Happy New Year…almost…

So many choices. What will I be doing this evening? Well, for one thing, I’ll be staying as far away from Times Square as possible. I did that once. Never again.

We have a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, some appealing liquor choices, the makings of homemade pizza, and a Planet of the Apes marathon on AMC. What more does one need to ring in the new year?

Tomorrow I do a tempo run and take down the Christmas decorations in the morning. Then I lie on the couch all afternoon watching hours of English Premier League Football and consuming (for me) vast quantities of beer (three?).

It’s all over on Wednesday.

Two marathon movies

Movie number 1, “Spirit of the Marathon” has been in the works for awhile. Like televised coverage of marathons, a movie about marathoning is probably not expected to be a crowd-gatherer…but I do see that they’ve hooked up with a distribution company to show it around the country on January 24. More info here.

Movie number 2, “3:15” is something I stumbled across on the Motley Fool “Running Fools” message board. I don’t know what the fate of this one will be in terms of distribution, although I’ve sent a note of inquiry to the original poster (who is a friend of someone on the crew). More info here.

Race Report: Rockland 5 Mile Turkey Trot

In which I submit another race report and extoll the virtues of Tivo, dessert and sleep.

Yesterday was my second running of this Thanksgiving Day race, the Rockland Road Runners’ Turkey Trot. The weather was wonderful for running: upper 40s, overcast, no wind to speak of. The good conditions yielded a much bigger turnout as compared to last year: 1400+ runners. The Elvis impersonator looked much happier to be there this year too.

This was the second of three races I’m running in as many weeks, and the one I care about the least. I did an easy 10 miler on Wednesday, so I knew my legs wouldn’t be as “fresh” as they could be yesterday morning. Still, in relative terms, this was my best race so far — slightly better than the 10K in Nyack last weekend. New 5 mile PR — 36:41.

I know the course was a bit easier than in Nyack, because my heart rate was at around 91-92% max throughout the race. It was 92-93% max last weekend. (What did people do before heart rate monitors?) I was aware, while running, that I could have pushed harder, but I just didn’t want to. Although one woman passed me at around mile 3 and stayed five seconds or so ahead of me all the way to the finish. She was driving me a bit crazy, as each time I caught her, she’d open up the space again. Turns out she was in my age group.

Speaking of which, I missed an age group award by two slots and about 1:20, which was fine. I would have been surprised to have won anything given the field size, especially coupled with my “I just don’t feel like running faster” racing strategy. Jonathan won his again, however, with a time of 31:14. Sir Speedy.

We followed up with an early dinner out in Tuckahoe, capped by some lovely cake and dessert wine at home. Then collapsed into bed at around 9PM for ~10 hours of sleep. A couple of party animals, we are.

Three days of quiet await me, with only recovery runs and a Sunday 18 miler to punctuate them. I may go see a movie. But today I’m inside avoiding the Black Friday madness.

I did acquire a new toy recently: a Tivo DVR. We missed television coverage of the NYC marathon earlier in the month, since we were on a plane back from Nevada at the time. Plus there’s stuff on at odd hours that I can’t watch, either because I’m asleep, running or engaged in that incredibly inconvenient, time-sucking activity known as “working.”

It’s a useful gadget, although a bit overenthusiastic about auto-recording things it thinks you’ll be interested in. For example, it had us pegged for fans of the ’80s sitcom “Full House” and elk hunting programs. I have no idea why. At least you can refine it by programatically saying things like, “Never grace my cathode ray tube with the likes of John Stamos or Bob Saget again! Anon!” The upside is that I now have about 10 hours of English Premier League and Euro Cup 2008 Football awaiting me, plus a bunch of movies.

The best part? You can pause television, and there’s an “easter egg” that allows you to set up the remote so you can skip 30 seconds ahead at a time. This enables you to zip through several minutes of commercials in just a few seconds. That is worth the price of admission alone.

Next up: the Hot Chocolate 15K in Central Park next Saturday. I’m going to taper a bit for that one because I do care about how I do in that race. Next week’s a recovery week too, which means lower mileage, so my legs should be in better shape on Saturday. My goal is to run it in under 1:11:00. It’s not an easy course — plus there are always wildcard factors like wind — we shall see. Last year’s field was 4,000+ people, including lots of fast middle aged women…names I’m starting to see over and over again, in fact!

Yesterday’s splits:

Mile 1          7:25
Mile 2 7:10
Mile 3 7:07*
Mile 4 7:22
Mile 5 7:07

Finish time 36:41

Average pace 7:20

*When I first started racing two years ago, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be able to run this fast.


I’ve got some sort of problem with my left foot. I can’t say I’m surprised — in fact, I’m happier that there’s not more wrong with me, all things considered.

I have a sharp pain on the outside bottom of the foot, about an third of the way up the foot from heel to little toe. I did some walking (and, yes, I admit it, a little light running. So sue me.) on the treadmill last night, which seemed to aggravate it. So I’ve put the kibosh on plans to run this evening. I’ll take another day or two. In the meantime, it’s back to ice, elevation and ibuprofen. At least it’s refreshing to be treating something other than my shins.

I have some writing work to do this weekend, but not more than six or so hours. I’ll get it out of the way early tomorrow so it’s not hanging over my head. Other big plans are watching “Little Miss Sunshine” and cheering Jonathan on in the Scarsdale 15K race this Sunday.

I do miss running. I think I’ll buy a new pair of shoes to comfort myself.

INLAND EMPIRE: A great movie most people won’t ever see

Yesterday I went into Manhattan to go see David Lynch’s new movie INLAND EMPIRE. He’s self-released it, so it’s only in a few American theatres and only for a short time.

It’s an extremely satisfying movie, although not easy to sit through. I saw it described somewhere as a book end to Mulholland Drive, which I still think is his masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite movies.

It’s hard to compare the new one with that movie, as it’s a very different story (or set of stories), and a completely different visual style, not the least of which is due to its being shot on a consumer-level digital video camera rather than on film. For example, I realized after I walked out of the theatre that with the exception of the first few minutes of the movie and the closing credits, there was virtually no natural light during the other three or so hours. It’s 90% shot in underlit interiors or night time exterior scenes. The other 10% is overexposed daylight exteriors. Like his other movies, sound, music and strong color choices all contribute to an effective whole. Who else can use these elements to so effectively make something as innocuous as a bedroom lamp seem menacing?

The story (or interwoven stories) includes a range of locales, events and themes, many of them carryovers from other Lynch works: a cursed film remake; Polish Gypsies, curses and underworld figures; the seamy underbelly of Hollywood; street people; anachronistic elements, such as a 30s radio announcer; doors, alleys and stairways to other worlds; and a banal sitcom starring anthropomorphic rabbits. At the center of it all is a woman (several women, actually) who is in big, big trouble.

Lynch also knows how to get good performances out of his actors. Laura Dern was astonishing, morphing into four (five?) distinct characters. And, although she’s in almost every shot, she doesn’t even have any lines in the last 45 or so minutes of the movie, but you can’t take your eyes off of her. I’d like to see Julia Roberts pull that off.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that what made the movie hard to sit through was its relentlous feeling of dread. The entire movie is an extended nightmare, with Dern’s situation going from bad to worse. And you’re right alongside her during her ordeal, and the way she is directed, we are empathetic participants, wanting to reach into the screen and help her, not passive voyeurs to the spectacle.

He’s also used some of his most frightening imagery in this movie, using distorted visuals to achieve a painterly effect not unlike Francis Bacon paintings (he has cited Bacon as an influence). One frame contains a shocking, distorted image of Dern’s face that will haunt many viewers.

Anyway, there’s my highbrow review. I eagerly await Lynch’s movies because I enjoy getting lost in his strange world every few years, so I was glad to be able to catch this one in the theatre rather than having to rely on DVD to see it. He’s also one of the few directors I can think of who so fully exploits and combines sound design and music with visuals.

Here are some favorite David Lynch quotes — and one reason why I’ve stopped believing that his movies have some secret “key” to unlocking what they supposedly really mean. I do believe him when he says that they are to be experienced not unlike you experience a piece of abstract art, with your interpretation unfolding however it does (and no single interpretation being the ‘right’ one). That doesn’t necessarily mean that his films make no sense. They can, but the sense they make is more a process of realizing how the recursive narratives and overlapping/morphing characters fit together into a larger thematic structure, and not so much about making linear sense of everything and everyone.

I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable.

I love child things because there’s so much mystery when you’re a child. When you’re a child, something as simple as a tree doesn’t make sense. You see it in the distance and it looks small, but as you go closer, it seems to grow — you haven’t got a handle on the rules when you’re a child. We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experienced is a narrowing of the imagination.

— David Lynch

Running. Movies. Together at last.

Came across this in my couch surfing this morning: www.runningmovies.com.

The site is an actively maintained (and, from the looks of it, quite comprehensive) compendium of running-related movies: from Olympic highlights, to dramas, to instructional films — and more.

Too bad most of these aren’t available on Netflix.

Ultramarathon Orgy!

I’d better post something before this blog slides further into entropy…

Work has been, and continues to be, insane. And I just got a big freelance project that should keep me busy through late fall/early winter. Yay and yikes. Which explains the lack of blogging and lack of vacation pictures.

So, back to something running related…

I have been on an “ultramarathon” jag lately, which has involved reading a couple of books by endurance athletes, and renting a movie about the infamous Badwater race (more on this in a moment).

I don’t know why I’m suddenly into this stuff. Perhaps it’s the strange pleasure that comes from vicarious suffering. Another theory is that I’ve made a recent mental shift, deciding that I want to train to run in a marathon in 2007. Maybe the prospect of running 26.2 miles is made easier by reading about people who run 100+ mile races.

The two books I’ve read are:

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
Badwater: A Man, Dealth Valley, and the Mystery of Endurance by Kirk Johnson

And the film:

Running on the Sun by Mel Stuart

The Karnazes book is a quick, interesting read. While he’s not the best writer in the world, his writing style is lighthearted and engaging. And his accounts of long training runs and ultramarathon events such as Badwater, the Western States 100 and the first (and perhaps last) marathon in the South Pole are fascinating. And the fact that he’s accomplished things that don’t seem physically possible is very inspiring. Right now, Karnazes is embarking on another first: The Endurance 50 — 50 successive marathons in 50 states over 50 days. Of course, this seems crazy. But so have many of the other challenges he’s embarked on and accomplished.

The book offers handy tips. For example, did you know you can fix a bad blister with Krazy Glue and duct tape? It’s all true.

The book is marred by some unflattering (unbeknownst to the author, it seems) elements of self-portrait — the author comes off as boorish and callous at times. And his constant protestations about how much his entire family loves riding around in a camper for days on end, feeding him as he runs along the road, makes me wonder how harmonious the arrangement really is.

A bookend (if you will) to the Karnazes book is Johnson’s book. Where Karnazes comes off as a confident (if foolhardy) pro, Johnson is a guy you can sort of relate to. After his brother, a serious runner, committed suicide, Johnson (who’d never run a marathon) decided to train for Badwater in an attempt to understand his brother and reunite his somewhat distant family members.

For the unitiated, The Badwater Ultramarathon is called the “world’s toughest footrace.” It’s a 135 mile race. From nearly 300 feet below sea level to the top of Mt. Whitney (at 8,300 feet). Did I mention that Mt. Whitney is in Death Valley? Oh, and the race is in the middle of summer? Jeeeezus Christ.

This book offers another — and more detailed — account of what it’s like to run Badwater. Johnson is a professional journalist and a superb writer. But I found the book self-indulgent in many spots and sometimes downright whiney. On the other hand, there was a pleasure in watching him go from nervous newbie marathoner to the finish line of Badwater. I just wish he’d spent more words describing the race and fewer describing his internal struggles. But, it’s a book about discovering one’s self and one’s familial bonds, so I can forgive him for that. It’s a page turner, and what higher compliment can you pay a book about an adventure?

Finally, there’s the movie Running on the Sun. This was a really fun movie to watch (if “fun” is the right word). If you ever had illusions about running a race like Badwater, this will destroy them soundly. The documentary is fascinating, because it not only gives you a sense of actually being at the race, but it emphasizes that the people who run it are ordinary people — ordinary people who just happen to have the desire, discipline and fortitude to try to do something extraordinary. Like the Karnazes book, the movis is both entertaining and inspiring.

And I now know I’ll never run Badwater.

And that’s okay.