Monday, April 23, 2018

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's Q1 Somewhat Running-related Diary

I'm happy to welcome back the musings of Stewart Dutfield to the blog.  Stewart was kind enough to share his diary of 2017 at the end of last year.  I really enjoy his deep thoughts, both running- and non-running-related.  This year hopefully he'll continue to update us on a seasonal basis with his distinctively British observations of the world around him.


1 January. The rituals of this time of year reassure us that life continues in a familiar pattern, but perhaps they also show us what has changed. A longtime Christmastime staple for its scene of Kolkata's Howra Station set to "Silent Night" is 36 Chowringhee Lane, produced by the late Shashi Kapoor: a melancholy Indian movie about people out of place & time. Its earlier cousin, Shakespeare Wallah, also evokes the sadness of holdovers from the Raj and the dubious attractions of modernity. Watching it now, I feel out of step with a contemporary world that every day echoes Rimbaud's Démocratie: "ours will be a ferocious philosophy, ignorant as to science, rabid for comfort, and let the rest of the world croak."

SUNY Plaza Tower
4 January. East of the Greyhound terminal in downtown Albany, a tall Gothic structure glowers over a row of businesses that look like Ireland 50 years ago. What is now SUNY Plaza was newly-built just when its model, the Cloth Hall at Ypres, was destroyed in 1914. With snow falling hard, this was a good day to walk a few times up and down the 12-story tower. One climb more than I had done previously amounted to the height of the Empire State Building observation deck. Having over a few years gradually increased the number of repetitions, perhaps I am fit at last for this to be a weekly training workout.

9 January. The tunnels at UAlbany form a kilometer-long rectangle of concrete and ductwork. During winter break, largely empty of students moving between academic buildings, they see an occasional subterranean interval session. Some runners—me for one—turned up as much from curiosity as to be out of the winter weather. I discovered that it's easy to lose count of right-angle corners in a tunnel, unless running hard and gasping for a brief rest.

11 February. The Pine Hollow Arboretum was farmland returned to pine forest in the 1960s, when its pediatrician founder started to build ponds and plant trees. It grew from backyard landscaping to a lifelong calling, with several thousand specimens—some rare, and many beyond their native range—and a tangled couple of miles of trails. So far I have visited this local treasure mostly in winter, and am yet to see the magnolias and azaleas in bloom. On this day, running in wet snow, I visited my favourites so far: the Japanese specimens, the knees surrounding a bald cypress, and the "Glacier Ridge" trail along what to this untutored eye appears to be a short esker (Eiscir in Robert MacFarlane's word-hoard).

Cypress Knees
18 February. Since 1973, the low-key and by now old-style Winter Marathon has started at UAlbany and followed a succession of inner and outer loops round the New York State office campus. More than once, I have called it a training run and quit several miles short of finishing. Today it was breezy, and too warm for ice to form on cups of water at the rudimentary aid stations. Qualifying for Boston was never a concern 30 years ago, but I haven't been close now for a long while. On a pace at half way within that limbo between a qualifier and a time fast enough to actually enter, I didn't fade much and ran faster than in several years: so no Boston qualifier, but the task of recovering and continuing to train.

4 March. Two months after its appearance in the London Review of Books, I read Alan Bennett's diary for 2017. Humbled by the pale imitation that this journal is of the great man's work, I also feel gratified to learn that he and I were reading the same Borges story at around the same time last November.  

8 March. A snowmobile passed by on the rail trail this morning while I was walking the dog. I took the opportunity to trace its tracks—similar to those I saw a year ago when snowshoeing home from work—over local  streets and neighbors' yards to their source. A while later, our town's competent police department called to inform me that Plod and the enthusiast in question had had a quiet chat.

10 March. Scotland has its Munros and Corbetts, summits above 3,000 and 2,500 feet respectively, and the Catskills have the 3500s. Joe had set out to climb all 35 in the winter months, and West Kill Mountain would be the last. His retinue—a few more and we'd have needed a permit—strapped on snowshoes for the 1,800-foot ascent by way of Diamond Notch Falls and an excellent ridgetop viewpoint. We celebrated at the top, more demurely than Scott Jurek's notorious debauch after narrowly breaking the Appalachian Trail record, and Mike recalled that he is now exactly half way through a second Catskill Grid: each 3500 foot summit climbed in each month of the year. It takes focus to bag 420 summits, and yet more to keep an exact tally in mind at all times. The vicar who genially characterized me as obsessive at my father's funeral had no idea what people are capable of.

The view south from West Kill
11 March. I have been watching the BBC documentary on Eddie Izzard's run around Britain of a few years ago: extraordinary because shortly before those weeks of back-to-back marathon distances he claimed no history of running. There's something very un-Church of England about such audacity.

24 March. Where the Susquehanna River flows into Chesapeake Bay, Steppingstone Farm Museum preserves a glimpse of rural life in its stone house, carriage barn, and old cannery. The 50K HAT Run starts and finishes here, also passing through after four and 17 miles. The course through "The Land of Promise" and Susquehanna State Park was partly covered with snow. I splashed through the knee-deep Rock Run creek and passed the late 18th century grist mill for the second time, still feeling strong with four miles left to run; as the day warmed and several hundred pairs of feet passed by, the trail had by now turned to a treacherous mud. For some reason I love these conditions, and in a dozen races here have finished faster only once.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Spring Update: Searching for Consistency

My ambivalence toward writing this post--or really toward blogging in general recently--is clearly a reflection or manifestation of my recent ambivalence towards basically everything.  As with many of us who are all too consumed with our running, whose general outlook fluctuates in rhythm with our training cycles, when my running isn't going well, I generally don't have much of an interest in anything else.  It must be nice to be someone who derives pleasure or satisfaction from their job.  What's that like?

I took three weeks off after Bandera.  I tried to pretend that I wanted an offseason and felt great about my plan going forward, but to be honest I was floundering.  I had no real desire to run and nothing really to train for, unsure if I'd be able to run Leadville and undecided as to whether I really wanted to.  I gained enough weight that when I started running slowly again I felt bloated and awkward.  I had nagging aches and pains in various areas and couldn't find any sort of consistent rhythm.  Hearing about some of the great performances people were posting around the country and the world didn't help, either.  I've been struggling with the usual crisis of confidence that follows any bad performance, and superimposing others' successes on that sense of failure was having less than positive effects.

Oh, and I didn't win Blogger of the Year.  (Though I was a finalist for the second year in a row).   Thanks to those who voted.

It took until March before some semblance of motivation returned.  I decided to commit to Leadville and started to get at least a little excited about it.  I had some very sub-par "quality" workouts, but at least I was getting out there again, and it was only a matter of time before things started clicking again.

And then I blew out my calf.

Well, that's a bit dramatic.  I strained something that niggled on and off for a couple of weeks, causing me to cut short a couple of runs and gimp my way through a few others, until it finally seized up midway through a pretty decent tempo workout with Brian and I had to hobble a few miles back to the car.  That laid me up for almost a week, but with some help from the brilliant Dave Ness and Scott Field at Performance Sports and Wellness, I've been back on my feet for almost two weeks, and I'm finally--finally--starting to find a little bit of fitness.  Fortunately my ennui seems to have cleared a bit, and I'm actually starting to look forward to a spring and summer of training and racing.

I've had two other projects occupying the time that I'd usually devote towards the blog in recent months.  One is the launch of a silly little podcast called The Pain Cave, which I conceived as a show that examines some of the scientific issues and bases behind endurance sports in general and ultrarunning in particular.  It's been a challenge, and I've been having fun figuring it out and talking with some cool people--many of the characters you'll recognize from this blog, but also some other pretty interesting folks.  I'd like to continue to keep talking about and de-mystifying the scientific stuff, but I'm also going to expand to just ultrarunning in general, especially in the next couple of weeks, so check that out.  The other time suck I can't talk too much about right now; as you may know I've been doing some exercise physiology stuff recently and I'm working on a proposal to expand that into a much larger, more comprehensive running/sports medicine facility, which has been an exciting though uncertain prospect.  Hopefully I'll have more to say about that in upcoming posts.

I do have some low-key races and other running-related fun coming up, so I anticipate some more regular posting soon.  Plus next week Stuart Dutfield returns with a guest post on his 2018 to date.  His diary from 2017 was one of the more bizarrely entertaining things I've read in awhile, so you've got that to look forward to at least.