^zhurnaly 0.67

Zhurnaly Logo
Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.67 of the ^zhurnal — see ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki edition; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. Briefly, it's the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.66 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z(at)his(dot)com" ... tnx!

Bull Run Run 2008

At mile 20 Caren and I stop running to examine a handful of feathers scattered on the ground. They're iridescent blue on one edge, black on the other, and white at the end. Has a bluejay met an untimely end? No time to look for further evidence of the crime — our own doom is looming if we don't make the next cutoff!

^z Jinx

It's a hot hot day on the trail, 12 April 2008, and my good friends Wayne Carson, Caren Jew, and I are trying to do the Bull Run Run 50 miler. BRR is on the bleeding edge of our capabilities, and today the temperature is a crushing 10°F above normal, the humidity is high, and the course adds patches of mud to its normal repertoire of treacherous tree roots and ankle-twisting rocks.

Beyond all that, there's the ^z50 whammy. No one who tries to run a fifty miler with me ever finishes it!

Alas, today the tragic ^z50 curse continues. Wayne, Caren, and I begin the BRR together. Wayne slips, strains a calf muscle, and punches out at mile 17. Caren hangs in there until mile 25 when the heat starts to sap her energy. We confer; she orders me to press ahead while she continues at her own pace. Three miles later she makes the official cutoff but only by a hair. She wisely decides to retire from the field to battle Bull Run another day.

Warm Up

Wayne Carson, ^z, and Caren Jew before BRR 2008; photo by Aaron Schwartzbard

Rewind to 4:15am, as I park my car at the Davis Library and join Caren and Michele McLeod for the ride to Hemlock Regional Park near Clifton in northern Virginia. Wayne follows us there in his own car. The trip is uneventful; we arrive at 5am, pick up our race packets, and settle down to await the dawn. We ask ourselves why we're doing this. We're joking (I think!). As runners arrive the noise level rises.

It's already clear the day is going to be a warm one. I recheck my fanny pack and load it with electrolyte capsules and energy gels, then drink up my extra Gatorade. No need to carry spare layers in case of chill; all excess clothes go into a bag to be left behind. At last it's time to begin: we straggle out and arrange ourselves at the back of the pack. There are 310 starters. Shortly after 6:30am we're off.

"We're just doing a warm-up for the London Marathon tomorrow!" I tell spectators who applaud as we go by. Within the first 100 meters of the course I spy two dropped gel packets on the ground. I pause to pick them up, carry them for the next few hours, then suck down the salty-sweet paste.

After a loop around the campground to spread out the crowd we enter the real trail. Now we're glad that we hung back: most of the traffic jams have cleared at the rocky, narrow spots and we scarcely have to pause. Soon we reach Bull Run itself and turn upstream.

Caren and ^z tripping down the trail at BRR 2008; photo by Aaron Schwartzbard

Swimming Through the Bluebells

A warm winter and recent showers have brought seas of flowers into bloom in the lowlands here. The rain has also left the path damp, but not nearly as swampy as in some past years. Although the water level is elevated we cross large tributary streams via big stepping-stones that keep our toes dry. Wooden footbridges areas sway and bounce; some are coated with mud that makes them slippery-scary.

As we progress, generally northward according to my mental map, I suddenly see the rising sun on our left, not our right. Whoa! Have we somehow gotten turned around? My disorientation amuses Caren, but we soon figure out that Bull Run is meandering here and the trail actually does curve south for a spell.

After about eight miles my singlet is sweat-soaked and starting to chafe me in delicate portions of the upper male anatomy. I apologize to all in the vicinity and take it off, wrap it around my hand, and enjoy a slight cooling effect from the sporadic breezes.

Wayne goes on ahead as I sit for a moment on a park bench to await Caren. We approach VHTRC webmaster Anstr Davidson, who snaps our photo at the northern end of the course while I try to suck in my flabby stomach. We make the turnaround at mile 9.4 perfectly on pace, a few minutes under 4 mph.

^z and Caren at the northern turnaround of BRR 2008; photo by Anstr Davidson

During the return trip we catch up with Carolyn Gernand, whom I ran with a few years ago along Seneca Creek on an icy February morning (cf. Ice Fangs, 2005-02-06). We chat about the trail and commiserate about the heat today. After the race Carolyn writes me to ask what technology I use to govern my speed — a GPS unit?

"Mr. Natural don't need no stinkin' time/distance/pace units!" I reply. All I carry is a low-tech little chart pinned to my shorts. It's a table of the aid stations and how long it takes to reach them at 15 min/mi. The chart also shows cutoffs and my times from BRR'07, for comparison and planning.

Carolyn now slows, so Caren and I wish her well and begin the steep climb back to Hemlock Overlook where the course folds back on itself at mile 16.6. We catch up here with Wayne, who is suffering and debating the cost/benefit ratio of dropping. He shows us his mud-coated legs and explains his fall; we encourage him to pause to recover a bit before deciding.

At Hemlock Overlook we do Caren's efficient 60-second drill: refill bottles, grab food, and trot on. My hands are too weak to open a gel packet so I pause, tear at it frenziedly with my teeth, and finally get it open at the trailhead. I catch up with Caren and Angelo Witten partway down the hill.

PoMo on the Run

Angelo is a friend from the Montgomery County Road Runners Club whom I last saw at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k last month. There, with Caren miles ahead of us, we talked about economics as we climbed the steep hills. Today, we amuse Caren by debating PostModernism and Moral Relativism. (My understanding of both is infinitesimal, but that doesn't stop me!) When I discover Angelo's position I start calling him a "Stinkin' Relativist". At this point both of us are equally sweaty and in need of a bath.

I explain that I studied gravity and stars in college, and so consider myself half-relativist and half-astrophysicist. It's a pun/joke so weak that I have to explain it, after which I'm still the only one chuckling. I offer Caren and Angelo mercifully-brief lectures on quantum mechanics, cosmology, and similar arcana. When Angelo confesses to having attended law school I try to quote from Hamlet, without much success. (The lines I half-remembered are Hamlet's, after he sees a gravedigger turn up another skull: "... why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? ...")

At mile 21.1, the Bull Run Marina aid station, we restock and zoom onward. After crossing Old Yates Ford Road I bang my knee climbing over the guardrail — fortunately my worst injury of the day. A firing range nearby entertains us with fusillades as though the actual Battle of Bull Run is happening. Intermittent rainshowers patter down on the dry leaves, all too briefly to cool us.

Ultra Hydration

A few miles down the trail we pass the halfway point of the course. Caren's pace has begun to slip; I suspect possible electrolyte loss and incipient dehydration. Before the race we've agreed, as per Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, that when we're on the course "What I tell you three times is true." We caucus and Caren insists thrice that I go on ahead. With deep regret I bid her good-bye and trek onward. It's a rough day. We later discover that one out of every seven starters this year won't make it to the finish line.

Caren's advice remains my watchword as I continue to spend less than 60 seconds at each aid station. The hot weather demands aggressive countermeasures. On every half hour mark I swallow a Succeed! electrolyte capsule, and on the hours I suck down a sodium-rich energy gel. I eat boiled potatoes coated with salt whenever I see them and also grab handfuls of salty potato chips to nibble along the way. The result is loud ringing sound (tinnitus) in my ears after 30 miles. My fingers swell up like small sausages. Blisters develop on my feet. I've had my shirt off since the second hour.

a tired ^z at Wolf Run Shoals in the latter half of the BRR 2008; photo by Aaron Schwartzbard

But it's still all good, as Caren likes to say. (Ultrarunners have a different definition of "good" than normal people, eh?!) I keep moving along and actually feel stronger for a while. Yesterday I did my income taxes. Today, by comparison, is quite comfortable.

Sound Track

At the Fountainhead aid station I meet Tim Stanley, one of four people who have finished every Bull Run Run since the race began 15 years ago. The course loops back through Fountainhead during its return to the start/finish, so Tim is almost 10 miles in front of me. His beard is as long as mine, but far less gray. We pose for photos as "ZZ Top".

Now I enter the White Loop, a down-and-up horse trail, followed by the Do Loop at the southernmost end of the course. A course marshall advises me, "Run the downhills!" and I comply. I start to feel good and pass several flagging runners. One of them is starting to cramp and accepts my offer of a Succeed! salt capsule. Alas, their names have faded — Brian? Ron? Bill?

What I do remember, however, are the songs that are playing in my head. The chorus of "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode is on heavy rotation, for unknown reasons. I try to drive it out with "Brown Girl in the Ring" (Boney M) but it wins. Occasionally "Touch of Grey" and "No Rain" surface, then recede.

I've been worried about a meltdown, but when I get back to Fountainhead (mile 37.9) and make the cutoff by more than a dozen minutes, I start to get confident that I can (probably!) finish the race today. The ringing in my ears and the swelling in my fingers seems to have stabilized. The blisters on my heels are aching, but not enough to stop me; the blisters on the balls of my feet feel delicate but I run carefully and try not to break them. I dip my shirt in ice water at the aid stations and wear it around my neck like Superman's cape.

Drink the Hemlock

After the next aid station, Wolf Run Shoals, there are only ~10 miles to go — thank goodness, since I'm now slowing significantly. As I plod along I catch up with and start playing leapfrog with another runner who turns out to be Tom Green. Like Tim Stanley, Tom has finished every Bull Run Run. Unlike Tim, recently Tom has suffered from multiple injuries. He tells me his longest training run this year has been 5 (five!) miles.

Tom is modest and a bit shy, but in response to my questioning he admits that in 1986 he was the first to complete the "Grand Slam" of ultrarunning: four major 100-milers in one year (at that time, Old Dominion, Western States, Leadville, and Wasatch). Tom tells me about some of his running experiences, his work (when not running he's a home improvement contractor in Columbia MD), his investment philosophy, his wife's studies, and more. I listen, and learn, and continue to grow in my admiration for him and for the ultrarunning fraternity. There are so many really nice people in the sport!

As we approach mile 49 Phil Hesser passes us. He knows Tom well, and when the two of them mention a mutual friend I suddenly realize who they're talking about: Abby Glassman, the wonderful lady whom Ruth Martin and I ran with during the 2006 HAT Run. Tom tells me more about Abby and her family, and after the race I correspond with Abby and learn a bit more about Tom and how great he is.

I offer to hold Tom's hand as we cross the finish line, but he politely declines. During the final climb to Hemlock Overlook Tom suddenly experiences calf cramps and tells me to go on ahead. (Or was it just a polite excuse to get well away from me?)

"The horse can smell the barn" now. I put on my shirt and pick up the pace in anticipation of photographers. I'm almost half an hour slower than last year, at an official 12:50:18, in 242nd place out of 265 finishers. Tom Green comes in a few minutes after me, followed a bit later by Angelo Witten and Michele McLeod.

Friend Caren is waiting patiently at the finish line for me for me. Thank you, Ma'am!

^z approaching the finish line of BRR 2008; photo by Anstr Davidson

Split Data

location segment
Start 00--0:000:00--0:00--
Centreville Road 7.27.2--1:481:470:151:460:15
Turnaround 2.29.4--2:212:180:142:150:13
Centreville Road 2.211.6--2:542:480:142:430:13
Hemlock 516.6--4:094:150:174:020:16
Marina 4.521.1--5:165:250:185:120:16
Wolf Run Shoals 526.1--6:316:350:146:300:16
Fountainhead 228.17:157:017:060:166:590:14
Do Loop - In 4.432.58:208:078:120:158:030:15
Do Loop - Out 335.5--8:528:540:148:490:15
Fountainhead 2.437.99:459:289:310:159:270:16
Wolf Run Shoals 239.9--9:5810:020:1610:000:16
Marina 544.911:3011:1311:130:1511:050:13
Finish 5.550.413:0012:3612:500:1812:250:15

(cf. Tussey Mountainback 2004 (2004-10-08), JFK 50 Mile Run 2006 (2006-11-20), JFK 50 Miler 2006 Split Analysis (2007-01-21), Bull Run Run 2007 (2007-04-15), Bull Run Run 2007 Photos (2007-04-17), ...)

- Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 19:21:26 (EDT)

John Archibald Wheeler

Around 1990 I was in the window seat of an airplane heading into Dallas Texas. I happened to glance back and noticed an elderly gentleman on the aisle of the row behind me. He looked strangely familiar. Finally, after we landed and were getting ready to leave the plane, I worked up my courage and asked him, "Sir, are you John Archibald Wheeler?"

When he admitted that he was I shook his hand and introduced myself as his academic grandchild. One of his grad students many years ago, Kip Thorne, was my thesis advisor. I fancy that my thanks and acknowledgement gave him a smile.

Professor Wheeler made many discoveries during his long and productive career. Perhaps his most important gift was his ability to energize the minds of his colleagues. Johnny Wheeler combined originality, deep insight, sharp physical instincts, and sound judgment. He contributed to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (with his student Hugh Everett), the sum-over-all-histories approach to quantum electrodynamics (with his student Richard Feynman), and a mountain of work involving gravitation, nuclear physics, and other topics. He passed away a few days ago.

John Archibald Wheeler — 1911-2008

(cf. , TopDownBottomUp (1999-05-16), ManyWorldsDemystified (1999-10-24), OnSomethingness (2000-01-17), [[2001-02-22), IntellectualProductPlacement (2005-04-27), ...)

- Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 18:31:10 (EDT)

Swimming Fine

For some things just a little refinement of technique can make a huge difference. A few years ago Paul Amman, in one of his triathlon reports, mentioned swim coach Terry Laughlin. His Total Immersion training philosophy, like "Chi Running", suggests that a fluid, beautiful, efficient style can be taught. From Laughlin's essay with the charming title "Disregard the following ...", an example:

Here's the stroke-made-simple lesson: Slice your hand in as soon as it passes your shoulder, extend it to the front as far as you can, take your time about beginning your pull, and pull straight back under your body, neither too deep nor too close to your trunk. Then take your hand out of the water and do it again. You're swimming fine. Put away your metric tape measure.

Are there useful refinements beyond those mentioned? Of course. But they pay off far more if you're eyeing a berth on the Olympic team. Consider this: the typical novice is maybe 10 to 20 percent as efficient as a world-class swimmer, but can close most of the gap--to maybe a 20% spread--by simply improving body position, rotation and alignment. Working on just that can easily deliver a year's worth of progress. Then you can begin to think about your hand pitch and path, which may grudgingly yield another 5 or 10 percent gain after just as much work.

Basic, sound swimming comes down to this: Lean into the water with your upper trunk (to balance) so your suit is just breaking the surface; rotate your hips around your spinal axis (to propel), getting them completely out of the way as each hand passes through; and think of your arms more as extenders for increasing the length of your body line--which automatically makes you faster--than as pulling tools.

What an amazing improvement, going from ~10% to ~80% efficiency! (Where else in life can that sort of improvement be achieved? Hmmmm!)

- Monday, April 14, 2008 at 05:11:44 (EDT)

Nine Layers of Sky

Liz Williams's confusing yet enchanting science-fantasy novel, Nine Layers of Sky, is certainly good; maybe it's great, but I'll have to wait a while and then re-read it to know for sure. It brings to mind Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Both stories offer delightful combinations of myth and mystery, depth and distance, power and poetry. For example, in Part Two, Chapter One of Nine Layers:

... A hardened soul, Ilya thought dreamily. Russia was full of them, had always been. But a hard soul was almost always the shell for a wounded heart., or so they said. Ilya felt that his head was stuffed full of aphorisms, like a pudding with raisins, the trite detritus of a too-long life. ...

or in the Interlude at the end of Part Two:

... The lake was dim with mist in the early morning light; if Anikova narrowed her eyes, the landscape seemed to blur and swim, as though she was looking through a water-filled glass. Nothing moved in the pines, or among the white-striped birch branches. If she looked at the coils of mist in a certain way, she might imagine that the lost city of Baikal was rising from the water, the oldest place in Russia. ...

Throughout Nine Layers the exotic mixes with the profane. It's a wee bit distracting at times — especially when love-story dips into romance-novel lust zone, when dreams build bridges to alternate universes, and when plot-device ancient technology is explained away as "quantum" machinery. But Williams's use of language is so deft, and the Russian culture throughout the story is so artfully handled — with bogatyr (hero) versus rusalki (ghost) versus akyn (bard) versus volkh (sorcerer) versus ... — that I was quite swept away.

In fact, during a visit to the used-book sale today, as I looked for other stories by Liz Williams I actually managed not to buy a "Teach Yourself Arabic" paperback — I regretfully put it back on the shelf and told myself that I really must try studying Russian again. That's progress for me!

(cf. The Last Unicorn (2007-05-18), ...)

- Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 22:33:49 (EDT)


Douglas Adams (1952-2001) was a notorious procrastinator; he reportedly said:

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Alas, that's me too ... guess I had better stop typing now and get to work!

(cf. Sales Pitch (2004-09-20), Salmon of Doubt (2005-07-07), ...)

- Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 21:09:13 (EDT)

Difficult Run 8k XC 2008

Difficult Run 2008 photo by Barry Smith2008-04-05: 7+ miles @ ~13 min/mi — Caren Jew and C. M. Manlandro escort ^z during the 8k MCRRC cross-country "Difficult Run". (The nearby stream is actually Scott's Run.) Ken Swab, Caren, and I arrive early to survey the course (~2.5 miles, ~35 min). After a break Caren and I do the race together (~64 min). Since there are exactly 100 finishers we manage to place solidly in the top hundred, tied for 97th. We're in training for next weekend's Bull Run Run, the reason that both of us have landed on this planet we call the Earth.

CM, who plans to do tomorrow's Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, clamps onto last place and refuses to be shaken loose. This is her first XC experience; the CB will be her initial excursion beyond 10k. Caren and I offer her our 2¢ of gratuitous advice: "Have fun!" and "Don't get hurt!"

(photo by Barry Smith, some rights reserved; cf. Not So Difficult Run (2007-04-10) for a report on last year's event)

- Monday, April 07, 2008 at 20:24:26 (EDT)

Buss and Ride

The local mass-transit system has its commuter passenger drop-off zones labeled "Kiss and Ride", which I've always felt was a cute if slightly risqué metaphor. Yesterday, though, I thought of a better sign for the same functionality:


... well, better if one wants to confuse hasty readers!

(cf. Got Library? (2003-09-17), ExtraCurricular (2005-02-11), ... )

- Sunday, April 06, 2008 at 11:30:10 (EDT)

Flow Like a River

The Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine contains an interview with elite ultrarunner Eric Clifton. In response to criticisms that he starts fast and then drops out of races when he thinks he isn't going to win, Clifton observes:

This myth about my racing is actually a misconception formed by people who think only in terms of winning and losing. I go out hard in races because that's how I like to race. It's the process of pushing myself hard to the finish that I love. I try to experience the sense of rushing freedom, the few times when everything clicks and I just flow like a river's current over a course being both so in the moment and timeless concurrently; the ability to feel strong and relaxed and connected to everything at once is what I am trying to attain when I race and sometimes, train. I use the competition as as tool to help me attempt to shatter my physical and spiritual limitations. ...

(from an interview titled "Mr. Consistency" by Theresa Daus-Weber; cf. Eric Clifton (2004-10-01), Why He Runs (2008-02-28), Eric Clifton on the Fellowship of Ultrarunning (2008-03-17), ...)

- Friday, April 04, 2008 at 21:53:39 (EDT)

Worth of a State

The final words of On Liberty by John Stuart Mill:

The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill or that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State, which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.

(cf.CommonUnderstanding (1999-10-08), OurStonehenge (2001-05-03), ReligionAndReverence (2001-07-08), DeliberateOpinion (2001-10-14), SocratesDissatisfied (2003-05-24), ...)

- Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 21:59:34 (EDT)

HAT Run 2008

A bald eagle soars by as Caren's van pulls out of Susquehanna State Park. We've just finished a friendly 50 kilometer ramble through the woods of northern Maryland. The 29 March 2008 Hinte-Anderson Trail Run follows a new course, modified as per Park Service request to reduce erosion. Compared to previous years, today's route features significantly longer road segments and greater elevation gain, about 10,000 feet according to an official handout. The 2004 HAT was my first ultra; today marks my fifth HAT in a row. Perhaps it's time to take a break, lest this streak turn into an obsession?

HAT Run 2008 Course Map courtesy http://hatrun.com/

Comrade Caren and I hold hands as we cross the finish line in a joyful tie: 301st place, our official time 7:46:05. A fortnight from now we're going to take on the 50 mile Bull Run Run together. It will be wonderful!


HAT day begins at 0-dark-6:30 when Caren Jew, Ken Swab, Michelle Price, Cathy Blessing, and I rendezvous for the hour-plus ride up Interstate-95 to Havre de Grace on the Susquehanna River. We arrive in time to park close-in and stroll to the start/finish pavilion near the Steppingstone Museum. Phil Anderson, a founder of the event, shakes my hand as he lounges in a recliner. Volunteers distribute race packets that include a plentiful assortment of HAT-logo swag: a lunch bag, a soda-can insulator, a fluorescent-lime-green technical shirt, and a baseball cap. Another HAT-cap awaits those who cross the finish line.

We prowl the area, greet friends, then retreat to Caren's car for warmth and to pin on our numbers. Eagle-eyed Michelle points out a distant eagle and reminds us to be on the alert for more along the river. My hip, the upper end of the ilio-tibial band, has been troubling me for the past month. This morning it's only a little tight. Before starting time we emerge, ditch excess gear at the pavilion for the mid-course revisit, and pose for photos in front of an antique stone wall. The region is crisscrossed with these walls; as we run we see so many of them that I lose count. A crowd of close to 400 runners line up and await the Go! signal.

In the Beginning

Caren and I capture our rightful place from the start — dead last — and follow the masses as they dash along the out-and-back initial road segment of the course. Cathy runs ahead, and soon Ken and Michelle trot out of sight. Caren and I walk the hills and stay cheerful as we find ourselves completely alone in the woods after only a couple of miles. No worries! This is precisely where we want to be.

After the preliminary loop, shown in lavender on the course map, we begin the real trek. Caren loves water crossings. I fear them, but follow her example and choose wet feet instead of a fall on the slippery rocks. Course conditions are excellent, in contrast to last year's sea of mud. Arrows on bright yellow plastic plates direct us over hill,through forest, and across meadow. The trail comes to a tangent point with itself several times, and we spy other runners far ahead of us. An hour out from the pavilion we arrive at the main HAT aid station in the picnic area parking lot. We refill our bottles, grab cookies/chips/candy, thank the volunteers, and head out in less than 2 minutes.

New Friends

Caren pauses to show me a monstrous earthworm crawling across the path. We stop at a gigantic gnarly American beech tree and take photos of each other. Shortly thereafter we catch up with a pair of young ladies — Amanda Prestage and Holly McFeely — dressed respectively in magenta and white. They're running buddies and it's their first adventure beyond the marathon distance, a 30th birthday present for Amanda. We offer them encouragement, exchange stories, and tell them that they can make the HAT cutoffs if they keep moving steadily. Then we take our own advice and push onward.

Gnarly Tree - photo courtesy Caren Jew

Near the four-hour mark we approach the central pavilion where the race starts and ends. At intervals of a few minutes the leaders begin to zip by, an amazing 14 miles ahead of us. We step aside, applaud, salute, and cheer. When we arrive at the pavilion we meticulously detour around the finish line chute, refuel, and commence our final loop.

They Shall Not Pass!

"Ils ne passeront pas!" So vowed the French as they held the line at the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Neither Caren nor I say it aloud during the last dozen miles, but our actions suggest it, as we quietly stalk and pick off the injured and the too-hasty who've hit the wall. Walking wounded, we call them. Not one person passes us! That's the triumph of starting slow and controlling the pace — for which I repeatedly thank Caren.

Crossing a grassy field near mile 20 I start to feel tired, but a Succeed! electrolyte capsule magically perks me up again. Then both Caren and I begin to suffer increasingly severe twinges and aches in various tendons, ligaments, and bones. At mile 27 I break down and take two ibuprofen tablets when my self-diagnosed metatarsalgia gets worse. Soon the old foot starts to improve.

At the major aid station we're on one side of the table when Cathy Blessing arrives at the opposite side, a full hour ahead of us and on her way to a 6:35 finish. We shout greetings across trays of potatoes, plates of PB&J sandwiches, and bowls of painkillers. We watch for Ken Swab but don't see him; he's too far ahead of us. After doing the first lap with Michelle Price, Ken runs the last loop solo for a 7:02 result. Michelle has a foot injury and as per plan stops at mile 17.

Happy Trails to You

A few miles later the trail almost self-intersects. Luck is with us: Amanda and Holly are passing by on the other side of the ribbons, a mile behind us and looking good. I offer hasty words of wisdom in the few moments we have within earshot: "Walk the hills! Drink lots of water!" They persevere and finish, tied for last place — a position of honor in my book. Congratulations, ladies, on your first ultramarathon!

As the end of our odyssey nears both Caren and I start to pick up the pace. Our various aches feel better when we run than when we walk. I get silly and attempt to sing "We Are the Champions" and other mock-triumphant songs. Caren shushes me, "Don't jinx us, Mark!" We meet the new race director, Tim Gavin, as we leave the last aid station. I shake his hand and thank him.

We enter the meadow for the final dash to the finish line, and Caren whispers "Good-bye, Trail!" to the woods behind us. She insists that I run up the last little hill to the pavilion with her. Her race strategy has turned out well. It's a great day. Thank you, Caren!


Location Distance Time Split
Start to Pavilion 1.4 mi 0:1818 min
Loop #1 - Pavilion 3.60:5234
Outbound - Aid Station 7.91:5259
Inbound - Aid Station 122:5260
Unmanned Aid Station 15.53:4058
Midcourse - Pavilion 17.34:1929
Outbound - Aid Station 21.65:2567
Inbound - Aid Station 25.76:2560
Unmanned Aid Station 297:2155
Finish Line - Pavilion 31+7:4625

(course map courtesy [1], compressed from original at [2]; see Caren's photos at [3]; cf. HatRun2004 (2004-04-02), HatRun2005 (2005-03-20), HatRun2006 (2006-03-31), HatRun2007 (2007-03-25), ...)

- Tuesday, April 01, 2008 at 15:34:20 (EDT)

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Reading Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is like watching a multi-car accident in slow motion, or maybe a tragic boxing match. The central character falls, then rises only to fall still harder. And as if his protagonist's personal flaws weren't enough the author piles on coincidental revelations, mistaken identities, and inadvertently disclosed secrets. Shades of Charles Dickens! There are few rays of hope, fewer moments of happiness.

Alas, I'm a simpleminded hobbit who much prefers bawdy comedy. Hardy isn't my cup of tea, at least not judging from this novel. The Mayor's story reminds me too much of some politicians, and not just current ones. But there are moments of humor and witty aphorism. For example, from among the tidbits a few memorable quotes-out-of-context:

From Chapter XIV:

... as the mediæval saying puts it, "Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words."

and later in that same chapter:

To keep in the rear of opportunity in matters of indulgence is as valuable a habit as to keep abreast of opportunity in matters of enterprise.

In Chapter XVII:

... The letter began "Dear Sir," and presently writing on a loose slip "Elizabeth-Jane," she laid the latter over "Sir," making the phrase "Dear Elizabeth-Jane." When she saw the effect a quick red ran up her face and warmed her through, though nobody was there to see what she had done. She quickly tore up the slip, and threw it away. After this she grew cool and laughed at herself, walked about the room, and laughed again; not joyfully, but distressfully rather.

In Chapter XXXI:

... The amends he had made in after life were lost sight of in the dramatic glare of the original act. Had the incident been well known of old and always, it might by this time have grown to be lightly regarded as the rather tall wild oat, but well-nigh the single one, of a young man with whom the steady and mature (if somewhat headstrong) burgher of to-day had scarcely a point in common. But the act having lain as dead and buried ever since, the interspace of years was unperceived; and the black spot of his youth wore the aspect of a recent crime.

In Chapter XXXIII:

" ... But the bitter thing is, that when I was rich I didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't have what I need!"

And finally, an extended cheerful (almost!) quotation from Chapter XIV, context surrounding the first quip above:

To Elizabeth-Jane the time was a most triumphant one. The freedom she experienced, the indulgence with which she was treated, went beyond her expectations. The reposeful, easy, affluent life to which her mother's marriage had introduced her was, in truth, the beginning of a great change in Elizabeth. She found she could have nice personal possessions and ornaments for the asking, and, as the mediaeval saying puts it, "Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words." With peace of mind came development, and with development beauty. Knowledge — the result of great natural insight — she did not lack; learning, accomplishment — those, alas, she had not; but as the winter and spring passed by her thin face and figure filled out in rounder and softer curves; the lines and contractions upon her young brow went away; the muddiness of skin which she had looked upon as her lot by nature departed with a change to abundance of good things, and a bloom came upon her cheek. Perhaps, too, her grey, thoughtful eyes revealed an arch gaiety sometimes; but this was infrequent; the sort of wisdom which looked from their pupils did not readily keep company with these lighter moods. Like all people who have known rough times, light-heartedness seemed to her too irrational and inconsequent to be indulged in except as a reckless dram now and then; for she had been too early habituated to anxious reasoning to drop the habit suddenly. She felt none of those ups and downs of spirit which beset so many people without cause; never — to paraphrase a recent poet — never a gloom in Elizabeth-Jane's soul but she well knew how it came there; and her present cheerfulness was fairly proportionate to her solid guarantees for the same.

(cf. The Magus (2005-11-15), ...)

- Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 04:21:04 (EDT)

Worse Obsessions

Some things grab hold of me, bite down, and won't let go — the Oxford Comma, for example. In a routine visit to my doctor recently I credited (or blamed) her for getting me started on long slow distance running when, half a dozen years ago, she observed that my weight and blood pressure were both getting into unhealthy zones. She suggested that I should exercise more.

"I'm your Frankenstein's Monster," I told her, as she shook her head about my winter/spring marathon and ultramarathon schedule.

"You could have worse obsessions!" she replied.

- Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 22:22:29 (EDT)

Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek

Easter morning: crystals of frost fly up and glitter in the sunbeams as Caren and I jog along the grassy path between rows of baby trees. We're on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, logging a few comfortable miles in preparation for the HAT Run next Saturday and the Bull Run Run a fortnight later. We're thankful that we're out here, thankful for the day, thankful for the companionship. As the sun comes up Caren and I chat about frustrations, friends, families, fears, and life writ large. She points out tiny wet footprints on a wooden bridge: a raccoon was in the water and then crossed only minutes before us. She calls my attention to a great blue heron gliding majestically upstream, and to a red berry caught in my beard. In return I offer a lecture — mercifully brief — on Modern Portfolio Theory and the "Efficient Frontier". The rising sun glints into our eyes on the outbound journey and sends our long shadows dancing ahead on the way back. We pause to visit with a band of friendly runners. Dogs romp through the brush and pay no attention when their owners call them back.

As we trek up the big hill before our turnaround we muse about how life without an afterlife could possibly be meaningful. It's an important, tough topic that I need to ponder. I speculate that once you've done something, it's "forever" — even if no one else knows, even if you and all your acts are totally forgotten. What you've done is real, always. There's something strangely comforting to me in that notion. (But does it conflict with my semi-serious belief in the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics? Do I care?) I think about My Religion and how grateful I should be for all the sights I've seen, the people I've met, the experiences I've had.

Every day's a holy day — especially today.

(2008-03-23, 11 miles @ 14 min/mi overall average pace, Rt 28 to Berryville Rd to Seneca Rd and back — cf. RedEye50k2008 (2008-01-05), Massanutten Mountain South Training Run (2008-01-22), Icy Half Marathon (2008-01-25), Thirteen Eagles (2008-01-28), Seneca Creek Stumble (2008-02-03), Comfortably Numb (2008-03-13), ...)

- Monday, March 24, 2008 at 18:39:26 (EDT)

Alice in Wonderland

Another book that I really need to reread: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Recently I asked Robin "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?". It's a purely nonsense-riddle, or so I assumed, by Lewis Carroll that appears in Chapter VII ("A Mad Tea-Party"). Robin responded instantly with the brilliant, "Poe wrote on both!" He credited it to a forgotten online source. A lookabout suggests that puzzle-expert Sam Loyd came up with it in 1914. Carroll himself said in a later edition of Alice:

Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!" This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.

(Note that "nevar" is "raven" spelled backwards.)

Another reason to return to Alice is the observation by computer scientist Alan Perlis:

The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland, but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.

And there's the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, with its philosophical discussion of the name-value distinction in Chapter VIII ('It's my own Invention') as the White Knight offers to sing to Alice:

' ... The name of the song is called "HADDOCKS' EYES."'

'Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?' Alice said, trying to feel interested.

'No, you don't understand,' the Knight said, looking a little vexed. 'That's what the name is CALLED. The name really IS "THE AGED AGED MAN."'

'Then I ought to have said "That's what the SONG is called"?' Alice corrected herself.

'No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The SONG is called "WAYS AND MEANS": but that's only what it's CALLED, you know!'

'Well, what IS the song, then?' said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

'I was coming to that,' the Knight said. 'The song really IS "A-SITTING ON A GATE": and the tune's my own invention.'

- Saturday, March 22, 2008 at 12:49:26 (EDT)

Epicentric Rant

Within the past few days a New York Times headline shouts: "Aftershocks of a Collapse, With a Bank at the Epicenter". The Chinese Xinhua news service complains: "Dharamsala became the epicenter of lies." A Washington Post interviewee describes the Bay Area as: "the epicenter of emerging technology". All major, authoritative sources ... and the week is young.

No, no, no! "Epicenter" doesn't mean "center". An epicenter is the point on the Earth's surface above the focus of an earthquake. Technical or quantitative words shouldn't be abused for pseudo-scientific effect or emphasis. (And while I'm complaining, "decimate" means destroy 10%, not 90%.)

Mr. Picky will now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast ...

(cf. PickyAboutFacts (2003-03-11), MaracthonicMetaphors (2004-03-03), ...)

- Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 21:14:53 (EDT)

Eric Clifton on the Fellowship of Ultrarunning

In the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine, Theresa Daus-Weber interviews legendary ultrarunner Eric Clifton in an article titled "Mr. Consistency". Clifton describes the feeling of friendliness that pervades the ultra community:

... Generally, the race directors at ultras are great people trying to give back to the sport and introduce athletes to new and interesting parts of our planet literally from pole to pole. The athletes themselves have remained centered, with very few instances of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct. Ultrarunning remains a sport where the stars of the sport still cheer for and encourage the mid- and back-of-the-pack runners. We all start the races together, and the slower runners respect the faster ones for their speed, strength, and often, humility. The top runners respect the slower runners for their perseverance and endurance. We are all racing with each other rather than against one another.

(cf. Eric Clifton (2004-10-01), Why He Runs (2008-02-28), ...)

- Monday, March 17, 2008 at 20:35:29 (EDT)

Financial Planning

A few points worth remembering from a recent short course on retirement issues:

And I learned a funny new term: Slash Attorneys --- lawyers who have lots of "slashes" in their advertisements: personal injury / divorce / workman's compensation / medical malpractice / DWI defense / etc. Beware the slash attorney!

(cf. MoneyWisdom (2001-01-20), GoodFortune (2004-12-12), ...)

- Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 17:24:12 (EDT)

Comfortably Numb

About three or four days after the Washington's Birthday Marathon last month I started feeling a twinge on the side of my left hip, especially when I walked after sitting for a while. It wasn't too troublesome so I didn't do anything about it. The same hip was a bit stiff during a 13-mile ramble with Caren the following weekend. But during the Seneca Creek 50k on March 1 the twinge got promoted to an ache and, occasionally, a minor pain. (Falling down on that side didn't help.) After the race I self-diagnosed it as bursitis. Based on the helpful advice of Christina, Mary, Rayna, and others I treated it with ibuprofen, ice, and gentle stretching. It seems to be getting better already.

Yesterday at a routine semi-annual checkup I mentioned the issue to my doctor. She smiled and pointed out that my problem can't be bursitis — there isn't even a bursa there at the iliac crest! In fact the tightness is at the upper end of the iliotibial band. "Most runners get ITB Syndrome at the knee," she told me, "but other people get it at the hip." (Obviously I'm not a runner!)

The font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, adds insult to my injury with:

ITBS can also occur where the IT band connects to the hip, though this is less likely as a sports injury. It commonly occurs during pregnancy, as the connective tissues loosen and the woman gains weight -- each process adding more pressure. ITBS at the hip also commonly affects the elderly. [1]

So I'm pregnant, fat, and/or old? (Thanks!) I guess I'll just continue icing the hip until I have become comfortably numb ...

(with apologies to Pink Floyd)

- Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 04:56:50 (EDT)

Languages for Smart People

Eric Blossom of GNU Radio is a funny, enthusiastic speaker. During a recent talk he made an aside about the Erlang programming language, and called it, "One of those languages for smart people." It's what's called a functional programming language, one that doesn't tell the computer what to do but rather describes a situation in terms of relationships, and more-or-less leaves it up to the computer to figure out precisely how to solve the problem. It's a radically different way of thinking, involving higher levels of abstraction --- but in Blossom's words it gives a language "serious leverage" and makes it possible to do things that would otherwise be almost impossible.

And it reminds me of the 1949 Robert A. Heinlein science-fiction story "Gulf" wherein a special super-efficient language called Speedtalk lets a secret society of clever people think even faster and better. Probably impossible, of course; if it could be done it likely would have already evolved, since it would give such a huge advantage to those who learned it. Alas, humans may have already almost maxed-out their current hardware ...

(cf. ThinkingToolsGoals (1999-04-09), MentalBandwidthBoosters (1999-06-26), StrandsOfTruth (2000-11-02), PartingAdvice (2006-06-21), HigherLevelLanguage (20007-08-17), ...)

- Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 09:12:34 (EDT)

John McPhee

Yesterday's Writer's Almanac featured (among other birthday boys) my favorite living essayist, John McPhee, with a comment that reflects his patient craftsmanship:

McPhee has published more than 25 books, even though he rarely writes more than 500 words a day. He once tried tying himself to a chair to force himself to write more, but it didn't work. He said, "People say to me, 'Oh, you're so prolific.' God, it doesn't feel like it — nothing like it. But you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart."

... which reminds me of the Latin (Ovid) aphorism, "Adde parvum parvo manus acervus erit" — "Add little to little and there will be a big pile." (Like this ^zhurnal!?)

(cf. SenseOfWhereYouAre (4 Jun 1999), WorldTradeCenter (11 Sep 2001), SiteSuggestions (2004-07-08), IndianRiver (30 Jul 2004), MardiGras (5 Oct 2005), ...)

- Sunday, March 09, 2008 at 22:33:35 (EDT)

Mr. Know-It-All

During a tough Massanutten Mountain South Training Run a couple of months ago I entertain good friend Caren Jew with my impromptu lectures on differential equations, on "gold farming" in online multiplayer games, on the rôle of the Nurse in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, on wiki spam, and on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. Five-plus hours pass as if so many minutes — for me anyway! Yes, I act like Mr. Know-It-All sometimes (always?). But Caren is one tough trail grrrl and survives the ordeal.

My ability to come up with a theory for any phenomenon is momentarily tested, however, when Caren observes the Moon rising in front of us at 3:30pm during the drive home. I am literally stunned. We saw the gibbous Moon setting during out outbound trip at 5:30am, only ten hours earlier. How can it be back so soon? It has to rise 50+ minutes later every day to circle the Earth in one lunar month. Did it take a short cut?

To Caren's vast amusement it takes me several minutes to come up with a theory to explain her observation. We're in the midst of winter, so the Sun is far south. The Moon's orbit is in the plane of the ecliptic and since it's nearly full at the moment, it's almost opposite the Sun, and thus is quite far north. Just as nights (when the Sun is below the horizon) are short in summertime, so also "full-moon-nights" (when the Moon is below the horizon) are short in wintertime. Therefore it's normal to see the Moon rising less than 12 hours after it has set, considering our northly latitude and the time of year.

How obvious — after a bit of head-scratching! (^_^)

(cf. As If So Many Minutes, Technical Minded, and Joseph Finsbury's character in the The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne)

- Saturday, March 08, 2008 at 09:03:27 (EST)

Inventing a Running Machine

Marathon legend Joan Benoit Samuelson in her 1987 autobiography Running Tide, Chapter 6, comments on how it feels to run well:

... I left the starting line with a confidence that is hard to describe. It isn't euphoria, exactly, and it isn't overconfidence. It's as if I'm an inventor; I created this body, and now I'm watching it work. Any glitches in the moving parts? (No.) Are the pumps and valves leaking? (No.) Is there too much stress anywhere? (Not yet.) The invention can be monitored for just so long before the creator either begins to trust it or watches it break down. There's a point in every race, and it's different in each, where I realize that my body is either going to make it to the end in fine style or be in trouble. Once that point is passed I start making decisions to account for the condition of the machine. ...

(cf. BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29), HumanNature (1999-12-05), PersonalEnergy (2000-12-08), CloserToTheMachine (2005-08-04), Joan Benoit Samuelson (2008-01-06), Joan Benoit Samuelson on Success and Failure (2008-02-05), Joan Benoit Samuelson on Growing Up (2008-02-14), Joan Benoit Samuelson on Pleasing Yourself (2008-02-23), ...)

- Thursday, March 06, 2008 at 19:46:08 (EST)

Hobbes and Geometry

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) discovered mathematics at a somewhat advanced age. His delight in the power of logic is clear in this description from John Aubrey's Brief Lives:

He was 40 years old before he looked in on Geometry; which happened accidentally. Being in a Gentleman's Library, Euclid's Elements lay open, and 'twas the 47 El. libri I. He read the Proposition. By God, sayd he (he would now and then swear an emphaticall Oath by way of emphasis) this is impossible! So he reads the Demonstration of it, which referred him back to such a Proposition; which proposition he read. That referred him back to another, which he also read. Et sic deinceps that at last he was demonstratively convinced of that trueth. This made him in love with Geometry.

Euclid's 47th proposition is the Pythagorean Theorem; I still find it rather magical ...

- Tuesday, March 04, 2008 at 21:53:58 (EST)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2008 by Mark Zimmermann.)