Saturday, July 30, 2011

Old Friends

This One Tree, Trail 10, July 2011

When you run the NYC marathon, you run alone. By which I mean, no one else is running the thing for you. But you get carried along by the sheer power of humanity surrounding you. Running alongside you. Cheering you at the sidelines. High-fiving you. Add to that the knowledge that you have two close friends you've known since the days of braces and gym class running in the same race, and you feel less alone.

Certain things hold us in a place. It might be a job, a house. Or excellent produce year round. Maybe it is the friends you know that come over for tea, or the neighbors that keep an eye out for your rascally children. It might be the ocean and the woods and the way the fog and steam cling on the marsh ponds. Comfort in familiar beauty. And people know your quirks and they still want to chat you up at the grocery store.

Quirks like, perhaps, the way I am compelled to touch this One Tree on trail 10 each time I run or walk by it. I am not sure how that started, but it just seems like I have always touched this tree. It has a place that has obviously drawn other hands to it, just at the right level, hand-sized, smooth, rich auburn-mahogany. Smooth and comforting like a well-used newel post at the bottom of the stairs.

When I run, in NY or in the forest, I might find myself looking down, focusing on the discomfort, mulling over my fears, thinking ahead to what I need to get done and almost forgetting I am simply running. Almost forgetting to notice the cathedral through which I move. Then I look up and it is there. The world, that is.  Like an old friend.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Black Cat

A black cat crossed my path as I ran today. I always say (out loud) "Good luck!" when that happens. Which I believe to be true. Black cats have been unfairly maligned for centuries.

Though a scientist, I am superstitious at times. I haven't yet met a doctor or nurse who isn't. I dare you to walk into your night shift and declare to the room, "Looks like it is gonna be a slow one tonight!" You may not live to tell about it, if looks could kill. I am known for my "black cloud", meaning I rarely have a "slow" night shift, day shift or any shift. I see the house supervisor sigh when I come on. We get along very well, if for no other reason than we work together a lot, because we are always so busy. For some reason everyone blames that on ME.

Soon after the black cat crossed my path today while I was out running, this song came on:
Strange how the universe sometimes fits together so well.

That song is on my running playlist, along with a wide variety of pop, rock and a few blues tunes. I was noticing today that a lot of them have the word "run" in them somewhere, and most have a perfect tempo for a sub 8 minute mile, which is my marathon goal pace (less than 8, but not likely less than 7:30, unless I don't want to survive, if unreasonable marathon paces could kill). I still can't wrap my brain around the elite runners doing a sub 5 minute pace for over 26 miles.

But I bet even they wear their lucky socks, or the underwear that gave them their last P.R. or a certain cap or bracelet or tattoo or maybe they eat a jelly donut at midnight before every race, or they do 17 jumping jacks at the starting line or they listen to their favorite song while meditating their way through the course in their mind. Athletes, like doctors, are superstitious. I think this is why The Freak won't cut, or apparently even wash his hair. Please, Mr. Freak, at least a shampoo and trim!

Tim "The Freak" Lincecum, North Beach Mural June '11

I should go nap, as night shift is rushing toward me with all of its Sound and Fury.  In the words of Faulkner "There ain't no luck on this place." But they didn't have my favorite night shift shirt, which is currently in the wash, getting ready for tonight. And they didn't know just how lucky black cats really are.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


This post could be about so many things. As a doctor, I could discuss dysenterical  delights. As a runner, I could discuss, well, running. But today my mind is on my 88-keyed, lifelong friend.

I haven't run enough this week, on my legs at least. I have done multiple runs with my hands though. I played piano for almost 9 hours today, all told. That's like an ultra marathon. Which is something I've contemplated doing (on my legs) someday. Partly because I've heard you can eat hamburgers mid-run when you top 50 miles in a day. And that sounds way better than Gu Energy gel. Though I do adore their Espresso Love.

When I was little, I first wanted to be a poet. Then, when I was about 5, I put on great big headphones and plugged them into my parents' record player, and I chose Horowitz playing the Moonlight Sonata and I said to myself "this is what I want to do". I then spent the next 2 years of my life begging for piano lessons (also, climbing trees, collecting bugs, and being a member of a club named the "California Condors"). My parents said "you are too young". But on my 7th birthday, I got a card which I still remember. It had Schroeder on it and inside it said "Happy Birthday. You will start piano lessons next week. Your piano arrives tomorrow." My friends were speechless, and quite sympathetic, but I was over the moon. The spinet piano my parents brought home was the best thing ever. And sort of made up for the fact that they gave away the Steinway they owned when I was a baby. Sort of.

Now, I have strayed into the odd world of medicine. But this week I got to put my piano hat back on. I got to do runs that make my hair curl. I should be training for my marathon, but this week I did runs instead of doing running. And I played. And played. And played.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


As I ran today I felt awake for the first time in about 6 days. And it wasn't a groovy, existential kind of awake. I am talking awake as in not feeling like I immediately need to lie down and take a nap. I can blame this on night shift. I can blame it on not sleeping well or enough on days after night shift when I switched back to day shift. Then I can blame it on being back on night shift again. But this is not really that interesting. We all know night shifts are bad for us. So far though, I've noticed people get sick on nights, holidays and weekends just as much as they do at more convenient times. Drat!

So I ran today, for the first time in several days actually (see above about my practical narcolepsy this week). I was anticipating pain and sorrow, but instead I met the beauty of my woods, the glory of another sunny day, and the unexpected power of my legs. Maybe sleep (which I did do all day) has something to offer. Hmmm, I must ponder that one and file it somewhere for future use.

At the fair the other day, I bought a necklace that says "wake up." It has some musical notes on it to. I don't know what it means, really, but I liked it. It spoke to me. Here, in northern California, one must consider the deeper meaning, the invitation to be truly alive and aware and not to miss the beauty and ugliness and everything in between that our precious life offers. But I propose that that phrase "wake up"in its deeper, spiritual sense, can only be truly appreciated and understood by someone who has been dead tired. Physically exhausted. Hardly able to keep their eyes open. Yet forced or compelled or required to do just a few things more in the name of their job, or their crying child, or their sick loved one. Physical fatigue removes joy. Sleep restores it. To be truly awake, I believe you'd first better get some decent sleep.

I ran, and I was awake. The woods were a perfect canvas of light streaming between the towers of redwoods. The scent of eucalyptus filled my heart. The well-earned vista of bay and ocean from the top of the hill erased the discomfort of the climb. But now, I need to grab a cup of coffee, because tonight....back to night shift.