Spring is in full swing

Jonathan saw a red fox with a very bushy tail while out on his run this afternoon, emerging from a small wood next to some condominiums in Tuckahoe. It’s only the second time either of us has ever seen a fox around here. Brave little fox.

And just now a wild rabbit scampered across our lawn. For several years, a couple of ducks would fly onto our lawn and spend a few days floating around in the runoff stream (aka “drainage sluice”) that runs alongside our house. They haven’t been back for a few years. Or maybe they were different ducks. Who can tell?

In other news, my niece’s high school varsity Ultimate (frisbee) team just won the California youth championship yesterday. In a few weeks she goes to the regional (Western) championships in Missouri. I am proud to have a niece who can kick her some frisbee ass.

The hissing of summer swans

Okay, it was a goose. But I couldn’t resist a Joni Mitchell-related pun.

Today was my first longish run since the April 6th race. Among the sights today were:

  • Dog Runner Man: A professional dog walker who runs with his charges. He’s usually got four dogs in tow. Last time, it was mid-sized mutts and little yappy jobs. Today it was the big guns, including three of my favorite breed: German Shepherds.
  • Badass Goose Dad: I know it’s spring because the geese couples are beginning to show up with their little fluffball chick children. Which means Dad Goose goes batshit if you get with 10 yards of the family. I was chased by a hissing goose a year or two back, and it’s an image seared into my brain. Today I gave them wide berth and even had to employ the “make yourself look really big” trick (arms akimbo) to psyche out the goose. One time we were in a car and a goose charged the car!
  • Mysterious Parking Lot Crowd: Every child in Crestwood was gathered in the Crestwood station parking lot this morning for some mysterious event. They all had sport uniforms on. From a distance, I thought I’d stumbled on another meeting of what Jonathan and I have referred to as The Idiots’ Club — a giant crowd of adults was gathered last weekend in the same general area, but totally blocking the entire path, milling around, not at all aware that anyone else might be using it. Today I thought the same thing: one of my favorite Claire Fisher lines from “Six Feet Under”: “News flash! Other people exist!”
  • Fast Runner Guy I Haven’t Seen Before. I saw a very fast, very fit guy running this morning. Harumph. And I thought I knew all the decent runners in the area by sight.

I’ve not taken the standard advice to do no hard running for at least 26 days after a marathon. I did a lot of recovery and “easy” (faster than recovery) running last week. This week I did a 4 mile tempo run at 7:05-7:15 per mile pace on Friday morning on the very high quality (if not totally distance accurate) Bronxville High School track (one of the many perks of living right up the road from incredibly rich people). This morning was a 14.7 miler, which I surprised myself by doing at 8:15 per mile pace, at a lowish heart rate no less. I’m not sure where all that speed is coming from, but I’ll take it.

Next weekend is my half marathon in New Jersey. If it goes well, I think I’ll make a habit of doing one a month after the marathon, since it keeps me working during recovery and provides some remedy for the post-marathon melancholy.

On the family front, the other shoe has dropped with regard to my grandmother. She’s back in hospice once again, by her own choice. I wish she’d fight on, but maybe when I reach 93, and time and illness have stolen some of my most treasured faculties, I’ll also decide to throw in the towel on life. It’s a hard, hard thing to say goodbye. But love was all around when I was out there two weeks ago, as was the black humor that seems to run in both sides of the family (which would explain why my sister and I have it in spades).

I’m still on the hook for writing her obituary. But I can’t quite bring myself to tackle that one yet.

Some random media notes:

I’ve rented a string of dreadful movies lately. Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” was a welcome break from that last night. It’s a classic hero’s journey storyline. Well-written and I’ll watch about anything Christian Bale’s in. Unfortunately, the movie should have ended about 20 minutes earlier than it did, but other than that it was a good flick.

I’m also really enjoying Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, “The Post-Birthday World“. It’s a “Sliding Doors”-type of structure, with alternate chapters portraying how the main character’s life plays out under two scenarios: one in which she kisses a man, the other in which she doesn’t. Her work can be uneven — I thought “Game Control” fell apart as a story about halfway through, losing all momentum, for example or, in the case of “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a good start ended up careening into histrionic melodrama. But she is a very skilled writer and she has a wonderful eye for absurd situations and the comedic potential presented by the tensions between siblings and their parents.

"Fast and flat"

If you tried to qualify for Boston 2008 but missed the qualifying time (or you want to qualify for guaranteed entry into New York 2008), check out this analysis of Boston qualifying times. Among other useful pieces of information, it lists the dozen or so certified US races that had the highest number of qualifiers for 2006 and 2007. Presumably this data indicates that their courses are both “fast” and “flat” — good candidates for your next attempt.

An expensive hobby?

Or a cheap passion?

I recently discovered, thanks to Quicken, that we spend around 1.5% of our gross income on running annually. Is that high? Low?

It’s more than what we spend on liquor. That’s saying something, right?

High drama on the streets of Boston

Kastor ran a very smart trials race on Sunday to take spot #1 in Beijing. Hopefully this will teach the commentators that you can’t ever call a marathon at mile 16.

And the Boston Marathon was an amazing spectacle, especially the nailbiter women’s race finish — the closest finish in the race’s history. Good analysis of the men’s and women’s races here.

Finally, Joan Samuelson smashed the 50 and over age group records for both the women’s trials and the national record.

Runs like a squirrel

What the hell is it with squirrels? They are the most impulsive creatures on the planet and exhibit consistently poor judgment.

Twice this week, I’ve had to stop the car as a squirrel darted under the wheels. This morning, when I was out for a run, another one ran right up to me and just whirled around in circles before darting back the way it came.

Forget lemmings. Squirrels are the true suicidal rodent.

Boston Blowout Blitz

Coming up: the dufecta of big races in Boston. On Sunday all the fast, skinny chicks will toe the line at the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials to see who gets to inhale coal in Beijing. And on Monday the excitement continues with the 112th running of the Boston Marathon.

The trials will be shown live on NBC.com at 8AM EST with a follow-up 1 hour summary televised at noon. More info here.

Boston will be carried live on the web at WCSN.com at 9:25 EST and on the Versus channel, which is probably located among the basement channels of your nearest premium cable provider.


In Iowa

I’ve been in Iowa for the past few days. I flew out here on Wednesday to attend to what I suppose is meant when someone uses the term “family crisis.” My beloved 93-year-old grandmother suffered a stroke a little under two weeks ago and she was aiming to slip from this mortal coil, or so it seemed. She’d been in a great deal of pain and discomfort, with reduced capacity in key areas (can’t walk, can’t swallow, double vision in one eye). She raised her hand for the “no extraordinary measures” option and stopped taking water and food on Monday.

But you know what? My grandmother may be one of the few people I’ll ever know who left a hospice facility alive. She looked like she was fading on Thursday morning, and we were all getting prepared to say goodbye sometime during the coming days or weeks. I was even working on a draft of her obit. Then, in the afternoon, she perked up and began talking about wanting to fight on. From heartbreak to hope in the space of a few hours — Thursday probably ranks up there as one of the worst and best days of my life.

Now she’s out of hospice and back in the hospital rehab unit, taking food and water through a tube, as well as starting to manage food by mouth. She handled her first round of physical therapy yesterday like a trouper. Her sense of humor is intact, as is her fighting spirit. She has lots of hurdles in front of her: first, to learn to swallow, stand and walk so she can get out of the hospital. Next, weeks or months of work in the skilled nursing area of her retirement home. Then, if that goes well, a move over to assisted living. She even has an outside shot at getting back into her apartment.

I am in awe at her ability to survive.

I head back home tomorrow, but will probably make another trip out in May or June to cheer her on (and up).

Since this is a running blog, some obligatory running stuff is in order: I didn’t run for three days post-marathon, which seemed to be the perfect thing to do. On Thursday I did four miles at 10:30 on the motel treadmill, then five miles at 10:00 on Friday. Yesterday the entire exercise room was put out of commission until sometime next week due to a broken door.

So I headed out onto the streets of Cedar Rapids into 20 mph winds (I’m used to it!) and horizontal sleet. It ended up being a fantastic run. I hammered out six miles, despite the wind, for an average of 8:30 per mile. I’m running in my new Saucony Fastwitch 3’s and they are hands down the best running shoes I’ve ever worn. They weigh 6 ounces and make me feel like Gete Wami. Finished up the run at 7:50 (the tailwind helped on the way back), pleasantly relaxed and ready for the whatever the day had in store, which was good news all around, as it turned out.

I love running here. Cornfields, sky and flatness yield expansive vistas like this. The city is more or less a grid, with lots of major avenues, so it’s difficult for even me to get lost. And I rarely see other runners, so I get to feel like a local curiosity for an hour or so.

The weather is similar today (actually, colder at 20 degrees with the windchill), but I’ll head out for the same run in a few minutes.

More Marathon: A volunteer’s perspective

Nice blog post from blogger Pigtails Flying, on the experience of volunteering at the More race on Sunday.

My 15 minutes of fame

I made the “leader gallery” page for the More event. Here’s the link. (Scroll down to see yours truly.)

It looks like NYRR figured out that the initial results were bad due to some marathoners running a shorter course (through no fault of their own). There are no photos of those people, and we’re in shown on the gallery page in the order Jonathan saw us come through. The net? I was actually tenth in the marathon.