The increasingly parochial observations of a casual runner in his fifties. Was "serious" about "the sport" until personal and sociocultural inevitabilities prevailed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Advocacy plus cynicism equals reality

Any adult who devotes a large portion of his or her life to becoming faster at optional foot travel -- as a participant, director or both -- becomes an addition to an ongoing roiling expo of uncertainty, frustration, fatigue, and professional underachievement. Non-runners may think that runners look like they're in pain when they're plying their trade, but in reality, the true suffering of anyone who puts running at the top of the life priority list is as undetectable at a glance as it can be punishing and degrading to body and mind over a period of years.

Sometimes, for a while and even for the duration of a career, an athlete perceives the rewards as being at least proportional to the setbacks. Aside from those who can be considered professional runners (and probably two-thirds of the people you've ever met or will meet who make this claim are lying), longtime competitive runners as a rule are as emotionally labile as they are physically resilient, unusually so in both cases; the word that seems most apt is unfulfilled, especially those who lack other distractions of sufficient weight. This would be easy to say about anyone with enough spare time for a serious hobby and the capacity to dream big about it, but most runner types I know are more inclined to seek comfort from their actions and accomplishments than from their possessions or the people they know. That the at-large population is at least as askew in many ways as runners are is no reason to glorify the palette of traits that define "serious" runners. It's a difficult sport and the physical aspects are, to me, a comparatively small part of the challenge.

(I love running. I'd never willingly give it up. I'm just saying that admitting this in effect means admitting to a higher-than-average probability of possessing certain traits "they" might find curious if not nettlesome.)

At the same time, advising people who aspire to be better runners alluring remains a very alluring pursuit. Part of this is basic familiarity: Much of the time, running is the last thing I feel like discussing, but because I have immersed myself in this world for decades, analyzing and discussing training comes automatically to me. I sometimes wish I would suffer a blow to the head that would selectively wipe out all of my memories relating to running as a sporting endeavor. In fact, maybe this has already happened, and explains why I'm often a ball of inexplicable unrest, and also why no one will look me in the eye when I approach them while brandishing a light saber.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Worn down

The area shown below is known as the Muchyedo Banks. I took the photo on a drizzly Halloween mid-morning, a few days before leaving New Hampshire. This spot is about a half-mile into the run that morning capped my streak of 365 days. I'm facing approximately northwest. The soil is a lot sandier than it looks, and the drop from where soil yields to sand down to the waterline perhaps more pronounced as well -- according to Google Earth, about 80 to 85 vertical feet. That's significant, not only in its own right but because it's about a quarter of the entire way down to sea level itself.

About 18 years ago, I wrote a story called Swing Time based mainly on this spot. In my imagined version, a giant oak tree has managed to spring from the soil near the base of the water and rise to a height of well over a hundred feet. This forms the basis for an appropriately scaled rope swing and an interesting hoax. I wrote a number of bad short stories in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but this one I am somewhat happy with even with the passage of so many years and writing lessons learned and attendant reasons to shit on anything I wrote a long time ago, or this morning.

I did have some fun rope-swing experiences as a kid, not terribly far from hear but on the northwest edge of town, at Broad Cove. It's surely for the best that that place gets a lot of public foot and bicycle traffic now.



The spot is a little over a mile west-northwest of the house where I spent the majority of my life in Concord, marked below with an H. Starting in about third grade, in 1978, I and my neighborhood friends used to ride our bikes west along Hoit Road across the interchange with I-93 and, often, to the nearest grocery store, which was in Penacook, close to a three-mile ride from my house. 

Sometime in the past ten years, a long-overdue service station with a Dunkin' Do...a Dunkin' franchise was installed on Eli Whitney Drive, which in turn only started to exist on the 1990s, when Wheelabrator, a garbage-to-energy facility, built a plant and a giant waste emitter (can't call it a smoke stack, but it's the undisputed eyesore of the general northern Concord-Boscawen-Canterbury skyline) at what used to be Hannah Dustin Drive.


Before Interstate 93 was built in the late 1950s, Hannah Dustin Drive was the conduit from East Concord to Penacook. It ran southeast and intersected Mountain Road right at the spot where this unfolded. Portions of Hannah Dustin Drive west of I-93 are still paved even though they're only reachable on foot, and only then by people with an exploratory agenda. This strikes me as ectopic city tissue


To get to where I started my Halloween run, I just drove from Hoit Road (U.S. Route 4 at this point) out Old Boyce Road, which becomes Riverland Road as it just to the west, which becomes Oxbow Pond Road as it makes a hard left turns south, toward a commercial (sort of) bed and breakfast.

Today, there's a small parking lot at this location. The trail leading north is part of a state-designated conservation area. When I was a kid, Old Boyce Road ended in an unnamed dirt lane paralleling the railroad tracks and leading, via trails, to the eastern bank of the Merrimack, close to the Route 4 bridge. I explored this area on numerous runs both in high school and in my return to Concord from about 1997 to around 2003, and once followed the dirt path along the tracks all the way north to West Road in Canterbury, neat Exit 18.

That exact trip would not be possible today. I took the photo below from close to the same spot I grabbed the photo above from, obviously having rotated about 45 degrees counterclockwise.


I was standing on the remains of a path that ran straight north-south without interruption within the past 20 years. Here is a view of that spot as one approaches it from the north. The path is simply gone. If you want to get around the space, that's easily done by using the railroad tracks just to the left. But it's a jarring reminder that some events that occur slowly in relation to human lifetimes, like the inexorable changing of a river's course, occur with astonishing speed in geologic time.


You may find it odd that anyone could be titillated by this stuff, but it makes for a lot of inexpensive fun. For example, when writing posts like these aren't enough of a way to waste time, I can make a personal adventure game out of exploring a familiar area using Google Earth Pro's ground-level navigation feature.



I wish I could be at the "New England" Championships this weekend; they're being held in the same place they were staged my senior year, Wickham Park outside Hartford, which is actually an unusual site. But if nothing else, I am back to making high-school-level competition my main running focus at the moment, and probably moving forward until the sport, the planet or all two are eradicated, preferably amid the clamor of a gleeful cosmic drunken belch. Some of the reasons for this should be obvious to you, while others are ore personal but not exactly recondite.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

N.H. Meet of Champions recap

First, if you would rather watch the races in their entirety, with solid commentary, than risk reading reading a bunch of my choleric observations, that's easy (girls, boys). But that's clearly not the case because even the most arrant twits among you don't read this blog looking for glorified agate results. Besides, I have nothing choleric to offer today, although I'm annoyed that my hamstring is sore (if it's not going to heal, I want it to actually snap, loudly enough to be heard 40 feet away and preferably in G minor) and not thrilled about either the end of DST or the long journey back west I'll be starting shortly.

I predicted the top five girls' teams correctly, but in the wrong order (results). Picking Concord over Bishop Guertin was a bit of a reach and was predicated on more momentum than the Tide was likely muster. But Concord still ran a terrific race. Also, I did not count on Coe-Brown's usual number-one girl having unresolved Lyme disease and having to be pulled from the race. That, or something, resulted in Coe-Brown falling behind Exeter. So my 1-2-3-4-5 wound up going 1-3-2-5-4. Of note, the individual winner, Caroline Fischer, also had Lyme disease, which in effect robbed her of half of her high-school running career because her illness went undiagnosed for so long. What a fantastic kid. And now I'm thinking that half the state's runners have been infected with B. burgdorferi at some point, and here I am having spent as much time as possible in the woods in shorts and quarter-socks for the past week.

My boys' predictions were similarly decent (results). Coe-Brown would have won yesterday even if the places of their sixth and seventh runners had been scored. My forecast of an average time of "about 15:40 to 15:45" for their top five was cutting it close, but they managed to thread that needle with a 15:44.16. The Bears are ranked 23rd in the U.S. by Milesplit right now despite having a total enrollment of 700; I'm not sure how I feel about this because Milesplit is awful in virtually every way and will hopefully be gone soon, but they are right to recognize Coe-Brown's 2019 boys' team, and next year they won't have as much discretion because the team is almost certainly going to be even better next fall.

I actually called 1, 3, 4 and 5 on the nose, but I did not count on Londonderry losing one of its varsity runners in an unexpected and probably disruptive way, and they wound up sixth (claiming the last New Englands berth). I also didn't count on Pinkerton running a stellar race, which is fuckin' obvious or else I would have said they were going to, which is the nature of wrong predictions. Pinkerton has been semi-regularly punking Concord for at least 35 years now, and it's time someone bitterly pointed out the school has over three thousand students and therefore should never lose in anything. (I know it doesn't quite work that way, but it's good to have handy, difficult-to-refute excuses on hand to both explain your own shortcomings and devalue the achievements of others.

It remains surreal to me to watch Coe-Brown's Aidan Cox, believed to be one of sixty thousand kids named Aidan in New Hampshire alone and a freshman who looks like he skipped at least two grades, chasing the top runner in the state down the homestretch and then tossing his cookies in a trash can. The one time I puked after a race, it wasn't even after an especially hard effort, and I didn't know if was coming for sure until the initial surge was somewhere in the vicinity of my incisors. Yet there happened to be a trash can there, and I hit it perfectly -- not the opening but the side. Maybe if there were no cans available in finish chutes to vomit in, runners wouldn't have the urge to puke. They ought to start putting porta-johns in the chute area to see if that triggers similarly ignominious outbursts of an even more socially awkward sort.

Apart from the results, the day presented the usual array of faces I was happy to greet but in some cases could not match to a name with the immediacy I would have liked. I got to chat with my first coach, Rusty Cofrin, whose initial season at Concord High coincided with my freshman year and who went on to teach math and coach for about 25 years before brain cancer forced him into retirement. I had a chance to talk pretty extensively with some of the parents (at least three of whom I graduated with) and a couple of the kids. They seem like a nicer bunch than my team was, not that we were bad, but it's weird to consider some of the things we could get away with in the 1980s thanks to simple technological barriers to being caught, like speeding away from cops on snowmobiles at 80 miles an hour up right the middle of Route 132 and watching the police try to plow their Crown Vics through 8" of snow to catch up. Come to think of it, it's probably even easier to do that now, but if they really wanted to catch someone doing that and not just random teenagers cackling and trailing clouds of marijuana smoke (well, not all of us) and worse, all it would take is GPS and heat maps.

I have no special reason to be as pleased as I am about this visit. which officially ends in a few hours. Last fall, when things didn't go my way (which is code for "I pussied out of running a couple of races and then bailed on other shit") I cut my three-week trip in half and came back to Colorado before I started setting things on fire. This time, off the bat, I could have adopted the same ah-why-bother attitude when, right off the bat, annoyances started flying my way. Factors beyond my control kept me from watching the state divisional races last weekend, my hamstring kept me from running seriously, and I accepted even before arriving that I'll probably never see my dad again. 

That was offset by some good stuff that's not suitable for a blog, not because it's tawdry but because I don't have the verbal dexterity to convey exactly how my experiences this week have revitalized me. I seem to be embracing the fact that there are things I simply don't like as much as I used to, primarily because I have gone from mediocre to pitiful, and so it's fucking dumb to even feign aspiring to competence in these areas. Since this is, in the main, a positive post, I figure my plane has at most a 35 percent chance of crashing, because I'm really superstitious about these and other things. In case that happens, here's a pictorial summary of my more public endeavors. (I like cemeteries generally, not because of the morbidity factor, but because they are never, ever crowded in November. I like the ones I find in the woods better because I can invent lustrous false histories about the people they memorialize. I will have more to say about a few of these if I survive my flight.)















Friday, November 1, 2019

God knows there were holes in that barn

When I met my mom and Harper, her five-month-old Golden Retriever, for a walk at the Sewalls Falls Recreation Area on Tuesday, I happened to bring up a story about a different dog that took place about 30 years ago about a half-mile from our meeting spot, and a little over a mile south of the house I lived in for most of my childhood and young adult life outside of school, and visited regularly until my parents sold the property and moved to Dover in 2004. I'll describe that episode first, because it's kind of funny, and what follows as a result of watching a documentary film my story prompted my mother to describe is not funny in any way at all, and is in fact nothing short of horrible.