Hello again!

I thought I’d write another update to the blog, and I’m thinking about possibly getting back into regular blogging. (Maybe. We’ll see.) I’ve had it with Facebook and I never really got into Twitter, but I feel a little isolated without some social media interaction, especially as I’m on sabbatical again, and working on my own. I’ve also been inspired by Notorious Ph.D., who restarted her blog about a year ago. So I know it can be done!

Anyway, a couple of quick and largely happy updates. First, I wrote another thing inspired by my blog, this time an op-ed piece in the Chronicle on getting over a post-tenure funk. You can read it here. Btw, I did NOT choose that headline. (Writers rarely do.) But anyway, that’s *two* publications that came as a result of this blog (the other of which I mention in the post below), which I never expected. They’re non-scholarly, but I see them both as a kind of service to the profession, which was always how I thought of this blog, too (well, when I wasn’t writing about running or dogs or such).

Second, and related to an update in the post below this, I broke two hours in that half-marathon I ran last year — 1:59:24! Woo hoo! I trained again in the fall, but repeated minor injuries and a busy schedule kept me from doing a race. And then a really busy semester in the spring kept me from running entirely — d’oh! But I’m getting back into it now, and I’m planning on training again for a fall half-marathon, and depending on how that goes, maybe training for a *full* marathon in the spring, a thing I haven’t done in 10 years. A sabbatical year is the only time I’ll be able to fit it in, so it’s now or never.

Thing the third: a very happy doggy update. In the post below this, I reported the sad news of Pippi’s passing. Right after that post, we began fostering another Brittany named Benny, who a year ago found his forever family. And then we took a summer off from pets and fosters. I realized that as I worked at home every day while Bullock went off to the office (he’s chair — he has to be on campus) that the house was an empty and sad place without furry energy to fill it. It took some time to convince Bullock that we really needed another dog, and we may have moved a little fast for him, but on October 1, 2016, Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — or more simply, Audie — joined our pack.

Audie today

Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — Audie, for short. (You see, Audrey is the Anglo-Norman version of Æþelþryð, also spelled Etheldreda, and Audie is the diminutive of Audrey. She came to us named Molly, so I was looking for a name that sounded similar to that and landed on Audie.) That box on her collar is the invisible fence receiver. She’s a fence-climber if there’s a squirrel on the other side. (Photo by Bullock. Not to be shared or reproduced elsewhere without permission.)

No, she is not a Brittany. She’s an English Setter. It’s kind of long story how we ended up with a Setter instead of a Brittany, but the short version is that I fell in love. Anyway, since she’s English, I named her for an English saint and an English queen, and gave her a fake English last name (she *is* very wiggly). But I should have named her Wynnie, after the Old English “wynn” or joy, because she is SO full of joy — don’t let her serious look in this picture fool you. Just about everything makes her happy: walkies, treats, her Kong, the toy tied onto the end of a horse whip that we spin around for her in the back yard for her to chase, supper (she dances for it!), sleepy time, car rides, cuddling with her people, being with her people, her people coming home, people putting on shoes (because that could mean walkies!), the nice people who take care of her at boarding (though she’s even happier when her regular people come back to get her), nice doggies she meets, new people she meets, and so on. When you give her the “place” command to get on one of her beds, she *spins* in the air in a full circle as she leaps into the dog bed (because what comes next usually involves a treat).

The only thing she doesn’t like is her crate, because that means the people are leaving her alone and she can’t go anywhere — she’s much better left on her own in the family room with a Kong filled with treats, then she doesn’t mind being alone because she can look out the windows and lie on soft things that smell like her people, so she doesn’t feel so lonely. This is just one of the many ways that she’s different from Pippi, who loved her crate as a chance to be “off duty” and sleep. Pippi was territorial and barked at everyone who merely walked by the house. Woe to you if you were the UPS delivery person! Being in her crate was a vacation from her self-appointed job. Audie doesn’t have a territorial bone in her body, except where squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and cats are concerned. They’re the only creatures she barks at (well, and at us when she thinks it’s time for us to get out of bed). People coming to the door are potential new laps to sit in. (Oh yes, she’s a 35-pound lap dog. That’s also very different from Pippi.)

These differences from Pippi — including the different breed — are good things, I think. Because she’s so different, we’ve gotten to know her on her own terms. I think if we’d adopted a Brittany, we’d constantly see her or him as Not Pippi. Audie is just Audie. She’s her own fur-person. And the joy she brings is also restorative. Plus, I have a great office buddy — she loves to lie at my feet or in the upholstered chair in my office while I work. But right now she wants to go out, so I’ll wrap this up now. If I do get back to blogging, I promise more pictures of Audie — and I’ll make her her own page, too, just as Pippi has.

So what’s up with you since I last blogged?

Hello, goodbye

It’s been over a year and a half since I last posted, so I think it’s safe to say that this blog is defunct, for now at least. Who knows, maybe I’ll feel a need to come back to it, so it’s not going to go anywhere.

But before I sign off, I thought I’d do some important catching up. Between the last post and this one, I contributed an essay called “Downtime” to the collection How to Build a Life in the Humanities, edited by Gregory Colón Semenza and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. I was asked to contribute to that collection because of this blog, and in my bio, I name the blog. So it’s possible that you’re here because of that essay, in which case, I wanted to add an update to that piece. In it, I talk about the importance of having a “third thing,” an activity (or set of activities) for rest and relaxation that are neither family/home responsibilities nor work responsibilities, and I chronicle my experiences with my major “third thing” for many years, long-distance running. At the time I was writing, I had burned out on marathons and competition and had not yet found a single “third thing” to replace that pastime. But since then, I am happy to report, I have gotten back into running — this time half marathons instead of full ones. I trained for and ran my first in late 2014 and have run two more since. (I also trained for another this past fall, but ended up not being able to run because of other things going on in my life — updates I’ll give below.)  And now I’m training for another one in April. Right now, my current PR is a respectable 2:01, and though it would be nice to get it under 2 hrs, I’m happy just running. And really, that was my secret to getting back to running and racing: I’m focusing *only* on the running, on the process, *not* on any time goal. I’m trying to be very Zen-like in my attitude, and living in the moment of a run-day or a rest day of my training plans, or in the run itself. If I focus too much on the results, that’s when I’ll burn out again. I don’t want to end up crying during a race again because I’m not going to make a certain time!

That’s the good news. Sadly, the last year also brought with it terrible loss. In mid-December, “Bullock” (my pseudonymous spouse) and I had to say a final goodbye to our dear, sweet, soulful, smart, beautiful dog, Pippi. Many of my regular readers are also Facebook friends, and already know this, so I’ll spare the details, especially since narrating everything again will make me terribly sad. In short, Pippi died of an aggressive stomach cancer that didn’t show even the vaguest signs until October (and only in retrospect did we realize they *were* signs). By November, right before Thanksgiving, she was very sick, but with what *seemed* to be a stubborn pancreatitis (and in fact, it was — it was just *caused* by the cancer). By a week before Christmas, we had a firm diagnosis, and it was clearly time, so we let her go before her pain and discomfort escalated. She was only about 10 or so (the Brittany is a long-lived breed, generally) and we’d only known her for just under 8 years. We’re still mourning.

Pippi lived her life on this blog, in a way. I first wrote about her when we were still in the adoption process and even posted a poll to help us choose her name. (I actually went with readers’ second choice, because as soon as I finally met her, I knew she was a Pippi.) There are people in my life who only know her through the internet, and yet who have mourned her passing with me. She’s internet-famous. If you do a Google image search for “Pippi Brittany,” she’s the first image (and others in the first ten), and even a more generic search like “roan Brittany” turns up her pictures from this blog. And, of course, she has her own page here (which I will update).

Only time will tell if we adopt another dog. Pippi was one of the great ones, and they’re hard to get over. In the meantime, though, we’re helping with the rescue organization that brought us Pippi (and with a few others). We’re volunteering for transports to help dogs get to foster and forever homes, sometimes even giving them an overnight place to stay, and soon we may be fostering a young Brittany (as I write, we’ve volunteered, but he’s a stray in a county shelter and may still be claimed by an owner).

In the meantime, I run, I work, I spend time with Bullock, and I try to think of happy times with Pippi. And maybe I’ll come back to this blog when I have more interesting things to say again.

 

>Celebrity sightings in London

>JJC not only saw, but sat next to Jude Law while dining at the cafe at Salisbury Cathedral. (The proof is in this post, ninth picture down — though don’t be in too much of a rush to see Jude or you’ll miss the best cute kid pictures ever. Jude is behind the man with the unnerving stare.) OK, that’s not London, I know, but the Cohen clan was based in London. But read on…

I, on the other hand, jogged past and locked eyes with Viggo Mortensen. But alas, I don’t have proof. It happened somewhere between the Tower of London and Paul’s Walk on my way back on this route on Saturday (between miles 5 and 6, going west — he was going east).

At least I *think* it was Viggo. The guy was the right height (i.e., not at all tall), and it really looked like his face. That bone structure and cleft chin are pretty remarkable. But if it was him, he’s dyed his hair dark and is bulking up for some role (or for himself) — hey, if Brad Pitt can do it, Viggo can, too.

Then again, I get a little loopy when I run.

ETA: Says Bullock: “It might not have been him though, there must be lots of Danes running around London and their gene pool really isn’t all that large so they probably all look alike.” Te-hee! Maybe what I saw was a Viking who’d just sailed up the Thames. Anyway, Bullock’s a Swede (well, Swedish-American), so his comment is even funnier in a intra-Scandinavian grudge-match context.

Update: It wasn’t Viggo, just his evil twin (because the evil twin is always the one with the dark hair). I have it on the good word of Viggo’s personal secretary biggest fan (see comments here and here) that he’s on holiday in Denmark and his usual blond dreaminess.

One of these days, btw, I do mean to get back to serious blogging, including finally doing that Thinking Blog meme that Bardiac tagged me for (thanks Bardiac!).

>Random Bullet Points of London

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  • I ran an 8-miler today from ‘home’ to the Thames north bank and along it to Waping. I’d never been to Waping and it’s really cool, at least along the river. There are all sorts of re-purposed and refurbished (and not so refurbished) warehouses and cool little pubs hidden in them — like the Captain Kidd.
  • Note to self: don’t do a run through a major tourist attraction at midday on a Saturday. Running by the Tower of London and Tower Bridge would be much cooler early in the morning before opening. And it doesn’t even have to be *that* early to beat the tourists. Cobblestones are bad enough without having to play “dodge the tourist.”
  • Mad dogs and Englishmen…and runners go out in the midday sun. I wasn’t the only one out today, and not even the only one trying to dodge the tourists at the Tower. This made me feel like less of an idiot.
  • To the asshole Italian tourist who thought it would be funny to run up right behind me, into my personal space, and pant like he was doing Lamaze: yeah, I’d like to see you even try and keep up with me. Loser.
  • Not all of my day was spent running. I also taught Hassan the bartender in the college bar how to make a “black and tan” (half lager, half Guinness). He pronounced the color “really nice” and said he’d have to try it later.
  • And Hassan taught me exactly why you have to let a Guinness set before serving it (and why a black and tan probably should have the Guinness poured first). It’s not just that it has a big head (though it does), but the color and clarity improve with a little waiting, too. I watched it as it went from smoky brown to its usual clear blackish amber.
  • And I read some more Ed McBain in the courtyard of the college, sitting in the sun on a bench.
  • I’m also doing laundry so I’ll have some socks for a planned roller-blading outing tomorrow (if the weather holds), and though I’ve done laundry now three times in the college laundry, I only just now figured out where the drawer for the detergent cube thingies is, and only because someone else was there with his open. D’oh! I’ve been putting them in the barrel itself (which the directions say will do if you don’t have a drawer). Well, how should I know they were hidden behind the key for all the little pictures?
  • Yes, I *am* having a mellow, do-nothing day, why do you ask?
  • In other news, the other day I found and bought an apple green t-shirt at Benetton on sale for 6.95 that goes perfectly with my awesome new skirt. Excellent!

>A day of diversions (in many senses of the word)

>Oh, so much has happened today, and every little bit of it deserves its own post, but alas, it’s late and I have to be up early tomorrow, and I’m completely knackered. In short: I traveled just under 12 miles on foot today — 6 running, 6 walking to and from the Tate Modern — but about 3 of those miles were due to diversions in the sense of detours. One was caused by a 10K race taking place on my running route (an appropriate reason for a diversion, but requiring a change of route, none the less) and another was caused by who-knows-what craziness that the police had to take seriously, given the recent bombings, thus causing them to close off the Thames walk on the south bank of the river between me and my way home. I was just east of the Globe Theatre and wanted to go west to the Millennium Bridge, but about 12 cops stood in my path and told me “it’ll be hours” before the mysterious event was dealt with. For a moment I thought, “I’m stranded in Southwark!” but then I collected myself and headed to the next bridge eastwards and took a more roundabout way home. And while on that bridge I could see that the trouble was already cleared up and the pedestrians moving freely along the walk. Sigh.

And, of course, the Tate Modern was very diverting. The current free exhibition in the Turbine Hall on cities was really fascinating and I love how the permanent collection is laid out thematically. This wasn’t my first trip there, but it was more leisurely visit this time.

And the other diversion — in both the entertainment sense and the detour sense — really, really deserves its own post. Here’s a highlight: during my run, while I was contemplating the reason why Middle Temple Lane was locked off at Fleet Street and reading a sign on the gateway, a man asked me, “Why are you running through the middle of London? Are you a werewolf?” (Note: I was not in Soho and did not have a Chinese takeout menu in my hand.) There’s a lot more where that freaky pick-up line (because I think that’s what it was) came from, but I’ll have to save it for a “Freak Magnet: London edition” post.

And I still haven’t blogged about the lovely time I had in Specialized Library #1 this week, which I keep meaning to do! Ack!

Tomorrow and Tuesday (and perhaps Wednesday also) I’ll be up at Oxford and may have even less time to blog. We’ll see.

>Random bullet points of Britain

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  • On my friend’s A to Z map of Leeds and its environs, “built up” areas are shaded in pink, and any collection of three or more residences not belonging to the same farm counts as “built up,” even if everything around it is countryside. I find this charming.
  • While visiting said friend, I went for a couple of runs in her semi-suburban, semi-rural town. These runs included a loop around a “tarn” (which I find cool to say, even though it’s just a pond) and a pass by the end of the Leeds/Bradford airport’s runway. Just as I was going by, a plane came in for a landing. Don’t worry though — Yorkshire is a hilly place, and the runway was actually up above me. I thought it was kind of sublime watching that plane fly so close overhead. The sheep across the road were unimpressed, however.
  • We went for a visit to Harewood House, and I wondered, ‘How did they manicure all that lawn in the 18th and 19th centuries? Would sheep alone do the trick?’
  • There are three libraries in Harewood and I want them all — especially the one with the secret doors.
  • Something I learned: the Leeds to London/London to Leeds train is always crowded.
  • Something I learned about myself: I don’t get the point of Big Brother. But I *really* don’t get the point of Big Brother’s Little Brother. A commentary show on a reality show? WTF?
  • I cannot find my way around the maze of where I’m staying and it’s just one big building built around a courtyard. I have to figure it out tomorrow or it will drive me nuts.
  • There is an angry, or at least irritated, French woman in the room next to me. She’s on the phone chattering away in irritation.
  • I heard 8 different languages being spoken in the Tesco across from the Russell Square Tube station, and then I stopped counting. For the record: English, Spanish, French, German, something Middle Eastern which I’m unable to specify, Cantonese, Italian, and something I couldn’t place at all.
  • Weirdly, I could understand the woman speaking Spanish in Tesco better than I can understand my French neighbor, and I’ve had many more years of French. Hmm.
  • There’s an old man in a flat across from where I’m staying who seems to spend all of his time watching the world go by on the street below. I don’t have a view of this from my room — I look onto a lovely interior garden — but I saw him when I was roaming the halls trying to figure out which toilets and showers were closest to me. If I see him again, I’ll try to snap a picture.
  • I have not changed the time on my computer. It’s still in Rust Belt time. I think perhaps I should change it, eh?

That’s it for now. Must unpack!

>Boston Marathon Post #3: Sports star for a day

>I know it’s been weeks since I ran the Boston Marathon, but I promised a post on the atmosphere and experience of the race without all the nerdy, technical, runner-oriented stats and details. And I have wanted to write about this, too, because for those of you who aren’t runners, or aren’t marathoners, I want to evangelize a bit about Boston and marathons in general.

I got into road running about eight years ago, when I was approaching 30 and realized that I could no longer rely on simply walking everywhere to keep from having to buy a new set of clothes in a bigger size every year or two (important for a graduate student’s budget and not just for vanity). And I wanted to be healthier. And I lived in a sunny climate without outdoor activity potential year round, which I wanted to make more use of. I also had a friend who ran and wanted a female running partner (her boyfriend, also my friend, was too fast for her), and who had a sorority-sister tendency towards enthusiastic cheerleading, which comes in handy when you’re trying to go from couch potato to runner. (The irony of this story, in brief, is that once I was in shape, I realized I was a more appropriate running partner for the boyfriend than for her, and that when they broke up, he got me in the divorce.) Anyway, she also encouraged me to join a local running club that trained for the city’s marathon. Once I built up to running 30 minutes at a time, over the course of a couple of months, and then started running 4-5 times a week, I joined this club. It was set up for beginnners and had a training program of about 6 months — two for building up a “base” and for those who still had to work up to running an hour or more at a time, and four for the real training. These days I do 16 week marathon training programs.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that I didn’t always run marathons. And it wasn’t long after I started running at all that I started making marathons my goal. There was only about a year between being a complete couch potato to completing my first marathon (and coming in the top 400 women out of thousands and getting my name on the sports page of a major city paper — how cool is that?!). I point this all out because anyone who is physically able can take up running and can train for long-distance running. It takes time and perseverance, but no special talent. If you can walk, you can run.

What’s more, running is a great exercise activity for grad students and academics because it’s relatively cheap. A pair of real running shoes will cost $80-120 (and there are discount outlets available, but everyone should initially be fit by an expert in a specialty running store), and you need socks, clothing that wicks sweat (though I spent my first few years in cotton and didn’t really suffer all that much) and, if you’re a woman, the right sports bra. (I don’t know if the men need special support for their manly parts, but I imagine they might. Fizzy?) There are no gym fees, no expensive equipment — though the clothing can add up, especially in the winter — and if you do local races where you don’t need a hotel room, the race fees are generally not very much (plus you get free stuff, and a lot of races are now doing t-shirts in wicking material, so you get new running gear for the price of entry).

And running is a great way to be a tourist. I’ve run all sorts of footpaths and trails all over the UK and Ireland, along waterfronts and through scenic neighborhoods in cities in North America and Europe, and in parks and preserves everywhere I’ve lived and a lot of places I’ve traveled. Even when I travel, I pack at least one set of running clothes to take a break from a conference or a family visit or whatever. And when I’m in my own city, I often use running as a way to explore neighborhoods, get landscaping ideas, enjoy seasonal decorations, and gawk at houses for sale.

And then there are the health benefits — cardiovascular health, weight control, strength and general fitness. But note I put those last. Honestly, these days I think of them as a side-effect. If I made them my main reason for running, I’d think of running in the way one thinks of dieting — as onerous and hard to maintain.

So, back to Boston and marathons in general. I’ve given you all this background, because when I joined the marathon training group back in 1999, I did so because I wanted to meet new people and learn how to train for a marathon. Having running buddies for the long runs each week was essential to me then. Over time, though, I started training by myself for various marathons, and once I knew what to expect of a 20-mile training run, I was perfectly happy to do it on my own, especially back in grad school city, where I ran a route frequented by other runners. And I think one of the reasons why I finally hit that qualifying time at the Columbus Marathon is because I ran with a pace group, instead of by myself, and chatted with them the whole way, until I fell behind a bit around mile 22. Forget what you’ve heard about the loneliness of the long-distance runner — running can be really social.

That’s where big races can actually help, if you’re not concerned about losing time running in a large, tight pack for the first few miles. My best experiences have been in races that felt social in some way, where I was running with someone — even someone met in the process of running, as in my hometown race that gave me my second best time and made me realize I could qualify for Boston — or, in the case of Boston, where the crowds were so mighty you never felt alone.

I think the crowds of spectators are what set Boston apart. Sure, most runners there had to qualify, so you’re in an elite crowd of serious runners, and there’s an instant comaraderie among the runners because of that. And it’s a big field — 20,0000+ runners — so unless you’re way out front, you spend the entire race surrounded by people to observe and eavesdrop on, which is always entertaining. (My favorite oddballs were the three women who ran with tails attached to their shorts and signs on their backs that said “Chasing Tail?”) But the specators are what make Boston better than any race I’ve been in despite its difficulties (though granted, I haven’t run NY or Chicago, so I don’t know if those mega-races compare). The specators are what make it so much fun, even if, like me, you’re running your worst time ever.

When I’m well trained, a marathon usually doesn’t get hard for me until about mile 22. I tend not to run at speeds that are hard work — even when I was gunning for that qualifying time — so the only hard part is the endurance in those last few miles, since the longest training run I ever do is 22 miles. For me, the hardest part is the training, especially speedwork (I loathe speedwork the way I hated practicing the piano when I was a kid). I run the race at a convesational pace — which varies between 8:25 and 9:00 minutes per mile, depending on the intensity of my training — and don’t really want to work any harder. Then it’s not fun for me, because I’m really not that competitive. But no matter what, the race will get hard at some point, and then I have to rely on will power. That’s when the spectators matter. But for some stupid reason, so many races I’ve run go through less inhabited areas just when it starts to get tough, and thus have sparse crowds. Race directors really need to think more about this.

But Boston gets it right. The first half of the race has fewer spectators, but that’s the easy part — it’s early in the race and there are lots of downhills, plus it’s often pretty scenery and you’re surrounded by other excited runners. The crowds start to pick up just when you need them and get bigger and louder and more intense the closer you get to Boston.

The first really huge crowd consists of the women of Wellesley just before the half-way point. (Although there are few other big gatherings of people before that.) I swear to god you really can hear them a mile away — that’s not just a cliched turn of phrase. We hit mile 12 and in the distance I heard something that sounded like an orchestra playing a continuously held high C. And then when you pass them, it’s not just their screaming that makes them a high point — half of them are holding signs that say “Kiss a Wellesley Girl.” I was so grateful for their spirit and enthusiasm, *I* almost kissed one (and I’m sure there were some of them who would’ve been happy for my kiss rather than a guy’s kiss, but my guess is that it was mostly the het women holding the signs).

And between Wellesley and Boston, there are all sorts of people along the route, since most of it is accessible by commuter train. For the most part it’s people cheering on their friends and family, but they cheer everyone else as well. (Thanks again, Kate, for the sign. I’m sorry I missed it, but the thought of it alone buoyed me.) My favorite was a recurring sign for a runner named Polly (she must have had a lot of friends and family, or else they moved along the route) which quoted A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” As you reach the hardest parts in Newton — the hills leading up to and including Heartbreak Hill — there are all sorts of people offering you treats, cheers, support, and encouragement. And they seemed to be practiced at it: no one said “You’re looking great!” as I walked up Heartbreak Hill. Instead they said things like “Look, you can still do this. Just get over this hill and you’ll make it” — a sentiment that’s realistic and pretty much true. Boston Marathon spectators are veteran marathon spectators.

And after that, as you start getting closer and closer to Boston, the crowds get freaking crazy. I think it starts in Brookline, maybe a bit before. By then you’re in an urban space, and bars and pubs are walking distance from the route. Since the race is run on Patriot’s Day — a holiday for most people — lots of people make it a holiday event to have a few beers (or not — but since many of them have beers in hand, and sometimes offer them to the runners, it’s easy to tell that drinking is involved) and cheer on the runners, all of them, whether they know you or not. And my god, are they loud. The last few miles are absolutely deafening. Part of the reason I picked up the pace in the last two miles was joining up with Jody, a runner I’d met at the pasta dinner the night before, who buoyed my spirits and kept me going, even when it was hard. But the other part were the crowds. How can you not run hard when thousands upon thousands of people are screaming joyfully at you? I can only imagine what the crowds might have been like in good weather! Rain and wind like that chased most of the crowds away in my first marathon (wussy sun worshippers!) but not in Boston, where neither rain nor wind nor snow can keep a Boston sports fan from cheering on a bunch of strangers in a long-running (ha!) local sports tradition.

I’ve always known that Boston is a big sports town with intense attachments to their hometown teams (and the equivalent hatred for longtime rivals), but I had no idea that they’re so enthusiastic for any local sports tradition. After all, here I was running really slowly relative to the other runners in this race (I came in the bottom quartile of the women runners, for god’s sake) and yet when I and all the other people running at my pace came through, the screams were just as loud as I imagine they’d been for the elite runners, and would continue to go on for the runners behind me. (Indeed, when I got back to my hotel at mile 24, and there were still people running and mostly walking, there were still crowds cheering them on.) They’re the reason the Boston Marathon is so much fun. I worked for my qualifying time because of the prestige and eliteness of that achievement, but if I ever try again, it will be because of those incredible crowds.

And that is what’s so amazing about marathon running in general. All races have some eager spectators — Boston just has more of them, and they’re exponentially louder — and they’re as happy to cheer on strangers as they are their friends. Many spectators make a day of it, bringing camp chairs, coolers, music, etc. And if you write your name on your shirt, they’ll call it out. If you don’t sometimes they’ll call out your bib number (as in, “Go number 2435! You can do it!”). What the heck other sport is there where an ordinary, unexceptional, non-gifted, non-celebrity athlete gets to have people cheering for them? What other sport could I possibly take up at age 29 and have fans, however temporary?

Running marathons — and epsecially running the Boston Marathon — gives an ordinary person a chance to feel like a sports idol for the day. And that’s the real reason why it’s worth the time and effort and training, because adulation is addictive.

>Marathon Post #2 1/2: All praise Fast Fizzy

>In response to the comments to marathon post #1, below, my brother, aka Fast Fizzy, wrote in to assert that he is not hyper-competitive, as I said in my response to Heo Cwaeth’s question, “What’s chasing the Virago family?” No, he insists, he’s just damn good.

And then he e-mailed me the following evidence that others are able to recognize just how good he is:


OK, I take it back. Fast Fizzy is not hyper-competitive.

He’s hyper-competitive AND damn good.

And he has weird running buddies.

>Marathon Post #2: The numbers and technical stuff

>This post is for the runners out there and for those who are really dedicated to reading my blog. The rest of you might fall asleep. If you have insomnia, read on; if not, consider yourself warned.

So people keep asking “How was Boston?” There are a couple of ways of answering that, and in the next post, I’ll get to the more colorful and atmospheric and experiential answers. But some people actually want to know the hardcore statistics and technical stuff. Not most people, but some. This post is for you. I’ve also divided it up into sub-topics for easy reference, in case there’s something in particular you want to know.

The basics
I qualified for Boston with a 3:43:13 (also my PR – an 8:30/mile pace), but I finished Boston in 4:18:57, my slowest time ever (in 6 marathons total, run between 2000 and the present).

My training and condition on race day
Even if we’d had perfect weather conditions for the race, I wouldn’t have had a stellar race or finishing time. At the beginning of my 16-week training, I started out doing a three-day-a-week training plan called “FIRST” that promised to increase speed and finish times if you stuck to it. (If you want to know more about it, go here.) It was an intense plan with hard speed workouts, tempo runs, and race-pace+ long runs. As it turns out, I just didn’t have the base miles or the cardio-vascular fitness to keep up with it. I hadn’t really run much in the previous year, since finishing the 2005 Columbus Marathon in 3:43 to get my Boston qualifying time. So my inability to do what was asked (either in terms of speed or length) in the FIRST program got me down. I switched to the Runner’s World 3-day/week Beginner Plan (see a four-day/week version here), modified with longer long runs, based on the FIRST program. In other words, I trained to finish, not for speed.

I did all runs, including the long runs, at a 8:45-9:00 minute pace, because I was still hoping to finish under 4 hours, at least. But I didn’t get many hill workouts into my runs, other than a few gently sloping ones here and there, because Rust Belt is a flat place. So I knew that a sub-4-hour marathon on the very hilly Boston course might still be wishful thinking.

And then, on top of being undertrained, I came down with a bad head cold a week before the race. Usually when I get sick — and I rarely do — it goes by quickly. But I’m *still* getting over this one. On the Friday before race day, I thought I was going to show up at the race expo on Sunday and ask for a deferral to 2008, which you can get for injuries and I was hoping you could get for illness, too. But on Sunday I was feeling a lot better and the energy of tens of thousands of runners at the expo, in my hotel, and around town, was infectious in a different kind of way. So I said the hell with the cold and planned to run.

The night before the race my cold entered the nagging cough stage and I barely slept. During the race, I suffered from an almost unbearable dry-mouth from the decongestants, and a constant thirst. The coughing ceased as long as I was running, but I think a lot of the aches and pains in my back (see more below) might have been from the night and morning of coughing prior to the race. Plus, any time I tried to eat my Gu energy gels, my nose would run and I’d be unable to breathe. I had 6 Gu packets with me, and meant to eat at least 3 during the race and one at the end, but ended up using only 2. Drinking water was also hard, and sometimes I had to stop to do, which brought the coughing back on. Argh!

My gear and its problems
A couple of days before my last long training run, I tried to get new shoes to replace my worn out old ones. I hadn’t kept track of their mileage, but I was starting to feel sore in my shins and knees, which only happens when I have old shoes. But my local running store — and there’s only one in Rust Belt — didn’t have my shoe in my size. And it was too late to switch to a new brand to get it thoroughly broken in and make sure it was right for me. Had I been able to get the exact same shoe, that wouldn’t have been a problem to break in, but a new style or brand would have.

I wear a Saucony Trigon in the “Ride” version and I’m loyal to Saucony (I’ve been through various versions of this shoe) because they work for my narrow heels, wide fore-foot, and need for room for my blister and callous prone toes. I’m a heavy heel-striker with as perfectly neutral a gait as you can get, which means I land on my heel and roll forward straight down the center. Other people roll out or in and need a different kind of shoe. (If you’re a runner or want to start running and have never been fitted by a professional at a specialty running store, do so. Running in the wrong shoe for your bio-mechanics can cause injury.) Those of us with neutral gaits, and especially those of us who are heel strikers, need cushioning to help absorb the impact. My worn down shoes were definitely not doing that.

So, as a result, by mile 14, my entire back was screaming in pain. My legs were fine, and in fact, I don’t think I felt the build-up of lactic acid in them at all this race (in part because I slowed down so much in the second half — see below) but it felt like I could barely carry myself upright in the last miles. (Plus, my cardio-vascular fitness was relatively low given the undertraining.) At mile 14 I made the command decision to slow down in order to guarantee that I would finish, especially since I’ve had recurring lower-back problems in the last few years. And as you’ll see below, I really slowed down.

The weather
It turned out not to be quite as bad as predicted. The winds got up to a mere 20 mph, and by the time the second wave runners started (and that included me), the rain cleared up. I think it rained again on us, gently, once on the course, but by that time I was feeling a little hot in my thermal outer layer and Coolmax base layer, so it was actually welcome. It got colder as we approached Boston, though, so I was ultimately grateful for the layers, the full-length running tights, and the gloves.

The worst part was standing around before the race, getting my shoes wet from the rain and muddy from the fields where the porta-potties stood. I kept mostly warm and dry with a disposable clear parka (which I continued to wear for the first three miles of the race, ultimately ripping in off Superman style) and a mylar blanket. But the wind kept blowing the hood off, so my hat soaked through and my pony tail and neck got wet, which couldn’t have been good for me. As you’ll see below, I did feel the winds at many points — annoying, mostly while going uphill! — but in such a big race, when you’re a “pack” runner like me, there are lots of bodies around you to block it.

Amazing — no blisters!
I don’t get this. Most runners worried about wet feet causing blisters, and so many of them had plastic bags wrapped around their shoes, at least until the start of the race, and others wore get-ups that kept the top dry but kept the sole free so that they could run in them. I didn’t have either and so my feet got wet, mostly in the hours before the race. And never once in the race did my feet hurt, and when I took my shoes off at the end of the day there wasn’t a single blister or black toe. Compare that to my Columbus experience in *perfect* weather, where my right little toe turned into a giant blood blister and I lost the nail. Back in 2000 I ran a rainy marathon and also had blister-free feet. What gives?

The split times
For those of you who’ve already done the math, I ended up with about a 9:53 pace, I think. But really, I ran two half-marathons, the first in 1:57:38, or just under 9 minutes/mile (my over-ambitious goal pace), and the second in 2:21:19, or about 10:50/mile, the slowest I’ve ever run anything. Like I said above, I decided to slow down at mile 14, and boy did I slow down in some of those subsequent miles! I meant to keep it under or around 10, but it just wasn’t happening. (If you want a course map, complete with elevation info, go here. Warning: opens a PDF.) Here’s the breakdown:

Mile 1: 9:07
(Letting the crowds hold me back for an easy start — I’m actually proud of this, as it’s the first time I didn’t start too fast.)

Mile 2: 8:43
Mile 3: 8:45
Mile 4: 8:44
(Look how evenly paced I am for these three miles — this is also a minor achievement, as pacing is still something I’m working on. This also makes me cocky. Running is easy and I’m having fun.)

Mile 5: 8:55 (a gently uphill mile)
Mile 6: 8:49
Mile 7: 8:52
Mile 8: 9:11 (We’re spreading out and the winds are more noticeable.)

Mile 9: 9:04
(Getting back closer to pace in the next two miles, despite the winds across Lake Cochituate)

Mile 10: 9:09
Mile 11: 9:14
(The last mile and half have been gently uphill, and the effects are starting to show in my time.)

Mile12: 8:55 (Ah, back on track at last with the help of some downhill running)
Mile13: 9:05
(Nice — might have been slower if I’d stopped to “Kiss a Wellesley Girl” as their sign demanded — wouldn’t she have been surprised!)

Mile 14: 9:18
(As we enter Wellesley’s main drag, we start to turn NE and the wind really hits us. Plus my back is killing me, so I decide to slow it down, take it easy. I wouldn’t realize how slow I’d really get until after this.)

Mile 15: 9:47 (Well, at least it’s under 10.)
Mile 16: 9:47 (OK, I could stay here, I think…)
Mile 17: 10:46
(Really? Crap! But wait, it get worse as we start to climb up the hills of Newton. They tell you about Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21. Somehow, though, I wasn’t prepared for the three miles of hills *before* that.)

Mile 18: 11:15
Mile 19: 11:04
Mile 20: 11:39
Mile 21: 13:11 (OK, so I walked up Heartbreak Hill. Sue me.)
Mile 22: 11:13
Mile 23: 11:55
Mile 24: 10:54
(My hotel is right across the street. Sooooooo tempting. But at least I nudged myself back under 11 minutes/mile.)

Mile 25: 10:10
(By this point, my new friend Jody, whom I met at the pasta party, has caught up with me and rallies my spirits back to a less embarrassing pace. She is also a 3:43 qualifier and running under bad physical conditions — a sore tendon — but she smartly maintained a 10 minute pace the whole way instead of being unrealistic like I was in the first half.)

Mile 26.2: 11:16
(Just over 9 minutes/mile from the “1 mile to go” point marked on the road — hooray!)

I nearly throw up in the post-race melee for the crappy amount of food the BAA supplies (boo! worst. post-race food. EVER) but I did it! And now I can get on the T back to the hotel at mile 24 and take a shower. When I got back, I noticed that I certainly wasn’t the last to finish, as the course is still full of runners, some of them now walking.

Next time — the spirit and atmosphere and characters that made Boston actually the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon, despite my crap time.

>Take that, Ivan Tribble! Or Marathon Post #1: My Colleagues’ Responses

>The academic bloggers out there remember Ivan Tribble, the pseudonymous scribe of two essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education Careers section, back in aught-five, who argued in the first that “Bloggers Need Not Apply” for tenure-track jobs in academe, and in the second that the bloggers who responded critically to his article were all just shooting the messenger (“They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?”). But as I argued back then (god, that seems ages ago), it seemed that the trouble with Tribble wasn’t only that he had a thing against bloggers specifically, but that he also didn’t like or didn’t want to know about academics who — the horror! — found time to do things other than the teaching, research, and service for which they were being hired. So what does this have to do with my recent run in the Boston Marathon? This juicy passage from Tribble’s second article is where the connection lies:

A number of respondents worried they could be mistaken [in a Google search] for an unhirable doppelganger on the Web. I can’t speak for every committee, but ours had no trouble distinguishing our candidates from the semi-pro hockey players, quilt-store owners, marathon runners, and grade schoolers that Google turned up.

Uh, hello? Why on earth would you assume marathon runners and academics are mutually exclusive categories? Or that a marathoning academic was unhirable? Witness not only me but ProfGrrrrl (link goes to her training blog). (And as for semi-pro hockey players, cf. Michael Berube.)

All of which brings me back to my experience running Boston and the responses of my colleagues, including those who will be voting on my tenure. All my colleagues know I run marathons, and as far as I can tell they don’t have a problem with this. Witness their responses to my Boston experience (which, by the way, required training almost entirely during the school year):

  • Awesome Supportive Chair said, “You’re my hero!” and asked for pictures for the department newsletter.
  • One senior colleague asked if I had run a local marathon that was close to Boston’s date, and when I said no, because I ran Boston instead, he said, “Wow! Congratulations! That’s impressive!”
  • Fellow junior colleague Milton looked me up on the official marathon site during the race, tracked my performance, and sent me a congratulatory note — all without my knowing until I got home. (I don’t know why, but I thought that was really sweet.)
  • Senior Rhet/Comp scholar e-mailed me after hearing the weather report that day and sent her sympathy (she runs and does triathalons).
  • Another senior colleague routinely asked how my training was going, and his spouse saw me in the local park in the midst of one of my 20-mile runs and cheered me on. I told her I was thinking of calling it quits at 15 because I was aching, but she rallied my spirits and I completed the 20.

I could go on. But the point is, every department has a different atmosphere, and one of the ways I was wooed to this one was with the promise (by the senior colleague in the last bullet point) that people have lives here. And frankly, I think that’s a good thing not only for faculty retention, but for the students, too. We can then model for them full, well-rounded, and healthy (physically or mentally) lives. (Besides, when my students know that I ran the Boston and graded their papers in the same weekend, there’s less whining about deadlines and hard work. 🙂 Te-hee!)

Of course, if I were doing poorly in publishing or meeting teaching and service expectations, my marathon running might then be a point against me. I think then my colleagues would have every right to be worried that I’m unnecessarily distracted and would be justified in saying in my annual reviews that I’m not meeting job expectations. But since I am meeting those expectations (at least at my university — I don’t know that I could do this at an R1) what I do with my free time is up to me.

That said, it was really hard fitting in even the most basic easy-level, three-day-a-week training this semester. And the training is starting to be a burden rather than something fun. I don’t know if marathons are in my future or not. I may just run for fun and fitness for awhile and then maybe think about half-marathons and shorter races for the time being. The distance of the race doesn’t scare me — I’d still like to learn how to and train to keep my pace in those last four miles — but fitting in those really long runs is hard. They just eat up so much of my weekend.

OK, future posts will detail the race itself, I promise. But I wanted to start with something that was more closely related to the character of this ‘academic life’ blog.