3/27/2010

Race Report: Catching up with ketchup

This morning I ran the first repeat 5K of my racing days - the Zeta Tau Alpha Run for Life. Last year, it was my second race of my life. Since then I've ran a few other races. I wanted to run this one as a warm-up for the 10-Miler next week, to remember what the feeling is like of competing with other people so that I don't overdo it from the start.

This morning, I could not find either of my watches. I don't know where my Garmin is, or my cheap Timex. I spent 30 minutes or so frantically searching my house. I even considered not running the face because I was worried I'd have the same issue I've had in all other races I've run so far - puking because I run way too fast without realizing it.

It's easy to get caught up in the adrenaline when someone shouts "go!" and a thousand footfalls drum you on. At the start today, I held back and tried to pretend it was just another run on a sunny Saturday morning in the cold.

I did not fool myself. After a couple of minutes, I became irritated that a man dressed head to toe in green spandex was still in front of me. I was also ticked off that I was being beaten by condiment. A ketchup bottle was running side by side with a guy in a sombrero. This could not stand, thought my body, and so I pushed myself a little harder.

I didn't really feel it, and thought somehow I was going slow. The Garmin would have been keeping track of how far I was going, and I would have used it to make sure I didn't overdo it. After all, I wasn't looking to beat my personal record of 22:01 for a 5K. I just wanted to beat the 23:08 I'd achieved last year.

All was well until I got to Alderman, and we climbed uphill past the Catholic church. I started passing people heading up, because I've deliberately trained on hills, and I liked the sheer thrill of passing people.

At the top, though, my stomach reminded me that I'm not Jesse Owens, and that I needed to keep things in perspective. I thought my puking moment was about to occur, but I managed to slow down, breathe a little deeply, and pass through it.

On the downhill, the ketchup bottle passed me again. This annoyed me.So, I forgot about my digestive issue again. I didn't outright sprint, but continued at what I thought was a somewhat decent pace. After passing the bottle again, I closed my eyes for about two seconds, visualized something else to take my mind off of things, and tried to dial in a nice pace to finish up.

I've run down McCormick so many times now in the past year, that I'm used to it, so when we ran back up the hill past Clark Hall, I thought I was going to be doing well. I didn't think I was going particularly fast. Didn't feel like I was really straining myself. Sure, I was going faster than my usual runs, but I thought all was well.

Just past the Harrison Institute and Chapel, I saw some guy who had stopped to puke. Poor guy, I thought.

Of course, there was the matter of the ketchup bottle. I had to stay ahead of him, so I sped up. I experimented with changing my gait slightly. I shortened my strides, but pumped my legs faster. There wasn't much left to go, and I though I would be alright.

No.

Heading downhill and around the curve, the burps started again. I slowed down, hoping that would take care of it. I just wanted to make my way through to the end. My body had other ideas. Whatever causes this issue for me demanded to be resolved, so I tried to throw up without stopping. After some very unsatisfying attempts at this, I had to pull over for a second.

I leaned against the brick wall at Alderman, next to the book drop, and took 5 seconds to do what I had to do. Embarrasingly, there went the ketchup bottle. I knew I would not catch up, but that was okay.

Those 5 seconds felt like a lifetime. My heart was beating faster than I think it should have been. I took a deep breath, and up the hill I went to the finish line at Newcomb Plaza. I was amazed, as the timer was ticking up from 22:15, and I jogged across right at 22:30.

Not too bad. I've got plenty of training ahead of me, but I was satisfied with the results, and shook off the embarrassment.

I'm pretty sure I won't make this same mistake in the ten-miler next week, mostly because I've been training specifically for long distances. I've not done any speed work, but I've learned how to pace myself so I can go several miles. I'll make sure I have a watch for next week, even if I can't locate the Garmin.

I'm simply amazed to see the number of people who run, and even though I only knew a few people there today, I feel part of Charlottesville's running community. I also really appreciate how races held at the University of Virginia bring everyone together for good causes. I'm glad that I had friends to encourage me to keep doing this in the early days, and I'm looking forward to crossing the finish line with them in less than a week!

3/13/2010

In the right place

The place is maybe a quarter full, and there's good music playing. Bob is sitting at the bar doing whatever it is he does when he's here, drinking his two beers while listening to music on his yellow headphones.

There's a group of four guys who have split three pitchers of beer. The only one wearing glasses decided to try out three different kinds of beer. There's five people sitting at another table who stopped drinking an hour or so ago, but they're still talking about philosophy and religion.

The big group is taking up the forties. They've had maybe 30 pints between them, as well as some shots. They're a lot of fun, and I got to do some dramatic acting with them earlier. Only a second or so, but it was fun to try to make them laugh.

A trio came in about 30 minutes ago and are busy taking pictures of themselves. One of them is drinking a ginger ale while the others nurse a couple of pints.

When I'm here, I don't question if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. When it gets busy, and I know I'm getting paid to be out, it makes me very happy. I know I'm making money that directly supports my children. Every second I'm here goes to make sure they're being taken care of. I'm pleased that I've found a way to enjoy myself while also being responsible.

Business has been picking up. I'm hoping people know that we're open until whenever on the weekends. We're a comfortable place to be. Music isn't too loud. We're not too rowdy. Just right, I'd say.

I'm going to be posting to the Court Square Tavern Facebook page more often, so become a fan if you're not already. My goal is to try to build up business by carrying on our conversational energy into the online sphere, and hopefully then we can get some good talks going on in here.

People come here because they can talk. My hope is this can be a place where people can come and talk, and then meet people as well. I want things to happen here. Even if they're little things.

Mostly, I want to feel like I'm living a life, and that I'm part of something. I didn't get to go to a concert tonight, but there were many people here who I waited on who did go. So, I feel like I know people who are out there having a good time. They had a good time, and I bet they'll be back. That's my goal.

I like having two very different kinds of jobs. In this job, I get to be more alive and it doesn't really go home with me. The other job is pretty much what I do when I'm not here.

Don't get me wrong. My job at Charlottesville Tomorrow is pretty much my dream job. I'm at the forefront of a new kind of media, and I'm proud of what we've accomplished and am working towards realizing our vision of informing the public on matters about their local government. I'm doing the kind of work I've always wanted to do, even though I may not realize it.

Both of them intersect, grounding me here in this community.

My hope is that I will continue to learn more about where I live, and to become even better at all that I do.

3/08/2010

Hitting eleven

In this one, I'm going to gloat a little. While it may seem like that when I write about my running, that's not usually my intent. Today, however, I'm most definitely going to gloat.

I skipped my long run yesterday. I was just tired and wanted a day off. I had an appointment in the middle of the day, and afterwards, I didn't much feel like doing an 11 mile.

Being in a somewhat depressive mood, I worried this meant I'd finally decided to give up on running.

Of course, I'm definitely not going to stop running. After yesterday's day of being an Eeyore, I woke up this morning refreshed. All day, I knew a run awaited me after work. I just didn't think I was going to try for 11.

Why 11? Well, that is what I scheduled myself to run. I'm informally training for the ten-miler and or the Charlottesville half-marathon, loosely based on the program I had during last year's marathon training program. Life and injuries caught up with me, so I didn't get to complete the Richmond marathon, but I've kept running ever since.

And now I'm ramping up the miles. On April 3, I'm hoping to race the ten-miler, and then I'm hoping to run the half marathon after that. This means I need to get in at least one double-digit run a week in order to make sure I'm conditioned and have the necessary endurance. I sort of thought with yesterday's decision to relax, I wasn't going to make that goal.

Today, I was determined not to get side-tracked. I filed my story for tomorrow's newspaper at 5:00 and then got my clothes out of my car.

I'm getting better at actually planning ahead, though I seem to forget one or two things. In the future, I hope to have at least a dozen running kits so I can head out whenever I want. I need to Sean-proof my life.

All day I knew it was going to be a glorious run, but when I was actually standing outside my office, I was suddenly got cold feet, and thought maybe a 3 or 4 mile run was all I was going to go for. I was making up excuses. What if it gets cold? I didn't bring any nutrition with me. What if my watch battery dies? What if the Garmin helped aliens track me down?

Pure silliness. But, that's how my brain works at times. I seem to actively seeks ways to sabotage what makes me happy. I don't understand why, but I'm beginning to have a sense of how to slow down and stop these thoughts.

While I waited for the Garmin to synch with a satellite, I stretched and stretched and stretched because sometimes those satellites can be very hard to find.

Thankfully, after two minutes, the watch synched, and within seconds I was off and running. My goal tonight was to simply run at a comfortable pace for as long as I could.

This was the first time I've ran all year in a t-shirt and shorts. Blissful. I remember how amazing running felt last year while I discovered the joys of exploring my community through footfalls. I anticipate an amazing season ahead as I get to meet more runners and as I keep learning new techniques.

Tonight's technique paid off well, because the first mile passed so quickly despite running it at a slightly-slower-than-usual 9:20. I went west so I could feel the setting sun on my face and so I could see the horizon. I ran down the mall, down West Main Street, up the corner, up Ivy Road, right on Copeley, north up Emmet Street, past Mt. Chipotle and then up the long half mile of Barracks Road. This was mile 4.

I practically waltzed up that hill. Training in Charlottesville has prepared me for going up, and today I grinned and grinned on the way up and didn't feel even a little tired at the top. It was at this point that I realized this run was something special and I decided I would at least try for 8 miles.

I can't explain what this feeling is like, but I can say it's amazingly important to me to be able to believe in myself. I've not always been able to do that. No amount of stories in the newspaper and no amount of happy Court Square Tavern customers can compare to the feeling that comes when I'm in the middle of a run and I feel like I can go forever. My pace kept getting faster.

By the time I got back to West Main (via 10th Street) I decided I was going to shoot for 11. After all, I'm a runner, and that's what I needed to do in order to push my training forward. I didn't need to go incredibly fast to do it. I just needed to do it.

Of course, I didn't really think about my route. I kind of made it up as I went along, which is the beauty of the Garmin. I ran down 4th Street in order to get some more distance without going too far. And then ran back up McIntire Road, but got stuck at the Intersection of Doom with four other runners.

When the light finally changed in our favor, I sprinted east down Water Street, allowing myself a bit of speed at mile 8. By this point, the light was gone and I could only see my Garmin under orange lights. This somehow made me go faster.

Down Market Street. Up that big hill on Meade Avenue. At this point, thoughts began to turn to dinner. Maybe Beer Run? Maybe Chinese? The more protein the better to help my legs recover.

I usually take a right on Carlton Avenue and run through Belmont, but today I needed more miles to attain my goal so I kept running, up that long hill to Monticello Avenue.

At this point, I realized I was getting a little tired and I was concerned I was going to injure myself on a curb cut or some other obstruction I couldn't see. I finally got some light and could see I was at 8.81 miles, and I cursed a bit, confusing a poor woman who was walking her dog. But, I kept on going. Stopping at 9 or 10 was not an option. I needed to hit eleven.

Down Avon Street, not really slowing my pace despite a growing blister that was forming. I figured part of training is learning how to run past these things. I was wearing a pair of shoes that are still good, but not my usual running friends. I did stop for a second on the Belmont Bridge to see if I could somehow adjust my socks so I didn't feel it as much.

Running on the blister wasn't painful. Just annoying. I didn't let it slow me down as I approached the 10 mile mark, which I crossed at 1:26:19, a new record for me. That included at least two minutes of waiting for lights and my stop on the bridge. I crossed the ten mile mark while running up McIntire Road yet again, for the third time. I was pushing myself hard at that point so I could maintain my pace, which was roughly around 8:30 a mile at this point.

When I got to the top of the hill, I spun left and did a victory lap on the Mall. I didn't feel tired at all. Just felt like running and I were getting along great. It felt so warm. People weren't wearing coats. Music was playing. People were laughing. My feet were dancing.

When I got to my office, and I saw that I still had a third of a mile to go to reach 11, I took it in stride, and kept on past and did a loop around Lexis-Nexis and the Pavilion, and then looped back on the mall until I hit 11.

And when I hit 11, I stopped. That was it. No more running. Walking began immediately, followed by a series of good stretches. I came up with a plan for dinner and felt absolutely content with myself, which is no easy feat.

It's important to compare this run to the 7-miler from Thursday,when I was sluggish, exhausted, and didn't at all feel like going all the way, but I made myself get through it.

I do this, and I write about this, because I need to remind myself that I can achieve things, but only if I'm willing to put the work in. For so much of my life, I thought I could do anything by saying I could do those things. I could make a necklace out of the string of failures that followed from such logic. I was a slacker for most of my life, and in many ways, I still am.

But, I need to remember that I can work hard, and that I believe in what I do and who I am.

So, yes, I'm gloating. I ran 11 miles today and next Monday I'll run 12, followed by 13 the Monday after that, and then I'll run the 10-miler and try to achieve my goal of running it in 82 minutes or less. Maybe I won't make it. But, I'm already winning.

All of us can win. Each of us can be victorious if we work hard and have humility. I understand people have difficulties with so many things, but I implore people who say no to themselves to at least start saying maybe. That maybe can be turned into a yes if you try hard and stop listening to your own excuses.

We all deserve to gloat about something. What about you?

3/07/2010

Pathways, roads, streetscapes (and the importance thereof)

Lady Liberty was on her cell phone when she should have been jumping up and down to get people to hire the services of Dell Tax. Usually when I drive by, she's dancing up a storm. On foot, I was able to watch her for a little while longer. Being Saturday, there wasn't nearly as many people driving down Cherry Avenue.

I don't usually walk down Cherry Avenue. But, being Saturday, I took Billy for a longer walk than usual. The temperature has finally risen to spring-like temperatures and it was time for us, man and canine, to enjoy a little bit of the splendor.

This winter, I've grown overly tired of walking the same streets over and over again. The park outside my house remains closed off by wire fencing, a barrier that has buckled after being opened and closed so often to accomodate all the earth movers that seem to shift dirt from one end of the park to the other. The new water park remains unfinished, though the fake boulders are now in place for the climbing wall. Soon, though, all will be reopened and reclaimed.

On this Saturday, though, we walked past all of that in search of something new. Our initial destination was the soda machine at the car place at the corner of Cherry and Rosie Brown. The making of coffee is not on a list of skills that Ihave acquired by this point of my life.
There are also times when I wake up with a hankering for cold caffeine.

We strolled past Buford Middle School, and I noted all the trash spread all around. Epic amounts of junk in Francis Fife's forest on the other side of a fence.

Originally, I had thought we'd go west on Cherry after picking up the soda, up the hill and back round to my house, following a loop I often run. Billy had other ideas. Something caught his scent to the east, and he pulled, and I followed. That's when I spotted Lady Liberty taking a break from enticing customers with promise of an affordable tax return.

I'm not a dog, so I have no idea what Billy was after. Instead of pulling him the way I wanted to go, I decided to give him the wheel. Off we went.

The Cherry Avenue is perpetually one of the city's next big things. In 2003, the city changed the zoning to encourage mixed-use development. So far, none of the promised redevelopment has materialized, so the stretch from 9th to Ridge/5th Street Extended has a somewhat dilapidated feel. There are a couple of big vacant lots, that abandoned seafood restaurant, an odd strip mall, and three convenience stores. That big independent resources building takes up a lot of land, with odd parking in the front creating a streetscape with little presence. None of this stretch of Charlottesville is terribly remarkable.

Yet, it is.

It's human. Organic. Real. Not necessarily polished or fancy or inviting, but there's life. I just don't know it very well. I know some of the details of some of the developments that are supposed to take place, but I don't know anything about the history of the buildings that are there now. Maybe there are just stories that are waiting to be told.

I do know this is my neighborhood. As is 7 1/2 street, which contains such a mix of odd building types. Brick structures give way to one of the ecoMOD houses, which mimics the same white-siding material as the ones that come after as you begin to climb the hill. Then duplexes of all manner of design.

Two men drove up in a silver car and parked next to a beige wooden two-story house. They got out, opened up all four car doors and proceeded to blast the sort of song you'd hear at a Mexican restaurant. They looked at me and Billy with suspicion, and my polite nod of hello was not returned. We walked past, and I smiled, thinking of how much I have to learn here in my neighborhood.

I'd like to learn to speak Spanish, for instance, and would even like to figure out how to write news in that language. That might be an interesting development. I'm looking for something new to capture me, always looking for answers that may be blowing through the wind.

However, on this walk, I just kept on going and walked up the hill, trying to get a sense of what kind of street 7 1/2 Street is. I looked at one of these duplexes in the summer of 2004 when I was trying to sort out my life, but decided to go with something else. Six years later and still trying to sort out my life, I came to the top of the hill, I was surprised at how close I was to my house, only two blocks away.

Charlottesville is filled with intersections where four roads meet. I had come to another one. Ninth street becomes Prospect. Forest Hills Avenue becomes 7 1/2. There were blossoms coming up on all four corners, indicators of spring popping up amidst the litter. I'm always amazed by the amount of trash in my neighborhood, and hope one day to do something about it. One day I'll get on the phone to Lady Liberty about it.

I'm typing this as I sit on a wooden chair outside the Regal Cinema, in a place that has been created for maximum pedestrian interactivity. In the 30 minutes I've sat here, I'd estimate at least a thousand people have walked past.
  • There's a father carrying a bag of leftovers on his head, with both children pointing and laughing up at him.
  • Two people in motorized wheelchairs are whirring up the mall together, one of them heading in reverse so they can carry on a conversation.
  • A mother pushing an empty stroller tells her husband that a particular restaurant never appears to be open.
  • A person whose services as career counselor I've used in the past walks by with her partner, with two incredibly cute dogs in tow.
  • The dishwasher from the other restaurant stops by and we chat about the prospects of spring.

People often remark that the downtown mall is on the way out. One of the institutions credited with the success of the mall, the Ice Park, is up for sale and could close. One out of ten storefronts is currently closed. Doom, gloom, and misfortune.

Yet, with the beginning of spring so close you can feel it, people are here. People wanted to go somewhere, and here they are, milling about in this space. unspooling the yarn of their lives into stories that may or may not be mundane. Regardless, there are an awful lot of tapestries here.

Is it possible to think that one day Cherry Avenue might have this kind of feel to it? Realistic to expect? Certainly I don't think anyone will ever talk seriously about bricking over a major thoroughfare, but how will redevelopment occur? How will my neighborhood grow, if at all?

We can't know the future. We can only be aware of what it might bring. Day by day, we make little decisions about how to spend our time, how to spend our money, what course to steer our lives. I enjoy the sense of mystery. I like that the random is always out there waiting to catch our scent. Amidst all of the carnival barkers in this cacophonic life, each of us has a path that we're supposed to take.

Despite everything, I'm enthralled with the stories of my life that are unfolding. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

3/04/2010

Embedded gardens

Soon the flowers and plants will begin to grow again. Imagine those seeds down there in the ground, bathed in the exodus of the snow and ice. At times, this winter seems to have been kept on hold in order to torture us. I can't remember a time when I actually liked the cold until I go back and read through journals.

I am counting on this spring. I know it will come. Previous winters have always come with temporary vacations in temperature. When I lived in Canada, I remember my dad bragging to me that it was 70 degrees one January afternoon in Virginia when it was -2 degrees celsius at my house in Calgary.

The past three months have felt they did that year I lived in New England, where there was no respite at all from the plunging of the jet stream. I'm still bracing for another snowstorm, not quite convinced that we're out of the drifts yet. Surely, there's one more storm left in this young whippersnapper of a winter.

In any case, even if it comes, I know warmer days are ahead. Last night, I realized we're two weeks away from the equinox. This morning I woke up at 6:30, and it was partially light out there. The birds were chirping. I woke up happy for the first time in a while. All was right with the world.

It's crucial to learn how to store up that sort of feeling for those times when you need to be reminded of the glory of the world.

For instance, every time I run, I try to capture at least one snapshot to remind myself later in life of what it feels like when I am not able to run.

Every time I say goodbye to my children, I imagine it may be the last time.

Is that overly maudlin? Perhaps. But, perhaps not.

This winter has been very fertile for my depressive tendencies. I keep them in check by taking inventory of all the good things that have come before, in the hopes that more will follow.

That includes those maudlin moments when I'm at the bottom of the world. Was it Oscar Wilde who said something about being in the gutter, looking up at the stars? Perhaps. My hero Black Francis once sang about the white moon being hot, but the other side not. In any case, I'm keenly aware of the duality of any situation, the seemingly infinite number of perspectives that can spring forth from any event, any instance.

Truth be told, this has not been my best year to date. I've been going through a very sad time of my life, and I pretty much keep it to myself. I suffer from depression, and at times it's absolutely crippling.

Or, I should say, other people suffer from my depression. I seem to embrace this condition as part of my identity, part of what makes me human. I'm a writer, a creative thinker who wants nothing more than to come up with new ways to describe things. I want to take moments and make them eternal. This includes the maudlin, which are all more than likely to be more interesting than the happy ones.

I take comfort from knowing that I am constantly planting seeds, and some of them grow into some fantastic things. This spring shall be magnificent.

All of the things I currently perceive as bad shall in time be revealed to be blessings. This is the way. The world turns, revolves around the sun, and gives us plenty to write about if we're willing to pay attention.