Seeing Other People . . .

Sorry, WordPress — I know I’ve been a bit distant lately.  I was going along smoothly, updating 2 times a week and writing a lot, and then suddenly I was gone.  I know, I know, you probably feel betrayed.  Lonely.  Suspicious.  And you would be right.

See, this blog grew out of two of my great loves: writing and running.  But I have another love, my first love, a child-hood sweet-heart who has never really left me, even though I’ve put her to the side and not treated her terrible well over the years.  Drawing.

Yes,  I’ve been neglecting this blog because I’m drawing a comic book.

See, long before I ditched my prejudice against fitness and became a runner and  long before I had literary aspirations, I drew.  I’d say my earliest memories were of me holding a pencil, but drawing and I go back before my earliest memories.  I drew on the walls, I illustrated “books” before I could write, and I spent much of my adolescence dreaming of penciling the X-Men.

Then I went to Bard and fell in love with literature, and I spent less time working on art and more time writing essays.  Then I became a teacher, started running, had a kid, started a blog, and here we are.  But I’ve never stopped drawing, its just slid into the place of a hobby, like juggling or brewing beer.  I doodle constantly, and a few times a year get inspired to create a comic, usually satirizing the state of education (“write what you know,” they say.)

A few weeks ago I taught a week long cartooning elective at my high school, and while the students enjoyed it well-enough, it really sparked a new obsession with drawing for me.  I’d sort of forgotten how much I liked it, and how much I enjoyed laboring over it: not just tossing off a quick doodle, but spending ridiculous amounts of time obsessively lavishing attention on detail and craft.  In particular, I was inspired by this one-page sci-fic comic I did as an example for the class.  I liked how it turned out, and decided to keep working on it.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing for the last few weeks.  I teach, spend time with my partner and kids, and then when they’re asleep, I stay up until midnight slaving on this comic.  I’ve got an 11 page story mapped out, and 5 pages finished so far.  I draw it in black and white, scan it in, then spend the bulk of the time coloring it on photoshop.  Since the first page was just done without anything serious in mind, I’m going to have to go back and redraw it, because the other pages are turning out pretty well (if I do say so myself).  It has absolutely nothing to do with running or this blog, but if you want to know why the dead-air, you can check it out on Tumblr under Voyager Comics. (for some reason the pages are out of order, though I swear I posted them correctly.  They’re labeled, however).

So there you are.  I’ll be back to writing about running at some point — I do have a 50K in just over 30 days.  But in the mean time, this blog is just for me anyways.  I’m not going for advertisers or endorsements, so if I ignore it a little while while I write, y’all will just have to put up with it.

And in the mean time, I you can read my comic instead 🙂

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Unshoes Pah Tempe Review (guest post at MGBG)

I’m super excited to have my guest review of Unshoes newest sandal, the Pah Tempe, posted over at The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.  One reason is that its one of my favorite blogs, written by one of my favorite fellow crazy-man, Christian Peterson.  Christian is one of the barefoot runners I had the pleasure of meeting at the New York Barefoot Run (he’s the one in the cape and Roman garb), and although he seems to write about cross-fit more than running these days, his blog is still great.  His posting my review is great both because I love the blog, and because his blog is considerably more popular than mine, so that means the possibility of new readers (hello, theoretical new readers!)

But the reason I’m really excited is that this is my first “real” free swag.  Until now, I’ve only had second-hand swag.  I got a free pair of Invisible Shoes because they were given out to everyone connected to The Run Smiley Collective.  I got my “Idiots Guide to Barefoot Running” because Vanessa had more books to review than she had time to read, and I got my Sockwas because Christian was sent a review pair and they didn’t fit his size 18 feet.

I got the Pah Tempe’s because I wrote to the company and said I wanted to review them.  They looked at my blog, liked what they saw, and agreed to send me a free pair to test and review.  Which I think was pretty cool.  I honestly think its even cooler coming from a small company like Unshoes.  I mean, New Balance can just throw a shoe in a box and ship it out — Terrel Fox of Unshoes hand-makes each pair.  So having him like my blog enough to put not just the physical product but his own time and labor into a shoe that he then sent me for free was flattering.  Once they were sent out, I was actually a bit nervous, since I would have felt terrible giving them a bad review if they sucked; luckily I LOVED them.

Anyway, go read my review.  Or, if you just read it at MGBG and are here for the first time, browse around my old posts.  Some entries to start with might include “The Runner’s Prayer,” “Buddhist Running — Theories of Relativity,” and what might be my personal favorite, “Running After Orcs.”

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Twilight in Prospect Park

Since I haven’t found time to write anything this week, here are some pictures of my run last week through Prospect Park on an out-of-the-way run home.  One of the best parts of late-winter is the light at dusk . . .

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If I Were Cold, I’d Be Wearing Pants

“It’s not summer time you know — its winter!”

“Don’t you know its COLD outside?”

“Did you see that crazy guy?  He’s running in SHORTS!”

I’m used to leaving the occasional comment or shocked utterance in my wake almost any day during my commute — after all, I am the only person I’ve ever seen running in East Flatbush, and the sight of of a white guy running with a neon-orange backpack and safety-yellow vest and shorts really is note-worthy.  I don’t begrudge anyone their surprised reactions.

During these crisp winter days, however, I get a lot more comments, since as soon as the temperatures start rising into the mid 30’s I switch from tights to shorts.  The other day I also wore a pair of UnShoes hauraches rather than closed-toe shoes.  But these comments — the one’s that all boil down to “It’s cold, you should be wearing more clothes!” — do bother me, because they often have a slightly different tone.  Its more judgmental, almost angry, as if the person I’m running past things I’m breaking a legal or ethical rule; that’s it just wrong to be outside in the cold in shorts.  True, I’m the only one on the sidewalk in shorts and sandals, but then I’m also the only person on the sidewalk running.  And sweating, despite the near freezing temperatures.


This phenomenon overlaps with the Judgmental Old Ladies that any parent will be familiar with, the one’s who see you with your kid in public and feel it is there God Given Right, perhaps even their their Divine Responsibility, to point out what your kid is doing wrong: running too fast, picking up rocks, being to loud, and most egregious of all, not wearing a hat or gloves even though its cold out.  “Put a hat on that kid, he’s going to get sick!” “You should have her head covered!” “Why isn’t your son wearing a jacket?”

My immediate response wants to be “YOU try getting him to keep his hat on, lady!” but I usually just hold my tongue and ignore them.  What confuses me is that I get this response, both to my kids and myself, not just in the dead of winter, but on brisk spring days — days when I think going bareheaded and jacket-less is not just acceptable but invigorating and refreshing.

What gets me angry, however, is that people who make these comments seem to have no understanding that we might be having different experiences — that one person’s “cold” is another person’s “pleasant.”  When I’m running, I’m NOT cold; in fact, the other day I left my school in hat, gloves, socks, and arm warmers, and I stopped three blocks from my school to strip all of them off because I was too HOT.  And then people I ran past shouted at me because I had to be cold.  As if they knew what I was feeling.  As if I hadn’t chosen to go outside in shorts.  As if my son wasn’t perfectly happy running around the playground without a jacket on.  As if there were rules that simply need to be followed, without question, no matter what, regardless of how you are feeling.


“It’s not summer, you know!  You should be wearing pants!”  This was from teenage girl the other day.  I normally give teenagers more lee-way in terms of stupid, obnoxious comments: after all, it is the role of the teenager to be stupid and obnoxious.  That is their God Given Right.  I remember when I was in high school thinking it was hilarious to pretend to have a French or Brittish accent and do “funny” things while at a mall, or to try bowling with frozen chickens at the grocery store, but looking back on it I realize that we must have just come across as simply stupid and obnoxious.  I’ve had plenty of teenagers shout stupid things at me, and I usually just smile; sometimes I wave, or invite them to run with me, which they find hilarious.  

This girl, however, wasn’t being stupid or obnoxious — she was horrified that I was breaking the rules, that I didn’t know the right way to behave.  She wasn’t shouting at me to be witty or impress her friends, but because I was doing something wrong.  And that depressed me.  That she would spend the rest of her life choosing what to wear based not on the weather or how she felt, but by what was right, what was proper.  That she’d teach her kids the same thing, and in 60 years she’d be at the playground, scolding young parents for letting their kids run around with hats and gloves.  And that she was already going it at 15.  It depressed the hell out of me, it really did.

There’s always a dumb horse race, and some dame breaking a bottle over a ship, and some chimpanzee riding a goddam bicycle with pants on.  It wolndn’t be the same at all.  You don’t see what I mean at all.

I mean, its depressing enough with its from an adult, from from a teenager?  From a kid? Not “Mister, you’re crazy!” which I understand and even embrace, but the distain of not following rules.

Follow the rules that matter, that mean something.  By all means, wear pants if you’re cold, jog in sweats or gloves in May if you need them.  But there are no rules here, only what works for you, what feels right, what feels good.  So often in life doing what feel good isn’t the right thing, so shouldn’t we make sure to follow our feelings when it is right?

Run in shorts, pants, shoes, socks, barefoot, in the snow, in the sun, on trails, the sidewalk, a treadmill.  In a tutu.  But enjoy it.  That’s the only rule.

Posted in Musings, Run:) | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

And it Has a Dilithium Powered Flux Capacitor!

If you’ve read this blog since its inception, you know that I’ve spent the last year transitioning to minimalist shoes.  I’m not quite the evangelical, radical barefoot advocate like many of my running associates, but I have really enjoyed the move from supportive, “main-stream” shoes to minimalist “alternative” footwear.  While the science supporting my move seems valid, I’m enough of a sceptic not to have bought into it 100%.  I didn’t move to minimalist foot-wear to reduce running injuries or improve my form. I did it simply because it seemed like common sense and it worked for me.

I love bicycle helmets; I wear them every time I get on my bike.  I don’t wear them everywhere I go.  Why?  Because I don’t need that sort of head protection just walking down the street.   Oven mitts are great inventions, but I only wear them when I’m taking hot things out of the oven.  So why aren’t shoes the same?  They are tools, and the same tools that make sense when you need them are not just extraneous but burdensome when you don’t.  Walking around with a bike helmet all day would be ridiculous; wearing oven-mitts at all time would make most tasks impossible.  If I don’t need supportive shoes (or shoes at all?) why bother?

Now that I’ve signed up for a 50K trail race in the mountains, I am looking for a protective trail shoe (most likely the New Balance MT110), since a pair of Soft Star’s won’t cut it.  I need a bike helmet, so I’ll wear one, but I won’t wear one all the time.  This isn’t a dogma or a philosophy, just common sense.


Of course, there are also tools that are redundant, useless, or even harmful.  No one needs a quesadilla maker — that’s what frying pans are for.  A Hair Max Laser Comb is a scam aimed at desperate balding men.  And wearing an old-fashioned diving helmet while bicycling would most likely get you killed.

Which brings us to the Dick’s Sporting Goods 2012 Running Gear “supplement” that came with this month’s issue of Runner’s World.  I haven’t been in the market for a “normal” running shoe for so long that I had forgotten how ridiculous mainstream shoes are, not just in construction but even more so in terminology.  I actually loved the supplement, because I hadn’t laughed that hard in a while.  Here are some of the highlights:

Brooks Pure Cadence

“The PureCadence gives runners who need more stability the chance to experience the feel of a natural foot strike in a lightweight, breathable shoe.”  As if promising anything “natural” in what looks like a standard traditional shoe isn’t silly enough, there’s the caption “gives the feel of a natural footstrike” with an arrow pointing right to a heavily padded heel.  Which, if you know anything about running form, is the OPPOSITE of a natural footstrike.

Brooks Glycerin 9

“Brooks DNA running the full length of the midsole sets the standard for out-of-this-world comfort, while Omega Flex Groves enhance flexibility and improve gait efficiency for a smooth ride.”  I think I saw the Omega Flex Grooves open up for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at the Prospect Park Bandshell two years ago.  I’m not sure what they have to do with running.

Minuzo Wave Series

“Inspired by nature, Wave is the industry’s most effective midsole technology.”  The Mizuno wave is perhaps the LEAST natural shoe I’ve seen — even before I was thinking of going minimal, I remember seeing someone in the Prophecy and thinking “are you kidding me?”  The lingo isn’t as outlandish as others, but the fact that they market themselves by promoting exactly what they AREN’T shows you how ridiculous the industry is, how gullible their target audience must be, and also how strongly the ideas of “natural” running have taken hold of the market.  “Lard — its a low-fat food!”

But the Oscar for “Most BS Per-Sentence” goes, without question, to Asics.

Asics Gel-Neo 33“Impact Guidance Systems is a design philosophy that employs linked componentry to enhance the foot’s natural gait from heel strike to toe-off.”  “Guidance Line is a vertical flex groove that decouples the tooling along the line of progression for an enhanced gait efficiency.” “Duomax Support System is a dual density midsole system positioned to enhance support and stability, positioned sport specifically.” “Rearfoot and Forefoot Gel Cushioning System attenuates shock during impact and toe-off phases, and allows movement in multiple planes as the foot transitions through the gait cycle. ” “Space Trussic System is a midfoot stabilizer that that creates a pocket between the Trussic System Device and the midsole, allowing for controlled midsole deformation and more efficient foot function.”

I don’t need to even say anything after that barrage of nonsense, though I think if you read your Star Trek manuals, you’ll see that the discovery of the Space Trussic System was the technology that first allowed mankind to engage in interstellar travel.


You might run in one of these shoes — they are, after all, very popular.  And that’s fine.  I ran in Brooks Adrenaline for years, and didn’t suffer any debilitating injuries.  I fully realize not everyone is at the point where they want to transition to minimalist shoes, and I’m open minded enough to think that maybe not everyone can — maybe some people do need all the support and pronation control that a company like Saucony can provide.  But can’t we cut the bull-shit?  Not only does no one need a “Duo Max Support System,” but it doesn’t exist.  Shoe companies are engaged in an out-of-control nuclear arms race of jargon that has ended in the Emperor’s New Running Shoes — none of it means anything, but everyone just nods and buys it because it has to mean something, right?  If it didn’t do anything they wouldn’t make it, right?  Right?  Right.  Even if I hadn’t decided minimalist shoes worked, my contrarian nature would make me want to avoid these shoes just because the companies act like I’m stupid enough to buy their outrageous advertising.

Run in whatever works for you, whatever makes you happy — that’s cool with me.  But are you just possibly wearing a bike helmet every time you leave the house or trying to tie your shoes while wearing oven-mitts?  Maybe you don’t need to.  You don’t need a flux capacitor — just a running shoe.

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Dreamers of the Day

Today I officially signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K at Bear Mountain.  I think I’ve written enough about my thoughts surrounding the race at this point — 2 months out, I don’t have anything to really add at this point that would not be redundant or overly self-indulgent.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say in the 64 days leading up to the race, but for now I will just leave you with a quote.

I haven’t posted a quote in quite some time, and while this one isn’t explicitly about running, its about making dreams into realities, actually pursuing a goal with open eyes — which is what signing up for this race is all about.  Besides, one could do worse than evoking T.E. Lawrence in conjunction with an ultramarathon.


All men dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake by the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

– T.E. Lawrence, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”

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Across Brooklyn (6.25 miles)

Nat had his first dentist appointment today, and at noon M called to see if I wanted to meet her and the kids in Carroll Gardens after work, since that’s where the dentist’s office was.  I said yes, and a quick check on google maps confirmed what I assumed: running was faster than either taking the bus or the subway.


One thing I like most about running everywhere is that it has given me a great working knowledge of the streets and neighborhoods of New York City.  I love that I can, on foot, make my way between any two points in this massive, sprawling city without needing to look at a map or ask directions.  I’ll admit there are a few far-flung reaches of Queens and a few of the north-eastern sections of the Bronx that I’m utterly unfamiliar with, but other than that I’m pretty confident with my sense of direction and familiarity with major avenues.

Today’s trip wasn’t a great challenge, as I’m relatively familiar with all the neighborhoods I ran through, but I’d never traveled from East Flatbush to Carroll Gardens before.  So it was rewarding when my gut-instincts and intuitions as to where I was headed would resolve themselves into the intersection I was expecting.


I headed out the door of the school as soon as I could, as M had called to say both Nat and Angelica had fallen asleep, so if I made it there in time we might actually have some time together without either of the kids being awake!  I made my way to Church Avenue, which I followed west all the way to Flatbush.  Every few blocks I’d get the normal reactions — muttered conversations about the crazy running white guy, a few school kids jogging alongside me for a few yards, old ladies shaking their heads at my lack of layers (they never believe that running makes you warm!)

At Flatbush, it was a short stretch up to the South East corner of Prospect Park.  There I got to get off the sidewalk and onto something resembling a trail for an all too short stretch as I cut across the park just above the lake, then followed the road to the exit at 9th Street.  9th descends westward through Park Slope, then through Gawanus to Carroll Gardens.  I left East Flatbush under chilly blue skies, but as I’d run a thin covering of slate-gray clouds had slipped in, lending a touch of winter to what was otherwise another unseasonably warm day.

Part way down 9th, my phone rang.  It was M, telling me both kids had woken up, so any ambitions for a surreptitious “date” were off.  Of course, ending a run to be greeted by “Daddy!” is pretty darn uplifting.  After a week of short, 1 mile runs, it was nice to start the week with 2.5 in the morning and a little over 6 in the afternoon.


After a flurry of updates last week surrounding ultra-ambitions, I didn’t write anything for the last week.  I’ve actually had a bunch of ideas, just lacked any ambition to actually write anything.  (The pro and con of not having that serious of a blog, I suppose).  I haven’t actually signed up for the North Face 50K yet, but I have decided to do it, and the more I think about it the more excited about it I get.  May 5th is just about 3 months away, and I should have some thoughts to share about preparing for it.  I’ll have a post on it as soon as I’ve fully committed.  In the mean time, its back to work and the daily commute.

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γνῶθι σεαυτόν

My decision of whether or not to sign up for the Bear Mountain 50K comes right as two of my running friends have also been writing about ultras and self-confidence, though to very different ends.  Vanessa’s most recent post is brimming with positivity and published just before her first 100 mile race.  It’s all about not ever following the rules and doing what feels right and finding success.  Trisha’s, on the other-hand, is titled “Why I Might Not Run a 50K,” and is about the second-thoughts she’s having after signing up for her first ultra, and how she thinks she might not be ready for it yet.

As opposite as they seem, however, I think they share an essential truth — that running is about knowing yourself.  Vanessa writes:

I went from running in shoes to barefoot/minimalist almost overnight. I went from only street running to only trail running from one day to the next. I went from zero elevation in Toronto, to almost exclusively elevation runs in the mountains from Day 1 in San Diego. My first day on a mountain, I ran 20 miles. I had never been on a mountain in my life. I’ve broken all the rules.

Which is awesome and awe-inspiring and motivational — if she’d stuck to the “rules,” she might not be where she is today.  Of course, I tried to transition to minimalist shoes just a bit faster than the “rules” say and I gave myself an acute case of tendonitis.  The rules weren’t for Vanessa, and she knew that, so she could discard them — but the rules are there for a reason, and they might apply to a lot of people.

Trisha wrote about all the positivity she’s received from other runners encouraging her to try her first ultra, but that “the problem is that it’s easy to overestimate someone else’s endurance capacity if you’ve never run with them.”  All her friends don’t know her, where she is, what she is capable of.  And while self-confidence is great, self-knowledge is just as important.  You can’t run 50K on happy-thoughts and positivity: you actually have to run it on your own two legs.


I actually have a huge problem with the self-help guru mantra of “you can do anything” because the fact is you can’t — at least, not at this moment.  I can’t be President of the United States.  Maybe there was some point years ago when I could have pursued that path, but at this point were I to dedicate the rest of my life to becoming President, I’d be wasting all my time and effort.  Time and effort I could use pursuing achievable goals.  The same goes for conducting the London Philharmonic, or being Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, or joining the US Olympic Team as a marathoner.  None are actually objectively impossible goals, but none are things I could accomplish from where I stand today.

Trying to run an ultra 6 years ago would have been idiotic, whereas today I think its a thrilling risk.  There has always been the theoretical possibility floating in the miasma of some theoretical future, but only because I have been running and working on my endurance has it become an actually concrete possibility.  It is possible for me to run a 100 mile race?  Not tomorrow.  In the future?  Yes, if I actually work towards it.  If I just say “gee, that would be fun” and never increase my running, never do any real training, and have nothing to support my fantasy other than inflated self-confidence and a lot of really supportive friends on Facebook, no, it won’t be possible.


As I said in my last post, I want a real challenge, something that I just might actually fail at.  I’ve looked at myself, my physical fitness, my determination, and decided that completing a rugged, 50K mountain race just might be possible.  Not guaranteed, but I’m willing run the risk of a DNF, to push that limit to what might be the braking point.  But I’m doing so with consideration and some degree of self-awareness.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between stupidity and courage — throwing yourself off a building to your certain death isn’t brave, it’s stupid, because it doesn’t involve a calculated risk but a blind ignorance or denial of reality.  But most acts are not objectively one or the other: one man’s “courage” is another man’s “stupidity.” Starting a race like this might be brave for me, stupid for my co-worker, and just another Saturday jog for Jason.  I like to think that signing up for a race like the Bear Mountain 50K would show courage, not stupidity.  However, there is only one person who can know which it is and that’s myself, as I’m the only person who actually knows the factors at play.


Vanessa’s track record of success after success even while flying in the face of common-sense and “the rules” clearly shows she has courage.  If I’d tried the same path, however, I might be seriously injured.  And Trisha?  Is contemplating dropping her 50K a lack of self-confidence, an act of cowardice?  Or is it a smart decision, saving herself for future races and avoiding a pointless and painful failure?

She’s the only person who can answer that.

So while I’ll throw in my encouragement along with the rest of our motley tribe, I’d like to temper it with the immortal advice once inscribed at the enterance to the temple of Apolla at Delphi: γνῶθι σεαυτόν.  “Know thyself.”  Trisha, no one can tell you the right choice, because no one else can run those 31 miles except you.

Posted in Musings, Other Running Blogs, Ultra Running, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Flirting with a DNF (The North Face Endurance Challenge)

I think I may have found my 50K.

As most of you know, I was signed up for a 50K on my birthday back in January, but after months of anticipation I ended up not racing due to our crazy living-circumstances at the time.  So no first ultra for me.

Since then I’ve been trying to find another race to sign up for.  The problem is, I’m sort of picky in a way that narrows my choices to a race that will, in all likelihood, kick my ass. Here are top two criteria:

  1. I need a race that is close enough that I can drive to the morning of, since making a week-end long trip out of a race isn’t really an option with us and our two kids at this time.  This limits me to about a 120 mile radius (at most), since most ultras start before sun-rise.
  2. I want a race that goes somewhere.  I love running as travel, as transportation, as adventuring.  While I’ve grown to think that the mental challenge of a short loop, like MtD, would be interesting, its really not what I want my first ultra experience to be.

For the first criterion, there are not a lot of ultras run close to New York City.  Lots when you get up in to Massachussets, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, quite a few in Western New York, lots through the Mid-Atlantic.  In fact, the Tri-State area is a bit of a black-hole amidst a plethora of ultas just beyond my ideal distance.

The NJ Trail Series puts on a few ultras (as well as the fabulous Muddy Marathon), but only a few actually go anywhere.  There’s the Febapple 50K next weekend and the NJ Ultra Fest next month, but the first is run on a 5 mile course and the second on a 1.5 mile track, so both are loop runs.

And then yesterday I remembered the The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain.


The North Face Endurance Challenge comes in all distances, 5K to 50M, but all the distances have one thing in common — the courses are technical, mountainous, and generally considered very difficult.  There is nothing that would recommend this course as a great candidate for a first ultra — except that it sounds amazing.  Forget the 1200 feet of elevation gain and loss, and the fact that I don’t get a chance to run on trails that often.  Forget the fact that I don’t even own a pair of trail shoes, and with the craziness of a new house and teaching and kids won’t get any serious long runs in before May 5th.  Focus on the fact that its in the Catskills and the mountains are beautiful.

That, and I think I might have a slight school-girl crush on the concept of a DNF.


If you are not a runner, DNF is the designation you are assigned if you “Did Not Finish” a race.  It means you dropped out.  Quit.  Gave up.  Failed.  Did not finish.  Whether due to injury, lack of will-power, or the growing realization you just couldn’t do it, at some point you stepped of the trail and said “That’s it.  I’m done.  I can’t finish.”  (This is setting aside the “technical” DNF, meaning you didn’t make the cut-off for the end of the race, which is 10 hours for the 50K at Bear Mountain.)  A DNF means you started a race that you just couldn’t complete.

At this point as a runner, I’ve never had a DNF.  You can look at that as meaning I’m healthy and determined, since I’ve finished every race I’ve started.  You could look at it as a sign that I’m smart and self-aware, since I’ve signed up for the distance I was capable at the time and never over-reached.

Or you could look at is as meaning I’ve played it safe and never really put myself to a severe test.  One of the reasons running is so compelling is that it allows you to push your limits — of speed, endurance, concentration, physical prowess — but in a way, if you haven’t pushed yourself to the point of failure, have you actually explored your limits at all?  If you can take one more step, could you take two?  Ten?  Another 6 miles worth?

I’m not saying I actively want a DNF — I don’t want to fail at a 50K.  But I want that possibility.  I want to start a race not knowing if I will actually be able to finish.  Because ever since my first 5K back in 2006 (the race I warned my partner I would most likely not finish since I’d never run more than 2 miles before) I’ have never stood at a starting line unsure of whether I’d cross the finish line.  My first marathon was life-changing in terms of the confidence it instilled in me, but that November morning I never doubted I’d finish.

I want to discover something new about myself.

I don’t know I’d fail at a 50K — in fact, I’m pretty confident I will succeed — but I also don’t know that I will finish.  And there’s only one way to find out.

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Art and Decay

Running through Flatbush, Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy, I pass through neighborhoods brimming with histories both uplifting and depressing.   They are communities whose collective stories include opulence and crushing poverty; the violence of race-riots and self-affirming acts of artistry; architectural landmarks and crumbling monuments of urban decay.

Sometimes what I pass is ugly, sometimes it is beautiful — but quite often it is both.  There can be beauty amidst the decay, beauty shining out despite the decay, beauty formed from the day, and the beauty of decay.  Guerrilla murals on an abandoned hospital, an empty lot at dusk, the vintage sign of a shuttered auto-shop, a burned-out house, the stained glass of a historic church.

These are just a few of the things over the last week that have made me stop a moment to contemplate in silence — the art, the day — before taking a picture and running on.

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