Training break #193

24 11 2010

In the end we have no choice but to follow our own voice, even though we might not like it very much.

— Andrew Keeling

Rockledge Rumble 50K race report

15 11 2010

Finally, another official finish. I haven’t finished an ultra since my first 100-mile finish at Rocky Raccoon in February 2009, so this was quite awhile coming.

I still feel like I’m regaining “ultra fitness” and relearning a lot of other things. Pacing is definitely one of my hardest lessons. After crashing and burning at Palo Duro in October thanks to an overaggressive start, I took the foot way off the accelerator for Rockledge – a smidgen over five hours for the first 18.5 miles or so. That’s pretty much the slowest I’ve ever paced myself in any race, but I finished the last 12.5 miles in under 2 ½ hours. Quite an unbalanced negative split, and in retrospect I probably could have paced the first 18.5 about a minute faster per mile or more. In any event, precise pacing at a race like Rockledge is almost impossible because of the winding, constant up-and-down course profile. As the race director said, “this is not an easy 50K.” And I don’t know if I’ll ever be that competent on trail – I simply don’t run them enough in training.

But there I am getting too caught up in the numbers. Hey, I finished! And it was definitely worth the handmade finisher’s medal (a unique fired ceramic — tried to post a photo, but it’s not working.). The good folks who organize the race, supported by North Texas Trail Runners, make this event feel like a big family reunion and are the nicest bunch of race directors and volunteers you can possibly imagine. I felt they were holding me all day long, and I never had to worry about anything but putting one foot slowly, steadily in front of the other. Deep bows to all of them.

Feeling no more than the usual post-race soreness today, and looking forward to this 12-hour race the first weekend of December … half a day moving in a one kilometer circle. These “gerbil wheel” events are, oddly enough, some of my favorites and the ultra format that I typically do best in. I always think of them as ultra kinhin. Let’s hope this one feels that way!

20 blows with a stick

12 11 2010

Reading my “bedtime koan” from Dogen’s Shinji Shobobenzo collection (in addition to whatever koan I’m currently working on, I often enjoy reading koans like bedtime stories) .. to paraphrase a bit:

A younger master was attending a senior master when two monks passed by.

“Those are very promising students,” the younger master said.

“I wouldn’t say that,” the senior master said.

“What would you say?” the younger master asked.

“They should be struck twenty times with a stick at once,” the senior master said.

The younger master saw the potential; the senior master understood the hard work. Potential rains down everywhere in an incessant hopeful storm, and talk is as cheap as paperclips. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,” said legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. “Just do it,” a certain shoe company sagely urged, in a rare Zen moment. You see the shining finisher’s medal and the applause of the crowd, but do you really see the rugged trail itself? The endless dull miles of training, the ache in your legs, the pain in your chest?

Potential is the stuff of dreams, but twenty blows with the stick is the hard inescapable truth. And yet, to willingly receive the twenty blows of truth, we have to be convinced of our potential. We have to start with an ending in mind, but we can’t dream ourselves to the finish line.

The younger master’s mistake was in thinking that his training was over. The senior master’s gift was another twenty blows with a stick. Thank you sir, may I have another!

Training Break #192

5 11 2010

Take them away, names like Buddhism. I’m impatient with them. There’s something beyond all that, beneath all that, that they all share, that they all come from. They are branches from a single root. And that’s what one has to pay attention to.

— W. S. Merwin, Tricycle Winter 2010 issue

Surprise guests and a new miracle cure

5 11 2010

Waiting around with a few of our regulars for the Thursday night sit to begin, we were startled when the door opened and four Zen monks quietly walked in (no, this isn’t the setup to a joke) — two older Japanese men and a taller, younger western man, along with a younger Japanese man, all dressed in hardcore Zen sitting regalia. Turns out the younger men were monks while the two older men were abbots of Zen monasteries in Japan. They had missed their connecting flight, looked us up online, and asked if they could join our sit. Sure thing! So, we all sat together for an hour and a half, after which we chanted the Verse of Purification and said our thank yous/goodbyes.

I let them set the pace for kinhin and it was very slow, almost surreal — imagine starting to raise your heel off the floor, then raising it, then bringing it back down to touch the floor again, all happening in close to over half a minute. For me, it brought a much deeper meditative feel to kinhin and was quite wonderful.

Afterwards they apologized for setting such a slow pace without asking first, but we assured them we had enjoyed it. “That’s about twice as fast as we normally do it,” the younger man said. Wow! And the best part is, I found myself wanting to do everything slower the rest of the evening. And I’m still doing them slower this morning.

Ultra-slow kinhin is my new miracle cure. Although I might need to speed things up a bit for races.

Running to Harvard (from Vienna, Austria)

4 11 2010

Not a lot to say here lately, but I’m pleased to say that every so often I get an email from someone thanking me for Run With Mu. I’m always appreciative of these emails and respond to them all. RWM is pretty far off most major blog radars, and readership, while healthy, is small and grown organically. RWM is, to be frank, written mostly for me — this is really not much more than a personal running and Zen practice journal. When RWM resonates with someone else and they tell me about it, I’m always a little surprised and very grateful.

Anyway, the most recent person to write had an interesting story that I thought I’d share. Vlad is on a challenging and inspirational life journey and, yes, he is asking for your support. But the story is worth reading for its own sake, and I (and perhaps you) will want to wish him all of the peace and strength he will need.


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