Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Five

This week turned out to be really about one surprisingly enjoyable and good run, so let’s get the short ones out of the way:

Tuesday I ran after work, taking advantage of my new hour of daylight. It was gorgeous and warm, so I pushed things a bit the first two miles. Unfortunately, the big climb in mile three plus a bit of a headwind slowed my overall pace. Wednesday morning’s six mile wasn’t a race-pace run, which was good, because I had some stomach issues and had to make a detour home about 3.5 miles into the run. I went back out and covered the rest of my distance after my stop, but my overall pace suffered because I was slowed by gut pain for about a mile and a half during that first stretch. Thursday I went out in the morning and did three out-and-back stretches, since a) 5:30 a.m. is once again back to full darkness and b) given Wednesday’s events, I thought I’d better stick close to home. It was a decent enough run, marked by some really spectacular pre-storm lightning that spread like fingers across the clouds and reminded me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they’re prying open the Well of Souls.

So: Saturday. Twelve miles. And I was going solo because I needed to get my run in early.

When my alarm went off at 5:30, I really didn’t want to get up. Didn’t feel like going out in the dark alone, didn’t feel like hitting the pavement myself for that long a stretch, didn’t feel like dealing with the mental hurdle that I seem to hit around mile three of every long run.

In addition to still being completely dark when I went outside just past six, there was a dense fog settled at ground level. (Oddly enough, you could look up and still see the stars clearly.) Fortunately, the air was 50 degrees, so it was warm enough for shorts and a light long-sleeved shirt. But the fog gave everything a really isolated, quiet feel, and the unlit stretches of road beside the woods and fields were velvet darkness.

Around the middle of the second mile, I turned onto a road and felt like I was looking at the end of the world: The fog was incredibly dense, and the only light was from a building at the intersection behind me. The street just … vanished into the mist. When, a few minutes later, a car passed me from behind (Yes, I was wearing a yellow reflective safety vest.), the headlights had the odd effect of creating a halo on the fog in front of me which contracted like an iris until the car passed.

I felt like I was making decent time – not pushing things, of course: Saturdays are all about the miles – but trying to maintain a decent pace while I still had my early-run energy. I figured I’d be happy if I could equal the pace (8:57/mi.)I’d managed during the prior week’s 11-miler. I also thought maybe I’d approach hydration a little differently, taking smaller drinks regularly – every mile to mile-and-a-half or so – instead of waiting until I felt like I really needed one.

So when I had three miles behind me, I was actually feeling surprisingly good. I started mentally looking ahead, thinking thinks like, “OK – so, in 2.5 miles, I’ll eat my gel; and right after that, I’ll be halfway through the run.”

I had started out with an 8:29 first mile, but through five, I had watched my overall pace creep closer and closer to the 9-minute mark. (Skewed, ever so slightly, by a 15-20 second stop to tie my shoe during the fifth mile.) This wasn’t unexpected, really, although I was a little confused because, I was, surprisingly, feeling really good. I mean, yes, the hills in mile seven kind of hit me, but I never really reached that dragging point where every step just feels like a battle. I found myself thinking, “Hey, as long as I’m feeling OK, I should make sure I’m not just coasting,” and I pushed my pace a little more.

Most of our eight-plus mile routes finish with the same three-mile stretch, the first mile of which my brother and I pretty much think of as the worst part of our run. There’s no sidewalk, and it’s a fairly busy road, and a good bit of it is an uphill grind.

When I reached this part of the run, I was right around a 9-minute-per-mile pace. I had hoped for a better average at this point, because this tends to be one of my slower miles, but the sun was up over the horizon now, and the fog had burned away, but it was still cool and comfortable, and I just felt like I was In the Zone. With two miles to go, I had pulled my average back down below nine minutes; with a mile to go, I had pulled it even with my previous week’s pace, and I thought, “Heck, all I have to do is just keep this nice pace, and I’ll beat that!”

I pushed hard the last mile and made it my fastest mile of the morning by almost a half-minute, making my overall pace two seconds per mile faster than last week.

And I hadn’t wanted to do this run at all.

By the numbers:

  • Tuesday,  March 13 – Schedule: 3 miles. Actual: 3 miles. Time: 25:10. Pace: 8:23/mi.
  • Wednesday, March 14 – Schedule: 6 miles. Actual: 6.05 miles. Time: 56:25. Pace: 9:20/mi.
  • Thursday,  March 15 – Schedule: 3 miles. Actual: 3.04 miles. Time: 24:53. Pace: 8:12/mi.
  • Saturday, March 17 – Schedule: 11 miles. Actual: 12.01 miles. Time: 1:47:06. Pace: 8:55/mi.
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March 19, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 1 Comment

Dungeons and Dragons: Wednesday Withdrawal

Sword and dice

Mid-February. Massillon, Ohio: One of the players, Tom, had brought a celebratory cache of cheap foam weapons – short swords, axes, hammers and even flails – along with his usual giant bag of fresh popcorn. The resulting silliness helped offset a little undertone of sadness to this particular Dungeons and Dragons night, because it was going to be this group’s last session, at least for awhile.

I came to this group at Backlist Books as the new guy back on Sept. 7, 2011, and I was a little nervous. The only person I knew at the table was Fred, the store owner and Dungeon Master, and I hadn’t played D&D since summer 2010. It was already week three of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter adventure, so in the interest of saving time, Fred offered me a pre-generated character in the interest of saving time, so I took up the bow of Belgos, a drow ranger.

Belgos was an enjoyable enough character to play, although I feel like I approached him a little coldly – leveling up was all about how he could get better in combat, and I was always more focused on doing well in battle than in actually role-playing Belgos. I’m sure that partly this was because I was the new guy in the group, and I was still getting to know everyone else, and partly because I really had no connection to my character.

Over the course of Lost Crown, though, spending Wednesday nights with this group of people I’d just met became a fantastic, energizing, bizarrely comforting ritual. I’d get home from work, have dinner with Jenn & Kelsey, gather up my dice, pencils and books, and take the back roads over to Massillon. Most times, I’d listen to mixes of 1980s music, because it put me in what felt like an appropriate frame of mind.

The early session was usually still wrapping up when I’d arrive at Backlist, so I’d sit down and pick something off the shelves to read, or sit on the couch in the front of the store, or, if one of our group was already there, say hi and catch up a little on everyday stuff from the past week.

Our sessions were supposed to start at 8 p.m. We were all there on time, most weeks, and yet most weeks, by the time we all caught up with each other, had purchased books or new D&D minis, and stocked up on our snacks and drinks for the evening, it was still closer to – or well past – nine o’clock by the time we actually started playing. If I got home at midnight, I didn’t care: Wednesdays were fine, fine nights in my book, no matter how the dice had fallen.

The group stuck together for the next 14-week adventure, Beyond the Crystal Cave.

This time, though, I wanted to create a character all my own. Thus was born my tiefling hexblade, Azathoth (the first Cthulhu Mythos name I found upon picking up a Lovecraft book). The core of his origin tale came to me almost immediately, and fleshed out a bit more over time as I played the character. I may even write it out sometime in a short story format, just for fun.

During the very first Crystal Cave session, as our characters got to know each other, I made a decision regarding Azathoth’s feelings and motivations, but I opted to keep it to myself and play it pretty close to the vest until about halfway through the adventure. When I finally did make the revelation, several weeks later – and I admit, despite the fact that by now I was really comfortable role-playing with this group, I wondered how it would be perceived – I was ecstatic that the reaction was amusement and support and a recognition that this would be fun to play out.

Our final session was, fittingly, the perfect mix of combat and role-playing and ideal dungeon-mastering that tested our characters’ mettle, allowed for some dramatic heroics, and felt very much like the final moments of a good cinematic story than the end of a game.

Example: My terrible dice rolls were a longstanding joke within our group, ever since Belgos once went for what seemed like weeks without managing to hit the broad side of a tavern with a single arrow. So when Azathoth unleashed an Eldritch Bolt (think “Force Lightning,” but, you know, from hell) that turned out to be the final boss death blow, it was a fun moment. Fred the DM let me keep the figure representing the villain – and though I don’t collect D&D minis, that thing still sits here on my desk like a victory trophy.

Even the post-battle story wrap-up presented opportunities for a few more truly enjoyable moments with our characters.

It’s only been a month since then, but I have missed my Wednesday night Dungeons & Dragons sessions. I miss showing up, seeing my friends, stacking character sheets and dice on the table, popping open a Coke, and passing around Twizzlers and popcorn. I miss sitting down and creating, from the same elements in use by players and DMs all over the country, a story that is totally ours.

I’d like to imagine that in the not-too-distant future, there’s a time when Azathoth finds himself sitting in a tavern reminiscing about that tale, only to have his thoughts interrupted by a familiar voice calling from the doorway…

March 19, 2012 Posted by | Games, geek, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

   

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