Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Homegrown Heroes

Over at Grantland, Michael Schur contends that the reason Red Sox Nation loves Youkilis so much is because he was "kind of a dick."  In a good way. 

Fair enough.

But a simpler explanation is that, like two other favorites who are no longer with the Red Sox,  Jason Varitek and Jonathan Papelon, Youkilis had never played for any other major league team.  He was Red Sox, through and through. 

The team is getting dangerously short on players who have been with the team since their rookie season.  On the active roster, the list is as follows:  Felix Doubront, Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Nava.  And Kalish and Nava are just holding down the fort until Ellsbury and Crawford return (Ellsbury, of course, has also been with the team since his rookie year).

That's a pretty small core of homegrown players -- and its no coincidence that they are the ones we pay attention and care about -- even if Lester can be pretty damn frustrating at times.  Here's hoping that Red Sox management will hold on to them, instead of trading them away for the next "can't miss" superstar.

Monday, June 25, 2012

One last time... Yooooook!

Wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to Kevin Youkilis, who was traded away yesterday to the White Sox for two players I had never heard of (25-year-old RHP Zach Stewart and 28-year-old utility man Brent Lillibridge, more details on them here) to make room for the en fuego Will Middlebrooks, who has a .960 OPS, nine homers and 33 RBI in his his first 40 games.

While for that reason and getting Gonzo out of the outfield, I know he needed to go, I'll miss having Youkilis on the team. It wasn't too long ago that he was perhaps the toughest out in baseball, even if he did look really, really strange up at the plate doing it.

I should mention that it did appear like both Youkilis and the team were ready to move on from each other. On his best days, Yook didn't have a sunny disposition, and as the team tries to recover from last season and rebuild itself around Bobby Valentine he did not seem to be fitting in. Combine that with his poor performance this year and the writing's been on the wall for some time. Still, Yook is only 33 and may still have some good years left in him, and it makes me sad to see another mainstay from the Sox' championship days send packing. I'm also not sure how to explain to my 5 year old that we won't be chanting "Yooooook!" during Sox games any more.

Farewell #20! We'll see you again on July 16th.

Short Thought: Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon"

The New York Times takes the occasion of the availability of Thomas Pynchon's oeuvre in eBook format to sing the praises of Mason & Dixon. I keep threatening to write a long-form essay on how good this book is, and while that'll probably never happen, IMO M&D is every bit as good as Gravity's Rainbow, albeit not with his more famous work's hallucinatory intensity. Instead, Pynchon focuses on the enlightenment and the prehistory of the United States in a comic romp that becomes increasingly dark as our heroes draw their line deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Although it does take a while to get used to TRP's faux 17th century prose, once you relax into it, his writing takes you on a journey back to the days of wigs and revolution. To choose just one example:
"Does Britannia, when it sleeps, dream? Is America her dream? -- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of mankind, seen, -- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true, -- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied back in, back to the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments, -- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 34, pg. 345.
Looks intimidating, doesn't it? Don't be scared, though - it gets easier the more you read it, and the book rewards the work you put into it. (And if you need any help, just use the wiki!) It's a classic. I've read it twice already and will no doubt go back for a third go-round.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Love the Team, Hate the Newspaper

I love watching the Red Sox, hate following them in the traditional outlets. So, it seems, does David Ortiz:
"It's becoming the [bleep]hole it used to be. Look around, bro. Look around. Playing here used to be so much fun. Now, every day is something new, not related to baseball. People need to leave us alone, [let us] play ball and do what we know how to do."
Of course, simply winning would shut up most of the "chicken and beer" obsessed media who do seem more interested in reporting on (and fostering?) clubhouse dissension than they do writing about actual baseball - including more reportage on Ortiz's incredible season. The dude's only hitting .313 with 18 homers, 49 RBI, a .614 slugging % and a 1.012 OPS in 68 games. He's carrying the team, and i'm not surprised he's sick of hearing nothing but recirculated crap from the reporters that talk to him everyday.

Fake controversies like this is why I get 99% of my Sox information from blogs. With that in mind, here's Over the Monster's take on the hullabaloo.

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 All-Star Game: Projected Lineups

Have you voted for any Red Sox players for the 2012 All-Star Team?

Jeff Passan over at Yahoo! Sports has projected the All-Star lineups, and the only member of the Sox that he expects to make the AL roster is David Ortiz. 

To put that in context: 

In 2011, the Sox sent Ortiz, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Beckett, and Lester. 

In 2010, it was Ortiz, Pedroia, Martinez, Beltre, and Buchholz.

In 2009, it was Youkilis, Pedroia, Bay, Beckett, Papelbon, and Wakefield.

In 2008, it was Ortiz, Youkilis, Pedroia, Varitek, Drew, Ramirez, and Papelbon.

In 2007, it was Ortiz, Lowell, Ramirez, Beckett, and Papelbon.

In 2006, it was Ortiz, Loretta, Ramirez, and Papelbon.

In 2005, it was Ortiz, Damon, Varitek, Ramirez, and Clement.

In 2004, it was Ortiz, Ramirez, and Schilling.

In 2003, it was Varitek, Garciaparra, and Ramirez.

In 2002, it was Damon, Hillenbrand, Ramirez, Garciaparra, Martinez, Lowe, and Urbina.

You have to go all the way back to 2001 to find a year when the Red Sox sent only one player -- Manny Ramirez.  The Sox finished that year 82-79. 

Ortiz is a fixture at the game, but have the Sox really fallen so far that he is the only superstar among the lot? 

The team has been absolutely knocking the cover off the ball, but the problem is that very few players have stayed sufficently injury-free to be regular contributors.  Among the current starting lineup, only four players have played in at least 55 of Boston's 66 games so far this season: Ortiz, Pedroia, Avilez, and Gonzalez.  They are hitting 0.311, 0.286, 0.262, and 0.260, respectively. 

Other than Ortiz, the hitter with the best case is perhaps Saltalamacchia.  He's played in 53 games, which is pretty good for a catcher, and while he's hitting only 0.257, he has 12 homers and 33 RBI.  Get out there and vote for Saltalamacchia!

Turning to the pitchers, there is no need to explain why the Sox won't be sending a starter to the All-Star game.  While the RP slots are usually dominated by closers, there is a good case to be made that Scott Atchison (23 games, 29 K, 7 BB, 1.24 ERA) is deserving of a nod. 

Of course, the fans don't select the pitchers--the players, coaches and managers do.  Hopefully, they won't remember that in Atchison's last All-Star game, while representing the AAA Tacoma Raniers in 2004, Atchison gave up a walkoff home run.  Anyhow, let's cross our fingers for Atchison as well.  He's been a rock.

Surely, surely, this team is more exciting than the 2001 Red Sox?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Monotone Book Reviewing

Andrew Sullivan points us to this chart depicting that the overwhelming majority of the books reviewed by the New York Times are by white authors.

It's yet another reminder of the deep divide in this country on race, here extended to the book reviewing community (given that the NYT is one of the most respected book review outlets in the States). I myself also typically read only white authors; when I step away from my race, it's typically through the international community, like with Hari Kunzru and Haruki Murakami. Different viewpoints lead to new and more interesting thinking, so this tendency is alarming and something to be aware of when picking out new books in the future.

How about you? Do you typically stick to your race when reading (or writing about books)?

They're Better Than You Think

At this point in the season, the Red Sox have scored 319 runs.  That is the second highest total in baseball.  (The Texas Rangers have scored 335). 

So, why do they have a losing record?  It must be the pitching, right?  Well, Red Sox pitchers so far have allowed 293 runs.  That's not fantastic, but still, the Sox are scoring more runs than they are giving up.  That ought to be a recipe for success. 

Unfortunately, what's happening is the Sox are losing a lot of close games (for instance, the entire series against the Nationals), after which the offense comes together and puts together some blowout victories (Wednesday's game agains the Marlins.)

As a result, the Sox are four games in back of the Tampa Bay Rays,* who have scored (269) virtually the same number of runs that they have given up (262).

Nevertheless, the pieces are in place for a winning team.  The Sox just need to find a way to win some more of the close games.  There is still time to turn this season around.

*The Rays would qualify for a wild card spot if the playoffs were held today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Genre Writing and Protocols

Boing Boing published a great interview with China MiĆ©ville recently, and within this interview there's a great discussion of MiĆ©ville's knowing use of, and meta-commentary on, his genres, leading to this great passage:
Tom: You could call this a paradox of genre realism. All fiction is ultimately formulaic, so only fiction that's willing to acknowledge that it's formulaic is actually in a position to go through this into being realistic again. Often, literary fiction invites you to collude in this pretence that you don't know exactly what's going to happen, what's going on—and this can get in the way of having some genuine and unaffected emotion, and being honest about enthusiasms and limitations. Instead, both you and the author are busy playing this game that says we're all too marvellous and sophisticated to acknowledge that narrative has rules and formulae.

China: I wouldn't go for the word "formulaic," because I think that's quite harsh. But what I would say is "structured by protocols". The vast majority of fiction certainly is structured like this. Even genuinely, wildly avant garde stuff has its own protocols. So you do have to start from that position.

Then the way you relate to those protocols and that structure is up to you. If you don't want to fall into despair, you have to cheerfully accept it as a norm and move on. But also—and I say this a little more tentatively, because I dislike very much the self-congratulation that can take place within genre fiction—my sense is that, at the moment, there is a little more space for this moving on within the best genre fiction than within the mainstream of "literary" fiction: a bit less anxiety about protocols and structures. And that gives me a certain hope.
I've seen this a bit myself recently but hadn't realized that this is what was happening: a genre so comfortable with itself that it's willing to still be SciFi, or Horror, or whatever, but as part of accepting that and "moving on," transforming itself into something new. To choose an example from 2312, the novel i'm currently reading, you can get stereotypical "hard SciFi" passages in which technologies and/or history are described in detail, but Robinson does this as separate chapters so that he doesn't need to put these explanations into his character's mouths. These sections are like the minor chapters of Moby Dick, except instead of being minor treatises they are made up of - and called - fragments, with the effect being that you're brought up to speed in a way reminiscent of continually channel surfing past the History Channel. I like the approach, and hope to more aspects like this in the future.

Originally posted on Thought Ambience.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Running: Better Than Basketball

Slate recently published an interesting take on running. David Stipp put our accomplishment as endurance runners in perspective by claming that the marathon is the only sport that isn't a joke:
Hear me out, sports fans—I'm a basketball nut myself, and so the joke is as much on me as anyone. To see where I’m coming from, you can’t do better than examining basketball’s most physically talented player, Michael Jordan. He was hailed as nearly repealing the law of gravity, and during his prime he made rival players look as if they were moving in slow motion. But Air Jordan wasn't in the same league as a house cat when it comes to leaping. Consider how casually young cats can jump up onto refrigerators. To match that, a man would have to do a standing jump right over the backboard. And a top-notch Frisbee dog corkscrewing through the air eight feet up to snag a whizzing disc makes Jordan look decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with.

There's no denying it—our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can't begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We're the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.
It's a pretty inspiring take on our sport. Well worth a read!

They're Just Not That Good

I probably wasn't the only Red Sox fan who, upon turning on last night's game after the first inning and seeing the 3-0 score, knew that the Sox had already lost. Gone are the days when the Sox would patiently work on the starting pitcher, scoring a run or two, but waiting to pounce on the relief pitching. No, if the Sox starting pitching  is less than stellar, the game quickly becomes out of reach. It says something to you that the disenbalmed corpse of Scott Podsednik was the Sox best hitter yesterday.

The problem is that the Sox are just not that good. As i've been saying for a while now, they're an average team at best, with average starting pitching and a few above average bats. I'm sure they'll pull off a few more winning streaks along the way, but without Lester, Beckett and Buchholz pitching like aces - and they aren't - this team as constructed is going nowhere. In fact, Lester's performance is probably the most disappointing aspect of this season. We're talking about a guy who led the AL in strikeouts two years ago with 9.7. This year, he's only averaging 6.5 and is looking rattled every time a runner gets on base against him.

So where do we stand? They've lost seven of their last eight games and are 6.5 games out of 1st. The excitement of their last winning streak is gone and they've become boring to watch again. I'm hoping that they'll turn it around, but at the moment don't see any signs of them doing so.

How about you? Are you keeping the faith? Or being depressingly realistic like me?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nookd in War and Peace

Alyssa pointed me to this article by Saul Tannenbaum which detailed how "Barnes & Noble’s formatter, converting War and Peace for the Nook from a Kindle edition “changed every instance of ‘kindle’ or ‘kindled’ into ‘Nook’ and ‘Nookd’" Both Alyssa and Tannenbaum astutely lift the conversation from an  amusing antidote on the incompetence of profit-focused corporations (OMG classic being butchered!) to a larger issue of quality that even I, in my short time reading eBooks, have noticed. Many of the books that i've read on the kindle suffer from quality issues that I just don't see in printed books - from typos, to formatting issues. Just last night, an entire paragraph of 2313 was presented in italics when it most clearly should have not been. It's a serious problem in the industry, and one that I doubt will get better any time soon, given the eBook price wars.

I also think there's a bigger opportunity being lost to build some true interactivity into books. To choose just one example, hyperlinking in the books i've read - so far limited to footnoting - is awkward at best and unusable at worst. Given the advances is book building technology - see this demonstration of Creative Book Builder to see just one of the tools out there - I feel that we should be aiming for something more in our eBooks, not just a pale imitation of what is usually better presented on the printed page.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: Rule of Bone by Russell Banks

i've been having trouble picking new books to read these days.  i've resorted to letting my kindle pick for me, which was how i stumbled across Russell Banks' Lost Memory of Skin (review here).  i enjoyed that book, and searching for another, i thought i'd give Banks a chance again.  i read some good things about Rule of Bone and so i picked it up.

it's a pretty quick read.  the book is written from the perspective of a 14 year old who was forced away / ran away from home due to a slew of problems there.  i think Banks is quite good at capturing the voice of this lead character, from his vernacular to his thought process.  it feels authentic.

the story of this novel, however, does not.  Bone, as he is come to be known, goes from living in a hijacked summer home, to living in a discarded bus to living in various places in Jamaica.  i'm all for fictional leaps, and, in fact, i enjoyed the adventurous aspect of Bone's travels.  the key element i need to hold it all together though is someone to buy in to.  Bone is not that person.  never once in this book did i find myself wishing for any positive (or negative, for that matter) outcome to any of the situations he found himself in.  i never found myself invested in him as a lead character.  he has been through some rough things, at first only hinted at, and then made clearer, but even that didn't help create a sympathetic character for me.

altogether, i'm glad this book was such a quick read, because very little of it held my interest.  i'm a big fan of the coming of age story...  but this one just seemed formulaic...  too sparse, not enough finesse of the tried and true pillars of a good coming of age story to come off as anything other than an attempt that falls way short of it's goal.

Review: Neil Stephenson's "Reamde"

Neil Stephenson is usually summarized as a "cyberpunk" author, one best known for SciFi books like Snow Crash or speculative literature like Cryptonomicon. The reviews will have you believe that Reamde, his recent 1000+ page novel, is a return to those days, but I suspect that's just a marketing ploy designed to lure readers - like myself - that were turned off by Anthaem, his dense religious philosophical epic. So while Reamde contains quite a few scenes in T’Rain, a World of Warcraft-style virtual reality, make no mistake: it is a thriller along the lines of Zodiac, his 1988 novel set in Boston. I’m not going to even attempt a summary of this wildly plotted, overlong shaggy mess of a book other than to note that it’s basically the attempts of a family to get a kidnapping victim back, but also touches on computer viruses (the title is a deliberate misspelling of “readme”), a theft of money both virtual and real, a kidnapping, Russian mobsters, Chinese hackers, private jets, travel to at least six countries, and an incredible shootout that spans at least 100 pages. It also happens to be a propulsive read that is hard to put down.

One could argue that Reamde has a lot of flaws: for one, all of his characters think of similar tactics in the action sequences, and this analysis, which interesting, can feel repetitive. In addition, the romantic subplots aren't remotely believable, feeling almost insultingly tacked on. Despite this, Stephenson’s strengths – his ideas and his digressions – shine through. Stephenson’s knowledge is encyclopedic, and so he can write authoritatively about a wide range of topics. Here, enjoying the ride thorough his convoluted plot, I learned an incredible amount about XiamenEritrea, constructing virtual realities, money transfers, how to illegally cross borders, the difficulties in decrypting computer files, and guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Reamde is a smart book that carries you along with its enthusiasms, a thriller as much at home with databases and social media as it is with gunplay and secret agents. If reading over 1000 pages of this stuff sounds like your cup of tea, dive in, because Stephenson’s the best in the game.

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Running Backwards

The next running craze: running backwards? Meet Garret Doherty, the worlds fastest backwards runner. His selling point?

"You land on the correct part of your feet, which helps your ligaments and ankle bones. In forwards running, your feet land heel to toe — but when you run backwards it’s the other way round, which is how you’re supposed to run, the same way as you would barefoot. And instead of the muscles in your lower back getting the workout, it’s the muscles in your lower abdomen that are worked the hardest. If it wasn’t for people being too embarrassed to run backwards, it would be a lot better for everyone to do it."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift

On the Isle of Wight, the owner of an RV park waits alone in his bedroom.  A shotgun lies, loaded, on the bed beside him.  His wife sits a few short miles away, in a wind-rocked, rain-lashed Cherokee, wondering if she should cut loose, or return home.

How has it come to this?  In slow, steady strokes, Graham Swift traces how Jack Luxton's ancestral farm was decimated by epidemics of hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease; how his brother abandoned the farm to join the army; the death of his parents; Jack's sale of his ancestral lands; and the ultimate impact on Jack of his brother's death in Iraq.

Of the various writers from Ireland and the Commonwealth that I enjoy reading--including John Banville, Julian Barnes, Tom McCarthy, Ian McEwan, and David Mitchell--Graham Swift is perhaps the least given to flashy narrative tricks, the most able to disappear inside the voices of his characters.  These are voices are rooted in a sense of place, and in the best of his novels, such as the Booker-nominated Waterland and the Booker-winning Last Orders, Swift explores how modernity uproots those places, leaving the characters exiled, haunted, and, only occasionally, redeemed.

Wish You Were Here may not stand with Swift's various best, but it is still head-and-shoulders above much of this year's fiction.  With its compassionate tone and its suspenseful ending likely, Wish You Were Here is likely to be a serious Booker contender.  Highly recommended.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Further thoughts on the Vermont City Marathon

Todd's excellent race report captures the energy and the beauty of the Vermont City Marathon.   As a newcomer to the race, I would add just a few additional impressions.

First off - the weather in northern Vermont is apparently totally psycho.  Just days before the race, forecasters had us on the edge of our seats, with predictions of either rain or, even worse, 90 degree heat.  Somehow, though, we were blessed with a beautifully clear day, with temperatures around 60 degrees at the start of the race, and no higher than 70 degrees four hours later.

I'd feared that the lack of starting corrals would lead to a difficult start, but most runners found appropriate places and the race opened up fairly quickly.  I very much enjoyed the first three miles, which were run through Burlington's town center as the town's Sunday morning brunch-goers cheered us on.

The next section, a six-mile out-and-back along the Burlington beltline, was gorgeous, but at times congested with runners going opposite ways along the same road.  I looked for Todd (who was well ahead of me) on the other side of the road but didn't see him; I did, however, manage to give Eric a high five.  It was awesome to come back into town at the end of loop and see family and friends cheering for me.

The next loop went south through the city, and much of this is a blur.  However, I loved the views across the lake on the last two miles of this loop.  The track got very narrow at sections, but I was well ahead of my pace group at this point, and so not feeling the crowds.  The loop ended with the "Assault on the Battery," and, despite all the hype, I didn't find this hill that challenging.  I just slowed it down a bit and let the cheering crowds -- and again, my family! -- provide the adrenaline boost to get me up the hill. 

The next eight or so miles were much more mellow as the race winded through a number of neighborhood streets.  Here, the spectators weren't here to cheer on a particular runner; they were camped out and partying and enjoying the show.  Finally, in the last couple of miles, we hit a quiet stretch on a bike path through the woods, and then the race was over.

There are a few things that could have been better -- more portable toilets, more evenly mixed gatorade, better organization post-race -- but it is hard to worry much about such small details.  The marathon was smooth, well organized, and the crowds couldn't have been better.  I only wish I'd carried a camera. 

Race Report: Vermont City Marathon

“My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance — all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson.”
- Haruki Murakami, from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I finally ran 26.2! The Vermont City Marathon was last Sunday, and your RR&RS bloggers all took part. I was particularlly excited to run the VCM for two reasons: one, I grew up in the Burlington area, and running the first few races as part of a relay team were so fun that I wanted to experience the race in its entirety, and two, I know that Burlington knows how to throw a party. And the VCM didn't disappoint on the latter! The day will filled with incredible sights that I don't have the time to list now, but short list of some of the more memorable ones were: wall-to-wall people lining the streets of the city to cheer us on, a clapping drag queen on Church Street, Eric and Mo’s wives with their “Dads of RR&RS sign, seeing a view containing both Mount Mansfield and Camel's Hump at once, and lots of bands ranging from the to the country rock ensemble on North Street playing “queen of hearts” to the random guys on the sidewalk strumming their guitars or blowing hot oboe riffs.

But all that was in the future. The three of us toed the start line filled with the confidence of a good eight months of training. So good, in fact, that visions of running a 3:30 filled my head, so from the gun, I ran with that pace group, luxuriating in my tapered legs, soaking in the crowd cheering us on, and enjoying seeing some of the old sights from my UVM days (Bove's, the beautiful house of the Fiji fraternity). As we worked our way onto the Burlington Beltway – an out-and-back on a closed freeway – the running started to get serious. Still feeling good, I slowly passed the 3:30 pace group on a downhill and sunk into myself for a bit, enjoying my music and trying to ignore the annoying footing on the canted freeway. Looking back on my splits now, I was running much faster than I had anticipated, but it sure didn't feel that way – I was cruising and feeling damned good doing it.

So I was surprised when I started feeling my calves around mile 10 as we turned onto Church Street. Not good. I've experienced this before in races: the calves tighten up because of the faster pace of the race and the extra pounding on the pavement. I slowed down and tried to drag my toes a bit in an attempt to stretch out the calves as I ran, but as we started south the situation wasn't getting any better.
My own personal cheering section!

One major highlight was mile 12, where my family gathered to offer me encouragement and water. After that, after this my race went sour. I knew I was in trouble because my calves were hard as rocks and not loosening up. I was drinking lots of water and Gatorade in fear of cramps. I was stopping  to stretch the calves. None of this helped. At the half-way point, I just tried to relax and enjoy the awesome scenery of the Adaronaks across Lake Champlain, and this distracted me enough to get me to the Burlington Taiko drummers situated at the foot of the course’s major hill: the assult on Battery.  Hearing the pounding of all of these deep drums was incredibly invigorating, and fueled what was a great run up the hill: it was actually a good rest for my calves. Unfortunately, as I crested the hill and started down North Ave around mile 16, I started experiencing sharp nerve pain in my right knee.
KBVCM Splits
I toughed it out for a while, but by mile 18, I was half walking and half jogging in an attempt to mitigate what was an electric nerve pain shooting from my knee. It was occasionally so debilitating that I literally couldn't run at all. Cursing my bad luck, I sunk into a dark place within myself as I struggled to keep moving, completely ignoring  the lawn parties lining the race route as we weaved our way through the suburbs north of the city. By mile 20, I was miserable and debating giving up. People were passing me left and right, and I wasn't even enjoying the families offering me water, oranges, watermelons and, in one extreme case, small cups of beer.

The turning point was at mile 22, when a guy in an oversized foam cowboy hat passed me, smiling and having a grand old time. This finally drove home that I wasn't going to achieve the time that I expected, and just needed to relax and focus on finishing. My dirty secret is that I’m a stubborn bastard at the core, so I vowed to keep moving the best that I could and finish the race even if I needed to walk the rest of the way. I felt like DeNiro chanting "I've come too far" in Midnight Run. So I soaked my head in a garden hose sprinkler, took a bathroom break, texted my wife to let her know not to expect me until after the 4:00 mark, and figured out a way to “run” that minimized the pain. This involved pumping my arms as hard as I could, which eventually lurched my legs into motion, and I alternated between this shuffling jog and speed walking for the last few miles. For this reason, the last hour of the race passed in a delirious haze - all I really remember is the pain, my thoughts as I struggled to keep moving, and a few more memorable scenes (incredulous joking with another slowpoke that we were doing this for Michelob; the woman wearing diamond-studded Mickey Mouse ears; an annoying sign claiming that "Pain is Weakness Leaving Your Body").

I wish I could say that I crossed the finish line and felt an incredible sense of accomplishment at my time of 4:15, but honestly I was just glad that it was over. I grabbed my knees and sucked wind for a few moments, tossed back a few chocolate milks and a banana, and worked my way over to my family, where the endorphins carried me through an over-loud and overcrowded “reunion zone.” It was a hot day and my kids were overstimulated, so we didn't partake of the end-of-race scene: we took some pictures and headed to my Mom’s house for BBQ and cold Magic Hat. Is there anything better than a cold beer in the sun after a long race?

It was a long race, and one that I enjoyed overall, despite the uncomfortable finish. Reflecting upon the experience, I've been pondering which concrete lesson to take away (as Murakami suggests above), and  the major one is how humbling running 26.2 miles is. I consider myself a pretty fast runner, and yet 343 runners passed me in the last six miles of the race! Still, I finished, which I didn't believe I could do even six months ago. I'm also surprised I let ambition take over my belief that running is practice, but next time i'll be more diligent about adhering to my pacing plan - really, just looking at the marathon as another long run. And there will be a next time, because at some point, i'm taking another crack at 26.2: I want to see what I can do with a healthy knee!

Cross-posted on Thought Ambience