One hundred and a half

Ha! Dragged myself out of bed this morning and onto the piste. Slept
poorly and dreamt about fishing, I the confirmed nonangler. But all is
well; I got to that magic 100-mile mark I’d set for myself three or
four weeks ago. It wasn’t a bad run, either; the dawn on my left was
spectacular (if behind me) and it generated a counterdawn: a fluffy
pile of pinkish clouds in the west, about ten degrees of arc over the

 Still need two more bike rides to get to 500 miles, however. I’ll have
to wait for the afternoon for that.

Back to strong

Strong again! Mwah-ha-hah!! I went out for a late-morning run and with that third-person eye one sometimes develops, saw myself careening down the road, past the gorgeous helicopter taxiway and parking lot, up the hill to the pyramid-like revetments and back, past the car wash and the fire station and the stadium.

Is feeling strong just a conjunction of necessary conditions? I was ready to go this morning, it wasn’t too cold or too windy, there wasn’t too much traffic, I was paced by a pair of runners who stayed four hundred meters ahead of me for the entire out stretch. I found myself humming “What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor” at an absurdly quick tempo as I turned around at the second revetment, then after the final sprint up the hill between the lodging and refectory I rested a moment on the dirt plain with my hands on my knees, with the sharp taste of my saliva swirling in my mouth.

Photo depicts empty storage tanks at the secret-city scrap yard.

Only one face necessary

I blame the shoddy drugstore batteries someone sent me for expiring just as the photo-moment arrived (or I arrived at the photo-moment): Barack Obama’s three-quarter profile on a sheet cake at the big refectory. It’s another quiet night here at the secret city; dusk has settled over us while folks are still getting into position in Washington.

On the fitness front, another strong day today. I wanted to take it easy but coming up the one hill on my way to the back of the airfield, I felt so strong. And besides, I have to be strong for Obama! Strong for America! Today is no day to slack off, no way no how. Yes we can!

The wind was all over the place in some confusing fashion, and as I did the other day, I guessed wrong so that when I thought I would be turning into the back stretch and heading with the wind, I was actually pushing into a headwind. Is it possible that there could be one certain direction for the wind to blow from so that it feels as if it’s in my face the whole way? If this is so, how (and why) did the Yugoslavs who built the secret city calculate it so that the roads are lined up with that prevailing direction? Were they masochists or something?

Fickle wind, I have my eye on you. I saw how toward the end of my ride, the smoke off the burn pit was blowing west, although I could feel the wind coming out of the northeast again. You try to fool me into giving up, but I am strong today for Obama and have no patience with your silly breezy games! I hit the wide open stretch just west of the big perpendicular taxiway, all the while humming the howling riff from “Hatari” to myself, and getting myself ready for the sharp turn onto the back stretch with the unfavorable wind in my face. What a pleasure to make that turn (after looking both ways for traffic), to feel the push of the sticky tires, warm from friction, against the asphalt as I whip around 135 degrees without losing speed. (Of course, I feel as if the wind is fully ready to turn itself 136 degrees to frustrate me.)

I pulled around the first lap in less than 22 minutes, and did the second one in 22:05, so both laps were over 19 mph, the second day in a row that I’ve accomplished this. I am convinced that by writing about it (most vividly here) I have made it easier for myself to master this skill.

In the running event, today was also a good day. On my predawn jog, I reached the 370-mile milestone that gets me a metaphorical pat on the back from those mysterious secret-city authorities. I have run at least 5.6 miles nine days in a row. I confess, the pegs feel kind of tired, like they were made out of chocolate that has slowly started to melt. I have been just barely shuffling along for the last couple mornings, it feels like, although I suspect that a big part of that is running on the roadside verge in the dark and my anxiety at the likelihood of twisting my ankle. I have three more of those 5.6-mile runs to go before I get to the 100-mile goal I set for January, which shouldn’t be that hard in the 11 days left in the month. We’ve been enjoying pretty good weather lately so I want to take full advantage of it; I dread another cold snap or another rainy day.

(Today’s picture is not the Obama cake, but Freedom Lake, at the east end of the secret city, nestled in the canyon wall. Yes, we drink the water.)


I’m just back from this morning’s run and can gladly report that it was just about the same as yesterday’s run: same number of calories, same time, same distance. The one change is that I was a little faster toward the end today and (conversely) slower in the beginning. My guess, however, is that it’s better to speed up toward the end (reverse split) rather than lag, so I’m pleased by that.

Yesterday’s bike ride was again a model of consistency, although I changed my song to “In These Shoes?” by Kirsty MacColl, the one gem from her otherwise disappointing Tropical Brainstorm album, from the other day‘s “Metronomic Underground.” No me gusta caminar/no puedo andar por caballo, sings Kirsty’s backup chorus, and there I go, andar por bicicleta.

It was quite warm and pleasant out yesterday, and even though the wind was kind of brisk, it was from the south, so it didn’t bother me as much. I knew I would have a good lap when with my torso tucked down and pacing myself briskly along the open spot just parallel to the runway I looked down and saw that I was working at 82% max heart rate. I did the whole 7-mile lap in less than 22 minutes, or a 19 mph pace, which was enough to bring the average for both laps up to a whisker over 18 mph.

Today’s bike picture is from Antwerp. I like the plastic leaves on the fender stays, personally.

I am my own gazelle

Yesterday afternoon I managed to work in a 7.3 mile run, doing a figure-eight, with the first loop down the long hill parallel to the converted taxiway to the west from my lodging, around past the junkyard and the secret city’s front gate, then back up along 2nd Street between the lodging and the refectory, and around to the east along my usual route, past the giant white hangar where they keep the UFO and down to 12th Street, where I turned around and then back past the car wash, the firehouse, and the stadium.

By the time I got to that last mile, from the firehouse back to the lodging, I was nicely warmed up and I had that long stride going, the kind of stride where you feel as if the ground trembles a little bit at each step from the sheer exhilaration of being such an important part of such a good run for you. Where you feel as if the entire earth is canted about five degrees downhill in your direction of travel, that all that’s necessary is to just cast yourself onto that azimuth and gravity will take you along, like being in orbit, where you keep falling toward the earth as is natural, but unlike ordinary running, the earth keeps moving away and a little bit back from you.

This was the second time in a month that I’d done the same route, and I was a little faster on it the first time (although on 12/22 I didn’t have the lovely gazelle stride down pat like yesterday). That day I was all excited because I had managed at the very end to get my heart rate up to what the monitor told me was 100% of maximum heart-rate (but which was actually one measly beat-per-minute short.

Yesterday I had that in mind, and as I was coasting along the earth’s surface there on my last mile, I kept on trying to push myself hard enough to finish strong, without wearing myself down prematurely. There’s some kind of balance there between the kinetic memory of moving your muscles at a certain cadence, the rhythmic impact of the feet on the pavement and the angle of attack of each footstep as determined by the alignment of the pelvis, the memory of how to align the spinal column on that moving platform of the pelvis and how to use the hip flexors and abdominal muscles to keep it steadily upright, the memory of moving breath in and out of the chest cavity using the diaphragm muscle to squeeze and release from the bottom up, pressing for leverage against that awesomely gliding platform of the pelvis, the cadence again of breathing and feeling the air move in and out of the pharynx (with its little skull mounted on top, like a plastic baseball stuck on a car antenna) which is being kept open and inline by the spinal column.

All those kinesthetic memories are flooding back, like a seven-minute-mile madeline, at the same time that today’s energy is flooding out, and an entirely different nervous system is busy checking on that, feeling how hard the heart is beating in its little cozy cavity nestled between the lungs and the ribcage, feeling the deoxygenated air being forced out of the lungs and newly oxygenated air being drawn in through the alveoli, feeling the lactic acid build up in the muscles of the lower extremities and being carried away by the bloodstream: all that is entirely new every time I run and entirely dependent on circumstances; how much I ate for lunch, how cold is it outside, how much water I’ve drunk in the last couple hours, et alia.

And somewhere in the middle is that barely conscious nervous plexus that’s adjusting the kinetic configuration according to the autonomic nervous system’s feedback about how much energy there is in the tank and how much energy it will take to maintain the kinetic configuration. This part changes, of course, also depending on the present fitness level, or to put it in simple one-dimensional terms, how fast the heart can pump the used blood back from the muscles and into the lungs, where the wastes can be expelled into breath.

Maybe yesterday’s answer happened to be “no, not today.” I turned up 2nd Street for the final sprint to the stop sign on top of the hill and despite a hasty cycle through several different kinetic configurations (made different and new because now I was climbing and had to keep lifting the pelvis, using my leg muscles as levers, as well as maintaining that inexorable forward motion of the pelvis and the spinal column), I couldn’t do either one of two things: neither bust that previous HR record, the 99-and-a-half percent one from December, nor shatter my time from the stadium back home; it took another 25 seconds more than it had earlier in the week.

But in the end I can declare victory: I ran further than I did on Wednesday, and I finished feeling stronger than I had on the 22nd, with that gazelle stride and, as I got to 25 meters out from the stop sign, an extra measure of zip drawn from somewhere in my kinetic consciousness: somehow some sense memory declaring, in the haste of the instant, while seeing the finish line, while seeing safety from the saber-tooth in pursuit, while seeing the imminence of rest, “Yes, I have a little faster left.”

(P.S. Picture is the secret city, heading along yesterday’s route from the scrap yard to the front gate. Some forgotten well-wisher sent along the nicely wrapped sanitary roll that’s ornamenting the dashboard.)

Stay motivated!

I hit this exact same feeling every morning I go running, about five minutes along, as I pass the laundry on the right on my way west. I feel achy and tired and slow, and I feel overdressed in jacket and two shirts, plus sweatpants. I don’t feel cold, but instead I feel bulky. I consider seriously just turning around when I get to 12th Street, instead of turning left and climbing the hill on the road toward the dump, a mile out and a mile back to the same junction spot.

Turning around at 12th Street would result in a 3.6 mile run, which isn’t bad at all, except that I would have to do the same run just about every remaining day of the month to get to my goal of 100 miles. It would mean 13 events in 15 days, which is tough. At a rate of 5.6 miles per event, I only need nine more events to get to 100, which is a little more reasonable. Back in July and August and September, I used to do the shorter route regularly, but I had lower expectations then and wasn’t trying to get to 100 miles a month.

And the difference between turning left and going up the hill to the second revetment and turning right past the car wash and going back to the lodging isn’t really that much. I’m already out there pounding the pavement, all dressed up and moving forward.

So I kind of put the thought to the side and think about a movie I’ve seen or something, then by the time I’m at 12th Street I just turn left as if I hadn’t really considered not turning left. When I finish up I’ve taken a little more than an hour, which is hardly a record-breaking time. What’s funny is that the steady accumulation of training time does have an effect: yesterday I ran in the afternoon, leaving the bike parked (I think the chain may actually be too tight and serious riding might damage the freewheel bearings). On that run, in daylight and after having been awake for more than 10 minutes, I did the same 5.6-mile route. It took me less than 51 minutes, or my fastest time ever on that route. So all my frustrations–at bulking up like the Michelin man, at having the alarm send me out to the piste 90 minutes before the sun thinks of rising, at carrying around the dinky flashlight I use to illuminate my path–are somehow shifted beside the point, as if I had been fully and completely supportive of my own efforts instead of partially engaged in pondering how I could shortchange myself.

No matter what it takes to get to a goal or achievement, once you’re there, the doubts and fears and inhibitions you felt become unimportant, like the howling wind of a storm that has since passed through your area.

Lunch is better as breakfast

Honestly, a plate of beef curry over rice, vegetables, and dal, with some fresh fruit on the side. Can you beat that for a breakfast dish? Got up at noon (!), went for a quick run (10% off ordinary predawn time, call it Daylight Savings), then caught this repast on the tail end of the chow hour.

Not exactly leaping from bed, but…

Every once in a while I surprise myself. Somehow I managed to bring
myself from sleeping in bed all the way out to the second revetment
and home again, 5.6 miles, in the predawn chill.

 It helped that I had turned the heat off last night, so the imminent
threat of freezing to death actually woke me up about ten past four,
about five minutes before the alarm went off. I rearranged the
blankets on top of the bed, instead of underneath it, and then the
alarm went. I remember exactly the moment I realized I was going
running: when I put on sweatpants instead of shorts to run to the ab
unit. From there, I just tossed on the jacket (I’d filled the pockets
with all the paraphernalia last night) and I was out the door on my
way to run.

 As a bonus, I even managed to psyche myself into not turning around at
12th street, like I did the day before yesterday. It’s cold out, sure,
and dark because the waxing moon has set long before I start out, and
the other day I told myself that it was okay to turn around, that the
marginal value of running an extra 20 minutes was overcome by the
marginal value of not freezing to death (I think there was a stiffer
wind Saturday, too). But today I felt OK and I realized that once I
was out there, dressed and warmed up, with warm, heavy gloves on, I
might as well just push the extra two miles. So I ran up the hill in
the pleasant darkness all the way to the second revetment and back
comme d’habitude.

 Coming back home along the main boulevard, I pass the car wash and
ice plant, where it’s always a little busy, and then there’s one
block, between the firehouse and the stadium, where every morning it
always seems like toytown down here in the secret city: it’s just so
quiet and peaceful. It reminds me of a Richard Scarry town before all
the madness begins, or maybe that’s just my impression of my little
secret city here: by day, it’s a little busytown, with the distinctive
rumble of the Mitsubishi standard-transmission 23-pax buses and the
water splashing out of the tops of the water trucks as they apparently
drive in endless loops around town. And every once in a while a house
or a bathroom will drive by (on the back of a flatbed, usually).


Cold snap

Brrr! The thermometer has dropped below freezing down here in the
secret city two nights in a row now. I know this because on my run
this morning there was ice on the ground over by the car wash. A pipe
or something had also burst around the corner from the lodging,
forcing freezing water all the way down the gutter of the big
boulevard. I ended up getting my sneakers wet in it 200 meters before
the end of the run and thinking that my feet might freeze from the wet
socks if I had to go much further. Didn’t happen, I’m glad to say.

 Plus there are signs in the bathroom trailer saying to leave the
faucet running all night to keep the pipes, which are routed along the
outside of the trailer, from freezing. I think the late-night gym
users must have ignored this and that’s why there was no cold water
this morning. The thought of such a pending calamity was one of the
reasons why I did only a short run (3.6 miles) this morning. I was
considering the consequences of the hot water running out before the
cold water thawed, such as an angry cohort of my neighbors standing in
the shower stalls covered in soap with no way to rinse. So I cut my
run short and came back quickly to shave; the dental hygiene wasn’t as
much of an issue because I use bottled water for that.

Fitness goals: December and January

Good news! I made my fitness goals for December! I had planned to
reach 520 miles biking and 95 miles running, and this afternoon I got
to 532 miles biking and 111 miles running. I am feeling quite fit and
accomplished, as this makes three months in a row I’ve reached my
goals, plus I’m at 1500+ bike miles for the last three months, since I
started riding regularly.
As I mentioned yesterday, all the riding and running plays a big part
in keeping me sane. So to focus on sanity, to borrow the title of an
Ornette Coleman head, in January I am hoping to reach 500 miles biking
and 100 miles running. I might have to leave my secret city for a
couple days next month, so I don’t anticipate getting to 600 miles
like I did in November.
Some time next month I should reach 1725 overall miles biking and 370
miles running, which are the cutoff numbers for an award from the
secret-city authorities. I feel pretty good about getting there in
less than four months from the start of keeping track; I started
running back in July but wasn’t recording my distances until October,
when I came up with this goal-setting idea.
The pictures: one is my fixed-wing, of course, in front of a connex,
and the other one is of the route I ride regularly.