Sunday, November 23, 2008

the next (same) hurdle

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). The "IT Band," as it is often called, is a long strip of tissue-like material that runs down the outside of the upper leg, connecting the hip to the knee. Running causes friction between the band and the femur. Too much activity (along with a number of other contributing factors including length of the IT band, effectiveness of stretching, pronation of the foot, quality of shoes, etc.) can cause inflammation of the band, radiating dull pain to the outside lateral portion of the knee. Symptoms usually begin in the first 2 or 3 miles of a run. The sharpness of the pain increases with continued activity, and inflammation subsides when the activity is stopped. It often takes weeks to heal completely.

ITBS is the thing that kept me from finishing the marathon last Saturday. I first had symptoms back in the spring when I ran the Monument Ave. 10K, and the problem flared up intermittently over the course of the marathon training. But I'd been in the clear since late August...until our 20-mile training run in late October. It's been problematic every since. But I rested it a lot during the 3-week taper leading up to the marathon, determined to run on November 15.

I started to feel it somewhere around Mile 3 of the marathon. It was exactly what I was afraid of. I suspected then that I wouldn't be able to finish, but I stopped and stretched every so often and tried to push on. I had to walk most of Mile 7 - not because I was tired or my muscles sore or my lungs struggling, but because the pain in my knee had begun to stab. I stretched for several minutes at the Mile 8 marker in an attempt to get my IT band to cooperate. It was effective for about a tenth of a mile. Finally, after stopping every 200 feet or so to stretch (and still limping along), I had to give up at the Mile 10 water station and resign myself to the fact that I'd have to tackle 26.2 another day.

I'm headed to see the sports medicine doctor on Tuesday to start rehabilitation. I hope to get back to training as soon as I can, though I'll make sure I'm completely healed first. I will say definitively that I will not let my first marathon attempt be my last.

Friday, November 14, 2008

it's now or...maybe later

The Richmond Marathon starts at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. I haven't run in 8 days. I've been trying to get my left iliotibial band to heal so my knee will stop aching. Since my 20-mile run three weeks ago, I haven't been able to go more than 3 or 4 miles at a time without my IT band tightening and flaring up. Since this time last week, I've iced it, rested it, stretched it, heated it, iced it some more, taken ibuprofen, more ice, etc. It's better, but I'm not sure it feels 100%. The muscles in my legs are almost twitching with restless energy, ready to run. But if the knee doesn't hold up, it's to no avail.

So, I'm worried. I'm sitting in my study at home staring at the clock on the wall, realizing that, at this very moment, I have exactly 13 hours and 30 minutes until the start gun goes off. I'm just ready to get to it, ready to sink or swim.

And speaking of swimming...that idiomatic cliche may not be too far off the mark. Forget the cool, clear, crisp autumn mornings that we generally see around here in mid-November. Here's the hour-by-hour weather forecast for tomorrow morning:

Pushing 70 degrees in windy thunderstorms. At the very least, it will be exciting. Truth be told, I like running in the rain. It distracts me from everything else, and it makes the whole endeavor more challenging (not that tomorrow needs to be any more challenging).

So I'm hopeful that, with patience, a slow start, a careful pace, good stretching, and a whole lot of grace, I will have completed 26.2 miles by early/mid afternoon tomorrow. And if not, there's always Charlotte next month. In the meantime, it's time to load up on pasta dinner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

adding to the repertoire

I've been working on a lot of new music over the past two or three months. I wish that I wrote faster, that I were more prolific...but, at the very least, I'm learning to work consistently and take progress when and where it comes without feeling too discouraged when I hit a wall for a while. It's difficult sometimes when a song is about two-thirds complete but the last little bit just won't come easily (as is the case for at least three or four pieces right now). Lots of lunch hours spent eating and writing with nothing but a full stomach to show for it in the end.

Still, I'm happy to have emerged with two completed songs so far: "More Familiar" and "Three Days." Moreover, I feel fairly satisfied - at least for now - with the recordings I've done of both. My goal is to finish the handful of other tunes still in progress in order to have enough new material for an EP-length recording.

In the meantime, I've uploaded these first two songs to Reverb Nation. If you give them a listen, I hope you'll let me know your thoughts...positive OR negative (or maybe I should say "constructive").

(N.B. - it takes a few seconds for each song to start after you hit play...)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

going for a run and singing a song

How it got from May 15 to July 3, I haven't a clue. All of my promises about being a better blogger have rung hollow and empty. What to do but try to begin again?

I suppose the big news of the previous weeks is that, as of the beginning of June, I am officially in training for the 2008 Richmond Marathon in November. I've been running consistently over the past year, and I was surprised at how much I loved running the Monument Avenue 10K a couple of months ago. Still, 26.2 miles is a LOT farther than the 6.2 miles that make up the 10K. I admit that I'm already a little nervous about it. The funny thing is that running a marathon isn't that big a deal these days. It used to be fairly rare to meet someone who'd run a marathon. These days I feel like half the people I know have run one. The farthest I've ever run at one time is about 6 miles, and while I've done it four or five times, I'm worried about tomorrow's 8-mile jaunt.

In other news, I've been playing some music with my friends Jonathan and Antonia under the name Jonathan Vassar and The Speckled Bird. Definitely a folky, lo-fi Americana feel, very low key. We're playing a bunch of Jonathan's original tunes (he's a prolific and excellent songwriter), so the lineup has Jonathan on guitar and lead vocals, Antonia on accordion, glockenspiel, and vocals, and I'm covering mandolin, banjo, electric guitar, and vocals. It's been a really fun project so far - if you're interested in hearing some rough live recordings, we've posted a bunch on Reverb Nation...and for those of you on MySpace, you can find us there, too:

Hope everyone has a happy and safe 4th of July. Maybe I'll post again before the next major holiday...Labor Day, perhaps? Anyone want to take bets?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

shameless family plug

If you have five free minutes (and obviously you do because you're reading this), I strongly encourage you to check out my sister Leslie's newly established blog. Only a few posts on there so far, so it doesn't take long to read the whole thing. But I'd be willing to bet the $3.52 in my pocket that it will be the best five minutes of your day. When we were little kids, I used to torture Les by telling her she was adopted...of course I was kidding, but now I'm not so sure - no one else in my family comes close to being as clever and funny as she is (and she's likely to post a lot more frequently, too).

Monday, May 05, 2008

hi. i used to play your songs in high school.

Way back in the early 1990's, rock music was just beginning to transition out of its big-haired, glam-rock, 1980's childhood into a funkier, groovier, sometimes-angstier adolescence. (Actually, come to think of it - maybe that was ME and not the music. Or maybe both.) One musical era was definitively ending, a new one beginning. The new scope was pretty broad: the heavy grunge of Seattle (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana) to the light, clean "jam band" style of Blues Traveler and Dave Matthews. Nestled in the latter camp, the Spin Doctors released their album Pocket Full Of Kryptonite in August of 1991. I was about to start 9th grade.

People just three or four years younger than I don't remember this album or its creators. But for those who do, you may recall the easily digestible candy-sweet bounce of tunes like "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong," and "Two Princes." I even remember playing some of these songs with high school friends back in the day.

This is all a long way of saying that Chris Barron, lead singer for the Spin Doctors, performed for the Children's Center here at the church a couple of weeks ago. He was in town for a gig and somehow ended up playing this middle-of-the-day thing for the 25 or 30 kids in attendance (all 5 or 6 years old or younger). Really nice guy, very laid back. But I have to admit it was surreal to sit there and watch this now-over-40 front man sing to a group of kids that had no idea who he was. It was interesting to hear the new songs Barron has written - like catching up with a friend you haven't seen in years (maybe decades) and finding out all that they've been up to. But I have to confess: as much as I like the new songs, I couldn't help but get a kick out of hearing live acoustic versions of "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" and "Two Princes" while sitting in a church building with a couple of dozen little kids at lunchtime. Not an experience I would have anticipated when I was playing these songs at the age of 15.

Friday, April 25, 2008

the long and winding road

In a euphemistic rendition of the old saying that suggests one should take action or move on, my mother cleverly quipped via email that I should "blog or get off the spot." Loud and clear, mother. You may be the last person still checking to see if I've managed to overcome the narcissism of my Edible Estates moment long enough to post something - ANYTHING - new. (A mother's duties are neverending.)

So here I am. Since my last post, the thematic arc of March was one of travel. In the span of just over four weeks, I had the opportunity to visit the Society of St. John the Evangelist (an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge, Mass.) for a weekend retreat, join a mission trip to help repair homes in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans during the week of my 31st birthday, and backpack across the breathtaking Galiuro Mountains of southeastern Arizona. All incredible experiences, each vastly different from the others.

I owe details about each of these trips - especially the story that unfolded in New Orleans - but the details will have to wait. In the meantime, I did manage to snap a shot of the monastery at SSJE during a morning snowstorm. It really was as beautiful as it appears.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"edible estates" piece

Here is the piece that I wrote for the "Edible Estates" book that I mentioned in my last post.

February 2007. The piece of paper in front of me looked something like this:

Pros - Two flat 14’ x 20’ plots of land; south-facing; full sun all day; I’ll see the garden every day as I walk out my front door.
Cons - Everyone else will see the garden every day as they walk past my front door.

It wasn’t so much a “con” as an uncertainty. An edible front yard would be good stewardship of the little piece of land that I have. Could the “con” of high visibility actually be a “pro”? I swallowed my doubt.

March arrived. I borrowed my neighbor’s tiller, turned my yard into a plot of dirt, and panicked momentarily as I passed the “point of no return.” I laid out a walking path, cultivated beds, put in herb borders, and planted seeds.

At the very least, the resulting garden is a talking point. It piques curiosity. I’ve met more folks in the neighborhood in the last four months than I have in five years. Some ask questions. “What’s that plant?” “Are squash and zucchini hard to grow?” Most offer words of encouragement. “I love walking by every day and seeing the progress.” “I really believe in what you’re doing.” “Looks fantastic - keep up the good work!”

In truth, I’m an amateur. Last year was my first attempt at growing vegetables. It started as a pastime, a fun novelty: vegetables to which I could lay claim from my own ground. In short time, it has raised my awareness of the origins of what I eat, made me more intentional about choosing food. More than that, though, I feel intimately connected with the Earth. Watching a seed emerge from its burial to grow into a plant larger than my arms’ reach - and being an active participant in this natural cycle - has evolved into a tangible expression of faith in the natural order of things. That it produces the same fruitful results over and over again, year after year, is nothing short of miraculous. That I can share this with others in my own front yard is icing on the cake.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

a few words in writing

Throughout 2007, one of the more frequent topics of discussion on this blog was the transition of my front lawn from a perennial weed-scape to a more productive edible landscape, inspired largely by architect and designer Fritz Haeg. My March 3 post from last year provides a more robust explanation of the philosophy behind the movement to use one's yard in a more environmentally friendly, less destructive manner. After an article about my yard and my friend Antonia's yard ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer, I got an email from Fritz Haeg himself (!) telling me that the author of the newspaper article had emailed the story to him. He asked if I would be willing to submit "before and after" photos of my yard and a 300-word essay for inclusion in an upcoming book about his Edible Estates project. Shortly after the Fourth of July, I sent my essay and photos. I had almost forgotten about it until a couple of weeks ago. The book, called "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn", was released earlier this month, and I was fortunate enough to have my essay and photos included in the book. So...I'm published! And while it's not a huge deal (it is, after all, only a one-page essay in a garden book), I'm pretty proud of it and excited about it. I hope to post the essay in its entirety later this week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"to whom much has been given..."

OK, this might be a little heavy to start the new year, but so be it. Below is an article I've just finished writing for the newsletter at the church. I say that to provide some context for the piece, though I think the moral obligation for the responsible use of wealth need not be confined to discussions within religious circles. Anyway, I hope you'll take the time to read it and let me know if you have any thoughts in response:

I'm really no good at New Year's resolutions. Inevitably, I begin the year with a vow to make some definitive changes in my habits: eating better, exercising more, praying with more intention and regularity. And inevitably, I'm right back to where I started by February. So, I didn't make any concrete resolutions this January, but I did have a meaningful conversation in the first hours of the year that has continued to nag at me and cause me to take spiritual inventory of my own place in
God's world.

I spent the New Year's holiday in Dallas visiting with four of my college friends and their spouses. We try to make it a point to get together each year around this time to catch up with one another. In the wee hours of January 1, after the midnight celebrations had died down and most of the group had gone to sleep, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table deep in conversation with two of my friends. Both of these men are incredibly successful by society's standards. They are well-educated and well-spoken, have excelled through the ranks of their respective businesses, and have achieved financial status that few our age enjoy. And, to be frank, most of our conversational topics over the course of the weekend reflected the comfort of this lifestyle: business dealings, finances, new houses, investments, etc. But in this late-night conversation that shifted first to politics and then to issues of faith and social justice, all of the pretense of those prior conversations fell away. One of my friends confessed that he lies awake many nights wondering if he does enough with all the blessings he has received. We talked about the difficulty of knowing where to draw the line between providing for the needs of ourselves and our families and the slippery temptation to indulge extravagantly in our wants. We debated what it is, exactly, that we are called to do in the passage from Luke's Gospel that reads, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).

It is a conversation that has stuck with me over the past few weeks, raising as many questions as it answers. There's no way around it: much has been given to each of us. For the most part, we are blessed with good homes, good families, good educations, good jobs...and it is clear that God is calling us to use these blessings responsively and responsibly. We just have to figure out how best to do that.

So I have only one resolution this year. It comes in the form of a question, and I'm certain it will require continuous reassessment and attention in the months ahead: am I giving of myself all that God is asking me to give, and if not, where is there room for me to improve? I realize that it is a very basic question, one that should be obvious and ever-present for us as Christians. But the truth -- at least, for me -- is that often my day-to-day activity is not rooted in answering that question. I lose sight of it in the busyness around me and the relative comfort that I enjoy. Regardless of the form in which the answer comes, I am reminded of our stewardship prayer that begins, "Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves," as I pray that each of us will be given the grace and wisdom to seek (and find) the ways in which God is calling us to be his heart and hands in the world around us in 2008.