Saturday, August 31, 2013


The moral of the story is to stay out of your garden. At least when in training for a marathon. Or any race for that matter. So for many runners, that means never, ever step foot in your garden.

Unless you are one of those people who can stroll happily through your garden, notice the weeds and imperfections with an indifferent shrug, and just focus in on the beautiful and verdant. After which you head back inside and sip some iced tea, and mention to your partner that maybe somebody oughta' weed the garden.

I started to realize at about 5pm yesterday that I might not be able to do my planned 20 mile run today. I mentioned this to my oldest child, who said "that's OK, you can just do 19."

This morning, I can barely move. Literally, every inch of my body is screaming at me. I feel as if I have been beaten by an angry mob with those old fashioned cast iron frying pans.

This leaves me with some questions:
Will I be able to do my upcoming trail marathon as planned?
Is it normal to work in your garden for a few hours and be subsequently devastated?
Am I old? Or just soft from not enough manual labor?

Other questions I have had in recent weeks, months, years:
Is it possible to be married, raise kids, do laundry, keep the neighbors from gagging at the sight of your garden, cook an occasional meal, be a physician, maintain some elementary skills as a pianist and run (very) long distances, or is running (very) long distances the equivalent of what the Zen Master would counsel as something to be done only when your duties of life are complete?

Or is running (very) long distances a form of rebellion in an otherwise highly responsible and structured life?

The first rebellion, according to the bible, occurred in a garden. Specifically, asking questions in a garden that was supposed to be a place of pure bliss: no questions asked.

As a parent of teenagers, I am surrounded by rebellion. As a gardener, I am surrounded by imperfection and beauty. As a musician I am plagued by my decision to leave that profession for one that I also love but which eats me alive. Being eaten alive by my professions was an actual, true prediction from one of my residency attendings, who sensed from my personality and perhaps my Lutheran, midwestern work ethic that I was in for it. "You will be eaten alive," said he. This really pissed my off at the time.

Some days, I wish I could still play piano like a pro. Some days, I wish I could wear a straw bonnet and garden for hours without a care in the world. Most days, I just get up with the hope of a new day. I greet my kids, in all their grumpy morning glory. I drink coffee and I head to work. I treat the meth abusers and the kind elders and the chain-smoking, hard drinkers. I get advice, like: you should not be running those long distances. Or, you should work less. Or: you should work more. Or: you should spend more time with your kids. Or: Your kids are fine, go on a vacation.

I like to do what I am told, but  there are so many conflicting opinions!

Running hard and long, with abandon. This is my rebellion. Probably not today though. I should not have stepped into that garden.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Behind the Golden Gate

       Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am

a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

August 2013 Run, San Francisco

I've been thinking about mean people. Usually meanness stems from a lack of something. Lack of self esteem is a big one (if you've encountered a teenager lately, you will know what I mean). To live in a mean situation suggests impoverishment. And to be wealthy can make you meanest of all. Because money cannot buy you love.

Which leads me to the fact that I saw Sir Paul McCartney in concert this weekend. That guy must be about 70 years old, and he was on stage for 3 hours. He seemed so happy to be there. I heard quite a few inebriated or stoned (or both) 20-somethings watching him play and saying things like "dude, he is as old as f#*." Sir Paul never once uttered the F word, and he could outlast any of those idiots who have probably never worked a day in their lives.

Which brings me to the luxurious moments I spent, early in the morning before heading to the concerts. I do work, and more than I oughta, (my own golden handcuffs of choice) but when I am running in Northern California, on a trail, breathing clean air and eucalyptus fumes, and gazing in from the ocean side of the Golden Gate, I feel truly rich. Like nothing is missing, like nothing can impoverish me, like nothing mean ever existed.

I can be mean too. Not when under the influence of eucalyptus and fog though. Unless, of course, some dude tries to pass me. 

August 2013 Run, San Francisco

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Running the Whining, Winding Trail

"Just keep swimming."-Dory

I generally keep busy. My choice, my pathology, my path. I cannot blame anyone else really. Usually it does not bother me, but being an introvert, I tend to need moments of solitude and quiet. Coding people, listening to the highly obnoxious beeping pager all day, and being chased around by people asking me to reword my documentation (which, as far as I know, never saved a life or made anyone feel any less sick) makes me feel like someone has their hands clamped around my thoracic aorta.
I chose this. I sometimes love it (not the documentation, pagers or codes--but the doctoring). But nothing makes me whine like one too many days in the hospital trenches. Which is kinda sad, given it is much worse to be in a hospital bed than running around the hospital with stethoscope and pager.

As I take a 2 day breather after a long haul of work days, it occurs to me why I am drawn to running, and why I am particularly drawn to long distances. It is probably the same reason people with more discipline than I sit and meditate for long periods. It is a turning off of the toxic. A turning off of the shouting voices of doom, the ones in the brain that are a special side affect of a life of luxury. When we do not have to worry about where our next meal comes from or how to find some clean water for the family, our brain is free to perseverate freely upon such things as:
*I will surely go to hell for eating that donut in the doctor's lounge.
*My teenagers might end up in my ER for making some stupid, impulsive choice, and maybe I should lock them in their rooms for the next 7 years.
*If I could just sleep in, life would be great.
*How many shifts will pay the bills without making me drop dead in the process?
*If my hair were longer would my elderly female patients stop calling me a handsome young man?

When carrying water is not filling our day, we get to think about what comes next. After pondering this important question for many moons, I have found myself settling upon an answer:


Originally, the ultra idea belonged to my friend Ellen. I mean, obviously people have been running ultra distances for eons, but E called me one day and suggested we do a 50 miler. So, I blame her for planting the seed in my susceptible brain.

I think ultras might be like working, and like childbirth, and like weeding, and like other hard stuff. If you think of the whole project ahead of you at once, you will be in the corner weeping and moaning. Best to take it in small pieces, in moments of time, and then practice mindfulness. You cannot really shut off the brain, but you can humor its doom-speak with a brief nod, then let it go. DO NOT ENGAGE THE VOICE OF DOOM.

Just keep on the path. Rest and eat a PB and J when you have to. Don't sweat the donut weakness. Wear your hair short. Hug the teenagers and "let us see what Squirt dose, flying solo."

Whine if you must. Then:

Run the winding trail.