Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning in Barcelona - 10K

I got up this morning and went out for 10K on the beach between Premiá del Mar and Masnou. It was such a beautiful run. I haven't run by the Mediterranean Sea since I left here in 2004. The sea was an indescribable blue and the sunlight coming off the sea was so brilliant that it hurt to look at it.

I say all of this to make those of you who a freezing in DC envious. It's a sick little game but it's all I have, really.

We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with the whole family of my Brother in Law, Rafa, and his wife, Monstse. There were 18 people in this tiny apartment, yelling and passing stuff over each other. They were in each other's stuff, people argued and made up continuously, and it was generally a madhouse. I loved it. I miss that about Spain. Everyone was really happy to see us. In the entire evening there was only one political discussion: Rafa asked me if I was happy that Obama won. I said, yeah. That's a nice change from DC, where every discussion is about politics.

In fact, I'm having one of those visits where I'm convinced that I want to live here again, someday. I hate seeing how fast my nieces have grown up and gotten married, when it seems like the last time I saw them all of them were little girls. Of course, there are difficulties here-- the economy here stinks, as it does everywhere else. But Spain, and Barcelona in particular, was running a little close to the edge even before the global economy started going down the toilet.

Sònia and I talked about maybe moving back here when the global economy improves. So maybe Sònia and I will retire here. I can see that happening.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Buy Christmas Presents for a Guy

This holiday season there has been a video going around called "Beware of the Doghouse". It shows the plight of some poor guy who gets his girlfriend the wrong present and ends up banished to the ranks of the insensitive males. I think I've managed to avoid this for the most part. But I can tell you that buying presents for our partners has to be one of the most stressful parts of an already very stressful holiday season.

There are a lot of guides for what to buy a man for Christmas. Conveniently, these guides are written by folks who have something to sell, mostly expensive electronic gear. I love electronic gadgets. But I don't want to get one from my wife (sorry, Sonia). I have a Computer Science degree from the Naval Academy with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence. Electronic gee-gaws are kind of my specialty. Chances are good that I know exactly which electronic gadget I want and the chances are low that my mate will pick exactly that one.

And even if she did, what would be the point of that? We don't get into relationships to see the world we have always seen. We do it so someone else will be there to point out the stuff we never would have seen. I, like most guys, have huge blind spots. The male of the species generally picks a couple of things to get into and digs a rut. My ruts are running, computers, and guitar playing. Had I, through some tragedy, never met and married Sonia, I would have spent my life geeking out on those three things.

But Sonia shows me things about the world that I never would have bothered to think about. Authors I never had heard of. Music I never would have listened to. Cheesy sit-coms I never really would have gotten into until I saw them through the eyes of an immigrant observer. And this is the point today: buy stuff that is in the guy's blind spots. The stuff he would walk past in the store, not because he didn't like it, but because it wasn't in one of his ruts. So don't just try to figure out what the guy might like and then go buy just that: he could do that. Give him the stuff that he doesn't even know he likes yet.

And if that doesn't work, get him the box set of the original Star Trek. Every guy wants that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jingle Bells All The Way 10K: 46:27 (The Horror!)

Man, was it cold this morning. One of the women I work with, Allison, put together a roadracing team called "Disaster Blasters". So we all signed up for the Jingle Bells All The Way 10K.

Last year I ran this race in 51:45, so I'm happy that my time came down. But this race was marked by tragedy for me. You see, the race was going fine. I stretched out and really pushed the last few miles, turning in the first and fifth miles in 7:08-- not my old sub-sevens, but good.

I approached the finish line and really cranked it up. Then over the loudspeaker I heard one of the most blood-curdling, horrible, nasty things anyone has ever said about me:

"And here comes Tim Allen: One of our Masters racers."

Oh god, it's come to this. In this race I'm considered a masters racer. I half expected one of the volunteers to come bring me my cane as I crossed the finish line. I looked at all of the bright, clean-limbed youth I was finishing with and wondered if they could hear my Depends adult undergarments crinkling under my running pants. I felt about as cool as Elmer Fudd.

Sigh. I guess I'll go soak my bunions and see if I can remember my last name so I can look up my official results.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Long distance running as a meditation practice - 22 miles

I woke up at 4:45 am this morning and decided to go for my normal 22 mile run. I had been debating over taking a week off because I did the marathon last week. But a funny thing has happened: I miss the long run when I can't get to it. So I went running.

This run was cool for a couple of reasons. I got to break in my new $30 Montrails I bought at Rogue Runners in Austin. And I also got to run this loop (Washington, DC: Woodley Park, down Rock Creek Parkway to the Capital Crescent Trailhead, up the Crescent to where it meets the RCP again, back down the RCP to Woodley Park and home) for the first time with my new Garmin 305 GPS unit my mom got for me. Really, running is not about gadgets. But I wanted to map out this route with the GPS partially because I was not sure that my 22 mile loop was 22 miles long. Turns out that it is almost exactly 22 miles. That was nice to have confirmed.

But there was one other thing that made this run great. I think the main reason I miss the long run when I don't do it is that it is the one time of the week when I run for a long enough time to shut off my brain and just be where I am for a few hours.

I have tried sitting meditation quite a few times. I have never gotten very comfortable with it. Part of it is the difficulty I have in just concentrating on the moment without rattling through thoughts-- however, I understand that this is part of the meditation practice. I explained to a friend of mine that if I meditated for a half an hour my mind would wander off the ranch fifty times. I would have to pull it back to my breathing fifty times in that half an hour. My friend said, "what a wonderful practice". And he was right, that practice of recapturing my sense of presence is good.

However, my real problem with sitting practice is that, as the father of a seven year old, I'm just sleep deprived all the time. I expect this situation to improve, oh, shortly before I die. So usually when I sit to meditate, about five minutes in, I'm fighting off sleep. And that's just crazy-making.

But running... I find that the regular rhythm and the proximity to natural sources of noise help me concentrate on where I am. I regularly use noise as my focal point. If I can really fixate on the sound of where I am, I know I am truly present. The reason for this for me is that so much of what goes through my head is sound-- catches of songs I've been thinking about, or bits of conversations, or a little self-criticism. My monkeys are noisy.

So I run and listen to my footsteps, and I breath and listen to my breathing, and I listen to Rock Creek.

This run started in the dark, and I ran for more than an hour before there was appreciable light. And it was cold, right at 37F. So not many people were on the trail. I saw a total of ten souls, and five of them were deer. I saw four deer just crossing Rock Creek Parkway. They're so used to people now that I don't think they get scared. They just watched me run past, then dashed off into the woods.

I did find my speed sagging a lot on this run. I found a good trick to pick up some speed-- I concentrate on my turnover. I tried to concentrate on quick turnover, and not on going fast. I did this, and after 19 miles, I was doing 9:30 miles, which is a good pace for me. I reckon if I can work on a good turnover, my stride will take care of itself and I'll be able to maintain speed.

All in all a very satisfying run.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Northern Central Trail Marathon: 4:28

I got my sneezing, coughing self out of bed this morning and met my friend Etienne at 6:30 am to drive out to Sparks, MD for the Northern Central Trail Marathon.

It was a pretty kickass day all around. I've been nursing a cold/sinusy-pain/yuck thing that's been going around (I share my immune system with my son's 1st grade class), but I managed to get up and go. My mom came through with an early Xmas present of a Garmin Forerunner 305 (THANKS, MOM!) and I got to wear it for the run.

It was a really pretty day-- pretty cold when we arrived, but by the time the gun went off it was 42F. I meant to take off slow, but the crowd was going at 8:30 miles and I felt good, so I went for it and clocked 8:30's and 9:00's the first six miles. I slowed down to mostly 9:00's and 9:30's from 6 to the turnaround point at 13 miles. Then I started doing the math...

Back in 1990 I ran my first marathon, The Marine Corps, in 3:49:49. I was 26 and foolish, poorly trained and indestructible, and I made it through that race by sheer will. I swore I'd never do a marathon again. This time I was trained, wiser... and 44 years old. But I started thing, hey, if I can just click off 9:30's for the rest of the race, I can beat my PR.

So I tried doing that. And it went just fine until mile 15 when (cue ominous violin swell)... my nose started bleeding! Actually, this very minor inconvenience took on major significance to my race. I tried pinching it off, but no amount of that would work. There must be some weird physiological mechanism that makes your blood not clot when you're running really fast. So I dove into my gear pack to see if I was carrying anything I could jam in my nostril. Nada. I finally flagged down a father and son who were watching the race and asked for a napkin. Fortunately they had one. By the looks on their faces I could tell I was not a pretty sight (yes, that's blood on the picture of my race number). But I rolled up the napkin and jammed it in my nose and kept running.

I kept clicking off 9:30 miles right up until 20 miles. I felt really good, very tired, and my legs were complaining about the work by now, but I felt I could do this. And then at 21 miles, I looked at my watch and saw I had just run an 10:30 mile. It had felt just like the 9:30 mile I had run just before. I thought, wow, I'm going to have to pick it up. I really dug deep and pulled out... (tada!) a 11:30 mile! By now I was down to only 5 miles to go... no time to make it up. Long story short, I just got slower and slower until my last mile, which I ran in 15:22. Moral: sometimes experience can beat youth, but it's not really the way to bet.

Anyway, I rallied for the last half mile or so and really cranked when I got to the end. I passed one spectator on the way in the chute who said, "Hey, looking goo... oh, rough race." I actually almost started laughing. I can't wait to see the picture of me crossing the finish line. My race number was covered with blood and my nose plug was saturated in it.
I loved this race.

Overall, the race was really well run, every volunteer I met was fantastic, friendly, and for some unknown reason willing to stand around in the cold for hours to watch us. And the EMTs who checked me out at the finish line were friendly and courteous. Oh, and the soup at the end was like, the best food I ever ate anywhere. Really.
Final clock time was 4:28, I'll get my chip time when it's posted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

NaNoWriMo: The Duke of Sunrises: Excerpt

All right, I've gotten some heat from a few of my friends about not posting an excerpt from The Duke of Sunrises. I don't think I should, really. I just finished the first draft at lunch today, it certainly has about a year's work necessary before I should let anyone read it. Anyway, I picked one of the story arcs from the manuscript and am putting it here. I'll warn you: parts of it are a bit rough, as in, don't read this to grandma. Don't say I didn't warn you. Oh, yeah, Rhee Myung Ran is a relatively minor character in the book. I really didn't mean for her to have such a big backstory. Oh well:

Chapter Fifteen

Rhee Myung Ran had come to the United States from Pohang , Korea , thirty-two years before. She had grown up in a small farming community near Gyeongju and had dreamed of running away to Seoul . Her mother had died when Myung Ran was twelve, and she was left to work the farm, trying to attend school as best she could. But her father had not seen much benefit in putting her through school. Myung Ran’s father sank further and further into a depression after Myung Ran’s mother died. Eventually he had begun to gamble at bars in Pohang . And he began to lose money.

Finally some men came one night when Myung Ran was fourteen years old. The men had banged on the door and called out Myung Ran’s Father’s name. Myung Ran pulled the covers over her head in the bedroom and shivered as she listened to her father pleading with the men. Finally the door to Myung Ran’s room crashed open, and a very large man known only as Mr. Kim stood in the doorway and pointed at Myung Ran. “Her! She will pay your debt, Mr. Rhee. She comes with me. Now!”

Myung Ran had seen her father behind Mr. Kim. His shirt was covered with blood and he was holding his jaw, which seemed somehow misshapen. She tried to pull the covers back over her head, to somehow hide from Mr. Kim, to hide from her father, to hide from the entire world and to pretend that this day had never happened, that the sun had never risen, that her mother had never died, that his father had never gambled.

Mr. Kim’s enormous hand pulled the covers off of her. He pulled Myung Ran out of the bed with one hand and slapped her, hard. “You work for me now. You will come with me. You will stay where I tell you to stay. You will do everything I say to do, with everyone I tell you to do it with. If you fail me in even one instant….” Mr. Kim turned and gave Myung Ran’s father a brutal backhand across the face that made him fall to his knees, weeping. “I will kill your father while you watch, and then I will kill you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes! Yes! I will come with you. Please don’t kill Daddy! Please don’t kill Daddy!”

Rhee Myung Ran sat in the living room of her home in Clarendon , Virginia , looking at her husband, Tommy, sleeping in his recliner with a Korean Bible open on his chest. She had never seen her father again. She knew that he lived somewhere near Gyeongju still. But he had never once tried to come look for her, never once had written her a letter, never once had asked about her. It was as if Myung Ran had ceased to exist for him from the day he sold her into prostitution.

Mr. Kim brought Myung Ran to a night club in Pohang called “Club New Mexico ”. There were twenty girls working in The Club New Mexico, although only a few were ever actually in the club. All of the girls were expected to work by entertaining a customer nine hours of each ten hour shift. Every customer that they entertained paid them forty U.S. Dollars. Of those forty U.S. Dollars, each girl received 700 Korean Wons: the equivalent of 50 U.S. Cents. Myung Ran’s father owed Mr. Kim over 1000 U.S. Dollars. To pay off her father’s debt, Myung Ran would have to entertain over 2000 customers.

Most of Myung Ran’s customers had been U.S. Marines. When she saw a Marine the first time, she had started to cry. They seemed so large and brutish and wore uniforms and huge boots. Surprisingly, the Marines were much gentler than her Korean customers. Many of them wanted to know Myung Ran’s name and where she was from, and why she had decided to come to Pohang . Mr. Kim had told Myung Ran to never tell the Marines how old she was—that she was twenty one if they asked. “The Marines are stupid. They do not know how old any Koreans are. You tell them you are twenty one and they are happy, I am happy, and I do not kill your father. Understood?” Myung Ran understood.

In fact, Myung Ran understood that the Marines were not really interested in her real story. They did not want to know that they were having sex with a fourteen year old girl who was paying off the gambling debts of her father under pain of her father’s death. They did not want to know that Myung Ran’s mother had died, or that she had grown up on a pig farm that smelled of pig feces constantly. They did not want to know that Myung Ran had never been off of the farm and the whore house were she worked.

The Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran had decided to come to work in Pohang because she liked living in a big city. They wanted to know that she enjoyed her life and that she spent her money improving her house and saving up to go to the University. They wanted to know that she was just doing this job until she could go to the University, where she wanted to study to be a nurse. The Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran had visited Seoul , and had gone to Japan , and that one day she wanted to visit the United States of America . They wanted to know that Myung Ran had taken this job as an entertainment girl partially to meet Americans and to learn to speak English.

And the Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran was twenty one.

Myung Ran reached over her husband Tommy’s recliner and gently removed the Bible from his hands. He was snoring softly. She then removed his reading glasses, which were leaving two light red marks on either side of his nose. Myung Ran looked at Tommy. She knew he was not a perfect man. But she loved him and respected him. Tommy had done something that very few Korean men would ever do. Tommy Song had loved her in spite of his suspicions about her past. Tommy Song had respected Myung Ran when Myung Ran had had no respect for herself. Tommy Song had accepted Myung Ran’s stories about being widowed in the United States and had not asked too many questions. Because Myung Ran could only tell so many stories before she stopped believing them herself.

When Myung Ran had turned 17, she only owed Mr. Kim Two Hundred and Fifty U.S. Dollars. She had calculated that if she had three successful U.S. Marine Exercises in the Club New Mexico, she would be able to pay off her father’s debt. And one day, she decided to go to Mr. Kim’s office and tell Mr. Kim that she was preparing to finish paying him.

Mr. Kim did not get angry. He simply opened his filing cabinet, pulled out a large, green U.S. Government ledger, and showed Myung Ran a page with many numbers on it. The numbers were in bright red ink. And they showed that Myung Ran had earned a lot of money for Mr. Kim. A very large amount of money.

But they also showed that Myung Ran had had expenses. Her clothing had been the first expense. The clothing she had worn as a farmer girl would not have been good for entertaining guests. So Mr. Kim had bought clothing for Myung Ran. And he had kept it clean by having a laundry service that he had kindly given to Myung Ran. This too was quite expensive. Also, Mr. Kim had had the option of letting Myung Ran sleep in the street. He had heard that the girls of the Flower Waggon Club had to sleep on the streets, and bad things sometimes happened to those girls. Mr. Kim told Myung Ran that she was very lucky not to work in the Flower Waggon Club, very lucky indeed.

And of course Mr. Kim had paid for Myung Ran’s heat. Her food. Her drinks. Cleaning and electricity were not cheap either. Indeed, Mr. Kim had graciously supplied Myung Ran with the many comforts of life that Myung Ran now enjoyed.

Myung Ran tried to appear cheerful and tried not to let her voice tremble when she asked Mr. Kim how much money she still owed of her father’s gambling debt. Mr. Kim put on his reading glasses then looked at the figure in the ledger, wrote a few more numbers, then pulled out an abacus and did several calculations. He took off his reading glasses and put them on top of the ledger. Then he held his hands in front of his face, his elbows on the desk and his fingertips touching, and told Myung Ran that she now owed him One Thousand Five Hundred U.S. Dollars.

Myung Ran had looked down at the ledger and the reading glasses on top of it. She wanted to grab the ledger and run away. She wanted to take Mr. Kim’s reading glasses and smash them. But she knew that it was pointless. She would be a whore for the rest of her life if she did that. So Myung Ran decided that she would do what many of the Korean Entertainment Girls ended up doing. As she looked down at Mr. Kim’s reading glasses, Myung Ran decided she would make a U.S. Marine fall in love with her. The Marine would pay off Myung Ran’s father’s gambling debt. And Myung Ran would marry the U.S. Marine and move to the United States of America . And after some time, after she had become a U.S. Citizen, Myung Ran would divorce the U.S. Marine. And she would visit Pohang , Korea one more time. And then she would kill Mr. Kim.

Myung Ran reached over and pulled a Kleenex out of the box on the glass end table next to Tommy Song’s end table, and cleaned Tommy’s reading glasses. She put them down on top of the Bible she had laid on the end table.

Chapter Eighteen

Tommy Song walked around the Mercedes Benz in his driveway and checked the pressure of the tires. He checked to ensure that there were no leaves stuck in the grill and that the windshield was very clean. Then he opened the door to their house in Clarendon , Virginia , called to his wife, Myung Ran, and asked if she would please come to the car. He locked the door to the house with a key and then held open the door of the Mercedes Benz so she could enter the car.

Tommy Song looked at Myung Ran as he closed the door and tried to calculate how long they had known each other. Tommy had come to the United States in 1970. He was a young man and he had opened a dry cleaning shop. At that time, there were not as many things a Korean immigrant could do in the United States . Being a dry cleaner was one of those things. He had worked hard to become a successful dry cleaner.

Tommy Song had also become very active in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . He had dedicated himself to his dry cleaning business and the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . In turn, everyone in the church took their dry cleaning to his shop, and they had told everyone they knew about Tommy Song’s dry cleaning business. This was not bad practice. It simply was the way things were done. Tommy worked hard. He employed several members of the church as employees, and that made the community stronger. Tommy Song was proud of what he had done with his business.

But several of the members of the church had become concerned about Tommy Song. He worked many hours, often entering the dry cleaning business before the sun came up and staying until late into the night. He did not seem to have a life away from his business. It was not good for a man like Tommy Song to work so hard and not have a family to help him at home. Tommy’s mother and father were still in Korea , so his mother could not easily find an appropriate wife for Tommy. The people of the church decided to find Tommy Song a wife.

But it was not as easy as finding eligible single women in the church. Most of the church ladies were married. And most of the daughters of the church were too young for marriage, even to a relatively young man like Tommy Song. There were a few young women of Tommy’s age in the church who were not married, but they were promised to others. Tommy needed a wife when there were none to be had. So the congregation prayed for a wife for Tommy Song. They did not do this in church- that would be embarrassing for Tommy. They never told Tommy. But every lady in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church prayed every morning and every evening: “Lord Jesus, please send us a wife for Mr. Tommy Song.”

Tommy never would have known about the ladies’ prayers. But one day, Mrs. Tong ran up to Tommy Song after the services, very excited. She said to Tommy, “Our prayers have been answered!”

Tommy said to Mrs. Tong, “What prayer would that be, Mrs. Tong?”

“Tommy, we have been praying for a wife for you!”

Tommy was curious, but then felt deep shame inside. How could they have been praying for a wife for him? Could he not find his own wife? Why were these people getting into his business? Still, he told her, “Thank you, Mrs. Tong. It is very nice of you to pray this way.”

“We would like for you to meet this young woman. But I must warn you of one thing. She is a widow .”

A widow? Tommy was not sure what that meant to him. She had been married. And some people thought that the bible told them that a person could only ever be married once. On the other hand, perhaps that was not true. For example, if a woman got married to a man, and that very day the man was killed in a horrible auto accident, surely Jesus would not have wanted that woman to go through the rest of her life all alone. That did not sound right, either. Tommy remained silent. But he nodded his head, slightly.

“Good,” said Mrs. Tong. “Good, I will arrange a meeting. You will meet Miss Rhee this evening at my restaurant. This is acceptable to you?”

Tommy Song did not see any way out of this. “Yes, Mrs. Tong. Thank you, Mrs. Tong. Until this evening.”

Tommy Song had put on a nice jacket and bought some flowers from Mrs. Park’s shop. He walked into Mrs. Tong’s restaurant a few minutes before 6:30. Mrs. Tong was waiting for him. She shook Tommy Song’s hand, then looked him over. “Yes, you look nice. Be polite with the young woman, please.”

“Yes, Mrs. Tong.” Then he sat at the table that Mrs. Tong had assigned for them, not far from the middle of the restaurant, where Mrs. Tong could keep an eye on them, but also off to one side where they could talk.

Every time the bell attached to the door chimed, Tommy shifted in his seat nervously to see who was coming in. An older couple. A family with a young boy and a baby in a stroller. Another single man who went straight to the bar. Finally, the door opened and a young woman in a black dress came in.

Mrs. Tong walked straight to the door to accompany the young woman to Tommy’s table. As Mrs. Tong and the young woman got closer, Tommy stood up respectfully and pulled out the young woman’s chair. Mrs. Tong smiled broadly and said to him, “Tommy Song, please meet the Widow Rhee Myung Ran.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tong. I am pleased to meet you, Widow Rhee.”

“I too, am pleased, Mr. Song.” Tommy pushed Rhee Myung Ran’s chair in and nodded to Mrs. Tong. Then he too sat down.

Tommy Song looked down at his menu. His heat was racing. He had not had dinner with a young woman since he had come to the United States . He could not bring himself to look directly at Rhee Myung Ran. He tried to concentrate on the menu, but could not read anything so he decided to simply order a Bibimbap.

“Widow Rhee, have you decided on anything to eat?” Tommy looked across the table and glanced towards the Widow Rhee. Then he saw her eyes. They were curiously dark and large, beautiful. He wanted to look further and further into those eyes. Then he realized that he was staring at the Widow Rhee. He felt very ashamed and looked down at the table.

But not before he realized that Rhee Myung Ran was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Tommy Song was at the wheel of the Mercedes, driving along Clarendon Boulevard . Myung Ran was at his side, sitting quietly. Although Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were not normally very demonstrative, Tommy reached over and held Myung Ran’s hand as he drove.

After dinner at Mrs. Tong’s restaurant, Tommy Song had walked Rhee Myung Ran back to the hotel where she was staying. Rhee Myung Ran had not found a place to live since her husband’s death.

“Widow Rhee, have you been living in the hotel for a very long time?” Tommy wanted to know how long it had been since Rhee Myung Ran’s husband had died, but he could not ask her this directly. He had made no reference to Rhee Myung Ran’s defunct husband in the entire evening, except to tell her that he regretted her loss. Although he did not truly regret her loss. He was deeply ashamed when he had that thought.

“I have lived here for a year and a half now.” Good, thought Tommy Song. It is more than a year. He was not sure how much time one must wait to be respectful to the dead, but he was sure that it was more than a year.

“And why did you decide to come to the United States of America ?” Again, he wanted to know more about the previous marriage, but could not ask directly.

“My late husband was from the United States . He had been a U.S. Marine. We came back here because he was stationed here at the Pentagon. But then he was sent to Viet Nam , and he… he did not come back.”

“I am truly sorry for your loss, Widow Rhee.” Tommy Song was in turmoil inside. Rhee Myung Ran had been married to a U.S. Marine. Surely this changed things drastically for him. There were rumors about the Marines marrying Korean girls. He wondered what kind of girl Rhee Myung Ran was. Then he looked over at her. She was the most innocent, the most peaceful looking person he had ever met. And he realized that perhaps it did not matter what kind of girl Rhee Myung Ran had been in Korea . Perhaps the prayers of Tommy Song’s church had been answered with Rhee Myung Ran and he was not to ask too many questions about where she had come from.

Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were now in front of the hotel where the Widow Rhee lived. “I have had a very lovely evening, Widow Rhee.” It was entirely true.

“I also have had a wonderful evening, Mr. Song.” Tommy bowed to the Widow Rhee, then opened the door for her. As she went past, The Widow Rhee’s shoulder brushed against Tommy Song’s hand. He felt as though his hand had caught fire.

Tommy Song’s Mercedes was passing over the Key Bridge into Georgetown . There was some traffic, but Tommy had planned ahead and had left enough time for this eventuality. They would arrive with plenty of time to spare. Rhee Myung Ran was sitting quietly. Tommy gave her hand a little squeeze.

The wedding of Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran had been very small. They had decided to get married in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . The day before the wedding, Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran had gone to the Arlington Courthouse with all of their papers to get a marriage license. There was some confusion at the courthouse, as Tommy told the clerk that Rhee Myung Ran was a widow. The clerk had asked for a death certificate for Rhee Myung Ran’s husband. Instead, Rhee Myung Ran presented the clerk with a divorce certificate. Tommy did not ask Rhee Myung Ran why she had a divorce certificate while they were still in the courthouse. He decided that he had better not say anything until later.

When Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran walked out of the courthouse, Myung Ran began to cry. Tommy Song was not sure what to do. So he took Rhee Myung Ran in his arms and he held her. It was the first time he had held her since they had met. And Tommy Song whispered something to Rhee Myung Ran: “It is all right. I don’t care. The clerk made a mistake, that is all. We will be married tomorrow. Please, I would like it very much if you would smile.”

Myung Ran had raised her head and looked Tommy Song in the eyes. And a small smile crept onto her lips.

The next day Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were married in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . And Tommy never asked Myung Ran about her first husband or the divorce certificate ever again.

Chapter Forty-One

Tong Jin Sook, the owner of the Ichiban restaurant in Clarendon, had come from Korea to Arlington , Virginia in 1956 at the age of twelve. There were very few Koreans in Virginia at that point. When Jin Sook arrived, there was no Korean community. There was no Korean church. She did not meet Koreans other than her family members for several years.

Her father had started the Ichiban restaurant shortly after arriving, and the whole family worked long hours to make the restaurant work. They worked seven days a week, only taking time off to go to church on Sunday. The Arlington Korean Baptist Church had not been built at that point, so the family went to an English speaking church where they were tolerated, but not exactly welcomed. Tong Jin Sook learned to speak English by going to that church. And she learned to smile and make people think that she was enjoying herself when she was not. She did so by serving those same people as a waitress and cashier in the Ichiban restaurant.

When other Koreans came to Arlington , they naturally gravitated to the Ichiban restaurant. Some took jobs there, and others started businesses with the help of Tong Jin Sook’s father. Jin Sook’s father became an important man in the Korean community of Arlington . One of the first things that he and the other Korean men decided was that they needed a church where they could practice their religion in their own language. It took time to collect the money, but a year after that decision was made, the Arlington Korean Baptist Church was under construction.

Tong Jin Sook grew up in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . She got married in the church when she was still quite young, and her children had gone to Sunday school there before they went on to also be married in the church.

When Tong Jin Sook’s father grew older and too tired to take care of the Ichiban restaurant, he told Jin Sook that she would be taking over the restaurant. It was not a big change in her work. She already was doing the ordering and the books. But once Tong Jin Sook’s father died in 1970, Jin Sook realized that the rest of the Korean community looked to her as a leader, as a matriarch.

Tong Jin Sook never took credit for the new Clarendon Korean School that was built shortly thereafter. Nor did she tell anyone that if they came to her when they had problems with their residency papers, she had contacts that could solve those problems. But little by little, Koreans in all of Northern Virginia spread the word that Tong Jin Sook was the lady to go to if you needed a problem solved.

That is why, one March afternoon after church services at the Arlington Korean Baptist Church , Mrs. Rhee Myung Ran visited Mrs. Tong Jin Sook. Myung Ran had a problem that she needed to have solved.

The problem would have been difficult for Rhee Myung Ran to resolve on her own, although she had promised herself many, many years before that she would take care of this problem herself. She would have had to return to her native Pohang , Korea to solve it herself, and recently it had become difficult for her to travel. But she had saved up money from her husband’s Dry Cleaning business, and she was willing to pay handsomely to have someone take care of her problem for her.

So Mrs. Rhee Myung Ran visited Mrs. Tong Jin Sook and they had a pleasant afternoon reminiscing about their childhood days in Korea , lamenting the fact that it was probable that neither of them would ever visit Korea again, but agreeing that the community they had built here in Virginia was strong and wonderful.

When Rhee Myung Ran left Tong Jin Sook’s house, she discreetly handed Tong Jin Sook an envelope containing Twenty Five Thousand U.S. Dollars and an approximate address for a Mr. Kim Bong Chol of Pohang, Korea. Some problems are expensive to solve, but worth every penny of the expense.

Chapter Forty-Two

Park Daeshin had fought against the North Koreans as an infantry soldier. He had watched every other man in his platoon get killed in the defense of Muchuk. Some of the soldiers who had died were as young as twelve years old. In the residence home the other residents called him “Colonel”, although he had never reached a rank higher than Corporal.

Colonel Daeshin was old. He could feel every one of his eighty years in his bones. He had worked very hard his entire life, finally retiring a few years before from more than forty years working in the steel plant in Pohang , Korea . Colonel Daeshin had had the forethought to put some money aside so that he could live in a nice residence home when he got old, so his children would not be burdened. He would not have liked to be a burden. Unfortunately, Colonel Daeshin’s wife had died more than ten years before. He had a picture of her in the breast pocket of his shirt.

As a single man in the residence home, he shared a living quarters with another man. Colonel Daeshin did not care for his roommate, a Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim had a reputation for being a retired crime boss in Pohang . Colonel Daeshin thought this to be dishonorable. Also, Mr. Kim was loud and disorderly, and Colonel Daeshin enjoyed order and quiet.

One of the dishonorable things that Mr. Kim would do would be to stay out well past curfew playing at the Bingo parlors. Mr. Kim would invariably come home at two in the morning and wake up Colonel Daeshin with his loud, drunken voice. Mr. Kim had gone out to play Bingo the night before. When Colonel Daeshin woke up that morning, he was surprised to see that Mr. Kim had not come home.

Colonel Daeshin shaved carefully, then got dressed and entered the common room, where all of the residents were gathered around a television. The other residents were pointing at the television screen in horror, and some of the residents were crying. Colonel Daeshin did not like to watch the television, but he was curious to find out what had provoked such horror in the other residents.

There on the television news was a report of an apparent execution style murder. The images were gruesome—an older man had been kidnapped, then brutally tortured for several hours. Finally, the man’s tormentors had hung him alive from a cross in the middle of a field on a pig farm and slowly burned him to death with a blowtorch. The body had been so badly disfigured that there was no way to identify the victim other than with dental records. But the dental records had finally shown that the victim was the reputed retired leader of the Kkangpae organized crime syndicate, Kim Bong Chol.

When the report was finished, Colonel Daeshin returned to his quarters, closed the door behind him, and smiled with satisfaction.

NaNoWriMo: 50,047 words: The Duke of Sunrises


Yipee! I had thought I was going to finish off The Duke of Sunrises sometime this weekend. But I began to think about the weekend and realized: I'm running the Northern Central Trail Marathon tomorrow. And Sunday I'll probably be recovering. So I made an effort to pull it together before I came to work today. And then over my lunch hour I made a real push and watched the ticker finally click over 50,000 words.

As I had thought, my protagonist ended up being named Sam Small in honor of a character my father invented for his art classes.

Oddly enough, it's a pretty damn good story. Of course, I'm not so naive as to think it's ready for anyone to read at this point. It probably needs about a year's worth of editing, during which time I'd probably write about another 30,000 words to make it work. There are plenty of places where I've written in "I have to make Sara's back story more believable" or "write the trip across town". What I have is a rough first draft of a manuscript. But it's a damn good rough first draft of a manuscript.

Anyway, I'm glad not to be going into tomorrow's marathon with this hanging over my head! Wish me luck on the run!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NaNoWriMo Day 26: 44,909 Words (Finally caught up!)

I finally caught up with my National Novel Writing Month word count. I'm actually about one day ahead of where I have to be, which is good, because I certainly won't be writing on Saturday when I run the Northern Central Trail Marathon.

I got a big boost today when I talked with a friend who I asked to read part of the manuscript. She asked me to please, please, please kill off a particular one of my characters. I thought I had finished with killing my people, but this guy desperately needed to be liquidated.

So thanks to my friend I only have about 5,000 words to go. I guess I was wrong; violence does solve some problems (at least in this blood sport that is sport noveling).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

NaNoWriMo Day 23: 35,078 words

Okay, I'm definitely on track now. I am really confident that I can hit my 50K word goal by then end of the month. There are a few days I won't be able to write; for example, next Saturday I'm running the Northern Central Trail Marathon . Chances are good I won't write then.

I'm thinking of trying to just go ahead and finish up in the next couple of days. I've figured out that it is not really a huge big deal for me to write three or four thousand words in a day. And I would hate to get to the last day and simply not have the strength to get through the last 5000 words.

But I'm in a little bit of a quandary. I think the one best way that I can squeak another 15,000 words out of this story is to kill one of my favorite characters. The story is certainly heading that way. Death just generates a hell of a lot of drama: I had my protagonist's best friend die last year and it totally got me through the last half of the book. But I like this character. Ah well, that's the blood sport that is sport novelling. Looks like Josie's gonna have to take one for the team.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

NaNoWriMo Day 22: 32,750 words

Okay, this is more like it.

I'm only about 3,924 words behind. I got lucky. Sònia and Daniel had a bowling party to go to, and I got a nice three hour stretch to write in. So I'm almost entirely caught up. I'm feeling confident that I'm going to finish off my 50,000 work 1st draft of The Duke of Sunrises by the end of November for National Novel Writing Month.

The story is coming together nicely. Some parts of it are garbage (whaddya expect, I'm writing the whole thing in a month). But much of the manuscript up until now is surprisingly good. I have left off on any idea of trying to publish this year's work. But I'm getting a lot of benefit out of just putting the manuscript together. I think I've subconsciously been kicking around a lot of ideas that are finally making their way onto paper (well, screen).

The other thing that occurred to me is that my characters have become very real to me. I have no question about what a scene looks like when I'm setting it up. The trick is putting it on paper in such a way that another person would get it. I'm not actually sure anyone else will ever see this manuscript (no one has ever read last year's either). But I was surprised about how attached I've become to these people I've invented. This year I really have invented my characters-- last year was more about folks that I knew, who I threw into the story to act. But this year I needed some characters who fit the story a little better.

I guess all of this is a long way of saying that practice makes perfect. I think I'm actually getting better at the craft of writing. I have my doubts about ever doing this for the money. But I know for sure that I'll never get any better at writing without practice. This month I got a lot of practice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NaNoWriMo Day 19: 20,031 words

I'm finally getting caught up on my National Novel Writing Month manuscript, which I am tentatively calling The Duke of Sunrises. I have finally hit 20,000 words. This puts me about 11,000 words behind where I should be. But I am feeling a lot more confident that I am going to make this work this year.

I realize the name probably sounds like something that has knights and dragons in it, but the story really is about a guy in DC who is facing the prospect of getting married, having a kid, and finally growing up. It's not at all autobiographical, unless you count me filling it virtually completely with my life experiences as autobiographical. Oh, the protagonist's name is not Tim this time. I'm considering calling him Sam Small in honor of my father. Sam Small was Dad's example student when he taught art in Silsbee.

Thank god for insomnia. I wouldn't finish anythng if I was a regular sleeper.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Signed up from the HAT Run 50K

I signed up for my first ultramarathon today; the HAT Run 50K. It'll be at 9 AM, Saturday March 21, 2009 in Susquehanna State Park, Maryland. I'm pretty psyched!

NaNoWriMo Day 18: 15,369 words

Man, I rocked and rolled today on this. My deployment to Austin really knocked a hole in my time to write, and I have been seriously worried about how I was going to make National Novel Writing Month work this year. The thing is, I hate ever being a DNF (Did Not Finish). So I sacrificed a little sleep (well, a lot of sleep) and put in over 6,500 words-- about five days worth of writing today. I wrote before work, during my lunch hour, and a really long time after Sonia and Daniel went to bed.

I have to say that I'm pleased. I had story elements come out of nowhere. Two more of my minor supporting characters turned out to have really interesting back stories that I ended up explaining (even though I invented these characters, I'm finding out more about them all the time).

Well, I'm about to fall asleep sitting up, so I'm headed for bed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leaving Texas

It looks like my time here in Beaumont is coming to a close. Unexpectedly I am being pulled back to DC. I'm really happy to be heading home to Sonia and Daniel, but I'm a little sad about leaving my home town so soon. I feel like I wasn't here long enough. I got to hang out with my cousin Becky and my friend Ginger, and I'll have dinner with my brother Pancho tonight. But I didn't get a chance to see my buddy Troy (In case you're googling Troy Soileau, all of the rumors about the chickens are damned lies). And I still haven't gotten to Lumberton at all. I'll have to see if I can pull through there before I go.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Beaumont, Texas - A little run in the Big City

I'm on a project with FEMA here in Beaumont, Texas. This was the "big city" when I was living in Lumberton as a kid. I forgot how much I like this place.

I'm staying at my cousin Becky's house, which isn't far from downtown Beaumont. I went out with my new $30 Montrails! and my twitchy calf and went for a short run this morning. Tha calf held up-- it's a little stiff now, so now I'm worried about what's going to happen on 20 November 2008 when I run in the Northern Central Trail Marathon. I might have to lay off for another week to see if it comes around.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Miniscule tiny short run/New Shoes/Beaumont!

I ran here in Austin two days ago in the Walnut Creek Park.  It was a really pretty run, but my left calf started acting up just before I stopped (well, about three miles before I stopped).  When I got up yesterday, I had planned to go out for a long run-- I had a route mapped out for 22 miles.  My calf just said nooooo.  So I took the day off.

But I did have a stroke of good luck yesterday afternoon.  I had gone to Rogue Running, aterrific  running gear store here in Austin, in search of a long sleeve shirt to run in.  It is colder here than I expected!  I didn't find a shirt, but in the SALE pile, I found a pair of Montrail Vitesses for $30.  It was like finding the trail running holy grail.  I was checking them for nails inside and stuff-- I just couldn't believe it.  Of course I bought them, feeling very smug about wearing my $30 Montrails!.

I went out for a run this morning-- I meant to go for an hour and a half.  But as soon as I stepped out the door in my new $30 Montrails!, I realized there was a problem.  My left big toe was banging right up against the end of the shoe.  Darn, I thought (hey, this site is PG).  So I cut the run short right at 30 minutes.

At lunchtime I was able to take the shoes back to Rogue Running.  They took them back and gave me another pair of $30 Montrails! in exchange for free!  Fantastic!  Incredible!  No Sh*t!  So I left feeling doubly smug and very happy about life in general.  So if you're ever in Austin, go buy shoes or something at Rogue Running Gear.

When I got back to the FEMA shop, it turned out that the folks at the FEMA shop in Beaumont had requested someone to come do what I do.  So I'm going to go there early tomorrow morning and go do what I do there.  It will be cool, with any luck I'll be able to swing through Lumberton and see my buddy Troy and see my cousin Becky and brother Pancho in Beaumont.

NaNoWriMo Day 10: Behind, but catching up

We are ten days into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  To make 50,000 words by the end of the month, I should have written 16,670 words.  I woke up this morning with 900 words... but I also had three pretty good characters and an idea.

I got up early this morning and put in a couple of hours writing, and this evening I put in some more.  I've decided to structure my novel somewhat on the same lines as George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and write each chapter from a differing character's viewpoint.  I like this because it avoids making the story too neatly lopsided to one character.

The storyline has gotten out of my hands and is firmly in my characters' wills now.  I was determined to make two of my characters hate each other but they seem to have fallen in love.  One of my incidental characters (a waiter) just pushed his way into a major supporting role.  And two of my characters just jumped in the sack together.

Anyway, my word count is at 5,561 now, so I did about three day's writing today.  And I'm pleased and proud and for the first time this month I think I can actually do this.   At this point, I must.  I actually am anxious to see how the story turns out.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Austin Trail Running

I'm still in Austin working on Hurricane Ike for FEMA. I'm staying at a hotel right across from Austin's Walnut Creek Park. I finally managed to get out for a run this morning in the park. We've been working 14 hour days since I got here, and I'm just now getting adjusted to that.

On the map the park doesn't look like much. On the ground, though, it has some really terrific trails. The trails are for real, too-- they aren't glorified sidewalks. I was having to slow down a lot to get down some of the bigger downhills without falling face first. I really enjoyed the run.

I got kind of lost out there and was having a hard time finding civilization-- a perfect thing to have happen on a trail run. But I needed to get back to go to work (we're working 7 days a week now). I finally broke out and headed toward the highway. I ran along and saw several things on the side of the road: a second hand tire shop ("Llantas Usadas Fiables")... then I saw a spent shotgun shell... and finally a flattened armadillo road kill.

I love Texas.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gone To Texas

FEMA is sending me to Austin for a couple of weeks to work on the recovery effort for Hurricane Ike.  I ended up leaving earlier than I thought-- my 6am flight had me out of bed at 3:30.  We stayed up and watched the returns last night-- looks like I have a new boss-- so I got about two hours of sleep.

I feel surprisingly fresh.

I'm not happy about leaving Sonia and Daniel for two weeks.  But this is part of the job with FEMA, and if this somehow relieves the suffering of someone, I feel good about it.  I'll actually have a little more time to build up my nanowrimo word count and to train for the marathon on the 28th-- I'm expecting 12 hour days, but the other 12 will be fairly obligation free (guess I have to sleep sometime, though!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stop what you're doing and go participate in history

Today is election day.  If you don't know that, you probably aren't registered and may as well go back to sleep.  Pleasant dreams.

For the rest of you, there is a great Google Map that will show you exactly where your polling place is, take you to the web site of your local board of elections, etc.

I got up at 5:00 am this morning and got to the polls at 5:30.  I was the first person at the polls, but within 15 minutes there was a line of 20, and when the polls opened at 7:00 am there were hundreds of people in line.  It made me damn proud to see how many people wanted to vote.

When I was in Seychelles as a Peace Corps volunteer, they had the first democratic elections after 17 years.  People went wild.  It was near 100% voter turnout, and might have ended up being more that 100% as many tried to scrub the ink off their thumbs and go back.

So who did I vote for?  If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll notice that I don't blog on politics any more.  Read this for further details.  In any case, I voted for who I thought was best.  Go do that, too, whoever you believe that may be.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

22 Miles - 17 minutes faster!

I'm continuing with my crazy-assed plan of running 22 miles every Sunday for a while to see what will happen (any guesses as to what will happen?  It starts with "I" and ends with "njury").  I got up at 4:45 am so I could get my run done before Daniel and Sònia where up and around.  Hmmm, one of the signs of addiction is hiding the behavior-- maybe I'll start hiding my long runs in toilet tanks and behind books in the bookshelf...

Anyway, Daylight Savings Time is over so I kind of got up at 5:45 am my time, so it wasn't as horrible.  If you're finding that you're not on time for anything today, you might need to adjust your watch!

The trail was silent, no one on it at first.  Last week I was dodging bikers and other runners the whole way, today I was alone for long stretches.  I found it very easy to stay concentrated on my environment, being in the moment.  I found that this got progressively harder to maintain as I got more tired.  But I was pleased with how easily I got it back.  At the very beginning of the Capital Crescent Trail I saw an animal moving around by the trail ahead in the darkness.  I tried to figure out what it was and was pretty much right on top of it when I realized it was a young deer.  The deer just looked at me.  I just did my "Hi Deer, you stay over there and I'll stay over here and this is going to turn out just fine" bit.  It never really moved away.

I was cooking today.  Last week I finished this route in 3:31 and today I finished in just 3:13-- 17 minutes faster!  Part of this is that I know the trail better and missed one false turn (though I still made a different wrong turn).  Part of it is that I know I can do this distance and I was confident that I could press the pedal a little more.  But I have to think that part of the improvement was simply that I have improved: I'm actually a little faster.  Fast enough that I was running 8:59 miles the whole 22 miles.  A few months back I could only sustain 10:00 miles for about 12 miles.  I am feeling smug.

As far as National Novel Writing Month, I squeaked out 366 words yesterday-- not 1,667.  Sigh.  Being a dad cuts into this kind of thing.  But I have a story!  It's gonna have it all-- runnin' and meditatin' and goin' to them meetins' (I've been watching that palurda Palin and now my "g's" don't work)  And I've made a decision-- I'm going to have to give up my reading club coordination duties for the month.  Basically that will make the time necessary to get this thing finished off.  I had a blast doing this last year, and I am looking forward to getting my word count going this afternoon when I get a little time alone-- as long as I don't fall asleep from my run as soon as I'm by myself.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

National Novel Writing Month starts today - Killer leg cramp

I got up this morning knowing that something was happening-- daylight savings time? nope, that's tomorrow.  Payday?  yep, but that's not really as special as it should be.  Then it hit me-- the first day of November-- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has started!  Arg!

I haven't thought about a story-- on the other hand, that's not necessary or even desireable.  But what I am freaking out about is the time commitments I'm on: I'm a member of two book clubs who meet this month, and reading time competes with writing time.  I'm training for the Northern  Central Trail Marathon on the 29th, and running time competes with writing time.  And I'm a FEMA Branch Chief and working time definitely competes with writing time.

What the hell, I'm still going to do it.  Just have to write 1,667 words today.  That's easy.

Last night I woke up with a huge cramp in my left calf muscle.  I felt like someone was ripping my calf muscle off.  It's my own damn fault.  I went into the gym yesterday and lifted like crazy.  I changed my routine to emphasize endurance more, so I'm doing 3 sets of 20 reps of everything.  That last set is pretty awful.  Hopefully this will get a little easier over the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Signed up for the Northern Central Trail Marathon!

I just took the plunge and signed up for the Northern Central Trail Marathon.  It's a 26.2 mile trail marathon (duh) that runs on 29 November 2008, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I've been wanting to do a longer trail race, either a half or a full marathon, in anticipation of going longer.  If this goes well, my next long race would be the HAT run 50K 21 March 2009.

But that's thinking pretty far ahead.  Right now I'm thinking about the immensity of just having signed up for a marathon for the coming month.  I mean, I am pretty sure I'm in good enough shape to do this (my long run is 22 miles now), but I feel like there should have been more... ceremony about this.  Like I would have decided a year ago that I was going to do this marathon.  On the other hand, my real goal is to be in good enough shape that I could run a marathon with little or no preparation.

One of the things I liked on the race webpage was the warning that bow hunting season will be in full swing when the run starts up, so we should wear bright colors.  Yowzah!
Anyway, I'll probably be getting sized for crutches pretty soon at this rate...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Give Dean Karnazes his due - 13 miles

Sònia was teaching tonight so I had a couple extra hours after work.  I ran from FEMA Headquarters to our house in Woodley Park via the Capital Crescent Trail and Mass Ave, right at 13 miles (  Hmm, I'm going to have to start mixing up my routes just so I'll have different stuff to blog about.

I felt really strong, which is weird considering that I ran 22 miles just day before yesterday.  I guess this is becoming a less and less big deal with so much interest in Ultras.  I have to say, the existence of ultras has kind of cracked my mind open on the idea of how far I could possibly run.  When I finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 1990, I swore I'd never do another Marathon.  I had one friend, Fuzzy, who ran ultras, and we all thought he was insane.

This month's TrailRunner magazine has an article about the ultra boom and how it is changing ultras.  Oddly enough (or perhaps typically), the article does not mention Dean Karnazes.  That pisses me off.  I realize that Dean is controversial, as he is in the press a lot, self-promotes, etc.  But the fact is that I never would have considered training for an ultra if I had not read his book, Ultramarathon Man.  I am pretty sure that of the zillions of folks training for ultras now a good proportion got interested in the same way.  Arguably the readership of TrailRunner magazine has expanded a lot because of the interest in the sport that he raised.  But there exists some sort of taboo about mentioning Karnazes as a serious athlete in the ultra press.  I read a blog in which the author was gleeful because Dean didn't break a record he had set out to break.  That's messed up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

National Novel Writing Month starts in five days!

Last year I participated in (and won!) National Novel Writing Month for the first time.  I wrote a 50,000 word manuscript called Awake-- a coming of age story set at the Naval Academy.  It wasn't about me (okay, yeah it was).

So in four days I'm going to start writing my second manuscript.  I don't know what the book will be about.  I don't know where I will set it.  I do know that I can't write another coming-of-age-at-Canoe-U book (nor would I want to).  It might be about running....

The fact is that I won't know what I'm writing about until I sit down to write it.  That's how I did it last year-- in fact, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to write about and it changed as I started writing.

You may be wondering if you could do this.  You can.  You are not too busy to write the page and a half a day required to complete 50,000 words in one month.  Believe me: I'm a father, I'm a runner, I go to those meetings a lot... I'm a busy guy.  But like they say, if you're already doing a million things, the million and first won't make that much of a difference.  So I encourage you to join me on the sordid corpse-strewn highway that is novelling.  Go to to get started.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

22 Miles - Help me hear your work

I decided to try and incorporate a really long run on Sundays. So this morning I rolled out of bed at 5 am and finally hit trail at 5:30. It was really dark out when I took off down Rock Creek Parkway from Woodley Park. When I got to Water Street in Georgetown I ran into a bunch of Marines who were preparing the route for the Marine Corps Marathon. I greeted them loudly and then promptly hit an uneven patch of pavement and went down hard. I could feel I had banged my left knee a bit but didn't think it was too bad. It turns out I was wrong, I took a pretty good patch of skin off of my knee.

I hit the trailhead for the Capital Crescent Trail and ran all the way to Mass Ave before the sun came up. I was very happy I had a tail light and a flashlight. Even before the sun comes up the Crescent is pretty busy.

I was carrying gel for the first time. I opted for Clif Shots because they had non-caffeinated chocolate. I'm trying to avoid caffeine. I have to say that they really helped a lot. I ate a Clif Shot at about one an hour, and the first one left me amazed. I was starting to go into a little decline at the hour mark, but after the gel, I felt really great.I continued on the Capital Crescent until it met up with the Rock Creek Parkway again and followed the RCP all the way home. Rock Creek was stunning today, so achingly beautiful that I was running along and laughing. When I run I really try to concentrate on my surroundings and it was terrific to do so today. The only trouble I had was that I kept thinking of music. I know this sounds innocuous, but I have a spiritual belief that I owe it to my higher power to try to appreciate whatever surroundings he/she/it has prepared for me. So I found myself running along, thinking, "help me to hear your work". It helped. The creek has a lovely murmur and I was able to concentrate on that.

The route ended up being right at 22 miles ( I forgot to track about a half-mile detour I took when I got lost finding the RCP from the Crescent. I finished right at 3:31, which works out to 9:35 miles, which I was very happy with. I finished feeling pretty strong, and it occurred to me that I only had to run four more miles to run a marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon was today, so I could have signed up. Next year, I guess.

I did my fifth step yesterday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lighter week running (so far)/Look out for overtraining!

This week has been a little lighter running, so far.  I was ready to run 21 miles on Tuesday night-- it would have been from FEMA on to the entire Capital Crescent Trail, then back down Connecticut Ave to home in Woodley Park.  But Sonia called just as I was getting to Bethesda and she wasn't feeling well.  So I hopped on the metro at Friendship Heights and hurried home.  I fixed dinner and put her in bed and the next morning she was doing a lot better.

So that night was just 13 miles.  Today I hit the gym and lifted, nothing crazy.  I'm thinking about trying to alternate long and short weeks and fill in in the gym on my shorter weeks anyway.  Like I said to Sonia, it's likely that I'll just end up doing long weeks and going to the gym anyway.  No, seriously, I just read a great article in this month's TrailRunner Magazine about overtraining.  Pretty scary stuff-- if you really ignore it, you can get great things like Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome!  So get your sleep and eat enough.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vamos 5K: 22:25 - How I got low cholesterol!

This was a race for my kid's school. I was pretty happy with the time-- there was a killer hill right at the beginning of the course that really made me wish I had been training hills. But good. 7:13 miles.

One nice thing-- they did a health fair after the run and I got my cholesterol checked. Six months ago I had it checked and it was at 225. The nurse practitioner told me she would have to put me on medication to reduce my cholesterol if I couldn't get it down. Today I tested it and it was at 150. Really very good.

Here's how I did it:

  1. Oatmeal and fruit every morning
  2. Metamucil twice a day
  3. 1000 mgs of Flax Oil a day
  4. No eggs (I now eat egg beaters or eggs with no yolks)
  5. I read the label on everything and tried to keep my cholesterol and saturated fat as low as possible.
  6. I ran and lifted a lot. My mileage is between 25-40 miles a week and I was lifting vigorously a couple times a week.
It probably had no direct effect, but I also started to avoid sugary foods and caffeine. They don't contribute directly to my cholesterol, but when my sugar levels get off I tend to eat garbage, i.e. cholesterol.

Disclaimer: this is what worked for me, your results may vary, I'm a computer programmer, not a doctor, please don't sue me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two hours trying to concentrate (trying, trying...)

I ran from FEMA to our house tonight via the Capital Crescent trail.  The change of seasons is so much closer to you when you run.  I ran the same basic route just a week ago and it was much lighter out.  By the time I turned off onto Massachusetts, it was pitch black out.  A biker passed me on trail and griped me out for not having a light.  I deserved it.

When I run I try to stop thinking.  I have an unruly mind.  It's not that I have so many important things to think about, I just roll along, thinking, worrying, thinking of music (I'm listening to the guitar solo from Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way right now).  I never give it a rest.  So I'm never fully present in the moment I'm in.

I try to get away from that when I run.  I listen to the sounds around me and try to hear the sounds, and not my impression of the sounds.  I'm very seldom successful at this venture.  I'm horrible at sitting meditation for just this reason.  In a two hour run, I probably manage about five really good minutes when I'm not worrying about something.  When running, only running.  Yep, I'll get right on that (as soon as I'm done worrying about....)

Monday, October 13, 2008

43.7 Mile Week!

I just tallied up my mileage for the week:

2008.10.0218.5 Miles
2008.10.084.5 Miles
2008.10.0912.3 Miles
2008.10.106.3 Miles
2008.10.117 Miles
2008.10.126.3 Miles
2008.10.137.3 Miles
Total:43.7 Miles!

As far as I can remember, I've never put in that kind of mileage.

Two thoughts occurred to me when I tallied up my mileage:
1) Next week I'll be blogging about some new injury I've provoked by ramping up too fast (KIDS: Don't try this at home. Tim is being foolish.), and
2) That 7 miler I did this morning really wasn't a big deal at all.

On point two, I finished off my run this morning and realized that running six or seven miles just isn't all that big of a deal to me now. I was setting up my schedule a couple years ago and the thought of a six miler was always kind of a grind. Now it's just another run, and I'm pretty sure I could do that again tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do you remember... Jodies?

TBS, July 1986
I probably was the least likely candidate to be a Marine Officer.  I mean, I'm really glad I did it now.  I'm proud I was a Marine.  I'm proud I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and that I worked for Oracle and that I lived in Barcelona five years... but being a Marine was in a different class.  My memories of the Marine Corps get fonder the older I get.  I loved my Marines, I remember every Marine who worked for me.  Trouble is, I think war is a bad way to solve problems-- in the words of the Dalai Lama, war has become old fashioned.  I'm with him.

I ran the route from FEMA to my house today.  It's about six miles home.  I had to take some stuff home with me so I filled up my backpack and started out.  So I was running along with my backpack and some guy I passed yelled out "OORAH".  I thought-- yep, I'm a guy with a crewcut running with a backpack-- guess I fit the description.  It reminded me of jodies.

Jodies are the Marine equivalent to Gregorian Chants.  They're the rhythms that Marines march and run to.  They start out with, "C-130 rollin' down the strip...", "A yellow bird with a yellow bill...", "Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon..."  Man, I started getting homesick for the Marines, which pretty much never happens to me.

Just then I passed a bunch of tourists.  They all had white shoes and visors and cameras around their necks.  DC is a big deal to them.  I guess it was for me, too, when I got here the first time in 1989.  Anyway, they all got in line and started to march off-- and one of them started calling out a call-and-response jodie.  Weird.

Running with a backpack was good.  I hadn't done it for a long time.  It screwed up my stride and made me feel the run in different parts of my legs than normal.  In TBS we ran 12 miles every day with fifty pound packs and our weapons.  How the hell did we do that?  One of the other things I forget about the Marines-- it taught me what the limits of my capabilities were.  And those limits are generally further out than you think.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I don't do anything halfway!

I went out for a two hour run yesterday. I ran for about an hour on the mall and out to Rock Creek Parkway up to Dupont Circle, then made my way back to the mall at the State Department, ran very fast with my friends Mike and Kevin for about 40 minutes, and then ran back home to Woodley Park.

Sonia asked me last night if it was healthy for me to run that far. She suggested that I take a more moderate approach. I thought about it for a moment and laughed, "but I just don't do things that way!" It's true. I don't just learn Spanish and decide to order in Spanish in Mexican restaurants-- I move to Spain for five years and marry a Spanish woman. I don't just decide to take a weekend bike trip-- I out of the blue decide I'm going to ride from Natchez, Mississippi to Washington, DC.

I just seem to have a history of spontaneously doing crazy, over-the-top stuff. This probably qualifies me for some kind of weird mental disorder.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A little medical story

Predictably, I didn't get away with my three and a half hour run without injury. My lower back can be a little iffy, and running that much makes little imbalances really turn into big deals. So I limped over to the chiropractor.

As usual, they required a medical history. They asked about previous injuries and operations. I thought a while and wrote:

  • snakebite (11 y/o)
  • trauma to base of neck from a failed somersault (no fracture)
  • 75% rupture to knee ligament (ACL) from Tae Kwon Do accident
  • shoulder injury (pickup football)
  • elbow injuries (both elbows; fell down stairs)
  • strangled (fist fight while in Peace Corps)
  • nostril pimples (just kidding)
Two things occurred to me: 1) The doctor was going to think that I make my living as a (small) Ultimate Fighting Championship guy and, 2) It's pretty much a miracle that I'm alive.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

18.5 mile run: 3:36

I took the day off from work today-- I'm a little burnt out after this hurricane season.  I goofed off, read about a hundred pages of John M. Barry's excellent Rising Tide about the Mississippi flood of 1927, and generally didn't do much.  After lunch with Sònia I was pretty set that I was going to take a nice long nap.

But something odd happened.  I remembered I meant to run with some friends from the State Department at 6:30 pm.  It was 2:30.  I thought, I could go for a really long run and meet up with them after.

Before I knew what I was doing I had headed out the door.  I wasn't sure how long I would go out, but I had just under four hours before I met up with my friends.  I headed out to the Rock Creek Park trail and entered the old Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown.  I was feeling good then, just enjoying being outdoors.  It rained a little-- I always have loved running in the rain.

I turned off on Massachusetts Avenue and hit the first hills of the run right at about an hour and a half.  I was unhappy about this.  I started to question the wisdom of my decision to run this far, my own sanity, and whether I was a good person or not.  About then I saw a CVS, where I stopped and had a Clif bar and some Gatorade.  Suddenly everything seemed brighter.  Hunger is bad, real bad.

I basically looped around through Georgetown until I finally ended up at State where I met up with my friends, Kevin, Mother, and Richard.  Kevin and Mother were feeling fast, and Richard wanted to take it easy, so I hung with him.  We chugged along for about a half an hour.  After that we went for a huge plate of burritos at Santa Fe in Rosslyn.

In the end I had run about three and a half hours.  Had I gone for about 15 minutes more I would have been out as long as I was for the Marine Corps Marathon in 1990.  I'm stiff-- but nowhere near as destroyed as I was after the Marathon.  I wonder why that is.  Probably be sore tomorrow, though.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dan's 7th Birthday

Dan turned seven today! We sang "Happy Birthday/Cumpleaños Feliz" to him at the top of our lungs and he blew out the candles while he was still in bed.
It was weird to think that just seven years ago we became parents as well. He was so tiny and we were so unprepared. Funny how it all works out, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

5000 Days

We absolutely insist on enjoying life - Page 13215 January 1995 was 5000 days ago. So much has changed since then. To put it lightly, most things weren't turning out too well.

A lot of things have changed-- just about everything is better. One thing that has been constant all along has been my running. If anything, I run more now. I'm slower and older, but it means a lot more to me.

I went trail running with some good friends this weekend in Rockville. We got scratched and dirty and I ran into a branch that left a good bruise on my forehead. Heaven.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"The House That Ike Broke"

My Brother just sent us pictures of the house I grew up in in Lumberton. Ike dropped a tree on it (Rita dropped a tree on the same house in 2005). This inspired me to write a little poem:

"The House that Ike Broke"

This is the House that Ike broke

This is the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

This is the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

This is the the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

This is the Check
That paid off the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

This is the Agency
That wrote the Check
That paid off the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

This is the Son
Who works for the Agency
That wrote the Check
That paid off the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

These are the Taxes
That pay the Son
Who works for the Agency
That wrote the Check
That paid off the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

These are the Bills
That ate up the Paycheck
Of the Son
Who works for the Agency
That wrote the Check
That paid off the Contractor
That removed the Tree
That lay on the Roof
Of the House that Ike broke

(Next year I'll write another one called "This is the House that Ida broke" or something like that)

Run: Capital Mall, 6.75 miles, 60 minutes even

I haven't blogged a run for a while, but I'm really happy about this run. I just was going to go out for an easy 40 minutes at lunchtime, but it was a pretty overcast day and I felt good. When I ran up to the Capitol and looked back over to the Washington Monument, I just thought, yeah, I'm running there. So I took off towards the obelisk.

There really are a lot of runners here in DC. Pretty serious about it, too. That's motivating. I mostly run by myself, but I like seeing other runners out there. When I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1990, I gravitated to a group of Marines including a Gunnery Sergeant who could not have been more than 5'5" but who was convinced that he was going to win this thing. We all stood in a circle shouting OORAH at each other until the starting gun went off. We took off like the race was 100 yards long. At the first split the Gunny and I had run a 6:15 mile! I had planned on running 10 minute miles for the entire marathon. I shouted over at him, "Gunny, we gotta slow down!" We did; the next split was a 6:45. I paid for that later-- my last miles were like 18 minutes I think. But I guess you could say I lived before I died.

Anyway, back to today. When I got to the Washington Monument, I realized I could possibly get to the Lincoln Memorial before 30 minutes were up, turn around and make an even hour. So I kept going.

Mind that just a few weeks ago I was running five minutes, walking one minute to avoid re-injuring my tender hamstring. Today it didn't seem to be a problem. When I hit the gas my legs just responded. So I went with it. As it turns out, I did a reverse split and ended up back at the Capitol at just 45 minutes. I ran back towards FEMA HQ and did loops around the block to make up the hour.

I mapped out the course on gmap-pedometer ( and was surprised to see it came out to just at 6 3/4 miles. Cool. I figured I had maybe done five. That works out to 8'53" miles, which is a good deal quicker than my usual ten minute mile. Oorah.