Other running stuff (not deep thoughts)

It’s Twofer Tuesday on RLaG. You get TWO posts!

Here’s other stuff that’s going on.

I was tempted to do the Randall’s Island Zombie Run, but at $60 it’s expensive. Plus, as I wanted to go as a zombie, I’ll be all overachieving and need to get plastic gashes and such. It’s coming at the end of a huge month in terms of personal and professional commitments. So I’m going to skip it.

Our household NYRR membership lapses in November. I truly don’t give a shit. I’ve barely run any NYRR races and have been soured on them as an organization for various reasons lately. Their races have just gotten too crowded. When I get back into racing I’ll probably return to CT, NJ and Rockland/Orange counties where there are wide open spaces, fast ladies and cheap trophies aplenty.

Yesterday I took JS on a tour of Van Cortlandt Park. We ran a bit along the South County Trail, which is actually a paved path, and then parted ways so I could go back and hit the XC course for some tempo miles. JS continued going north and eventually his Tuckahoe Road. The path continues north and becomes the North County Trail around Elsmford. I wish I’d known about this path when I was training for CIM, as it has a mile+ gradual hill. In any case, we’ll return, I think often. I’m sick of the running path I’ve been using for close to 14 (eep) years.

The dirt cheap gym I joined is in Yonkers at the Cross County Mall. Blink Fitness is a wildly expanding NY-area gym. It’s $15 a month. You get treadmills, ellipticals, sort of shitty stationary bikes (not spin bikes), FormFitness strength machines and a smattering of free weights. That’s about it. You have to bring your own towels. But it’s $15, people. That’s, like, three beers at one happy hour.

Tammy Lifka, whom I interviewed for my Houston Hopefuls project, just ran a 2:49:02 in Chicago. She has been struggling with her running for quite awhile, but she changed her regimen (and her coach) and now seems to be on a tremendous upswing. I am incredibly happy for her.

Lize Brittin, whom I also interviewed for a Runners Round Table podcast close to two years ago (again, eep), has just self-published her memoir of anorexia, Training on Empty. I read a very early draft of this book and gave some feedback. It’s compelling stuff. The foreword is written by the author of my all-time favorite running memoir, Lorraine Moller. Here’s a review from Kevin Beck.

And finally. Shoe companies are clearing out their 2012 models to make way for new editions. So if you want to stock up on the shoes that are working for you, now’s a good time to pick up “last year’s models” at closeout prices.

In which running moves up a few slots

I sat down this morning with plans to compose a detailed, entertaining and photo-strewn record of my time in London and Edinburgh touring with ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. But I won’t. Or, rather, I can’t. Sorry. Think of one of the most intense experiences you’ve had in your life. Then imagine it going on for roughly three weeks. How can you then do any justice to it with a blog post? Especially when you’re still trying to process everything you saw, felt, learned, gained, lost, did, appreciated, regretted, succeeded at, failed at, and otherwise experienced.

So I’ll write about what else is going on.

I am on a creative tear lately. I have ideas for half a dozen stories. I just published one this week. I have a novella-length story that I’m trying to finish but can’t publish for various reasons of privacy, so that’s a big problem to solve this year. I am looking at getting back into live storytelling regularly again. I am taking two performance-oriented classes starting next month: one is a vocal training class and the other is in standup comedy. I have been writing standup material for about six months and wondering what to do with it, missing the obvious answer to that question (just get up and perform it, dummy) until quite recently. I am trying to figure out how to get myself back to Edinburgh for an extended stay because I loved that place so much. I would like to at the very least be there for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest in August, in some capacity but of what sort I don’t know yet. If it’s possible to spend the entire summer there, then, yes, that’s an affirmative and a no brainer.

Finally, there’s running. I wasn’t running much in the UK but I was hardly idle. I estimate that I did around 5-9 miles of walking a day (and a little running as part of the show I was crewing for). I did a few harder runs while there and was surprised that I hadn’t lost that much basic fitness. The best discovery upon returning home was that my hamstring and Achilles issues cleared up during my time away. My plantar fasciitis, while not gone, is extremely mild and responds to babying enough that I can train on it.

I’ve got no racing plans to speak of. Missed Percy Sutton, I’m skipping the Tuckahoe and Fifth Avenue Miles. What’s the point? I’m out of racing shape and not trained for any distance. I probably won’t run any races through the rest of 2012. But 2013? That’s another story. Here we go again.

The plan: a return to Fair Lawn, NJ for the First Day 5K on New Year’s Day with a goal to get as close to 19:59 as possible. This means 8 weeks base building + 10 weeks 5K-specific training. I’ve joined a gym again — one that isn’t a half hour away — so I can get back into regular strength training. I’m getting sports massages for as long as I can afford to. Barring horrendous weather, injury or other personal disasters, I think I have a shot. Hey, Weather? Guess what? If it’s cold, icy or windy, I have indoor options. Injury? Bring it on. I’m used to you and I am totally willing to work on your schedule, use the stupid elliptical and drop race plans. And, Fate? Fuck you. My dad can’t die twice.

Getting it done in the UK

I had grand plans to keep a frequent diary of this trip — one that would be coherent. That’s not going to happen; neither the frequency nor the coherence.

I arrived and met up with the rest of Team Endure roughly a week ago. Since then I’ve been doing doing doing doing doing. I’ve had a few breaks of some hours, but it’s never been truly leisurely because I’ve been aware of needing to do do do do do again for the evening performance, starting at around 4:30 and wrapping up around midnight (we have a post-show chat, drink and chew with audience members, typically).

For the first few days I was occupied with squaring away some of our marketing details, such as making sure print materials were getting to the right parties and then getting distributed. I also had a great deal of shopping to do, as well as photocopying forms, media kits, etc. Plus — oh, right — there was learning how to crew the show and rehearsals. I’d seen the show several times. But I’d never crewed it. Yoiks.

Tuesday I was off on my own running around Hammersmith doing doing doing. Then on Wednesday I was able to join the rest of the team and work on the show in earnest. That was good because we opened on Thursday. First we had a morning performance for the Alberta Minister of Culture (who gave the show a boatload of money). Although it was challenging to be ready by 9:30am, it was also a great way to get acclimated to the park and crewing. That show, which was a dress rehearsal of sorts, went very well. Then we had our premiere that evening at 7:00pm, and for that I had family in the audience (my brothers in law — it’s complicated). After that we had three more performances, the last of which was last night.

Some highlights of the past few days:

Mary has dealt with two insane, belligerent elderly people now, one of them drunk. The encounters were back to back, and I got to witness them from a slight distance. I’ll just say that if you want to see grace under pressure (in this case, a stream of verbal abuse, all of it nonsensical), Mary Cavett is your model.

The London Lady Cops are the real deal. They are in your face if you’re a young man misbehaving, such as kicking over trash bins. The Lady Park Police ride around on huge horses and wear helmets, jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots. They are badass.

There are parrots in Ravenscourt Park, where we performed.

We saw Eddie Izzard (also in Ravenscourt, where he used the loo and then bought a popsicle). We invited him (he runs marathons), but he didn’t take us up on it.

Executive Producer Jess Baker saw Kathrine Switzer walking by the theatre, looking at our poster, with husband Roger Robinson in tow. We also invited them. They did not show. Damn, these celebrities.

Endure’s composer, Christine Owman, came into town to see the show — with her parents, who have not seen it and were nice people. I got to hang out with a musical genius for awhile. I also got an autographed copy of her Throwing Knives CD.

The timing of our post-show sips and bites worked out perfectly so that I arrived in the bar just minutes before both the women’s and men’s 10,000m finals. I also got to watch the men’s 3000m steeplechase and the 100m final.

But that was just on television. I got to see the women’s marathon too. Live. On the street. I went alone because others on the team were either too busy or too tired (although Mary headed out a bit after me and ended up talking to a fascinating lady marathoner who is in her 60s).

So I went alone to St. Paul’s/Cheapside area and put up my flag and waited. The women came through about 10 minutes later. I cheered for all of them and was surprised by who I saw in the field, having had no time beforehand to read up on the race participants. I waited as they came through the loop another two times and then ran down to mile 24 to watch them go by one last time.

Watching the marathon was a very moving experience. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see an Olympic marathon. But it’s not just that. It’s that the marathon has so dominated so many aspects of my life over the past 5 years. But it’s also not just that. The marathon is not only a metaphor used in the show I’m involved with — it’s a thread that’s connected everything I’ve being doing recently: getting over my social anxiety; pursuing  journalism work; expanding my pool of friends; learning to face reality and modify goals in response; appreciating the value of small successes and big failures; taking my own creative work seriously; and embracing other new challenges and adventures — basically, moving toward the things that scare the living daylights out of me. This trip is the culmination and amalgamation of all of those things. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when, walking through St. Paul’s afterwards, having listened to both towers’ pealing bells for several hours, I burst into tears.

Follow your heart, wherever it leads you

This post is about listening to that little, insistent voice that tells you where you should go. And also one other thing.

Last summer I was pulling out of a year-long tailspin that included (not necessarily in order of importance): race failures, a horrible running injury, my coach moving away, a bad bout of major depression and a truly alarming series of medical crises in my family. It sucked. It really, really sucked.

Things had started to look up in June and, as part of my “let’s get back to life” strategy I was forcing myself to go do things. If a social or cultural opportunity came my way, I told myself, I was going to take it. So when an invitation to see the world premiere of this show landed in my inbox in early July, I was open to it. But then immediately I closed myself off to it.

I almost didn’t go for a variety of reasons: I would have to drive all the way to Brooklyn; it was going to be hot that day; and I didn’t even like theatre all that much (at the time). But mostly it was because the words “one person show” strike fear into my heart. When it goes wrong, it goes terribly wrong. I didn’t want to spend an entire afternoon pretending to like someone else’s navel-gazing piece of garbage and, empathetic person that I tend to be, also suffering the vicarious sadness of watching her creative dream go down in flames.

I almost didn’t go. But something told me I should go. So I went.

I loved the show. I hung around afterwards. Then I asked the creator and star out to lunch about a week later. We became good friends. She gave me a ton of encouragement. Over the coming months, I changed. I got interested in doing something with my own writing. Then I got interested in performing. That led to a storytelling class and, now, an acting class. In the meantime, I helped out with the one woman show’s fall run, helping to promote the thing and get other people to go see it. For many months I existed in a kind of weird limbo: half fan and half unofficial team member. I didn’t have any idea where any of this was going. It didn’t matter. I just went with it.

Now it’s nearly a year later and I’m fully in the vortex that is ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. And, you know, I still have no idea where this is going. But it doesn’t matter. I’m still feeling like I should go. So I’m going.

Where am I going? Well, actually, I’m going to London and Scotland. With this show. This summer. I have a title (Associate Producer), which I am totally unqualified to hold, probably, except that I seem to be pretty good at what I’ve been asked to do so far. I’m project managing the tour. I’ll be doing other things at the actual shows, all of them unglamorous. I can’t wait.

The tour is almost paid for. But not quite. The point of this post wasn’t to ask you for money. It was to tell you to pay attention to your instincts and honor the things that engage you, no matter how foreign, nebulous or terrifying.

But as long as I have your attention, I may as well ask you for money. Can we please have some money?

This show is the real deal. Please support it, so we can bring it to you, wherever you are, eventually.

Running is important but…

It’s not the most important thing right now.

Jonathan said to me the other day, “You seem fairly content with your running.” I thought this was funny since I’m sort of injured at the moment. I’m still trying to get my left hamstring and my right Achilles to calm down. Fortunately, I can run through these issues, although I’m not daring to do anything fast, or anything on hills. I just plod along for 5 or 7 miles most days. Yesterday I did 10. I was running slower last week because I hurt with each step. But now I’m back down to 8:15-8:45 pace.

I don’t really care. I wasn’t that motivated to train for anything in particular this spring anyway, so the timing for this is good. I want to do well in the Fifth Avenue Mile and that’s about my only running goal for this year. That and avoiding serious injury. I will skip the Scotland Run in a couple of weeks if anything still hurts.

In other news, I spent Friday afternoon and evening over at Hilary Lorenz’s (aka Adventure Artist) home printing studio, learning how to make my first linoleum print. Hilary is professional artist as well as a printmaking educator (she is currently chair of her department at Long Island University in Brooklyn). Every few weeks she opens her home and schedule for something called PrintSocial.

This was, quite honestly, the most fun I’ve had in quite awhile. What happens when you combine four runners, wine, sharp objects and a printing press? You get some pretty impressive prints. And some pretty impressive bleeding. I managed to stab myself twice with some expensive Czech carving tools. So did my equally inexperienced cohort, Melanie Jones. Jonathan, who (aside from having no online presence) actually listens when someone tells him to cut away from himself and keep his non-cutting hand behind the one doing the cutting, did not shed any blood.

Hilary is a good teacher. She has nice dogs. She fed us about two pounds of chocolate-covered acai berries. If you are brave and not afraid of sharp objects, look into doing a PrintSocial. Hilary showed us some amazing prints produced in previous socials by artists and non-artists alike.

We ended up with some kickass prints. I am not showing Jonathan’s because he is shy. But I’ll show mine and Melanie’s. Mine has a misspelling. Can you spot it?

Melanie's flockage.

Continuing the bird theme, Julie's entertaining bird (brid).

Here’s the whole album of photographic evidence showing our fun afternoon.

Modern Stories

I now officially have too many websites.

Last night I launched Modern Stories, the home of the storytelling me (not me).

I’ve also created a Facebook page for this new venture, although right now it’s a little sparse.

Long-time readers of this blog will recognize some pieces that have appeared here over the years. But, going forward, I’ll author most of those kinds of personal pieces over at Modern Stories rather than on this site. After the life hiccups of the past few months I’m getting back to the performing end of things too. If the next six months turn out to be as interesting as I’m hoping they’ll be then I should have lots to write about.

A eulogy for my father

Today you’ll hear about what my father was like as a brother, colleague, friend and husband. I thought I’d start things off by talking about what he was like as a dad.

What I remember most about him as a kid was that he was always trying to entertain us. For example, he sang in the car constantly, and we spent a lot of time in the car with him over the years, driving to various vacations: camping in Yosemite, rafting on the Colorado river, taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. He sang upbeat songs, novelty and pop numbers from the early 20th century, like “Mairzy Doats” and “Button Up Your Overcoat.” No one born in the sixties should know the lyrics to Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” but my sister, Susan, and I do.

He apparently liked to entertain himself too. He told me recently that sometimes when he drove through the toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge he’d pay for the car behind him just to watch the driver’s reaction in his rear view mirror. “Some people looked so angry,” he’d said, incredulously.

My dad was no stranger to anger himself. From him, I learned how to swear properly. He could swear a blue streak and he had an incredible temper, which I unfortunately inherited. But I never saw him direct it at anyone. Instead, he trained it on inanimate objects, assembly instructions and maps. Especially maps. About a year after he and my mother separated, when I was 9 and Susan 13, he took us kids on a long road trip down to Baja, California. He was looking for a particular beach. Susan remembers him driving around, totally lost, swearing up a storm and finally concluding, while looking at the map with absolute bewilderment, “Jesus fucking Christ! You can’t fucking get there from here.”

Yet he nevertheless made his way around the world. There were so many times over the years, when he was in various far flung places, that I worried about him. When I was 10 years old I watched the fall of Saigon, knowing he was there. I remember going right up to the television and watching the people clambering to board the last helicopters out, trying to pick him out of the crowd. I watched, worrying for his safety, as riots broke out in West Oakland during a free grocery distribution program that the Symbionese Liberation Army had demanded from Randolph Hearst. I worried about him when he was in Lebanon. I worried about him when he was in Iraq. One night I turned on the television to find him underwater, floating in the center of a giant cage, cavorting with sharks in a most worrisome way. It’s one of life’s little ironies that a man who lived such an extraordinarily adventurous and dangerous life would end that life in such a mundane way.

And he worried about us, probably more than he needed to. My dad had a huge heart, but he played his emotional cards very close to his chest. He could be very cerebral and in general preferred the concrete to the abstract. For example, he never read fiction or poetry; I don’t think he saw the point of it. But he was a big reader and devoured thick political biographies and books about history. When Susan or I had a problem he was apt to respond with an anecdote about Eleanor Roosevelt or Mamie Eisenhower.

My dad also had a great sense of humor, one that tended toward the absurd. One night in December my better half, Jonathan, and I met up with Dad and Betsy at their apartment before going out to dinner. As we sat with our glasses of wine, their dog, Max, began to frantically mate with the couch. “I don’t care if Max humps the couch,” my dad said. “Just as long as he doesn’t get it pregnant.”

It’s difficult to boil down the essence of a person into a few words, but in thinking about him over these past few weeks a series of declarative sentences emerged that I feel capture his life philosophy, as it were:

Work hard.
Stay curious.
Take risks.
Be generous.

And I’d add to that, as a coda of sorts, Let your work speak for itself. My dad won lots of awards for his work, and I’m glad he was recognized throughout his career by his peers, many of whom are here today. But even though he was distinguished as a television reporter, he was fundamentally a writer. He was such a natural, creative and intelligent writer. His writing was spare and unadorned, yet remarkable for its elegance, clarity and wit. It read well on paper and out loud. I try to write like he did, using those qualities as my guideposts.

One of my best memories of my dad is from that trip down to Baja in 1974. On a beach, warmed by the sand, I sat with him, this man who never read poetry, and watched the sun setting over the ocean. As it got smaller and smaller we spun metaphors.

Now it’s a mountain.
Now it’s a Volkswagen Beetle.
Now it’s a surfboard.
Now it’s a piece of paper.
Now the sun is gone.
Now it is night.

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