When Words Collide by day, Axe Throwing by night

Let's start off by stating, unequivocally, that Calgary is home to some of the nicest people. It also boasts a beautiful skyline downtown and the Canadian Rockies beckoning just to the west. This is where When Words Collides holds its annual convention which is, in turn, the reason I came to Calgary.

When Words Collide emphasizes speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) and is the venue for the Aurora Awards, along with three days of workshops. As with other cons I've attended, some of the workshops are great, some are good, and some I should have snuck out of. So far, I've averaged six class sessions per day, ranging from book launches to writing romance in young adult fiction. In the Romance in YA session, I was the only man.

The con is well organized. I am discovering that most of the business side of the sessions aren't very useful to me. Since I read widely on industry trends, I'm a bit ahead of some of the curves.

The craft sessions tend to be the most attended and of the most immediate utility. Donna, who is attending with me, thinks that part of that is a desire for people to find the magic key that will unlock a famous writing career. A session on creativity and another on time management dashed those hopes if the same people attended. There is no substitute for placing your butt in a chair and working, working, working, to improve your storytelling.

The other function the con serves, besides award recognition and education, is to allow for some networking. Notables, Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press who publishes Lousie Marley and James Van Pelt, authors I met last year at Worldcon. Brian Hades and Janice from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, based here in Calgary, that have a strong line-up of successful authors that includes J. A. McLachlan. McLachlan is a terrific presenter, but strikes me as disinclined to put up with fools.

Danielle Jensen sat on two panels (Romance for YA, Plotting for "Pantsters") I attended yesterday. She's more soft-spoken than many of the panelists, but had a wealth of advice to impart. She never mentioned it during her introductions, but Jensen is a USA-Today Best-Seller.

By four o'clock, we were done with the sessions. Since we didn't have tickets to the banquet, we were on our own, so I got to try something that just seemed a hoot.

I went axe-throwing.

The Backyard Axe Throwing League is one of several clubs that cater to a clientele that prefers to hurl something somewhat more substantial than a dart. The Calgary branch allows walk-ins to visit and learn, so we did. Or I did, as Donna appears to place axe-throwing in the same category as running - if nothing is chasing you, why bother?

The fee is just $20 for an hour session with a coach to guide you along. I presume the coach is also supposed to ensure the guests leave with all their digits squarely attached instead of in a kleenex box. At least, that's the way I would run things.

Blair was my coach, known around the club as "Bees". Since Donna declined the chance to throw, we skipped some of the safety warnings that the group in the next cage - the throwing lanes has cinder block walls and chain-link separators to protect the unwary from wayward axes. Their warning included an admonition to not throw until the person ahead had both retrieved their ax and returned to the safety of the top of the lane. Seemed sensible unless someone was over-insured and a nuisance to boot.

Bees led me through the process, two-handed grip, the lift overhead, the delivery, follow-through. His stuck in the wood with a satisfying thud. Mine try went thud as the back of the ax head dented the pine. The next one went into the net above. Oops. The third one bit wood and stuck. Pretty soon, all of them started to stick and some hit the bull ring. Obviously, it was time to more up from the small ax, a hatchet-sized affair, to a full lumberjack ax.

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That one requires a bit of a rocking movement to get it launched. You also start out farther back as the blade on the rebound can come distressingly far out into the lane. Bees demo'd the action, and then it was my turn. Over-rotated the first one, so I changed my position in the lane, snugging up six inches. A meaty thunk told me that part was dialed in. A few throws later and I was dialing on the bull ring with the big ax, too.

A couple of dozen throws and I moved back to the little ax. One miscue on the first throw while I adapted to the weight and then I was back in business, dropping three bulls in a row at one point.

That, however, was the highlight. Axe throwing is tough on the forearms and my form started to deteriorate. It was time to call it an evening, so we left. I did forget to get some critical information from Bees.

I need specs on how to build an axe target at home. The neighbors won't mind - they already think I am bit of a loon. Pleasant enough, but odd, you know.

Have fun out there this week. Run, jump, throw axes - make it fun.

Lazy Writer Day

Max Siegel might USATF's CEO but he certainly does not cut it as a leader. We need lifetime bans, Max, and leadership. You don't need anybody's permission to set the example. From the WSJ:

"Max Siegel, chief executive of USA Track & Field, condemned doping but said he sees his job as that of an enforcer of anti-doping rules, which currently permit athletes to return from doping bans. “I know exactly what (King) is calling for, and it doesn’t change the way the rules currently exist. My job is to apply the rules fairly across the board.”


Tomorrow I take off for Calgary, my first visit there in a quarter century. Reason? When Words Collide, a writer and fan convention. Conventions are a great chance to meet folks and refuel the writing batteries. I'll be in information overload by Sunday, but . . .

You know what else Calgary has? Axe throwing! How cool is that? Great way to relieve the stress of writing. Or unreasonable bosses. Do not mix with alcohol.


After having struggled for most of this year to get words on paper, I turned a corner a month ago. In the last three weeks, I've put out about 10,000 words on the second novel of the Splintered Magic series (the first is done, needs editing. Later, as the series will be released in one gigantic push.) The key? Mostly having the guts to turn down paying work to make time and then letting the story take over instead of following the outline I set up.

On a related note, for the first time in years, I'm not coaching junior high xc. I'm going to miss the kids, but I was missing the excitement I normally feel this time of year. More, I was dreading surrendering my writing time.

Now, to check my schedule to see if I can return to blogging about the local races.


It's a bit early, but have a great weekend. I'll put up some pics from Calgary over the weekend.

Why do the suits get all the money at the Olympics?

On the Runners, Racers, and Trailbait group at MeWe I posted this link. The Washington Post article takes a good look at the culture of the governing bodies for the Olympics.

The governing bodies don't come off well. The quote that aggravated me most came from USOC CEO Blackmun. “You have to look back at where the Olympic Movement came from. It was an amateur-based movement. Nobody got compensated,” said Blackmun, who made about $1 million in 2014, tax records show. “It’s not a for-profit movement. Nobody in suits is getting paid for this beyond what you have to pay people to raise all the money we have to raise. . . . We are in good faith trying to maximize the level of support we can provide to our athletes. I wish we had the resources to support more athletes.”

Bottom line: the men in suits will steal the athletes candy and consider themselves noble for it, until the athletes control their own future.

One poster, Will, posted the following, made some very good points on how the athletes could do that. With his permission . . .


Nothing is too big to fail. The Olympics have become too big, and as such, have become wasteful. There are plenty of other companies out there other than Nike who seem to be willing to sponsor athletes if their companies can get some notice out of it.

Why not hit the reset button and set up something at home? Set up something in the U.S. (or elsewhere) and keep it in the same spot to avoid the cost of hosting a different place each year. For coverage, find some computer engineers (I hear India is ripe with them) to set up a streaming website that can utilize real time feeds from peoples phones. Most people have smartphones now days, so set up “citizen videographers” throughout the events and courses to record and stream to the website. Since most people already willing pay for these phones and internet options, and many are fans of professional sports, and enjoy filming things anyway, I’m sure enough would volunteer to film for free.

There are plenty of athletes in this country who write and blog who can effectively advertise to the necessary audience to drum up awareness and views. The website can easily track who watches what events, and this can be used to help draw sponsorships for individual athletes.

This isn’t a new idea. Citizen journalists have been doing this to factually report what is going on in their country, state, and local areas as big media no longer provides the service. The same setup can easily be applied to athletics.

There certainly seems to be enough athletes in this world who have done well financial (perhaps not in athletics) who could come together and purchase some land to make this happen. Start small. Build a track. It doesn’t have to be “Olympic” caliber construction. Start on dirt, or cheap asphalt. The stadiums don’t make the event. The athletes do. So just focus on them, because they are what is enjoyable.


Feel free to add your own thoughts - and do think about sharing it around.

For those in Seattle, Laura Fleshman hosting a group run from the Oiselle store at 6:30PM tonight. Olympian Kate Grace, a fellow runner sponsored by Oiselle, is one of those affected by Rule 40 - she can't support the company that helped her during the critical Olympic season.

Seaport Striders, Thoroughly Awesome

One of my great joys is the way the running community gives back to the rest of the community (think of all those charity walks and 5K's) and to the younger runners around them.

The Seaport Striders have an event every year, the Benefit Run, where they generously split the proceeds with our three local high schools. Wait, hold it - I'm incorrect.

They match the proceeds.

That's right - they pull money out of their own funds to help the kids. All we have to do is show up and run/walk/stagger for a 5K. Optionally, you can buy an entry and cheer, knowing that twice what you paid (it's only $10, BTW) goes to the programs as Asotin, Clarkston, and Lewiston.

So, Friday evening, 7PM, Chief Looking Glass Park. Low key, no awards, no times posted to the internet. Want bragging rights? We'll have a clock going for you. Don't care about bragging right? Ignore the guy with the watch and enjoy the company.

Snag an application here - or show up at 6PM and fill out an application on the spot.

See you there!

And thank you to the Striders!

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? An Update

In the summer of 2014, a mass of people in a cascading waterfall of icy water, undertook fund-raising for the ALS Association with the Ice Bucket Challenge. I was one of those, nominated by my brother, Ken. I had daughters volunteer to do the honors of dowsing me, but two out of three were pregnant and at their delivery dates. Not up to lifting a five-gallon gatorade jug, so I delegated (with much protesting from the daughters) that job to the Asotin Jr. High Cross Country team at our first practice.  Good times.

One of the places the research money went was to Project MinE. Per the news today:

In a study released on Monday, Project MinE revealed they found a significant association between loss-of-function NEK1 variants and risk of familial ALS. NEK1 maintains neuron cyberskeletons, among its many roles in neurons, according to the Rare Disease Foundation.

Nice to see progress against this dreadful disease.

First Two Chapters - Splintered Magic

For those expecting a running novel, this is a departure from my usual writing. While it's still in the Young Adult genre, Splintered Magic is a contemporary fantasy.


Chapter One

Kenzie circled to her left and stayed just barely within his reach, tempting him. Her sweat soaked the tee shirt she wore under her dobok, but she didn’t care. A quick flip of the head cleared the droplets that threatened to slip into her eyes. She focused just below the solar plexus of the lanky man opposite her, her peripheral vision sufficient to monitor his hands and feet.

The only sounds that reached Kenzie came from her feet gliding over the padded floor, and his breathing.

Her sparring opponent wore a green belt to her red. A newcomer to the martial arts studio, he moved smoothly, despite being more than twice her age. Around them, the advanced students of the dojang knelt and watched in silent assessment. She feinted a front kick with her left foot, designed to pull his block to the left and open his body. Instead, he slipped closer, switching to a left-handed fighting stance and his lead fist, encased in a heavyweight sparring glove, flashed toward her.

Without thinking, Kenzie reacted with her left arm, technique perfect with the hand rotating as her whole forearm swept across her body. She stepped back with her right foot to accelerate the block with a snap of her slender hips. The impact through her glove jarred her and, at the edge of her vision, she noted surprise briefly lit the man’s eyes. A roundhouse kick followed the punch, but the man delivered it too slowly; she retreated to safety.

Mr. Green Belt dropped his hands slightly, then his shoulders raised. She recognized the signs of the impending attack, his shifting of weight to the rear leg. In the same instant, Kenzie seized the opportunity to slip past his guard, get inside his defense where his length would work against him.

Simultaneously with his front foot lifting for a kick, Kenzie attacked. She knifed in and launched a roundhouse kick of her own, leg arcing high over his fists, toes pulled back.

At the last instant, she realized that the man, not anticipating that she would aim for his head, mistakenly moved into the kick instead of evading.

Too late, she tried to slow, stop, the kick.

She felt the ball of her foot crunch into her sparring partner’s head with a sick thud, just behind the ear, below the protective head gear. Mr. Green Belt snorted as his head snapped sideways, and his eyes glazed.

“Break!” The command from Jules, the sabomnim who owned the studio, came over the shocked murmur of the other students.

Mortified at breaking the cardinal rule of the dojang, Kenzie began to drop her gloves, but the man, eyes still glazed, launched a hard straight left jab. She jerked her head back and the fist passed close enough that she felt the air move, felt the snapping of the man’s jacket, heard the crack that accompanied the snap.

Wide-eyed, she tried to retreat, but the man launched another attack, the slowness from the sparring drill gone. Her gaze darted up to his face, saw eyes unfocused. A nervous chill touched the base of her spine, and she backed out of the sparring ring. Students scattered to get out of the way, several of the older boys rising to their feet, uncertain on how to intervene.

Break!”

The blows came fast, and he used both hands and both feet, in combinations. It was like fighting a well-trained but berserk octopus, blows arriving from every direction. The touch contact from the drill disappeared. These attacks meant to harm.

She swept her right arm down to block a low round kick. The block arrived in time to stop the strike, her forearm slamming into his shin bone. Pain radiated up her arm, and the force knocked her sideways.

He’s so frackin’ strong, she thought as she ducked away from a whistling back fist attack that would have shattered her jaw if it landed. She pivoted low to spin away, to find some space, to escape.

“BREAK!”

Jules strong hands grasped the man from behind. The fourth dan black belt, a powerful woman who stood just an inch shorter than the man, did not try to control the man’s body when he whirled to face the new threat. Instead, Kenzie saw Jules clasp the fleshy part of the shoulders to make contact through the fog in his head.

“Break, Robert.” Jules voice dropped in volume but carried the iron authority of the master. She stared into Robert’s eyes. After an initial surge against her hands, he leaned back, giving his head a hard shake as though attempting to settle the various interior pieces of a mixed up jigsaw into the proper spaces.

“Sit.”

Robert slowly dropped to a knee. Jules knelt beside him.

“All the way down, Robert. Sit.”

He did as instructed, with a faint groan. He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them and stared right at Kenzie.

“You ’kay?” His words slurred and his eyes still did not possess a normal perceptiveness, but at least somebody was home now.

Nervous tremors racked Kenzie’s arms and legs, but she nodded. He nodded back with an expression of relief.

“Mackenzie.”

Kenzie faced Jules, body still reacting to the adrenaline surging through her veins.

Jules didn’t shout. Her voice held an icy neutrality.

“Go to my office.” She pointed. “Wait.”

Kenzie stared at her instructor and abruptly shook her head.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, trying without success to keep anger out of her voice.

She got a stern nod from Jules as the woman turned to administer aid to Robert.

She turned, walking stiffly across the mats to the gap in the low wall that split the studio, the students in the workout area, and the parents in the small section given up to spectator seating. The other students averted their eyes. They shifted to the floor or over to the trophy case, anywhere but at her. Kenzie strode through the loose circle, chin up and lips pursed, holding her features in a hard mask of indifference. From the corner of her eye, Kenzie could see the image of an angry teenager—herself— stalking beside her, sharply delineated in the full-length mirrors that lined the front wall. She could also feel the pressure of all those eyes on her back. She resisted the temptation to shrug.

Only when she stepped into the office, behind the protection of a wall, did she let her guard down. Flopping into a straight-backed chair, she closed her eyes, envisioning the hard strike again and praying for a way to stop it, knowing that in stepping into the attack, she committed fully.

She drew a deep breath, and her head dropped. She put both hands up to her face to cover her eyes and pressed her fingertips hard on her eyeballs until the red bled into her vision. The acrid stink of her own fearful sweat wrinkled her nose.

The final instant before impact refused to fade, even as the red behind her eyelids turned into white hot sparks.

Crunch.

Kenzie waited in a stony silence while the class did form drills instead of sparring. The muscular twitches slowly dissolved into a simmering resentment and the body odor faded to a faint reminder as her sweat dried. On her arms, dull red weals rose. She rubbed them gingerly.

A shadow passed the doorway, and she glanced over her shoulder to see Robert, changed into street clothes, leaving with his gear bag hanging heavy in his hand.

He regarded her way with a combination of sympathy and embarrassment.

“Sorry.”

“Me too,” she said. Her voice cracked. She heard the door open, the sound of the street traffic invading the quiet of the studio before it faded back to calm when the door swung shut.

Me, too.

With a start, she realized that the chatter of the kids in the class that Jules had ended the lesson. The voices mixed together, subdued compared to the energetic cheerfulness that infected the youngsters—the afternoon lesson was mostly kids—as they got ready to leave.

Some left, still dressed in their martial arts uniforms, talking with friends until they got beside the doorway to the office, then falling silent until they left out the door. Most refused to acknowledge her.

Jules' voice carried over the hubbub, reminding them to practice, saying goodbyes, just as she always did.

Kenzie didn’t budge.

Deep silence dropped into the studio. Rustling sounds reached her ears as she tried to track Jules, but she kept her eyes fixed on the pictures that the instructor had on the walls. Amongst the usual pictures of tournaments sat a black and white photo of Jules, sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose. The woman in the photograph was a much younger version of her instructor. That Jules was pretty, despite the severe lines of the uniform, maybe in her twenties. Instead of conveying peacefulness, Kenzie sensed subtle anger emanating from the image, and, deep inside herself, an echoing anger.

And something else, unfamiliar . . .

The ‘something else’ sent shivers down her spine, so Kenzie averted her gaze from the picture.

That’s better, she thought, but her breathing stayed fast and shallow.

She had her eyes closed when the faintest rustle of cotton informed her that she wasn’t alone. Her head jerked up as she located the source of the sound.

Jules settled into the rolling chair behind the desk, resting her elbows on the black armrests, hands loosely folded in front of her. The chair barely creaked.

Kenzie focused on the hands. They were thicker than average but not unusually so. She had watched those same hands shatter concrete paving blocks. While her thoughts swirled about in her head, she noted that Jules wore clear polish on her nails. A build-up of calluses at the knuckles provided the only clue to the force her instructor could unleash.

Kenzie could feel the weight of the older woman’s gaze on her, filled with reproach. When she litfed her face, Jules' face was composed in neutral planes though her eyes were doing an inspection of the angry red marks on Kenzie’s skin. Satisfied, the woman made eye contact.

Kenzie blinked at meeting Jules gaze. She lost control of her features, brows knitting and her lips twisting into a grimace that she tried to stifle.

Jules spoke first.

“You could have been very badly hurt.” She said the words quietly, and waited.

Kenzie gave a hard shake of her head, the ponytail swinging. Her eyes searched the surface of the desk, flicking back and forth as she unperceptively squirmed.

“Robert is okay?”

Jules leaned forward in the chair, the loose cuffs of her sleeves falling open as she shifted her elbows to the top of the desk. “Look at me.”

Kenzie switched from the neat piles on the desk to Jules.

“You stunned him a bit, but there’s no sign of a concussion.”

Her astute gaze sharpened. Kenzie saw the assessment of the bruises forming on her arms.

“You could have been badly hurt,” Jules repeated.

Like she couldn’t restrain them anymore, the words spilled from Kenzie.

“I could have hurt him.” Her chest tightened painfully, and her eyes grew bright and liquid. “He moved and I tried to pull back,” she said, her voice pleading, “but I couldn’t stop and then I hit him and his eyes—”

“You could have killed him,” Jules said, interrupting the torrent from Kenzie. Her tone was blunt, again with a soft voice, but filled with irresistible conviction.

Kenzie’s eye widened as she stared at Jules. Shame and fear fought for supremacy; fear won. Her hands began to shake again. She eyes were riveted to her instructor.

I’m sorry.”

Jules' countenance showed a hardness, but also concern.

“Your technique is solid, Kenzie.” Jules paused, considering her words. “What you lack is control. You get lost in your emotions.” Jules pointer finger moved a fraction of an inch. “Control isn’t just being able to stop a kick an eighth of an inch from somebody’s nose. You’ve done a good job of training your body, you’ve worked hard. Physically, you are gifted with good reflexes and coordination, and, for a small woman, powerful.”

Kenzie sat, confused at the compliment, and uncomfortable but pleased at being called a woman. Most adults assumed that a small statured fifteen-year-old was still a child and treated Kenzie that way. It pissed her off.

Jules studied her, a sharp going-over that pinned Kenzie down in her chair, mute and unmoving.

“That’s actually too bad.”

Kenzie eyelids fluttered at the sudden sting of the words.

Too bad?

She clenched her jaw tight as Jules got blurry. She turned her head and blinked rapidly until her vision cleared.

Kenzie saw a frown cross Jules face, smoothed over in an instant. Her instructor’s voice became hesitant, as though unsure how much to reveal.

“You have a tremendous . . . ,” she started, before tapering off.

Jules took a deep breath, tilting her head to peer at Kenzie.

Her voice took on a confiding tone.

“You’ve trusted me to teach you how to defend yourself. There’s more to the martial arts than just the movements and self-defense.” She tapped her forehead with a finger. “Will you trust me now when I say I can teach you how to tap into your strengths here?”

Kenzie nodded once, more to say that she’d heard the words even if she didn’t quite understand what Jules was suggesting.

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m furious,” Jules replied, “mostly with myself. I should have had better control of the exercise. I saw you baiting him. I didn’t realize how aggressive Robert was to press an advantage. Two quick people out of control is dangerous.”

Kenzie listened with embarrassment, both at being caught enticing the attack to take advantage of her speed and from the assumption of responsibility by Jules for her own actions. She didn’t trust her voice not to crack but spoke up anyway.

“I was the one that screwed up.”

Jules sighed. “It was a team effort, Kenzie.” She took a deep breath and made a decision.

“A man that is hurt and wounded is far more dangerous than an over-confident man. When you hit Robert, you triggered his fighting reflexes.” She stopped to make sure that Kenzie understood. “He wasn’t sparring. He was in survival mode, fighting mode. We can’t have that happen again, ever.”

They sat in silence for a minute as the words sunk in. The door to the studio opened with an inrush of traffic noise as the first student in the next class entered.

“Hi there, Eric,” Jules said, acknowledging the young boy coming in.

Kenzie swallowed. Without thinking, she reached up to rub a particularly painful bruise on her upper arm.

Jules saw it. “Call your dad,” she said, standing up. “I don’t want you running home today, okay?”

Kenzie stood, but didn’t agree. She turned to leave the office, but Jules glided forward and intercepted her, blocking the doorway.

She put a hand on Kenzie’s shoulder, then pulled her into a brief hug.

“I’m sorry,” Kenzie mumbled into the folds of Jules jacket. The smell of the cotton was comforting. It had been years since she’d hugged Jules, outgrowing it somewhere between being a little kid and a confused teenager.

“I know.”

They separated, and Jules left the office. Kenzie followed her out, but instead of going back onto the training floor, headed for the open shelves where the students threw their bags. She had two bags on the lowest shelf, one for her school books, one for her clothes. She dug through the second bag. Buried under her running shoes, Kenzie finally found her phone.

She checked the display. A dozen or more texts, and a couple of instagrams. She hesitated, feeling anxious. Her body, already on chemical overload, wanted a hit of endorphins, the kind that came fifteen minutes into an easy lope, not so slow to be jogging but nowhere near racing.

I need to run.

She glanced at Jules. The instructor was watching her in the mirrors that lined the length of the wall. She frowned when Kenzie put the phone away. Kenzie sidled away. Dropping into a low crouch, she pulled out her running gear, then slipped into a changing room. She was carefully not to face Jules again. A scant two minutes later, she stuffed her uniform into the clothes bag, picked up both bags, and placed them by the door.

She was ready.

She had one hand on the door when Jules spoke.

“Kenzie.”

I could just go, she thought, but turned around.

Jules stood by the low wall. Understanding filled the woman’s eyes, and concern.

“Did you call your father?”

Kenzie shook her head but held onto Jules gaze.

The black belt sighed.

“Be careful. I’ll let your father know what happened.”

Kenzie winced, already envisioning the coming lecture. She gave Jules an acknowledging nod, then she slid out the door, onto the sidewalk. Instead of the famous Seattle gray, a brilliant blue with sharp white clouds decorating the sunlit skies greeted her.

In three steps, Kenzie was running, but the expression in Robert’s eyes chased her no matter how fast she ran.

Chapter Two

Mitch cussed as the bolt slipped from his grease-covered fingers, clinking and clanking as it dropped into the engine compartment of the Camaro.

He waited for the metallic sound of steel on concrete, but there was no ringing sound.

Crap, thought Mitch. If it didn’t land on the garage floor, it must have lodged somewhere in the compartment. He peered into the dim recesses around the motor and below the partially installed fuel pump. He didn’t see where it could have landed.

He gave an irritated sigh and, with both hands, threw the full weight of his lanky body onto the front fender of the car, rocking it on the worn-out suspension. Decades-old dust rose to mix with the smell of oil and grease. He wrinkled his nose.

Nothing.

He kept rocking the car, staying with the same type of rhythm he used as a kid on a swing. The hood squeaked, and Mitch checked it. The latch held. Then, he gave the muscle car an especially hard shove at the bottom of the oscillation. The car bounced, and at the back came the sound of plastic hitting the concrete and shattering—and the tink of the bolt, dislodged by the violent rocking, falling free to the concrete slab.

He got down on his elbows and knees and ducked his head sideways to scrutinize the area underneath the frame.

How did it get there? he thought, spotting at the bolt. It sat on the far side of the car, throwing a shadow from the light spilling in from the open garage door.

Mitch had the dented metal door run up, savoring the unexpectedly bright sunshine, so unusual for Seattle in the early spring. As a bonus, the sun warmed his back as he strained to get the wayward part.

He stretched to the full extent of his long arms. Three inches out of reach.

Naturally.

He withdrew his arm, and in a graceful movement, swung his legs up at the same time he pushed off with his hands, landing in a crouch, then rose up to his full height. He took two steps and curled around the passenger side of the car. From here, it took just a second to retrieve the bolt.

As he stood, a glimpse of hot pink caught his eye. His attention shifted from his project car next to a girl running down the steps at the far end of the narrow cul-de-sac.

Her feet flicked at the steps, landing just long enough to get the next leg down, like she was skipping.

His assessment shifted upward from the feet, past the hot pink shorts, the loose baby blue shirt, to her face.

She’s cute.

And noticing the motion under her shirt, realized she wasn’t twelve as she appeared at first.

The girl reached the bottom of the steps, and the skipping motion smoothed out.

Next door, Mrs. McFurkin’s yappy dog yipped at the intruder, interrupting Mitch’s appreciative thoughts. Mitch glanced sideways across the yard, annoyance crossing his face. The mutt, a designer dog, three-quarters fuzzy Pomeranian, the remainder the annoying bits of a Chihuahua, who answered to Muffles, was bouncing in excitement and trying to back out of his collar.

Not a real dog, he thought as a distant memory tugged at him. Labs don’t bounce when they bark!

Mitch stepped back into the garage before the girl could see him, and leaned against the car. He continued to watch the girl as she came down the sidewalk on the far side of the street.

A low, sleek black car silently slide into the driveway of the older, decrepit two-story house across the street, the rear bumper blocking the sidewalk.

The girl, closing fast, started to dodge when she was five yards from the car. At the same time she left the walk for the grassy planter strip, the driver and passenger doors of the car sprung open and two men, dressed identically and incongruously in dark clothes and sunglasses, jumped out.

The passenger ran around the back of the car, into the street, like a defensive end cutting off a running back on a sweep. The other man closed on the other side of the girl, who skidded to a stop at the pincer attack.

Mitch watched it happen. It took a fraction of a second for the shock to wear off, and he launched off the Camaro.

“Hey!”

Muffles barked at them all.

Mitch sprinted into the street, chasing the car’s passenger.

In front of him, the helpless girl shied away from the driver, and evaluated at the other guy. Mitch saw her glance at him, dismiss him. Breathing heavily, she backed diagonally away.

The assailants didn’t say anything as they stalked her. Mitch saw the goon closest to him had something in his hand, saw the arm swing up.

With relief, he realized it wasn’t a gun.

Without warning, the girl darted toward the driver. Mitch watched as her bare left leg lashed out, straight and fast while her tiny hands came up into a defensive position. The ball of her foot snapped into the driver’s groin, leaving a waffle pattern from the sole on the black trousers.

Sprinting, Mitch still managed to wince.

The driver let out a guttural “unnn” as his body collapsed into a fetal position, the orbs of his eyes showing white all the way around.

One down.

Mitch got a clear picture of the second one as he barreled at the assailant.

A mean-ass dude with a stun-gun and a crappy crewcut. Big.

Mitch’s gut twisted.

“Run!”

The girl spared a glance at him and, discounting him, reset her feet. The soles of the running shoes gripped the grass and didn’t let her pivot to meet the new threat. Fear and anger flared on her face as the second man, closed fast, but with caution, heeding the lesson his buddy learned the hard way.

Everything moved soooo slowly.

As seconds stretch, Mitch estimated the time to close the last ten yards.

How long it would take for the mean-ass kidnapper—they had to be kidnappers, nothing else made sense—to zap the girl.

The time for the runner to finish her turn.

The math didn’t work; he was going to be too late.

At the last moment, he sensed rather than saw, Muffles. The pom-chi-pom-pom that Mrs. McFurkin doted over had successfully slipped his collar and chased him into the street. The next instant, Muffles attached himself to Mitch’s pant leg, grrrring ferociously, as though it made any sort of difference. Mitch pitched head-first into the air.

Why do I only crash and burn when I have an audience, he thought irrelevantly, and straightened and swung his leg out to avoid kicking the stupid frickin’ fur ball.

The world turned topsy-turvy, but Mitch could see the man pause at the sounds of the dog behind him. The math changed. Mitch’s body rotated like a dart headed for a bulls-eye. He was on the way down and, from instinct born of frequent practice, he braced for the impact with the ground.

He hit the side of the man’s leg just below the knee. The fabric of the pants abraded his cheek as Mitch managed to get his head out of the way.

Always protect the brain bucket.

His shoulder took the brunt of the collision. White pain flared in his brain, a double crack echoing in his ears at the dude’s knee gave way at the same time as Mitch’s left collar bone. The man started to topple as Mitch’s momentum carried him under the man, then he was sliding on the damp, fragrant grass on his back.

The stun-gun flew from the man’s hands, falling under the girl’s leg, already raised in attack position. Mitch saw the leg extend, catch the guy in the lower ribs, expected to hear another crack. Instead, the ribs folded in as the man’s fall robbed the sidekick of its effectiveness.

The stun gun clattered on the sidewalk and slid into the overgrown shrubbery, and Mitch slid face up and headfirst into the bottom of a maple tree. His skull exploded in red waves as skin peeled away on the bark, the back of his head riding up the trunk until his neck buckled sideways. He came to a stop when his broken shoulder arrested his movement.

Time reverted to normal speed, and with it, pain engulfed his body. He tried to lift his head, but shockwaves from his shoulder caused his whole body to shudder. A moan escaped his lips before he clamped them shut.

The girl, is she okay?

He lifted his head again, suppressing the wracking signals sent by the nerve endings in his shoulder, his scalp.

He saw her standing, hands raised, eyes narrowed. Like a startled doe, she stood poised to take flight. The sunlight framed her body with a faint halo, and when she took stock at him, he saw the same golden light in her eyes.

He stared at her as she took one reflexive step toward him. Her small fists opened, and one hand went to her mouth. He tried smiling as her eyes took an inventory of the damage, flitting from head to shoulder, down his long, lanky body.

“You’re hurt,” she said. Her voice held dispassionate calm. The glow in her eyes seemed to increase.

Thanks for noting the obvious, he thought. He didn’t say it out loud, though—no sense in offending pretty girls.

“Hi,” he said, easing away from the damaged side as he struggled to sit up. If he folded his left arm over, and used his right elbow for leverage . . .

His vision went dark around the images, and he had to take several rapid breaths. He managed to get disentangled from the maple, crushing red blooming tulips in the process. Damaged petals added their scent to the air.

While he moved, she moved, too. He saw her legs slip into his narrowed field of vision, femininely fit and muscular, as she dropped to a knee next to him. He looked up to her face, and the eyes that seemed captivating before pulled him in. When was the last time he was this close to a girl other than in a physics lab?

“I’m okay.” He forced the words out and smiled. His face felt twisted and, from the disbelieving shake of her head, gathered the girl disagreed.

She reached out a hand, tentatively. On her arm, he saw fresh bruises. The welts sparked an unreasoning anger inside, as he remembered other arms that bore similar marks.

She didn’t speak.

The hand touched his chest, fingertips first. With gentle pressure, she forced him back down prone on the grass.

Mitch let her.

She leaned over him, the pressure on his chest from her hand grew, and he found it hard to breathe. The aura around her returned, and Mitch saw the small hairs, loose from her ponytail moving on a breeze that he couldn’t feel.

Warmth flowed outward from her hand, from his chest, filling his core, extending to the shoulder. At the base of his neck, a tingle started and grew.

She spoke with quiet force. Just one word, one that he didn’t recognize.

Æsculapium”

The tingle turned into a torrent, white light filled his brain, streaks of rising fireworks into the darkness of the pain. He clutched at the hand on his chest.

The skyrockets split and burst, recombined, and he heard himself moan, except it wasn’t him.

The pressure from his chest disappeared before he could capture the hand, fingers grasping at air. The world around him went gauzy, and he blinked. The girl stood over him, staring, and backed away.

“Rest.”

His last sight was the girl bounding away as his arms fell across his chest.

Meh, the Olympics are coming

I used to get excited about the quadrennial Olympics, even though I grew up in the Cold War period were the athletes stood as proxies for the world's superpowers and their allies/henchmen. The latter, of course, was dependent on whether we were talking West Germany (cheer for the good guys!) or East Germany (BOO!)

Even then, the Games were rigged, to the extent that the amateur athlete was seldom seen. The Eastern Block, in thrall to the USSR, employed most of their athletes in government jobs. Most of the world followed suit. The Western powers, led by the United States, were slower. Every time the US contemplated allowing athletes to actually make some coin, the world would protest that the spirit of the Olympics would die. Still, the good guys won their fair share of medals and basked in the glow of smug self-satisfaction, knowing they didn't cheat.

We won't note how many boxers were in the US Army in those days. Oh, wait . . . moving on . . .

The seeds of the destruction of the Olympics date to this period. Unable to overcome truth, justice, and the American way by cheating the system, the East Germans made a management decision to cheat the athletes, specifically their own.  As cogs to the machinery of the State, the individual athlete was expendable. Modern medicine with its miracle drugs provided exactly the tool to teach the running dogs of capitalism a lesson. (I know, capitalist running dog was more a Chinese thing. Roll with it.)

The East Germans dominated the 1972 event, garnering more medals than any other country without the initials USSR or USA. The secret to their success lay in advanced training programs, the natural superiority of the collective - and a little blue pill, containing testosterone. That the anabolic steroid would create enormous health problems (that persist to this day) for the athletes was irrelevant. The goal was to win medals, and at any cost.

The Chinese, as always, like to steal a good thing. Treating PED-use like a Louis Vuitton handbag, they entered a team of distance runners into the World Championships in 1993, winning six of nine possible medals. A month later, they demolished world records. Wang Junxia still holds the top spot in the 10K record book, 23 years later.

Doping, not nationalism, not professionalism, is the slayer of the Olympics. I'll grant you greed plays its part, as well, but we'd still tune into the Olympics to watch world-class athletes if we knew they were clean.

In the last two years, the scandals involving PED use in the running ranks has exploded across the news. With the advent of new testing procedures, the authorities are finding more athletes dirty and recalling medals by the bucket-load. The latest are the 23 culled from the 2008 Olympics.

Now comes news that, despite the total absence of ethics displayed by the Russians, they're going to participate in Rio. The gutless IOC (and I'm being kind) punted on banning Russia, opting instead to pawn off that responsibility to the individual sports federations. The federations will blink and look the other way, exactly as they have been doing for the last four decades.

Knowing, as we now do, that many, and maybe most, of them are doping diminishes my admiration for their talent and their hard work. I have a simply policy; I don't cheer for cheaters. 

Two weeks after the Olympics, our junior high school cross country season will start. I'm guaranteed to have one kid chase the geese and fall in the river, at least one 6th-grade boy make an inappropriate comment that will get him clobbered by a girl, and enough goofiness to recharge my sense of humor for a year.

None of these kids is likely to ever set a world record, but they'll run their guts out whether they finish first, or fifteenth, or fiftieth, and do it the old-fashioned way, with hard work, sacrifice, and pain.

Them I can - and will - cheer for, enthusiastically, each and every one, regardless of where they finish.

Fourth of July

Of all the statements of man in relationship to each other and to the government, none rings with more clarity than the Declaration of Independence.

Calvin Coolidge, in his address celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, stated:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

We ought not forget what was wrought - nor sacrifice it without a struggle.

h/t Ed Driscoll via Instapundit

I am so not a morning runner!

My wife has an annoying habit of bopping out of bed in the morning, usually cheerfully. In contrast, I drag my sorry rear-end out, creaking and complaining along the way. I get moderately more cheerful if I can get up when I want to, instead of to the alarms. I am very much a creature that prefers his own rhythms.

We use three alarms, two of them to music. The first goes off about ten minutes before my wife gets up. We started this alarm years ago when I noticed that the alarm would go off, we'd snuggle for ten minutes, and my sweetie would end up running late - well, off schedule - getting to work. So, we set a pre-get-up alarm. A couple of decades later, we still use it.

Then her alarm, which used to be the radio at six a.m., announce her turn to get out of bed. Problem with the radio. The news comes on, I listen and by the time I got out of bed, I was in a foul mood. News organizations do not specialize in good news, and every one of them is biased as heck. The new alarm at six sharp is a gentle tone. She turns off hers, I kill the music on mine, and I doze and dream.

I get a lot of story ideas in this intermission. Some are exceedingly weird, some are viable. All are entertaining.

The next alarm thirty minutes later, playing Mannheim Steamroller, gets me to my feet, if grudgingly. Don't laugh at the name - they've got a great sound and are creative in re-imagining classics. I use their Christmas carols. Anyway, for the last month, this was my cue to dress in run gear and get ready for my sweetie to drop me off six miles from the house to run home.

Now, for the record, I hate running early in the morning. When I race marathons with early morning starts, I get up at three a.m. so my body can wake up and get loose. No such luck in a training cycle when getting up in the middle of the night is not an option. I tried using hot showers to loosen the muscles, but that was only moderately successful. Stretching cold muscles accomplishes diddly. I grumped my way out the door.

I'm also slower in the morning. My pace drops off a good thirty seconds per mile in the morning, except on trails. (Got no idea why that is. Best guess is I might be a bit of a head case.) About the only good thing was that I met a great number of cheerful people on the greenbelt in the morning as I lumber past with all the grace of Lurch.

I've tried running in the morning before, most notably with Adric, a friend, when we both needed to get ready for a Spokane-to-Sandpoint relay. Never has it gone well, though the sunrises can be spectacular.  My back does not like morning runs. It begins to lock up. Then it spasms. Then it gets worse, swelling and applying pressure to a herniated disc at the L5 vertebrae in my back until I can barely move. It got to the point where the disc was pressing on nerves, sending shooting pains down my right leg. No bueno.

The damaged disc has nothing to do with running, by the way - I managed to hurt it as a teenager lifting 180 pounds over my head. Then I played a football game the next day. Teenage boys are dumb, sometimes.  

It's taken two weeks this time to rehab the back. I've learned to be very cautious and careful.

I'm a slow learner. Given that morning runs break me, I'm taking my training back to the afternoons. Yesterday was the first run in about three weeks. It was nearly 100 degrees out and I'm not heat acclimated. It still went better than a run in the morning. Bonus, no back pain when I rolled out of the sack.

If you're the kind of runner that can go out and tackle the run in the morning, my hat's off to you. For me, mornings are for drinking coffee, baking sourdough bread, and writing.

Run gently, friends. If you're in the heat of the day, stay smart and hydrated. I'll see you out there.

It's almost like the people doing the work are products to be exploited

Nike surrendered. Dropping their lawsuit against Boris Berian was less a voluntary action and more an act of self-preservation. For those not following the case, Berian had a contract with short-term contract with Nike that allowed them to match offers if Boris found a better deal when the contract ended. Berian signed with New Balance for $125,000 after the Nike contract expired. Nike said they matched the offer - except theirs had 'reduction' clauses. 

The reduction clauses triggered mass mockery from athletes in the social media. Effectively, Nike wanted to match with as little as fifty cents on the dollar, with the argument that this was industry standard. Numerous individuals - led by Jesse Williams, Nick Symmonds, and Sally Bergesenn,the Oiselle CEO - filed briefs in support of Berian that stated that the reduction clauses were not standard. Bergesen, in her brief, stated unequivocally, "In my experience, in talking with other sponsors and industry leaders, reductions, as well as option years, are viewed as being abusive to athletes."

Exactly!

The speculation was that Nike retreated due to the skepticism shown by the presiding judge, but don't under-estimate the PR debacle that was growing. Nike has not enjoyed a good couple of years, what with the bribery scandal in Kenya, the questions regarding PED's and the Nike Oregon Project, the 'buying' of the USATF, and the unusual no-bid award of the World Championships to Eugene. The hits, as they say, keep coming. The news that Nike might just consider the athletes to be disposable products certainly would not help their image.

It also reminds me of the way that the publishing houses treat authors. Kris Rusch does a fantastic job of educating new authors to the dangers of dealing with publishing houses. Instead of reduction clauses, they co-opt (steal) as many rights as they can, place restrictions on what an author can write through non-compete clauses, and use sliding-scale royalty clauses that ensure that they always get paid for their work while reducing the author absorbs the entirety of price reductions for deeply discounted books at Costco and Walmart. 

Or Disney bringing in H1B visa-holders to replace their existing engineering staff. Adding insult to injury, Disney required the soon-to-be-laid-off engineers to train they're replacements. The abuse of the H1B program is rampant at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and the rest of the tech companies.

All this points to a larger problem. Major corporations do not believe that people matter. They see labor purely as a line number on the financial statements. The lower that number, the more money Google or Facebook makes. Investors love more profits, the stock market value goes up, and it's all good.

I disagree. I understand that labor is absolutely subject to the same supply and demand laws as everything else. It is because of this understanding that I oppose programs like the H1B visas and unlimited criminal immigration. Both work to devalue the labor of the American employee. Mother Jones has a nice recap from 2013. I don't agree with them much, but here there is common cause.

That is shameful.

Likewise, Nike's reduction clauses or Hachette's copyright grabs seek to exploit the value of the work of the athlete or author while retaining all, or the majority of, the benefits to the corporation. Run, Boris, run, but not for New Balance and how dare Nick Symmonds wear something other than Nike apparel in his hotel.

That's why I don't buy Nike products any more - I flat don't trust them. Instead, I'll spend my money on shoes from Edna, the Kenyan start-up. Ditto, USATF. I sponsor my local cross country team, but I won't spend a dime for the USAFT if I can possibly help it.

I'm turning into a curmudgeon in my old age. I still think that the people around me matter. I wish our corporations and sports federations thought the same. Athletes should not be treated like prized racehorses, and shot (financially) if they break a leg. They're people who deserved to be treated with respect for the efforts they put forth and rewarded accordingly.

Which is harder? Starting running - or restarting? Part Deux

While running, I pondered a question, the one in the blog post title. To see the beginnings of my thoughts, read this.


I started running again when I was 38 and recently laid off from Texaco. It wasn't a response to the shock or early-onset mid-life crisis, but a rational decision that I needed to stay in shape. At the time, I was working on a black belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean style of martial arts. I figured my new boss did not want me to show up broken - and, with a family to feed, I couldn't risk getting broken.

So I decided I would run. Being goal-oriented, I decided not only that I would run, but that I would complete a marathon, so I picked one that was about six months out, the San Diego Rock 'n Roll. Seemed like a big grand thing to try for.

My first run getting ready was four miles, in rain, wearing heavy cotton sweats. It pretty well sucked but I covered the ground. Now, I was still doing the martial arts, just not the sparring. I was splitting my limited spare time from my new job driving a lumbering concrete mixer six days a week between the running and time at the studio.

In most respects, I was not a returning runner, but a new runner. I had no recent baselines and no real memory of training habits to guide me. No coach. I just ran when I could, averaging about 25 miles a week.

Marathons ought not be taken so lightly. For you veteran runners, quit laughing. I survived being dumb.

Then I moved up to a new class of dumb, tackling ultras and falling in love with trail running. It turned out that I was good enough to win age group awards in the ultras that I entered, but it was the ability to go out and cover 30, 40, 50 miles of trails in solitude that captured my spirit. I found I didn't need racing to run. I averaged 70 miles a week and felt like my legs could take me anywhere.

My body conspired against me, though. I have gout (and probably psuedogout) and long-distance running exacerbates the problem. I became an expert at managing hydration to limit the deposition of the monosodium urate crystals that trigger the worst attacks. In February of 2005, I reinjured my back coaching youth basketball and lost feeling in my right leg. Months of rehab with a physical therapist followed, which was better than the surgery that the doctor wanted to do. Different surgeon got to cut on me to repair a hernia. It was a challenging year, but I ran a marathon (Seafair in Seattle) and Hood-to-Coast with that hernia.

Gout is, unfortunately, a progressive disease, one that eventually leads to gouty arthritis and tophi, deposits below the skin. I have both, and an extra bonus complication.

I haven't had a major cold, the kind that puts a person in bed for days, in decades. My immune system is so hyped from attacking the gout that it is at full alert at all times. It detects an intruder, it tries to kill it. Ironically, this includes NSAIDs used for treating the swelling of gout attacks and the gout medications themselves. Effectively, my immune system triggered allergic reactions to the meds.

It took three years for the doctor and I to get my immune system to be slightly less aggressive so I could take probenecid. (I still react to allopurinol.) Once we could start treatment, it was almost a year of non-stop attacks while the medicine purged my body of extra uric acid. A year without running. Afterwards, the side effects of the drugs became evident. I'm now anemic. Taking iron supplements helps, but only masks the problem.

I'm slow, slow, slow, but . . .

Now I'm in a restart cycle, and back to running, though different than when I decided to run that first marathon. This time I have the memories close at hand of what I could do. Every time I run and look at my watch, see a 10 minute mile pace, I can recall knocking down that same mile in seven's. Hills I used to climb with ease require a walking break.

It's easy to get discouraged when, week after week, it becomes more clear that I won't be able to run the same way again. I have to remind myself of all the work I put in before, the miles of training, the hours on the track doing speedwork. Most especially, I need to remind myself to be patient. It took years to build the base that let me play on mountain tops, and years to lose it. I won't get it back in a month or even a year.

Whether you're just starting to run, or making a comeback to running, hope is a crucial element. It's easier for the newbie, but perhaps even more important for the runner coming back for whatever reason. Coming back, fighting not just the physical battle, or the mental battle, but your own memories, is tough.

So, stay hopeful, run gently, and good things shall come.

I promise.

Which is harder? Starting running - or restarting?

I seem to have misplaced my speed, what little I used to have. Long, slow slogs over the last couple of weeks remind of this sad factoid and also gave rise to this thought - Is it harder to start running or restart your running off an extended layoff?

Starting

I wonder if a study exists that tracks when people start running. I suspect many longtime runners assume that everyone started in high school, or even earlier. I'm not so sure, especially for women runners. In my case, I ran in high school only because I had a track coach that thought even discus throwers needed to cruise five miles a day. Protests that the discus circle was only eight feet across and the flinging the disc was an explosive event fell on Mr. Stanley's deaf ears. Off I went, grumbling, until I settled on my first ever running goal.

Get fast enough to keep up with the cute girls.

I had no background for running and this was early enough in the first running boom that information was pretty limited, so we all turned the same miles. In hindsight, the best part of being a teenager is the ability to recover. I plowed through the first couple of five-milers, dying off as the group outran my meager ability. Each day, I died a little later into the route until one day, two weeks into the regimen, I finished with the girls. Barely. Progress. Also, goal achieved.

Every practice started the same, with the run. Then, we'd split to tackle our individual events. While the runners did their speed work, I spun myself dizzy, working on perfecting release angles and timing, building calluses on the edges of first two fingers. Also, wearing out the soles of my sneakers. Discus is ridiculously hard on footwear.

Summer came, and I kept running because the cute girls did, and the monthly 10K's popped up on the horizon. I started racing them and discovered early on that I had a governor on my engine. Sprint speed I had, not great but I could hold my own in a kick. What I didn't have was the one essential quality that every great distance runner must possess - the ability to process incredible amounts of oxygen. I didn't know it at the time, but I had/have exercised-induced asthma.

Funny thing about exercised-induced asthma; the worst period of the attack is 5-20 minutes into the run. I used to joke that it took me three miles to warm up. As always, a kernel of truth hides within the joke.

Since I couldn't run away with the leaders, I developed a racing strategy that worked. I became a grinder, hanging on through that first hard period, letting the fingers on my hands go numb as I pushed the redline. When my lungs finally started to relax, I'd notch the pace up. I got used to suffering in the middle of the race as much as I did in the beginning after the first rush.

That's when I discovered that most people don't like to suffer, not even in a race. I learned to run on that redline full-time, knowing that it would recede as my lungs opened. I'd step to the start line with the intention winning my battles by being willing to suffer more. The longer the race went, the better I did, getting stronger as others died off.

It came to a head in a 10K when I tangled up with an old Marine. Dude had to be at least 40 (ed. note, a decade younger than I am now) {sigh} and was still running with me three miles into the race. I ratcheted up the pace, he matched. In a surreal haze, we dueled for two miles, the Marine edging ahead a half-step, which I would answer and challenge with another uptick.

There's a beauty and purity to that kind of battle, with each racer calling forth better from his competitor, and answering the call himself. The Marine, a colonel, had racing courage in spades. With every stride he conveyed one message; either I would beat him, head up, or he would beat me. He would not concede.

I finally broke him on a hill, a mile out, surging halfway up. I didn't look back, but kept finding a little more air and speed, convinced he was still coming for me.  I finished with a long kick, trying to catch a fellow high-school athlete who would one day be my brother-in-law. That 10K would be the fastest of my life. I ran a 35:56, not shabby for a discus thrower.

When starting, I had no baseline for how hard running could be, the pain you can inflict on yourself in the middle of a race. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. I had no idea of my eventual capabilities.

This is an advantage for beginning runners, young ones in particular. With no expectations, the beginning runner finds their way forward, discovering the endorphin rush, the aches, joy and the boredom that can come with the miles. Each experience is new, and discovery whitewashes the memories of yesterday's painful finish. Returning runners don't have the benefit of discovery and newness.

Shortly after that PR 10K, I would end up taking a break of two decades from running. I'll tackle restarting - for the first time - on Tuesday

Fixing Broken Springs

Inside every mechanical watch is a mainspring, a coiled piece of metal that, in the ages before digital, required periodic winding to keep the watch running. Let the spring relax fully, and the watch slowed to a stop. Wind it too tight, and it broke.

Runners have mainsprings, too. For some, it is a love of racing that gets them out the door to train. Others prefer the more relaxed journey of a trail run. Many only run because they want to stay fit and putting a pair of shoes on and getting out the door is an economical way of getting cardio.

My mainspring is either wound down or broken; I don't know which. I stopped running shortly after returning from Kenya. It was not sudden, more a petering out, thinking, "Nope, don't wanna, not gonna."

Now, this has nothing to do with Kenya, and everything to do with me. Kenya, and Kenyans, are wonderful. Watching the athletes work at their sport with such dedication is inspiring. Seeing the families interact and recognizing all the similarities was enlightening, as was observing the differences.

But when I came home, I began a process of evaluating what I considered important, a process that is still on-going. I also walked into the busiest market I've seen since the real estate bubble days of 2006-2008. Work took over and dominated everything. First I stopped running, then I stopped writing. Two months without a run, almost as long with out writing anything of significance.

However, work does not provide the same sense of release. I'm good at what I do, inspecting homes, and I care passionately about it. As I mentioned, the real estate market is hot. This does not bring out the best in some people, as the greed factor prevails over fair play. I have been in more battles over basic codes issues in the last three months than the previous decade. The hours of research to 'win' the argument exhaust me.  It's petty and stupid.

It came to a head on Memorial Day while I swapped comments with Justin Lagat who had just raced at Ottawa. He might be running a race nearby, if he can get an American visa and a sponsor. I told him if he got close, I'd come and cheer if I could clear some time.

As we closed the conversation, a voice inside questioned the 'if' in my semi-promise. A second voice chimed in with asking why I'd only go to cheer.

Once upon a time, I'd show up to run, like I did for the Turkey Trail Marathon I did with my friend Adric. I had no business being on the course under-trained and at altitude. Still, I finished and was happy to do so, even with a personal worst.

Now, I looked at the work schedule. No time for training while working six days a week and long hours at that. Plus the battles against real estate agents who would rather take me to task than do the right thing. (For those agents I work with, I'm incredibly grateful that you have such high standards - and I offer my apologies for oft-times making your job harder.)(For the grammar-nazis, yes, I see/know the flawed usage there. Too bad. This is a casual blog and does not follow the Chicago Style manual.)

The thought that I have no time pissed me off. Work is supposed to be a means to acquire the basics of life, not be the sole reason for living, unless you live in a subsistence culture. Many Kenyans do; most Americans do not. When my work life takes over the rest of my life, when people start placing demands on my time, changes get implemented.

I made two decisions. First, I cut back work, effective today, to a single inspection per day and now charge for all my services. Gone are the freebies, because they get abused. One inspection a day, six days a week, plus travel and research, makes for a full-time week. I'm killing off the overtime work. For years, I was the hardest working inspector in the area. Time for someone else to take over that role. It might kill my company. I'm betting it doesn't.

Second, I signed up for a marathon, a clear sign of insanity. Or, as Jackdog Welch put it, I'm a knucklehead. Could be Jack's got a point . . .

Of the two, the work decision will have the biggest impact, freeing up time to do things I've missed, like writing articles on this blog or coaching junior high cross country again. I was going to skip coaching, but when my gut said I'd miss it, I listened. When Coach Thummel asked if I'd help out again, I said yes.

The spare time also gives writing space to breathe. I stink at lollygagging and writing will fill in a goodly portion of the time that I have carved out. I certainly don't lack for ideas. Around here, there like flies in the Australian Outback. Instead of an Aussie salute, I write the ideas down in a notebook so they don't disappear. If I started today writing two thousand words a day, the backlog in story ideas would keep me writing for a decade.

The rest of the newly-created 'spare' time fills with training for the marathon. Race day happens on October 9th, a scant 117 days from now. I have to go from over-weight couch potato to fit enough to run 26.2 miles in less than four months. That gives me 117 days to figure out if the mainspring ruptured beyond repair, or if it just wound down.

I'll keep you posted.

Run gently, friends.

 

Enda Shoes - The Kenyan Alternative

I'm a day late on this post. Blame work or writer laziness.

I heard about Enda Shoes just before I left Kenya. My friend, Justin Lagat, was contacted by them to do some writing for the new company. For a sample, you can head for the Enda blog. The latest article is about Justin's diet as he trains as an elite runner, prepping for the Ottawa Marathon. As a matter of fact, he should be on the plane headed this way so that he can toe the line with the world's best on Sunday.

The concept behind Enda is as simple as training the Kenyan way - work hard to be the best. They're designing shoes that will have a very modest 4mm heel-to-toe drop and lightweight performance characteristics that should make training in them a quick, responsive experience. Like the Asics I've favored for years, these shoes work really well for mid-foot strikers.

To answer what might seem to be the obvious question, nope, I'm not getting paid for this post. Nor will I get paid for the post I'll write when I get a chance to try out my first pair of Itens - that the model name for the first shoes they're producing. Nope, no pay, and in fact, I'm paying them.

I bought a pair of shoes by contributing to their Kickstarter program. Enda is a start-up that is attracting some early interest, both in the quality of the shoe they're building, but also because they are bring the shoe manufacturing home to Kenya. For years, the elite Kenyans have run in American or Japanese shoes made in China.

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati and Weldon Kennedy decided to turn that on its head. Kenya, like almost every developing nation, desperately needs good jobs. The two co-founders have launched Enda to bring the rewards of Kenyan runners home to the larger masses. In doing so, the two relay on the Kenya and East African tradition of harambee.

Loosely translated, it means 'all pull together'. In the fledgling days of the new country, when the economic outlook was terribly bleak, individuals and micro-businesses would pool resources, doing together what they couldn't alone. Wells got dug, houses built, businesses started, by pulling together.

The athletes are no different. Most of the major camps have an elite sponsor to help bring along the next generation. Wilson Kipsang has his. Lornah Kiplagat started the HATC in Iten. Asbel Kiprop's is in Iten. The athletes give back, generously.

Instead of sending all the manufacturing jobs to China, Enda is locating them in Kenya, providing jobs, income, food for the families there. For now, it's just the assembly, but Enda plans to 100 percent source the shoes from Kenya in the future. Enda represents that same spirit of harambee that grew the Kenyan nation, that supports its businesses and athletes today.

So, knowing all this about Enda, can I ask you a favor?

Can you go to their Kickstarter page and take a look? Share this post? Or like them on Facebook and help spread the word?

If you run, take a look at the shoes. You're going to be buying new shoes sometime soon anyway - consider contributing to something bigger than Nike's wallet. You'll know where the profits are going.

Please, think about it.

A thousand Kenyan children will thank you.

PS. If you are up at 7AM EDT on Sunday like I will be, give a quiet cheer for Justin Lagat. He's a good man in a tough field and could use all the moral support we have to offer.

Good luck, Justin!