Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer Respite: The Getty Center, The Nelson, and (a bit about) Running

I haven't posted here in a while. My new blog and twitter accounts have been eating up a bit of my writing time. After a long summer, I've been taking a week off from running in order to give the legs a rest and to swim, work on the new novel, spend time with friends, and visit museums.

Speaking of museums, the Getty Center has a great show, London Calling, featuring works of Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews, Leon Kossof and more. Sometimes the Getty's stunning architecture and views will eclipse the art housed inside. But London Calling is able to hold its own. If you are in the LA area, check it out. You won't regret it. Here is a link:

Tip: While at the Getty, do avoid the Chinese Buddhist cave painting exhibit at all costs. You will needlessly stand in line only to be hurried through reproductions (gasp!?!) of the actual caves along the Silk Road. It was the strangest and most disappointing show I've ever seen at a major museum. Even though the exhibit is free (with gratis, timed tickets required to enter), we still felt robbed of our time.  Instead, I would suggest taking the time to explore some of the Center's fantastic permanent collection - always a treat.

I'll also give a plug to the Nelson Atkins' (in Kansas City) Roman jewelry show. If there is one type of art that interests me less than Roman jewelry, I can't think of it. But I am glad I did not let that outlook prevent me from going to the show. It was phenomenal. If you are lucky enough to be able to see it, you will be treated to a history lesson, and will gain an appreciation for just how talented the artists and craftsmen were in ancient Rome. Interestingly, not a lot has changed in the way fine jewelry is manufactured in the intervening millennia. Here is a link:

On to running: Thanks to Ad Astra for putting on a successful Defend Lawrence Run for a second year. A week ago Sunday, a whole lot of people showed up on Mass Street in Lawrence, KS at 4:30AM in order to take part in the run that commemorates the day Quantrill and his raiders attacked the city. Ad Astra put together the route, the starting time, pre and post race refreshment (with mimosas even), and giveaways. This event is turning into one of the best free runs offered in the area.  Save the date on your calendars for next year. It is well worth tossing the covers off a bit earlier than normal to start your day with this event.

And in other free run news, the Trail Hawks had their annual birthday run in early August as well. Everyone who had a birthday in 2015-2016 was invited to attend the all-day event on the Clinton North Shore trails. Food was plentiful, as were friends of two and four-legged varieties. The good vibes coming off the event buoy everyone's spirits until the annual club meeting.

Finally, a book recommendation. Check out The Emerald Mile. The book is about the fastest run through the Grand Canyon in history by boat. But while reading about running rapids in rafts and dories, you'll also learn a whole lot about water use and planning in the western US, as well as how dams work and who oversees their placement and operations. The book is available in all formats and even works well as an audio-book for long drives (I listened to it on my way to and from Leadville).

Until next time, keep putting on leg in front of the other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Baker Wetlands

This morning I stopped by the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. Baker University should be commended for the fantastic trails, buildings, and exhibits that they have put together to create this remarkable place. 

If you have not been, you should go. This is a remarkable example of a functional wetlands. If I had the ability to post the videos I took, it would show elevated walkways, an amazing berm building, an observatory, and more.  

Birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish are all present in good numbers.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Food, Brexit, and a New Giving Formula

I try to mainly write about running - the running I do, running I hope to do, things to do related to running, and any aspects of the whole running oeuvre that cross my mind. But on this hot morning, where the leaves in the trees are awash in refulgent splendor from the unimpeded rays of the sun, I think I'll write a short bit about other topics.

1) This first item is for readers in Lawrence, Kansas only (though others should take note and see if their cities offer similar programs). Lawrence has a summer program that offers all children up to age 18, regardless of need, a breakfast and lunch at different locations throughout the city. You may have heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Except in this case there is - if you are 18 or under. Here is a link to locations of the free meals.  You will note that on July 4 other plans will need to be made.

Please, if you know someone with kids who is struggling to make ends meet, let them know about this program. No ID. No reservations. No notice is required. Just have the kids show up and they will be fed.

2) On an unrelated note, I am really hoping that the UK remains in the EU. An EU with an elided Britain will certainly survive. But like a clod being washed away, Europe will be the less. And British citizens will face a future where travel, trade, jobs, and security may be put in jeopardy as the continent moves forward without them. As an erstwhile tourist, I have loved the ease of travel between each wonderful EU state. And, perhaps then to conclude with a self-interested note, I hope it remains a piece of the continent for that reason alone.

3) A few nights ago I woke up with the thought: there are people starving and hurting in the world and I don't do enough to assist them. OK, OK, I know. That is not really that much of a thought. We all probably think that from time to time. But the urgency of the nocturnal cogitation remained with me in the morning. So I looked at what I gave to charities of various sorts last year. I had given more that three times what I donated the previous year. That seemed good. but on closer examination, some of the donations weren't really to charities, but to non-profits like arts organizations, libraries, etc... And there is nothing wrong with donating to good causes like museums and libraries. But those organizations don't put food or medicine into people's bodies. They don't put a roof over people's heads. And they don't provide sanitary living conditions.

So, to address my concerns, I devised the following plan: for as long as I can do so, each time I purchase something that is not food, medicine, travel-related, or insurance, I will donate an amount equal to 10% of that cost to charities that work with issues of hunger, poverty, displacement of people, climate change/environment, and human rights.

My hope is that there will be a two-fold benefit to this scheme (British sense of the word, scheme). First, I will make more considered purchases, accumulate less stuff, and not contribute to the glut of crap that populates much of the space in our garages, attics, and basements. Second, any purchases I do make will obviously benefit charities and organizations working to solve the most pressing (in my reckoning) issues facing humanity today.

I still plan to give to arts organization and libraries. But I want to see how much more I can give if I really think about it and incorporate this formula into my purchases.

Next time I hope to write more about running.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Current Favorite Podcasts - You'll Love Them!!!

In life, things change. What can I say? Last year I listed a bunch of podcasts that I listen to when I run, drive, or simply want to turn off the computer and spend time interacting with the world through sound waves rather than the visible spectrum of light. Currently, there are 4-5 podcasts that I listen to and never miss an episode. There are others that are less important to me, but still enjoyable. Since my last podcast post, my favorites have evolved. Many of the those to which I used to listen are no longer on my playlist. I now regularly listen to Hang Up and Listen, It's Only a Game, Waking Up With Sam Harris, The Enormocast, Henry and Heidi. The Sharp End (a podcast that would've made my favorites if there were more episodes) as well as some BBC podcasts and (the excellent) Inside Europe. But here now are the podcasts I never miss (and can't get enough of) in descending order:

Free Pizza For Life is a podcast that began with Chris Clavin, the founder of Plan-It-X records simply reading his book of the same name. Once the fantastic podcast of his flawed, touching, and oddly compelling book ended, he continued to read other stories written by friends as well as from his own journals. It's strange, I realize, to have a podcast unrelated to running topping my list, but the show is simply wonderful. I was taken with it enough to contribute through crowd-funding to another book project he was working on. Give it a listen. You will not regret it.

I don't recall how I stumbled onto the Mountain Meister podcast, but I'm glad I did. In each episode, host Ben Schenck interviews one of a wide variety of athletes, adventurers, explorers, daredevils, and outliers of humanity. His style is friendly, and his questions, while always good, sometimes verge on great, as he goes beyond the comfort zone to dig into the psyche of what drives his guests. I contribute $ to this podcast, and I look forward to each new episode.

I discovered the Dirtbag Diaries through Mountain Meister. And much like the preceding, I find that I wait with anticipation for each new episode. The Dirtbag Diaries are much more story-focused than Mountain Meister. But the oeuvre is the same. It would be hard to like one of the podcasts without liking the other. Created by Fitz Cahall, the podcast is always looking for new stories. If you have one to contribute, check out their site for information. If you just want to listen, sit back and enjoy - there is a large library of episodes from which to choose. Lose yourself listening to the life of adventure even while on an adventure of your own on the trails.

Very Bad Wizards is a podcast I've listed to for quite some time. In each episode, the hosts, Tamler Sommers, a philosopher, and David Pizarro, a psychologist have a conversation about a topic of great importance or of no importance. It almost doesn't matter. The conversations, and the guests they bring in to join them in discourse, are thoroughly enjoyable. The tone of the show is so inviting that learning happens without the listener even being aware of it.

Lexicon Valley will hold your attention and get the neurons firing. The show, which I've described in previous blogs, is oddly compelling. Where do the words and phrases we use originate? Listen to Lexicon Valley and you will find out in a funny and insightful half hour.

That's all I have to recommend right now. Happy Running. Later gator!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Heartland 50K

Muddy, yet beautiful Heartland 50 (photo by Mike Miley)

I lay in bed listening to the rain at the Holiday Inn Express in El Dorado, KS the night before the Heartland 50K and 50 Mile races. I wasn't too concerned, because I knew the forecast for the next day called for cloudy and cool conditions with less than a 10% chance of precipitation. What did not occur to me as I dozed was that the roads of the great race would (in places) turn into a sticky mass of slop.

The race began just before sunrise in Cassoday, KS - a blink-and-you-miss-it little burg just off the interstate between Emporia and El Dorado. The town's recreation building has been the nerve center of the Heartland 100 races for years. The Heartland 50s - a variation on that theme - were served just as well by the town and building. 

We raced about a 1/2 mile down an asphalt road and then turned onto dirt and gravel - which would be the running surface for the next 30 miles or 49 miles depending on which of the two races a runner had entered. I was doing the 50K along with my buddy, Paul, who I had paced on the course for 36 miles during his Heartland 100 run a couple of years ago (you can find a report on that experience in my 2014 blog posts). We thought we'd bookend the month of April with a couple of short ultra runs - the slightly-longer-than-a-marathon Rockin' K on April 2, and the Heartland 50K on April 30. 

Anyway, our pace over the first 9 miles was about a minute and a half faster than I'd planned to run. I felt good. We hit the first manned aid station and ate a bit more than we should've. We didn't linger, but we weren't setting any speed records in getting through an aid station efficiently. Paul and I had discussed simply running the race without worrying about time, and eating our heads off at the aid stations. Ultimately, that wasn't the 'plan', but we didn't skimp on the chow.

About a mile past the first station, we started to encounter mud - real mud. It was slippery, but it also clung to our shoes like grim death. Our soles became like lead weights as they collected mud, grass and rocks. To make matters worse, there was really nowhere to wipe or scrape off the slop. At one point Paul, running behind me, mentioned that it looked like I was wearing snow shoes made of mud.

The gooey roads continued for a few miles. We trudged up hills and ran down the other side, flinging pebbles forward and back ,as centrifugal force detached them from the soles of our shoes. We crossed 13.1 mi (a half marathon) in 2:28 exactly. We, and a woman we were running with at the time, commented how that seemed pretty fast considering that we were running through mud. It wasn't a speed record, but we were heartened by the time.

Paul and I hit our turnaround aid station a few tenths past 16 miles. We again chowed down - on Pringles, orange and banana slices, and some homemade protein carb ball things that tasted fantastic. We walked out of the aid station and put on 13 gallon kitchen trash bags into which we had cut head and arm holes. This might seem a little ridiculous, but it was cold, misty, and seriously windy. The bags served as ultralight impermeable windbreakers. I didn't take mine off for the next 15 miles - no matter how stupid it looked. 

As I mentioned, the wind was sustained at 18-20 mph in our faces the duration of the return trip. Initially it was really irritating. But Paul and I were able to have shouted conversation as we ran along. I had brought a couple of flexi flasks of pickle juice - a home remedy to stave off cramping. I drank one of them at mile 17 - I would drink half of the other at mile 23 and again at mile 29. The juice didn't taste too swell since it was at body temperature (warm). But I had it in my mind that I didn't want to cramp, and this would help. So I powered it down each time. 

Around mile 19, Paul started having elevated issues with a troublesome heel. We walked up a hill (and even tried running) for a bit. It seemed, after a time, that it calmed back down and he had it under control. At mile 20, we were running along slowly. There were a couple of runners in front of us that we could see, and a runner behind us way in the distance. For some reason I felt great. And not just like a second wind. It was odd, suddenly I had a ton of energy and felt kind of ecstatic. I took off after the runners ahead of us and exchanged some pleasantries as I went by. For a moment I thought about running with them (they were moving at a good rate), but I simply felt too strong. We were in the middle of the super muddy miles, but I was experiencing no difficulty running up and down the hills. 

I approached the last manned aid station with bottles in hand. I asked for water in one and sports drink in the other. I grabbed 2 Hammer Nutrition gels and a handful of Pringles, and was out of the aid station in under 30 seconds. I didn't want to squander the good feeling. I ran out of the station and into a beautiful valley that looked like something out of an old western. A herd of cattle was freely grazing on either side of me, but I was more concerned with a large mammal in the middle of the road directly in front of me. From where I was, I couldn't quite tell if it was a cow, a bull, or a steer. I clapped and yelled as I got closer and closer, but the animal remained in the road staring me down. About 30 feet away, I stopped and assessed my situation. There was no runner I could see in front or behind me. No house or car. It was literally me and the cow/bull/steer. I made a move toward it kind of suddenly, and the animal finally started to move off the road, staring at me the whole time. A few more sudden movements by me, and it stood just at the side of the gravel. I took that as a sign and started to run. It popped off the gravel, but then turned. The other cows in the herd near it all stared trotting toward the road. I yelled "NOOO!!!" and they slowed down. The incident happened at the base of one of the steepest and longest hills on the route. I made it up the incline possibly at a faster pace than I had coming down it several hours earlier. 

The last few miles were time to make up for some of the muddy trudging on the way out. While I didn't negative split the race, I was able to negative split the second half - that is, I ran the last quarter at a faster speed than I had run the third quarter. It felt great to finish strong.

Later, when the race was over and I was sitting in the recreation center talking to the 2nd - 4th place finishers (I think I was 5th). I mentioned the cow incident. All three of them said - "was it a black cow?" I said that it was. Each of them had had the same encounter with the animal. It was so strange and out of character for a cow to do what this animal had done. A couple of the finishers after me also reported the same occurrence with the rogue cow. 

As I ate a couple of veggie burgers and downed a Modelo, we compared Garmin-tracked distances for the race. We all had the 50k between 32.3 and 32.7 miles. It is always better to have a race be a little longer than advertised than shorter.

The Rockin' K and the Heartland 50 races really made April a special month. I have no other races planned for 2016. I hope to repeat both races next year.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ummm - Namaste

Since my last post I've written several times, but have not chosen to publish. Sometimes I feel that I have a really good idea, but when I see it on paper (or, in this case, screen), the point I'm trying to make is unclear. Posts covering race reports, training, and travel are much easier - here's what I did in sequential order over this specific period of time. And, since this blog is mainly a personal account about my running experiences, it kinda needs to have race reports, training comments, and news about travel. In a way it is my personal scrapbook or logbook of things I do.

But every now and then, I have deep thoughts. And those I rarely write about. Or, if I do, I'll only put down my musings in moleskin notebooks that I have used as a repository for writings of a more personal nature for years. So lately there has been a bit of spacing between posts on this blog because I don't want to turn Running Conversations into something other than a blog about running and running-related endeavors.

The other day, the app, Insight Timer, told me I had hit 150 straight days where I had spent time meditating. That seemed like a pretty good number. To me, it meant that devoting even a short time each day to sitting and concentrating on breathing, or (infrequently) following a guided meditation, actually has become a habit. And that is something I desired to happen when I first began to sit. When I started meditating about 8 months ago, it was important to me to try to turn off my phone, my computer, radios, TVs, and attempt to clear my mind of thoughts blowing through it at the staggering rate that they seem to do with all the stimuli that surrounds me on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, for years I had used running to do just that. But running was/is different. Running can be the best solitary thing a person can do (in my opinion). But it can also be a vehicle to interact with friends as well as a time to listen to music or podcasts. And running has more than its share of distracting electronic devices outside of phones and iPods. The smart watch may be the single most insidious distraction to runners trying to 'get away from it all'. It used to be step counts. That turned into GPS. Now add heart rate monitoring and touch screen. I know plenty of runners who don't run without these devices anymore. And honestly, there isn't a single thing wrong with that. I run with them on plenty of occasions. But they have nothing to do with my real reasons for running.

On solo runs without electronic devices, I find that I am much more in tune with my body and mind. I see more nature. I find much more at which to marvel. I know the adage made famous by Alexander Supertramp (AKA: Chris McCandless - someone who I admire greatly), that life is best when shared. Yet like AS/CM (in practice if not in desire) we really do learn a lot about ourselves when we face challenges and spend time in nature by ourselves.

During trail runs over the past couple of weeks, I have experienced two moments of clarity. Both were maddeningly fleeting, but very intense. I will never use a term like 'enlightenment' to describe what I experienced, but the moments were sudden and intense. I recognized them for what they were and continued on my way - feeling much better about the world I inhabit. And here, I feel I must invoke W.E.B DuBois, and mention that anyone's 'spiritual' (and I hesitate to use that word) experience, should only be considered relevant to that person, and not humanity as a whole. So don't think that meditation and running will lead to moments of clarity or enlightenment. I promise that the combo will not. But for me, there were two moments that caused an interlude in both my run and thought processes, where for a moment, I understood what I was seeing. I didn't understand the meaning of life or the workings of the universe. But I did, somehow, truly understand the small part of nature I was experiencing. And both times, a sense of well-being and knowing invaded my consciousness.

So, enough of the woo woo. That is a small glimpse of what I normally don't share. If I get enough comments or emails, I'll write a bit more about my meditation and my concurrent bastardization of two different types of Buddhism. I would love for more of my friends and readers to experience the exquisite mundaneness of meditation. Let me know if you have read this far and want to know more.

So for now... umm... namaste... I guess.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Rockin' K Race Report

View from atop one of the hills at Rockin' K

I ran the Rockin' K Trail Marathon over the weekend. I had always heard it was a tough race. And truth be told, it was tougher than I had imagined. First off, it isn't a marathon... it is actually slightly longer - closer to 28 mi than 26. Second, there are super steep hills (almost cliffs in the sense that one has to climb them rather than run up them) that require full attention and full effort to both climb and descend. Then there is freezing, murky/algae-laden, waist-deep water that must be crossed at three points during the run. And like any good water crossings, they are all preceded or followed by copious amounts of sand. So that by the time runners finish the distance, they are covered in dirt, slightly damp, completely wiped out, and... fully exhilarated by the totality of the experience. 

Another vista

I have never run a race (ultra or otherwise) that was as tough as the Rockin K. I also cannot recall running a race that gave back to the runners more than they put in in terms of self-satisfaction and tremendous scenery. The course has everything: wide open spaces, canyons, cliffs, rivers, bluffs, and hills - yes, lots and lots of long, steep hills. But again, every hill and valley rewarded runners with views that one wouldn't think one would encounter in Kansas. 
Running (trudging) up a bluff

The terrain underfoot was also varied, interesting, and challenging. We took off on asphalt, switched to miles of single track dirt, then came rock/limestone surface (very cool to run on), and then sand, mud, and water. The ground required a lot of vigilance. A couple of times I simply stopped to enjoy a vista - I had already seen a couple of tumbles from people who thought that they could look at the spectacular views while running. 

 I'm going to lose a couple of toenails from the run - due to toes being smashed against the front of my Salomons on the downslopes. But that is a small price to pay for a great experience.

And the weather! I think you can tell from the pictures just how perfect it was. The race began with temps in the low 30s F, and concluded in the 50s. It's Kansas, so there was a pant load of wind. But even that worked to make the race more interesting and challenging. There is nothing like standing atop a bluff and feeling wind whipping by to give one a sense of accomplishment.

The race was put on by the Kansas UltraRunners Society. The trails for the event don't really exist as a complete entity any other day of the year. The work that goes into planning and course marking must be astronomical.

Ultra-Man - Mike Miley at one of 3 water crossings

Another great thing about this type of race, as usual, is how supportive and friendly the ultra community can be. There were a lot of Lawrence Trail Hawks present. It was nice to run a race where I actually knew a good number of people - though I mainly ended up running alone, or with new friends I met along the way.

Lots of hills, water, rock and sand 

I'm getting a massage today (on the first Monday after the race). It should help me recover physically from the ravages of the Rockin K. Mentally, however, I'm toast. I think the race left me just crazy enough to want to do it all again next year.