Monday, April 30, 2012

"Okay, So Now What?"

 Adam: A tumor? Dr. Ross: Yes. Adam: Me? Dr. Ross: Yes. Adam: That doesn't make any sense though. I mean... I don't smoke, I don't drink... I recycle...

Turned in the first of my three twenty mile runs on Sunday, training for the Ann Arbor Marathon.  I get pretty high maintenance about these runs and treat them like the pinnacle of my training. They are mapped out and circled on the calendar long before they happen. I do a mini-taper and get rested before the event. I have my shoes out the night before, fav socks and shorts washed. In fact, if I am running early, I often sleep in the very same shorts I will be running in. It just eliminates one step.  My  little 'run refreshments' are ready to go the night before, meaning gu chomps, gu gels, s-caps, and money tucked into my shorts, and I put my breakfast out so I can eat right upon waking and wash it down with fresh coffee. Unlike some others who don’t eat a thing, I eat about 800 calories before these runs.   An ipod playing list has been hand chosen and ipod is fully charged. And of course I check the weather about sixteen thousand times, including details of each hour and winds, and map in motion.

As it is, flexibility is needed and you can't control everything, and a fever hit one of my children. This certainly brings out the eternal nurse in my wife,  but as I didn’t want to leave her alone in the house, I hit the treadmill in the basement to stay nearby just in case. Now I need shows ready, DVR set up,  blu-rays on hand, and the remotes lined up along the treadmill. By the way, my gears consist of a pair of Nike Pegasus shoes, I run on A Nordic Track Commercial 1500 treadmill, and watch a Samsung 32 inch HD with a Blue-Ray player, Netflix streaming as well as DVR.

And to think, somewhere out there a minimalist running dude is putting in these miles barefoot on some Colorado mountain trail.

The  treadmill was  a good idea anyway, since my legs are tore up and my knees constantly sore since from two major hill runs I did this week. After finally looking at the Ann Arbor course map which is twice as hilly (literally, twice as much elevation gain) as Boston, I went a little spastic. I was hoping that the soft surface of the treadmill would be more kind on my legs, and maybe I can put in these 20 miles with my knees not even noticing.

50/50.. with these odds, you'd be the favorite game in Vegas.

I’ve  always known that a long-run puts me into a strange emotional space. That's part of why I do it.  It basically makes me “long-run drunk”, and this was once again confirmed when I watched the movie, 50/50, and once again found myself sweating and crying and feeling the whole spectrum of emotional mucus.   50/50 is a great Bromance cancer treatment movie.  There was the unneeded elements of Wedding Crasher sprinkled in the film, but this may have been the best route to let Seth Rogen work his great comedic genius where he gets away with a crude playfulness. The movie was at times irreverent but also ultra-realistic and a touching look at how the world treats cancer patients, as well as a reminder of our mortality. It's a disease that has struck close to home, and motivated me to run the Chicago marathon raising funds for the American Cancer Society.  So, yes, in at least two scenes, I found my face filled with a mix of sweat and tears, and I had some good laughs and a wonderful time. Thirteen miles of the run passed like nothing and I was better off for it.

The movie ended with the great line, “Okay, so now what?” before fading to black.  Any good story should end with a new beginning playing in your mind long after the shades are drawn, the books is closed, or the credits roll. It didn’t hurt to have a Pearl Jam song playing as the credits rolled in 50/50.

My run  outlasted the movie, so I put in the last hour of Warrior to rewatch and all my major aches and pains of the run went away. It’s impossible to watch that movie and feel physical pain, and it was as great as the first time I watched in my 'Long-run drunkenness.'  I cruised through the end of the 20 miles, my pace clipping along in a satisfactory manner just 45 seconds slower than hoped for marathon pace.  I think part of how you measure a long run is if you can keep the same pace and gait at the end, with maybe tiny bits of reserve of energy left, as well as how you feel the next few days and how long it takes to recover. Nailed the first part, and the damage from the 20 miles will show up soon enough. Better than 50/50 my knee did notice, and I'll be skipping at least one run this week.

Okay, so now what? Rest up for a day, ice all the sore tendons with a bag of frozen peas, and then slowly build up to do a couple of ten milers = either marathon pace runs or a nice hill run, before my next 20 miler two weeks away, which I will definitely have to do on the road, and then a final 22 miler on Memorial day weekend three weeks out from marathon day.

Unless, of course, I get diagnosed with a tumor.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Wrapping Ourselves In The Space Blanket: "Unwasted," in Review

To train for, run, and finish a marathon takes incredible motivation, and the spark to light this fire comes from all sorts of sources.  For one five year old girl, the inspiration came from wanting to wrap herself in the tin foil 'space blanket' - You know, those tin foil things supposed to keep you warm when your sweaty, slimy, mucus-filled body hits the cold air at the finish line.

As a child Sacha Scoblic volunteered in the New York City marathon, holding out water, and describes how “thousands roamed the park that day, but the special ones – the runners, the day’s heroes – all stood out, wrapped as they were in silver foil space blankets like gods amongst us.”  She slept that night, plotting to run a marathon, thinking “I would get a space blanket of my own.”   These snippets took place at the end of a hilarious, touching, and poignant memoir about recovery from addiction called Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety

I first got a chance to chat a bit with the author on a site called Goodreads. If you are interested in reading and haven’t checked out the site, stop reading right now and go there.  Goodreads is a community where the lines between reader and writer are slowly getting erased, many of us are bits of both, maybe more one than the other, but it feels like a hippie writer commune at times. As a writer, I am able to communicate with those who have reviewed my books (either praising them or slamming the snot out of them) and have spoken with many writers who otherwise would have been off limits.  Unlike other social media demons, the site does not demand to be updated and is much less intrusive.  (See Ten Reasons Why I Love Goodreads)

But back to Unwasted.The author is a contributing editor at The New Republic and formerly a senior editor at Reader’s Digest. Unwasted is an entertaining, and illuminating book that traces the first years of recovery from addiction, and it simply made me 'happy' to have read it. It reads like a witty conversation, with amazing perceptions, and hidden truths revealed about the freshly sober thoughts of a great and fun writer.
Sacha Z. Scoblic

As a recovering individual, I was constantly thinking "I did that!" or "Oh my gosh, someone else thinks that too?" So many experiences mirrored my own as well as others I know in recovery, and the way they are presented is fresh, clever, and with a near dark humor where the author never takes herself too seriously, yet never lets the stakes of sobriety be dismissed.  The novel didn’t have the oozing sentimentality most writers treat their addiction, and with just the right dash of AA program to make it a sweet, fun reflection on sobriety.

It was with less than a year sober and her last cigarette ash still hot in the ashtray, that the author taps into her adventurous spirit and begins her marathon training.  The regiment is pretty simple; two 45 minute runs with one weekend long run (hey, um that is exactly my training these days) and as is the case with marathons, it  squeezes and squeezes until it sucks everything out of you that you were looking for. Self-doubt fights the strong self-will during her training, like two dogs fighting, and as the old recovery adage goes, the dog you feed the most is the dog who will win the fight. The author uses the spirit of Marathoning support groups as a reflection of how she gains support from others in addiction recovery.

The marathon section of the book is just the dessert after a great main course, but it is fitting, because when she triumphs and  the tears comes at mile 25, when she conquers the marathon, it’s a final nail her sobriety hammers in the coffin of her addiction. The addiction carcass inside, however, is still alive and clawing to get out if given the chance, yet having fulfilled the dreams of her five year old self and earning a space blanket of her own, there's now nothing to fear.

Okay, that last bizarre analogy was mine, but don't we all wrap ourselves in the space blanket for so many reason, the cold is just one.  Like the author of Unwasted, it reminds us of our personal power.  Running becomes the physical expression of a spiritual battle.

My only fear when reading Unwasted was that the author would die at the end, because if she did, I should surely fear for my own life, since it was like I was reading about a version of myself in some alternate universe (a female, more talented version, sure) where before running our first marathons, we drank enough booze to fill the cups of 26 miles worth of aid stations and staggered through the city streets for many miles before deciding to run through them. 

As it was the author lived, and then moved on to more difficult things, like staying sober in a wasted world, and trying to dance to the beat of Led Zeppelin.  Check it out on Amazon. Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety

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STRAY, $3.99 on Amazon

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**Three 20 milers before the Ann Arbor Marathon Taper begins, about a million more dollars to raise until I can run New York in November.   ...and miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Win The Lottery By Being Born

If you are in the New York City Marathon Lottery, you recently got an email that looks like this:
Mark Matthews
Application Number: 915817
The ING New York City Marathon application is closing on April 23, and you can't wait to hear if you've been accepted. We've received your application, so you're off to a good start. To make sure that everything goes smoothly if your name is chosen in our non-guaranteed entry drawing, please review your application and your credit card information by April 23.
Well, on Wednesday, April 25th, the lottery will be drawn for who is eligible to run in the 2012 New York City Marathon.  Unless you can run extra fast times, for example a sub 2:55 to qualify rather than the sub 3:10 for Boston, the ability to run in the New York Marathon is more likely to be by chance, where Boston is more likely to be due to running a fast enough Marathon.

But here's my question: is the ability to run in either marathon by chance?

Are both Boston and NYCM 'lotteries' in their own right?

Is it just chance that one is born with the genetic material to qualify for Boston, or for New York?  How much of running success is based on genetics, and how much is the internal drive to train?  

It seems clear the results on the clock aren't solely a direct reflection of our training. All you have to do is look around you, and you will see people who you train just as hard as who will always be faster. And on the other hand, no matter how hard others train, there are always those we can just naturally outrun. Certain muscle types, ways our bodies process carbohydrates and burn fuel, stride length and a zillion other factors come to play.

On the other hand, if someone dismissed my ten years of training it took to finally run a BQ worthy race as 'genetics', I would jump on a soapbox and lecture through a megaphone at passerby's about my long odyssey and hardwork. I can imagine those who are really fast and train for a lifetime to qualify for the Olympics would yell much louder. Most of training seems to be tapping into something much deeper than genetics. To say we were just born with a runners body would be dismissive of the rigorous training, hours of sweat, running through pain, and blasting ourselves through hurdles by summoning spiritual, emotional, and psychological strength time and time again.

But is there a marathoning genetic threshold we reach, that even if we are training at our hardest we will still bump our head against a BQ or NYCM-Q ceiling that is impossible to bust through?  I can't believe that a certain percentage isn't what we start with, and  that only by tapping into an iron will, discipline, work ethic, and insatiable drive can we push our genetics to their potential.  Then again, maybe genetics are plastic and malleable. Look at a caterpillar and a butterfly: They've got the same genes. One flies, and one can barely crawl.

There are tons of articles and research regarding this topic, much revolving around the Kenyans, and if it is their diet, lifestyle, and culture, that contributes tot heir success, or is it genetic, and can you really separate the two like that.  One interesting point I've read is that almost none of the top Kenyan runners have sons or daughters who are excelling at running.. Why? Because their father or mother becomes a world champion, has incredible resources, and the child never has to run to school again.

A deeper question is if the motivation to excel is partially genetics as well.  That when we say genetics, it is not as much the makeup of our biology but that which drives us to perform, the will to train and push our bodies to manipulate them into the best and fastest vehicle possible. Is the desire to train, and the ability to feel the 'high' and rewards of running also hard-wired into us?

"Maybe it wasn't talent the Lord gave me, maybe it was the passion." was what Wayne Gretzky, the 'great one' once said.

Each of us is an experiment of one, and all we can do is train our hardest and hope we find the right mix.

The luck of the draw
I've heard a scenario described by Warren Buffeet where it’s 24 hours before your birth, and a genie appears to you. Before you enter the world, you will pick one ball from a barrel of  7 billion. That ball will determine your gender, race, nationality, natural abilities, and health — whether you are born rich or poor, sick or able-bodied, brilliant or below average, American or Kenyan.

Buffett calls it the ovarian lottery and explains, “You’re going to get one ball out of there, and that is the most important thing that’s ever going to happen to you in your life.”

Well, in order to help those how have fared much less than I in the 'ovarian lottery,'  I am running the NYCM through the Charity Run option by supporting  Covenant House, who's work I have seen first hand. They serve those who were born into circumstances much worse than I, which always makes me grateful, since if I am picked tomorrow or not, I already won the Lottery By Being Born.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

An Ear Bud In Each Side Of My Skull

One element of my runs which I am sure improves my time is bringing along my Ipod for the ride.  This point was driven home during my last half-marathon when my Ipod froze up just as I was walking through the chute to the start line.

Music makes me run faster, makes my runs more meaningful, and I am now dependent on ear buds to make me go forward.  Yes, if given the choice to run a 20 miler with no water or no music, I would have a decision to make.

I understand the trend to run “naked’, i.e. with no electronic gadgetry, and how it can make you mentally stronger. Well, I have done a 20 miler on a treadmill with no TV, no headphones, and no other stimulus besides a wall in front of me, and did not feel mentally stronger, but in fact, a bit more stupider-er.

Distancing yourself from others during the event and distancing yourself from yourself, are two other points.  But even with my headphones on in an event, I can still hear the crowd, and more importantly see their faces, feel their presence,and feed off of their energy.  And the music, I feel, makes me connect more closely with myself. While I run I am never very social anyways. Sure, before I run I will talk to anyone in the chute or the expo, and if I see you with an event t-shirt on I feel it's an invitation to say hello, but during the process I don’t like to be bothered.  

And so I have learned to love running with music.  Most any songs I listen to can be divided into those that are either on, or are not on, a running playlist. Some music I love just doesn’t translate to running, and some songs I find motivating while I run I would never listen to at any other time of the day. (Even though I fancy myself a hipster, my playlists are just as likely to include some songs from Glee, Journey, and Bon Jovi, or the soundtrack of Les Miserables.)

Music is such a personal experience. It is as personal as religion or politics, so to discuss your own tastes and expect it will touch and impact another in the same way would be to discuss something less than what music is.  For me it’s the intensity and richness of life personified, the volume of your internal world turned up, your insides made outsides and given a voice.  Music is listening to sounds that recognize the experience in you, and when my brain is intensified by running, the music is intensified as well.  The beat of the music mixes with the beat of  my feet and the lyrics mix with the whirlwind of joy spinning through my head. 

The first time I decided to use my ipod during an actual race was at the Chicago Marathon, back when it was not allowed, but if you looked around, this rule was rarely followed. A handful of folks always had ear buds sticking in each side of their skulls.  I bought a cheapo mp3 player (for some reason I was terrified of losing my real one, even though it had served me just fine for a million runs) and my big decision was to carry it in my pocket and clip it on at mile 20. It was going to be a final push, the motivator to make it to mile 20 and the wind to carry me home.  Mind games, I was playing with myself, and ended up popping it on at mile 18 and wish I had worn them the whole time.

The key is a great playlist.  A happy, ready to charge song out of the gate, but nothing with too fast a cadence since the beginning is about saving energy, and then some casual tunes to dissociate to, and finally, some energy producing, soul-charging songs to carry you through the finish.  For long runs, I sometimes actually use an hour long podcast to keep it slow and smooth in the beginning, followed by a specially designed playlist that picks up the pace over the miles.

My favorites songs I pop in there twice, and it never fails that, during a good run, music helps my spirit transcend even farther, magnifies the run and its place in my life experience.   

When talking isn't enough you need music, and when walking isn't enough you need running, and when you put the two together it's great chemistry

Rather than bore you with my list, here are just a few outtakes from songs that are well known.

--Most played first song on my marathon playlists:

'Running Down  A Dream' – Tom Petty
“it was a beautiful day, the sun beat down… I put the peddle down, to make some time.”

--Dorkiest Song on My Playlist

‘Now or Never’ – High school musical soundtrack. This whole song is about making meaning out of just 16 minutes of your life, and how you will be remembered by this moment. Well, tacky as heck me places the song about 16 minutes from the supposed ending of the marathon.

--Most inspirational song:
“Lose Yourself”  Eminem - a statement to the doubters, a song that builds with rage and immediacy like your heartbeat through the run. It doesn't hurt to be running the Detroit marathon, with the smell of Eminem in the air. And isn't a marathon just one shot, one opportunity? because if you blow it and "let it slip" away, chances are it will be many, many months or a year before you are back in the starting line. "So here I go is my shot, feet fail me not, this may be the only opportunity I got..."

--Fav songs for their Running Beats:

Rear View Mirror and Go by Pearl Jam always pick up my pace, along with many others.

And of course the obligatory Rocky soundtrack, but I follow it up with "Going The Distance" 

Florence and The Machine, Dog Days Are Over.  This song seems designed for intervals.

--Some other random odd ones

Fighter: Christinia Aguilera, or Survivor, that Beyonce group.  (but shhhh, don't tell anybody)

Hurt (either the Nine Inch Nails or the Johnny Cash version.)

Magic Power  Triumph

Pressure  Billy Joel

The Cave  Mumford and Sons

Back in the day, a friend of mine had an annual day long party (always on April 1st, hash bash in Ann Arbor) where he would play the entire Led Zeppelin collection. Every single song on CD, and this was certainly a marathon in its own rite.

So, I was thinking how an interesting way to run a full marathon with just one group on your playlist, just one, all of their songs.  I’m not sure who I would pick, but it would have to be something with an incredible beat, visceral with a screaming immediacy. Right now Florence and The Machine might be my pick of the day, although she may only have a half marathon of worth of song time.  (I am seeing Florence in concert this summer, and would certainly love to be in a treadmill while at the show, wouldn't that be something.)

Okay, if you're still reading and I'm not the only one here, I would love a comment about the song that fires you up, maybe something out of the ordinary since I have bared my soul.  Go ahead, no wrong answer.  Wham, Wake me Up before you Go Go... you say?  I can see that.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Things That Scare People,

The lovely depiction of the Heroin Addict above adorned the first edition of my novel Stray. I felt he captured the rawness of the novel, but unfortunately, it scared the dog poop out of pet-loving folks and certainly didn't capture the 'tenderness' of the novel. Perhaps not  realizing he is a heroin addict fixing up, the assumption was it was a horror novel and it ended up in the 'Occult Horror' section.   

Then a succession of dogs hit the cover, including this bewildered Golden Retriever below who, in the novel, was adopted by a family from the Argos animal shelter, but then runs away looking for his original owner. In one of my favorite scenes, both of his human-owners meet, both standing over the dogs grave, but unaware that they are grieving for their same beloved pet.

  This cover below was the original sketch for the publishers version of Stray. Bad news is, this publisher went out of business, but not before holding my novel hostage for 7 years, the whole time which Stray was stuck on their 'coming soon' list. Beware of geeks bearing contracts.

Lastly, here is a picture that scares the heck out of me. I signed up for the Ann Arbor Marathon on the first day of registration, without looking at the details because I was so excited to run an inaugural marathon in my favorite town.  On closer inspection, I realize it is perhaps the hilliest marathon I have ever seen. In fact, I looked at various marathon maps, and have not found any marathon routes that gain 525 feet
Ann Arbor Marathon Map and Elevation

Compare this to Boston, which gains just 325 feet.
Boston Marathon Map and Elevation

At least it won't be hot on June 17th.  Stay tuned for an occult horror novel experience.

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Lullabies for Suffering is Now Available on Kindle

Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror is now available on Kindle!   For Lullabies for Suffering on Amazon: Click Here...