Running moment to moment in lane 4

[Warning: A bout of confessional bloggorhea follows. There is a running pay off, though. And maybe other useful things.]

This past fall and winter were rough. When I think of 2010, I see a year that began with disappointment and frustration (following hot on the heels of a less-than-stellar 2009), then had a fabulous high point — a couple of extremely good and gratifying months in early summer — and then began a nosedive in August followed by a flap-rattling death roll through the rest of the year and into this one. The ups and downs (mostly downs) weren’t limited to running — there were work/career goings on, social stuff, financial stuff. You name it. It was a year of extremes in many ways.

While I’d hoped that 2011 would bring instant relief — I don’t know why, since it’s just a calendar page, or dropped Times Square ball, or new crow’s foot, or however you keep score — the hideous blob of sheer misery and distress that was laying waste to my psychic backyard was rapidly advancing toward my mental domicile’s shaky foundation in the new year in a most horrific way.

On this blog I have not made a secret of my history of anxiety, a problem that I still struggle with now. I’ve also got a long history of depression — a constant kind (called dysthymia) which sometimes erupts into major depression (a delightful sequence known as “double depression”). This glowing tinder of seemingly innate unhappiness has become a full on conflagration on several occasions in my life, lasting anywhere from weeks to more than a year. I’d gotten a reprieve for most of the 2000s and thought I was out of the woods. But it was back late last year.

Why did I get depressed this time around? In some ways, it’s an impossible question. Why does anyone get depressed? Normal people — meaning people who are not otherwise vulnerable to depressive states — will get depressed in reaction to some catalyzing event: extreme loss, for example. Again, this is normal. Others, like me, will get knocked slightly off balance by some event that is not on its face disastrous — in my case, it was a couple of things that don’t need detailing here, but [here's the tie-in] included my stress fracture and subsequent total layoff from running for about 4 months. It’s not an event in particular that’s causing the quick slide down off the mountain. The event may be disappointing, but it’s not the problem. The problem is the reaction to the event — or, really, the chain reaction of mental machinations, all of them harmful in their extremity and breadth, and based on ingrained patterns from previous death spirals, that cranks into motion after that single event.

And what’s feeding that engine of awfulness? For me, it’s anxiety. And feeling bad about the anxiety. Then the anxiety about the anxiety feeds the depression and then the depression, in turn, feeds back into the anxiety in a crescendoing feedback loop. Pretty soon the top flies off your Waring blender of distress (“Hey, what’s that burning smell?”) and before you know it your kitchen walls are covered in the worst parts of yourself.

Holy crap. I finally get this. For some reason, this was the year that I was able to step back and observe what happens. I couldn’t stop it from happening, mind you. But, once things lifted enough for me to think straight, I could somewhat recognize cause-and-effect/effect-and-cause. That small shard of perspective produced a glimmer of hope. That hope got me thinking. The thinking got me reading. The reading got me working.

It’s not fun to be me much of the time. I think I’ve established that. But I will always be me, so I’d better learn how to live with myself. What I suspect needs to happen is that, going forward, I need to focus less on fixing and more on just being aware of the pattern and movement of my own thoughts and feelings, with an aim to get out of my own way. Floating, not flailing. I don’t write all this because I feel sorry for myself. I write it because I’m a slow learner and I hope that someone else can learn from it a little quicker than I have. It’s also nice to share news about things that are working well.

I am now trying some things that are wacky, or at least they are to me. I gave up on psychoanalysis several years ago. I will not take meds for these problems, as that presents a host of other potential problems in the form of side effects and — let’s face it — masking rather than actually addressing what’s going wrong. I am taking a bunch of vitamins and supplements that supposedly help with moods. We’ll see what those do or don’t do. I don’t put a lot of stock in them, but I figure they can’t hurt. I’m off synthetic hormones. I stop at one drink now.

But the heart of everything else I’m doing is a twosome of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and “mindfulness,” areas I only just became aware of quite recently. I so wish my former analyst had looked at me in 1991 and said, “Julie, your habitual thought patterns are toxic and your perceptions are totally distorted. You need CBT for your anxiety and the depression it fosters, not years of analysis from me.” But Freudian analysis is at best a quaintly blinkered belief system and at worst a cult perpetuated by adherents who I believe only have the best of intentions, so I bear them no ill will. But given what I know now, I’m not surprised that our exchange never took a more practical turn.

Okay. So what does any of this have to do with running? Fair question.

Running.

Running.

Running has given me so much when it’s gone well, but has hurt me so deeply when it hasn’t. Or, rather, it has set me up perfectly to hurt myself deeply. This time around, it lit a fire of depression. When I was limping around with my stress fracture in the fall, my dad, himself a former obsessed marathoner asked, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” By that I think he meant: “Why do you keep making this so important and setting yourself up for a fall in the process?”

The answer to that is because I thought in running I had found a source of pleasure and achievement that I could control. Boy, was I wrong about that! A sane person would have stopped caring so much about it after it went so wrong for so long. But I reacted by stubbornly caring about it even more. I devised new goals, goals that may or may not have been realistic. It doesn’t matter if they were or are. The problem is that I had goals.

Getting better. Changing myself. Fixing what’s wrong. Whether we’re talking about running or about my state of mind, these are all bad goals. They are all about forcing something to happen, denying what’s actually happening, giving potency to something that’s nothing, missing what’s real, and often good.

Edited: One book I’m reading quotes from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

“How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races — the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and everything you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

One of the wackier things I’m trying — the “mindfulness” part — is meditation. I would like to say that I suck at it. But that would involve a judgment and I’m gathering that the whole point of meditation is to be, not to do. If you’re sitting there meditating and thinking, “I’m not meditating the right way,” you’re lost. You need to just sit there and be. If in one moment you realize that you’re thinking about what to make for dinner, then you’re doing it right; the work lies in the realizing and the accepting, not the thinking or the not thinking. Gaining an awareness of whatever’s going on in your head means you’re on the right track. Awareness of “mistakes” — and refusal to label them as such — is the success, not the failure.

Supposedly meditation can actually change your brain chemistry, affecting key areas like the amygdala, which is our brain’s bus driver for fear reactions (“fight or flight” — the core of all externally expressed anxiety)  and so-called “emotional memory” formation, and which comes into play in conditions like social phobia, depression and other problems that are near and dear to my heart and history. Working with the hypothalamus, the amygdala also regulates some aspects of our nervous system. Read up if you’re interested, since I’m sure I’ll screw something up if I continue here. I found it intriguing enough to pursue in addition to the more directed methods offered by CBT. This book, which was created by some of the authors of this study, in particular has been quite the mind- and eye-opener. Its approach works as well as happy pills, but doesn’t make you fat, dizzy or dullwitted in the process.

But back to running. All this other stuff I’m doing is having an effect on running, which is a welcome, and quite unexpected, side effect. I am starting to naturally run without goals, without expectations and without judgment. This is making running easier in ways I did not expect. For example, I had a very tough track session today. Since it’s unusual, I think Coach Sandra would consider it “proprietary,” so I won’t give details. But there was short stuff (a lot!) followed by semi-short stuff, followed by a long interval that was to be run “all out.”

I had never done this workout before. It frightened me a little, but I went in with an open mind. Stuff that normally would have bothered me didn’t today.

People were wandering chaotically around the track. I like running in lane 4 because it’s closest to 400m (the track in Bronxville is screwy because they shoved it into too-small a space, but the installers chose aesthetics over accuracy for the markers — so no lane is exactly 400m — inner lanes are shorter, outer lanes are longer). I did not let the dawdling interlopers get to me. I ran around them. I did not have to run in lane 4 at all times. Accuracy didn’t matter. The effort is what mattered.

I did not think of the many repeats/rests that lay ahead. I thought only of the one I was doing. I didn’t think of how far I was from finishing it. I didn’t think, with dread, “Oh, god, 300m to go…” or, with resentment, “This fucking wind is slowing me down” or any of the usual stuff I do when I’m doing track work. I just ran at what I thought was the appropriate effort at that point in time and kept the rest of the workout out of my mind. I would get there when I got there.

At one point I was running fast and realized that I was totally relaxed, watching my hands swing up, my right arm swing and wrist angle completely different from my left, something I now accept rather than try to correct, my flats eating up the curve. I enjoyed running in that moment. Thinking about it right now makes me happy. My splits were remarkably even — for 18 intervals (I did an extra by accident). Like within a second or two of each other. No watch required.

The last, killer interval was awful. It was slow, something I knew without looking at my watch. Then I realized that it probably wasn’t supposed to be fast. It couldn’t be. I had exhausted myself with the previous few miles of faster running; my legs were burning and aching. I realized midway through that I was now doing “get comfortable with suffering” training, something I’ve come to recognize in some of Sanda’s workouts. I made a mental note to ask her what the purpose of that horrible last big push was — mental, physical or both — and then I gently returned my attention to my hands, my feet and the metres unfolding in front of me.

Training: Mar 20-26

Another uneven week. I had a horrible run last Sunday, owing to exhausted legs and a hamstring that seems to now reliably conk out after about 10 miles. I look it easy after that run and was rewarded for my patience and discipline with an extremely good speed session on Wednesday.

More rest and recovery followed, and then I hit Central Park to again try for a 13 miler. I decided to take it easier yesterday, since I think shooting for 8:00s is too ambitious at this point. Maybe that — in combination with the hills — is what’s straining my problem hamstring and adductor.

I parked on 108th and Madison only to discover that I’d not only forgotten my Garmin, I’d forgotten to bring any watch. I wasn’t about to drive all the way home, so I went and did the run, watchless. It was actually very liberating, not knowing how fast or slow I was going. I did take note of the time when I left the car and when I got back and figured (allowing for walking, MP3 player fiddling and other forms of dawdling during the run) that I was probably running around 8:40. That’s not terrible, and it’s reasonable for a long run pace.

But. Ugh. My hamstring/adductor again started giving me trouble right around the 11 mile mark. I had to walk for a bit. This issue is annoying and worrisome. I don’t have a lot of confidence that I can race hard for 13+ miles anyway. Now the spectre of nagging injury has been added into that worry mix.

It’s taking a long time to build up endurance. It amazes me that in 2009 I was regularly running 15 miles mid-week and doing 18-22 on Sunday. I don’t think I could even run 18 miles at this point. The good news is, I don’t have to. Yet.

Over the next two weeks leading up to the Scotland 10K I have no long runs scheduled. The longest one is 10 miles. I’ve got a 14 miler a week after that race and then that’s it for long runs until the Long Island half on May 1.

So how far I can run without issue is going to be something of a mystery come May. Perhaps the avoidance of longer runs will help the problem area calm down. I have no idea.

I picked up a bug this week, some kind of throat crud that doesn’t know if it wants to turn into a real cold or not. So I’m low energy today and taking cold medicine that is just making me feel cruddier. I was supposed to run easy today and take tomorrow off, but I’m switching those around and spending the rest of today on the couch.

This week I have a progression run of 10 miles, a speed session that I can only describe as nightmarish and then a fartlek run on Saturday for a total of 54 miles. Next week is a pre-race week, so the mileage is low, but there’s still some hard work in there.

My love affair with Warren Zevon came into full bloom yesterday in Central Park. Here’s the mix.

Zevon Memorial Mix

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
Excitable Boy
Veracruz
Tenderness On The Block
I’ll Slow You Down
Back In The High Life Again
Finishing Touches
Suzie Lightning
Angel Dressed in Black
Searching for a Heart
Sacrificial Lambs
Basket Case
Genius
I Have To Leave
My Ride’s Here
Desperados Under The Eaves*
Let Nothing Come Between You
Sentimental Hygiene
Boom Boom Mancini
The Factory
Trouble Waiting to Happen
Reconsider Me
Detox Mansion
Bad Karma
The Heartache
Looking For The Next Best Thing
Splendid Isolation
Nobody’s In Love This Year
Backs Turned Looking Down The Path
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Mohammed’s Radio
*This track is off the collection Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings. It’s a stark, much more raw-edged approach to the song than what came out of the studio version on his eponymous album (and which featured Carl Wilson on backing vocals, along with strings that are a little over the top, in my humble opinion). I like this version much better.

What’s been going on, as presented in Warren Zevon song titles

I’ve been rediscovering Warren Zevon lately. If you have no idea who he is, then look him up and discover for yourself his uniquely sardonic yet humane — and always highly literate — musical take on things. He’s dead, by the way. Before succumbing to lung cancer in 2003, he produced one of my favorite quotes: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

So here’s a Zevonesque take on what’s happening in my life, running and otherwise.

Although we’ve had bits of snow and sleet lately, it is officially spring, even if the weather hasn’t gotten with the program yet. We’ve been able to run Backs Turned Looking Down the Path now that it’s clear of snow, although on many days we’ve also had to Hasten Down the Wind. For the most part I’ve been running in Splendid Isolation because, as I’ve said to Jonathan, “I’ll Slow You Down.”

We traded one lost hour for longer days last weekend. And one night last week They Moved the Moon. Or at least they claimed it was bigger than it would be in another 18 years. Does that mean it was closer? I’ve seen “bigger” harvest moons in the summer, so I was not impressed.

My workouts have spanned the spectrum from lousy to great. Maybe it’s Bad Karma, or just the usual training Turbulence, but I don’t quite feel like I’m training with the consistency I’d like. On the other hand, I can usually come up with reasons for why a workout Ain’t That Pretty At All. For example, I had a scheduled 13 miler in Central Park on Sunday that was, in hindsight, Trouble Waiting to Happen. After a ridiculously hard speed session Thursday, followed by ridiculous weight work and spinning the following day, my legs were dead. I was also at my hormonal low point, and always run like shit on that day. Not surprisingly, my planned 8:00s were rapidly turning into 9:00s. Then my right hamstring and adductor had tandem hissy fits. Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. I cut the run short at 11 and told myself, “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared. So stop it. You no longer need to let one workout define things. It doesn’t mean you’re headed for a Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Don’t worry about it.”

So sure, My Shit’s Fucked Up on some days, but not always. On Wednesday, two days ago, I had a mysteriously great track session. We got up to find it sleeting. I packed my spikes. The Bronxville track was devoid of people and the sleet/drizzle/shizzle stopped. It was cold, but not too. And there was almost no wind to speak of. All I needed for a good session was the right attitude, because everything else was in place.

Attitude was important because I was assigned 1K repeats. Seven of them. How was I going to do seven when I couldn’t even do four of them two weeks ago? One thing I like about working with Coach Sandra is that she doesn’t assign paces. She trusts that I know the right effort to run and that my splits will just reflect where I am on that day. I may be “slower” or “faster” than expected. I may be running supernaturally well or running like dog shit. What matters isn’t the splits in one workout; what matters is doing the work every week and getting faster relative to effort over the course of an entire training cycle. And if that isn’t happening, figure out why and make immediate adjustments. Maybe that’s obvious already, but I think it’s pure Genius.

I ran the first conservatively, as I always do, to see how I was feeling. 4:15. But I knew I could do a little harder. The next six were: 4:11, 4:10, 4:12, 4:11, 4:11, 4:10. Rests were 1:28-1:50. I attacked those repeats like Boom Boom Mancini. This gives me some confidence that I’ll be able to fly over the Central Park hills like An Angel Dressed in Black in a couple of weeks at the Scotland 10K. If I can’t do that, I’ll be Looking for the Next Best Thing, which is just to put in an effort that I can be proud of.

Jonathan did the workout with me (although his splits were more in 3:30 territory) and had an equally good set. This made him into an Excitable Boy indeed.

It’s hard to know if my perceived gains in speed and endurance are Real or Not, but I’m trying to Roll with the Punches (like I did after my night spent hugging the Porcelain Monkey) and not be too much of a Basket Case about adhering perfectly to the schedule.

Later that evening we attended a A Certain Girl‘s birthday celebration in Manhattan and neither of us was too tired out to enjoy ourselves. It was a late night, but I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. My own birthday is in a couple of weeks. Will 46 be a Wild Age for me, or will I evolve into a Model Citizen? I think I’d like to remain a Renegade and work on turning Jonathan into more of a Mr. Bad Example and less of a Worrier King. We’ll be celebrating at home because MacGillicuddy’s Reeks.

Our home has become something of a Detox Mansion (“I’ve been raking leaves with Liza! Me and Liz clean up the yard!”). We’ve finished up all of our wine and booze, which I’m not planning to replace, and when the beer dwindles I restock with only a sixpack or two, which takes us forever to get through. This means I’m a total lightweight, something I shall have to be careful about when we head off to search for the Werewolves of London in May, shortly after we run the Long Island Half (please, Don’t Let Us Get Sick). I won’t be bringing Lord Byron’s Luggage; the fees are too outrageous. My Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded to visit us in April, so they’ll be here in June. That means we have to do something about the Disorder in the House before then.

Whoops. Laissez-Moi Tranquille. I Have to Leave. My Ride’s Here.

Training: Mar 13-19

This was a week that started out rough and then got progressively better as the days wore on. I made a lot of adjustments this week.

After a bout of food poisoning on Sunday, I was in no shape to run on Monday. In fact, I was barely in shape to get out of bed, so poorly did I feel. I had hoped to do a the scheduled harder run on Tuesday early in the day, but my stomach was still not right. Plus I had to spend much of the day on a trip into Manhattan to meet with a client.

By the afternoon things were a little less iffy, although I was still not feeling great. But I went out and did that run, since it only called for a few fast minutes at the end, and now that we’re back on daylight savings time (or off it…whatever), I had no excuse not to go running. I did not bother timing anything since the whole thing was slow. Between being sick and then not having eaten much, I was not at my best. But I did my best.

Thursday featured a brand new speed workout. I won’t go into details, but I will say that it consisted of interval combinations, a longer one followed by a very short recovery jog, followed by a shorter one at all out effort, then a little longer recovery. I did four of these. Jonathan came to the track and did them too. Our legs were so trashed afterwards that we could barely run the 1.6 miles home. The PM run that day was actually funny: 11+ minute miles and lots of walking.

Legs were still trashed on Friday, so much so that I had to cut the planned 5 miles short. I went to the gym and whaled on my legs again with weight work and a short but intense spin.

While my legs were better yesterday, it was insanely windy again, plus I had not dressed warmly enough, which made the recovery run feel like hard work. I have a 13 miler in Central Park later today, so I figured it wasn’t going to help me today if I ran too hard yesterday. I again cut the run short.

Some news: I have cut The Nutrionist loose. I had told myself that I’d give her 3-4 months and if no progress had been made, I’d stop. I’ve really not made much progress in that time, which has been incredibly frustrating. I just haven’t felt that she has acknowledged the lack of progress, nor has she offered any real explanations or remedies. I’ve tracked calories in/out during the time, obviously, as well as micronutrients and timing. I have spent hours analyzing it (which I felt was something she should be doing, but didn’t seem to be) and have a theory that going extremely low fat may be one thing to experiment with, based on subtle patterns. But, Jesus Christ, this is like reading tea leaves.

Anyway, I can be mystified on my own for free. After a year+ of injuries, weird weight stuff, mood disorder reemergence, and other unsolved mysteries, I’m completely burnt out on (and feeling burned by) the entire world of “experts” at the moment. As a result, I won’t be sitting in waiting rooms and writing any more large checks for now. I cannot say the same for Jonathan as he continues to struggle with his foot and another annoying (non-running) problem that has thus far involved several specialists, lots of tests — and no answers. As for me, aside from the occasional shard of generic Ambien, I’m off all medications. I’ve stopped drinking — meaning drinking drinking — save for about 2-3 beers a week. We’re saving a fortune in booze/wine and CVS prescriptions! I’m reading books. I’m taking vitamins and so-called natural supplements. It’s self-help or bust. Let’s see what happens.

In other news: blogger reunions or blogger first dates are kicking into high gear. First there’s a Green Mountain Relay reunion to look forward to. And then a few virtual blogger friends, Flo from Philly and Ewen from Down Under, are coming into town in July. I hope we don’t all hate each other. I don’t think we will.

Also, I’m getting excited about the Scotland 10K race. Probably more than I should allow myself to be, since it’s only three weeks away and I don’t feel at all prepared. But with my new lowered expectations approach to racing, I am anticipating at least putting in a good effort and having a good time. If I can get a good finishing time in the process, that’s a plus. But it’s not the primary goal. I’m not even thinking about the Long Island Half on May 1, as that’s just too scary.

NYRR introduces brand new way to annoy and inconvenience its customers

I try not to rag on NYRR excessively, saving my screeds for when they’re truly justified. Here’s one that seems justified enough.

This was posted on the New York Harriers’ message board yesterday, quoting (presumably) from NYRR materials for participants in this weekend’s NYC Half Marathon.

“A participant wristband will be put on you when you get your bib at the expo. You must wear the wristband to enter your starting corral and throughout the race on Sunday. If you break or lose your wristband before the race, you must return to the expo for a new one, and your name will be recorded in our entrant database as having received a second one. If you are not wearing a wristband when you finish the race, you won’t be given a finisher medal and won’t be eligible for post-race amenities.”

Really? I have to wear a bracelet (and a flimsy one, by the sounds of it) for three days in order to be allowed to run in a race that I’ve paid the better part of $100 for? Why not just institute electronic tracking ankle bracelets like the ones they put on convicted mob bosses? Or (Jonathan’s idea), how about requiring that I wear the shoes I plan to race in to the expo for a special chip that requires I keep the shoes on (even in the shower and in bed) until I’m done with the race? How about a chip that serves as a “third eye,” implanted in my forehead and read by a bioscanner?

What shenanigans are they trying to prevent? Bib borrowing? Who gives a shit? Why does NYRR give a shit?

If they insist on playing playground monitor to racers, then why not do what every toothless, imbecilic carnival ride worker in the world knows to be much more efficient? Just use a special stamp with ink that takes at least four days to wear off. Imagine the money they’ll save on special bracelets, dealing with angry return expo visitors, and setting up and maintaining computerized tracking systems.

Sometimes I think NYRR wants its constituents to dislike them.

Heave ho!

I have now experienced food poisoning three times in my life. Three times is at least two times too many.

Let me start by saying that I hate throwing up. I know that no one actually enjoys throwing up, but I have always found the experience to go beyond being merely a bad physical sensation. I seem to experience throwing up as a kind of mental trauma as well. It verges on existential crisis, meaning I feel as if I will be throwing up forever. I cry a lot. It’s always very dramatic.

There have been times over the years when I’ve felt really bad after eating or drinking something and Jonathan has said to me, “Just go throw up. You’ll feel better.” Just go throw up? To me, that’s like having someone say, “Just take a professional-grade nail gun to your instep. It’s no big deal. You’ll feel better.”

I remember my food poisonings in exquisite detail, perhaps because of the whole “throwing up as trauma” thing.

1983: Sloppy Joe Explosion

My first episode occurred during my senior year of high school. It came as a direct result of my having prepared sloppy joes a little too hastily. Looking at the slightly undercooked hamburger meat I was shoveling into my mouth, I thought, “Eh. What are the chances?” The chances, as I would learn around 90 minutes later, were very good indeed.

I was in a rush so I could meet up with friends later on to aimlessly drive around, smoke cigarettes and other things, and probably end up drinking terrible coffee (unlimited refills!) at the Corte Madera Denny’s* to cap off the evening. Our little group was spread over two cars, one  of them driven by my best friend at the time, Johanna. I have a vivid memory of walking down a street and knowing something was wrong with me. The only signs, ominous rumblings in my gut, were subtle but insistent. I tried to keep a lid on things to avoid causing widespread distress or having to cut the evening short. But at one point I broke out into a cold sweat and I guess I’d gone all alabaster, because when I said to Johanna, “I’m going to be in real trouble soon,” my appearance precluded any need for further explanation.

Johanna snapped into action, hustling me into the passenger seat of her Volkswagen Rabbit (diesel!), which she called “Trudy.” The evening was clearly over for us from a social standpoint, although it was just starting for me from a physical one, an odyssey that would end with my having spent so much time lying on the bathroom floor that I had imprints of tiles on one side of my face. Our friend, Chieko, joined us in the back seat. The plan was to drop Chieko off at her house, which was fairly close by, then make haste to mine, which was about 10 minutes from there.

I made it as far as Chieko’s driveway. Not wanting to vomit all over Trudy, I bolted from the car and instinctively headed toward the first source of physical support that I could find. There, in the merciless illumination of Trudy’s headlights, I spewed forth a ptomaine rainbow. Just moments before letting loose, I could hear Chieko’s small, high voice say in a tone of sad resignation, “Oh, no. Not on the mailbox.”

1999: Bombay Barf Fest

My second attack was restaurant-enabled, as was last night’s. I rarely eat out, for lots of reasons. For one, I usually find restaurant food to be overly salted (I don’t cook with any salt and I don’t even give it credit for being a spice — it’s a crutch for unimaginative cooks and a commercial tool for selling more drinks). Also, during the many years in which I suffered from panic attacks (I don’t anymore), restaurants were my primary “trigger venue,” with large crowds and airports a distant second and third. So I just got used to avoiding them in general. Finally, because I’m not made of money, I know how to cook a lot of different kinds of foods, and I don’t think of restaurants as “entertainment,” it’s just not something I care about spending money on. The possibility of contracting a food-borne illness is just one more reason to avoid them.

Anyway. This time we were in London for a visit with family before heading north to Scotland for a romantic Christmas on the Isle of Skye. We were staying with Jonathan’s brother, Rob, and his then partner (now husband), Phil, in their house in the Clapham area. A few blocks down the road sat — for me, menacingly — an Indian restaurant called Bombay Bicycle. We ordered in one night and enjoyed numerous food items. One of mine came with something extra.

As with my first poisoning experience, this one came on with a vague sense that something wasn’t quite right. I got up and took a glass of Alka Seltzer and went and sat in their living room to wait for it to take effect. And take effect it did, although rather than settling my stomach it served to move the inevitable proceedings forward. A wave of nausea hit me and I raced up the stairs to their sole bathroom.

This time around, both ends of of my digestive tract were involved, although fortunately they were tag-teaming. Several hours of alternating purgings later, I collapsed into the guest room bed, where I stayed for two days. When I wasn’t in bed I was monopolizing their bathroom. They were so nice to me. The only thing I remember about those two days is reading Into Thin Air, John Krakauer’s account of death on Mount Everest, and thinking, “Well, this actually sounds a little worse than what I’m going through.”

2011: Don’t Order the Duck

While last night’s ordeal didn’t feature the socially distressing dimension of my first bout, nor the extended misery of my second one, I think it was probably the worst of the three. If you don’t have a strong stomach, then you should probably stop reading now.

Have you ever thrown up onions through your nose? I have. It’s not fun. Nasal expulsion of vegetables was just one of the new and novel experiences I had last night. We had dinner with my father and stepmother, who are moving into a new place on 92nd Street, and a couple of their friends whom we know very well from having spent many a similar evening over the years. It was a good time. But I should have had the coq au van.

We came home and went to bed. I felt okay at that point. An hour later, I awoke, feeling only a primitive drive to get to the bathroom as quickly as possible. There was no prior warning this time. I didn’t even know what was wrong. Just that I needed to be in the bathroom. What happened next is a blur. I was not even awake, but I was aware of having a lot of trouble breathing and swallowing. Next thing I knew, my dinner was all over the bathroom rugs. I don’t know how it got there, but it seemed to be coming from my nose.

Why couldn’t I throw up the normal way? I still don’t know. Instead, an evening’s worth of cheese, snails, duck and vegetables — mixed with what felt like hydrochloric acid — was being violently sneezed in every direction. But that wasn’t all. My backside was also in on this party. At the same time. The mess was impressive. By this time I was fully awake, and fully horrified.

The weird part is that I didn’t even feel all that nauseated. This was a plus because it meant I was able to clean things up before heading back to bed. I thought that was it, but it was only the beginning. Like clockwork, I was up every hour or so for a new session of involuntary purging. Throwing up was bad enough, but by 4:00 in the morning there was nothing left to throw up, so I got to experience a few sessions of dry heaves. These were worse. Those abated at last as the sun’s rosy tendrils began to light the edges of our blackout shades. But my bowels were now working overtime. Jonathan was up periodically with me, doing what you’re supposed to do — applying compresses, murmuring soothing words, getting the hell out of the way — but what else could he do? He had to wait it out with me.

By 8:00 the crisis had passed and I was able to sleep for about three hours. I’m down over two pounds (yeah, it’s sick that I weighed myself, but I was curious). I can handle toast and honey. My insides feel as if they’ve been run through with the plumber’s snake I keep meaning to purchase. I had to cancel a meeting in Manhattan. I’m in bed, drinking tea and eating popsicles. My sinuses are still on fire. The day is shot.

I’m naming names. The source of my eight hour gastrotorture was a French restaurant on 98th and Broadway by the name of Aloutte. If you go there, the escargot is fine. But don’t order the duck.

*Reading the “reviews” I see that Denny’s remains a haven for bored and/or inebriated Marin County teens.

Training: Mar 6-12

I realized just now that I did three hard workouts, plus a race, this week. That probably wasn’t the smartest way to schedule things — and I take responsibility for this schedule. In reintroducting Coach Sandra’s original schedule for the summer, I wanted to get back to doing long runs on Saturday. This seemed as good a week to shove that run up a day as any.

As usual, the workouts this week were a mix of gratifying and disappointing. But I won’t label anything as a “bad workout” for reasons previously stated.

So. Coogan’s went pretty well. Then, with only a day’s recovery — which featured 10 miles of running — I headed up to the streets of Scarsdale (since our running path was flooded) for a progression run. My legs felt dead that day and I nearly abandoned the run. Or, well, kind of. My thought process moved from “I’m going to cut this short at 5 miles” to “Maybe I’ll make this a recovery run” to “I’ll run a decent pace, but drop the 2 fast miles” to…”Well, goddammit, I’m gonna run those last 2 miles hard.”

Why did I make this decision? For one, my legs began to feel better after about 4 miles and I was naturally picking up the pace anyway. For another, Coach’s rule is: if I can’t do the workouts in a given week, I have to go back and repeat that week until I can. I hate repeating weeks.

It worked out and I did better than expected: Mile 7 was 7:36, run into a stiff headwind; Mile 8 (wind assisted) was 6:50.

Thursday’s speed session was nothing to write home about, but I’m calling it close enough to count. Coach said I should have either deferred the workout to Friday or substituted a fartlek run (as she instructed me to do, but I ignored, because I’m a weirdo and I happen to like 1K repeats, at least when they’re going well).

I took yesterday completely off. No running. No cross-training. Nothing. And I’m glad I did because today’s 12 miler in Central Park was a satisfying run indeed. After a 9:20 warmup mile I was solidly in 8:15-8:20 territory. There were several miles run well under 8:00.

The last mile was ridiculous: 6:59. I did not intend to run it that fast, but as I was coming off the north section of Museum Mile, ready to hit the downhill before the 102nd St. Transverse, I passed a guy. He did not like being passed. So he caught me. I did not want him to pass me. So we both kept running faster and faster. Soon we were racing. At one point my watch said I was on pace for a 6:20 mile. This was getting silly (and I was getting out of breath). So I let him “win.”

But the funny thing was, once he got a few feet ahead of me, he slowed to around 7:10 pace and I was still about a meter behind him. When we hit the downhill around the top of the park, I decided to open up. I felt good and I was half a mile from the 12 mile mark, so why not. I passed him again, tearing past him down the hill. He looked a little annoyed. Or maybe I surprised him. But he didn’t race me this time. Average pace for the run was 8:07. I want to get that below 8:00 by the end of the month.

Today featured yet another new mix. But I ran so fast that I didn’t get through it. The Keane and Nick Drake were good for the drive home.

Long Run Too

Consequence – The Notwist
Handson Us – The Notwist
Lover’s Spit – Broken Social Scene
Texico Bitches – Broken Social Scene
Kids (Soulwax Mix) – MGMT
Flash Delirium – MGMT
Our Time Has Passed – Pernice Brothers
She Heightened Everything – Pernice Brothers
Barely Legal – The Strokes
Alone, Together – The Strokes
Human – Pretenders
Popstar – Pretenders
Untitled – Social Distortion
Far Side Of Nowhere – Social Distortion
Finer Feelings – Spoon
My Little Japanese Cigarette Case – Spoon
Breaking Into Cars – The Raveonettes
Heart Of Stone – The Raveonettes
Some Might Say – Oasis
The Shock Of The Lightning – Oasis
60 Miles An Hour – New Order
Regret – New Order
Hold It – Marshall Crenshaw
Right On Time – Marshall Crenshaw
Perfect Symmetry – Keane
The Lovers Are Losing – Keane
Which Will – Nick Drake
Pink Moon – Nick Drake

Listen on Rhapsody

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