Friday, September 25, 2009

Running in a state of anarchy

This week I visited the town of Thessaloniki in northern Greece for an academic conference. Upon making my flight reservations I started receiving ominous warnings concerning threats posed by ultra-leftist, militant anarchist groups. (These warnings were sent to me from a security company contracted by my employer, not from the anarchists groups themselves...) The threats consisted of car-bomb attacks in Athens and Thessaloniki, the suspects being a group called the "Revolutionary Struggle". I was warned to avoid political demonstrations, allow extra time for travel and to exercise increased vigilance near official buildings and banks. I decided not take these warnings too seriously. Living in the UK throughout the 70's and 80's when the IRA were regularly blowing things up has made me a little blase about these sorts of things.

On my first day in Thessaloniki I went out for a run. Thessaloniki has a nice harbour area with a pedestrian walkway, starting from the downtown party district and going for almost 4 miles to the far reaches of town populated at nighttime by fishermen and wild dogs. I enjoyed some very pleasant running, passing hot dog vendors, tourists and even occasionally other runners. I did see some very troubling signs of a society with a serious sense of humour. Along with some anti-USA and anti-police graffiti, I saw some graffiti that I thought was fairly original.

Otherwise, I didn't really encounter any other signs of an anarchist uprising. I went out for a four hour long run on Sunday night, and was fairly well tolerated. I was only made fun of once during the entire time by a group of teenage kids. Given that the rest of the town was out partying hard before returning to work the following day, I thought the group's observation that I was a wierdo had some validity. I fueled myself during the run with massive hot dogs and corn on the cob bought from sidewalk vendors. The wild dogs I encountered on the far side of town were far better behaved than the domesticated dogs (and owners) I usually encounter on the Brooklyn Heights promenade. Overall, the running that I did while in Greece turned out to be one of the favourite parts of my trip. Running in an unfamiliar town can be a real adventure, especially when there are anarchists hiding in the shadows.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A rare moment of foolishness

Earlier this summer, in a rare moment of foolishness, I applied for a spot in the JFK 50 mile race in Maryland in late November. My application was accepted. However I wasn't ready to mentally deal with the prospect of training for a 50 mile run. My longest race up till now has been the marathon. So I decided to forget about the JFK 50 miler, and hoped it would go away.

The JFK 50 mile race is one of the oldest and largest ultra-marathons in the United States. It starts with 16 miles along the Appalachian Trail, followed by 26 miles along the C&O Canal Towpath and finishes with 8 miles of paved roads. It attracts over 1,000 starters from all walks of life. Most people finish the race in 9 to 12 hours. I wouldn't be finishing in 9 to 12 hours since I had no intention of actually running this thing. After running the Sri Chinmoy marathon a couple of weeks ago I decided that running another 24 miles after completing a marathon was a really stupid idea. So I decided once again to forget about the JFK 50 miler, and hoped it would go away.

This weekend I decided to see what training for a 50 mile race might be like. I ran two back-to-back longish runs, 18 miles on Saturday and 9 miles on Sunday. Both runs were quite hilly, on Route 1A by the sea starting from Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island (where we were staying with family.) I completed both runs quite happily. With memories of the Sri Chinmoy marathon fading, I am once again toying with the idea of actually running the JFK 50. With 11 weeks to go I have time to push my long runs up to 30 miles, which is enough to finish the race according to majority opinion surveyed on the internet (many people run the race on much less training mileage). The key to finishing the race seems to be to combine running with regular walking breaks, and coping with massive amounts of pain for a very long period of time.

After outing myself, I am hoping this won't be my last blog entry on the JFK 50 miler. If all goes well, I should be blogging about my training, and the race itself, in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009