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.

Theatre Review: Endure — Run. Woman. Show.

What happens when the race of your life is your life? You get something like Endure: Run. Woman. Show., a 360-degree meditation on marathoning as metaphor. Melanie Jones, the creative force behind this immersive theatre piece, which takes place in Prospect Park and its immediate environs, found me through the miracle of Google and invited me to the premiere yesterday. I’m so glad she did.

Endure is a show in which you’re along for the ride, rather than sitting passively in a theatre seat. Wearing an MP3 player, you start at a nearby playground (after “registering” for the show and pinning on a race bib, which is also your program) and make your way to Prospect Park. Along the way, you’re taken on a sonic journey, with visual cues if you look carefully enough for them, as you make the transition from the workaday sidewalk world of Park Slope to the more timeless and untethered world of the park. Once there, you are quite literally led down the garden path, emerging at the crest of an overlook where, at last, you meet our narrator, Ms. Jones.

We’re at the start of a marathon now, with the cannon about to go off. And, as anyone who’s ever endeavored to train for and race a marathon knows, this is just the beginning, and you never know what’s going to happen over the next 26.2 miles. Marathons are a lot like life in that way.

I won’t give away what happens over the next hour, but I will say that the workout is more sensual and emotional than it is physical. There’s a little bit of running if you want to run, but you don’t have to. There’s a fair amount of walking, some of it quite brisk, but there are also many quiet moments in which you’re simply standing, watching, or, if you’re lucky, playing a small part in the performance.

The narrative is backed by an original soundtrack by Scandinavian composer Christine Owman and it’s a perfect aural backdrop: at times it’s spare and floating, with heavy reverb and overlays that lend it a dreamlike quality; at other times, it’s mournful and exhausted, reflecting the training and life grind that our subject is often trapped in, adhering to cruel deadlines of her own making.

There are dark miles. And there are good miles. And that middle bit is the hardest. It lasts so much longer than you want, or think it should. But time keeps going, so you have to keep going, on the days that you want to and the days that you don’t.

While you don’t have to be a marathoner to connect with this piece, it helps. You will “get” things on a level that others won’t: the strange mix of kinship and bloodthirsty competitiveness we can feel during a race; the sudden obsession with the weather; the math we do as the miles tick by, with OCD-like focus, and how our ability to continue to do that math fails as our glycogen depleted brains struggle through those later miles; how giving into a bodily function as basic as urinating becomes an epic mental struggle when held up against a race goal that threatens to slip away at any moment.

But these details are not what make up the meat of the show, which turns out not really to be about running at all. Instead, Jones presents how the dark side of marathoning — how quickly we can slip from hobbyist to enthusiast to cocktail party freakshow to runner as Carmelite nun — can mirror the darker sides of life. When other parts of our lives veer off the rails, many of us are tempted to look to the marathon as an emotional life raft, something that we can control and that will keep us afloat. What often happens, of course, is that instead, that most unforgiving distance, and all that goes into training for it, only serves to drag us further down under the waves. Rather than helping us to define ourselves through our determination and success, the distance becomes instead, with frightening and undeniable clarity, the embodiment of what we’ve most feared about ourselves all along: that we are failures. Failures at marathoning. Failures at life.

I’ll let you go see the show to see how this race turns out. Along the way you’ll see innovative use of public space, some striking visual metaphors, and a lot of blood. I can guarantee that you won’t be bored. If you run marathons, you’ll find common ground with the author, and if you don’t, you’re still apt to gain some insight about your own life’s journey, whether or not you’re taking it in racing flats.

Endure is brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. I still can’t believe I got to see this for free.

The show’s running next Saturday, 7/16 (and possibly the following Sunday, 7/23) before Jones takes it on the road to Canada. RSVP here.

We’ll also have Jones on this evening’s New York Running Show podcast if you’d like to tune in at 8pm EST.

Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

Training: Feb 13-19

In which I worriedly, hurriedly prepare for a short race

I am quite aware of the fact that I have a 5K race looming on the horizon. I don’t like 5K races but, to be fair, I haven’t raced that many of them, and only a handful have been since I started running competitively. In two weeks I’ll cover the Coogan’s course in Washington Heights. I have been doing what I can to prepare for a short, fast race while also trying to not do anything that’s going to irritate the adductor injury that continues to hang on for dear life. But I feel I’ve turned a corner in that if I’m careful and do a shit-tonne of stretching and strengthening, it’s under control and on its way out, however slowly.

That said, this was another okay week, featuring two decent workouts and one half-assed workout. I did not hit the 52 miles I’d originally planned, but that’s life. I do, however, now feel pretty confident that I can handle real training. With that I will get back in touch with Coach Sandra (whom I’ve not wanted to bug during this period of testing the waters) this week to talk half marathon training.

I’m at the point where running 10 miles at any pace doesn’t feel like a 20 miler. But endurance at faster paces continues to be an issue and time’s a-wastin’. So I am trying to add in some substantial efforts at speedier paces. This campaign to not embarrass myself in two weeks began with Sunday’s trip into Central Park. This time I dragged Jonathan with me, who managed 12 miles with some discomfort in his foot. But, heck, he ran 12 miles, some of them on the faster side. So that’s progress.

We ran 6 miles together to warm up, then split up to do our little workouts. I did an inner loop, he did an outer loop. I managed three miles at sub-7:30 and a last one at 8:00 (me so tired). That was pretty good for that course, in wind, coming off a “big” week. Having learned last week that a longer recovery run on Monday is a no no, I split things up into two runs.

Tuesday was a big social day as was Wednesday evening. On Wednesday morning I decided to try a fartlek run again. There has been some slight improvement over last week’s fartlek in that I could do two sets and the speeds were slightly faster. I also shortened the between-sets recovery time from 5 to 4 minutes.

On Thursday I didn’t feel like doing anything, least of all running. I spent pretty much the entire day finding ways to avoid running. Then I forced myself to go to the gym to do some circuit stuff and figured I’d just try getting on the treadmill and if it sucked I’d climb off and call it a day. Mostly, I wanted to go there so I could use the sauna. After the first couple of miles I felt okay so decided to at least do something a little more productive than a 9:50 plod: a couple of miles at faster paces, if not stellar ones. At least the 20 minutes in the sauna seemed well-deserved.

Friday I was flat out exhausted, so I skipped exercise entirely. Saturday featured an evening run at home on the treadmill. For some reason I felt compelled to tack on a half mile to the planned 6. I think I felt bad about bailing on Friday’s run entirely. A half mile here, a half mile there. Pretty soon you’re talking, like, a whole extra mile.

Next week I may attempt some actual speed work if I can find a clear outdoor track or uninterrupted flat pathway to run on. That depends entirely on snow meltage. We are scheduled to get more snow this evening, so yeah, ha ha. It’s February, bitches. Have another cup of snow. I suspect I’ll being doing more fartleks on the treadmill. They’re close enough.

My training weeks begin on Sunday (or, put another way, end on Saturday). But I got in the habit of posting these training tomes on Sundays. So I’ll cheat and mention that I did my first outdoors tempo run since the summer today in Central Park. I basically tried to simulate a 5K more or less, but split up into three bits separated by 4 minutes. I managed to run my 7 minute segments at around 6:50 pace, which I’m pretty damned proud of because it was hellaciously windy today. I was running at harder than tempo effort much of the time, but whatever. I’m not going to be a purist about anything at this point. Waste of time. I need to get used to being really, really uncomfortable for around 21 minutes.

Groovy new Tempo Run playlist appears below.

In which I am uncharacteristically social

I spent all day Tuesday with a friend (and part of the afternoon with her five-year-old, who is smarter and more articulate than many adults I know) in Manhattan. She’s one of the few people I’m still in touch with from graduate school from way back in the (gulp) mid- ’90s, and by far the friend from that milieu to whom I’m closest. She’s moving out of the country indefinitely in July, so we’re trying to spend some time with each other fairly regularly before that happens. I’m happy for her, but it’s still a bummer to have to say goodbye. There’s virtually no chance I’ll visit her where she’s headed. That sounds ominous; it’s not meant to. She’s not going to prison or anything. She’ll just be very, very far away in a place I have no desire to visit.

On Wednesday evening I drove up to Rye Brook for dinner and conversation with my heretofore virtual friend, Cris/Darkwave of Well, I’m TRYING to Run fame. I have been trading training notes and amusing quips online with Cris for several years, primarily on this weekly thread on LetsRun (although I have been absent for many months during my injury odyssey). Cris was just as intelligent, interesting and warm in person as I’d expected her to be. It was a fun evening, although I worried I kept her up too late on a school night, since she was up here on a business trip and had to get up at 5:30AM the next morning and be a responsible adult. I, on the other hand, being an irresponsible adult, was free to sleep in late and then spend the day farting around the house.

In which I somewhat reluctantly show some team spirit

I bought a long-sleeved Harriers tech shirt this week, since it was easy enough to swing by Urban Athletics on my way to see my East Side friend. It’s a little weird to anticipate wearing it in a couple of weeks, not only because I don’t want to put further pressure on myself in a race at a distance that is not my forte. I’m not generally a joiner and uniforms of any sort always give me pause. But wearing a shirt in the points races seems to be what people do.

I will say that it looks pretty fetching on me (I look good in black — and somewhat menacing, I hope) and it was comfortable enough on today’s test run, for which I wore it as a base layer so I could continue to stealth train.

In which I go back to my artistic roots

I have more websites than is reasonable for one person. Especially since none of them are making me any money. But I can always launch another one, even as the current ones sit neglected. I expect to launch this newest creative venture pretty soon — probably next month or in April. Those who have known me for a long time know that I have a long history of drawing cartoons. I have had a dry spell of this activity for, oh, about 20 years, although I will sometimes make a painting when under stress.

Anyway, I have been besieged by funny ideas lately. That has led to sketching and frequent giggling. I should do something with these ideas and with the good domain I own but have not known what to do with (people have offered to buy it from me, but I had faith that a use for it would eventually emerge). Yes, I want to express myself. At least I’m not writing erotic poetry or making wallets out of duct tape.

So look for that soon.

———————————————————–

Mix: Tempo Run

Nobody’s In Love This Year – Warren Zevon
Change4Me – Bettie Serveert
No Matter What – Badfinger
1994 – Amberhaze
When I Wonder – Charlatans U.K.
Souls Travel – Bettie Serveert
Meet Me In The Basement – Broken Social Scene
Elephant Woman – Blonde Redhead
The Well And The Lighthouse – Arcade Fire
Sincerity – Charlatans U.K.
Girls Talk – Dave Edmunds
Changes Are No Good – The Stills
Bled White – Elliott Smith
Pop In G – Heatmiser
Gimme Animosity – Superdrag
Godspell – The Cardigans
Better Things – The Kinks
American Girl – Tom Petty
Something’s Out There – Freedy Johnston
Don’t Look Down – Lindsey Buckingham
Billoddity – Mojave 3
Swimming Song – Kate and Anna McGarrigle
My Favorite Mistake – Sheryl Crow
Finding You – The Go-Betweens
Cellophane – Creeper Lagoon
Dirty Secret – Grant-Lee Phillips
I Need Your Love – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Listen on Rhapsody

Mix: 90 Minute Groove

Some new discoveries by a few bands. This kept me company on a 10 miler this morning.

1. All I Want – LCD Soundsystem

2. Texico Bitches – Broken Social Scene

3. All To All – Broken Social Scene

4. Ungrateful Little Father – Broken Social Scene

5. Sweetest Kill – Broken Social Scene

6. Pilot – The Notwist

7. Equus – Blonde Redhead

8. 23 – Blonde Redhead

9. Dr Strangluv – Blonde Redhead

10. Sw – Blonde Redhead

11. Spring and By Summer Fall – Blonde Redhead

12. Silently – Blonde Redhead

13. Top Ranking – Blonde Redhead

14. She Just Likes to Fight – Four Tet

15. Always For You – The Album Leaf

16. See In You – The Album Leaf

17. Into the Sea – The Album Leaf

18. On The Other Side – The Strokes

19. Everything is Everything – Phoenix

20. The Cabbage – Teenage Fanclub

Listen on Rhapsody

Pleasure Dawdle: Long Island Half 2010

I ran this race as a low key training run for reasons previously stated. I ended up with 13.25 miles in just over 2:05, or roughly 9:30 pace. Average effort was around 80%.

Well, it was hot and humid today, just as predicted. I’d resigned myself to not racing it, although a few minutes before the race, when it was only in the mid-60s I toyed with the idea of doing an all out effort. Then I decided against it; it’s not like you can race the first 10K, then change your mind. Once you’ve exerted yourself in conditions like these you’re in it for the haul, meaning the damage is done and running slower after a fast first half will be a lot harder than if you’d jogged the whole way, which is essentially what I did for most of the “race” today.

If you enjoy running on barren, completely exposed major roadways, then this is the race for you. But if you decide to take it on in 2011, be sure to get there early! We were trapped in a sluggish, single lane of cars crawling toward parking for at least 15 minutes after getting into the park entrance. Jonathan finally gave up and bolted from the car at 7:20.  Unlike me, his plan today was to race and neither of us had a clue about where the start was. It turns out the race start was a five minute stroll from where I parked. He took the long way around. We wouldn’t see each other again for another three hours.

Somehow we managed the separation and, in our own ways, both had a grand old time. Jonathan came in (he thinks) 13th overall, having managed an unofficial 1:20:03. He was, of course, unhappy with this, whereas I was astonished, considering the conditions and the fact that he hasn’t actually been training for a half (or even a full). His paces were very even. I think it was among his most successful races, but he doesn’t share this opinion.

In terms of his performance in a relative sense, one of the many quirks of this race is that obtaining “results” consists of lining up to use a machine into which you enter your bib number, which then burps out a printed receipt of your time and pace. But you have no idea how anyone else did. We assume he won the M50-59 AG, but won’t know until the award shows up (or doesn’t) in the mail eventually. Edited: Well, he won M50-54, but was beaten by a 58 year old!

There was apparently some drama at the start line. Jonathan was lined up  near the front, and right before the start the race director surveyed those in front and pointed to a man who obviously didn’t belong there (very overweight) and demanded that he move back, which he did. Then he approached a woman who in his estimation also didn’t belong there (although Jonathan said he didn’t think one could necessarily have made that assumption by looking at her). The RD demanded she move back as well, but she resisted. So he ripped her tag off and disqualified her on the spot.

Jonathan said the calling out of some vs. others seemed random and inconsistent to him, as there were other people on the line who didn’t belong up there. I suppose it’s the RD’s prerogative to decide, perhaps for safety reasons, who can and can’t be in the first row. But ejecting someone seems excessive. My guess? The LI race director is just another power mad jerk.

I was way back in the middle of the pack at the start. At 8AM we started walking toward the start mats and the women behind me were exclaiming how we had “perfect weather.” That’s when I hit “Play” on my MP3 player.

This is the first race I’ve run with music and let me tell you, I understand why people do it. Jogging for 13+ miles can be really boring. I knew this already, which is why I have an MP3 player in the first place, although I’ve heretofore been a purist when it comes to mixing music with racing. But I figured if I was going to play contented midpacker for a day, I may as well go whole hog and do it with headphones jammed into my ears. For today, I chose my “Sunday Run” mix (see below). It’s what I listen to on Sundays. Easy decision.

The first few miles ticked by without incident. I distracted myself with judgmental assessments of the wide range of tattoos that surrounded me. There were lots of “tramp stamps” to be seen, but I was most impressed with one woman’s “Farm / Ancient Rome” visual pastiche along her upper back, the centerpiece of which was two pigs with (and I can’t explain this, so don’t make me try) a large Doric column emerging from their spines. The other highlight was the woman with two tattoos on her calves: a Star of David (left) and Christ on a Cross (right). Mixed marriage?

The colorful visual treats so held my attention that I was taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of the 5 mile mark, only noticing it because that was when the sun emerged from the clouds, necessitating that I move to the shady side of the street, where I ran with a few 10K race stragglers. At mile 8 we turned into a headwind and for once wind was a refreshing, cooling force rather than an obstructive, energy sapping one.

I picked up the pace then, figuring on upping effort for the remainder of the race. Even in that weather, running the last 3-4 miles at higher effort wasn’t going to kill me. Anything I can do at this point to acclimatize myself for the coming summer months is going to help. At 9:30, or around mile 9.5, the sun came out for good and it was beating down on us. I was running at around 80% at that point and started to pick things up, primarily to get this over with.

I started passing people, although other people were also picking things up, so I had lots of company. One thing I noticed was that most of the (much younger) people around me weren’t running all that hard. Meaning they weren’t really racing. I used to notice this when the pace I ran today was my race pace way back when and it used to drive me crazy. It still happens in some NYRR races, where I’m about to eject an internal organ, I’m working so hard, but I’ll sometimes be running with guys who are chatting about where they had dinner last night. But nothing like this in terms of sheer numbers. My point is that I suspect a lot of “average” runners could run much faster if they tried. I don’t know why they don’t. Maybe because it’s very uncomfortable? Yeah. I’ll bet that’s it.

At mile 11.6 I saw my first heat-related casualty, a guy who looked to be in his mid-20s, slightly overweight, flat on his back. He was surrounded by cops who hadn’t bothered to try to get him into the shade and were otherwise making no visible effort to get him cooler. I listened for sirens, but heard none. Then at 11.75 miles I spotted Guy in His 20s #2. This time the cops were raising his feet (he was passed out cold), but, again, no ambulance.

The final straw was a man I saw at the 13 mile mark, clearly in big trouble. He was falling, then getting up, then falling again. The spectators seemed to find this funny, like he was some sort of trained bear. I found it alarming, but lucked upon a volunteer about a hundred feet along, around a curve. We had the following exchange, which would have been comical had it not been so frustrating:

Me: “There’s a runner down at the 13 mile mark. You should call for medical help.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “The 13 mile mark.”

Him: “Way back there?”

Me: “No, a hundred or so feet back, just around the curve.”

Him: “Oh. I thought you meant mile 13 of the marathon.”

Me: [Confused look] “They’re the same finish.”

Him: [Dashes off]

The LI event uses some sort of newfangled tracking system — an RFID strip is attached to the back of your bib rather than to your shoe. A little ways before the finish I spotted a trash can in which to dispose of the transmitter that would indelibly record my finishing time were it to pass over the finish mat. Still, I was surprised to hear my name called as I neared the finish — and pronounced correctly yet again (the planets must be in alignment) — so that was weird. I’m hoping they were just looking up bib numbers as we came in, as I don’t want my cruddy finish time recorded. Because I’m obsessive that way.

Edited: Dammit. They managed to record my time somehow. I have no idea how that happened. Mystery solved: there are two strips on the back of each bib.

I’m a little tired now, but no more so than I’d be after any hot midlength run. For once I did the smart thing. For once.

Some news stories (and a blog report) from various races today. It wasn’t pretty out there today:

Sunday Run
Someday – Shawn Colvin
6 Underground – Sneaker Pimps
Blink – Yuji Oniki
Can We Still Be Friends? – Todd Rundgren
All I Really Want To Do – The Byrds
Modern Girl – Sleater-Kinney
Learning To Fly – Pink Floyd
September Gurls – Big Star
Bound By The Beauty – Jane Siberry
Fireflies (Live Version) – Fleetwood Mac
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – Steely Dan
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? – She and Him
Walk With You – Ringo Starr
Singing In My Sleep – Semisonic
Knocked Up – Kings Of Leon
Big Nuthin’ – Maggie & Terre Roche
The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead – XTC
Time Stand Still – Rush
Home by the Sea – Genesis
Livin’ Thing – Electric Light Orchestra
Beach – Mew
Where The Streets Have No Name – U2
Apocalypso – Mew
Don’t Let Go The Coat – The Who
Figure Of Eight – Paul McCartney
Looking For Water – Carl Craig
Switch On [Featuring Ryan Tedder] – Paul Oakenfold
Fruit Machine – The Ting Tings
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
Airbag – Radiohead
Inni mer syngur vitleysingur – Sigur Ros
The Shock Of The Lightning – Oasis
Finer Feelings – Spoon
Read My Mind – The Killers
Nailed – Bob Mould
It’s All In My Mind – Teenage Fanclub
Souls Travel – Bettie Serveert
Miracle Medicine – Jason Falkner

Listen on Rhapsody

Mixes: Accelerate

I’ve got another 20 miler today. I’ve been listening to the same playlists for months, so it was time to build a new one. Since my run will start off easy for 5 miles and then work up to slightly below marathon effort for 15 (gulp), I wanted a mix that reflected that pattern.

There’s a lot of uptempo stuff in here, but I’ve thrown in a calmer tune every so often to remind myself to relax when I’m running fast. I find that if I listen to too much relaxing music while running fast, my mind drifts and I get complacent (and I slow down). There will be none of that nonsense today.

Here’s what I’ll be serenading myself with this morning.

More Than This – Roxy Music
Dance Away – Roxy Music
Same Old Scene – Roxy Music
You Should Be Dancing – Bee Gees
Friend – Christine McVie
Shade And Honey – Sparklehorse
Traffic and Weather – Fountains of Wayne
WannaBe in L.A. – Eagles Of Death Metal
The Laws Have Changed – New Pornographers
You Look So Fine – Garbage
Blue Morning, Blue Day – Foreigner
Lust For Life – Girls
Black Albino Bones – F*ck*d Up
Pretend That You’re Alone – Keane
Technicolor Health – The Harlem Shakes
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris – Morrissey
Say You Love Me – Fleetwood Mac
21st Century Breakdown – Green Day
Girlfriend – Phoenix
Sitting Still – R.E.M.
We Started Nothing – The Ting Tings
Let Down – Radiohead
Planet Telex – Radiohead
Freeway – Aimee Mann
The Shock Of The Lightning – Oasis
Her Voice Is Beyond Her Years – Mew
White Riot (Alternate Demo Mix) – The Clash
Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello
Something In The Air – Thunderclap Newman
Little Favours – KT Tunstall
Switch On – Paul Oakenfold
Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend
Wave Of Mutilation – Superdrag
I Thought About You – The Beautiful Girls
Holiday Road (Live) – Lindsey Buckingham
Cannonball (LP Version) – The Breeders
Come On/Let’s Go – Paul Weller
Radiation Vibe (LP Version) – Fountains of Wayne
Day After Day (2009 Remastered) – Pretenders
My Lucky Day – Jason Falkner
F*ck and Run – Liz Phair
Pathfinder – Gay Dad
The Warrior – Scandal
I See You Baby (Fatboy Slim Mix) – Groove Armada
Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
Gimme Animosity – Superdrag
The Nude – Catherine Wheel

Listen here.

Sansa Clip+: The Shuffle Killer

Sometime in 2007 I purchased an MP3 player and started subscribing to Rhapsody’s subscription music service, Rhapsody To Go. The player was a Clix from iRiver and while it’s been fine, I’ve never been thrilled with it. It has a tendency to freeze, it’s clunky and recently its battery life seems to have grown shorter and shorter between recharges. Its most recent woe is a battery life indicator that always cheerfully says “full!” When you’re halfway through a three hour long run and the music dies, that’s a long 90 minutes running with useless earphones in your ears.

It was time to replace the Clix. Naturally, I figured I’d first check out what iRiver was making these days. But unfortunately the iRiver web site has gone from bad to worse. I wonder if they actually want people to buy their products. Since I couldn’t make sense of their product line I next took a look at Sansa’s players, which had always had a reputation for playing nicely with Rhapsody. I settled on the Clip+ player. For $64 I got:

  • 8 gigs of storage (that’s 6 gigs more than the Clix has)
  • Room for up to 32 gigs more thanks to the MicroSD card slot
  • 15 hours of battery life
  • An FM radio with more presets than I’ll ever use
  • A sturdy, built-in clip
  • Excellent sound quality
  • An easy-to-navigate menu system
  • On-the-fly playlist creation and removal of tracks
  • Seamless integration with Rhapsody, including its radio-like, musically themed “channels” (which never worked with the Clix)
  • No software drivers needed; it’s plug and play!

All this in a package that weighs about an ounce and is smaller than a matchbox.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

Despite being a Mac user since 1988 (I still remember being awed by the computing power of the Mac Plus), and still using one for my personal machine, I’ve never owned an iPod. Maybe I’m mentally challenged, but I couldn’t figure out the clickwheel the one time I tried to use one. Plus, who wants to pay for every song? For $15 a month I can download and take with me any of around 2,000,000 songs. If I want to buy something, I can download the MP3s, oftentimes for less than what Apple is charging for them on iTunes.

I’d looked at the previous generation of the Clip, but the actual clip looked flimsy, as did the materials overall. But with the “+” edition, Sansa seems to have gotten things right. I wore it on a faster run on the track this morning and, unlike the Clix, which bounced around like a small brick, I often had trouble locating the player on my shorts.

If people are willing to wrest themselves from the Apple hegemony of iTunes, the Clip+ and Rhapsody To Go are an attractive prospect. Observe:

  • The Clip+ is cheaper than the 4GB Shuffle by about $10
  • It has a radio, a voice recorder, twice the storage (and up to 10x the storage if you spring for a MicroSD card)
  • It has a display screen; shouldn’t this be a basic feature?
  • No stupid white headphones

Be a rebel. Dump the iPod.

Mixes: 33 for 150

I’ve got a training plan for the next few months. Now all I need is music to make the longer runs a little less tedious. Here’s the first new playlist, which I’ll probably use for my midlength (12-15 miles) runs. It’s fairly uptempo but not the crazy, aggressive crap I listen to for the faster aerobic and tempo runs.

1. Paper Birds – The Slip

2. Airplane/Primitive – The Slip

3. Children Of December – The Slip

4. Clear Water – Anniemac

5. The Sun Smells Too Loud – Mogwai

6. Glasgow Mega-Snake – Mogwai

7. Special – Mew

8. Hawaii – Mew

9. Her Voice Is Beyond Her Years – Mew

10. Snow Brigade – Mew

11. Am I Wry? No – Mew

12. Black Hearts (On Fire) – Jet

13. (Drawing) Rings Around The World – Super Furry Animals

14. The Undefeated – Super Furry Animals

15. Slow Life – Super Furry Animals

16. Cath… – Death Cab For Cutie

17. New Killer Star – David Bowie

18. House Of Orion – Lukestar

19. Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire

20. Wrapped Up In Books – Belle and Sebastian

21. Everybody Come Down – The Delgados

22. Senses – La Rocca

23. Eyes While Open – La Rocca

24. Non Believer – La Rocca

25. My Lucky Day – Jason Falkner

26. I Live – Jason Falkner

27. Under the Milkyway – The Church

28. There, There – Radiohead

29. Jigsaw Falling Into Place – Radiohead

30. Pretty In Pink – The Psychedelic Furs

31. Beautiful People – Pet Shop Boys

32. Keys To Your Heart – The 101ers

33. Lola Stars and Stripes – The Stills

Listen on Rhapsody

Fun facts about a few of these:

#4 is by Annie McIntyre, who I grew up with and saw for the first time in a few decades when we went to Oregon in the summer.

#17 is just so Bowie. It’s newer, but evidence that, unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he hasn’t lost his talent.

#27 and #30 are there purely for nostalgia. I love both these tunes, primarily for the vocal.

#32 is Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash band. Their only hit.

Mixes: Roche Infestation

A few years ago I was working with a couple of women about my age and I was surprised to find that they’d never heard of The Roches, a three-sister folk group to whom I’ve been listening since someone played their debut album to me, to my delight and wonder, sometime in the early 80s. Noting my colleagues’ blank expressions as I insisted, “The Roches? Robert Fripp? C’mon…” I realized just how obscure The Roches actually are.

Their music is hard to describe, but its hallmark is soaring harmonies and a distinctly off-kilter sensibility. They are talented songwriters, exceptional singers and wholly original. Who else could write an eight-and-a-half-minute song extolling the virtues of a winter coat and somehow make it work?

I put together a Roches mix for my run this morning consisting entirely of my favorite recordings from their extensive ouvre. Over the years they’ve put out a wildly inconsistent set of albums, which has been frustrating. Some albums are just plain terrible. Others are okay, but marred by unwise production choices. I still think their eponymously titled debut (which Fripp produced and plays otherworldly guitar on) is their best, but I’d credit Can We Go Home Now and Speak as two other high points.

I’ve seen them perform at various points — once in Manhattan in the mid-1980s (I think it was The Bottom Line, but it may have been somewhere else) and then again later that decade on Staten Island at Snug Harbour Cultural Center. Both shows were great. Then, about 10 years ago, I went to see one of them, Suzzy, do a solo show at the church at the bottom of my street to promote her solo album, Holy Smokes. It was, frankly, depressing to see such a talented woman performing for $15 to a room of about 50 people. But perform she did and managed to singlehandedly bring to life songs that on record had required the vocal work of three. My favorite song of that set was “Home Away From Home,” which she managed masterfully with just one guitar and voice. I still think of that song as one of their masterpieces.

Anyway, here’s the playlist. If you’ve never heard of The Roches, start with the bold titles. They represent a pretty good cross-section of their sound. If you don’t like those, you won’t like any of them.

  1. This Feminine Position
  2. Keep on Doing What You Do / Jerks On The Loose
  3. Scorpion Lament
  4. Losing True
  5. Feeling is Mutual
  6. Nocturne
  7. Easy
  8. Person With a Past
  9. Cloud Dancing
  10. Big Nuthin’
  11. Speak
  12. Weeded Out
  13. Face Down At Folk City
  14. Love Radiates Around
  15. My Winter Coat
  16. Holidays
  17. Move
  18. Home Away From Home
  19. Hammond Song
  20. Mr. Sellack
  21. The Train
  22. Quitting Time
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