Friday, August 28, 2009

Growing Pains

There are any number of ways that we grow--mentally, emotionally, and physically. I could blather on about an assortment of moments where I realized I've grown in one way or another, and provide a few anecdotes, some funny, some mind-numbingly dull. I could mention my 6th-grade perm, my navy blue glasses, my crooked teeth, ugly sweaters, and black acid-washed jeans (unfortunately in the picture I'm thinking of the fly is down), and the assorted eyecare, orthodontia, de-frizzing agents and zippers it took to recover from those days.

But what I really want to talk about is 85 lbs of gorgeousness--Copley. While her weight doesn't seem to have gone up much lately, something has changed. The once soft-eyed puppy face has lengthened, the snout becoming proud and elegant where once the loose jowls of a puppy hung over erupting adult teeth. The dainty legs have lengthened, and the hindquarters taken on a lean strength typically seen in the hindquarters of yearling or filly. The chest, round at 7 weeks, has deepened dramatically, tapering into the dainty, delicate hind end so indicative of the Great Dane.

She is quite simply, no longer our dainty flower, but a young, and beautiful example of her breed.

That's not to say that she isn't still really our dainty flower--she still buries her head in my nearby leg, still sleeps 18 hours a day, still tries to lean into me in the morning while she's bleary-eyed and shaking off sleep. She still huddles next to me when it starts to rain at the park, still runs to hide behind or next to me when she's scared or nervous.

We all have growing pains. We all grow up and outward, but are still comforted by the familiar--the foods our parents made us when we were sick, the comfortable sweatpants we curl into on a cold, rainy day, the movie that reminds us of when we were kids, and witches and warlocks were both terrifying and impossibly wonderful at the same time.

For me, the growing "pains" show up as seasonal ones, at least when it comes to running. I've always tended to slack off on my running in the summer months, preferring to sleep in, and ignore the hot, muggy days. My running totals for the summer, somewhat embarrassingly low amounts of mileage, are obvious indicators of that.

Towards the end of the summer, though, I start to get the "itch." The creeping, crawling itch that winds its way into my brain, reminding me that fall is a good time for racing...a good time for training...simply a good time for running. With that, I suddenly begin to feel sluggish, and to recognize that tangible need to get out and hit the road.

The itch is back. It's been back a week or two, and I've been trying to ignore it a bit, but suddenly, I just want to run more. With that increase, and yearn to run, however, I feel those growing (i.e., aging) pains anew, as though they are more than what they've always been--an old friend returned after a lengthy vacation in warmer climes.

Friday's early morning 4 miles left me with an aching foot and a sore knee, a sure sign that its not only time to get back to running, but maybe also time to get a new pair of kicks. But oh, it felt so good anyway. The road was there to meet me, as it always is, and my aches and twitches settled into the well-worn grooves of their usual seats. I meandered my way through the assorted squares and to the Charles, then turned and logged a quick mile to the gym as the sun rose over the city.

And at last, it felt like time to run again, growing or any other pain aside.

A 3.75-Mile Trek to...?

I've mentioned my problems with new routes before--and needless to say, most of those close to me know that I couldn't find my way out of a one-way straight on a cloudless day.

It all begin with what seemed like a good plan, as so many ultimately terrible ideas do. My beloved and I would head out to the Blue Hills, to one of my favored running routes, the 4+ mile Ponkapoag. Though Jared isn't running for another couple weeks while he rests and heals up from his recent triathlon, he would come along, with the dog, and the two of them would hike an alternate trail while I ran.

We split ways at the parking lot, in a haze of early mugginess--Jared heading out of the parking lot to the right for a "blue" trail, me heading out to left, toward the "closed" bridge that bridged the gap over the interstate to my much run trail.

Lugging my suddenly 12-pound Nalgene of water, I bolted off toward the bridge, switching my load from hand to hand, while using the other to mop away the heat-induced rivulets of sweat snaking down my facial angles. I hopped the concrete pile-on the construction fools had placed, jogging sedately past the "No pedestrians" sign that had been erected. At the second fence, however, the place where I had squeezed myself through only a couple weeks earlier, I met with a sinister surprise. Where earlier there had been construction equipment and tools laying scattered on the paved bridge under construction was...well, not exactly a bridge, but perhaps a bridge in the making--support beams crisscrossing and obvious work under way, though abandoned for the weekend. A pair of skinny two-by-fours snaked from my end of the bridge to the other, providing the only route across to Ponkapoag.

Though I considered tight-roping my way across for a millisecond, in the end, practicality won it. After all, I could run back the lot, figure out where this blue trail was, and catch up to my beloved and dog. Maybe not a lot of miles, but at least some company, right? Wrong. After making my sweat-soaked way back to the parking lot while juggling my 15-lb. Nalgene, I decided to ditch the water under the car. I tripped (literally, not figuratively--the trail was boulder-strewn and horrendously steep, so running was out) a tenth of a mile or so up a trail labeled as blue, before realizing that I was about to find myself in the middle of the woods, lost, and nowhere that Jared would have a clue to come looking for me. I was, quite simply, asking to be eaten by wild ferrets.

Did I mention this happened after a ran a quarter mile down the wrong "blue trail"? Twice? I next spotted a sweet little roadside trail, and thinking I could follow it out and back for a few miles, I attacked it with renewed vigor. When the trail ended less than a half mile later, I trudged back to the parking lot yet again, where I met with my frenemy, the repeat-offender park map.

Hot, sticky, and increasingly grumpy, I ultimately decided to just run the one-mile loop around Houghton's Pond, where we were parked.

This run by the numbers is wholly depressing:
Miles run whilst knowing where I was going: 1.75 (the pond, and the run to the non-existant bridge)
Miles run (or walked, trudged, etc, but overall generally lamented): 2
Pace: somewhere north 10:00/minute miles

Here's a map of my route, should any of you brave souls feel up to repeating it:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

3x the Carrion

I've decided recently to just blog about whatever the hell I feel like. To give up the ghost, and at least sometimes admit that running isn't always a metaphor for life (though most of the time, it is--not my fault, sorry folks). To sometimes just ramble.

I could blog about last week's sweaty 3 miles around the Charles in what seemed like excruciating morning heat. I could blog about yesterday's 3 miles around the Charles in what actually was excruciating morning heat (I think today topped out at 95 degrees). I could even throw in a pithy blog about actually hauling myself out of bed to lift with my beloved this morning.

Or, I could talk about vultures. Let me start with a couple of comments on vultures:
The turkey vulture has a V-shaped wingspan and a white head. Unlike eagles, vultures tend to glide for longer periods of time.

When they fly around in a cluster, it's called a kettle. If there's a whole colony of vultures, that's called a vulture venue

-Henry Harnish
There's a lot of interesting information available on these flesh-eating creatures of carrion--they are scavenging birds found on every continent outside of Antarctica and Oceania.

Though they typically eat the already dead, they're known to pick off the wounded, injured, or starving creatures for a meal.

According to Wikipedia, "[Vultures] gorge themselves when prey is abundant, till their crop bulges, and sit, sleepy or half torpid, to digest their food." To that end, vultures have been found in droves in battlefields.

Though many are unaware of it, vultures also possess a dangerously strategic mind. Indeed, they are some of nature's most brilliant tacticians, and are known for mental machinations, such as the most famous maneuver, in which the vulture or vultures appear to have consumed all the carrion they need and fly away, leaving only a wounded animal. What the poor creature does not know, though, is that the vulture is only biding its time. This strategy is meant to lure the wounded creature's herd out into the open, thereby providing a larger feast for the deadly scavenger. This is only one of several tricks up the vulture's sleeve.

It's enough to make a runner start speedwork.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Run (and Bike and Swim?! You've got to be crazy!)

For me this week, nothing but a hot and muggy three miles around the river.

For my beloved, however, nothing more than a 5+ mile that followed a .6 mile swim and a 10-mile bike. To read my awesome stud's recap, click here.

To see the photos of the event, click here.

Great job!

Miles by the Hour

Sometimes it's good to get away. From it all--from our work lives, our financial and economic woes, our personal responsibilities--and from our fixation on the minutes it takes us to run our daily miles.

Last week Jared and I headed to Katahdin. I won't give you the details (you can get them on his recap), but the short and dirty of it is that we had to abort, to turn around and head back the way we'd come. Those of us that run know there's nothing worse than having to change your plans mid-way through. This blog, however, isn't about that--it's about not running. It's about changing your plans, re-mapping your course, and stopping to smell the greenery around you.

It took us about two hours to hike up Pamola Peak. Along the way we crashed the aptly named roaring brook, and spotted tiny red flowers popping out of the deep green of their plant base like miniature brilliant rubies. We reminisced about last year's hike, where we spotted a young moose less than than 25 feet from the path we were treading. We inhaled the clean, damp smell of earth and rain. We hopped over fallen trees, and clambered over boulders large and small, pointing out the perfectly shaped stepping stones we happened upon. We took beef jerky and water breaks.

At the top, or at least, very near the top (though granted we couldn't see it through the heavy mist), we ran into a driving rain with a sleety edge. The wind and frigid rain necessitated an about face, and a hurried scramble back to the shelter of tree line.

Drenched, but still in good spirits, we began the 2-hour trek back down the mountain. Along the way, we chatted and joked and laughed. We paused for a change into dry clothes, admired the view when we spotted it through the trees and mist. We used our hands and arms to gently ease ourselves down over bigger boulders and continued our hopping path down the trail. We laughed at each other tripping, and when I managed to get back at one of the rocks with a well-placed knee-ing. We rinsed our mud-soaked shoes in Roaring Brook, and admired the small teal-colored whirlpool near the opposite bank.

When my beloved and I got back to the car for our long drive home, we were sweaty and damp from rain, bedraggled and dirty, but in good spirits.

There is something about being out in nature, something that is primal but also soothing, something that just feels right somehow. I wonder sometimes if this is the reason that I favor running in the woods, too--this sense of quiet solitude but of fitting in at the same time. Is it something in our genetic makeup? Some kind of evolutionary survival skill that, even as we live and exist in our metal cities, causes us to lean and yearn for the great outdoors?

I'm not sure, to be honest. So I'll keep hiking Katahdin with my beloved, and I'll keep running my favorite paths in the Fells and Blue Hills. Maybe someday I'll find an answer--but if not, I'll have a lifetime of beautiful days to remember.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Nature's Eightfold Spendour

Why is it everything seems more legitimate when spelled using the British variation? Ye Olde Taverne, Towne Hall...Nature's Spendour?

Well, all etymology talk aside, yesterday the Ponkapoag nature was, in fact, spendourous. (My literary résumé also allows me to make up words at my every whim.)

Early on, it seemed that nature would be difficult to reach. My beloved and his coworker and soon-to-be fellow triathlete had brought their mountain bikes to hit the trails in the Blue Hills. The plan? Drop me at Ponkapoag for some solitary miles, then bike a quick 6 miles, before coming back to meet me for some leftover hoof time.

A road block across the bridge to my happy little trail proved only a temporary stymie to my nature-ed plans. After analysing the situation, I found myself jaunting over concrete pile-ons and to the side of bobcats quietly resting along the curb, as I made my way to the wooded nature awaiting.

The miles that followed were langourous and peaceful. I sped my way along trails still soft and damp with the night's rainfall, brushing heavy green leaves away where needed, leaning my way past the rain-filled hollows in low spots. I brushed away bugs with barely a handful of curses, and loped past the golf course, before heading up my ancient nemesis, that last three-turn hill, which, it turns out, is only .15 mile. Seems further than that to me, every time I run it...

With a little over half a mile to go, and my mental wooing fully established (C'mon...just a little further; no big deal after 7 and a half, just another 4-5 the feet, now...), I ran into Jared and Sean, who'd jogged in to meet me. A few minutes later, I ran into the threesome walking 5 or 6 dogs--for the third time. Energetic dogs, I think!

Later at home (after going halfsies with my beloved on a ham croissant and a blueberry scone), I had Jared upload the statistics of the run (see below). Not too bad. A thoroughly respective 9:38/mile caper.

But now, all efforts are done. The work day is over, and I'm lounging on the couch, watching dog shows with Copley. Nothing left to do now but shut down, relax, and wait for the working girls to come out. Copley likes those the best, being a "working dog" herself--though I don't know that chowing down a rawhide hoof counts as much work.