Lost in the Woods

Running out of room is something I never thought would happen.  Running on a frequent basis has made my body change in form, as well as, function.  Using a heart rate monitor from POLAR I can evaluate how I run.  The data gives me a deeper understanding to my regular training, and subsequent recovery.  When starting a new running program I discovered my HR (Heart Rate) to be high.  I began running more as I had concerns about my own blood pressure and running has helped lower that amount substantially.  Running on well known routes I realize that I can run faster, longer and harder and in terms of HR it become more difficult to get my HR higher.  The watch provides a fitness test to see what my maximum oxygen levels are at a resting position and I have made it to the “Elite” level, although I do take this with a grain of salt that it might not be the most accurate reading.  It does sound good in ones ears however.  In any case, I find myself looking for other routes and surprising myself that a route that used to take me an hour now has me at the finish line still looking to fill 25 or 30 minutes worth of time up in my exercise routine.  Distances begin to look different when I realize that far off on my horizon, up some mountain valley, is actually only the half-way mark of my normal run.

I am training for a marathon and have introduced new variety into my run routine so that it is anything but ‘routine’.  Having more time, and more space to run I find that I venture to places that are new and exciting, even different countries as I cross borders.  My last long run had me getting a bit lost in the forest, but happy to run through new trails and I eventually found my bearings and ultimately my finish line.  I am sure that this is how ultra-marathoners start – get lost in the woods and keep running for hours.  I now find that my body recovers differently as well.  My first 10 km run was decades ago, but I can remember both the runners high, and the agonizing muscle pain following it a race.  Now it is common to run at least 10 km (usually much more) and continue my week like it was a walk in the park.  It is a bit miraculous how much the body adapts to the stresses and strains of training.  Now I can’t wait for my next run, my next race, and my next adventure.

 

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No good café

The thing that is missing most in this town is a decent café.  No scenic street seems suitable.  For a country with such a coffee and cake tradition there is really very few cafés that will serve a proper coffee.  The small bakeries that tend to be chains all producing the same types of breads, having the same sales, all have inadequate places to sit and sip coffee.  The coffee is another experience unto itself.  Every type of coffee style is available, it comes in the correct style of cup or glass, but there is not soul behind it.  The coffee is nearly always lukewarm, not the piping hot stuff that you find elsewhere.  It is all machine made coffee.  Large black boxes sit on shelves in shops and homes alike.  The coffee these machines squeeze out come selected off of a touch screen much like an iPad.  The screen gleams like a Noo tool some mechanic has plugged into a BMW engine block, all the bells and whistles, the rev of the motor, the belching steam.  All that for a tiny tasteless coffee which is so cool that it get’s finished off in one gulp which is fine when the ambiance is so terrible you are happy to get out while you can.

France and Italy have great coffee cultures.  Places that look like a grotto, or a ruin will all serve fantastic coffee.  If you go often enough to these kinds of places the staff talk to you, befriend you and give you deals.  The coffee is hot.  You want to linger here and watch people go past, or observe the strangeness of the clientele.  You can sit all day and nobody will bother you.  No one is there to give you the look that says, ‘you’re now just wasting space.’  There is no WiFi like a west coast Starbucks, and the coffee never tastes like it has been intentionally burnt so as to produce some distinctive taste that they call style and quality.  People stay because they like the coffee not because they seem not to have proper furniture at home and their homework still needs to be worked on.

The barista is also more professional in France and Italy.  A person devoted to making good coffee.  Instead, we can often find our coffee is served with a bigger portion of whining hipster attitude, just like Starbucks and its bitter coffee.  The barista is not a machine with a touch screen in which any incompetent teen can simply ‘ask Alexa’ to make a cappuccino.  The barista is simply there to make good coffee and not to brag about their skills, or complain that someone doesn’t appreciate them enough.  Just make the coffee.  Maybe a barista does not have the same status as a bartender, but certainly there are enough drink styles between the both.  Rather it is the loss of connectedness.  Nobody pours out their feelings to a barista.  The steaming milk, the banging coffee press, the grinding of beans, all combine to make the environment around a barista antisocial.  No there are no stories of loneliness, loathing, nor lust.  Just simple black coffee.  It is the coffee we have a relationship with.  It is the start to our morning and end of our nights.

Too bad there are no good cafés around.

The Debate

It seems only a few weeks ago that I bought a pair of ASICS running shoes.  Could it really be time to get a new pair? I really should have written down the date that I bought my shoes so that I could calculate the usage of them more accurately.  My wife is convinced that they are over 6 months old and says that I need to think about getting another pair before I injure my legs.  This debate arises simply because I noticed a bit of pain in my left leg which tends to be my weaker leg.  Rest and ice and elevation have relieved some of the strain on my leg, but now I am wondering if my shoes need to be replaced.  It seems rather soon.

I usually run about 60 kilometres a week so if my wife is correct (she usually is) and the shoes are six months old by now that means that I have logged approximately 1440 km on my shoes.  Apparently the norm is between 600 and 800 kilometres as the life-span of the running shoe these days, with some give or take due to personal preference.

The little ‘twinges’ of pain grow in my imagination and loom darkly as my half-marathon approaches.  On the whole though, I find the little aches quickly go away during a run, and usually don’t come back.  I put it down to psychology and early morning runs when my body still feels like it should be asleep.

Part of me thinks, “wow, these shoes are pricey, but they are good,” while another side of me says, “should I just hold off and wait for a sale to happen and hope that nothing serious happens to my legs.”  The debate rages on in my head.  Still, I have found the shoe that works well with me at this stage in my life, so at least there isn’t the constant fretting as to looking for multiple models.

A record

I really have very little imagination and so I cannot think of what it would be like to work in a newspaper setting.  To be a journalist of some sort, or even to have a career as a writer.  To simply sit for hours at a time and type sounds at the same moment romantic, and sadistic.  People who are old enough to remember typing on a typewriter might be lulled asleep by the rhythmic sounds of the key strokes.  The word processor has made me a sloppy speller, and a poor typist, much like the digital camera has made photographers lazy.  If I had to go back and correct all the small typos that I have made so far it would be soul crushing work.  The delete button is magnificent.  To realize that my words would remain on paper in the rawest of forms is difficult to remember.  School reports were painstakingly typed with the ‘hunt and peck’ method and my neck would feel sore from the slouching posture devotion to my typewriter knowing that a deadline loomed.

I’ve often wondered where my old typewriter went to after all these years.  I certainly would not have thrown it away, but I guess someone did during a move after I had left home with a small car packed to the brim with what I thought might be necessary.  Somehow I always imagined that ‘my stuff’ would be treasured and enshrined at my parents house.  Not so, at least, not my stuff, but my siblings had some kind of advantage.

My typewriter was a ribbon manual typewriter.  My mother had a huge electronic typewriter that was held in a case as large as a suitcase that would surely be put into the hold as it would surpass the limit for in-flight carry-on luggage compartment space.  My now several years old Mac Book Air is a smilar dimension to the typewriter I had – only 11 inches across – not in anyway thin enough to put into an envelope.

The sound, and the set up of the page are somehow missing.  Simply opening another file on the computer is not the same as trying (usually unsuccessfully) to put a blank sheet of paper straight into the roller to prevent jams and skewed angles of type. I’ve tried some apps that attempt the ‘feel’ of a typewriter, but it is not the same.  Glowing keys don’t make the same sound, nor do they require the same force to hammer away the typeset against a ribbon.

Even the idea of having paper to work on and correct/edit is different.  One professor wrote her books entirely by hand as she said it had to look like crap for a few editions before any serious work could be done in finalizing the draft.  Now, even my error filled page on the screen looks great and hides the blemishes of incorrect grammar.  Let’s publish this! And I often do just that because I hate corrections.  I don’t like to review my material.  It is what it is.  I’m just lazy.  Or tolerant of mistakes.

When I look at the work that some people put into writing it simply astounds me to see so much red pen.  Like blood on a page I wonder how the original meaning of the text would ever survive the editorial scalpel.  Then again, there are beautiful words and a lost art of typing, writing, editing, and now all that is left is the reading.

It burns

Running in 36 degree heat with a good deal of humidity is pretty much nuts.  This is what my body was telling me repeatedly on Sunday evening after I had waited impatiently for the day to cool off a bit before heading out on a long run.  My normally scheduled hour and a half run became just short of an hour.  I had used up on my water and my eyes were stinging with sweat so badly that the occasional person reacted to me like I was a character from a zombie film.

Monday was spent with my daughter as the school break is here and instead of binge watching a Netflix show we had the idea, well she had the idea, to ride our bikes to France.  A leisurely ride toward the Rhine mostly under the tree canopy was a wonderful way to spend a morning.  The return trip through crackling dry corn fields and pavement so hot our tyres sounded different it was just desperation as we struggled to make our way home again.  My knee-caps are still red from the sunburn which I picked up as a momento of our ride together.

It really does burn.

Wanting to compare notes with other friends scattered around the world I looked up what the temperature readings were for a one friend in a city the other side of the globe, only to see grey drifts crossing the screen of my smartphone weather app.  “Strange clouds,” thought I, as I looked at the temperature readings.  The animation on the screen showed blue sky, a few clouds, or blazing sun as I swiped through the various cities with which I have some kind of connections.  Again, strange grey clouds.  SMOKE.  The words rolled across the screen of the phone and I realized that it is the result of forest fires that one city is blanketed in a think haze of smoke.  I guess that trumps my heat and humidity as people with respiratory problems struggle even to breathe with smoke and ash in the air. Maybe the burn on my knee caps is all that I have to complain about, and even if it is, we are still pretty lucky to do so.

I was supposed to compete in a bike race in town but as I circled the starting area wondering if I had got the date mixed up, someone eventually found me and told me that it was all off.  Too hot.  Nobody wants to do a 20 km bike race in this blazing heat.  Too hot!  The look of anger on the mans face when I said that I had already rode 25 km this morning seemed to suggest that he thought I was making light of the situation which he thought was so dangerous.  I’m glad I did get my ride in, and I am happy I could do that with my daughter.

Fitness Test

Every several weeks that go by I perform a fitness test to roughly calculate my VO2Max.  While I don’t think it is all that scientific, it does give some indication of my physical fitness level and I can usually confirm if it is going to go up or down.  What I did not expect is to see it rise so quickly.  I was in medium fitness and as I ran and exercised more the fitness score kept climbing up.  Since moving into a more strenuous level of daily exercise my last fitness test surprised me as I had jumped up to the ‘elite’ level.

The dizzying heights of elite went to my head and as I ran in the morning before the sun made it unbearably hot I really did feel light-headed.  I’ve followed the same routine and now sense that either from the added level of heat, and/or my level of physical activity I have not kept up with feeding my body very well.  I am often surprised how much I can eat; however, the days are so hot that I loose my appetite until late in the evening when things start to cool off.  For the most part people in the area become more Spanish in their day to day routines.  Early to rise, and then a period of crawling away into the shadows for about 4 hours in the middle of the day, only to reemerge in the evening with continued work activities.  Those, like my neighbour, who are required to work during the hottest (38C) parts of the day doing things like applying lacquer to wooden shelves get a bonus income (plus the added bonus of being a Swiss wage) all due to the ‘danger’ of working in the heat.

The heat has a way of changing personalities and normal day to day tasks become more tedious.  Air Conditioning is not very common in Germany as it is very expensive, and there are simple things one can do to limit the heat build up in a house or office (like close the blinds or shutters).  The other day standing in a crowd of people waiting for a bus which became so full that it was hard to tell if it was your sweat dripping down your back, or if it was the sweat falling off of the passenger squished up next to you.  During the route, which has its start and finish in urban areas, the vast majority of the trip is through rural villages where a bus stop stands is placed next to cow fields.  With the heat, tempers were also up as the bus driver consistently missed stops and forgot to open the back doors of the bus.  About every third stop was passed by with yells from passengers alerting the driver that he had, again, messed up.  Cursing was muttered by what would normally have been kindly little old ladies as they found themselves dropped off next to daisy the cow about a kilometre past where they had expected to exit the bus.

With the heat, all our behaviours change, and the dizzy run, although I did make it home, made me realize the need to refuel and rehydrate at a higher level than before.

LSD

Um…that’s LSD, as in Long Slow Distance, which I suppose can also be pretty trippy.

At the moment I am struggling with the pace and keeping my heart rate at a low level as it all seems a bit tedious.  Near the end of my run session I keep thinking to myself, “what’s the harm in just continuing on for another session?” and I have to convince myself not to run any further.  Apparently the urge to run further, or faster, or both, is the place of injury.  I’m feeling good and strong in my running, and I need to do the mental work of pushing through the boredom of the LSD so that I can keep my overall health in a good place prior to a race.

After the track and field club sprint practice my muscles have begun to recover enough that I’d like to push just a little harder, and again I need to remind myself that it is an idea which will lead me down the path to injury.  As I posted about the ‘Black-dog’ that follows me around on occasion.  Well, he is always there, but on occasion he comes out to chase and nip at my heels.  Today I ran with my black dog, the real one, not the psychological one, and I guess it is because of the dog that I didn’t keep running longer and faster.

The day’s are still too hot to take the dog out unless it is early morning, or late evening.  Let’s just say there is a lot of sleep happening during the day as the dog runs and barks in his dreams, legs scraping against the wood floors as his eyes flicker in REM cycles.  The hour long run this morning was slow enough for the dog to participate, and he even got to stop and play with another dog which was an added bonus.  Moments before reaching my cool-down jog as I went to push the button on my watch to restart the whole session over again, because the L in long just didn’t seem like enough for this LSD run.  It is that moment, when I have to stop and look back to see the dog lagging behind for the first time – black fur starting to glint with the rising suns rays, pink tongue hanging out a little further than usual – that I thought I should just wrap the run up now with my planned 5 minute cool down jog.

Experts say that dogs use their eyebrows more to communicate with humans than they do with other canines.  I am pretty sure that when I stooped over to leash the dog and lead us down the road toward home, that I saw his eyebrows arch up like he was saying, “thank God we’re done”.

Perhaps the secret to the LSD runs and injury prevention is to run with our black dogs.

Running with my Shadow

The night was cooler so sleep did not come easily since having become used to the warm summer weather.  As well, the dozen cups of coffee during the day certainly did not help with the sleep patterns.  Waking up at 4 AM and getting ready to run I need to first scan the messages on my smartphone.  This is definitely not my usual morning routine as I really find that checking messages floods my body with adrenalin and work related issues easily surface to the top of my thoughts like a film across what would otherwise be still clear water.  Picking up the phone there are plenty of messages that ping-pong between my siblings to report how our father is doing with cancer, and now his hospitalization.  From a great distance, it is emotionally draining in different ways as I am not able to be ‘on-hand’ to help out if necessary.  Included in the mix of messages is a notice from a good friend that our much loved former boss has died from an inoperable brain tumour.  This former boss, and my father, share the same name.

With these reports, and yes, one nasty work email slipped into the mix, I started my run with the feeling that I had a few pebbles in my shoe to contend with.  As my pace picked up through the rows of corn fields and early morning tractor harvesters my thoughts drifted around like the clouds of dust kicked up by the large rubber wheels of the farm equipment. As the run picked up another notch in effort the sun played off the cornstalks in a way that made me feel like I was in an old cinema with the film flickering at an uneasy speed.  Light and dark flashed past my eyes making me wonder at what speed I would need to run in order to have some light induced seizure.

Winding my way in all directions of the compass I in turn got to focus on my shadow as it fell just within sight on the ground.  In the Disney animated film Peter Pan, Peter’s shadow is a character unto itself, and that is much the same for my own.  No, I don’t mean to say that my shadow flies around me sprinkling pixy dust or anything like that.  I do mean that my shadow, from more of a Jungian point of view, is something a bit ‘other’.  The shadow can represent the things that I fear most about myself, or the negative views that I personally hold, the little voice that shouts out, ‘You can’t!’ rather than, ‘You can!’.  My shadow is a great personal friend of the Black Dog that chases me down every now and then.

As a runner, I have this particular view of myself while running that I hold in my head.  I think of my form, my stance, my speed, my muscles and the sound of my breath as my feet plod along. When I get a glimpse of my shadow a whole realm of doubt springs forth.  “Are my arms really doing that? Do I look so gangly when I run?” are some of the thoughts that stick in my head.  Like looking at your reflection in a distorted mirror, running with my shadow can have disastrous effects if I think too long and too hard on it.

To run with my shadow is also something I have reflected on this morning given the news of my father’s health and the death of my friendly boss.  In what ways are the things that I dislike about myself also represented in these people.  Is it genetic dispositions to live as a manic depressive or can nurture play a large role? These thoughts chase along side me as I run through the fields and I find my self bending lower and lower, head down looking for that place of darkness.  My watch beeps and vibrates to tell, and to shock me, out of my stupor and so I put away the sticky molasses thoughts of shadow and start looking, head raised to the horizon.  French mountain peaks rise up in the distance, the Black Forest misty valleys awaken with the morning light.  I know that my shadow is still there, and always will be, however, it is not the main focus of my life.  I can run as far, and as fast as I ever will, and my shadow will always be at my side. When the shadows seem the darkest, it also nice to remember that the sun must also be shining the brightest – I just have to keep my head up and look to the horizon.

Clapper Board

Late Spring I joined a local track and field club with the intention of staying motivated in my running, as well as, it was a good place to start meeting new people that are not associated with work.  All these plans have worked even as the summer heat continues to rise there is a small group of about a dozen people that meet weekly to train in different areas.  Last evening we practiced sprinting as well as the hammer throw.  I can’t imagine such different sports being done back-to-back because they require different types of muscles as well as differences in coordination.

As I have been practicing longer runs I did not think that my sprint times would be very good.  I placed in the silver medal range for the 50 metre sprint and then helped others train for the 100 m sprint.  In the ‘helping’ part, I was supposed to be a ‘hunter’ so that the other runners would want to run faster.  I guess I was there to motivate them.

The hammer throw is something I have never done before and it did not come naturally to swing a weighted ball and then to spin my body around to at last hurl the ‘hammer’ down the field.  After a few practice throws I was getting better at the distance, but then found myself off balance on the final throw and toppled over sending the hammer in an odd arc that produced the shortest distance.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but then my expectations were pretty low having never done the sport before.

The next morning are when the practical results come in.  These ‘results’ are the small aches and pains in the muscles from having used some different part of my body.  Noticeably, my hamstrings feel tender – likely from the sprinting – and my neck/shoulders feel very tight.  I have a bike ride planned for today which will be about 60 kilometres so I hope that the kinks get worked out, rather than made worse from sitting bent over on a touring bike.  In reality, I am feeling very tired.  I’m drained from the heat that never seems to lessen in the night.  As well, I am tired from the poor sleep, the training and the different diet, and mostly that I have not had a day off in over 2 weeks.  All these factors play a huge role in my overall performance.  I am sure that having a brain turn to porridge from all these factors will not improve the story.

The sound and sight of the starting gun is done not with a small pistol firing blanks, rather it is with a hand-held clapper board which has two half circles on the ends of the boards, so that when the boards are slapped together you hear the ‘crack’ and see that the black half and the white half of the two parts of the circle have been brought together.  Hearing this crack, and seeing the circle at the far end of the track put people at a disadvantage as they usually wait to hear the sound.  As distances increase the sound takes longer to travel and so I always watch for the ‘puff of smoke’ from the gun, or the two halves of the circle to join completely.  This is an area that was not mentioned in the training, strangely.  A lot of time is given to technique at the starting blocks, and there is some personalized feedback having to do with running form or style; however, no ‘tricks of the trade’ were mentioned about the start signal.

The sprinting was the most enjoyable, partly because I placed on the podium, but mostly it is the sense of my muscles extending, the power of the muscles and the ability to repeat the performance over several times without having the sense of being completely winded.  I was more than pleased with the results and wondered how the training for sprints might be a benefit for my longer runs.  I would certainly find out as my sore muscles responded to another phased medium run.

Searching for the Sun

First it was the wind.  Then it was the cloud. Buckets of rain falling onto a parched land mixed with thunderstorms eventually cut wide swathes across the horizon.  In very selective ways, as if the rain clouds were following a measured-out pathway you could kick-up dust on the trail one moment, and a kilometre down the road find that pools of water stood in your path forcing users to braid the trail and walk into damp knee high grass verges.

The wind came up from a different direction and brought with it cool air unlike the wind that seems to follow the jet-stream bringing a hot furnace-like air from Africa and the Mediterranean.  It was a chance to open all the windows in the house so wide that all the humid stuffy air could be squeezed out, like wringing a sponge out with fresh water after doing so many dirty dishes.  Feeling that Mary Poppins herself might come sailing past the house on this cool change of wind, there is a fine balance to how long one can keep the windows open as there usually follows a tremendous downpour.  The saying, ‘once bitten, twice shy’ works well here, as the first summer living in the village I eagerly opened every window and skylight of the house to cool down.  The stone house seemed to exhale all its stored up summer heat in just a few minutes.  Finally it felt like my brain wasn’t melting.  If I had ventured out during this time I would have been greatly upset, because within minutes dark clouds can appear and usually with a distant clap of thunder, rain begins to fall so hard that it bounces off the roofs and floods the streets.  With little to no warning – no teasing sprinkle of rain here – the heavens opened and biblical rain fell.  Running madly through the house trying to close all the windows, and retrieve curtains that had blown out into the rain I felt like some deep sea fisherman hauling in his nets.  You remember things like this so it is now with a jaded view of the drop in the glass that I rejoice in the cool breeze, but know that I might easily fill-up the house with rain water.

The rain does miraculous things to the plants and farmers fields.  Corn, which was already tall, now seems gargantuan.  Suddenly, as if on show at the theatre, fields of Sunflowers mixed with beautiful blue Corn flowers, have opened up magnificently.  The round yellow faces of the Sunflower remind me of the huge solar panels that many corporate buildings have on their grounds.  Rather than a stationary panel, there is a small motor which turns and adjusts the solar panel so as to receive the full benefit of the sun as it passes on its arc in the sky.  Much like a weather vane tail that spins guides the propellors for the wind-turbines, these solar panels follow the sun, and the golden yellow Sunflowers continue to crane their necks to worship the warmth and light.

Along with these natural rhythms are the rituals of our neighbours that I have observed over the years.  From the elderly couple across the street, who habitually leave the house at 6:30 every morning to breakfast in one of several local cafés.  Oh, to be retired and get to eat out (and not have to clean up) every day.  To the downstairs couple who shower before work and the scent of their perfumes and deodorants that lingers in the front entranceway lets me know if they have come or gone out of the house.  There are the workers with their colour coded work clothes.  Summer-time bring out more green trousered workers which is symbolic of those working in gardens, or forests.  The white trousered painters climb the scaffolding of a nearby building to begin painting the exterior.  Germany is very ordered, so the trades all have some identifiable colour coordination or uniform.

With a plethora of colours, from summer blooms to pantaloons, even the infrequent grey cloud is welcome.  The crystal clear rain falls, and quickly gathers into large pools on roads, or in fields. The pools of water soon become tinted with yellow pollen, or green algae, like they have been mixed on an artists paint pallet.  Golden fields of ripe wheat and grain have the quick red and green tractors cutting, sweeping, gathering, binding and storing.  As Sunflowers turn their heads, and runners splash through puddles, soon we will all be looking for the sun and wondering where it went and why it only comes out from behind a cloud for four hours a day before shining on those enjoying a summer sun in the southern hemisphere.