Monday, November 16, 2015

Garmin Updates / Solicitation of Advice

In the very near future I am going to write a for-real blog post with, like, actual updates about running and stuff. BUT, I haven't done it yet, and the GPS thing is time-sensitive, so I thought I'd just get it out there.


When last we spoke of GPS devices, I was feeling like the proverbial thirsty sailor lost at sea: Garmins, Garmins all around, but not a one that works (reliably). Although I am not a fan of the FR220 overall, that's what I had been using for most of my Santa Rosa training this summer because it's still perfectly fine when you just need to get a long run or easy run in & don't care about much more than pace and distance. For the last few months that hasn't been much of an issue since my cardio activity has been mostly limited to elliptical and walk/run intervals by time & effort, and I had also been wearing the FR220 for that because one of its good features is the programmable interval workout feature, which is perfect when all you need to do is jog comfortably for x minutes & then walk for 10-x minutes, wash/rinse/repeat.

Unfortunately, about a month ago I noticed that it was starting to seriously drop mileage. And I'm not talking about a couple of tens over ten miles or something. I'm talking about registering 2.1 miles when I know I've gone three. (You know how you know exactly where every mile marker is within 10 miles of your house.) I'm still using it for the interval timing feature, but reliably, the mileage is now consistently off by 20-40% every time. I suppose it's possible it's not the watch and my entire neighborhood has recently fallen into some kind of GPS black-hole/vortex, but as I don't have another reliable watch to compare it to, I can't be sure. (Phone apps for me have always been wildly inaccurate. Not as bad as the FR220 has been lately, but still too far off to be useful.)

Speaking of other watches, I've pretty much given up on my other two every being useful again either. My beloved FR305 only turns on reliably about half the time, usually won't charge, doesn't beep at laps anymore, and the wristband is broken in two places. My FR310XT had been the most reliable of the three for a while, but now it won't turn on at all.


Like I said, this isn't a super critical issue right now in terms of my running. I'm still walk/running it up using the FR220 interval timer, so I'm not even looking at pace, and I don't expect to be training in a way where I really need a reliable GPS watch until at least January. But the time of year for ridiculous sales on electronics and other consumer goods is upon us, and I have a feeling that if I'm on top of things I could probably get a good deal at REI or amazon or similar. But the trick is knowing what I want to get, so I can properly stalk it.

So my question is, do you have a GPS watch that you're loving right now? (I know some of you love the FR220, but it is just not for me, so I'm looking for something different.) I've seen that some people like the FR620, but it kind of looks like it might be in the same mold as the FR220 so I'm afraid it will still have all the features I don't like about the 220. The 910XT sounds like it might be the closest thing to my old 310XT, and there may be some good deals coming up on it. (The 920XT sounds like overkill, I think.) Another option is to just by another refurbished 310XT, which has the pros of being something I'm familiar with and significantly cheaper.

On the other hand, I'm finding myself more and more open to non-Garmin options given all the trouble I've had with mine in the last few years, so I'd love to hear if anyone has had a better experience with another brand.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Your Call: Ridiculous Running Tech, or MOST Ridiculous Running Tech?

First, I can't not share the little bit of happy news I got in email today. As you may recall, my body decided that a week after I whipped out my credit card and clicked "Register" for CIM was a GREAT time to completely implode.

On the one hand, that $100 or whatever it was was gone anyway, whether I ran the race or not, so it's not like it was going to break the bank. On the other hand, it was maybe particularly painful considering that I just DNS'd a similarly priced marathon in August, and if it hadn't been for that, I probably wouldn't have signed up for CIM to begin with. On the other other hand, anybody who's been running road races for any amount of time just knows that 99% of the time, that's the risk you take when you sign up for a race. It happens to most of us sooner or later and what can you do but hope your hard-earned dollars will at least help put on a good event for someone else, so recently that's the attitude I've been trying to take while weeping quietly on the elliptical.

Then this morning I opened my email & saw this:

Which took me to this:

My first thought was, "What has happened to this poor man, and why is no one helping him? Or is he just that torn up at not being able to run CIM?"

My second thought, though, was, "OMG there's a chance the entire universe doesn't completely hate me!"

I believe this is the first year CIM has offered a deferral, and I only know of a handful of other mid-to-high-profile marathons that do (NVM, for example). Now, granted, you only recoup about half the cost, but in my opinion that's how it should be. Most races exist on such tiny margins that if deferral is free and too many runners do it, they could find themselves in financial trouble the next year. Also, people who can afford it already sign up for races "just in case" all the time, potentially taking a spot away from someone else who would have been committed to running, so making it free would let people "squat" like this on spots in desirable races with no consequences at all.

What I don't know is if CIM is planning to put those deferral spots back on the legit market, or just carry on business as usual, knowing some number of fewer spots will be available in 2016 due to 2015 deferrals. You could argue that one downside to a deferral policy, even one that charges a fee, is that it makes squatting on spots/registering "on spec" more attractive in that, if you use the deferral, you're only out the extra fee and not the full cost of the entry. However, if the race puts those deferral spots back out there (at full price or even a higher "super-late" entry price), they're doing something that might ultimately make people less likely to squat in the long term (particularly people who aren't concerned with the price).

The other option, I think, is making bibs transferable for a fee. I know some races do this, but then again I can also see it potentially jacking up prices since most races do all their budgeting & pricing knowing that a certain percent of runners won't actually show up.

I hope that if we see more races offering deferrals, people won't abuse it. I am categorically opposed to people with money to burn saying, "Eh, what the heck, I'll just save my spot for this race eight months from now just in case I decide I want to run it," but in a situation where you really do want to run a race but are a little on the fence about registering because there is some small chance you won't be able to (and you won't know for sure before it's likely to sell out), knowing you can defer and not be out the entire cost of the race makes it a little more palatable financially.

ANYWAY, I promised you some ridiculousness. Check it out:

(Be sure to click through for the OMG ridiculous video)

That's right; Lumo totally wants to get in your pants.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

21 Days

I pretty much always find myself rolling my eyes at blog posts that start off with an apology for not updating recently (I mean, it's not like you owe anyone anything, and highly unlikely anyone has been losing sleep over your absence), so instead I will just say HEY, I am still here and alive and NO, I have not been kidnapped or given up running altogether.

But, it has been kind of a crappy three weeks.

Remember how my most recent post was titled, "I maybe jinxing myself, buuuuut..." and then went on to given an account of my first "real" training week for CIM, post-stress reaction?

Well, it turns out I am super good at jinxing myself.

At the time, I'd been faithfully sticking to the recovery protocol my PT gave me when I had a stress fracture back in January 2014: starting with cycling, then moving to elliptical once that caused absolutely zero pain, and then once I'd been completely pain-free walking around for a week, adding in 30 minutes of walk/run intervals every other day. The progression starts out 3 x (1:00 run/9:00 walk), and then every other day you add one minute of running and subtract one minute of walking for each interval, until eventually you're running the full 30 minutes. (If at any point you have pain during or after, you have to take three days off & go back a step.) I also dutifully kept at my foot arch strengthening exercises to hopefully avoid repeating this entire episode.

All was going well, and in due time I was up to the full 30 minutes with no pain. (Side note: Every time I've been injured for multiple weeks, then finally reached the point for I can run for some non-insignificant amount of time, I'm like, "HOW the hell did I EVER complain about long runs? How can anyone ever complain about having to run MORE??" Gretchen Rubin is 100% correct that if you want to get ridiculous levels of joy out of something mundane, take it away for a while.)

Then I think on my third 30-minute run with no walk breaks, I made it about ten minutes before I started to feel a dull, sickening ache in the injured spot for the first time in weeks. I tried taking some walk breaks and was even freaked out enough that I turned around early. By the time I got home the pain was sharp and bright and I was back to limping.

Basically, I regressed two months in twenty minutes without any warning signs. After that, there was very clearly no question of trying to run again for quite a while.

I'm pretty sure that was the most depressed and hopeless about running I have ever felt. It wasn't just "Oh, look, here I am injured again." It was that, yes, but also "I just had the most brilliant training cycle of my life, got injured, got a miraculous chance at a Plan B that had the potential to result in even better training, except HAHAHAHA JUST KIDDING! You get nothing. Except probably another stress fracture. Oh, and paying for ANOTHER marathon that there's now a 99% chance you won't even be able to run, not even just to finish."

It wasn't just the injury. It was that I did everything right (I think). I followed the rules. I was patient. I switched to a new gym so I could do elliptical work on days I work from home and also elliptical "long runs" on the weekends (GAAAAH DIE IN A FIRE). It was the fact that I haven't been able to truly race something hard for over 2.5 years now because I've constantly been fighting or recovering from some kind of major injury. At a certain point you just get really tired of always being "on the comeback trail" and mustering all your optimism, again, so you can once more choke out the words, "Oh, well, maybe next year."

I don't want to get melodramatic about how bleak the situation was, but MAN, those were some dark days. It made me feel sick to see, hear, or read anything even remotely related to running; needless to say, the thought of writing about it was utterly demoralizing. (Actually, at that point, I wasn't really capable of translating emotions into coherent words, so probably wouldn't have gotten much farther than BAAAAH, EVERYTHING SUCKS, followed by maybe a depressing .gif or two.) So basically, I stuck my head in the sand & ignored the world of running almost completely, except to drag myself to the gym & back for elliptical sessions and strength work in a desperate attempt to maybe not 100% completely lose all the fitness I built up this summer.

And to be honest, it wasn't terrible timing. I've had some big things I've been working on at work and there've been some long days when getting to the gym wasn't even possible. I've had a lot of travel lately. We are planning over 1000 square feet of renovations for our house in the new year, which has been like a part-time job. There have been football games, and Don & I have started rock climbing again.

Mission Cliffs! I climbed a 5.9 on my second day, which I think is actually not at all impressive, but I was still pretty stoked to get to the ceiling without having a panic attack.

So maybe going all-out for CIM was never in the cards. Still, I haven't been able to shake the little voice in the back of my mind whispering that maybe I'll never be healthy enough for long enough to actually run a really good, hard race ever again.

But....Well, it's been 21 days today, I think, which is the longest I've ever gone without posting except for being on vacation for 3 weeks, and things are getting better, and I kinda-sorta have my act together emotionally now, so, what the heck. I figured I might as well stop being a grump and post *something*.


Something I learned when I had my stress fracture last year was that a lot of doctors are moving away from the designations "stress reaction" and "stress fracture" because it gives the impression that those are two distinctly different injuries which are distinctly different again from the asymptomatic bones of someone who is training just as heavily. Instead, I learned, all these situations exist on a continuum which has less to do with what shows up on a bone scan or MRI & more to do with how functional/painful it is. It turns out that if you take a bunch of pain-free runners who are just starting to increase their training substantially and give them all bone scans, odds are a handful of those scans would look the same as someone a doctor would normally put in a boot for a month, just because of how the training response in bones works. You treat the patient, not the scan. So if someone comes in with symptoms of what we used to call a stress reaction or stress fracture, doctors are now more likely to just call it a "bone stress injury," full-stop, and treat it according to how severe the symptoms seem without attaching an additional label to it.

Which is all to say, I don't know if I had what they'd call a "stress reaction" or a "stress fracture" or if it started as a reaction and became a fracture, but honestly, it doesn't really matter because the treatment is all the same: stop running till it stops hurting. I did try to get a doctor appointment, just to, y'know, cover my bases, but when it was a month wait at both reputable sports medicine clinics, I figured I might as well just pretend I'd gone to the doctor and gotten diagnosed with a BSI and been told all the things I already knew they would tell me and start following the recovery plan they gave me the last time when I really did go to the doctor and get a bone scan and a $25 co-pay.

Same leg, different spot. Last time it was high and outside on the fibula; this time low & inside on the tibia.

Well, clearly, that did not work out for me. So this time, I've decided to wait until, in addition to having not the tiniest inkling of pain with walking/elliptical/karate/climbing/lifting/etc., it feels 100% completely indistinguishable from the other leg in every way. With my first stress fracture, the doctor & PT told me I was good to start the walk/run progression as long as I had no pain with walking or any other impact activity, but they were not concerned that the injured spot was still a little tender as long as it didn't get worse. When I started the walk/run plan this time, the injured spot was still a bit swollen and felt like a big bruise, even though it didn't hurt to walk. I don't know if that had anything to do with the reason I kind of relapsed, but if nothing else, I figure it's just kind of a higher standard of recovery with more time off my leg, which cannot be a bad thing.

At this point, I think it's really close--the bone feels flat again, and if I press reeeallllly hard, there is just the tiniest detectable hint of tenderness, which is really not all that different from the same spot in my other leg. I'm back doing everything normally in karate again with no pain whatsoever, even twisting/torquing movements, which were one of the things that hung me up for the longest before. So, I'm hoping that in just a few more days that leg will feel indistinguishable from the other.

(Also, I finally just caved & made a dr. appointment even though it was a month wait. Hopefully my bone injury will be totally healed by then, but it's with the foot/ankle doctor, so I'm hoping she'll be able to give me some further advice about what I can do with my weak arch to avoid something like this happening again.)

All that said, I think it's still 99% or better that I won't be running CIM, even just to finish. Even if I can start run/walking by next week, that's like six weeks to go from 30 minutes of impact to probably around four hours, which just doesn't seem all that realistic.


But all is not lost!

Because I'm still an indomitable optimist at heart, there is a part of my brain that is already buzzing with spring running plans. There are some bright & shiny races on my radar for 2016 that I think are far enough out to be doable (more about that in another post), and I'm trying to use them as incentives to stay patient and follow to the letter any advice or instructions I get from doctors and/or coaches about how to ramp the mileage back up in a way that doesn't just get me injured again. Because I've been keeping up with the elliptical work, I have a feeling I'm going to spend a good chunk of time in that annoying place where the cardio system is in pretty good shape, actually, but the bones and connective tissue that take all the impact have gotten a bit fragile, which will probably mean a very gradual cross-fade from elliptical hours to running hours through the rest of the year.

And that's fine. If I can be up to 8-10 miles by January, I think I'll be in a good place to start working towards some races in the spring.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I may be jinxing myself, buuuuuuut......

...I kind of want to start counting training weeks? Even though I'm still doing more elliptical than running & only just cut out walk breaks? Don't get me wrong, I'm still taking things super carefully, but it's been a long time since I had any pain walking or running at all, and I finally feel like I'm making real progress towards normality.

So. Here we go. Week 1, such as it was.

~*~*~CIM WEEK 1 OF 11~*~*~
    * 8 walk/run
    * 2.5 hours elliptical
    * 1.5 hours strength work

Monday: afternoon 30:00 strength work & 30:00 easy elliptical / p.m. karate

    My plan was to do my strength work in the morning as usual, but a wicked bout of insomnia put the kibosh on that. Instead I went to the gym after work. I'm trying to ease my way back into strength work, but MAN, apparently I packed a lot into that half-hour because for the next few days I was sore as you know what.

Tuesday: elliptical "speed work": 10:00 warm up, 6 x 0:45 hard/1:45 easy, 17:00 marathon pace effort, 6x(0:45 hard/1:45 easy), 10:00 cool down. Translating pace workouts into elliptical ones is a true art, my friend.

Wednesday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 8 x 5:00 run/1:00 walk = 4.4 miles / p.m. karate

    This was a bit longer/further than I intended because I did the math wrong in my head. I'd intended to keep things in the 30-40 minute range, and I didn't realize I'd made a mistake until I realized I was over 2 miles from home & not even at the halfway point. The good news is that I didn't have any pain during or after, so that's something. If anything, it's karate that's still bugging my left leg. (Impact = no big deal. Twisting/torquing = ehhhhh kind of a deal.)

Thursday: 1 hour easy elliptical. BARF.

Friday: a.m. strength work / p.m. elliptical "tempo run" Failure

    This entire day was a logistical fail thanks to work. I had to be in a wide range of places geographically & there was no time during the day that I could get to the gym (which is by my office, 30 miles from home). I've had a number of days like & they always make me consider potentially joining a gym by my house as well so I can have access to an elliptical or bike.

    Eh, at least Stanford won.

Saturday: 6 x 8:00 run/1:00 walk = 3.6 miles. More like what I meant to do on Wednesday. So far, so good!

Sunday: Rest. Again with the need for elliptical access near my house. You don't really need rest days when your week includes less than an hour of running and five hours of elliptical.

Overall, pretty decent on the running front, but I wish I'd been able to get in a couple more hours of elliptical. (I mean. I don't, really, but long term, it would have been in my best interest training-wise.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Kinvara 5 vs. Kinvara 6: Part 2

(Part 1 Here)

In the last couple of weeks I've had a chance to do some actual running in these, science-style (read: wearing version 5 on one foot an version 6 on the other, alternating which foot is which for each run). I've also put in a decent number of miles in the 6s alone. Here are my updated observations.

Comfort & Fit

I noticed that the 6s felt different on my feet than the 5s, but I didn't form a real opinion about this until I actually ran in them. And yes, the verdict is they ARE demonstrably different in terms of fit. The heel cup definitely feels a bit deeper, and after a while this became a little uncomfortable. Whereas the heel cup on the 5s feels like it wraps right around my heel and holds it without any weird spots, on the 6s, it feels as if there are lumps inside of the heel cup that press up against my heel. It's not horrible; just not super comfortable.

The other definite difference is related to what I mentioned in Part 1 about how the shoe feels more squashed, top to bottom. Just standing/walking, this kind of just felt like my foot was getting a warm hug from the shoe. Running, though, is not quite as comfortable. I had to loosen the laces completely so that they weren't putting any tension on the rest of the upper, and even then, my foot still feels a little squashed. It's particularly bad on the outside edge, near the pinkie toe/outer ball of foot area, and I often get the sensation of my foot sliding forward in the shoe so that my toes are rammed into the end. This gives the sensation of running in a shoe that's too small, except with extra space in the heel.

For me, it's not bad enough that I can't run in them or want to return the shoes. Like I said, all my 5s have gotten kind of loosey-goosey & needed tighter lacing as they got older, so I'm curious to see whether with a little breaking in the upper on the 6s loosens up a bit & starts to feel a little more comfortable. Even so, I suspect this version will never be a marathon/long run shoe for me. (Back to Brooks Launch, I guess.)

Flexibility & Support

This is why you really need to compare two brand-new shoes side-by-side if you're going to say anything definitive about how the two compare. Putting on just the version 6s, my first thought was, "WOW, these are SUPER stiff compared to the 5s!" And compared the ones I've been running in, they are. But then I put on the brand-new 5s & was kind of startled to find that they felt equally stiff. Apparently, ~200 miles is all it takes to mush them out a bit (which maybe explains part of why I don't like wearing them for long runs after that?). So in that regard, I think the flexibility of the two versions is about the same. No detectable difference folding/twisting them up by hand, either. Like every other version of Kinvaras that I've owned, these are more bendy than than the vast majority of traditional running shoes, but they are not by any stretch 'minimalist.' (WHY WON'T PEOPLE STOP CALLING THEM THAT??)

Also, like every other Kinvara ever, they have a decent amount of support for reasonably efficient runners, particular if you happen to be a mid- or forefoot striker. (Probably fine for heel strikes though there are also probably better shoes out there for that.) They are neutral, though, so if you have an overpronation problem, these shoes are not going to fix that.


Not much to say here -- the 6s felt pretty much identical to the 5s in this respect in every way, if you can ignore the differences in fit. (Though I have clearly gotten used to the old ones I've been running in lately & the amount of ground feel you get from mushier shoes. The brand-spankin'-new ones, both 5s and 6s, did not feel quite as good.)

Bottom Line

Really, the only issue for me with the Kinvara 6 is the squished-up, pinchy nature of the upper in the heel and outer toe box. Like I said above, it's not a *huge* deal for me, but I don't imagine I will generally run more than about 10 miles in this version. I think whether or not I buy another pair will probably come down to whether the upper loosens up at all as they get broken in, to what extent, and how long it takes.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Welcome to My Nightmare: Running Anxiety Dreams

Last night I dreamed I was running CIM with a friend who has also run it before, but never the same year as me. We are generally in the same ballpark pace-wise, so in my dream we decided to run it together. I was extremely worried about forgetting the route and going the wrong way (I blame this on the fact that I've mostly run super small local races this year where that is actually a concern), so since she has run it more recently than me, she drew me a rough map which I stuffed into my pocket. Our goal was to run 8:00 miles, so we started out doing so, and I was relieved to find that they felt fairly comfortable and easy.

We passed mile marker 15, which is traditionally the hardest point for me mentally in a marathon (15 miles is really far, and you've still got over ten miles left to go), and I was feeling really over the whole thing & just wanted to be done. "Remember, this is the part with the hills," my friend told me, and I remember thinking, "Ah, yes, everyone thinks CIM is just easy downhill, but they forget that there are actually some pretty big hills in there." (This is not true in real life. There are no big hills whatsoever.) Nevertheless in my dream the course went steeply up, up, up, broken only by a few short plateaus. My friend started to really struggle after the first couple of steep parts, so I threw her arm over my shoulder and basically dragged her all the way to the top. (You had to climb through a fence, too, which I also dragged her through, thinking to myself as I did so that perhaps that was not the most efficient strategy.)

The payoff for the set of big hills, though, was a twisty slide on the downhill side that let you built up so much speed that it shot you out like a cannon at the bottom, and runners were meant to fly through the air a short ways, then literally hit the ground running. Soon after this I realized I'd lost my friend. I stopped & tried to see if I could spot her somewhere behind me, but it was like she was just gone. We'd agreed at the beginning that we didn't have to stay together if one of us started to struggle with the pace, so after a minute of looking I gave up & kept running.

(Also, it was dark. I have a had a lot of running dreams where the race takes place in the dark. Not exactly sure why.)

Around this time, a guy started running with me who reminded me a lot of a former co-worker. We had some conversation about how he was either trying to run the same pace as me or had the same goal time or something and so we decided to run together for a while, but he kept getting really upset that the pace was too hard and maybe he wasn't going to hit his goal time. And I kept looking at his watch (not mine, for some reason) & being like, "Uh, dude, the reason it's hard is because we're running 7:10 pace right now." But instead of being concerned about this, I decided it was a good thing because it felt easy for me right now and maybe I could bank some time. (#dreamlogic)

Soon after, we entered the shopping center portion of the course, which I remembered from my friend's hastily sketched course map. (I'm not sure why, but many of my racing dreams also seem to feature running through shopping malls.) My not-co-worker and I tried our best to follow the course, which was marked by yellow police tape, but mall workers kept redirecting us to go back because we'd gone the wrong way. "You have to go to the left of the Estée Lauder counter and then to the right of the Dior counter," a woman told us disapprovingly in the make-up & perfume section. I wanted to scream because I felt really good for this late in a marathon and I knew we were just barely right on pace and all this going back business might cause us to miss our goal time. Finally we reached a point where there were no other runners around and the police tape marking the course was wrapped comically around the mall railings and kiosks and even knotted in places, making it impossible to tell which way to go.

"Which way?" I asked a mall attendant frantically, who just kind of glanced uncomfortably around at the tape and shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe that way?" Why are you people all so incompetent?? I demanded in my head and pulled out the map my friend had sketched me, knowing as soon as I did that a) it was not detailed enough to tell me how to get out of the mall and b) there wasn't much race left to go and I still needed to make up a LOT of time. I'd lost my not-coworker at this point so just head in the direction that made the most sense to me. (I had the vague sense of other runners around, but somehow none of them were in front of me or running in the same direction.)

And that's all I remember.

I read on the internet that something adults should stop doing after the age of 25 is telling their dreams to anyone other than a significant other or therapist, so, if that's true, sorry.

HOWEVER, I'm not the only one doing it, because I've had enough conversations with fellow runners to know that I know I am not alone in having running anxiety dreams. And just as with showing up to work or a party naked or having your teeth fall out, there do seem to be some fairly common themes:

  • Being unable to find the start. I once had a dream that my mother was driving me all over San Jose trying to find RNR San Jose and after like an hour of driving around we still couldn't find it. I was freaking out and she was soooooo angry at me, which made me even more upset & eventually made me cry.
  • Uncertainties about the course (see above). This is definitely not the first dream I've had where it was unclear which way to go and the race volunteers didn't know either. (Though, this has happened to me in real life, so...)
  • Thinking you've set a huge PR only to find out that you either turned around in the wrong spot or cut the course super short in some other way. I dreamed once that I ran a three hour marathon & everyone was congratulating me, and I kept telling them, "No, really, you don't understand. Something is very very wrong here." And it turned out I'd cut some kind of dog leg or something, and then everyone was angry and accusing me of cheating.
  • Arriving at the race only to realize that I have forgotten to wear or bring running clothes, and trying to race in jeans & sandals or some such.
  • There is no finish line. Or you can't find it for some reason. SF Track Club workouts at Kezar Stadium sometimes overlap with a Nike training group, and since "There is no finish line" is their mantra, I had a pretty amusing conversation with a Nike dude once about how those words made me shudder because they were my actual, literal nightmare.

Do any of these dreams resonate with the masses? Have you had other, more different upsetting running/endurance racing dreams? Should I stop telling my dreams to people now that I am an actual, grown-ass adult?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Books Update: Quarter 3

Fall is finally here, if only officially (did I mention it's been 80s & 90s in San Francisco for weeks? Not okay), and as we close the book on September without much to remark on running-wise, it is time once again to speak of books.

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

July: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (1990, 637 pages). Ahh, John Irving, you got me again! Sweet, depressing, hilarious, & raw. The story follows Johnny Weelwright (1st person narrator) & his best friend Owen Meany (tiny, brilliant, charismatic, & possessed of a bizarrely shrill voice) from their childhood together in a small town in 1950s New Hampshire through early adulthood, while periodically flashing forward to Johnny's middle age in Canada. The relationship between the two is weirdly cemented when uncoordinated, nonathletic Owen somehow manages to hit a baseball at the end of a Little League game that hits Johnny's mysterious mother in the head, killing her. After that, Owen is convinced he is "God's Instrument," with everything & every moment in his life leading to a single purpose. I think it's the sheer audacity & improbability of the whole thing that made it one of the best books I've read in a while.

August: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (1847, 507 pages). I think sometimes it's difficult to fully appreciate classics because the reason they are classics has mainly to do with the context in which they were written. Reading Jane Eyre for the first time in 2015, I have to admit that I spent most of it rolling my eyes & ready to chuck it across the room. Really? Really, Jane? It's so painfully clear that Mr. Rochester is a dire shitbird, and you are utterly pathetic for not realizing this almost immediately. (Though, I will also admit that she gets a little less pathetic as the book goes on, but he is still a shitbird, and their conversations are honestly kind of gross.) BUT, I do get that it was rather revolutionary and radical for 1847 and (kind of hilariously) was actually lambasted for being anti-God/Church (ie, a woman every once in a while having an original thought and maybe occasionally for half a second not doing exactly what some rando self-important dude tells her to do). Still, a part of me was screaming throughout, JANE, YOU IDIOT! DTMFA!

September: The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (1905, 335 pages).

Welp, I guess I'll go shoot myself in the face now.

The Jungle is about the trials & tribulations of a Lithuanian family that settles in Chicago to pursue the vast riches and endless opportunity that they have heard are there for the taking in welcoming, democratic, class-blind America. Lololololol. No but really, it's one of the most depressing books I've ever read in my life. I get the historical significance of this book and that the fact that it's completely and utterly depressing as hell is the whole point, so three stars for that. But when you have only one color in your palette (shit-color, for instance), it loses its effect real fast & you stop expecting anything else. Most of the other books I've tagged as "depressing as hell" offered at least a few strokes of other colors occasionally, if for no other reason than to provide enough contrast for the horrible parts to maintain their effect (and presumably to stop you from pausing to kill yourself). Not so here. It's shit sandwich after shit sandwich, and any time things start to look maybe-kinda not so bad for the protagonist, you know that a shit sandwich with an extra-crispy cat litter crust is just around the corner.


I have read a lot of stuff lately but here are the titles I most highly recommend:

The Ocean At the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (2013, 181 pages). 5 stars. Beautiful, creepy, imaginative, & sad. Essentially: All things Neil Gaiman. More along the lines of Coraline and The Graveyard Book than Neverwhere / Stardust. Hard to explain any more clearly than that.

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk (1996, 218 pages). 5 stars. I picked this up in the airport because I wanted something short to read on a plane, & having only seen the movie & never read any Chuck Palahniuk, I was curious. Super entertaining & amazingly well-written & well crafted! My only regret is that I wish I'd read it before seeing the movie. I also enjoyed the afterword at the end about how the book began as a six-page short story no one paid any attention to & evolved into an international blockbuster. The question now is, which Palahniuk to read next?

The Blue Girl, by Laurie Foos (2015, 220 pages). 5 stars. A super quick, easy, fairly minimalist read, and at the same time amazingly, gorgeously, breathtakingly written. I'm not sure how you do both of those things at the same time, but somehow Foos pulled it off. A silent blue girl has appeared in an unnamed lake town; after one of their daughters saves the blue girl from drowning, three sad, middle-aged women with sad, middle-aged husbands, teenage daughters, and troubled sons sneak out at night to the cabin in the woods where the blue girl lives with an old woman to feed her the secrets they've baked into homemade moon pies. When the kids catch on, everything changes. Again, I don't understand how she did it, but these 220 dream-like pages weave together some of the most brilliant character development I've read in a while with profound narrative themes & symbolism. Not a wasted word anywhere. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. (2014, 371 pages) 5 stars. This may be the absolute best modern YA novel I've ever read in terms of teenage characters who are actually believable in terms of how they think, act, and (especially) talk. It's also just a lovely, if bittersweet, story about a set of artsy teenage twins trying to navigate their own & each other's tumultuous lives in the wake of their parents' own issues, and manages to strike a nice balance of humor, heartache, sweetness, and raw teenage emotion without veering too much into melodrama (or trying so hard to ape modern teenage lingo that it's painful). Still a *bit* too much schmoopy in places for my taste, but not so much as to make me want to vomit (which more or less seems to be the norm with YA). A great read for 12/13+, but there's plenty going on for adults to appreciate as well.

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay. (2015, 288 pages) The story follows the Barrett family (out-of-work, hyper-religious John, his cynical, frustrated wife Sarah, and their two daughters Marjorie and Merry, fourteen and eight respectively) as Marjorie descends into (severe mental illness? Demonic possession? A desperate bid to salvage the family's financial situation?). John gets the local minister involved, who in turn gets the family a reality TV deal ("The Possession"), which in turn leads to Complications, all of which is narrated by eight-year-old Merry. The real genius of this book, though, is that it's kind of meta-horror. Instead of telling the story purely from eight-year-old Merry's perspective, Tremblay ups the ante by framing it as told by twenty-three-year-old Merry to a bestselling author who is writing a book about the events, and then interspersing those interviews with blog posts about the reality series "The Possession" written by a quirky & mysterious horror junkie. Because of the reality show, a lot of what happened is on film, but a lot of it isn't; there is also the reliability of Merry's memory to take into account. This all adds up to an undercurrent of uncertainty about what did and did not actually happen and to what extent was the situation was medical, supernatural, or faked by Marjorie and/or the exploitative reality TV producers. Brilliantly written, start to finish.

The Longest Date: Life As a Wife, by Cindy Chupack. (2014, 212 pages) 5 stars. I picked this one up after hearing a podcast interview with Chupack & finished it on a single plane ride. It's pretty short, and manages to be funny and entertaining even when she's writing about some pretty heavy stuff. Even so, she pulls absolutely no punches, laying bare just about every facet of her relationship with her husband, from their courtship as late-thirty-somethings to raising an adopted child at fifty. And I think it's that completely candid openness that makes it such a compelling read. It's not, "Marriage is hard work but if you pick the right person and really love each other and practice gratitude or whatever you'll make it through the tough times." It's more like "I'm the luckiest person alive!" on some days and on others "SWEET JESUS WHAT HAVE I DONE," and for her getting married was agreeing to stick it out, even on the SWEET JESUS days. (That, and coming to terms with the fact that she was a control freak & now had someone permanently in her life that she couldn't control.) If you've ever had a moment when you're like, "Oh god, why can't we be like all those nice, normal people who are super in love all the time & never have any horrible moments together???," this book is a great reminder that nobody is those people, because we are all real, live humans with strengths and flaws and history and baggage, and that's what you sign up for when you marry a real, live human.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. (2015, 303 pages) 5 stars. What a sweet, wonderful, (sadly) subversive book. The last twenty pages or so actually had me kind of weepy (in a good way), and if you know me at all you know how rare that is for a book. This and I'll Give You the Sun have reaffirmed my belief that yes, there IS, in fact, really excellent YA left in the world. Like all the best books (I'm discovering), the marketing copy just really does not capture what makes this one so great. Come down to it, it's basically about gay-but-not-out 16-year-old Simon negotiating all the usual sixteen-year-old orders of business (school, friends, family, extracurriculars, crushes, feeling generally awkward & out of place), but with the added wrinkle of an anonymous email penpal about whom he knows nothing except that said penpal is a fellow gay-but-not-out junior boy at his school. Hijinks, turmoil, laughs, and all the feels ensue. (Also, mad props to Albertalli for a) writing a gay protagonist (1st person) who is just a normal kid and b) handling the whole teen boy coming out / figuring out how to relationship in such an earnest, thoughtful, brilliant way, particularly for someone who, as far as I know, has never been a gay boy)..

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. (2015, 392 pages) 5 stars. Oh, man. I don't even know where to begin with this book except that it was amazing. I actually think the marketing copy included a pretty decent summation: Every relationship has two perspectives, and sometimes the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. The relationship in question is that of Lotto & Mathilde, madly in love and married at the tender age of twenty-two after knowing each other for all of two weeks. The first half of the book tells the story of their decades of marriage from Lotto's point of view, and though the writing is utterly gorgeous and the characters dynamic and multi-dimensional, it's on the darker side, without much in the way of comic relief. The second half, though, is Mathilde's story, which fills in a lot of blanks. The genius of this book lies in the juxtaposition of the two voices, addressing issues of destiny, creative potential, and the nature & meaning of marriage. Not a light read, but the complexity and cleverness offers enough relief from the darker nature of the story to make it brilliant.

* * *

Currently Reading: The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z. Danielewski

Currently Listening To: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Taking future suggestions as always. :)