Monday, March 30, 2009

Paradise Found

I discovered miles and miles of rocky, wet, muddy, root-y, rolling trails Sunday morning just twenty minutes from my house! Can I possibly convey the depth of my joy? Where have I been all these years? Why haven't I been running on these trails every weekend?

Actually, to say I just discovered these trails is a bit of a misnomer. I have known about this stretch of Connecticut's Blue Trail up in North Stonington for a year now. I hiked in a mile or so with the kids last spring after sampling the trail on a short run with Nipmuck Dave just before the Northern Nipmuck trail race last April. But then I never went back.


Mainly because I don't like running on seldom-traveled trails by myself. And there just aren't that many trail runners around here. So when ultra-running veteran Bob Buckingham asked if I'd like to join him for a long jaunt I jumped at the chance. He has been running on these trails for years and knows them well.

We met at 6:30 at the trailhead on Ryder Road, near the intersection of Rtes. 2 and 201 in North Stonington. It was foggy and damp and just starting to get light.

A word about hydration systems: For most of the winter I have been running without water on my long runs. It has been so cold, the water freezes in the bottle before I can drink more than a quarter of it. So rather than tote around a block of ice for hours at a time, I have been carrying money and buying bottled water at convenience stores when I get thirsty. (Which has been rare -- during most runs this winter I drank nothing at all.)

The temperatures Sunday morning were in the high 40's. Finally warm enough to carry water again. Bob had a hand-held bottle of Gatorade and a bladder of water tucked into his Northface pack. I had 40 oz of water distributed into 4 10 oz bottles in my Nathan waist pack. (I tried to download a picture of the waist pack, but no luck. I need to research this a bit. Later.)

This waist pack drives me nuts. While the bottles are full of water, the pack stays down nicely around my hips. But as soon as the water level in the bottles (and hence the weight of the pack) goes down, the whole thing rises off my hips and lodges under my boobs, where it proceeds to bounce and spin like a hula hoop.

I need to look into Camelback-style hydration packs. I would greatly appreciate advice and/or recommendations.


Half an hour into our run, Bob and I descended from a high, rocky lookout to a swampy, emerald green, mossy forest. It was enchanting in the foggy mist. We saw a big beaver pop out of his stick-and-mud condominium and splash into the water. A couple of mallards slid across the wide, shallow pond, and the spring frogs were in full throat.

Half an hour after that, now in the pouring rain, we ascended to another lookout (High Ledges) and saw evidence of bears. I didn't bring the camera because of the rain, but I will next time. A bunch of big trees were stripped of their bark from the ground to six of seven feet up. We didn't linger.

The trail got hillier and rockier at this point, and the rain continued to come down in buckets. The sound of the rain on wet leaves was lovely.

After two hours we came to the intersection with Rte. 49. We were both cold and soaked, so we decided to turn around and head back. Next time we'll cross 49 and go further.

The run back was great. We walked the hills and ran the flats, chatted sometimes, and stayed quiet sometimes, listening to the rain.

I am unspeakably thrilled to have found these trails and a willing partner to run them with me. Thanks, Bob! It was a great day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My jogging stroller, Myself

This article ran today in the New London Day newspaper. I had grandiose notions of dolling it up a bit and adding photos for this blog, but the odds of that ever happening are next to nil. SO here it is as printed today:

Brian is thinking about cleaning the garage. Spinning in there amidst the flotsam of recreational equipment – ten bikes of various size and state, two scooters, a tricycle, skates, a pogo stick and assorted helmets, gloves and tools – he zeroes in on the jogging stroller.

“Are you done with this?” he asks.

“Well. Um. No. Yes. I don’t know!”

It’s a complicated question. There was a time, just last year in fact, when I pushed that stroller every day. After saying goodbye to the school buses, Ben would hop in with his headphones and have a little rest in the fresh air while I ran.

We no longer use it much, but that stroller was my lifeline to sanity for years. It was my baby shower present eight years ago when I was pregnant with Nell. I have a picture of myself, impossibly round, pushing the stroller across my friend Cindy’s living room floor. It’s bright blue with pristine wheels and fresh tape on the crossbar.

Looking at it now in the garage, it’s rusty and faded to grey. But then again, so am I. The two back wheels were replaced a couple of years ago, and the tread on the front, non-weight-bearing wheel has worn smooth. Twenty-five or thirty miles a week for seven years: this stroller has been around the block.

From infanthood, all three the kids took their morning naps on the move, propped in the stroller with blankets and headrests. I remember running down Pequot Avenue with Baby Nell, her little feet two nubs just emerging from the base of the stroller’s isosceles triangle.

Out in the garage today, she can barely fold herself in.

After Simon and Ben were born, we found double strollers at yard sales and thrift shops, each of which lasted a year or two before succumbing to overuse. That blue stroller has outlasted them all.

When the kids were babies and toddlers, my friends Nan and Karen would often drive to my house in the mornings to help me push: three adults, two dogs and three kids in a fantastic moving parade. Between stops for handing out apples and water cups, dealing with diapers, and waiting for pooping dogs, we talked our heads off. Our conversations moved and breathed: books, movies, politics, people, kids.

Those life-giving talks were my antennae to the outside world, the world beyond naptimes and toilet training. Days with babies, for all their richness, can get a bit lonely. Those runs cemented our friendship for good.

Looking at that old stroller in the garage today I am torn. What to do with this old friend now? I can’t just throw it out. And I can’t give it away; I’m not even sure it’s still safe.

In the end, Brian drills a hook into the ceiling and hangs it high. The stroller now looks down on us like a local deity, Talisman of the Garage, chuckling at our antics, offering occasional advice and blessing our every run.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Unschooling Philosophy

Since I spilled my running philosophy here earlier this week, I have been trying to work out my homeschooling philosophy as well, because running and homeschooling seem to be most of what occupies my brain these days.

We started homeschooling last fall when the kids were 3, 5 and 7. We did it as an experiment: try it for a year, see how it goes. After a year, each kid can decide whether or not he or she wants to return to regular school. At this writing, none of them do.

In the beginning, our days looked a little bit like this....

We had workbooks and a loose schedule. We tried to get our "schoolwork" done in the mornings and then head outside in the afternoons.

Nell (2nd grade) had a spelling book, vocabulary book, writing book, math book and history book. The boys had handwriting books, drawing books, math books and writing books. The boys enjoyed the novelty of doing the workbooks. Nell hated it.

This struck me as odd. Nell, after all, had been to school. She had dutifully gone off every day to kindergarten and first grade, retuning home every afternoon with piles of workbook pages festooned with stars and smiley faces. Nell enjoyed school. There was no reason to think that she would rebel so strongly against the school/workbook status quo.

But rebel she did. Every morning was a struggle to get my recalcitrant child to come out of her room and join in the "schoolwork." Her mornings were stony-faced, silent and grim. Our relationship was turning into a power struggle. I missed my happy-go-lucky girl.

Almost every day I thought about sending her back to school.

I think this is where my experience with ultrarunning helped me. Long runs can be difficult. There are always bad patches. But you keep running, because that is what you are there to do. One foot. The other foot. And things ultimately tend to get better.

One by one we jettisoned the workbooks. Spelling went first, then history, then vocabulary and writing. We started a new math program, one geared more toward visual learners. But more importantly, I gave up trying to be in control. I gave Nell a break from me. I let her go.

She spent the first few days of freedom listening to books on tape in her room. I think she missed her friends at school. She missed the daily social interaction. The books on tape were a voice in her head. Something to keep her company.

And slowly she came back to us. On her own terms, in her own time.

I signed us up for lots of classes and groups to give Nell the social interaction she was craving. The boys don't seem to need this as much -- they have each other. But they enjoyed the classes as well. Nell's swim team season started, which gave her access to some of her best friends three or four times a week. And she started horseback riding lessons. Riding is her absolute favorite thing, and if I could afford to get her to the horse barn every day, I would.

The arrival of spring has solidified our homeschool philosophy. Most of the initial bugs are out of the system, and most days are fantastic. We work for an hour or two (or not at all) each morning. I insist on a math page. After that, the boys usually do Silly Sentences (writing game they love) and Nell reads or writes in her journal. I read to them, usually something to do with history or some sort of philosophy. They play imaginative games together (I never would have believed how much they would end up playing together). We play board games or made-up games. We go grocery shopping (wealth of stuff here: math, advertising, economics, geography). However you slice it, the mornings are usually dedicated to some sort of learning.

After lunch everyone is free to do whatever they want for an hour and a half or so. The kids usually take turns on the computer. I usually read. And after that, we go outside.

In reality, no single day actually follows this pattern. This is the Platonic ideal. More often we are piling into the car to get to a class or a practice. Nature class, farm class, history class, piano lessons, homeschool group, swimming, gymnastics.

Yesterday we investigated frogs and baked apples over a fire.

(frog eggs)

Two days ago the kids had a blast at Terra Firma Farm while I ran for two hours and listened to my Zen book.

The day before that we worked in the garden planting peas and lettuce, and pulling up the last of last year's leeks.

I am doing my best to listen and be patient. I am doing my best to watch the kids (only watch) and stay out of their way. They each have their own style of living and learning. Given a pile of Legos, for example, Simon will open the guide book and build the most complicated model he can find. Nell will eschew the book and design her own structure. Ben will start with the book and end with his own bizarre and wonderful creation. You see: all different.

They each do things in their own good time. Simon read at 2 1/2, but did not speak much until he was 4. I worried and sent him to special needs preschool and got him into speech therapy. School made him nervous and speech therapy did nothing for him. This year I gave him a break from all that, and his speech has progressed beautifully. Our pediatrician says he no longer needs speech therapy. Which is good, since he no longer gets it.

I taught Simon multiplication in literally 20 seconds, because right at that moment he was ready to learn it. If you can catch the child just at the correct moment, his or her brain opens like a flower. The secret is waiting. Waiting for the correct moment.

Nell can read but has chosen not to read much by herself this year. I read to her and she listens to books on tape. Two weeks ago all of this changed. Nell discovered reading. All on her own. And now I can't get her to stop.

She had resisted writing as well. Until her riding instructor assigned her a paper on the Shetland pony. She had a great time researching and writing the paper. This led to a horse journal and a swim meet journal.

"I like to write about stuff I like to write about," she says.

Amen to that.

Nell notices that I have been reading and listening to lots of books about Zen.

"What is Zen?" she asks.

"Difficult to explain," I tell her. "The idea is to live each moment. No future, no past. The future and the past are not real. Just keep yourself in the moment."

"Do people really live like that?" she asks.

"Yup. People do."

"It would be a good way to live. I can see that. But you wouldn't be able to look forward to stuff. Like your birthday."

(Her 8th birthday is in a week.)

"Maybe," I say. "Or maybe I am not explaining it correctly. I think it's okay to look forward to something as long as you do it with your whole self. If your whole present self looks forward to your birthday, then you are still being in the moment."

"Oh," she says. "Kind of like a dog."

When the kids say stuff like that, surprising and right on and new, I absolutely adore homeschooling. It's our own adventure. All of us together.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Philosophy of Running

Alene from the Yahoo ultrarunning list has given us an assignment: What is your philosophy of running? What follows is my modest attempt to encapsulate my scattered and varied thoughts on the subject of long distance running.

When I started thinking about this, it surprised me to realize that I have been running (more or less) every day since third grade, the year I ran my hometown's 3-mile fun run for the first time. I ran my first 10K in 5th grade, first marathon junior year in college, and first ultra at 26. I am now 42, and I am not, never have been, a very good runner.

When I say I'm not good, I mean I don't win. I don't expect to win. I think that's part of the appeal.

Many of the things I am good at (or was good at) have fallen away. I was always a good student, and I continue to educate myself all the time, but formal schooling is long over and good riddance. I was a good swimmer: quite successful in my age group during my growing up years. But competitive swimming holds no allure for me now. I was a good violin player. But the violin now collects dust: killed I think by the constant need to compete for orchestra chairs.

I guess what I'm saying here is that I don't enjoy competition. No killer instinct. Winning makes me uncomfortable; losing makes me even more uncomfortable.

Running ultra distances entirely removes head to head competition from the equation. Or at least for me it does. I am running against the distance not the other runners. Back where I am in the pack, ultra races are cooperative rather than competitive. We are all friends on the trail out for a day (or perhaps several days) of forward motion.

This is not to say that I don't always check the results, don't count down the women in my age group to see if I placed. And if it so happens, as it rarely does, that I did actually win something, this anomaly is to be understood as a miracle. Unasked for, unbidden, but nice.

When I think about it, running may be the single thing in my life that has stayed with me since the third grade. Or perhaps, running and (for lack of a better term) the Insatiable Quest for Knowledge. Running and reading. And writing too I guess. Running and reading and writing. Put that on my tombstone: She ran. She read. She loved. She wrote it all down.

My relationship to running has changed with my circumstances. As a kid, of course, I ran for the sheer joy of it. I did laps of my paper route. Sometimes I got lost on purpose and tried to find my way home. I still do this. Especially when traveling. It helps me get a hold on the geography of a new place.

In high school I ran to stay in shape for field hockey and basketball and softball. I hated team sports. I should have gone out for cross country, but all my friends then were on the team-sport teams.

In college I ran every afternoon to counteract the beer and dorm food. This was the closest I ever came to running purely for body image. I ran cross country for a couple of years, but the three-mile races were too short. It took me that long just to get warmed up. I developed the marathon habit in college and ran one every year until I started having kids.

I ran fast in my twenties and early thirties. 7-minute miles. Smokin! I married a triathlete, so I started doing triathlons. I was still a good swimmer and I could hold my own on the run. My biking, however, was dismal. Still is. Nothing takes the stuffing out of me like a long bike ride. I'd rather run 50 than bike it.

Running became precious to me when my kids were babies. I suppose I thought of it as an escape. For a few years there it felt like all of my independence had been lost on a dime, and the only accessible connection to my old life was the daily run. I love my children dearly, don't get me wrong, but they certainly did take a bit of getting used to. All three took their morning naps in the jogging stroller. That daily run got me through the baby and toddler years (and a couple of serious bouts with post-partum depression) with grace and good humor.

And now, bit by bit, my independence is coming back. I can get out for 4 or 5 hour runs on Saturday mornings as long as I leave by 4:30. But I'm up at 4:00 every morning. It's my time to write and run before the kids get up.

Last year I ran with running partners. My long runs turned into long talking jags, which were always welcome. I spend my days with little kids and it's nice to get into deep weekly adult conversations. My running partners are all intelligent, interesting, driven, funny people. I love them all dearly.

This year I have been running alone more. I find I need the silence more than I used to. Weirdly, I don't seem to get sick of myself. My mind wanders here and there and I lope along behind. Sometimes I think about nothing at all.

I got an iPod for Christmas and I carry that along with me. When I need to hear another voice I put on one of my Zen books. I am going through a Zen phase at the moment. It all makes perfect sense to me while I am running. The calm quiet voice telling me how think with Big Mind (I am myself, but I have no self; what is the sound of one hand clapping? -- stuff like that) is endlessly fascinating. I listen over and over.

I love the simplicity of the running life. You put on your shoes and you hit the road. I tend not to complicate my running with things like training schedules and goals. Mostly I head out the door and fly where the wind takes me. I love to run long hills and beautiful trails. But I'll run anywhere. I'll run round and round a motel parking lot if that is the only option. The running is the thing. That and nothing else.

I need to feel my feet hitting the ground. The rhythm is hypnotic. It's mesmerizing. It's downright addictive. Not to put to fine a point on it, I'm addicted to running. It's my daily high. My junkie's hit. Without it, I don't know what I'd do. I live in mortal fear of injury. No matter what, live to run another day.

So perhaps it all comes down to addiction. Or perhaps not. Sometimes I run too much and I get tired and cranky. But if I don't run enough I'm antsy. It's a curious titration. It's a fabulous life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fencing for runners

I ran three hours on trails this morning and I was kicking myself the whole time for forgetting the camera. I had such fun taking pictures last weekend, and the trail today was lovely: grey trees, green rocks, blue ocean, blue sky. Early spring in New England is like a cathedral. The sunlight is getting stronger, and the leaves are not yet out to block it. The forest floor comes alive, drinking in the temporary light. There is a feeling of gratefulness in the air. Of stretching and coming alive.

My daughter Nell and I were on these very trails just last evening at dusk for a Woodcock Walk. We had the great pleasure of seeing several woodcocks strutting their stuff. It's time for their annual mating dance. The male jumps around on the ground yelling PEEEEENT, PEEEENT. He then very suddenly he takes wing, shooting up in a widening spiral about 300 feet into the air (WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP), and then just as suddenly plummets back to the ground. The wind literally whistles in his wings.

Very impressive. The woodcock ladies love it.

I listened on and off to my Zen book (Alan Watts: The Way of Zen). In the absence of a running partner, I find AW to be fine company. He gives me a morsel of wisdom in my ear, I turn him off and think for a while, and when I need another shot of human voice I turn him back on.

Today he talked about fencing. Fencing in Japan is evidently quite serious. Fencers train for years, living and working with their teacher. They begin their training as houseboys, cleaning floors, doing laundry, cooking, that sort of thing. But there is a catch. Every now and then, the teacher will pop out from behind a door (or wherever) and whack them with a broom.

The teachers are cunning. When the teacher senses the student is protecting himself, that's when he will strike. If the student seems to be protecting his belly, the teacher will pop out and whack him in the back.

Either this drives the student mad, or he stops trying to protect himself altogether and begins to think, "Well, if I get hit, I get hit. There's nothing I can do about it."

Once the student reaches this "correct mind" he is ready to begin his formal fencing training.

I think there is a lesson for ultrarunning in this story. The longer the race, the more unpredictable it becomes. I tend to focus too much on my stomach. Am I feeling sick? Am I okay? What should I be eating? What should I not be eating? It's when my brain is spinning like this that the stray rock pops up and sends me ass over teakettle onto the trail.

It happens every time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sylvia then. Sylvia now.

I am trying to work on an article about Sylvia Plath. I'm thinking of expanding a blog I wrote about SP for the newspaper into a longer magazine piece. But without an actual deadline, I find that I am becoming a procrastinator. All talk, no action. Or, more to the point, all prep work, no actual finished product. (I always prefer training to races -- why, I wonder?).

In theory the piece will be about reading SP fifteen years ago when (to me) her life and subsequent suicide seemed so romantic and exciting; and re-reading her now when her life and suicide suddenly strike me as horrifying.

I went back to my old journals to help myself remember what exactly was going on in my life the first time I read through the Plath ouevre. Re-reading old journals is a strange experience. It's different from reading someone else's journals, you know it was you writing all of this, but it's difficult to believe it. Oddly, I have never done this before. Never "researched" myself.

Turns out I was reading SP right around the time Brian and I got married. In the weeks leading up to the wedding I was reading her biographies, and I took her letters with me on our honeymoon. I don't remember this. I guess I have to take my own word for it.

This is also right around the time I ran my first ultra. I was 26. I read about this 50K race in the paper on a Thursday and showed up that Saturday morning 10 minutes before the start. That's how it was back then. No training plans, no race calendars. Just show up and run. I figured I had just run my sixth marathon the month before, and how much harder could a 50K be?

The first ten miles were on the road. I tried to keep an 8-minute mile, but it was hard because it felt so slow. (Imagine!) And then, to my great surprise, we hit the trails and ran to Council Crest, 1000 feet straight up. And the remainder of the race was like that. Up down up down. My mile splits plummeted (to my great dismay). Brian rode his bike on the trails with me for the last 10 miles just to make sure I stayed alive. I walked the last 2. I survived.

Some people ran 50 miles that day and I thought they were crazy and amazing.

The other weird coincidence: my journal tells me that right after this race, I bought Zen Mind Beginner's Mind (Suzuki) and read it at night to fall asleep. I just bought that audio book last week to play on my iPod during long runs and hill repeats.

Sylvia Plath then. Sylvia Plath now.

Zen and ultras 15 years ago. Zen and ultras now. This has not been a continuous journey. I read two Zen books back then (The Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg and Zen Mind) and then dropped it in favor of studying the Medieval Mystics. I ran two ultras, both 50K, and then stopped in favor of long triathlons. Both things have come back into my life this year.

Very strange. What could it mean?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lane 4 Enlightenment

I don't think of myself as an angry person. I think I have a fairly long fuse. But there are a few things that truly piss me off: people speeding like freaking maniacs on the highway, pushy solicitors on the telephone, and clueless swimmers barreling right down the center of my lane.

I swim once a week for 45 minutes during Simon's swimming lesson. I'd like to swim more, but getting to and from the pool is difficult at this time in my life. So I cherish my 45 minutes every Tuesday afternoon. I try to swim at least 2000 yards.

There is one lane designated for lap swim at this particular time. I know most of the other swimmers and usually we have no trouble crowding 3 or 4 people into the lane. We respect each other's space and try to stay out of each other's way.

But this week a new person showed up. Laura (another swimming lesson mother) and I had been happily splitting the lane until this third woman jumped in, at which time we agreed to circle (meaning everyone stays on the right side of the lane coming and going).

This woman was clearly not a swimmer. She did a wide, slow breaststroke right down the middle of the lane. She did not give way, forcing Laura and me to swim around her, which was difficult with three people in the lane.

The breaststroker was not being deliberately obtuse. She was perfectly nice. It was obvious that she simply had no knowledge of lap lane etiquette. And I did not want to spend any of my precious swimming minutes clue-ing her in.

I spent about 10 seconds getting angry, and then I remembered my Zen. It sounds wacky, but it worked. I reminded myself that we are all one universe. I am the breaststroker and she is me.

Ping! Instant compassion. Instant loss of anger.

This is a better way to live. When I can remember to live like this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Double Monday

I didn't run yesterday, which is starting to become a habit. By Sunday, I'm done. Rare is the Sunday this winter when I even get out of my pajamas. Though I admit IS difficult to distinguish my pajamas from my regular clothes. I usually sleep in whatever I happen to be wearing. And (huge confession here) sometimes even resurrect the fabulous outfit again the next day.

Whole new realms of creative outfitting have befallen me since becoming a homeschooling parent. I mean, who has time to change clothes?

I guess it's a good thing I run so much. Sort of forces the shower issue.

Anyway. Sunday I rode the bike. Not the sleek Specialized Roubaix road bike that fits my body like a glove and practically rides itself. I passed right by that beautiful thing and hopped on the early-90's vintage, got-it-for-ten-bucks-at-a-garage-sale Specialized Hard Rock. It's a stretch to call this thing a mountain bike. No suspension system, no cross bar and a barely-working rearr derailer that shifts with a mind of its own.

But my goal for the ride was to work my quads, so this bike was perfect. It's heavy and is not tricked out for clipless pedals. I rode it up the steepest hills I could find, pushing hard on every downstroke, burning up my quads, hoping to simulate the braking feeling of downhill running. I am going to need lots of leg strength if I expect my quads to survive the long downhills at Grindstone.

I finished my work a little early this morning (Monday), so the dogs and I headed out at 5:15 instead of our usual 5:45 for a nice 90-minute run in the dark. Slow, steady, hilly, fun.

I ran around with the kids all day, which involves different muscles entirely. We decided to ditch the books today and get outside. We went to the big beach in Charlestown, RI and to the playground at Ninnigret Park. I'm lucky to spend my days with these kids. They keep me young. I jumped off the swings and collected shells and stood in as pivot-man on the see-saw. Excellent day.

And for my second training run, I did hill repeats during Nell's swim practice in the evening. Round and round a ten-minute, two hill circuit for more than an hour. I repeatedly passed the same little farm with the same little ponies and llamas in the pasture. They kept asking me what I was doing. But how to explain it all to llamas and ponies?

I listened to my Zen book on the iPod (Alan Watts: The Way of Zen). There is absolutely nothing better to listen to than a Zen book when you are doing hill repeats. It gives the whole bizarre procedure new layers of meaning. Zen is all about losing your mind, letting yourself stop thinking about thinking. Forget the past and the future: all illusions. The idea (or not idea, exactly) is to become one with the universe. (AW: You are not born INTO the world, you are born FROM it. Like an apple from a tree).

Generally I am way too self-conscious to achieve anything remotely resembling Zen mind. But I do come closest when I am running hill repeats.

And now it's late at night (for me anyway) and I can't sleep. Overtrained?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

25 Mile Morning

I left the house this morning at 5:30 with great energy, newly determined to sign up for the Grindstone 100 in October. I am told that registration opens April 1st. Sophie's excellent blog gave me all the details from last year's race. She loved it. Looks like my kind of race. Nice trails. Lots of climbs. Nice people.

Since it was so early in the morning, I tried to gather all of my running stuff as quietly as possible. A woken-up boy means trouble. Once those boys get up, there's just no getting out of the house. But I couldn't find the iPod. I knew Brian brought it with him last night to Simon's karate class. WHERE did he put it? WHERE?

I tiptoed past the Cinnamon's crate many times in search of the darn thing. It's a miracle she didn't start barking. She is a freaking barking machine. Nice dog, but man, enough with the barking. How do Brian's parents stand it, I wonder?

I never found the iPod, but I did find the little digital camera, so I brought that along in my running vest and took a few snaps along the way.

My Little Town at 5:30 in the morning.

This camera does not take great photos in the dark, but here are a few of the Mystic River. It was very low tide and there were lots of water fowl splashing about. None of which you can see here. Just use your imagination. Geese, a couple of different kind of ducks and a blue heron.

This camera is, however, exceptionally good at capturing supernatural phenomena. I did not see this river spirit in real life, but here it is in the picture. Plain as the nose on your face. River spirits come out early in the morning and bless the runners. I must have been blessed, because I had a great run.

After a dark trot up River Road and then up the always daunting Pequot Hill, I caught my stride and settled into my favorite part of the run through the rolling farmlands of North Stonington and Ledyard. Here is the first light on Al Harvey Road, just after I heard a barred owl sighing his familiar tune: Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?

Brief fantasy that I was actually running through Northern California....

But alas, no. It's Ledyard, Connecticut's one and only winery! Pinot noir? Cabernet? The mind stands still.

Good morning, cows!

I am about three hours into the run at this point and the bagel I ate at 5:15 has worn off completely. I am famished. All I have to eat are a couple of Clif bloks in my vest. I briefly consider busting through the fence and elbowing my way into the trough. Scuze me! Scuze me! Moo! Scuze me!

Shortly after my little snack, I hit the biggest climb of the run, up Gallup Hill Road. It's a mile or two up various grades of hill. I absolutely love it. I'll have to come run hill repeats up here this summer when I have a bit more time to train.

Down on the other side of the hill is the loveliest little farm. I don't think this photo does it justice, but here it is anyway. Sometimes a pair of twin Jack Russell terriers come running down the dirt road to greet me barking for all they're worth. I like to call them Jack and Russell. Why not? But they weren't out this morning.

And then I descend one final time down through the trees and back to good old Long Island Sound.

Please notice the house and boats on the right side of this next photo. We have contributed a hefty chunk to the mortgage on these fine items over the years. The whole business belongs to our family dentist. Great dentist, mind you, but still.

I don't know who owns this next house, but I wish I did. I imagine afternoon tea on the deck must be a feast for the eyes.

I'm a mile from home now and I'm falling down hungry. I'm trying to train my body to run on limited food because I always get sick in the long races. The less food I eat the better. But, man, if I had a couple of dollars with me I certainly would have stopped in here for a strudel topped blueberry muffin! Just thinking about it brings me to my knees.

Last hill! It doesn't look like much of a slope from this photo, so you're just going to have to take my word for it. It's tough. Especially at mile 25. Quite a haul up there.

Still going up the freaking hill. I'm more than half way up now. I'm getting there.....

And finally into my very own neighborhood and home sweet home.

Life seems to have gone on just fine without me. Nell and Brian brought the boys to their gymnastics class and played Rummy Cube while they waited. And now back home as I walk in the door, everyone is firmly entrenched in his or her own little world.

Brian is frying up some farm fresh eggs (from the farm where the kids take farm class).

Nell is reading the horse books that we got yesterday at the Book Barn (best used bookstore east of Powell's in Portland, OR). Nell is a horse crazy girl.

Simon is reading to his Webkinz. Simon has THE most literate Webkinz....

And Ben is having a ................. moment.

No matter what he's doing, Ben always makes me giggle. Either right away or much, much later.

Great run. Great day. Great life.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zen Friend

I'm just back from a two hour run in North Stonington. I get two hours to myself every other Thursday while the kids go to Farm Class at Terra Firma Farm. Amazingly wonderful place. The kids get to hold baby goats, collect eggs, chase chickens and ducks, sidle up to newborn calves and treat the donkeys and sheep to handfuls of compressed hay. All the lost arts.

And I get a good solid block of time to run.

Today my friend Karen joined me for the first hour. I adore Karen. She is Kindness Itself. She is the loveliest, most caring, easiest person in the world. And she's down in the dumps. Why does depression always hit the best people? Why? Why? WHY?

So I talked. I talked about our home school. About Nell's swimming and horse riding successes. About Simon's Buddha Nature. About Ben's (shall we say) personality. Ben is a darling boy. He is the cuddliest of the kids, the sweetest ("I just love you, Mom"), the most hyper and the most challenging. We are all going to be riding in Ben's wake someday.

But not yet.

I talked about my new book, Doubt: A History. Karen is the type of person who can get excited about doubt. We decided that we'd like to be centered, but we don't want to lose our edge. Judith Warner, in last week's Domestic Disturbances column in the NYT, said that centered, "mindful" people are boring. We don't want to be boring. We just want to stay calm. Mostly.

During the second hour I listened to Alan Watts on the iPod. The Essence of Zen.

I wish I had an iPod while I was in college. I can listen so much better while I am trotting along at a moderate, manageable pace. I could have downloaded all of my textbooks, run all day, and made Phi Beta Kappa easy peasy lemon squeazy.

Alas. I frittered away the time in stuffy lecture halls absorbing next to nothing. But I must say, I had the time of my life.

Here, according to Alan Watts, is the essence of Zen.

Sitting quietly. Doing nothing.
Spring comes.
The grass grows.

The idea is to connect your own lively mind to the entire universe. To understand that you are not just PART of the universe, but that you ARE the universe. Everything is of a piece. You cannot observe yourself thinking. You must shut off that "other mind." And meld into space.

The goal of Zen (but goal, of course, is the wrong word) is to break down the distinction between subject and object. To just be. To go forth into the world like a fish swims through water.

I can sometimes get there while I'm running. I am my feet, the trail, the air. My sweat is the heat. My body is the air. The moon. The universe.

Zen masters are funny. Actually funny. They tell funny little stories and instantly enlighten each other. They laugh from their bellies and they are enlightened.

This merits further study.

Though the idea of "studying" Zen is absurd.

I'll just listen. And be.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Read or Swim?

Every Tuesday afternoon I take Simon to his forty-five minute swimming lesson at the Y. While I'm there I like to jump into the lap lane and swim. This is my only easy opportunity to get into the pool, so it's usually the only time I swim every week.

This from an ex-triathlete who used to swim three or four times a week on top of everything else.

But this Tuesday I was tired. My legs were sore from yoga class Monday, and they were tired from all the running. I had run in the morning with the dogs, so I already had my workout done for the day. And my new book, Doubt: A History, had just arrived in the UPS truck.

I entertained a vision of myself sitting on the bleachers at the pool reading the book, cocooned in the warm, humid air. It was an enticing little scene.

Why didn't I give into it? Why did I leave the book on the counter and grab my swim bag on the way out the door? What, exactly am I trying to prove?

I find it very interesting when people tell me that they would love to start some sort of exercise program, but they just can't seem to get motivated. This baffles me, stuck as I am in this bizarro world in which I can't seem to stop being motivated to get out and run or swim or bike or whatever.

I wonder what need this is filling, all of this trotting around town, racking up the miles and the hours on the roads and trails. Endurance athletes are a weird bunch. Especially ultra-runners. We try to pass ourselves off as mellow and laid back, but just try to cancel our morning run. Then the truth comes out. Without the run, we are undone. Or at least I am.

A day without some sort of exercise? I shudder to think of it.

I'm off to run with the dogs......

Monday, March 9, 2009


What with Daylight Savings Time, I am plunged into morning darkness during my runs once again. It was dark as December this morning -- and just when I was able to get out at 5:30 without a flashlight. Raining, too. But I didn't run yesterday, so I had to get out there this morning.

Once out, the dogs and I had a lovely run. I am getting the hang of handling two dogs: Cinny in the right hand, Eddie in the left. And always leave the house with pocketfuls of plastic bags for the poops. The only problem was the shaking of the coats. Every once in a while, with absolutely no warning, one or the other of the dogs would stop dead and shake off rainwater from from tip to toe, sending me reeling half blind into the gutter.

But here I am. I survived.

We ran for an hour and I thought about absolutely nothing. Which I guess is good. Very Zen of me, you might say.

The kids and I went nowhere today, which was also nice. We played games, read books, did our one obligatory page of math, and welcomed the piano teacher at two o'clock in the afternoon. Our dear and darling teacher, Elizabeth, has agreed to come to our house rather than have us schlep over to hers once a week and clutter her floor with Legos and K'Nex and crayons and books. Good decision for all involved.

I took a yoga class during Nell's swim practice. I haven't taken yoga in years. For some reason it always gives me a headache. I had forgotten that. All the dust on the floor gets sucked into my sinuses and plagues me something terrible. I have to remember to take some sort of sinus pill before I go next week. Alleve or something. Not quite the Yoga way, I guess. I should probably take a fresh, organic herb, but what the hell.

Aside from the throbbing head and face, I enjoyed the class. My quads got a burning workout, my shoulders are sore and my back feels better than it has in some months. I hope I can stick with the class. Seems like a good antidote to the wear and tear on the hips and hamstrings from all the running miles. Either that or it's going to knock me all out of whack, disturb my delicate equilibrium, and send me back to the chiropractor.

So here I sit, all yoga-ed out, a little shaky in the unused muscles. I'm off to join Nell on the couch. She's watching Anne of Green Gables on DVD. She's been listening to it on CD for a couple of weeks and loves it. And in her Nell way, she's full of chatter about all the differences between the movie and the book. Off I go....

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I ran for four hours yesterday morning, 5:15 - 9:15. I loved that it was almost light at 5:15, but learned later that Daylight Savings Time is starting. So I am plunged back into morning darkness for a few weeks. Alas.

I saw a fox at the top of River Road. It crossed the street in front of me then ran across the ice and into the woods. That ice was about six hours away from melting completely. I think the temperature hit sixty degrees by noon. Also heard, but did not see, a bunch of wild turkeys gobbling half way up Pequot Hill. Later in the evening I heard Garrison Keilor call wild turkeys "tiny-brained" during the News from Lake Woebegone. He called them just a big nervous system on two feet. I guess he's no fan of wild turkeys. But I was happy to hear them. And him.

I had a few giggles at Simon's expense as I trotted along. Friday night he was playing with the dogs and the three of them were getting all worked up: dogs circling each other and Simon jumping into the fray. In his exuberance, Simon tossed Eddie's chew bone way up in the air. It hit the ceiling, the hanging pots and pans, the kitchen table, the chairs and finally smashed onto the tile floor. Crash, bing, clang, boom, smash. You could watch the expression on Simon's face go from delight, to dismay, to horror, to fright as the thing careened around the kitchen. When it crash landed at his feet, he said sort of quietly, just to himself, "Oh. I threw it too high."

You gotta love Simon.

About three hours into the run I pulled out the iPod. My own thoughts are sufficiently entertaining for three hour intervals, and then I need some outside help.

I like listening to podcasts of Speaking of Faith, an NPR program about religion and ideas. Not being particularly religious myself, I admire people who are and I like to hear about them. The program I listened to on this run was called The History of Doubt.

Jennifer Michael Hecht talked about Famous Doubters starting in ancient Greece and Rome and moving up through history into the present day. She said that equating doubt with atheism or agnosticism is a modern concept, that doubt was an integral part of religion in the ancient world. She said that many of the great doubters were actually great thinkers. She said that the idea of the Leap of Faith embraced by modern Christianity (I cannot prove the existence of God, but I believe it anyway) was a stern reaction against doubt, because Christianity was the first major religion to come into being AFTER the idea of doubt had been well documented and accepted. Christianity created the leap of faith to silence the doubters. Older religions like Judaism had incorporated doubt right into the religion and is therefore not nearly so skittish about doubters.

At the end of the program Krista Tippet asked Hecht how she classified herself: agnostic, atheist, believer? Hetcht more or less dismissed the question as limiting. She does not believe in God as creator of the universe, in an afterlife, or in any sort of energy field running through nature. But she does not dismiss those who do. She finds much about religion to be beautiful and worthwhile. She can live with doubt without closing her mind to the possibility of belief.

I like that.

I ordered her book from Amazon as soon as I got home.

About a mile and a half from home I came to a crossroads. Turn right to go home for a few quiet minutes before Brian and the kids return from gymnastics, or turn left to the gym class. I missed my family, so I turned left up the enormous hill to the gym class. No one was expecting me. Brian smiled. Nell gave me a friendly look: like I resembled someone she knew, but could not quite place. And then the smile turned to recognition and lit up her face. She and I watched the boys' class, giggling at Ben's antics, amazed at Simon's (assisted) back handspring.

It was a good run.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I ran this morning with both dogs and could was again distracted by the logistics of keeping them out of traffic and out of my way. All I could think about was dogs. It was a lovely morning, though. Cold. A thin scrim of ice topped the river all the way across. Lots of ducks and geese sitting there on the ice. Cold assed ducks.

As we ran by the tidal pond we heard the ice crack. A big, deep noise. Both dogs stopped and whipped their heads around at the same time. I had to do some fancy dancing to stay on my feet. These dogs have no sense of Personal Space.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about boredom. When I wasn't actively engaged in actual work, that is (ie, overseeing math pages, piano practice, board games, driving around, that sort of thing).

I read in the New Yorker yesterday that David Foster Wallace was working on a novel about boredom when he committed suicide. He had been working on it for years and despaired ever finishing it. The magazine excerpted a chapter for this week's short story. The first paragraph takes up several pages. Too daunting to even attempt to read. Visually quite frightening.

He was trying to embrace boredom. He said that we spend enormous amounts of time and energy evading boredom. We are afraid of being bored. Afraid of being left alone with our own thoughts. His novel is set in an IRS office and centers on the tax workers. A more boring job cannot be imagined.

I thought of this while I played Fast Track with the boys - a homemade math board (bored) game. They love it, but I find that after two or three go rounds its limited charms wear thin. So I embraced boredom. I enjoyed the boys. And I lost. Over and over.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Two Run Wednesday

I was able to fit in two runs today: one early in the morning with the dogs and the second later in the afternoon/evening during Nell's swim practice.

My brain was taken up with dog concerns during the morning run. We have my in-laws' Irish terrier, Cinny, with us for about a month. This was her first morning run. I dare say it may have been her first run ever. But she kept up like a champ. Her stride is much choppier than Eddie's. Very different cadence. We did 4 or 5 miles. I spent all of my mental energy keeping the dogs from tangling their leashes and tripping me.

On the second run, between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m, I thought about David Foster Wallace. I spent part of the afternoon sort of skimming a New Yorker piece about David Foster Wallace, one eye on the magazine, the other eye on the kids.

David Foster Wallace killed himself. Last year or the year before. Depression got him. One of his characters spoke of being afraid of thinking about being afraid for fear of setting off an unstoppable chain reaction of fear. I remember that feeling. After running I saw my friend back at the Y. He is going through all of that himself right now. His eyes looked ragged out and hollow. He says I'm his hero. He'll make it through. Just remember to breathe.

Right in the middle of thinking about David Foster Wallace I saw a blue heron come in for a landing on a thin and ice-rimmed estuary. That snapped me out of it. The heron looked like a plane with its landing gear deployed. It hit the water with a satisfying scroosh.

After that I worked on my last blog post for the newspaper. Due Friday. Something to walk out on. Love your kids. Look at them, listen to them, and for mercy sake, just love them.

Something like that. The only piece of parenting advice I feel qualified to give.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Ran Today

How 'bout me! 6 miles early in the morning with Eddie the Coonhound. Swam too! 45 minutes during Simon's swim class.

I ran and thought about my lost job. I quit my newspaper blog officially today. It's one thing to say you are going to quit your job. It's easy. Every reason in the world sounds valid and true. But to actually cut that cord, well, that's another thing.

I am absolutely ready to move on from that parenting blog. My kids are getting too big for me to be sharing their stories all around town. Their stories belong to them now. And the very public comments on were getting horrendous. Someone called me a dorkface. Me! I am so the opposite of a dorkface.

But still. We did have some good times, that job and me. I loved it when I first got it. And I loved it for about 4 years. But I feel like I have run out of things to say. And I am self-censoring way too much with ear cocked to the comments. It's like running with the brakes on. Writing handcuffed.

So I'm on to other things. But during my run this morning I took a few moments to mourn the lost job. Making anecdotes out of my life helped give meaning to the toddler years. Made it seem like there was a reason (a good reason) why I was apoplectic over lost boots or brain dead from one too many games of Candy Land. It gave my brain cells a few minutes to stretch every morning. Brace themselves for the day.

But I don't have babies or toddlers anymore. So I'm moving on. To what, I don't know. Graphic novel? Longer articles? Stories? I think it would be fun to write fiction. To not be tied to the truth all the time. Take wing every now and then.

But I need time to figure it all out. I need to allow myself that time. Chill. Take a break. Sleep.

Monday, March 2, 2009

It Snowed Today

Weird to re-start a running blog and the proceed to NOT run for two days in a row. Very unusual. But we got a foot of snow today.

I skied in the street this morning ahead of the plows and thought about running.

I shoveled until lunch and thought about running.

The whole family got together to make a quinzee hut. While making the hut, I did not think about running. The quinzee hut was engaging.

First we had to shovel a whole bunch of snow into a pile.

And then we took turns digging it out. This was the most fun.

I just love our quinzee hut. It's supposed to stay cold all week, so I hope it will stick around. Sitting inside the quinzee hut I am perfectly happy. Surrounded by white, just cold enough to remind you that you're alive, but out of the wind. Silent. Nell stood outside and yelled at the top of her lungs and I could barely hear her. No slow blower sounds, no barking dogs.

I want to take my sleeping bag and spend the night out there. Or maybe just lay there for an hour and imagine I'm on top of the mountain at the end of the world.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

No Run Today

Some days I sort of force myself to take a day off from running. These days are unusual, but I was so tired today that it wasn't much of an effort.

I ran 20 miles early yesterday morning and decided with something less than absolute certainty to quit my job. For the last hour of the run I listened to a podcast of Speaking of Faith. Krista Tippet was speaking to a man about Buddha in the world. The man spoke against capitalist greed (can only lead to physical violence in the end, he said). He said every person should try to get right with themselves. And leave it at that.

He cited the example of tortured Tibetans. Tibetan Buddhism is rigorous. Many of the Buddhists tortured by the Chinese evidently do not suffer long term effects (PTSD and the like). The Tibetan Buddhists are able to forgive and even feel compassion for their tormentors. The wind blows through their souls. They are remarkable.

So I will quit the blog job for the paper. Soul sucking work. I used to love it and I no longer do. I have been writing about myself and my family for five years and I don't want to do it anymore. I am quitting the job that I once would have characterized as a dream job. I'm giving up a tiny bit of money and a healthy dose of local prestige. I'm getting right with myself.

So in the spirit of giving in, I had a rare and lazy day. Never once changed out of the clothes I slept in. Took a nap. Read my book (Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami). Read a New Yorker piece about Ian McEwan. Played with the kids. Walked and talked with friends I have not seen in months. Rejuvenation day. The first day....

And I dreamed about running the Grindstone 100. It's evidently a tough race in Virginia in October. The timing is great. I can train all summer while Brian is home, then taper when he goes back to school in the fall. The race is all hills and rocks and trail. Just my cup of tea.

Back to the Blog

After several months of not writing anything here, I am changing the focus of this blog. I recently read Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and I like his style. I am making no claims for myself. Old Haruki is way more engaging than I am. But still. I am going to talk here only about running, what I am thinking about while I am running, and what I am doing while I'm thinking about running.

That should give me plenty to work with.

I am on the cusp of quitting my newspaper blog. I have been writing about myself and my family for the benefit of the (mostly) good people of greater New London, CT for the past five years and I think I'm done. The comments on the blog can be soul suckingly horrendous, and I no longer want to expose myself and my kids to all of that nastiness. So I'm taking my show over here.