Book List

January 25, 2008

Taking a cue from my wife, which I don’t do nearly enough for my own good, I have decided to become more intentional about my reading habits.

I have no problem with reading – I’ve always loved books.  I remember little about most of my classrooms in elementary and middle school, but I remember the libraries, and I consumed most of what they contained.  While I slacked off a bit in high school (other interests, you know), my love for reading has continued into my adulthood.  

Through the years, I’ve managed to collect quite a few books – not enough, mind you, but quite a few. My only problem is in finding (or making) the time to read them all.

So, here’s a list of what I’m reading next:

The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank by Bell I. Wiley – a detailed study of the Civil War soldier.  Fascinating stuff.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve never read the whole thing straight through.

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren – Warren has his detractors, but this is an important book for purposes of cultural literacy if nothing else.

The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen L. Carter – a discussion of how American law and politics trivialize religious devotion. Certainly timely.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry – I was an English major, after all.

Chesapeake by James Michener – if for no reason other than I have never read a Michener book.

Those should keep me busy for a while.  Some pretty heavy stuff, but my last three books have been on the lighter side:

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – the book upon which the recent movie was based.  Worthy of a blog post of its own, which may be coming soon.

Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life by Larry Winget – I saw this book by the “Pitbull of Personal Development” and couldn’t pass it up.  The guy is a master at self-promotion, but he’s entertaining and makes some good points.

Running Through the Wall, edited by Neal Jamison – personal encounters with the ultramarathon.  Inspirational fare to help motivate me for  my own encounter in a few weeks.         


Obama Newspaper Endorsement

January 24, 2008

South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The State, endorsed Barack Obama on Tuesday. It’s a very cogent analysis and worth a read.

Competition of One

January 17, 2008

I’ve been trying to recruit several friends to run the Charlottesville 10-Miler in March.  All are athletic, all are adventurous, but most have not run that distance before, much less run it in a race.  None have yet sent in their registration (the true test of commitment is in writing that check), but most have been running regularly and at least seem to be considering the possibility. 

I caught a bit of grief from one of them the other night, as his wife reads this blog and had told him about my 20-miler last weekend.  Jokingly implying that my recent words of encouragement on his running progress had been insincere, he said “You were cheering us on for having run 3 or 4 miles, but you didn’t tell us that you had just run 20!” 

Exactly right.  The length of my run had absolutely nothing to do with his run.  One of the great things about distance running is that you can look at any run as a competition with yourself – a competition of one. No matter how fast you are, no matter how far you can go, there is always room to go a little faster, run a little farther. It seems that nearly every time I find myself running strong and start to engage in a bit of self-congratulation about my pace, I will hear footsteps behind me and the next thing I know I will have been passed like I’m standing still by some young guy with 3% body fat who’s not even breathing hard. It’s humbling, but does that discount the fact that I was running strong? No.  It simply means that the other guy was running stronger.  And, at least in my universe, there will always be someone who is running stronger.

Even a race, which is ostensibly a competition to see who will cross the finish line first, can be viewed as hundreds, or in the case of the Charlottesville 10-Miler, 2,000, competitions of one. Out of 2,000 entrants, there might be a dozen runners in that race with any hope of winning. Last year’s winning time was 52:31, leaving the winner with enough time to take a shower and a short nap before my daughter and I crossed the finish line. This year, I hope to be somewhere around mile 6 1/2 when the winner finishes.  This will still leave him with enough time for a quick shower, but he’ll have to skip the nap.  There will, though, be others who will only be at mile 4 when he crosses the tape.  Will that make their accomplishment, or mine, any less noteworthy?  No.  Anyone who shows up on that Saturday morning and pushes hard for however long it takes will have a reason to be proud.  

I hope my friends will keep that in mind.     

OK, So Biden’s Not the One….

January 14, 2008

This has not been a good campaign cycle for experienced Democrats seeking the presidency:  Chris Dodd (27 years in the Senate, 6 years in the House, chair of the Senate Banking Committee), Bill Richardson (2-term governor of New Mexico, 14 years in the House, Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy), and my personal favorite
Joe Biden (35 years in the Senate, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) have all dropped out.

As they should have. None of them was polling anywhere close to double digits. Indeed, they weren’t polling in double digits combined. While I think that’s unfortunate (putting it mildly), it would have been a distraction and a waste of money for them to continue. So, I need to pick a second choice between the remaining trio of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.*

I supported John Edwards in 2004. No more. I’m not sure about the reasons for or the timing of his metamorphasis from optimistic man of the people to angry populist, but it’s been a turn-off for me. And, I have to say, I don’t care how humble his grandparents’ beginnings, the fact that Edwards has built the largest and most expensive home in Orange County (to say nothing of his $400 haircut) makes it all seem a bit disingenous to me. I will vote for him in the unlikely event that he is the nominee, but I just don’t see that happening.

So it’s down to Obama and Clinton. By any objective measure, Clinton wins – she’s on her second term in the Senate (Obama’s just halfway through his first term), she has an inside view of how the system works by virtue of spending 8 years as First Lady, and she had a long and successful career as a high-powered corporate attorney. I will certainly vote for her if she is the nominee.

I’m pulling for Obama, though.  Poll after poll shows him pulling in Independents and even some Republicans (to say nothing of Democrats) who are attracted to his inspirational message of “a change we can believe in”. By contrast, poll after poll shows that there is a sizable chunk of voters who honestly believe that Hillary Clinton is evil personified. Do I think they are misguided? Yes. Misinformed? Yes. Downright silly? Yes. Likely to change their mind? No. No matter how experienced or qualified she may be, I believe a Hillary Clinton presidency would be one of the most unproductive and divisive imaginable.

So, I’m casting my lot with Obama. He’s only three years older than I am. He’s relatively untested. But, he’s captured both my ear and my imagination, and that is something that I don’t believe Hillary Clinton could ever do.

*I realize that Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich are still out there making noise. See my comment on distraction and waste of money, above.

20 Down

January 12, 2008

Twenty miles done.  I ran the Cville 10-miler course, turned around at the finish, and ran it again.  Ideally I should have run it on trails, but today’s run was simply about getting the miles in.  I felt good and kept a decent pace, although now wish that I’d done more of a cooldown – there’s a pretty healthy dose of lactic acid still in my legs.  I won’t feel like running tomorrow, but that’s what rest days are for.

Anyway, mission accomplished.  With 5 weeks to go, my plan for the next 3 weeks is to get in 15+ miles during the week and log 20-milers on the weekends, then taper over the final 2 weeks.  If there are any ultramarathoners reading this who would suggest otherwise, please comment. 

20 Miles Tomorrow

January 11, 2008

Twenty miles tomorrow.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

I’ll be a lot more confident about the state of my training after I get tomorrow’s run behind me. 

Or not.

Six Weeks and Counting

January 7, 2008

I set out on my run yesterday intent on doing around 16 miles on the Rivanna Trail.  I’m at 6 weeks and counting before the Holiday Lake race, and I’m at the point where I need to be putting in some serious trail miles. Actually I’m probably past that point, but who’s counting?

In any event, my plan was to run out and back on a 4-mile stretch, then do it again for a total of 16. I was looking forward to the run – I really enjoy this stretch of trail, and from what I can tell, much of it is more challenging than what I’ll be facing with the Holiday Lake race, so it’s a good training route.

What makes this trail challenging? For one thing, a good bit of it is singletrack that is extremely rooty and rocky. As long as you stay alert and watch where you are stepping, most of these hazards are relatively easy to avoid (though only luck can keep you from tripping on or rolling an ankle on the roots and rocks that are buried in leaves). After a few miles, though, fatigue starts to dull perception and reflexes, and that is when things can get interesting. You hit a smooth patch of trail, get into a rythyhm as your legs churn along, and WHAM! All of a sudden you have a facefull of dirt. Hence the reason why many trail races (including Holiday Lake) give an award for “Best Blood” in addition to the more traditional prizes.

There are also some significant hills on this route. In fact, there are a few uphill stretches that are steep enough to warrant grabbing the occasional tree to assist with pulling yourself uphill. While tiring, these bits are actually often easier going up than going down – going down is often more of a controlled fall than anything else – maintaining momentum while staying upright, all the while stutterstepping to avoid roots, rocks, and spots made slippery with mud or loose leaves.

I hope this route is more challenging than what I’ll be facing in six weeks, anyway. If not, I’m in for a long day. Yesterday, I ran one out-and-back on the trail and was sufficiently humbled by it that I decided to forego the second leg and finish my run on the road instead.  I was fatigued and running sloppily enough that I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to do another 8 miles on the trail without falling hard at some point.  So, off I went to the safe, familiar, and relatively antiseptic environs of the Charlottesville 10-miler course. No roots or rocks to trip over, no branches to whack me in the face, no hidden muddy spots to step in and cause my foot to slide out from under me. I ran the course without incident, bringing my total mileage for the day up to a healthy 18, two over my intended total, but felt like I had cheated somehow. There’s just something about the trail….

A non-runner friend was asking me about the Holiday Lake race the other day, and hit me with a perfectly reasonable question that I didn’t have a ready answer for. “So what do you get out of it?” I didn’t quite know what to say, which probably confirmed his suspicion that the entire concept of running an ultramarathon in the woods in February is suspect at best. What do I hope to get out of it? I certainly won’t win it – my goal with this one is simply to finish within the allotted time limit. I’m not even in contention for the “Fastest Fat Boy” (runner over 200 pounds) award, although a few years ago I was closer than I’d like to admit. The “Best Blood” award is always a possibility, I suppose, although that’s certainly not a goal.

So, I’m not running to win an award.  I’m not running for any sort of tangible memento.  Some road races are known for having great medals or t-shirts – that’s not a motivation here (I actually just had to check the website to confirm that they even have shirts for this race).

Nor am I running for recognition.  Not many people are even aware of the concept of ultramarathons, much less this particular race.  Some road races are known for having enthusiastic crowd support – while I’m excited about the prospect of having my wife and cross-country running daughter there to crew me for the race, I don’t anticipate much in the way of crowds. This race is, after all, just a couple of hundred people running for up to 7 1/2 hours through the woods on a cold February morning.

So why?  I’m still not sure that I can articulate it, and as it turns out, at this writing it’s really too late at night to do that question justice in any event.  All too soon my alarm is going to start beeping, telling me it’s time to wake up and put on my running shoes.  For now, suffice it to say that at least part of the reason why I’m looking forward to subjecting myself to seven uncomfortable hours next month is because most people wouldn’t dream of doing so.