Multitudes

Portrait of Walt Whitman, by Thomas Eakins, 1887-1888, in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

I was reading an article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, and came across a mention of a Walt Whitman quote, “I contain multitudes”.  I had to search a bit to find the whole quote.  It is from a long poem, “Song of Myself”, part of his work “Leaves of Grass”.  The full quote, from stanza 51 of the poem, “Do I contradict myself?, Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”  I had not heard this before, and certainly had never taken on the daunting task of reading Leaves of Grass.

Finding it interesting to read a bit about Walt Whitman, I tucked this information away for later study.  Then, on Thanksgiving day, my son, who is well into adulthood, said, off the cuff, “I am multitudes”, while entertaining the rest of the family.  I was awestruck.  I just had read about this, and to my recollection, had not heard it before I read about it a couple of weeks earlier.  I asked him, “do you know where that comes from?”.  He wasn’t sure, but when I mentioned it is from Walt Whitman, he had some idea he had heard it before.

Way back in high school, some guy I didn’t know very well called me a cowboy jock.  I was taken completely off guard.  First of all, I didn’t see myself that way.  I never did rodeo, and while the people who compete in rodeo are terrific athletes, I was not one of them.  I think he meant I was a cowboy and a jock.  Again, completely not how I pictured myself.  True, we had horses.  We had three horses at one time in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Where we lived, this was not unusual.  We lived on the edge of the wide open desert.  If we had the urge, we could have ridden from our house all the way to Flagstaff.  I was also on the swim team.  But, if you put together recreational horseback riding and a sport that was utterly not like football, it doesn’t add up to a cowboy jock.  Maybe he was jealous of something, but I don’t really know why.  Clearly it made an impression on me, since I remember it so many years later.  I’ve grown to accept it as who I am.  Sometimes.

Birthplace of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819), Huntington, long Island, New York.

Clearly not my entirety, and not in complete agreement with the other parts of me.  Getting back to Walt Whitman though, what a fascinating and prolific person he was.  We live in his stomping ground.  It was his for part of his life, anyway.  He was born in Huntington, New York, an early town founded in the 1600’s 0n Long Island.  Anyone wishing to learn more about Mr. Whitman can find numerous biographies, telling of his life from multiple perspectives.  He really was multitudes.  I don’t wish to tell his life story here.  That the reader can do for them self.  But he spent his last years in Camden County, living in his brother’s house, later in his own house, in the city of Camden, New Jersey, while spending time in the bucolic countryside of Laurel Springs, from 1873 until his death in 1892.

I often have conflicting beliefs, although not as wide ranging as Mr. Whitman’s.  One of my favorite quotes comes from a sociology professor I had in college.  He said to the class, ‘the purpose of education is to make you confused when you were once certain.”  Perhaps this is the basis of being multitudes.  One must have an open mind, curious, intellectual, and aggressive in acquiring new knowledge, in order to become multitudes.

Two weekends ago, members of my running club were planning a great long run, which I call the Colonial Run.  It begins in my town of Haddonfield, New Jersey, goes through Camden, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, and then courses through colonial streets of Old City Philadelphia.  We run up Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the USA, built in 1702.  We run by Betsy Ross’ house, the Christ Church, Ben Franklin’s grave site, and of course, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  Then we continue on, through the famous Philadelphia City Hall, with William Penn’s statue on top, to the Ben Franklin Parkway, and finish up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  We were stymied, though.  It snowed the day before the run, and the pedestrian walkway on the Ben Franklin Bridge was closed.  We changed our plans, and ran the “drives”, the West River drive and Kelly drive, and were still able to finish on the steps of the museum.  However, after reading about Walt Whitman, when we do reschedule this epic, 14 mile run, I intend to take the course past the Walt Whitman house in Camden.  We may even run past his tomb in Harleigh Cemetery, also in Camden.

I came across another “multitudes” quote just recently.  In “Delusions of Gender, How our minds, society and neurosexism create difference,” by Cordelia Fine, Honorary Research Fellow in Psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, she writes, on page 7 (yes, early in the book),  “…even if your personality offers little to hold the interest of  a shrink, there is nonetheless plenty in there to fascinate the social psychologist.  This is because your self has multiple strings to its bow, it’s a rich complex web, it has a nuance for every occasion.  As Walt Whitman neatly put it, ‘I am large:  I contain multitudes’.”

The Walt Whitman House, 330 Martin Luther King Blvd., in Camden, NJ.

Walt Whitman (per Wikipedia) held opinions on many aspects of life, such as drink (against), slavery (against) and equal rights of men and women (for).  His Leaves of Grass, and in particular, Song of Myself, were harshly criticized for his expressions somewhat covert, of sexuality, including references to homosexuality.  He extolled the virtues of sunbathing nude.  He was nationalistic and patriotic, but wrote in a way to praise liberalism and democracy.  He wrote in a free form style, criticized by some, but praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He respected all religions, but did not believe in them himself.  He is described variably as immanent (feeling that god is within everything), or transcendent (that god is external to everything), or more of a pantheist.

In spite of these views outside of mainstream, or socially acceptable thought, in spite of writing in free verse, of challenging the norms of religion, he is revered as the American Poet.  When he died more than one thousand people came to his home to pay their respects.  There is a bridge over the Delaware River named after him.  Being aware of the many works of Walt Whitman, knowing about his life, may come as no surprise to those who studied him in college, or just through curiosity.  But, I was not informed about his life and writings and will do my best to make up for that deficit.  First, though, I must sit down with Song of Myself, and see how much I can understand.  It is tough reading.

Walt Whitman Tomb, Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, NJ. Photo by iirraa on flickr

In the spirit of the season, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.  May 2018 be better than 2017.

Arrivederci Winter

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 5, 2015.

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 6, 2015.

The whole eastern part of the U.S. was under the icy clutch of a band of frigid air the last two weeks. This air traveled from the Pacific, over the north pole, through the northern reaches of Canada, freezing Niagara Falls as it crossed the border and settled on our home. When winter comes upon us, everyone wonders, will this be another year of little snow and mild temperatures, or will we get hit with big snowstorms, creating scenes of pathways dug through backyards to driveways, snow piled high in parking lots, plows running up and down our roads, salt spray painting our cars gray-white, and people walking through the snow bundled with layers of clothing, knit caps, and big gloves.

While the weather forecasters got it mostly right this year, they did miss on a couple of occasions, when the snow hit Boston but pretty much missed us in South Jersey.  We managed to get a late winter snow three days ago, in the early days of March, while the temperatures were still in the frigid single and teen digits.  I went for an evening run the day of the latest snowfall.  It was only 7:00 PM, usually a time of the later rush hour crowd irritated and pushing to get home, but the roads were oddly quiet.  Since it had been snowing all day, it seems many businesses closed early.  The snow plows had passed through, but the snow kept falling, so the streets were covered with a thin layer of snow which had not turned to ice.  The combination of fresh snow everywhere, low clouds, and streetlights made for a very well-lit run in spite of the sun having disappeared an hour earlier.  There was a nice, faint crunch under foot as I ran, and the cold air felt good in my lungs.  My run took me past many local small shops and restaurants, all closed for the weather.  With one exception, that is.  The bars were hopping.  I think the bar owners get special attention from the snow plow drivers cleaning their parking areas.  Perhaps they need to pay a little extra for this but I’m sure it is worth it.  Teachers can’t get to the schools, but they make it to the bars.  Office workers get in late and sent home early, but they can make it to the bars.  Doctors, lawyers and dentists close early, no patients or clients are braving the slick roads to make their appointments, but they all make it to the bars.  The last few miles of my running route I pass about ten bars and every one of them was doing business like it was St. Patrick’s day already.  There is a quaintness about bars in the depths of winter.  It’s dark outside, the windows are frosted over, and one sees the profiles of the people inside all animated and lively.

In my house, we retreated to the front part of the house where the den with the fireplace is. The back half is beset with all sorts of problems. We live in an old Victorian, and the original design did not account for living in the 21st century. Bathrooms and appliances have been added over the years, and in spite of best intentions, cold air manages to sneak in like a cat burglar, freezing the water within. This past week, as the temperature dipped to a cruel zero, streams of that dense cold air moved in and around our old pipes, freezing some and leading to a couple of burst pipes.  This year, I had the foresight to at least turn off the inflow to these pipes so the damage was minimized, but we’ve had to wait until the thaw before we could fix them.

This weekend, though, brought a break in the icy pattern.  As we clicked over to daylight saving time, temperatures soared to 52 degrees.  The sun shone brilliantly, melting the patches of ice on the sidewalks.  Constant rivulets of water flowed down the street as the snow melted.  And people are out getting all their usual weekend errands in, not sure how to deal with a day when the only cover up needed is a light jacket.

Now we can start thinking about getting the garden ready for planting, cleaning up the debris that conveniently was covered up by the snow, and watch the road crews fixing all the treacherous potholes which have multiplied the last few weeks.  I’m sure in a couple of months we’ll be baking in premature heat, barely remembering how cold it got and stayed this winter.  Before that happens, I’d like to have a few more fires in the fireplace, have a reason to wear long tights and two layers on top when I run, and feel the cold air filling my lungs.

A Slog through the Slush

Here’s how the conversation, via text, went:

It’s all slush and big puddles out there do you think we should run?  And it is raining, too.

Sorry, just saw this.  Let’s go for it.  We won’t know till we try

Okay.  I am just getting ready now.

Take your time driving over.

That was at 6:45 this morning.  The snow, rain, freezing rain, and sleet had started the night before.  I was out with friends in Philly, and late at night, heading for the train, we marveled at the enormous size of the snow flakes falling steadily.  With the temperature close to freezing, they turned to slush as they hit the ground.  This morning, I stayed in bed as late as I could but still make a 7:00 AM start to my morning run.  My running partner and I had the above conversation and so I was committed to the run.  I was relieved, since I didn’t want to be the one to make the call, knowing this would not be our best run of the year.

We had to gingerly pick our way from his front door out to the street, not wanting to start running with cold, wet feet.  The road had not been plowed, and while the “inches” of snow were not that much, it was all wet and forming large pools of ice slurry.  We started off very slowly, running along areas cleared by tire tracks, being careful not to slip as we went downhill towards our loop around the park.  We had to run in the street rather than the multi-use path, which was completely covered by this slurry.  As we ran, we picked up the pace a bit.  Along the Cooper River, the geese were out in force, coping with the conditions without a problem, as far as I could see.  Approaching the far end of the loop around the park, the path was one large slush puddle, which we muddled through.  Now my shoes were wet, and my feet cold.  On the far side of the park, the road was narrowed by construction.  We had to run along on the road, with cars passing us closely and spraying ice and frozen water on our legs.  I think it was partially on purpose, since not all the cars came that close.  We moved over to the construction zone, running in ruts created by a truck that had gone through recently.  As we ran we were able to have a nice conversation, since the forced slow pace made talking that much easier.  We talked about running in the winter, and also about the play I saw last night at the Lantern Theater.  The play, called “Doubt, A Parable”, by John Patrick Shanley, takes place in a Catholic School in the Bronx, in 1964.  The story is that of an older nun, the principal of the school, suspecting the priest of having sexual relations with one of the boy students.  The story gets complicated when one hears the boy’s mother’s side of her son’s life.  The play takes only ninety minutes with a single act, and seems to leave out some crucial inner thoughts of the four characters.  One critic I read afterwards suggested the second act was when the audience discussed their feelings about the play.

Our run finished with a long uphill climb and then a flat last mile, still with the skies gray, and our feet cold and wet.  But accomplishing our seven miles, and then warming up with a change to dry socks and shoes, a dry shirt, and a hot cup of coffee was very satisfying.

A parable is a short narrative about individuals meant to be an example of a larger truth.  So, this narrative I relate to you shall also be short, and meant to convey that even when nature is uncooperative, getting out and doing is better than holing up and not doing.

 

It’s all about that pace.

It’s all about that pace, ’bout that pace, no hustle.

It’s taken a little time for me to settle after my last marathon experience.  The short of it is, I cramped up at mile 16.5, and after a brief rest and another half mile, I wasn’t able to continue.  This was to be my tenth marathon, and I hadn’t quit any before, even when suffering mightily.  So what was different this time, and what went wrong?

There are many marathon training programs out there.  Runner’s World Magazine, Jack Daniels, Hanson, Hal Higdon, and others specify when to start training, how often to run, how far to run, and at what pace for one’s abilities.  Generally, one starts about sixteen weeks ahead of M-day, progressing in miles and longest run as the weeks progress.  The basis for this is the way our muscles and heart accommodate to the demand of steady running for three to four hours.  That kind of endurance, unless one is particularly exceptional, requires a long build-up.  Things can go wrong the day of the marathon.  Weather can be awful, a virus can lay out a runner, but if one has not put in the training, a perfect day will not make up for that lack.

For me, the training for my latest marathon, Philadelphia, November 23, 2014, started on time and rather well.  I had a good base, coming off a half marathon in Nice, France, at decent time in late April, and the 10 mile Broad Street run in early May in Philadelphia.  I’ve always designed my own training program, since sticking with one of the popular plans is just impossible due to my work schedule.  I also was working with a new marathoner, helping her train for her first marathon.  We had our long runs planned out for every Sunday, a mid-week ten mile run, and other training runs in between.  Paces were mixed up, and routes changed so that we would not fall into automaton behavior that comes with repetition.  My first slip up came about seven weeks before the marathon.  We were doing one of my favorite long runs, 9 minutes at a 9 minute per mile pace, then 1 minute at a fast pace, generally about 7’45” per mile, for a total of 14 miles.  One does need to keep an eye on the watch, and the pace, to get things right.  Done well, the miles fly by, and the run is energizing.  I think my eyes were too closely focused on the watch.  At about eleven miles, along a dirt path being graded for paving, I hit a rock with my toe and fell hard and fast.  I came down on my right side, connecting my chest, shoulder and head to the ground.  Fortunately, nothing was broken…I think.  I may have broken a rib but it wasn’t displaced and so since nothing would be done about it, I didn’t have it x-rayed.  That little incident slowed my training down, and made the next couple of weeks a little difficult due to soreness.  About five weeks before the marathon, we had a 20 mile run planned. It actually went very well, and I think if I had to run the marathon that very day, it would have been a good run.  After that, two weeks of very busy late nights at work completely blew apart my final weeks of training.  With two weeks to go, we went out for a 21 miler.  The conditions were nearly perfect.  The temperature started in the mid 40’s (F) as we headed out in the pre-dawn light.  The first bothersome event was that my new Adidas shoe was causing a great deal of pain where the tongue of the shoe meets the foot.  The tongue on these shoes is minimal, and the underlying tendon in my foot was being rubbed, causing the pain.  At around the 10 mile mark, I ran to my house to change shoes, while my ingenue marathon training partner waited a few minutes.  That done, my foot felt better.  We continued on, but at 17 miles a familiar and very annoying feeling sprang up in my calves and quads.  I was starting to get cramps in my leg muscles.  I am quite a sight when this happens, taking on the stride of John Cleese of Monty Python fame doing his silly walks sketch.  Not so funny for me, though, and I could not continue.  My training partner was doing well, and continued on to finish her 21 miler, the longest she had ever gone in one run.  I, on the other hand, hobbled back to our home base, unable to run, and in pain.  After walking the mile back, my legs did start to calm down, but the day and the run was shot.  I was very concerned that this might be my fate at the marathon in two weeks time, and I seriously considered not starting.  I had a chat with one of my marathon advisers, an experienced marathoner named Brandon, with whom I regularly run Saturday mornings.  With one week to go, I really didn’t get in the usual taper, because the three weeks before were so poor.  Brandon said he felt I could slow the pace and make it through the race.  He said it would be a shame to not run after putting in the many weeks of preparation.  With that encouragement, I started the marathon the following Sunday.

I thought about just doing half.  The official half marathon had closed weeks earlier, so I couldn’t drop down as a registered runner.  I felt if I kept my pace reasonable, around a 9 minute mile, things would be okay.  I did feel quite fine through the first half, and the Philadelphia marathon route is a very nice one.  It starts along Ben Franklin Parkway, with thousands of spectators lining the start, and Mayor Nutter giving hi-fives to runners as they pass the start line.  The route goes through Old City to Delaware Avenue, down to South Philly, then up along South Street to Chestnut and through Center City.  Crowds with clever (or not-so-clever) signs cheer on the runners.  The frat boys at Drexel bang on pots and shout out to the runners.  The route winds along to the Belmont Plateau, and past the Please Touch museum, then down hill to West River Drive along the Schuykill river and back to the Philadelphia Art Museum at the half.  At this point, the runners doing the half peel off and head to their finish line along the Ben Franklin Parkway, which is where I should have headed.  Thinking I could muster on, and not feeling bad, plus averaging around 8’45” to that point, I kept going, making the turn around the front of the museum to head out Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  It is a route I have done six times before, sometimes suffering with leg cramps and having to walk, sometimes cruising through, and once, doing well enough to make my Boston qualifier.  This time, at mile 16.5, the cramps set in.  I tried to slow down and keep running, but it was just impossible.  I moved off the course, and like some soldier going AWOL in an old movie, removed my number from my chest.  I started walking back towards the start line, which was about 3 miles away.  I should have quit as I turned in front of the museum, so the walk would have been much shorter.  After walking for 5 minutes, my legs felt better, and seeing all those other runners streaming by me I put on my number again, got back on the course, and started to run.  Well, that didn’t last very long.  I got about a half mile when my legs seized up again.  This time I decided to quit for good.  I moved off the course, this time leaving my number on, and walked back towards the start.  Shortly, a volunteer driving a golf cart-like vehicle, already carrying two other runners, stopped to pick me up.  I got in, and the young man next to me offered me the Mylar blanket he had around his shoulders.  He was very thin and fit-looking, not the kind to quit a marathon I thought.  But he had a similar problem to mine, and had to stop.  He insisted I take the blanket against my protests, as he appeared to have far less insulation than me.  He wouldn’t take it back, so I kept it.  Shortly after getting in the cart, I had to get right back out.  My legs were seizing up, and there was no way to stretch them out in the cramped seat.  So I was resigned to the long walk back.  Along the way, I passed another fellow DNFer, about my age, who had quit due to ankle pain.  As I walked I thought about my justification for stopping and not mustering on.  I felt that I had made the right decision, to not hurt myself further, recover, and live to run another marathon another day.

I got back to the art museum, and made my way around the outside of the course to the bag pickup.  Several people told me “way to go”, and “good job” as I made my way through the crowd, giving me the feeling of a complete charlatan.  It was crowded, and I didn’t want to take the time to explain, but I simply put my head down and decided it would be best to not recognize these well wishers.  I made it into the bag area having to enter through an exit guarded by police, since the security around marathons is way up these days.  Once I picked up my bag, I had my cell phone.  I phoned my wife, who had been monitoring my progress on her phone.  Up to that point, I was pretty calm and collected.  As I spoke to her, though, I completely broke down, as the emotion of quitting hit me.  The rational me had left as the feeling of failure overcame.  I like to be seen as the invincible warrior, not the vulnerable person I am.

Since then, I have recovered, both my body and my senses.  I have heard many stories from my experienced marathoner friends of times they, too, have had to quit for various reasons.  I have plans for a half marathon in March, my annual shot at Caesar Rodney in Wilmington, and I am trying to decide which marathon to sign up for in the fall.  I think I want to do an early October marathon, since the training doesn’t run into the problem with short days and the conversion to standard time.  Of course, I may piggy back Philadelphia onto that, since I will have done the training after all….  In the end, it really wasn’t about the pace, it was about the training, and getting it right.  Yes, the pace is important, but not if the training is missing.

 

 

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