I’m delighted to announce that, in the very near future, I’ll post a full review of the Earth Runners Circadian X minimalist sandal. This is an exciting new product from Michael Dally of Earth Runners, featuring 8mm soles with conductive inserts, suede leather footbeds, and fully-conductive leather straps. Given the impressive design, construction, and performance of my present Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, I expect the CircXs to be quite something. Stay tuned!
It’s the second day of March, and, with the windchill factored in, it’s – 15C outside. People are telling me that Spring is “just around the corner.” Really.
To be fair, – 15C isn’t bad, considering that we’ve just come out of a couple of weeks where the temps have been been between – 27C and – 37C. But, warm weather creature that I am, I figure I’m looking at six more weeks of chilly stuff before we get to “warmish”. And that doesn’t take into account the inevitable “Let’s have one more go at it” early April snowstorm.
Never mind. Spring is on its way. Really.
So I’m preparing for some outdoor running. When the daytime temps get to about 5C (and the rock salt disappears from the sidewalks), that means short barefoot runs around the the neighbourhood. As the temperatures rise, the runs will get longer. By early May, I should be doing some decent distances – barefoot, shirtless, and watchless. (Think blissful Zen-style runs.)
When the rock salt goes, the skateboard will come out. I made some progress in the late Fall as “Skateboard Newbie,” but I have a long way to go before becoming “Skateboard Al.” I’m not aiming at learning any advanced tricks – just cruising around the ‘hood and being able to ollie will suit me fine.
Last on my Spring “ta da!” list is getting my fixed-gear bike on the road again. It’s a custom-built titanium frame, it’s brakeless, it sports Phil Woods hubs and a Brooks Swift saddle, and it’s an absolute beauty. It only needs new tires for the new season, and I’ll be profiling proudly.
I feel better already.
For years, I’ve resisted going on a cruise. My old travelling days were built around a knapsack and hitchhiking or very cheap buses, and it’s been hard to see myself as a member of the cruise set. Times change, though, and I figured I could too. Two things nudged me to try this cruise. One was the route – Dubai to Muscat to Abu Dubai to Dubai. The other was that the ship had a running track.
Bingo, I was in!
The ship was the Costa Serena. (Yes, it’s a sister ship of the Costa Concordia. Remember? The one that ran aground off the coast of Italy when its captain decided to get really close to shore without using a harbour?) The Serena’s one big puppy, carrying 3,800 passengers and 1,000 crew. It also features the most obnoxious decor I’ve ever seen – kind of “Disneyland meets Hieronymus Bosch.” It was, needless to say, a long way from a knapsack and a hippy bus.
But the Serena has a running track. It’s near the stern of the boat, and it goes around the ship’s funnel. It’s not a big track (150m, to be precise), it’s not banked, it’s often wet (it was at 5:30 AM, anyway, when I ran on it, because it had just been swabbed down for the day), and each lap involves running past two huge vents that bring the smells of the ship’s kitchen up close and personal. Very up close. Very personal.
There were some surprises. I ran when the Serena was going through the Strait of Hormuz. Because it’s an important transport corridor and a hugely important military location, the Strait is always busy, with immense freighters, oil rigs, cruise ships, and dhows always in sight. One morning I saw a submarine surface-cruising about 500 meters off the Serena’s flank. I also saw warships – from the UK, Australia, and the US – both in the open water and in the harbours of Muscat and Abu Dhabi. They were nasty-looking – flat grey paint, heavily armoured, and bristling with weapons.
But I ran on a ship, in the Strait of Hormuz, under the open sky, and on my lonesome. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Of course, there’s cruising and there’s cruising. Dhows like the one in the photo below, taken in Muscat’s harbour, have been cruising the Gulf for 2,000 years or so. A long time ago, they carried spices. Now, their cargo is more mundane stuff, like air conditioners and television sets. But, as far as I know, not one of them has a running track.
Dubai’s kind of a weird place.
It’s one of the richest cities in the world, home to the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa, at 830m/2200 feet) and the biggest mall in the world (the Dubai Mall, with 1,200 shops, an aquarium, and an Olympic-sized skating rink). It’s one immense construction site, but at the cost of serious human rights abuses among those who are doing the building. Before 1970, it was just a small – and poor – fishing and pearl-diving village. Now it’s one of the planet’s “world cities.”
Never mind. Even weird places offer opportunities to run.
Like Amsterdam, this was a stopover – just a couple of days before setting out on a cruise. So, of necessity, my run started and ended at our hotel. The hotel (a Holiday Inn Express, no less) was between the “old” city and the “new” downtown, along a busy stretch of road on the way to Jumeirah Beach.
It was an interesting piece of road. I passed a big construction site in the first 500m (for the upcoming Etihad Museum, designed by Canadian architects Moriyama & Teshima), then moved into a mixed retail and residential neighbourhood. On the way, I passed the elegant Jumeirah Mosque, where, the following day, we attended an “Open Hearts, Open Minds” presentation. As I approached the mosque, I heard the call to prayer, which I’ve always found a lovely experience when visiting Muslim countries.
My turnaround point for the run was just passed the Dubai Zoo, with its pungent smells and sounds of animals large and small behind its walls. Then it was back along the same route to the hotel. The run, which I did in my Bedrock Syncline 1.0 sandals, took about an hour. Temperature was about 18C (it was, after all, winter in Dubai).
In 1970, when I first visited Europe, I missed going to Amsterdam. Not that it wasn’t a desirable location – very much to the contrary, in fact – but, as a 22 year-old hippie on his way to India, I had other priorities in mind. As if that weren’t bad enough, I missed it the next time around, in 1971, when I returned, once again on my way to India.
So, when I had the opportunity recently for a brief stopover in Amersterdam – this time, on my way to Dubai – I jumped at at the chance. To be sure, it was going to be a very quick visit, and it was going to be in early January, but what the heck…
I wanted to run in Amsterdam. I love tourist running in cities I visit. It affords one of the best ways to see a new place – slow enough to peer into all kinds of places, quick enough to get across some good distances, and, ideally, with lots of opportunities to get creatively lost. (Though, to be fair, I usually do a little bit of pre-run planning.)
In Amersterdam, we stayed in a hotel near the IJ, the city’s northern waterway, just north of the beautiful Centraal Railway Station. From there, an easy crossing of a footbridge and running through an underpass took me quickly to Haarlemmerstraat, a little, mostly traffic-free street of small shops.
It was Sunday morning, but it was still busy with bicycle traffic. (Heck, Amesterdam’s always busy with bicycle traffic.) It was cold (about 4C), wet (a fine drizzle was falling), and it was very windy. But I was running in Amsterdam, and I was happy.
After a while, I turned a corner to run along Herrengracht, one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of smal canal-side streets. It was all residential here, with the canal on one side of the narrow street and tall, narrow houses on the other. The houses, dating from the mid-1670s, were topped with the distinctive gable fronts that grace so many of the city’s canal-side buildings.
Down Herrengracht to a small side canal street, along that, up yet another canal street, and I soon found myself crossing Dam Square, a big, open space in the centre of the old city. From there, it was only a short jog back past Centraal Station, and then back to the hotel.
My Earth Runner Alpha X sandals and Injinji wool socks were perfect for both the weather conditions and the cobblestone streets. I’d run for about an hour.
So, 45 years late, but I’d done it. I’d not only visited Amsterdam, but I’d run in it. And I’m going back. There are other streets I want to run, along the canals and along the waterfront, and there are some beautiful parks to explore as well.
Next time, though, I’ll be there when It’s a little warmer and drier.
I’m about to go on holiday. A couple of days in Amsterdam, a few days in Dubai, then a cruise through the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, with stops in Abu Dhabi and Muscat. Aside from the delights of visiting places I’ve never been before – not to mention going on my first ever cruise – I’m really looking forward to running in Amsterdam, Dubai, and on the ship (which has a running track on its uppermost deck). I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks.
During that time, my access to the Net will be irregular. I’ll try to post here when I have time and access, as well as to my Twitter feed. (If you’re reading this on my WordPress.com blog site, you’ll see my latest three Twitter posts on the sidebar to the right.) I’ll do my best to include some photos of where I’ve run.
New experiences, interesting places, and some much-needed sunshine and warmth. It’s all good.
Above is an image of the indoor track at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University. My plan last Saturday was to run that track for eight hours at the Run4RKids 8 Hour Ultra. The reality was that I bailed at about five hours, having completed approximately 38K. I was still feeling good, had no aches or pains, and was pretty much on target pace.
So what happened?
Long story short – Asperger’s.
As I’ve explained in a previous post (“Running and Asperger’s”), I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Two of the primary manifestations of that are social isolation and a sensitivity to sensory overload. That means I don’t function well in groups of people, and that I don’t function well when there’s a lot of sound or movement around me.
Think about that for a minute, and you’ll understand why I always run alone, and almost always without music. And why running in races is somewhat problematic. Sometimes I can manage races, sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I simply can’t.
Last January, I ran the Run4RKids 6 Hour successfully, and had a wonderful time. I met a number of very friendly and supportive people (ultra runners are like that), and completed a respectable 52K. So I was looking forward to this year’s 8 Hour. In fact, I’d worked out some specific strategies, building on solid feeling, pacing, and psychological learnings gained in the past twelve months.
Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield. On Saturday, it was my turn to be the bug.
Above is a pre-race photo of the full field of runners. About 25 people were in for the 8 Hour, a few for the 6 Hour, and the rest for the 30K, marathon, and half marathon events. That’s yours truly in the back row, wearing a white shirt (and looking as apprehensive as always when in a group of people).
The five hours I ran went according to plan and were smooth sailing. I followed my usual drill for the race. Minimalist sandals and compression clothing, a short breathing exercise/meditation before the race start, an easy pace going out, low-carb high-fat fueling (a couple of handfuls of macadamia nuts, a couple of small pieces of salami, a couple of pieces of 89% cocoa chocolate, and water were enough for the five hours), and a Morton Stretch every two hours. For this race, I also added power-walking breaks of 400m every 90 minutes.
No problem. Everything felt good physically, and I was well on pace. But the feeling of dissonance was there from the start. And that soon grew into a familiar feeling of disassociation. Too many people, too much interaction, too much sound and movement around me. It’s hard to explain to neurotypical (i.e., “normal”) people, but, if you read though my ““Running and Asperger’s” post, you’ll get a sense of what I was going through.
So I decided to call it a day. I sat down at trackside to think it through, made my decison, and headed for the door. No regrets.
None of that took anything away from my appreciation of the race itself, nor did it diminish my appreciation of the friendliness and support of the other participants. I simply knew I shouldn’t be there.
I’m not sure what to do about my upcoming race calender. I’ve got two ultra races scheduled. One’s a 100K road event in June, and the other’s a 24 hour event in September. For the time being, I’m going to leave the calendar as it is. But I may revise my thinking, opt out of all organized events, and explore long-distance running on my own. I’m still passionate about running, but I need to do it the way that makes most sense to me.