Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Earth

I don't usually write very explicitly about politics here; if you know me, you know where my sympathies lie. But now I'm just sickened. The police at Cal Davis (where, incidentally, I lived for a few months, exactly 50 years ago) have sprayed protesters (who were doing nothing more threatening than sitting on the ground with arms linked) directly in the face with pepper spray. A woman protesting in Portland was sprayed point-blank in the mouth. An 84-year-old woman was sprayed in Seattle.

It's nice to see how far our civilization has advanced since the Civil Rights days; in less than fifty years, we've gone from assaulting peaceful protesters with firehoses, billy clubs, and German shepherds to simply attacking them with something that a US Army study concluded can cause "mutagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities".

I'm so proud: unlike at Kent State and Jackson State when I was a senior in high school, nobody's been killed. Yet.

Personally, I'm completely behind the Occupy movements around the country and the world. We are systematically being ravaged by corporations, banks, and the politicians-- of both parties-- they own. The right-wing cries of "class warfare" are totally true... except it's not the middle class or the poor who have been waging it for all these years.

Call me a socialist if you like. I can take it. Hell, 75 years ago John Steinbeck was called a communist for standing up for migrant workers and working people against the banks and corporations that profited from their misery.

But suppose I'm totally wrong. Suppose corporations (as the Supreme Court and Mitt Romney have said) are people. Suppose the Occupy protesters really are lazy, dirty, communist hippies. Even so, do governments-- do the police-- have the right to assault and hospitalize peaceful protesters? Arrest them for trespassing, put them in jail. They did it to Dr. King. They did it to Nelson Mandela. They did it to Gandhi.

Here in South Korea, which was a draconian police state until the 1980s, every time there's a whiff of protest we see bus after bus after bus of police officers deployed. But in three-plus years, I've never seen anything like what I've seen recently in Davis and Portland and Seattle,,,

in the Land of the Free.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eighteen thousand fifty-eight seconds

All the omens were bad for my Joongang Marathon on Sunday, November 6. I hesitated to enter, to begin with. I overtrained (often running six days a week, including regular training runs, hashes, and the school cross-country club) and hurt my knee, so that I had to take two weeks off from training, including the two longest runs. I made a radical change, from traditional running shoes to "barefoot" shoes, in the middle of the training period. And I lost two of the 17 pounds I'd planned to take off. And put them back on as I carbo-loaded in the last few days before the race.

And on Sunday, Marathon Day, it rained. A lot. Not Monday. Not Tuesday. Not Wednesday or Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Not Monday, Part II, not... well, you know. I didn't want to go and didn't know if I could finish: my best projected time might keep me from being picked up for blocking traffic.

And yet it all worked out. I give myself an "A". Not an "A+", because my goal was to break five hours and it took me five hours and 58 seconds. But my other goal, after having run three minutes/walked one minute for the entirety of the Chuncheon Marathon a year ago, was to run pretty much the whole way. And I did that. And took 39-plus minutes off my PR. So I feel pretty damn good.

I did almost everything right during the race; I fueled well, BodyGlided liberally to prevent chafing of the Personals, carried water till it was obvious I wouldn't need it (and dropped my hydration belt off), had a devoted pit crew on the course, timed myself very carefully... I had my pace down exactly, and kept with it, to finish in 4:58. Except that that didn't account for the fact that a marathon course is measured by the shortest possible distance around curves, which one can't always run with 21,000 other people in the way. And then there were those trips behind the bushes... you've heard of answering the call of nature? Yeah, well, Nature doesn't call me; she stalks me. According to my GPS watch, I ran exactly a quarter-mile farther than the official distance.

I could have foregone the food bar I ate while walking, four miles from the end. I could have skipped that one last trip to the little boys' bush. Either one would have saved me a minute... ah, well.

It started to rain as soon as I left home before the race, and kept it up most of the morning, intensifying a half-hour or so into the run, and very soon I just couldn't get any wetter. And being wet, I was absolutely chilled by the cool, breezy day. For five hours. And even once it stopped raining, there was just no way to avoid stepping in cold puddles. When I finally got home, my toes looked like white raisins.

Toward the end, my knees weren't bending real good. If there had been a string in the street, I'd've tripped on it. (I did, however, win the wet t-shirt contest.)

I got really lucky, though... a few miles in, I met a fellow American named Kyle, who was running his first marathon. I coached him a little, we shared energy gels and ibuprofen, and we encouraged each other for the next 20 miles or so, until finally he pulled ahead, finishing ahead of me by a minute. But having company made all the difference in the world to both of us, as neither of us wanted to quit and let the other person down. And then, though the Marathon "scoop up the slowpokes" Bus driver suggested we get on board, we didn't-- we were just too close to the end to even consider stopping.

I owe a debt of thanks to my hashing friends LesBalls (thanks for the photos), Countess, and Choopa for coming into the city to cheer me at the finish, and an enormous debt to our school principal Ron and his wife Jill, for being there, both going out (in the rain) and coming back, with my ditty bag of shoes, socks, shirt, water, energy gels, and food bars. And to Mr. Park, our boss, who kept popping up during the route to take pictures and cheer me on. (And give me a warm, dry ride home afterward.) Practically the best take-away from the whole experience is the knowledge that all these people sacrificed a large chunk of their weekends because they care about me.

My dear friend Shawn (Countess) was proud of me. Me, too.

By the way, I've mentioned it before, but now I'm a total drink-the-Kool-Aid convert to barefoot shoes. Running in my conventional shoes, I got worse knee pain than I've ever had, but after taking a little time off and switching to the Merrell Trail Gloves (which are basically like going barefoot, but with a little protection for the feet), the pain completely disappeared. We evolved to run on the balls of our feet and let our bent legs absorb the shock. It makes all the difference in the world. (I owe more thanks to Debby, my ex, who long ago said that thick running shoes can't be good for people, and my friend Lauren, for introducing me to Born to Run, the bible of the barefoot crowd.)

When I got on the stadium track at the end, it was vastly inspirational-- Carl Lewis and FloJo ran on this track at the Olympics-- and a tremendous letdown, because when Lauren and I ran a 10K here, we came into the stadium 50 yards from the finish line, and I expected the same here, which would have let me break the five-hour mark. Instead, we came in almost a full lap, a quarter mile, from the finish. And all I would have to do to beat my goal was to match the world-record 1500-meter pace. Inexplicably, I did not do so.

Kyle and me, a few minutes after the finish.

If you aren't a slow person who's run a marathon, I can't describe to you the sheer incomprehensible length of the damn thing, I'd say roughly approximately 46,147 steps; the sheer creakiness and achiness of everything below the waist I can mention in public; and the deadly monotony of the training, especially the long, long Sunday runs. All the way through, I kept thinking, "There's no way I'm ever doing this again."

And then, when I crossed the finish line, the relief and the release and the pride... well, maybe there was brief, manly tear, and you know, it wasn't so bad, and... heck, I know I can cut 58 seconds off my time...