Sunday, October 26, 2008

Home Run

Where I come from, a home run is a run that starts at home. Baseball, like cricket, is a sport played overseas by men in funny outfits -- if you aren't accustomed from an early age to watch players with tight pants and long socks, you find them amusing. We watched ``Rain Man'' dubbed in French, and Dustin Hoffman's mumbling about ``first base'' and ``second base'' were no more than the ramblings of an autistic genius. We understood his character had an exceptional, detailed memory of games played long ago, which was essential to understanding the film, but that's how far our understanding of baseball went.

Then, I met a Phillies fan, we got engaged and I married him in September, few weeks before the team clinched the National League pennant and made it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. (Note: I'm not implying there's a connection between the two). I, who learned about the meaning of ``pennant'' about ten days ago, am wearing a red Phillies baseball cap as I write.

My earliest memory of baseball was in the summer of 1990, when I spent a three-week vacation with an American family in New Fairfield, Connecticut. They took me to a game in New York -- it might have been the Yankees or the Mets, I don't remember. My first impression was being shocked that spectators moved around constantly and left their seats to get food or drinks. I thought it was rude to the players. The dad was sitting next to me, trying to explain the rules to me. My English was high-school English and I had never watched a baseball game in my life. He lost me after the first sentence but I nodded to whatever he said and he went on for what was probably hours. When I realized how long the game lasts -- a lifetime -- I changed my mind about leaving my seat.

I played softball in the yard of a family in Vermont a few years later and I wasn't more knowledgeable. I can run, but I was always running at the wrong time, so they established a rule for me: I would run only when they said ``run, run, run.'' Otherwise I'd stay put.
I lived in New York City for more than three years, so I became aware of which baseball team was losing or winning just by walking past newsstands or checking news on the local TV, New York 1. I knew who Joe Torre was because he was news.

Living for several years in the U.S. didn't prepare me for being a Phillies fan, though. A Google search on ``long-suffering Phillies'' yields 18,300 results. The team was the first to lose 10,000 games. If Philadelphia loses the World Series to Tampa Bay, it will mark the 100th season of professional sport in this city without a championship. Being a Phillies fan, I learned early on, requires knowing your statistics. I listened to local radio, I read local newspapers and I heard my husband talking about the Phillies. So, naturally, I expected them to lose every single game they played. To my utter astonishment, they made it to the World Series.

Something did prepare me for being a Phillies fan. I am French. We invented fatalism and cynicism. The last time a French won Roland Garros, the French tennis Open, was in 1983. The winner, Yannick Noah, is now a successful pop singer. His son, Joakim, born in 1985, is a professional NBA player with the Chicago Bulls. The long-suffering French tennis fans, meanwhile, are still waiting for a French to win the French Open. The national French soccer team, ``Les Bleus,'' won the world's soccer Cup, (la Coupe du Monde) in 1998, a seismic event in French sports and culture. At the following Cup, in 2002, the French team was humiliated, losing in the first round without winning a game nor scoring one goal. One of my earliest childhood sports memory is the 1982 soccer Cup's semifinal between France and West Germany. The French were leading 3-1 in the ``prolongations'' (overtime), the game was almost over and my parents were getting ready to get the Champagne out of the fridge, when the Germans scored twice in a row. Germany eventually won during the penalty shots, crushing France. Yes, I think I'm ready to be a Phillies fan.

Allez les Phillies.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Partner

Fly fishing and long-distance road biking have this in common: they're individual sports that are best enjoyable with partners. During those long hours on the water or the bike, no one will cast the line or push on the pedals for you. It's a solitary effort. Yet it's better to share the experience with a partner who, besides keeping you company, can back you up when the tide rises or when you have a flat or a fall. The fear of a flat is especially acute among female cyclists.

On Oct. 7, after few days of a bad cold and few days of bad weather, I finally embarked on my first bike ride of the year on Cape Cod. My goal was to make my way to the beach where my husband -- without a partner that week -- planned to go fly fishing and meet him there. The temperature was in the low-50s (11 degrees Celsius), with strong northwest winds. I had forgotten my rain jacket at home so I bundled up with three layers of shirts. Most of the first 12 miles (20 km) were in the shade, on a straight and fairly flat bike trail going north -- an otherwise pleasant route when you're not fighting the cold, headwinds and a runny nose.

There were very few other riders to venture out that day. It was a fight between me and the machine: I tried to push myself as hard as I could. My main enemy, that day and in my subsequent rides on the bike trail: squirrels. When I first visited New York in 1990, I remember taking many pictures of those little creatures in Central Park. We don't have them in France and I didn't know, back then, how lucky we are. The squirrels typically waited the last minute to jump away from my wheels or, in several instances, into my wheels. They're very fast, very nervous and prone to make very wrong decisions. I had two near-misses in three rides.
At the end of the trail, I took a bike route, shared with cars, that took me along the beaches in east Wellfleet. The sun warmed my back. My muscles slowly warmed up too.

About 23 miles (37 km) later, I found our car on a parking lot near Pamet Harbor, changed shoes, wrapped myself into a warm jacket and started the long walk on the beach to seek my life's partner.

On Oct. 8, I met my husband, fishing south of Chatham. The weather conditions were better than the previous day, with temperatures in the mid 60s (18 degrees Celsius) and no wind. I took the bike trail south, down to Harwich, and came across a cranberry field.

My final honeymoon bike ride, on Oct. 10, was a five-hour, 70-mile (112 km), solitary exercise that took me close to Provincetown, at the northern tip of the cape, and back. The weather was ideal, with temperatures in the low 70s (over 20 degrees Celsius). I took the road, which has more hills and fewer suicidal squirrels than the bike trail, so I could push the bike a little harder. I'm used to cycling in the French Alps, where a ride consists in climbing up a pass, and then coming down. Here I had to pace myself to last the distance and to avoid leg fatigue from constantly going and down. There was no fishing for my husband that day, so I was truly without a partner. I encountered ghosts, cadavers and gory creatures on Route 6 -- the Halloween decoration of a garden. But I didn't have a flat, so it's a happy ending.

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Provincetown, Cape Cod

Oct. 6, 2008:

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A Shot a Run

East Orleans, Cape Cod.
The same view of the driveway outside the house, taken everytime I came back from a run, except on day of arrival.
Sept. 28, 2008: 12.2 miles (19.2 km)

Sept. 29: 9 miles (14.5 km)

Sept. 30: 8.4 miles (13.5 km)

Oct. 1: 7 miles (11.3 km)

Oct. 3: 7 miles (11.3 km)

Oct. 4: 7.8 miles (12.6 km)

Oct.: 5: 9.8 miles (15.8 km)

Oct. 6: 6.3 miles (10.1 km)
Oct. 9: 10.7 miles (17.2 km)

Oct. 11: 10.7 miles (17.2 km)

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In Cold Run

Oct. 3, 2008, East Orleans, Cape Cod.
Weather conditions: partly cloudy, in the low-60s degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) .
Health conditions: nasal congestion, sore throat, running nose.
Top outfit: thermal under-shirt, T-shirt, light sweat-shirt, bandana around the neck, baseball hat, sunglasses.
Scene: Few minutes into the run, I passed four teenagers -- two girls and two boys -- walking barefoot on the road, in bathing suits, towels around their shoulders, their hair wet -- presumably coming back from swimming in the ocean. I sneezed. They laughed. Possibly not at me.
Run: 7 miles (11.2 km), easy jog.

A little lake on Brick Hill, one my favorite roads for running.

Weeset Point

Weeset Point

Honeymoon survival kit.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Day for Books and Socks

I'm reading ``What I Talk About When I talk About Running,'' by the novelist Haruki Murakami, a gift from D., my friend and running partner in New York City, and from J., my friend and former boss. Even though Murakami and I are of different age, sex and country, and even though we came to running for different reasons, I find myself nodding every other page at a statement or an anecdote, thinking: ``Yes! Me too!'' There is a common ground to runners that I haven't found in other parts of life. My love for cycling is as great as my love for running, but when I talk with fellow cyclists, it's usually about how a ride went or what the next ride will be like. It's stories about having a flat, changing gears or falling. It's about hills and slope percentages (``I did a 12 percent. It was tough.'') Runners' conversations, in my experience, are more visceral, especially as far as long-distance runners are concerned. Our body is the machine, so it's about muscle, bones, sweat, blood, blisters and bladders. We share a visceral common ground.

Today is a beautiful day on Cape Cod, sunny and about 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius), and I'm inside, reading, wearing warm socks.

I'm not outside because I did something I think most runners will understand, because they've done it too. I ignored the signals and thought I could get away with a sore throat. As a runner, I'm trained to push my body to its limits even if it tells me it's in pain. That mental discipline is the only way to finish a race or a run. Yesterday, when I woke up with a throat on fire (due to my running in the rain two days earlier), I decided to have a ``make or break'' run. I believe, or perhaps make myself believe, that sometimes a good sweat is the best cure to the beginning of an illness. It has worked for me in the past. Not yesterday. I took my camera and went to the Priscilla Lane town landing, on the other side Nauset Harbor's Mill Pond, which I visited earlier this week. I was glad I did because it was beautiful. I felt a bit cold at the beginning of the run, but the sun broke through from time to time to warm me, and even though my throat felt dry and painful, the rest of my body enjoyed the run. I ran 10.3 miles (16.6 km) and I felt like I could have continued for much longer if my throat hadn't been so painful.

This morning, I woke up with a full-blown cold. Ignoring a sore throat isn't too dangerous. I'm staying home today, reading about running and hoping to be back in shape tomorrow for a bike ride. Sometimes, runners ignore much larger problems and avoid consulting until the pain is unbearable, because there's nothing worse than hearing from a doctor: ``You have to stop running immediately.'' During a marathon, I need to force myself through pain and discouragement: giving up isn't an option. To finish a marathon, a runner must ignore her body when it says, ``You have to stop running immediately.'' After training my brain not to give up, I have a hard time being reasonable and stopping before it's too late. It seems it's an inherent part of me, as a runner.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Running Tourist

It is the last day of September and my third run visiting or re-visiting the roads, coves and beaches of this part of Cape Cod -- the elbow of the arm that makes up the cape. The sky is cloudy. The temperature is about 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). I'm enjoying my new hobby.

Yesterday, I started my visit with a run to Homeport, a diner in East Orleans where fishermen get their meals. Homeport is the type of place where regulars (See picture above) tease the waitress, who can recite by heart what they'll have for breakfast. It was about 9 a.m. and pouring rain. After 2.6 miles of getting splashed by cars and vans, I arrived soaking wet. My husband greeted me with a large towel and set off to read the newspapers: the front page of the New York Times' sports section was music to the ears of a Philly fan. (See picture below. Warning: you might get hurt if you like the Mets).

After about half an hour, it was still raining hard outside and warm and cozy inside. It was hard to find the motivation to resume my run. Why would I do that to myself? Since I'm not training for a marathon, I can't blame irrational, masochistic decisions on a race. It had to be something else that pushed me out of the door: either I just enjoy running, no matter what the weather conditions might be, or I am so stubborn that when I decide on a plan I stick to it no matter what. Probably a little bit of both. Running does fill me with joy, especially after I have warmed up, and I often find myself smiling or singing along the music on my iPod.

My first stop was a town landing on Gibson Road. After 10 minutes, I spotted boats in what I thought was a perfect light and stopped for a picture. The rain finally stopped and the rest of the running went smoothly. There was a special place I wanted to visit again: the Mill Pond, where last year I went to see my husband -- then boyfriend -- fishing. Last year, I managed to miss the windmill, on Mill Pond. The name should have tipped me off. This year, I did notice. I tried to take a good picture but didn't seem to get the light right. I got home and calculated on that I had run 9 miles, or 15 km, at an average speed of 8:15 minutes a mile, or 11.7 km/h (excluding the stops.)

Today, I want to visit Harbor Rock, a little port about 3.8 miles, or 6.1 km, from the house. My legs feel good, even though I have run 27 miles, or 43 km, in 3 days, more than I might have if I were training for a race. When I train, I always make sure not to run every day, to spare my legs. It might seem counter-intuitive but it's a lesson I learned from training for last year's Austin Marathon with an injury. I was forced to cross-train -- on bikes or step machines at the gym -- and I shaved 16 minutes off my previous marathon time.

This year, I can run as much as I want. I arrive at Rock Harbor and try to get the perfect shot of the Cap't Cass seafood restaurant, closed for the season. I come back home through the Cape Cod bike trail. tells me I ran 8.4 miles, or 13.5 km, at a pace of 7:52 minutes a mile, or 12.3 km/h (excluding the stops.) The reason why I didn't linger is that I have an appointment for a deep tissue massage at 3 p.m. Unlike last year, my leg muscles and my feet aren't too painful -- all things considered since deep tissue massages are by definition painful. It feels good to be pampered.

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