How to get out of the last five minutes of spinning class.

It’s a little funny; just yesterday I was looking at my tally for miles run in January 2007 and thinking that 35 miles was for me a pretty puny total, and that February needed to up the total a bit. Well, steps have now been taken to make sure the February total is quite different than January’s.

I was at my spinning class tonight, we were almost at the end, and Theresa (our instructor) told everyone to try and pick up the pace a little more for the next 15 seconds. And I was pedaling and thought to myself that I could surely push it a little harder, really knock it out. It was right about then that I felt it. The return of the knot in my left calf muscle that originally plagued me back at the end of May 2006.

Oh, great.

It’s my own fault, really. I’d gotten a little slack about stretching my achilles tendons every day (which is what appears to have caused the problem in the first place) and had gotten to the point where I was only stretching them on days that I actually exercised. Not so smart, it seems. The end result is a nasty knot in the center of my back calf muscle, one that’s so incredibly tight that when it happens, everything is over. Period.

So I stopped pedaling instantly, and Theresa came over to see if I was ok. “Cramp?” she asked and I nodded. After a minute or two, I managed to get down off the bike, and hobble over to the big wooden platform that her bike sits on and sit down on it. Except now I was feeling dizzy (a new one). I tried putting my head down in my hands, but that wasn’t helping. And suddenly I had a major fear. I was suddenly feeling like I might throw up. Oh no.

The nearest trash can was about 50 feet away, and that’s when I did something very stupid and was clearly the dizziness talking—I tried to walk over to it. I was almost all the way over there when apparently I suddenly wove to one side and fell over, clocking my head on the corner of the wall as I did so.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Yes, it hurts.A second later four or five people were clustered around me, putting a towel under my head, arguing if my arms should be over my head or not, trying to get me to eat something, and so on. And if there’s one thing I really hate when I’m feeling vulnerable, it’s seeing other people see me that way. (There’s something about that look of pity that just gets me.) An employee of the rec center came over with some gauze and ice, which is what it took for me to register that I was actually bleeding from where my head hit the wall. And of course, my calf still hurt like the dickens.

Finally all the commotion settled down, and I was feeling better enough that I could go home. Fortunately I don’t have a stick shift, and Roger followed me home to make sure I made it in one piece, as well as helping me getting my stuff out of the car. Meanwhile, all I could think is that now I’ll be “the guy who fell over” in that class for the rest of eternity. On the plus side, it might have scared off some of the new people and since the class actually filled up today that could only be a good thing, right?

Meanwhile, the plan is (in addition to getting back into daily stretching—a painful lesson to learn) to take several weeks off of running. At this point I’m not planning on doing so until after I get back from an upcoming trip (February 15-20), and even then it might be longer, we’ll see. This also means that I will probably have to scrub one or both of my spring races that I had planned, we’ll see. (As I told Roger, if I tell people now that it’s a possibility then there’s a greater chance that I will do the smart thing down the road. Mentioning something in public helps lock me into a plan of action.)

There must have been an easier way to get my Tuesday and Thursday nights (plus Saturday mornings) free for the next couple of weeks, though.

Where Am I Going?

A friend mentioned recently that 2007 has been an introspective year for himself and I completely understand. So far this year has been a strange combination of bad and good news, and with each revelation or turn in life, I find myself examining who I am anew.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t take good or bad news to really get me to think, but rather observing how others are living. My friend Cynthia, for instance, mentioned recently that she just bought a ticket to Burning Man. She also gave an update on the blacksmithing classes that she’s taking here in the DC area. Yes, that’s right, blacksmithing. Whenever I hear about her (or others) doing things like that, my first thought is something along the lines of, How cool is that? That then it segues into the next thought, specifically, And what are you doing with your life, Greg?

It’s easy to get complacent. A level of comfort brings that about; go to work each morning, meet running groups three times a week, hang out with some friends, rinse, repeat. I look at what new things I’ve really added into my life lately and so far it’s a cycling class on Wednesday nights. Wow. Add in buying a yoga mat at Marshall’s on Saturday in an effort to try the “Basic Yoga” DVD and we are talking about one riveting time.

On the plus side, it’s not like I’m not having fun. But I do often wonder where I’m going and how I’m spending my time. The start of this year reminded me that time is fleeting, and in some ways I can’t help but think that it’s going to be the theme (so to speak) for this year. That second chance might not swing back around. There are some things I need to give a whirl sooner rather than later.

Of course, we’ll see how that actually goes; the best of intentions and all that. And until I’m truly committed and doing something, I like to keep my mouth shut. It’s the same theory that is applied to the first couple dates with someone; I don’t tell people not because it’s going to make me fail, but rather because if it’s something that doesn’t happen then I don’t want people to keep asking. (Nothing can hammer home regret or disappointment better than 200 repetitions of, “How’s that [insert activity] coming along?” “I didn’t do it.” I’ll at least save that for the things that actually had some initial momentum.) So when there’s something that is actually getting accomplished, I’ll let you all know. In the meantime, I’m certainly thinking about quite a few. And that’s a start.

“You and I are here to stay.”

A week ago, I found out that the DC office of the National AIDS Marathon Training Program was closing. As people who have known me for a long time know, signing up for AIDS Marathon in 2001 literally changed my life. It got me exercising, I met a whole new group of friends, it helped me lose a lot of weight, it taught me just what I could accomplish if I put my mind to it. I believe in the program enough that I not only ran in it for six years in a row, but this past year I worked on Saturday mornings for the program to be one of the run site assistants.

Needless to say, AIDS Marathon going away in the DC area is not at all what I’d call a happy event, and there was a whole range of mad/upset/sad/unbelieving emotions that quickly ran through my head over the course of a couple of hours. (An abbreviated version of the grieving process, such as it was.)

What interestingly enough stopped the process for me, though, was a sudden thought that brought everything into a different sort of perspective. I’m not going to stop running, I told myself. A part of my life is going away, but at the same time it’s almost more of it merely changing into something else. And suddenly, like that, a whole new world of possibilities opened up in front of me once I realized that I wasn’t saying goodbye to everything in one fell swoop.

And it was right then that I saw that line from Six Feet Under that I mentioned a week ago. It was Lauren Ambrose who delivered the line (from the episode “Nobody Sleeps”) and part of it was just her body language and her tone of voice that sold it, but even stripped down to just print it still really hits home for some reason:

“I’m not even sure what happened, but I just had this glimpse of what might be possible, and for whatever reason the world just seemed really open and interesting, and not totally screwed up, and I don’t know, I don’t know, I just felt really happy.”

It’s taken me about a week to get fully back to that point, but I think I’m actually there. My iPod just pulled up Jennifer Kimball’s “The Revelations” and I’d forgotten how much I love this song. There’s this wonderful optimism bound up in it, this amazing forward-thinking.

Even through a wood you know by heart
It’s hard to go the same way twice.
Any bird, a stone can be a new path
Any love may turn to ice.

I’ve got all these opportunities in front of me right now. Things are going to be very different for running in 2007. And don’t get me wrong, leaving a great love of mine behind is distressing, and it’s sad to have to do so. But there are so many ideas I have, so many options, so many forks in the road waiting to be chosen. I can’t wait to make them.

There is no vision here but what is seen,
A stillness deeper than the night sky.
There’s time enough for both of us,
I am yours, and you are mine.

This is the way I’ve heard
It’s supposed to be, you and me.
A bridge over open sea
A single span, the infinite plan.
You and I are here to stay
You and I are here to stay.

365pictures: Days 31-60

This is a little late, since I took the picture for day 67 last night. (Oops.)

My only defense is that I’ve been pretty busy. But, more importantly, I have still been taking the pictures no matter what. Looking at this second batch, there are some pictures here that I’m really happy with, some that still aren’t quite up to snuff. But I think I’m getting better.

(I hope I’m getting better.)

Anyway, as always, the full set is here if you’d like to check in at any time. And enjoy!

Julie feels the painRun Away! Run Away!Dreaming of a Day-Glo ChristmasWalking HomeC&O Canal Bridge
Reading SculptureWorld on FireProfessor GregFoggy Morning in RosslynHand-Cut Paper Snowflakes
Ali, Chanty, Julie, and CraigThe Jet AgeSpiralling into NightChristmas tree with lights and hueOur Super Sunday Staff
Smart Car!Library DonationsHuman Pyramid!King Street, Christmas EveThe end of a long day
Curried Chocolate Cherry BarkWinter nights in Clarendon (grayscale)Julie's Beaded Curtain (front)Julie, Painter ExtraordinaireReed Diffuser
New Year's PartyRaven Steals the SunChristmas WreathBallston at NightLantern Waste

Trying to Say Goodbye

Last night I’d written about half of an entry before deciding that the rest could wait until morning. It was about how for most of Monday I’d felt really energized about, bizarrely, some bad news. How somehow I’d found myself finding the good side of it, and being really excited and curious for what this would bring for me. I’d been flipping channels when I finally got home and landed on an episode of Six Feet Under, just in time for a line from Claire that summed up so much of what I’d felt that I’d rewound it (god bless the DVR) and wrote it down word for word.

This morning I stopped feeling so charitable about the world and its wonders, when I got word that my friend John McCalla had been found dead in his apartment.

I met John through AIDS Marathon. Both of us needed a roommate for the Florence leg of the trip, and the program reps matched us up. “You’ll really like him,” Beth had confided in me. “He’s a sweetie.” Before we went to Italy we’d met up at a marathon happy hour, and we ended up spending almost two hours talking to each other and ignoring everyone else that we’d wanted to see. By the end of the night I was almost giddy about spending more time with him; we’d both just clicked with each other in that way that happens too infrequently.

He’d just received a huge promotion at work and was crazy busy, but we traded e-mails and played phone tag a lot. In Florence, we spent a lot of our time together; sprawled out on our beds and talking, listening to his choices in music, wandering around Florence, or trying to drink each other under the table. He had a new boyfriend, and I’ll admit that I was a little sad to hear that because I’d developed a big crush on him, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel really happy for him. He and I were both sort of fumbling through life and trying to find relationships, and his happiness with having met Ed was infectious.

After the marathon we kept trading messages and swearing to get together soon, but something always seemed to get in the way. I’d teased him that I’d stolen my recent facial hair from him and because he was such a Six Feet Under fan that I was calling it the “Nate Fisher” even as I really was privately calling it the “John McCalla.” I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of days and when my friend Dave had asked last night about John, I’d said that he was probably on deadline again, but that we’d probably talk once that was over.

Now all I can think about is laughing together in a hotel bar, or trying each other’s food at Gorga (which had taken us and Amana forever to find but was absolutely worth it), or drunkenly collapsing into bed the night after the marathon with him passing out in mid-sentence. He’d been trying to quit smoking after his relapse in Florence, and swore that January 2nd would be his new start date. We’d promised to go running together, and soon. He was already talking about participating in another travel marathon, perhaps Honolulu. I wanted to hear how he was doing, to trade MP3s, to continue laughing over our horrible official marathon photos. He was smart, and witty, and fun to be around. He’d strike up conversations with cab drivers about what music they were listening to, and loved to travel. His smile always felt real and he always listened to whomever was talking.

We only met two and a half months ago and I miss him so much.

John McCalla

John McCalla on a scooter; Florence, Italy

The Worst and Best $8 I’ve Spent in a While

My friend Katie found out I was thinking about canceling my Gold’s Gym membership and switching over to the (much) less expensive Arlington County Rec Centers. “You need to come to spinning class with me,” she said. “This Wednesday is going to be the last one I can go to for a while because of work so you have to come.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. Won’t it be busy because it’s the new year?”

“I’ll see you at 6:30,” she replied.


I headed over to the Thomas Jefferson Community Center after work this evening, wondering what I was getting myself in for. TJ is connected to a local school (unlike Arlington’s Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center, which I’d seen once before) so it’s a pretty low-scale affair; an indoor track, weight machines, free weights, a lot of cross-training machines, a stretching area, and some spaces for classes. It was that last place that was calling my name. I’d paid for a $5 guest pass and $3 for a single spinning class (there are discounts if you buy more), so this was it. I was committed.

Katie showed me how to put the seat and handles onto the stationary cycle; I’d put the handles on backwards, and then didn’t tighten the seat enough at first so that it promptly slid back down within about a minute of be sitting on it. This was why I finally decided to go tonight—not only because Katie might have beaten me up otherwise, but because I’d have someone to catch my stupid newbie mistakes in the act rather than after I managed to eject myself into the air halfway through the class.

I wasn’t the only new person either, happily. Two other people were also rank amateurs. I vowed to keep an eye on them, especially after instructor Theresa told me that if I needed to stop and sit down from time to time that was all right. I wasn’t folding if they weren’t.

At first it wasn’t too bad. We were 15 minutes in and I was pedaling away, trying to remember to keep my shoulders loose, push with my heels, and everything else that Theresa was telling us. Then Katie turned to me and said, “I hate you.”

“Huh?” I replied.

“You aren’t even breathing hard,” she said back.

Now, I had thought I was working pretty hard. But suddenly I had a flashback to speed training workouts back in 2005 with Rick W., who yelled at me as I ran past him, “If you’re laughing you aren’t running fast enough!” Well, clearly I wasn’t trying hard enough. So I started upping the tension. And then a little more. And then a bit more after that.

The next thing I knew, we were 25 minutes into the class and all I could think was the worrisome thought that surviving another 20 minutes might not be an option. And if I died, would I get a partial refund on my $8? Now sure, I could just turn the tension back down a bit and save myself. And it sounded good. But right then Theresa yelled out, “Sure, this could be easier but then what’s the point? Everyone would do this if it was easy!” And you know, she had a point.

So instead I gasped and grunted my way through the full 45 minute class. When it was over and we got off our bikes, Katie turned to me and said, “What did you think?”

“I ran 12 miles faster than I ever had before on Saturday,” I replied. “And this kicked my ass in comparison.”

Afterwards was perhaps the best part of the evening; stopping by Pio Pio on the way home and eating some Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken and rice. Mmmmmm. Provided my run tomorrow evening doesn’t involve me whimpering and limping a lot? I think I might just go back next week and see if Theresa will be even tougher on me if Katie’s not there to shield me. After all, half an hour into the class I saw Theresa walk around and increase the tension on some other people’s cycles. It could happen to me next time. I just don’t know if this scares or excites me.

I guess there’s one way to find out.

Uberlist 2007

Ok, it’s time for Uberlist 2007. I first heard about this via the far-cooler-and-neater-than-I Kelly Sue DeConnick. She and her old roommate Nikol Lohr made New Year’s To Do Lists back in 1998 instead of New Year’s Resolutions, which is sheer brilliance. In 1998 they had 98 items on their lists (98 things to do in 1998), so since this is 2007, there are 107 items on the uberlist. My first attempt was back in 2003 and I’ve done it ever since.

In the words of Kelly Sue:

I think I only accomplish about 30% of the list in any given year (one year, I didn’t finish MAKING THE LIST) and generally by June there are a good 10 items that are no longer applicable or even desireable, but it’s a fun thing to have nonetheless, and it keeps me focused for the first few months of the year. Then I forget all about it until about, oh, say, NOVEMBER, at which point I scramble about trying to remember where I put last year’s list.

I enjoy the process partially just for the making of the list; it lets me think about things I’d like to do as one year comes to a close and another one begins. I’m never too worried about what does and does not get done; in some ways it’s a list of wishes and desires, not of things that I simply must accomplish. And it’s fun at the end of the year to look back at what seemed important or enticing at the time. It’s simply not possible to do it all; I’d never expect myself to.

But, at any rate, here I go yet again. 


1. Complete a 5K in under 26:23
2. Complete a 10K in under 57:30
3. Complete a 10-miler in under 1:32:38
4. Complete a half-marathon in under 2:06:08
5. Complete a marathon in under 4:46:48
6. Get a session with a personal trainer
7. Go to one gym class
8. Go to the gym on a regular basis
9. Keep my waist fitting in 30″ jeans
10. Learn how to properly use the weights at the gym
11. Quit Gold’s for Arlington Rec, or use Gold’s classes
12. Run regularly each week
13. Run for an 8-mile stretch or higher at least once a month
14. Run a non-DC area race
15. Use the Yoga DVD/cards at least three times

Local Attractions:

16. Go to an exhibition at the Freer/Sackler Galleries
17. Go up to the top of the Washington Monument
18. See a performance at the Shakespeare Theatre
19. See DC Nationals play a game
20. See DC United play a game
21. Visit the National Museum of the American Indian
22. Walk through Rosslyn’s Freedom Park

Continue reading Uberlist 2007

Three times makes tradition.

It seems I have a New Year’s Day ritual; brunch at the same restaurant, followed by going to a museum downtown. It didn’t even hit me until Karon mentioned this morning that I’d done the exact same thing three years in a row, but sure enough, it started in 2005 with brunch at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington and the Dream Worlds exhibit at the Sackler Gallery. 2006’s museum trip involved The Spirit of Ancient Columbian Gold and Nature’s Best Photography Awards at the Natural History Museum.

CoasterThis year, brunch involved irish sausages, rashers, eggs, black and white pudding, home fries, toast, and a cup of the potato leek soup. A hearty breakfast, certainly, or at least one in which my pulse will be racing for quite some time as I try and digest all of that cholesterol and fat. A pretty satisfying way to start the morning, though, and we were seated right next to the fireplace which was particularly comforting. It was a foggy, misty, vaguely raining sort of morning in the DC area and it’s hard to get a more comforting place than Four Courts in the morning.

Then it was time to head downtown and finally see the National Museum of the American Indian. It’s rather silly the more I think about it, but the museum opened in mid-2004 and I think every year I’ve vowed that I will finally go and see it. In 2006 I ran right by the museum some 20-odd times as part of marathon training, and each time I would cringe and think to myself, “Why haven’t I gone there yet?” (I do remember trying to go on January 1st, 2005, but the museum was only a couple of months old and there was a long line just to get in.)

So, finally, the journey was made. It’s an interesting museum, and I’d heard a lot over the past couple of years about both its pros and cons with the way that its contents are presented. It’s a peculiar building, with the first two floors being primarily a cafe and two different gift shops, for instance. As you continue to ascend its four stories, you begin to see a wide variety of exhibits; ones about how different tribes and nations view themselves, their history, and the world. Some of the areas were fascinating, others felt completely flat. It’s a real hodgepodge of material to be absorbed.

Raven Steals the Sun

There are some moments of real beauty there, like Preston Singletary’s Raven Steals the Sun sculpture, or some of the materials on display, such as a graceful flowing pattern of arrowheads that looked like rivers of stone. I’m still not sure how I felt about two of the areas where all of the items were displayed in a series of large glass cases (some with additional pull-drawers beneath them) and computer screens about five feet away that would give you information about each object. The wealth of information on the computers was impressive, and being able to zoom in on parts of the objects was clever, but it made me at the same time feel disconnected from what was on the computer screen versus what was in the case.

I’m glad I went, though. I’ve felt very silly to have not gone for so long. And, more importantly, I like having my New Year’s Day tradition. It’s a nice way to start both the day and the new year with a bit of grace, a bit of culture, a bit of comfort. It would be nice to be so fabulously wealthy that any day could involve this sort of life of leisure, but until then I’ll hang onto my annual date. I’ll certainly go to other museums over the course of the year and have nice, slowpoke mornings as well, but for some reason this combination just feels a little more special.

Happy New Year, one and all.