Monday, March 29, 2010


There is rain falling over the forest and the clouds have made the sky dark, as though night. I'm at home, alone, and after yet another offer from St. Mary's I'm pondering what it means to value something.

Or rather, what are the values of things, really?

They offered me a scholarship today, one that would reduce the cost of tuition by half. I know the cost to go there remains considerable, but it's half-as-considerable, or to quote an annoying commercial I seem to catch everyday between bouts of the morning news: "I spent money to save money!" Fueled by this newfound saved spending, I looked into the cost to rent a room in Moraga, and then, to what sort of jobs are available. While someone would happily take $2,000 x month for a room in what I'm assured is a "stellar house" with an "awesome view" there are no jobs to be found, or at least not for me, a person who holds two MA degrees and complete fluency in a foreign language.

That's not to say there aren't jobs, because there are. I could work with autistic children if I had some psychology in my background. Or I COULD teach 5-year olds French IF I was a native speaker (I guess near-native with a Master's just doesn't cut it for those pampered bay area progenies.) OK. Well, what else? I could teach at a private school, but no I couldn't because I do not possess credentials which would allow me to teach in the state of California. I also found what appeared to be a promising post for a "new school" in Oakland that sought to "broaden students' cultural horizons." But no, I don't qualify for that either, because I don't promote the appropriate culture. France, it seems, has fallen out of fashion and people are more interested in other continents besides Europe. Sigh. If only I had known that years ago when I thought knowing where the great influential ideas come from was a good way to spend my time.

This leads me to my question du jour: what IS the value of time spent? Just this morning before St. Mary's call, I would have confidently said that I have spent my time well. While I lack financial security, I've had the opportunity to read important canonical (and I'd argue, foundational) texts in not one, but two languages an cultures. I've bettered my writing and helped others-- my former students-- do so as well. Though it may sound meager, I'd have said: no, that was a rich life. And one day, I'll be thankful I did it.

But this afternoon brought that notion another blow. Not even the bay area acknowledges my education; it amounts to nothing other than, well, beans. Or not quite beans because beans, at least, will feed you. Perhaps I ought to insist people call me "Rebecca MA, MA" so that the past three years of my life will actually mean something, even if silly and superficial.

What does it mean to be educated? Perhaps I've been deluded and I'd be better off bagging groceries my entire life. There's a security in that, a sense that while repetitive, one is able to survive in the world and maybe, if one bags well enough, to manage one's own grocery store. Or, a sense that the skills one has do very real things, like putting cans in bags. What does a French MA mean if I'm not a native speaker? Did I study any less than those who are? What does it mean that I wrote essays about French literature in French and then wrote a novel (of historical fiction) based on what I learned from those three years in the French department at UNR?

What does it mean to master a thing such as language when there's no proof of it, really? When the "proof" is another's like or dislike of a writing sample, an essay a memoir, a record of my life? What if, after all these years, I really haven't mastered anything at all?

The world is murky: I keep dreaming of water: water covering everything (streets, cars, malls, me). Nothing is clear to me anymore. Like the rain outside my window, this water makes everything dark and cold. I try to tell myself to be positive: that there's so much to be happy for. Running, for instance. And I believe it when I'm outside, under the sun, racking up the miles.

But then there's the night and these dreams which scare me. I always wake in darkness with a shiver: in my dreams, the water becomes too much and I drown.

And I wonder: perhaps I have learned to master failure.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Weeks 12 and 13: training log and notes.

What a crazy two weeks! Picture me: living peacefully in this existence in Tahoe City (described by Steve as a "one horse town"-- well, it's certainly a "one street town"), running and working when I receive a call from this MFA program I'd applied to and sort of forgotten about, saying, "you're accepted." My life , which I'd told myself was exactly wanted, was suddenly NOT. Or not exactly, but everything about me was thrown into question. Am I writer or am I a runner? The answer (as evidenced by the previous post) is that I'm both.

Needless to say, throughout this experience (exchanged emails and even a drive to see the campus and meet with the program director), I continued to train. Running was the "rock" in my life. Well, running and Steve.

I failed to post my training, and for that I apologize to those of you who do read this blog. I hope I won't ever again let two weeks go by without posting.

Perhaps in tune with the tone of recent events, I've also begun a new "phase" of training. In lieu of three key workouts each week, instead, I'll have five key workouts in a 14-day cycle. I'm excited about this change. I'll have more variety in my routine (long runs, timed runs, hill sprints, short tempo runs with track sessions and long tempo runs) , but also more ways to make my body morph from "civilian" fitness to super-marathon-woman fitness. :) Still (even with the weeks behind me), I remind myself to believe and to keep moving forward.

I've heard there are tides in life like the sea. I've chosen to tell myself that my injury last year was a "low tide"-- and perhaps, a necessary one. But high tide's nigh and believe me when I say I'm ready. And happy. Yes: happy. Finally.

Week 12 training and notes:

Monday, 3/8: 7 miles in the AM in 50' on the treadmill in TC. 3 miles in the PM, also on the treadmill. These might have been the most difficult miles of my life. I don't know if it was mental or physical fatigue-- or both. I can't wait until the snow is completely gone.

Tuesday, 3/9: 8 miles in the AM in 1:03. Much better than yesterday, but I wanted to run outside today so badly. I actually put on my winter gear and took a few test-steps. Alas, it snowed last night AGAIN.

Wednesday, 3/10: 16 miles in the AM and 4 miles in the PM. Longish run completed in Reno. PM run on the treadmill in TC. Also, weights: calf-raises, chest press, pull ups, shoulder press and curl-ups.

Thursday, 3/11: 6 easy miles in the AM. "Easy" but again, it felt challenging. I did core exercises afterward. My mind wanted more, but my body said F*** NO.

Friday, 3/12: 14.75 miles in Reno. Hill sprints. 10 x 20" and then 2 x 60" followed by easy miles. However, St. Mary's College called and I could hardly concentrate on anything, let alone running. I'm sure my pace sucked-- I didn't bother looking. All I could think was I GOT IN I GOT IN I GOT IN!

Saturday, 3/13: Rest day. Whether due to the stress of acceptance or of training, Steve needed a spatula to get me out of bed. And so, no running for me.

Sunday, 3/14: 12 miles total, with 8 miles as a tempo. I went to visit my mom in Washoe Valley and so ran the Franktown loop--which is both beautiful and hilly. I'm impressed that I averaged a 6:55 pace despite the hills. Progress!

Weekly total: 70.75 miles.


Week 13 training and notes:

Monday, 3/15: Long run: 21.5 miles on the ditch trail in Reno. Wow!! I ran pretty slow (8:19 average) but it felt sooo good to be outside and in the sun again. No pain, and no fatigue. It was happiness, in motion.

Tuesday, 3/16: 7.6 miles on the treadmill in TC. Then, core.

Wednesday, 3/17: 7 miles done quickly on the treadmill in TC before a trip down to Moraga to see the campus and meet with Marilyn.

Thursday, 3/18: 10.78 miles in Reno. Hill sprints: 10 x 20", 2 x 60". I felt great, yet troubled about my discussion with St. Mary's in regard to their lack of funding for me.

Friday, 3/19: 11 miles from the gym parking lot in Tahoe City. I ran down West shore until Tahoe Pines. Only one driver tried to kill me-- and I'm impressed. I thought it would be worse. I don't feel so scared about running outside up here anymore. I thought all drivers would try to run me over in the far shoulder.

Saturday, 3/20: 7 miles in Reno. 6 mile tempo ( @ 6:48 pace) before meeting with Chris about this MFA business.

Sunday, 3/21: 8 miles run outside along the North Shore (from the house to Garwoods.) What a beautiful run!

Weekly total: 72.88 miles

Monday, March 22, 2010

My response to St. Mary's MFA program in nonfiction with no funding:

Before I post the letter I sent to St. Mary's, I have to say, this was the most difficult decision I've had to make in a long while. This is not because it's "OMG St. Mary's" or because "this is my one shot", but rather because it demanded I define myself in a way I haven't yet bothered to. Am I a writer, or am I a runner? I would have, before this acceptance, replied: "I'm both" but in a boastful way and perhaps not knowing what it means to say such things.

After a week of hard thinking, of helpful notes from friends, I've come to the conclusion that I really am a writer-- AND a runner. I cannot separate the two. What that actually means is both elating and heart-breaking. I'm not the sort of person that can ever just leave one or the other behind; I can't become a solid writer who doesn't run, nor can I become a runner who doesn't write. I just don't survive well that way. Many friends suggested that two years is not so long-- couldn't I give up running and work my way through the MFA? The response, for me, is no. I need both in my life to be happy.

Perhaps many out there are shaking their heads at me right now, and thinking "well there it goes, you'll be nothing and nobody forever." But I don't think so. I know what I want and I know what it will take to get me there. I have to keep working hard and I have to keep believing. And that's what I'll do, no matter what else comes my way. And, heaven willing, one day an opportunity will come that allows my two passions to live side-by-side.


Since our chat last Wednesday, I feel as though I’m on a turbulent airplane ride: some moments, I’m elated that I have such a wonderful opportunity before me to attend the MFA program there in nonfiction; and in other moments (say, when another bill arrives in the mail) I recall my situation as a recent graduate of two Master of Arts programs. You would laugh, perhaps, at the number of colleagues, friends and family members I have asked for advice from: I’m sure the number is well over thirty. This is by far the most difficult decision of my adult life.

As I hope you know from our discussions, my only hesitation is the financial burden the program would require. The structure of the program, the courses I would be attending, the pieces of writing I’d be writing (which I’ve mused about in recent days as well!), as well as the beautiful place I’d be living are all very positive aspects of the program I know I will miss out on-- not to mention, working closely with you. I have wanted to attend your program for a long time and so it’s difficult for me to say that I would ask to defer my enrollment until next year.

A year is at times a long stretch and sometimes not so much. I hope, given the extra time, that I will able to put my personal affairs in order enough so that I will be able to enjoy the experience the MFA offers more fully. I know there is no guarantee of scholarship funding next year-- but I hope this year will allow me to save a bit in advance, as well as improve my writing as much as I’m able to here, on my own.

I’ve decided to make this a positive year: I will continue to improve all aspects of my life. After having seen St. Mary’s and meeting you, I’m confident in my abilities to work hard and I’m not giving up on my dream of being a writer. I know now: it’s possible, even for me. I just have to work harder for it.

I want you to know that I have been thinking of another subject we spoke of: an opportunity to become a Fulbright Scholar. After days of churning in my mind, I do have an idea that I think could be (perhaps?) interesting and useful. As my writing samples demonstrate, I have an interest in the history of things and also a love of athleticism. In a creative nonfiction seminar I took at UNR, I wrote a memoir/research paper which investigated the history of women’s long distance running in the United States (a fascinating history, actually) while I recounted my personal experience helping a very young girl (an 8-year old) complete a three mile race for the first time in her life.

The possibility of a Fulbright made me question: what would it be like to experience the historical foundation of something like distance running as it’s being made? In many African countries (particularly in North Africa) women who want to pursue an athletic career have a very different history -- and concerns -- than Americans do. While an American woman now might have trouble balancing work and training (or family and training, or in my case, graduate study and training), what sort of balance do those women face?

And what of faith? In my thesis/novel (or the manuscript of it, anyway), my protagonist struggles with issues of faith (which I think are central to any endeavor with no apparent “reward” -- like long distance running.) Why run 26.2 miles if you don’t believe you are able to -- and if you don’t have some belief that there’s a reason why you do this? Of course my view of all this is based on a “Western” model -- I come from the States -- a primarily Christian society. What about someone who comes from a Muslim country? Do their notions of such “faith” (i.e.: faith in one’s actions or in one’s self) differ? Why or why not?I envision a narrative laced with historical fact and lots of other female runners from this other place. What are their stories? Do they parallel my own? I can’t say if this is terribly interesting to you, but it is to me. I hope you don’t mind I shared my rambling thoughts ....

Also, I know this is also a lot to ask, but I would be very honored if I could send you a copy of my “novel” in the future. I’m still working on it, but I would love to hear your thoughts about what I have written so far.

And so, in closing: thank you countless times for this opportunity. I am honored, elated and saddened-- yet, I know I have a wonderful year ahead of me and many beyond that filled with my life’s work: miles ran and pages written.

Kind regards,
Rebecca A. Eckland

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Commitment to a dream sometimes hurts. I hope it's worth it.

So. I was accepted to the MFA program at St. Mary’s College-- a fine art’s program in creative nonfiction that I’ve wanted to attend since 2005. Of course, with the call from the program director came shouts of joy and a 15 mile run through the drab streets of Reno. And then thoughts like: “my new life begins now” and “no more crappy snow” and “now I can finally BE a writer. Like, a real one.”

In such spirit, Steve and I made the four-hourish round trip trek to Moraga, California where the school is located. We left the mountains and snow behind for a landscape I didn’t know existed so close-- and yet so far away: green, green, green with trees and trails everywhere. Trails for running. Sigh.

Then, the campus: manicured to perfection (or beyond perfection) with inhumanly white spanish-style mission buildings with flowers in bloom and long arcades; perhaps the most telling feature that evidenced that I’d left earth for a while were the restrooms. Of all I visited (and due to my nerves about meeting various faculty members from the department, I saw quite a few) not one had what I’d once thought were the requisite graffiti etched into the bathroom stall doors. There was not a scratch, not a “I love Jesus” or “Fiona loves Bob 4-ever” and not even “call 534-5689 for a good time” in permanent marker. NOTHING. Add to that, they all smelled like my grandmother’s bathroom: musty, but like they'd been cleaned that morning. And every morning before that.

I wondered: where were the seedy bars that line the periphery of campus? The casinos? The stalker-rapist lurking in the dark alleys you have to walk through because parking's too expensive on campus? The homeless covered in canvas-sacks and smelling of fermented-sweet-sick Jack Daniels? The railway and the train that came every 4 am rumbling my apartment windows? The chickens my neighbors kept in the house they shared with three other families (none spoke English that I could tell)? The elderly woman who pushed a stroller filled with blankets, who lamented, "got a light? God, tell me you have a light." And the tall black man who'd light a metal garbage can on fire in the park I traversed each day who asked me, each day, "Say girl, you a gymnast?"

None of that at St. Mary's.

The offices for the Creative Writing Staff are in a building called “Dante’s Hall.” The name brought to mind my second semester as a TA of Core Humanities at UNR, when my students had to read the first installment of Dante’s work. Near the end of the spring semester, the students were restless (to say the least!) and when they refused to respond to the questions I’d laid out for our session on the final day of Dante, in exasperation, I’d asked: “So what do you all think? What level of Hell would Core Humanities correspond to?”

Across Dante Hall’s walls were quotes taken from the purgatory and heaven sections of Dante’s work-- sections I’ve never read. I found it curious the building had three floors-- the bottom containing mostly classrooms , the second’s a mystery to me, but the third housed the faculty offices. Was it academia’s model of the world? Hell is where the undergrads assembled, the second floor--perhaps the graduate students, and the third and farthest from the “baseness” of “undergrad hell” were the heavenly professors. I don’t know-- but I did sort of think that as I mounted the stairs to speak to Marilyn, director of the program in nonfiction.

And Marilyn-- she was, if I were to follow this poorly constructed allegory, my Beatrice. All optimism and oh-so-happy-to-finally-meet-me. Happy to answer all my questions with responses that answered my original question and perhaps five others I hadn’t even thought of asking. Marilyn who said I had a future as a writer. Marilyn who’d love to work with me. It was a bit like falling in love: I blushed, I laughed and I’m sure I said the wrong thing more than once.

But heaven did turn out to have its faults, sadly. Perhaps “they” usually do. Though I’d be welcomed with open arms, I would have to have to sell my left kidney and promise my first born children to go there. Or, worse: I’d have to pay full tuition which is no small fee. And this is what makes me wonder: who in the hell am I? Wasn’t I ready to make some crazy commitment to the writing life?
What about loans? What’s $40,000 compared to a life without writing? When I asked Marilyn her opinion of my dilemma, she nearly quoted the movie, Moulin Rouge, perfectly: “What? A life without writing-- that’s TERRIBLE.”

And then I was cast as Nicole Kidman: “No, a life without food or shelter-- THAT’S terrible.”

Of course I didn’t say this, but I thought it. Marilyn followed this exchange with a story about a former MFA student of St. Mary’s, a man who did quite well in the program and showed incredible progress while there. He’d funded the entire thing on loans, like I would have to do.

She recounted: “Well, after he graduated, he got a job selling insurance. But after only a year of that, he quit because he said it was heartless work and it made him depressed. So now, he’s living hand-to-mouth, working various part-time jobs, barely making it.” I hate to sound pessimistic, but that’s not exactly the future I’d like if I plan on spending $40,000 for it. Yes, writing is important to me-- EXTREMELY IMPORTANT-- but isn’t an education supposed to give me something in return for not only my financial investment, but also the dedication and work and LOVE I’d put into it?

I mean, isn’t that usually the deal for any venture in life? Do it, get compensation. Pay the grocer, you get food. Work for the grocer, get money. I mean-- have I totally gone off my rocker to say this is how the world works and to be bewildered that it doesn’t work that way, at least, not for an education in the humanities? What on earth has happened?

And so I left Heaven-on-Earth St. Mary’s with a troubled mind. It was a place of beauty and a place of art. But would I have to leave my soul there, if I went. It was like the old Theological plays in which a man sells his soul to the devil and in return gets [insert desire here] but in the end, regrets the decision. If I sell everything I have and may have, will the writing sustain whatever's left over? And then-- where’s the writing life?

I hate to admit this, but I know if I went to St. Mary’s my running career would be over. There would be no feasible way for me to work part time, have a full academic schedule AND repay my loan-- AND run 70 miles each week. What level of hell does my life correspond to? This decision makes me think it's down there, way down there with the betrayers. But then again, perhaps I'm in vanilla purgatory. Who can say? Its hard to know, in the midst of it.

My life is about writing AND running. I take those two pieces of myself wherever I go, and so however difficult it is to turn down an amazing opportunity, it isn’t the opportunity for me. I know it’s out there, still, waiting. And as promised, I’m going to keep writing. I’m not giving up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the closure of UNR's foreign language department.

Not on the topic of running, I wrote the following letter in response to the news that the UNR will likely terminate all degree programs in Foreign Language. Though not on the topic of running, I wanted to post my letter because my education-- and the education of others-- is a very important subject to me. Though I don't know how yet, I'd like to believe part of my running will be in support of education in the humanities, particularly foreign language which is an integral part of our lives as the world becomes less of a national marketplace and more of a global one.

To Whom it May Concern,

Recently, the University of Nevada, Reno stated it will (in most likelihood) discontinue all degree programs in foreign languages, excluding Spanish because of the State’s dire financial status. In so doing, the University hopes to save itself from monetary ruin and to continue to offer students what it calls a “quality education.” And yet, this decision makes me (and I hope you, as well) wonder: what exactly is a quality education these days?

Back when I was in school (in those dark ages of 2000-2009 when I was first an undergraduate in English Literature and then a Master’s candidate in both English and French) “quality” meant depth. One was required to fundamentally know, in other words, the three “R’s,” but also how to use a computer, how to read difficult texts millennia old and how to survive on dorm food.

But since we’ve moved into a world no longer constrained by national borders, requisite knowledge for every American has also become the knowledge of other cultures beside our own. How can one understand the tragic events that recently transpired in Haiti, for instance? I, for one, say (after having studied authors from that region of the world in their native tongue) that the best way is the old-fashioned way: speak the way they speak and suddenly words begin to mean something. Imagine: a world no longer filtered through mass media. What is it like to live in Haiti? Ask a Haitian. And how does one go about doing that? Well, it requires you speak French. And that was a program UNR had, once upon a time.

Part of my comprehensive exam for the Master of Arts degree in French required that I was familiar with the entirety of the French literary canon. No small task, I found myself reading texts from the Middle Ages onward in laundromats or even when a light turned red at busy intersections. Among those frenzied moments of study, one 18th century author has remained in the forefront of my mind. Prévost, (an author perhaps lost to future students at UNR) questioned: “Crois-tu qu’on puisse être bien tendre lorsqu’on manque de pain?” (“Do you believe one can be loving if one’s lacking bread?”)

He asked an important question, one facing the University in these tight economic times: can the human creature aspire to greatness (in the case of his novel, love; in the case of the University, a much needed and important academic curriculum) while the” fundamentals” of survival-- i.e., money --are lacking?

I’d like to think there is some method that will preserve the necessary culture and refinement that comes with a proper college education. But times are indeed tough: perhaps the answer to Prévost’s question is, alas, no. Without bread (or funds) all we become are uncultured --and hungry -- brutes.


Rebecca A. Eckland

Week 11 training and notes.

What a week! I can't believe it's been 11 weeks so far. I'm getting very tired of treadmill training, but it's still a necessity in the Tahoe Basin. It snowed a few times last week, once again covering the world in white. Plus, there's a front that's moved in from the North, so the temperatures have plummeted from the wonderful 60-degree weather we'd been having.

Some of my most difficult runs came this week. Not because they were necessarily any harder than workouts I'd done before, but because of this frustration about having to stay inside. I know I just have to work through it-- fair weather is coming. But this feeling tells me that one of the major reasons I enjoy distance running is because I love the outdoors. Before this training cycle (when I could run outside in Reno when I lived there in past seasons), I never realized how much I enjoy fresh air and the freedom of unfettered movement.

But I know each step I take-- even those on the treadmill-- will make the miles I'll do in summer easier and safer. And so, keep running, I say to myself, keep running.

Monday, 3/1: 8 miles total. Tempo effort: 4 miles @ 6:47 with two minute jog and then 2 miles @ 6;41 followed by cool down. The gym was SO hot this morning. The gym owner yelled at me for making the treadmill "too hot."

Tuesday, 3/2: 19 miles in the AM; 1 mile in the PM. Long run outside, in Reno. 7:55 overall pace. I felt good, but I've never experienced such variable conditions during a single run. I began, feeling warm, then I encountered cold rain about 6 miles into the run and hail at mile 8. Then, rain again at mile 12 and warmth at mile 17. When we came back to TC, I did a mile warm up on the treadmill and then stretched and did a few weights and core exercises.

Wednesday, 3/3: 8 miles on the treadmill in TC. Mostly 8' x mile pace. This felt extremely difficult; or rather, like I was constantly fighting fatigue and my legs were made of hard cement. No pain, though I'd hoped to do a double today. I don't, however, think that would be a good idea.

Thursday, 3/4: 10 miles in the AM on the treadmill in TC. I felt mostly good-- though I had a few stomach issues at first. Afterward, core exercises and then weights in the PM.

Friday, 3/5: 6 miles in the AM on the treadmill in TC. Extreme stomach issues. Grrr.....

Saturday, 3/6: 13 miles total, run outside in Reno. Hill workout: 12 x 20", 1 x 60" and then 3 x 35" on the flats. 4:07 was the max pace for these efforts. It was odd-- I felt like my body was stronger than my mind was ready for.

Sunday, 3/7: 8.14 miles run outside in Reno after riding Christine's quarter horse, "Cash." 7:29 pace. What a beautiful day!

Weekly total: 73.14 miles

Be like a horse: just run.

This isn't Cash, but it sort of looks like him. He had that same beautiful dark brown coat with a black mane. His back legs, however, had no white on them.

My favorite running quote was once: "Be like a horse: just run." I don't know who wrote or said this, but in years past, I thought the simplicity offered by the image of a running horse was akin to the type of running I want to do.

However, this past Sunday (March 7th), I had my first experience with a horse and there were both false and true notes in the quote I'd once coveted. My boss at Camila's, Christine, has a horse she keeps in Verdi, Nevada. His name is "Cash" (from "Dash for Cash", his racing "horse dad"). He's an American quarter horse, which means several things. The one which meant the most to me (since I would be riding him) was that his gait was different from other horses. Unlike the breed Christine and her friend, Monqiue rode, Cash's gait mimics that of wild horses. The other horses, however, have modified gaits which seem to make them lift their knees (do horses have knees? or do you call them knees?) higher in the air. The purpose of the high-knee gait: to make a smoother ride for the person in the saddle. Riding Cash, therefore, was going to be a bit more rough for me. And it was-- but not in a bad way.

Since Christine been around horses (and has a definite love for them) for a good part of her life, she wanted me to "get to know" Cash before riding him. So, I arrived early and brushed/cleaned him, helped saddle him up. He was definitely wary of me at first, but I have to admit that feeling was mutual. When you're not around a horse, well EVER, their size is a bit of a shock. Though by no means a large horse, Cash is a far cry from the only animals I interact with on a daily basis: my cats. I even had to use a step ladder to get on him, when the time came.

Controlling an animal that's many times one's own body weight is no easy task. Cash was a very nice horse and very well trained, but there were moments I wondered: what if he really wanted to [insert action here]? He could just do it, and there would be nothing I could do to stop him. Indeed: the muscles of his body rippled beneath my legs (which I later found I'd been squeezing him with. Poor guy.) There were a few moments on the trail when he seemed to get bored with walking and began to "trot." Not run, but trot. (It felt like running to me-- that is, until Christine suggest I try to ride him while he "cantered." THAT was something. I'm still proud of myself I didn't fly off him, because it felt like I was hardly in the saddle, but hovering in the space above it. The experience was exhilarating, yes, but also incredibly scary.)

Cash had so much raw power-- I can see what the quote meant. It's not a mindlessness per se, but a horse is a creature bred to run. Even the measly "trot" made the world whiz by and I found myself white-knuckled on the reigns. The cant-- well-- I didn't pee myself but was close.

At the end of the ride, we returned the stables and I removed the saddle, blanket and harness. Beneath them, his fur was wet from the effort of carrying me around. Christine told me to brush him again-- to get his hair to stand so it could dry before the sun went behind the mountains. He began to nuzzle me, as though over the course of the two-hour ride, he'd come to accept-- and maybe like-- me. And then came the yawns, a thing I do after a hard workout. I felt, then, a kinship between us. We were two runners, separated by the language barrier, our size and number of legs.

When I went on my run later that day, I tried to run like Cash. No, not on all fours, but with a raw power that's contained within my body. I don't know if that's why I ended up running a little over 8 miles at 7:29 pace (even up hills!) or if it was something else, but I plan to carry that sense of "horse running" with me to Chicago.

So, "be like a horse: just run" for me, means allowing myself to tap into my own strength, and not to think too deeply about pace. Just be strong, keep training and running up hills.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Week 10 training and notes.

Here is my cat, Jacques, sleeping. This is how I felt after many of this week's workouts. I think a certain measure of fatigue is normal in any training regimen. I'm actually grateful for the sound sleep I've been getting. Steve calls it my "coma sleep."

I can't believe I've been at this for 10 weeks now. Looking back, it doesn't quite seem that long. I can feel myself becoming a more efficient runner-- long runs don't feel so long and I notice I can sprint slightly farther uphill than the week before.

There are changes in my body composition as well. I haven't weighed myself, but I can only say I feel as though I've gained quite a bit of muscle and lost just a smidge of that softness that comes from not working out.

I still have a long way to go, however. I'm disappointed, in a way, in what seems to be my "slow" progress. Coach E says I'm actually progressing quite quickly and so perhaps, for once, I'll listen to someone who knows more than I when it comes to training physiology.

Monday, 2/22: 9 miles on the treadmill in TC in roughly 70 minutes. I felt good-- no issues.

Tuesday, 2/23: 16 miles in the AM in 2:03 which is a 7:43 pace (done outside in Reno.) Woot, says I. Also my last mile was NOT my slowest. That's a HUGE accomplishment for me. Then, 3.5 slow and easy miles in the PM on the treadmill in TC followed by weights focusing on: calfs, back, chest and shoulders. I was beat-- but in a good way.

Wednesday, 2/24: 7 miles in the AM with weights focusing on my legs: good morning sunshines, quad extensions, hamstring curls, and calf rasies. Core workout: curl ups, reverse sit ups, crunches, bicycles, froggies, planks, superman and then, if that wasn't enough, I also did Bikram yoga.

Thursday, 2/25: 11.37 miles including hill sprints: 10 x 20' efforts and 1 x 60' which nearly killed me. I felt as though I had NO legs today at all. I'm uber sore from yesterday, but happy to have run outdoors.

Friday, 2/26; 8 miles on the treadmill in TC. Then, pushups on the Bosu ball (3 x 15), dips, pull-ups calf extensions, curl ups (4 x 15), crunches, bicycles, and planks.

Saturday, 2/27: 10 miles in 1:14 in Reno. It felt awesome-- like I wasn't even trying at all. The road pulled me forward and I let it. Go me!!

Sunday, 2/28: 7 miles on the treadmill in Tahoe City before work. For some reason, I feel so lazy doing only that.

Weekly total: 71.8 miles.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Ultimate Goal: Houston, 2012.

Funny, I just navigated to to browse the articles and found this in bold, big letters. The Olympic Trials for the Marathon event will be held in Houston on January 14, 2012.

I want to be there.

If you want to read more about it, follow this link.

An ah-ha moment.

I don't know how this idea came to me, but it came in a flash of lucidity, rare for nights after a full day at the store. I'd closed up and drove home to an empty house. Steve had gone to Grass Valley to work on the house and I was left to my own devices to prepare dinner. It was odd being in the house alone. I think it was actually my first night alone in Tahoe since 2005-- now how's that for a record? Anyway, as I peeled cloves of garlic and de-stemmed kale for a simple soup, an answer came to the question I've been asking myself for weeks now: what drives a person to do something they don't necessarily gain any direct benefit from? Of course, this question-- for me, al least-- is framed within athletics. What drives an athlete to "perfect" their sport?

Before I go about the answer which came to me (smelling lightly of fresh garlic), I should first define exactly what sort of struggle I'm talking about here. I don't include athletes, for instance, like pro football or basketball players. I do not mean to say they work any less hard than a runner or a cyclist or a skier, but the rewards for success in the NFL are great. Even mediocre players are paid rather well by normative standards. Other sports, however, do not have such "lucrative" fairy-tale endings. To "make it" as an elite runner is, I imagine, quite different. Are they paid millions? Well-- if they win the right race and pick up a sponsor or two. But last time I checked, winning a major race (say, a marathon) is no easy feat. You're competing not just against fellow countrymen, but also the rest of the world. Plus, there's always chance for injury-- not just in the event itself, but the weeks, months and years which come before it. And so, what I mean by this is not to put on a pity-party for all us runners, but rather to point to what exactly I mean when I ask, why all the hard work with no apparent "pay off"? What causes us runners to be Kierkegaardian "knights of faith", in other words?

It seems to me endurance sports are a rather recent activity that have captivated (some) of us. Before them, what did people "obsess" about? Perhaps it's because I once TA'd a course called "Core Humanities" that this came to mind. Or perhaps I was just hungry. But the runner's endeavor does somewhat resemble that of the pious Christian. For both Christianity and long distance running, there is a "symbol" of perfection that a person tries to achieve. For Christians, it's Jesus. They study his teachings and his actions as models they can only aspire to (no one's perfect, after all.) A runner, too, has a "symbol" but one that, admittedly, is less tangible. For many, it's a "time" they'd like to run a particular race in. Or, a pace they want to hold for a certain amount of time. Or, it's a lifelong goal, consisting of running so many races or so many consistent weekly miles. Of course, there is a major difference: some of these goals ARE attainable and are by no means perfect. But there are a few goals I would argue runners make that are, in a way, unattainable and therefore approach that "symbol" I referred to in regards to religious belief.

Another similarity which occurred to me is the "etherealness" of both piety and a successful running career. It's the notion of "faith"-- or of doing certain things because of what one calls "faith." The Christian has no tangible evidence of the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible (and, ideally, needs no such proof.) Instead, s/he has faith. So too, there is no tangible reason why any particular athlete should follow the routines they do. Aside from being fit (which is a benefit), there is nothing immediately gained from devoted training. For the amateur athlete, there is no money made from running daily. In fact, there's often money lost: money lost from time spent away from work, from the necessary frequent purchase of running shoes, a membership to a gym, visits to various medical professionals. And yet, so many people are devoted athletes; runners. I think there is a certain kind of "faith" in adopting this lifestyle, especially if you want to succeed at what you do. You HAVE to believe that what you're doing is very real. You have to believe you can or there's really no point in moving forward. Without such belief, running really is a waste of time. (Unless you're doing it to get fit, but I'm not talking about those sorts of individuals.)

The correlation to writing is, therefore, obvious. Like running, there's very little pay off for someone who writes everyday, especially at first when s/he is unknown. Yet, there's a certain sort of faith writers carry around with them, too; faith in their ability to produce a text of interest or beauty that overwhelms doubt.

But this faith: what is it? It is similar to religious faith, but I don't think it's quite the same. For one, as I mentioned before, athletic goals-- or even writing/publication goals-- are attainable. They are not models of perfection (what would a "perfect" marathon even mean? Someone probably thought the first marathon ever run was "perfect"... but then someone else came around a year or so later and ran the distance faster. So... what's perfect? There's no "perfect" because, it seems, there are no limits. Will someone run it faster than 2 hours one day? I think so.)

So too with writing: some claim Joyce's short story "The Dead" is a "perfect" short story. I admit, it's quite good and among my favorites, but how does one measure perfection in what is essentially an aesthetic object? Isn't it also a matter of taste? What's a perfect poem? A perfect novel? If a reader is referring to mechanical concerns (the author's ability to use correct punctuation, for instance), there are many perfect novels. But what about the plot? The creation and evolution of characters? The voice chosen by the author? How can all these align to produce a perfect object?

At the end of this long rambling "ah-ha", I realize I'm lacking a conclusion. So what, you ask me, if athletes have a strange kind of faith in what they do? What does that have to do with your original inquiry: why people do what they do in the face of probable failure. Well, I have less of an answer than I thought I did, I guess. This small ah-ha is merely pointing to a part of what seems to be our human nature: people like to believe in things. And they like to work for what they believe in. It's a tendency that seems to exist in all parts of our existence. I've mentioned two examples, one dealing with spirituality and physicality. But emotionally: don't we pine and yearn for another person, not knowing if that person's affections are reciprocal? Perhaps the only element of our existence which escapes this tendency toward "leaping for faith" is the intellect, but that's by necessity I suppose. If we are so willing to jump, our survival requires a moment's pause of self-reflection. "Really?" we ask ourselves.

And if you're a certain breed of person, you say "hell yeah" and jump into a world of running, (or whatever) knowing while not knowing.

So now, I have to ask: do some of us have more of this tendency toward "faith" than others? And of us that do-- if it varies-- are those are great athletes, leaders, artists and writers?