Okay. This is the best keyword search I’ve ever received.
“just walked out of the dentist and going home to die”
It’s also worth doing a search on this phrase. You will get back easily an entire evening’s worth of reading.
I’m not following Jack Daniels’ training anymore. I need a breakthrough and 20:50 was not a breakthrough.
So now I’m doing something totally different.
Over the next three months I will be doing a combination of weekly speed workouts consisting of track repeats at various distances, all at a goal 5K pace of 6:25; and one hard, lung-busting hill running session in either Central or Van Cortlandt Park each week, of gradually increasing distance and speed.
Let’s see if this works.
I haven’t posted anything about my training (a term I’ve used loosely lately) for nearly two months. Running has not been at the forefront during this time, to say the least. But I have been doing something resembling training, if only to try to retain the 5K fitness I spent months carefully crafting in preparation for Houston.
In the weeks since my dad died I’ve run an average of around 28 mpw. That’s not terrible. Starting about a month ago I was back to two workouts a week most weeks. I ran the Cherry Tree Relay and didn’t do half bad (somewhere between 23:00-24:00 for 3.33 miles; I wasn’t timing myself). Three tempo runs, two speed workouts. Not exactly stellar, but I’ve made an effort. I took four days off last week. I was exhausted.
Today I raced Coogan’s and came in 12 seconds faster than last year. I’d liked that to have been 1:12 faster, but you can’t have everything.
During this time I’ve considered what I want to do with my spring and summer in terms of running. I liked 5K training in the fall and winter. It seemed logical to target another 5K in the early summer and then do another 12-14 week buildup for the Fifth Avenue Mile. But then I started registering for NYRR club points races. This despite my bitching about not wanting to run all those Central Park races. But something’s wrong with me. I can’t stop myself.
I’m not going to race nearly every club points race like I did last year (or, at least, that’s what I’m saying now). But it seemed crazy not to register for the Scotland 10K. Then the Mini 10K registration opened and well, it’s got so much history. How could I not race that one too? In fact, I may as well make that my goal race since I’ve got 14 weeks to prepare for it. There’s a newish race up here in the northern hinterlands, the 2nd Annual Bill Fortune Memorial Run (put on by Rockland Road Runners) on May 20th. That one’s around Rockland Lake, which is flat, if a little narrow. It appeals to me because it consists of a 5K and a 10K. So I can always wait and see which distance I feel like racing when the day comes.
I am returning to Jack Daniels’ Running Formula for training guidance and I am reminded that his plan for the 5K and 10K is the same. It’s the “5K-15K training” chapter. You see where this is going, right? I may as well train for a 10K since I’m now registered for two of them. Which is easy because I’ll also be training for the 5K.
The other decision I’ve made is to skip the Vermont Green Mountain Relay, much as I enjoyed the experience two years ago. I have long suspected that the combination of racing the Mini 10K all out, followed by the brutal requirements of that relay (three races over 24 hours, lots of hills and — during that year — a horrible heat wave), followed by hard training is what may have pushed me over the edge into a bad injury. I won’t be trained for that race on the current program, nor do I want to head into mile training exhausted, so that one’s a no go this year.
I’ll stick with two hard workouts (or one workout, one race) per week since it’s kept me uninjured since July. I’m designing my mileage to be relatively low: 45 max to start out with, but I’ll push it into the 50s if it doesn’t exhaust me. Aside from the 10K races, I’ve got a few much shorter competitive efforts planned as well. I’m sick of being a purist. So I’ll race stuff I’m not trained specifically for. Next weekend I’m running the 2 Mile, along with the 800m leg of the Distance Medley Relay, at the McCarren Track Classic (I like how it’s called “classic” even though this is the first year). Then the Scotland 10K a month later. Then the Rockland Lake race, although I may try to find something else in there since it’s six weeks between those two races. Then the Mini 10K three weeks after that. For June and July I’ll probably do two of the Icahn Tuesday night series races and, finally, the Van Cortlandt 2×2 Relay, although I don’t yet know with whom I’ll race.
Training starts in earnest this week. The other order of business is to find a gym closer to home so I can get back to pumping iron. That’s next weekend’s project.
It feels very good to be racing and training again.
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:
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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How long is a month?
It’s a long time. But it’s also not long at all.
What’s the difference between grief and depression?
I can’t actually tell the difference right now.
Is there anything good about death?
Okay, maybe it’s not all bad. I found this interesting quote from from Ann Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies:
Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t work for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.
But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.
And here is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose name is practically synonymous with death, has to say:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.
These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen.
That sounds great. What’s wrong with that idea?
Because I’ve already been through plenty of defeat, suffering and loss. I get it, okay? I’m trying to be as beautiful as I can be, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. You can give it a fucking rest now.
At least I’m not this woman. There’s always someone else with a greater burden to bear, equipped with more strength and grace than you with which to handle it. And that’s pretty inspiring, somewhat comforting, and not a little intimidating.
My dad’s memorial service is in two weeks. I keep thinking something magical is going to happen after that, like it’s some sort of grief threshold I’ll cross and then everything will start getting better instantly. But I know better than that.
So you’re sad right now. That sucks. What else are you up to?
I’m working, but not too much and thankfully it’s from home where I’m free to have the unexpected emotional meltdown. I’m trying to decide if I want to pursue a lead I got on a freelance gig with a VERY BIG NAME (rhymes with “schmoogle”), but I don’t know if I have the energy right now.
I’m running, although I don’t really have a plan other than to try to run at least five days a week and do two decent workouts in there somewhere. Most of it’s unstructured. I’ll go run around on the XC course at Van Cortlandt Park. Today I went into Central Park and did 25 minutes of fartlek running, chopped up into 3-7 minute segments over a full park loop. I passed a lot of people and felt like a badass for 45 minutes. I mostly just go run and do whatever. I have a race next weekend, the Cherry Tree 10 Miler Relay, with two of my favorite people. That’s for fun, although I’m hoping I can do something with the 5K fitness I spent months working on building and did not get to use in Houston last month except for running through airports.
I don’t sleep very much. I am plowing through my generic Ambien at an alarming rate. My neck and back are a holy mess — I basically go for the same massage every 10 days or so. My massage therapist is a funny woman, about my age, who has lots of stories about death. We’re going for drinks some night soon, since I’m usually lying face down when we converse and I’d like to change that.
I have neglected fruits and vegetables. I need to get back to those. Also: flossing.
I drink to excess some nights, but that was something I did in the best of times, so don’t worry.
I’m writing up an absolute storm these days.
I am hoping to hit some open mics this month, although that’s been a lot of work since I have to have very short pieces for those and everything I write is about 8 minutes too long. But I have one new piece that’s short and will be working on others. I’ve been going to a few to listen (and mostly rule them out). But I do appreciate living just north of NYC, where if you can’t find an open mic at least four nights a week then you are either blind or not very resourceful.
A few months ago I signed up for a beginner’s acting class that started a week after my dad died. I deferred that and will instead be taking that in about two months. I’m nervous about it, because I’m a terrible actor, but that’s why I’m taking a class, isn’t it? (I don’t want to be an actor, by the way. I just want to learn to be less self-conscious when I’m up on stage telling a story.)
The truth is, I feel awful much of the time. I’m not fun to live with. I get brief waves of levity and then I ride those waves (usually in the form of making amusing Facebook posts, seeing friends, or getting my shopping done) for all they’re worth. I don’t think I’m wallowing in self pity. I believe it’s good to acknowledge and feel pain for the reasons Lamott states above. It would be helpful to have some sense of when it will lessen. But I know things don’t work that way. I have Kleenex boxes in every room of the house. My entire house looks like a psychoanalyst’s office. It’s actually sort of funny, when you think about it.
I’ve developed a theory that the periods of reprieve we get from the soul-crushing sadness are some kind of evolutionary mechanism; they keep us from shutting down completely in order for us to survive. That theory is extending into the idea that maybe death as a physical and psychic experience is also not that bad, or perhaps even fantastically pleasurable. We can only hope.
Thanks for the kind comments on the previous blog post, as well as the various notes and other condolences. I hope that I can be as generous, wise and buoyant a presence for others when I hear the call.
Everything is going to be okay.
Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.
Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.
In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.
We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”
And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.
I won’t go into all of that here.
We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview), the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.
These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.
And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.
Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?