Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Dwyer Underbelly

Our target market 
is the man who can cut a hole in his roof 
while his wife is watching. 

- Owner of a do-it-yourself skylight company 
(that is probably not in business) 

While I'm nursing an ankle injury I suffered at Spartan Race three weeks ago, I'm not feeling very manly. I thought I'd try practicing the art of follow-through. Follow-through is the "six-pack abs" of virtues, and I've always had a beer belly when it comes to this one. So, today's show and tell is the equivalent of me moving beyond the wimpiness of my air brushed metaphysical abs. Besides, when your 1920s home has yet another clog, there's only so many times your manhood can bear your wife asking you, "Do you want me to call my dad?" This is rock bottom. It's what brings a man to resolve. 

A man sharing his plumbing project with the internet, is as naked and self-revelatory as you can get. It's the underbelly of his underfanny. Literally, when the pooper clogs, life clogs. Constipation of his pipes is constipation of his life. It's scary and emasculating. Constipation in life is what I regard as THE fundamental disease. It's stuckness. Lack of freedom. Lack of flow. It's trappedness. It's frustration. It's creation of walls and boundaries and borders and categories and classes and stale concepts and biases. It's entrapment in wells and pits of despair and ruts and inertia and shit in brains as much as shit in pipes. It's belief in permanence, in isolation. Fundamentally, it's a deception. 

Now, I'm NOT the kind of handy-manly man who rents a concrete saw for a weekend to cut a hole in his basement slab. Even less I'm I the man who digs a 10 foot trench to rebuild broken sewage lines while my wife watches. That's why I waited till Susie was 5500 miles away, in Istanbul Turkey.  Fundamentally, I HAD to try to unstick my stuckness. I HAD to agitate the system. I HAD to buy a sledgehammer and seismically shift things to the astral plane. 
Hi Honey! Have fun at Suleyman Mosque. We miss you.
Look what we did with the house while you were gone.

BEFORE - The 4" PVC ran above the slab. It was my plumber-endoresed temporary fix
while I saved money to pay for a safety net in the event that my DIY project went awry.

THE PROBLEM - one of many 1920's clay pipe joints that is broken and/or clogged with roots

MID PROCESS - It's beginning to come together. Plumbing is like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.
I have no spatial intelligence, so I had to call in help from a friend who's dad is a master plumber.
AFTER-- a smooth basement floor with a sewage line and floor drain that work!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hurry Up and Die Before You're Dead Rites of Passage

Everybody loves a Pee-Wee with a bow tie.
Sometimes I meet a particular person at a social event in Cincinnati and I can't stop daydreaming about driving them to the edge of the closest wilderness, booting them out of the car, tossing them a knife with clear instructions: "Don't come back uncircumcised...or circumcised...whichever! Just please do something in some bloody way. It's like, "Jeeze, man! Expand your experience (and mine)-- I've asked you like six questions in a row and you haven't the slightest clue how to reciprocate!" 

If you're a transplant to Cincinnati, then you know that we natives just can't seem to get past asking each other about what stupid high school we all went to. I'm sorry, but as a city, and as a tribe, we all need to put this cliquiness to bed. Rather, we need to put this cliquiness to death! There are lots of other habits in my city that I'm ready to put to death in some publicly ceremonial way, in order that something new and better and might live. Below is my first attempt at a "to kill" list.

To Kill
- Otherness fearing (cliquiness, racism, neighborhoodism, high schoolism, which side of city-ism or which side of the river-ism)
- Inertia (extreme conservatism, afraid of change-ism, love of un-spicy spaghetti-ism, Terrace Park speed trap-ism) 
- Soccer mom-ism (fear mongering and over-protection from germs, gays, transportation methods that don't have four wheels and sliding doors)
- OTR-worship
- OTR-hating
- OTR-obliviousness
- Complaining and blaming
- TV
- Use of the words "I'm bored"

I often ask myself, how would a motivated tribe put any of these bad habits to death? I thought of the Kalenjin people of Kenya. The Kalenjin are the ones that have amassed the disproportionate amount of long distance running Olympic medals. I've been giving a lot of thought to their coming of age ceremony and the whole concept of "rites of passage", whereby something old dies, maybe so that something new and more beautiful can take its place. 

"As a Kelenjin teenager-- boy or girl-- you have to go through an experience so painful, it's like a theatrical orgy of pain... and here's what happens... 
First you have to crawl naked through stinging nettles. And African stinging nettles are much much stingier than western stinging nettles... Your fingers are squeezed together... Then you get beaten on that bony part of your ankle where it really hurts... But all that is just warm up because then one morning comes the circumcision. Now we have some idea how circumcision works, maybe. Some of us are circumcised. But the Kalenjin circumcision happens somewhere right after puberty, so age 13-17. The foreskin is not only cut, but it's tied into a bow... A hole is cut in the top or the bottom of the foreskin and the head of the penis pushed through the hole... When he undergoes the operation, he is obliged to be absolutely stoical... In some versions of the ceremony, mud is caked on the face and allowed to dry. Then, if a crack appears in the mud...all the people around will know immediately to start to beat you with large sticks."

I've been informally polling friends and strangers about their own rites of passage growing up, and ways in which they've metaphorically tied their foreskins into a bow. My dad told me about "honeymooning" during his MBA and PhD studies with my mom through arctic Minnesota winters. Others told me about road trips where cars have blown up in the desert, or backpacking and missing trains in Europe. The vital ingredient seems to be some disequilibriating effect of adversity. The travail elicits a growth response or adaptation from it, and then a community grows together because of it.  

I've also been asking parents what they hope for in their kids in the way of rites of passage.  One father I met recently told me that he was determined to send his daughter to a new school, and NOT the one where he sat on the board of directors. "She's lived too cushy a life at this school. It's time for her to be stretched and challenged." I'm not a father or anything, but I can only imagine that his hope, in so many words, is that his daughter metaphorically gets her ass kicked just up to, but not quite beyond, the point of death (emphasis on metaphorically). Two of my brothers even told me about how formative it was for them getting their asses kicked on the streets of Brasil, not metaphorically. Poison is made poison merely by the dosage. 

I was just talking with my brother, Mike, about one of the most important deaths I ever died was to an era of self-pitying that typified my 20's. It was a period of sucking on a mother-teat of poison, called "try (but fail) to live up to other people's expectations." What I'm about to say has nothing to do with bragging, but I must give credit where credit is due. What pulled me through that micro-death-and-resurrection experience of my 20's had much to do with the act of completing my first Ironman. It's not that Ironman or my performance was this big impressive thing. But somehow it served as a kind of medicinal technology that enabled me to experience an act of slipping into my own skin-- a kind of incarnation into living within new expectations. It's left an enduring awareness to the gift of both my personal life-force as well as my absolute human frailty. 

Now, my current micro-death project, that I'm struggling to accept and die to, is my incessant what next?-thinking. I obsessively idealize the future and the way things "ought to be" while neglecting and dissing the present. I set lofty goals that look like check boxes left blank for months and even years. I latch on to outcomes that may never be rather than processes that ever are.

"Nice skin, man"
On a small scale, it manifests itself as my dreaming of tasting the orange while I peel it, dreaming of where I'll put the peel while I'm chewing it, dreaming of what I want to do next as I'm walking through my garden to feed the peel to the compost-- never quite savoring each moment for the beauty of itself. So, I'm left trying to figure out how a future-obsessed caterpillar metamorphes into a bow-tie-foreskinned butterfly, fully immersed in the garden around it.

If you have any ideas on rites of passage, I'd love to hear them. My muses remind me that usually, something therapeutic happens in the act of signing up for a race. It's like adding a magnetic field to the needle of an aimless compass. It somehow texturizes the dates on an otherwise formless calendar landscape. It schedules an encounter with my own mortality. There's one race I'm particularly drawn to in September, but also I fear that the in-the-flow moments I've been recently enjoying with friends on our trail runs and conversations with the studio run team suddenly devolve into loathsome "training" duties and future-preparing. But with every new race-adventure I get to do, the more I find that a spirit of adventure seems to inhabit the spaces between tasks not yet checked-off.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"I Run Because _____"

In the zone - chaneling my inner Fast of the Mohicans before the Flying Pig
 The elders say we must let go of the shore, 
push off into the middle of the river, 
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. 
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. 
For the moment that we do, 
our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. 
 Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary. 
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.
- Hopi Prophesy

The birds are chirping on this beautiful Saturday morning. The clothes washer and dishwasher are running. Oddly, I am not running. It’s my first Saturday since November that I haven’t. And it’s OK. Sure, there is a runner’s high that I’m missing out on today, but there is a not-giving-a-fuck-high that others are missing out on, and I’d like to talk about that.

“I run because _______________.”
(Fill in the blank)

The blank in the statement above is our own answer that coach Susie challenged Team S to search ourselves for in the weeks building up to the 2014 Flying Pig Marathon. My wife asked, “Do you have a response for that desperate moment in the marathon [life] where our bodies beg us to stop and our legs ask, ‘WHY DON’T YOU JUST CHECK OUT?!’”

Blank is the nucleus of that thing we run for. Why we trip, limp, and shuffle over hills. Why we rush home from work, foam-roll our hips, set alarm clocks for 4:30am, skip happy hour, do laundry, talk with strangers about cancer and lame jobs, freeze our butts off, get chaffed balls, and eat packets of slime and ibuprofen. Truth be told, I like this gig better than what those other guys are peddling.

Matching sub-zero eye lash icicles with my honey at 6 AM

Probably one zillion times, we've had an answer to a different question that goes something like this:

"I don't run because ___________."

Like an AK-47, our past experience has been able to fire blanks at machine gun pace-- BLANKITY BLANKITY BLANKITY BLANK!!!!  
I'm too tired. 
I'm not good enough.
I need to vacuum. 
My knees aren't built for it. 
I don't own technical fabrics or neon shoes. 
I need to save my energy for work tomorrow. 
My headphones pop out of my ears when the wiggling gets intense. 
My kids need me to supervise their TV watching. 
I don't know where I'm going. 
I'd rather do yoga and meditate. 

This is all just the hilarious strategy of the Resistance Mosquito buzzing around our ears and neck, trying to make a big deal out of the most trivial things. I'm not immune to it. But I found that the most effective bug spray to deal with my own internal Resistance is to move immediately to DEFCON 1.To always be in a posture of preparedness for Operation Dwy-raqi Freedom.It's least of all a matter of pent up aggression, but, as strange as it sounds...

I run because… 
fuck those motherfuckers!

I’m sorry…I mean—I’m just not sorry. My answer is not Chariots of Fire. It's more like Hell on Wheels.

We can all rest easier and thank the Lord that I have a trillion happy smiling cells inside my glorious body when I run. I certainly enjoy a delicious runner’s high as much as the next guy. That’s all fine and dandy. But we also owe it to God’s sense of humor, that there is a disillusioned, disgruntled particle inside of me who is sailing his ship toward a navigational beacon named FuckThisUtterNonsense North Star. I’ve come to believe it is my vocation-- that I have "a Calling" to be done giving a fuck about the big hairy bullshit that we pretend is important.  

What’s the alternative? To be giving a fuck? Because that’s just it—I really do, too. Running is somehow, for me, a spinning centrifuge, distilling life’s chaotic soup into purified essences—encounters with that which A) I deeply care about and want to fight for, and B) toxic sludge which is easily identifiable as total bullshit. You don’t need me to name the utter nonsense for you. For too long, I’ve puttzed around, spinning my wheels, half-caring about Super Bowl commercials and other people’s opinions, waiting for a Rescuer to arrive. Running, however, is the necessary agitation of the rabbit ear antennas on the old school TV, tuning into my own inner arrival. 

When I say "Fuck those motherfuckers," it's actually a joyous moment for me, conquering my inner paralysis. For whatever reason, I was born with a metaphysical mouthful of sand- a sensitivity to feel life's grist in a sharp and chronic way. I am a hopeless idealist, burdened by disappointment with the state of the world. So, when I say "Fuck those motherfuckers," it effectively re-programs the moment, snowballing my paralysis into affective action. I admit-- it comes across as a bit uncivil. But faith in this civilization is definitely not where I'm betting my money. F those MF-ers is the stoney seed from which so many of my life's fruits have come. It's a take-no-prisoner, make-no-compromise, convertible energy.

A couple years ago, I watched my quasi-nephew, Brady, be born dangerously premature, and the NICU nurses basically assured his worried parents, “You’re lucky he’s a rambunctious little bastard. He’s obviously got something he’s fighting for. His kicking and screaming are GOOD. He’s gonna be OK.” Brady is a sign of hope for me that my own inner-trauma can be fuel for my own life force.

On any given run, I have sober moments of clarity, where I realize that this fleshy skeleton sandwich I’m lurching around in is essentially cosmic dust whirling through a universe that is evaporating at the speed of light. That alone induces a runner’s high—the awareness of how non-essential my mortgage is. How cool is it that in this unfolding drama, I get to be a tiny pixel in the universe’s pressure relief valve, blowing off steam from the engine of her own creative process? I feel like a piece of sand, bouncing on a bass drum, on which the Milky Way Galaxy vibrates a pulse called rock n roll.

In the face of such awesomeness, what am I supposed to do –  NOT run with a Kid-N-Play-Mullet-Mohawk?
NOT anymore.
HERE is the mullet-hawk.
EVERTHING is in question.
NOTHING is a given.
LIFE is too short.
FUCK cancer.
FUCK the war on cancer.
FUCK the fucking of the war on cancer.
DEATH is inevitable.
THE TATTOO has arrived.
SKIN is not so serious.
LOVE is getting bigger. 
BOSTON is in the bag!!!
A happy 10 yr anniversary "Team S" tattoo never hurt no one. My wife wanted one with a "C", but it actually hurt like hell and I vetoed her romantic gesture.

Flying Pig Race Report - All the Deets, ONLY IF YOU'RE THAT BORED
After coming up just shy of my Boston qualifying time at the Pig last year, having to run the last two miles without shoes, getting ushered to the medical tent for dehydration - I really wanted to train and race smart for the Pig this year. Almost as soon as last year's race was over, I set an aggressive goal to run it in 2:50, which would be a 15 minute PR over my 2013 time. That's pretty bone-headed irresponsible. But fuck those motherfuckers, right? Bone-headed irresponsible is fun. I was busy playing Monday morning quarterback, kicking myself for high-fiving singing Elvis at mile 6 in Eden Park, mooning Harvey's 3:05 pace group, chatterboxing with Franklin all dang day, and not scouting the course better. 

If 2013 was a clown parade, 2014 would be many times more calculated and down to business. I started building a broader aerobic base in October, basically kicking off training with the famous Mt. Airy Stone Steps race. I ran more quality miles (and more junk miles), averaging 50-60 per week, peaking in the 80s. I asked for coaching help from my good friend, The Professor, Matt. I was religious about speed work, building gradually, even through the iciest winter in my memory. I supplemented running with mid-week weights sessions with Susie. I converted my desk at work to be a standing desk. (I'm not convinced the standing desk was a net positive contribution, although there were days where I know it helped keep me from getting kinked up in knots and injuries. Mostly, it seemed to fill me with lower back fatigue. It is definitely more race-specific to doing ultras, so I'm thinking it will pay dividends come June when I run the Mohican 50 and Hallucination 100 in September)

I never slept so well before a race as I did the day before the Pig. Waking up at 4:30 felt like just another Tuesday or Friday morning with the team. I had a small 4 banana green smoothie and carried a bottle of water with me to the team meetup at Paul Brown Stadium. I felt very good. Running 6:30/mi pace had by this point become very comfortable. In November, when all I had to do was run one 6:30 mile, I never thought the 2:50 possible. By the time I ran the Heart Mini in March, though, 2:50 never seemed so surmountable. I was very excited for seeing what the race gods would deliver. Unlike at the Heart Mini, I would triple check the course directions so I didn't take any wrong turns.  

Unfortunately, my buddy, coach Matt got a respiratory infection the week of the race, so Matt decided to drop out and put on an epic cheering performance with his sweetheart wife, Shelly-- finding me at 6 or 7 spots on the course. Meanwhile, our bud and training partner, Franklin, got a stomach bug the day before the race, so here I am thinking that I will be flying this Pig solo, rather than in their slipstream. Luckily, Franklin is no stranger to GI issues. He toed the start line in typical smiling fashion and put on an incredible performance despite his circumstances.

Susie rallied the Team S runners together in a circle for a final huddle of power, where we set our intentions and wished each other safe travels. Then we disbanded into our mental zones, where Eminem perpetually plays a joint soundtrack with Enrique Iglesias. Franklin and I did a short warm up and a ritual visit to the edge of the woods by the Ohio River for one final pee. 

Last year I miscalculated the gravity of the food shortage situation on the course. FYI- There is NO food on the course (unlike at Ironman or an ultra). The Pig has only one gel station at mile 18 and an orange slice doesn't count as food in a race!! So, this year, I decided to run with 10 gels tucked in my spandex shorts. This is very stimulating until you accidentally give yourself a paper cut with the package when you pull them out of your shorts. My butt cheek got a huge cut. Note to self-- calm down when fishing down your butt crack for food.

Almost immediately, Franklin and I linked up behind what we thought was the 1:25 half marathon pace group. They held a pace balloon-on-a-stick, that of course was illegible without my glasses. We didn't realize we were going 10-15 seconds/mile slower than our goal pace until crossing the bridge back from Kentucky into Cincinnati. So, we knew we had to disengage from the pace group and start busting ourselves out of a time hole, catching up to the right pace group.

At mile 4, near Dalton St. the traffic duty cop came barreling down towards me and Franklin, waving his arms and shouting that we turn left. Meanwhile, the 50 or so runners ahead of us were all pulling a Dwyer -- GOING THE WRONG WAY. If I've learned anything at all from my past race mishaps, it's your own darn fault when you go the wrong way. So there we were, Franklin and I.... IN THE LEAD of the Flying Pig while accidentally going slower than our goal pace! Is that karma? 

Then I saw my Dad and brother Matty cheering me on. But, now that I think about it, they weren't nearly rowdy enough considering for all they knew I was in first place, legitimately, this time. Haha. That's OK. It's always a boost of spirits to see your loved ones on the course. We couldn't do it without them. Today would be a day of deferred love. All my family and friends were showing OVERWHELMING support for me with their cheers, but I was deliberately trying to be very stoic about exerting even the slightest morsel of non-running energy. 

In less than a mile, the front runners and us had merged back together on the course like cyclists in a Tour de France roundabout. We instantaneously went from 1st to 50th place. There, we heard the bitching of the first place female who was clearly thrown off her game by the course mishap-- HER course mishap. I silently reprimanded her. She didn't win, of course, probably because her team morale was shot and she was not prepared to adapt mentally. I know which female did win, because unfortunately, she was not my friend Kerry whom we all (perennially) hoped it would be, and because the eventual winner was right on my heals all darn day. Apparently, my default race strategy always seems to be the exact same as the fastest female. So, accompanying me on both races this year are cheers from spectators screaming, "You go girl! You beat that boy. Get that mohawk! Girl power!" ALL day. Talk about keeping your ego in check.

Going up from the Casino through Eden Park is what I consider the most strategic part of the whole race. Going up the hill too fast can destroy you later in the day. We backed off the pace down to 7:00-7:15/mile pace, taking turns to block the wind for each other. Once you get to the top, you get excited because it's net downhill from there and there are plenty of descents where you can make up time, and already I needed to make up a lot of time.

What's tough about the Flying Pig is that it is one of the funnest races to watch. It's such a temptation not to race. If you could watch AND run at the same time, you'd really be on to something. You've got Elvis, the naked running man, DJ Westrich, your neighbors, etc. I'm thinking that next year, I really want to be a pace leader and carry the balloons, teach runners how to run through an aid station, tell them about how awesome Cincinnati is. I think there is noone better in the business, no better ambassador for running nor the city than my friend and fellow coach, Harvey.

One way to make up time is to be surprised by the girl holding your water cup at the aid station. It was our good  friend coach Alicia! Then you see coach Nicole, the Lulu Lemon girls, your mother and father-in-law, your former students.The support fills your veins with gasoline or something. It's an awesome pick-me-up.

Mariemont is always the highlight and a bitch. It's the farthest from the city you go during the race. You enter the bucolic neighborhood feeling one way and by the time you leave your body feels 180 degrees worse. This is where it gets really hard. This is where Franklin was smitten with his belly falling out of his body and I thought it was curtains for his race. I plodded onward, in no man's land (in one woman's land) through the annoying part of the course on Columbia Pkwy. I couldn't wait to get down the final stretch on Riverside Dr.

Matt found me on his bike at this point and encouraged me to "Leave it all on the course, man." I ran as hard as I possibly could up to the until the point where my stomach would heave and cramp. I was getting slower and slower, registering flat land miles that were 30-45 seconds slower than my goal pace. I passed a few runners who were cracking hard. That should have felt more awesome than it did. But simultaneously, I got passed by several who just ran smoother races than me. I only found out later that the guy I had been yo-yo-ing back and forth with, and who I final beat was the former Leadville 100 winner!

I thought I could keep first female at bay, but Matt took a great video of her passing me, that was incredibly beautiful and humbling. I obviously have a long way to go. She was in complete control! I think she Crocodile Dundeed me into submission or something.

In the final 1.2 miles, all I could think of was my amazing brother-in-law, Mike, who was also running the race, also leaving it all on the course. He talks about how finishing a race is like wringing out the sponge-- the goal is for the sponge to give up its last drop of water at the finish line. There should be NOTHING left. That's what I did, hoping to clock my fastest mile. It definitely felt the fastest. I thought sub 6 for sure, because I was swinging my arms at hard as I could like my track coach in grade school told me to do. Perception is so funny, because when I checked my Garmin GPS file at home that night, it was actually one of my SLOWEST miles. Haha!

The finish line was a glorious sight. As soon as I crossed, I dove into large volunteer's boob. It was the most padded cushion I could find, because I was crashing HARD. Than I landed on the pavement and the medical crew, (according to my tradition, I guess), rushed me to the medical tent to re-hydrate me. It was AWESOME. I mean, you pay so much for a race. You might as well use the amenities, right? The volunteers are the best I've experienced in ANY race across the country. Hats off to the organizers.

It wasn't 2:50 as I had hoped and trained for, but I still clocked a 2:57. So, I achieved
A) my goal to finish,
B) my goal to PR,
C) my goal to qualify for Boston,
D) my goal to break 3:00,
E) my goal to live to tell the tale.

I know I could have told it better and run it better, and for that reason I almost didn't run or write anything. But then I told myself "F those MF-ers."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

One Night in the Tank - Dipping My Toenail in the Psychedelic Experience

We have been to the moon, 
we have charted the depths of the ocean, 
and the heart of the atom, 
but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves, 
because that is where we sense all the contradictions flow together.
-Terence McKenna

About a week ago, I took my first float down a cosmic ocean whose headwaters look like a 1000 lb  Easy Bake OvenTM or a lunar escape module. They're called many things-- flotation tanks or sensory deprivation chambers, but the idea is simple-- that by spending time alone, floating in a womb-like chamber of of lukewarm saltwater, in complete darkness, deafness, and stillness, on a cold winter Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, one might come to a radical encounter with themselves, the present moment, the frailty of their beating heart, the meaning of eternity, and the scale of the universe. It could literally drive you crazy if you weren't already. 

Gravity Spa in Dayton has a cool thing going on.
My brother-in-law was sweet enough to let me tag along to his annual birthday ritual. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have ever gone alone. I certainly never would have found it in the eastern suburbs of Dayton. I could see why maybe he just wanted a bit of quiet time away from his kids for a few hours. Because it delivers on that, no question. Any galactic spelunking or insights from the great cosmic alien Mind is just icing on his cake. It's also reputed to be a sober trip into the psychedelic experience, which I know nothing about.

Maybe I'm pandering here-- trying to justify to my 'merican mind why spending $50 to take a cold bath is a Pareto-efficient investment of a tax refund toward preventative medicine. In fact, for me, it really was great muscle recovery. It was a fantastic stress relief. (Until it wasn't, at about the 84th minute, when my chaffed scrotum felt the volcanic burn of epsom salt and I needed to scratch my eye lid). It brought me a great camaraderie with my bro-in-law-- sipping tea, high-fiving, burrito-munching, exchanging notes, debriefing about how my anticipated roller-coaster rocket shipping of the mind was more like bumper car traffic jamming.  Maybe the exercise was practical. Maybe it wasn't.

One of the spin-off insights the tank delivered was about the limited scope of our awareness and the power of our filters. I can see how the mind is like a Magic 8 Ball. Our immediate awareness capturing just a tiny sliver of ALL that's actually going on in our mind, let alone the world around us. If you've ever played with one, you know that inside the plastic ball, there is a small, buoyant icosahedron with affirmative, negative, neutral, or maddening phrases etched in the face of one of its 20 sides.
At some periods of my life, I could have sworn that inside the plastic sphere of my head was a polyhedroid with just one or two phrases that read something to the effect of "SIGNS POINT TO SHITTY" or "SAME SHIT DIFFERENT DAY" or "YOU SUCK!" And you feel as good as dead, despite a lovely wife and a good job. 

When this is what happens, IF you're really lucky, you will have an absolutely magical moment IF you can take that magic 8 ball and smash it against the wall and watch the blue dye ooze out and the plastic innards hit the floor. This is kicking the Man in the dick. It's blessed.

In Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, he tells the following story: "Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: Contempt for death." As a modern rendition, I would substitute Leonidis's supreme warrior virtue with contempt for big hairy BS. 

Dysfunctional magic 8 ball minds, with their stuck-in-a-rut-ness, qualify as a big hairy BS. They are not to be believed, in their limited awareness. They are to be smashed. If they cannot be smashed, perhaps they are best left on the floor and ignored like an age-inappropriate toy.

When I was in the seminary, I would "meditate" 1.5 to 4.5 hours per day. It sucked. I had the same frustrations through my 20s. I was trapped in the same old awarenesses and same old filters. I know a great many meditation teachers would disagree with me here, but I credit the physical act of running-through-the-woods-meditation with saving my life. Running, they will say, is NOT meditating. But this is a big hairy BS. This is something to kick in the dick. If it's worth its metaphysical muscle, it will not smash to pieces, but may become accessible once I grow up a bit more.

You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, 
because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you 
is your own understanding. 
- Terence McKenna

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 - To Be or Not to Be... the Baddest Mother F-er

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. 
If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. 
If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. 
If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. 
If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

 Neal Stephenson (via Neeraj G.) 

It was this time last year that the end of the world happened. Or whatever the Mayan calendar makers had figured out. But Earth's galactic crossing hasn't really differentiated 2013 too much from 2012, at least for me and my mortgage. So, here I am, barely a few years beyond the honeymoon period, in what I'll call Normal Time. This is perhaps the inevitable stage in the life cycle of a blog (a boy) where the infatuation with (and mere modest gains in) becoming a bad mother-F-er (or professional triathlete or musician or entrepreneur or whatever dream you hold sacred) slowly give way to the first cracks of middle-agedness.

But without the cracks, how else would the light, seeds, and air get in?

It'd be great of my dreams if, instead of balding, they merely greyed themselves into maturity like some kind of George Clooney handsomeness cocoon. Then, when I emerged covered in mucus, instead of obsessing about kicking The Man in the dick or the mediocrity of my running skills, maybe I'd repurpose my feet into Riverdancing or finally learn to love and forgive. Then again, maybe I'd emerge from the cocoon with fangs and a vampire thirst for vengeance.

Transformation is risky business. Regardless, the calendar rollover to 2014 provides me with a welcome opportunity to take stock of the year's highs and lows. I'm especially excited to renew my commitment to own and enjoy the process, since the end products may or may not ever come and are never really ours anyway. For instance, in 2013, I never ran 5 miles barefoot in the snow like I had hoped and trained for, but I spent a lot of time in the snow and didn't let winter weigh my soul down. I never achieved my 30 pull-ups goal, but my upper body didn't completely atrophy into Ethiopian spindles and I did manage 25 decent ones. I didn't watch five sunsets or sunrises. I didn't eat a big ass salad but one day a week, let alone every day. I didn't qualify for the Boston Marathon. I did, however, spend a lot of time in my garden, met a ton of really cool people, saw the most beautiful places I've ever been, watched a few sunsets with nieces and nephews, and ran a bunch of miles that were faster, farther, more enjoyable than I've ever experienced. It was a mega-wonderful year by almost all measurements. So, I suppose gratitude is where I'd like to begin. But after gratitude, it gets more complicated.

As I try to craft how 2014 might go, I recall one of my favorite podcasts this year of Rich Roll's interview with Dr. Jeff Spencer about the so-called Champions Blueprint. Step one of all champions' grand plans, whether they be gold medalists, Grammy winners, or millionaires, is to begin at the end-- of not just their careers, but their lives, where they define what they hope to see in the rearview mirror. First, they define their legacy. This demands that they do their homework-- to ask and to ask again - what's it all for? To win the championships? To get the peer reviews? To amass the baptisms? But what's all THAT for?! What will be left once the trophies tarnish?

"Ten" by Dan Zadra and Kobi Yamada
To be honest, I'm having a hard time committing to paper what I want as the specifics of the 200 Year Dwyer Legacy. I'm having no Ah-ha! That's the birthday cake I wanna make! breakthroughs. Instead, I think I'm only finding clarity around the sort of basic ingredients I know I want involved. My wife, Susie, and I have been working on this activity book together called "Ten", where we make lists of what motivates us, what our dreams and goals are, what our talents, resources, and unique contributions might be. One of the activities is to make a "Ta-Da" list. Unlike a traditional "To Do" list a "Ta-Da" list is... inspiring and magical list of reminders about what you strive to include in each day of your life, no matter what, no matter what, no matter what.

Here are some examples of a Ta-Da list:
Did I wake up and greet the day?
Did I celebrate just being alive?
Did I read something interesting today?
Did I find at least one piece of good news?
Did I learn something new?
Did I change something for the better?
Did I think about my future?
Did I stop to thank someone?
Did I put something-- even just a dollar-- in savings?
Did I find something to make me laugh?
Did I make someone else laugh?
Did I help or reach out to someone?
Did I forgive someone (maybe even myself)?
Did I do something sacred (pray, meditate, visit the sick)?
Did I stand up for someone or something?
Did I do something ridiculous or fun?
Did I tell my loved one(s) how much I appreciate them?
Did I treat my body well?
Did I write down at least one new idea?
Did I take a chance on something?
Did I count my blessings?

Imagine how good you'll feel if you can say "Ta-da!" to these kinds of questions at the end of each day.

This list, no matter how true and beautiful, is also somewhat trite and intimidating-- almost imposing--
Hey, were you a living saint today? It begs a more pressing question, What might the Ta-Da list look like of someone who truly is a bad mother-F-er? Below is my first crack at what I think their list might be, whether they are a young boy or old woman. It's pretty much universal.

Did I get grounded as hell today, maybe walk/run around barefoot or in kung-fu slippers?
Did I get hydrated as h-e-double hockey sticks?
Did I prepare myself thoroughly to F those mother-F-ers up?
Did I let the big hairy BS wash past me?
Did I choose the "red pill" (as opposed to staying plugged into the Matrix)?
Did I F with their minds/paradigms/dogmas/addictions/commercials?
Did I stand tall and do WTF needed to be done for the ones I love?
Did I face the fear/F-er?
Did I stand in awe at some cool science schizer?
Did I let the universe blow my F-ing mind?
Did I move/sweat/dance my balls off?
Did I embrace my Womyn/partner and play with my cats/dogs/alligators/kids?
Did I thank myself for being my own guru but also bow to my senseis?
Did I visit my compost?
Did I befriend/recruit/uplift/study/surround myself with bad mother-F-ers?

"We use the buddy system. No more flying solo."
Bad mother F-er aspirations aside, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling haunted by some kind of residual Mayan end-of-the-ages drama. I'm mortally wounded by the state of the world and especially the Japanese nuclear disaster and cover-up at Fukushima. A sobering cloud of nuclear fallout hangs over me and I don't see it going away for a couple million years. It's not like we, as a society, are accidentally over-reacting to nuclear fallout and the annihilation of the ocean and inappropriately over-loving each other. We're just sort of watching it happen like, "Ho hum, well... that's just the system doing what it's programmed to do-- delivering paybacks to the investors."  

I know we're supposed to "live in the moment" and all, and that "we're not guaranteed a tomorrow", and cliches like that. But somehow it resonates deeper and truer when you say, "live like you'll die by the third Tuesday of the month." That calls for a completely different agenda. So when one of my senseis, Guy McPherson, estimates that enough planetary self-reinforcing feedback loops have been kicked into action such that climate collapse and near term human extinction is "likely by 2030", that kind of specificity changes how I piece together my 2014 goals. Pull-ups and yoga goals are either irrelevant or, more likely, more relevant than ever. 

Sure, the end of the world (death) is inescapable for all of us. I get that mentally. But to even consider the non-zero possibility that we've only got 15 or so years before this ball we call Earth drops to shit-- that hits me emotionally-- motivationally. Perhaps that's the genius of religious eschatology-- Doomsday is always just around the corner, so we better shape up. 

Maybe the trick here, in the spirit of "Antifragile" author (and bad mother F-er) Nassim Taleb is not to tinker with the decimal points of probabilities of disasters, as if assets will only be risked against the most probable or foreseeable of them. The trick, instead, is to assume ALL assets WILL be exposed to disaster (black swan events) and to ask myself if my assets are even worth saving. And if they are, are they prepared to not only endure disaster, but be improved by it. I hereby devout 2014 to the task of better asset management.

Am I living like a fragilista materialist scumbag? 
Am I on the spiritual path to becoming a bad mother F-er? 

What's in your wallet?
I have to give a special shout out to the RawBrahs for their challenge to own less than 100 things. It speaks to me as the first step in an essential and ongoing distillation process of what's important. 

After that, my hope is that: 
1) Things around here get less thing-y.
2) I have less stuff to stress about. 
3) But the stuff I have is more sacred and better taken care of. 
4) Relationships become what matter most. 
5) And mental, physical, and spiritual health reign supreme. 

1) learn to play a few Jack Johnson songs on the guitar,
2) resurrected my garage from the abyss-- make it habitable,
3) run around Lake Tahoe,
4) have sex in an orange grove,
5) go gluten free,
6) go on a huge gluten binge,
7) produce a few podcast episodes,
8) qualify for Boston (for real)
9) ride my bike (or run) from Cleveland to Cincinnati
10) get more real tattoos than imaginary ones.

And now it's out there.
Happy New Year, everyone! 
I love you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Beauty is in the Eye of the Glove Holder

 The ugly days ARE the beautiful days.

Slightly bored this Saturday morning of mini-taper, I made a monster smoothie, sold some crapola on Craigslist, and made a special drive to get a pair of running glove for tomorrow's 16 mile trail race, The Stone Steps 50k/27k. Traditionally, I've never made a big deal out of gloves, certainly never buying any. Gloves are, after all, like umbrellas and pens, karmically arriving when and where you need them via the great cosmic river.
Unfortunately, they also disappear just as quickly, so now, I'm left with just a bunch of left-handed garden gloves. All of a sudden, we've gone from summer to winter in Cincinnati, which means my only shot at staying sane through the cold dark days is by playing dress up like Michael Jackson and/or by trail running. And the only way to do that is to really embrace the ugly days (which are many). And the only way to do that is with proper running gear. And the only way to do that is by cashing in my gift certificate-- YAY-- free gloves! 

Thanks for the gift certificate, Teresa.
By some quick napkin math, I figured my glove trip wasted about 1/5 of a gallon of gas, which is ~20,000 BTU of fossil fuel, which is equivalent to about 5000 food calories (kcal), or about 1.5 days' worth of food. Had I run the four mile round trip to the running store, I would have burned not even 300 calories (~3 bananas' worth). So, I was feeling a little guilty about pushing a 2000 pound car filled with junk up a hill to a place I could have easily run or ridden. Then I felt guilty about making the common mistake of discussing energy in terms of over-simplified equivalences-- as if double A batteries can be compared to raspberries can be compared to gasoline can be compared to Fukushima nuclear power.

To assuage my guilt, I decided I needed to know how much energy I'd be saving over the life of the gloves, which the store clerk assured me would be at least three years, if I could stay clear of the karmic river serpent's thievery.

I figured that by wearing gloves, I will retain the metabolic and mechanical "waste" heat that would otherwise be lost from my hands to the surrounding air, having to be fueled by eating unnecessary extra calories. (But I always reserve the right to eat extra calories).

I estimate my whole body is about 2 square meters of surface area from which I could lose heat. Since I eat about 4000 kcal per day, that's about 16,000 kJoules of energy given off per day as "waste heat".
Since one day is ~80,000 sec,
Energy lost to surroundings = 16,000 kJoules/80,000 Sec = 200 J/s = 200 Watts

I also estimate that each hand is about 100 square centimeters of surface area. So hands are about 1% of my total body's surface area.

Thus, energy lost through my hands = 200 Watts/body x 1% of body = 20 Watts ...or ~10 Watts per hand!! That's kinda cool to think about-- each hand being heated by a 10 watt light bulb like you might find in my dining room's chandelier. 

So, how much energy am I saving by wearing 200 square centimeters of fabric with about R-2 quality insulation (an attic has about R-30)? Can we say 10 watts per hand? So, if I'm running 10 hours per week through the winter, that's
20 Watts x 10 hrs/wk = 0.2 kilowatt-hours per week = ~700 BTUs per week.

Since I used ~20,000 BTU during my car trip to get the gloves, to save the energy it cost me to get the gloves, it would take
20,000 BTU/700 BTU/wk = ~28 weeks.

As long the new gloves hold up for at least 28 weeks, I may not go to hell for destroying the planet. But the more I ponder the question, and the errors of my ways, the more distracted by the thought of calories, I get.  
Mmmmmm, calories.

The bottom line is that with a few algebraic manipulations, some plugging and chugging, I now have some sweet gloves that will go well with my zebra pants for the race tomorrow. The result will be a comfortable, enjoyable run. So here's to keeping the nerves in the hands from popsiclizing and keeping the nerves in my brain in cosmic happyland.

New gloves make me feel like this while running with my friends through the woods.

In the whole history of the world no one in zebra pants has ever had a bad day, unless they also forgot their gloves.

Race report to follow...maybe. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crappy Run Form - Uncrapified

Practice makes permanent. 

This year's Burning River 100 marked my first 100 mile ultrarun, and therefore my first 100 miler recovery phase. In some ways recovery has occurred surprisingly fast, but in other ways not nearly fast enough. While on a quest to crack the sub-3:00 marathon barrier this fall, my plans have been temporarily reoriented toward a more noble long term goal-- health.  

The BR100 race day photographer captured a telling moment of that day that hints at why certain body parts still hurt six weeks later. Forty miles into the race, the outside of my knee was writhing in pain, approximately where my IT band attaches at the outside of the fattest part of the knee. I thought for sure my race would end prematurely but I started popping ibuprofen at mile 50 against my better judgements. I felt terribly conflicted about the whole sacrificing-health-for-performance thing, but I went on to finish the race on ~12 x 200 mg vitamin I (advil) in 21:17, with only a few regrets and lessons learned.
My left leg went rogue by mile 40. (Steven Pierce Photography)
Two weeks after the race, I attempted my first run, at low intensity, of course. For the next several weeks, I logged no more than 20 miles per week, with my longest runs not exceeding six miles. That's where my left knee started to whisper the same obscenities that it had shouted at me on race day. So, even though I wanted to go longer, I erred on the side of shutting my runs down early.

It seems obvious, only now, that I had let some mechanical bad habits creep in over the course of the year, likely compounded by compensations for other neglected issues, maybe less obvious than the wonky left foot. I made an appointment to see my physical therapist buddy Eric Oliver at Beyond Exercise. I can't say enough good things about his ability to step back, listen, see the big picture, and then advise.

Eric found all kinds of stuff wrong with me, from my ankles (soccer injuries), to my calves (cycling injuries), to my knee, IT band, quads, glutes, hip flexors, and even scapula. On my first visit, he red-lighted my fall marathon bid and told me I need to REST, heal, and then rebuild my body from the ground up. At this point, there is a temptation to pop the proverbial advil, ignore him, and push through the aches and pains. But I'm really trying to be on board with his plan for a more long-term approach to performance and a better, healthier, balanced body.

I took another two weeks off completely, and showed drastic improvement-- reduced inflammation and soreness, especially. But also a resurrected desire to go hit the trails with reckless abandon. On my second visit, Eric assessed my run mechanics on his treadmill and I'll share his evaluations below.

The primary observations that I noticed are: 
1. You exhibit inconsistency with your foot striking—you waffle between a midfoot and rearfoot striker, as exhibited in the two different initial contact images (1a and 1b). The hip, trunk, and knee angles during initial contact are good. 
2. Good alignment of body during the loading response and pre-swing phase. 
3. During the toe-off phase, your leading leg does not show the optimal knee angulation. There should be more knee bend. This knee bend will shorten the lever arm of your leg and thus allow you to swing it forward more easily. Additionally, more knee bend will better set you up for a midfoot strike. 
4. At the speed you’re running, there should be more knee bend at the mid-swing phase. Again, this shortens your lever arm which will both conserve your energy and set you up for a mid-foot strike. 
5. All your other joint measurements are within a good range. 
6. The rear view shows your “wacky” left leg and foot position as you begin your swing phase. The difference between your left and right foot is obvious, and I’m speculating that it is due to the way your left foot supinates at the end of your stance phase. Biomechanically, this may be due to your talocrural (ankle) joint laxity. There is so much joint play in the talocrural joint that when your foot strikes the ground in a supinated position (this is a normal motion) the ankle stays in supination because the “mortise” part of the talocrural joint is not tight enough to guide the foot back into a neutral and pronation position. 
          A. Your body may be just fine tolerating this for a certain amount of mileage per given run and weekly gross distance, but eventually there will be break-down of tissue as evidenced with your recurring left knee and foot pain. 
          B. Your outer ankle ligaments are either just too loose or partially non-existent, and some sort of external support may be necessary to support the ankle in promoting normal biomechanical movement. You will need a support with substantial “squeeze”, such as this one
          C. Single leg exercises that force you to pay attention to lower extremity control in an eccentric manner will help, but I’m not sure if it will be enough (ie. Bracing may still be necessary).

Eric then gave me about a dozen exercises to do plus a 45 minute stretching/foam rolling routine. That doesn't leave a whole lot of extra time for bad behavior of logging long miles, but that's OK-- it's almost fall and it's  been great to hang out with family and just be a little more devoted to lazy.

Happy healing!