):

June 16, 2018: 25:08. 75, clear. Beautiful.
February 24, 201824:16. Mid-40’s,  clear
January 27, 201824:24. 34 degrees, sunny. Just beautiful.
January 13, 201825:14   53 degrees, cloudy, 22 mph wind, rainy
November 25, 2017: 24:55 Sunny and 28 degrees.

2018 Race Recap #26: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

No automatic alt text available.If the The Great Inflatable Race was a lark, and the Newport 10-Miler was all business, this…this was pure [expletive deleted] hell.  No, seriously. I hate this race. I’m never doing this [expletive deleted] race again. Which is exactly what I said last year when I finished it: I fell down at mile ten, broke my toe and took a bunch of stitches in my arm.  And maxed out my insurance deductible.

This year the course was changed a bit: they added an extra hour to the cut off, but according to my GPX data they added about 500′ of gain to the course. Whats really interesting is that last year AND this year, they said GPS watches were inaccurate, etc., but I have to say, while my watch did not align with the watch as a whole, it was off by literally 0.1 mile from last years.  If the course actually IS 31 miles, then my watch is consistently inaccurate, so at least I have that going for me. I get that consumer GPS is going to be less accurate than government data, but don’t gaslight me thinking that I somehow screwed up.  Ya know?

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Honestly, this was the best I was going to look all day, at the first summit

The course was incredibly humbling: a couple of friends from my running club – these women are incredible runners – bagged out at mile 15. Trails aren’t for everyone. The elevation gain is front loaded at the first 10-miles: of the 6000’+, a good 3300′ are up front, leaving about half over the remaining 20-miles or so. Gets those legs all good a rubbery for the rest of the course.

The course takes you to the summit of Wachusett Mountain twice, then down and into the state park. Were I actually conditioned for this, it wouldn’t be that bad – there are stretches where the course is downhill fireroads – which should make for a good pace. The problem is that by the time I got to them, I was so drained I literally could not move any faster than I was: I tried to pick up the pace a few times, only to be met with muscles telling me they would cramp if I did.  I spent more than a few minutes along the course stopped, stretching out my back or pulling my legs out of a cramp.  I really thought I had properly prepared myself with nutrition and fuel but clearly that was not the case.

Relive ‘North Face Endurance Challenge 50k’

One take away I have from this is just how beautiful the area is.  I took the time to stop and take a few pictures along the way – by clicking the “Relive” link above you can see the course and the pictures are geolocated on the map.  You really just don’t appreciate how steep these trails can be without actually seeing them.

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Probably not the steepest, nor the least accessible, but then again if it were less accessible I probably couldn’t have taken a picture.

In the end analysis, the distance was pretty much on point from last year, the elevation increased with some modifications to the course. I give the organizers a lot of credit: organizing a 50-miler, 50k, marathon, marathon relay, 10k and 5k and doing it really efficiently. Course markings were good – color coded ribbons matched to your race – and aid stations generously positioned on the course.

I did what I came to do – redeemed by performance, or mishaps, of last year.  While I had not forgotten the theme – redemption – I did forget the course takes you by “Redemption Rock” and had I my wits about me, I’d have taken a selfie there as a reminder. It wasn’t a fast race and all of the same things (sans falling down the mountain) that plagued me last year got me this year – something about training or something sounds vaguely familiar.  BUT I accomplished it, I finished, and unhurt.  That’s a win.

Results

2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

Strength of Mind: Self Immolation

Malcolm Brown photograph of the self immolation.

Thích Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk who on June 10, 1963 led a procession of monks to an intersection a few blocks from the South Vietnamese presidential palace, assumed the lotus position where an associate poured gasoline over his head. He recited a homage to Buddha and subsequently lit himself on fire in protest.

I never fully comprehended why a man of faith would willingly take his life. Indeed, in Buddhism, life is precious and its destruction is to be avoided.  But then again, my own world view is that of a Western Christian, and Christianity’s view on suicide is very clear. Buddhism doesn’t work with absolutes.  According to one author, Buddhism sees human birth “as incredibly precious, an opportunity not to be wasted. That the human predicament includes stress and suffering is the First Noble Truth; the Second, Third and Fourth Noble Truths guide our relationship to that suffering.”

But I see here, Quảng Đức was not escaping from suffering or stress.  He was drawing the worlds’ attention to the ignoble condition of the Buddhist population in South Vietnam – a country that was then 90% Buddhist and ruled by a Catholic minority, intolerant of the Buddhist world view. “Not to be wasted” is not the same as “having ended.” It makes sense in a way: Catholics are very black and white about life and death, about subservience to authority and hierarchy; Buddhists tend to be more complacent, willing to accept their lot. Where Christianity is very much ordered around the ten commandments – concrete rules not to be violated – Buddhism is ordered around four noble truths, guides without much in the way or explanation.  In Christianity we’re taught “right from wrong;” In Buddhism the meaning of Right includes an ethical, and a balanced, or middle way.

So, why would the practitioner of a religion teaching life as incredibly precious and the destruction of which is to be avoided, self immolate in protest? The middle way.

The idea that he wasn’t escaping suffering, but rather he was embracing suffering in hopes of bettering the lot of those of his countrymen.

What was shocking to the rest of the world – his ability to remain in lotus.  In The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam wrote “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him…” He had accepted his suffering, embraced it.

The Four Noble Truths liberate people from suffering.  Here they are from Lionsroar.com

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

3. The End of Suffering

The good news is that our obscurations are temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take exactly the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas do. We too can wake up.

So, by immolating himself, he was actually freeing himself and his countrymen from suffering.  Reread that passage from David Halberstam: “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound…”  Suffering people do not sit still. He had let go of the samsara, that belief that he was separate from others.  He gave up this existence and its suffering: to be sure, he believed in reincarnation – that he would return to the earth in another form, and not to be sent to an afterlife to sit before judgement.

The Catholics in charge of the country could not comprehend why he had done what he did because they believed in an absolute prohibition on suicide, and in the certainty of sitting before God’s judgement.  When Quảng Đức’s action did not yield immediate results, several other monks self-immolated as well.  Interestingly enough it was not the leadership of South Vietnam who came to understand, but rather the rest of the world, horrified by what was now happening, pushed the government to action.

Now that I’ve described my understanding of what happened on that day, I want to share a video taken of the event.

At a time where public protest was not the norm, at a time video recording was a novelty – if not luxury – there is a video recording of it.  Think of what a video recorder in 1963 would have looked like – as the first 75 seconds of the movie show, it must’ve been large and bulky, and judging from the angle, frowned upon by the authorities.  We see the thousand or so protesters encircling the monk, jostling perhaps for a better view, and the authorities pushing them back.

I can’t help but to think how this man was about to light himself on fire for these people, people who clearly had not reached the level of enlightenment he had – likely people with less strength of belief as his, or less commitment.  The protest was allowed to continue, even as the police would have seen the gasoline being poured over his head; perhaps it wasn’t immediately obvious to them that was, in fact, gasoline.

The most powerful moment of that recording occurs at about 2:07 – the moment he lights the match.  It’s as if everything else STOPS. The jostling stops. The police turn away from the throngs of people to face him, to a man their arms and hands by their sides: Respect? Awe? Disbelief?

By 2:25 or so you can see clearly how accurately Halberstam reported his lack of movement: it’s not for another 30-seconds of the video before his now charred remains fall over. Halberstam notes just how quickly a human body will burn, so bearing in mind the footage has been slowed down, in real time some the gathered crowd would have begun immediately bowing on hands and knees and this would have been over in a matter of seconds.

As with any telling of story, I’m quite sure there is so much nuance and fact missing from the account.  That’s not really what this post is about though. It’s about the strength of mind and purpose,  of self control and selflessness, of belief to be able to make a decision you believe to be the middle way – one coming from a place of enlightenment – even if it means putting yourself in harms way, giving yourself up for the good of the majority.

I will remember this lesson just how much the mind controls our perception of the world, how it controls our sensations. How it can allow a man literally burn to death without so much as flinching. I will remember this the next time I am faced with a challenge I don’t believe I can complete.

2018 Race Recap #25: BankNewport 10 Miler

If yesterday’s race was a lark, today’s was really all business. I’ve been struggling with injury issues for a couple of months now – and haven’t been running as much or as well as I’d like, with the end result being my conditioning has really suffered. So it was important to me to get out there today and push hard, get it done, do well.  My one goal on the day was not to PR (after my last couple of months, that is going to take some time to get my conditioning back), but to do better than last year.

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I must’ve signed up early. The bibs weren’t in any apparent order, so I have to believe they were assigned in order of registration. Some 2500 runners and I was assigned 124.

I pushed hard – According to Garmin, my average heart rate was 89% of max with the highest being 94%. My Garmin data tells me the “Training Effect” of my run today was a “5.0,” classified as “Overreaching,” the description for which was:

“This activity was very demanding. While it can significantly improve your cardio-respiratory fitness, it can become harmful without enough recovery time and should be done sparingly.”

So, that’s a thing. I know I was huffing, and as I look through my pace data I can see where my heart rate was up there and where took a bit to walk it off: the two line up quite nicely. I also took a quick potty break somewhere in there as well that gave me a little bit of recovery time as well.

It was quite unpleasant, but it was exactly what I was striving for. I’d never run a pace under these circumstances alone, and its for that reason I love races – I push myself harder, beyond that which I would normally do with a casual group run or alone.  And while I know my conditioning won’t just come back to where I was before the chrome started falling off the fenders, its efforts like this that will help me get there sooner than otherwise.

It wasn’t a great pace – although I did beat last year which pleased me. I recall thinking at the time last year how good a race I had run, and to now be able to best it (after having taken a 66-second porta-potty pit stop no less!) was a bit a redemption. I didn’t best it by much (about a minute) but the fact I did means a lot to me, especially after Horseneck where I was still dealing with a shin-splint caused by me working too hard to get through the piriformis strain.

So, it wasn’t the race I anticipated when I registered, but it was the race I wanted to have when I woke up today.

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Finisher’s medal this year was also an upgrade. Last years’ was good, but this one is really nice.

The course itself is beautiful. Stunning actually. The race organizers have done a really nice job of showcasing Newport’s scenery, and not just it’s natural scenery but also its real estate.  I wanted to remember just one address so I could go back and look it up for giggles – which I did (despite my cardiac induced haze). According to Zillow the property value for this almost 46-acre, 7700 square foot home is roughly $20-Million more than my house, and when I say “roughly” its because it exceeds $20-Million. The “similar properties” section displays several homes for sale in Newport, none of which are less than $4.5-Million. So, it’s a nice neighborhood and a beautiful course.

Running really isn’t this much fun. I assure you.

While I won’t link the specific home I’m talking about, I will share a link to an animated recreation of my run on the course so you can get a really good idea of what the course was like.

Relive ‘Newport 10 Miler’

As for results, this was my second fastest 10-mile race of eight. I just can’t help feeling like I was in much better condition and I let it slide BUT I will say it feels pretty good to know that even after having backslid, I’m historically in pretty decent shape.

This is much more representative of the level of “fun” I’m having.

Newport 10 Miler

2018: 1:25:32
2017: 1:26:27

Other 10 Mile Races
Tough Ten Mile Turkey Trot, Marlboro MA 2016: 1:30:26
Old Fashioned 10 Miler, Foxborough MA 2017: 1:36:10.20
Black Cat, Salem MA 2017: 1:25:40.6
Mattapoisett (MA) 10 Miler 2017: 1:22:08
Tough Ten Mile Turkey Trot, Marlboro MA 2017: 1:28:56
Old Fashioned 10 Miler, Foxborough MA 2018: 1:26:17.85

2018 Race Recap #24: The Great Inflatable Race

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The battle weary warriors set about yet another challenge side-by-side.

I’m just going to say it: it’s a stretch to call this a race at all.  It’s the least competitive “race” you’ll see recapped here. Arguably it’s not truly a race at all: “a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.” Early on when I started keeping track of such things I decided I would define a race as more than one person was running and that it met at least two of the following criteria: 1) the event has a given course; 2) the effort was timed; 3) there was a bib or that there was some formal means by which runners are kept track of.  THIS “race” barely qualifies this criteria. Basically, it had a course (Kinda. It was loosely cordoned off by cones on one side – Stay to the right of the cones!) and we got finishers medals.  They do check you in, but that was more to account for the event T-shirts (of which they were out of my size) and to distribute wave bracelets.

So, the obvious question is: if you’re going to goof on the thing, why did you sign up for it? A solid question indeed.  A high-school classmate mentioned he had signed up with his daughters and it looked like a fun time. I recruited my boy, found a Groupon, bought in. Look, worst case scenario was that we’d have a fun time. I’m here to say that mission was accomplished. It was fun.

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Exhibit 1 in support of the idea that this wasn’t the most competitive race out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This was low rent. $27 on Groupon, $27 at the official registration page, but that excluded the registration “fee” tacked on as a percentage of the cost of a ticket – buying a Groupon essentially tells the registration site to “comp” the registration so there’s no fee.  It took place on an auto race track site; they hold flea markets and other such things on the grounds. The race itself used the track’s overflow parking area. The inflatables were basically elements from shopping mall parking lot carnivals: not quite fully inflated, perhaps a little suspect. The biggest threat of injury was friction burn from the vinyl inflatables.

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It was a super casual time, but generally organized. They did a pretty good job of keeping the starting wave organized – what could have been a crushing disaster was kept organized and safe. The inflatable obstacles were placed at reasonable distances – there weren’t an over-abundance of them but there were enough. Lines weren’t bunched up and things moved quickly.

It wasn’t quite 2-miles – again, the competitive thing – which was probably a good thing: the temperature was in the mid-to high-70’s with humidity around 85%.  The air was pretty thick and saturated with pollen. They could have done a lot more with the festival area – they had an Italian Ice truck.

So, I haven’t described the most appealing event, have I? Here’s the thing: I had a good time with my boy with the added benefit of seeing my old friend. I went in expecting a low-rent, casual, mostly-fun event. It met those expectations.

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And there it is – finishers of some of the most bad-ass 2-miles of inflatable fury going.

I don’t have results information, because…well, because.  That whole time thing.  My watch had it done in about 34 minutes.