Saturday, March 30, 2013

Game of Thrones Starts, Walking Dead Ends, and How They Die Matters

I love and thrive off of endurance events. Long mileage. But all mileage isn’t equal, all 20 mile runs aren’ t the same, and all 1,216 page books aren’t as heavy.  I just finished Storm of Swords, or as I think of it, Game of Thrones part 3, and it was 1,216 pages. Longest book I’ve read,  I think, surpassing The Historian which is a high-brow, artsy Dracula story I read entirely on the toilet.  But I carried this recent book with me wherever I went.  I read it in three time zones, three countries (USA, Mexico, Jamaica) and inside of four airports (Flint, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston) but all of it was in a state of wonder and intrigue.

I’m trying to keep up with the HBO series, and I stick to the adage, ‘book before movie’.
I’ve had my share of dungeon and dragons 20 sided dice in my hand, so I let my Geek flag fly. This series is full of high drama. It’s been called Sopranos meets Lord of the Rings.  Every human trait across the spectrum is magnified. Treachery and beguile, bravery and honor.  The characters are rich and divinely human.  The story doesn’t read as much as fantasy as it does detailed, historical fiction.
Characters die. Characters you think will never die, well, they die. Characters you hate so much you want them to live. Well, they die. Characters you love and hope their good fortune will be evidence of a higher and beneficent God. Well, they die too.

But after the first major death in the first book, what I have realized is, their deaths make their lives stronger. The way they died, and at whose hands, ripples through the 7 kingdoms showing the extent of their influence.  In fact, when King Eddard died,  I have likened it to God being killed, since he is the most moral and steadfast of all, and the rest of the books are simply the lesser humans running around and bumping into each other trying to make their way in a Godless world.
So, I will be watching closely at the Season 3 opener. I can’t tell if the HBO series is even worth watching without having read the books because I think of it more as a companion to the novels rather than it’s own entity.
When I get to choose my magic super power, or if I rub a lamp and a Genie comes out with just one wish, it may be to bring a literary character to life, and I will be choosing Daenerys Targaryen, mother of Dragons. 

 And I want my daughter to act like Arya and marry a man like Jon Snow (she already tells me “you know nothing, daddy” so it’s a perfect match.)

The Walking Dead Season Finale
On the same night Game of Thrones begins, there’s the season finale of The Walking Dead.  Another high drama, more pop-culture but deliciously packaged series.  Like Game of Thrones, people die. Yes, they have important people die.  Their deaths are felt long after they are gone, Sophia and Shane, for example.  And how they die, and at whose  hands, is as significant as how they lived.

This is perhaps most evident when Darryl Dixon, bad-ass Darryl with the sweetest of hearts, has to off his brother in a memorable list of fratricides with Cain and Able at the top.
And here's where I get artsy.
Notice that Darryl doesn’t use an arrow? Anybody else think this isn’t significant? Darryl shoots everything with his crossbow. An army of Zombies have died with his arrows.  But not his brother Merle.  First Darryl kicks him, then he pushes him, angry at him for becoming a zombie, and saddened with the burden of having to put his brother down. Then he chokes him, and you get the feeling he’s reliving all the abuse he’s had at his brothers hands, only this time he's the one overpowering his tormentor.
 Finally he knives him… a final cathartic release of his rage. His beloved brother has turned, and now he can definitely never feel the closeness he had hoped for. Angry at his brother for being an ass, angry at wanting to be close to him, as if Merle were the surrogate father.
There’s no way an arrow to Merle's head would have let Darryl have had this cathartic experience.
One last note. If I’m Michonne I’m taking my sword and swinging it through Rick's neck, I don't care if he changed his mind.


 Important people die, but how they die, and at whose hands, says as much about them as how they lived.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Running and the Resurrection

Happy Easter! 
The Easter bunny is a hard sell, much harder than Santa, yet the good bunny will be visiting our house this year.
Easter is the promise of rebirth. The land that has died in the cold winter is resurrected back to life in the warm glow of the sun. It is the time of the year we put away our running gloves and headbands and tights.  On any good spring run, you’ll see the grass and the leaves and the trees start to breath and then turn green before your eyes.

But as for Easter, isn’t it Good Friday when all the serious work went down? Right?
Friday is the day Jesus was crucified and nailed to the cross. To me, that is quite a bigger deal than on Sunday.
Sure, Sunday is when the miracle of resurrection happens, but to honor the Sunday holiday and not Good Friday is like showing up on game 7 and watching the locker room celebration and calling yourself a fan.  
Friday, is where the real blood and guts flowed and Jesus carried his cross that he was eventually nailed to.   Friday was the hardship.  Friday was when the metaphorical marathon training took place; the 20 mile long runs through aches and pains that rips us apart.  The resurrection was just crossing the finish line of a race. Sure, it’s glorious, but as many marathoners will tell you, the training is the hardest part, the actual marathon run is almost just a victory lap. 
Yes, Christian or not, the Christ-story is a great metaphor for what runners do all the time. On plenty of 20 mile runs I’ve felt that I have crucified my body, plunged into 3 days of harrowing hell, only to feel my spirit ascend to heaven and our creator.  At times we run to shed a few pounds, but eventually we will want to shed our whole body and set our spirit free.
Stay tuned for next Sunday’s sermon, where I will unveil new evidence about the Last Supper, which was actually a carbo-loading meal to build maximum glycogen storages.  After all, it was to prepare for the 3 day grueling endurance event of the resurrection. Nothing is more ultra than that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rock CF Half Marathon -Breathe Deep. Run Hard

I ran the Rock CF Rivers half marathon in Gross Isle this weekend. It's a great and unique race. Every race has it's own vibe, and this event had an incredible and inviting feel.  I'm not one for medals, but this medal was cool enough to look at twice. 

And the course was nice and we often ran along the water and then through rolling streets.

I turned the event into a 18 miler by getting there early and running 5 miles before hand pretty darn slow, and then made my way to the start, got 3-4 minutes rest, and then took off with the rest of the crowd.
I haven't done an event in a while, and two things always strike me when I go back.  One is that the start of a race is such a sweeping, communal feeling. So much promise is in the air and the momentum of thousands of spirits launching is powerful. It has all the freshness of youth. 
Second thing that struck me is how, after an event, everyone is looking both their worst and their best. Yes, we are all slimy, especially when it's cold and there's just mucus coming out of your pores and you have that weird Marathon mojo all over your face. But despite that, nobody cares, because everyone's aura is shining and  faces are smiling.   Everyone has battled and bonded through the race course together, so all pretensions of the need to put on appearances has vanished. If only life always worked that way.
Coolest part of this event was running through the Gross Isle airfield.  We took a turn into a huge parking lot and Clowns were there to greet us. (Other runners saw the clowns, right? it wasn't just me. Hmmm, could be a hallucination, but I saw clowns).  A band was at the hangar entrance, and Jumping Jack Flash was playing as I darted through.  We ran through the hangar which was full of some wonderful little pond-hopper planes, out the other side, and then across the wide-open landing strip.  It was unexpected and definitely put a charge to my getty-up.

In fact, I just got back one of my official race pictures. Here it is:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Day Before A Race

The day before an event or a race is always one where my brain is elsewhere. People talk to me, and their words make noise, but I don't really hear them.  I'm mentally elsewhere, and laying out clothes, charging up my ipod, making a playlist, setting 3 or 4 alarms, and printing out maps to the start.

Tomorrow is the CF half-marathon in Gross-isle, and I'm running it as an 18 mile training run by getting there early, so it's not the same sort of anticipation as racing an event. My brain is therefore only half elsewhere. The rest is goobered down by the mucus of a new cold.

The anxiety of the day before a race can make us crave the physical release of a short run, which is fine if you only do a few miles and quite slow. But so often in our anxiety and nervousness we end up running way farther and faster than planned and rob ourselves of needed running strength for the next day.

In my upcoming novel, "On the Lips of All Children," that's exactly what happens, except the stakes are much higher.  Tattoo artist and first time marathoner Macon goes for a 4 mile warm up run the day before the Rock 'N Roll San Diego marathon. It's to be his first marathon. It's to be special.  He is going to propose to his girlfriend and mother of his child at the finish. It's his way to prove his strength and dedication towards starting their new family.

All of this changes after Macon is stalked by a group of homeless men along a highway trail during his run. In an attempt to find him, his wife and child follow, but are taken hostage by a bizarre family living in a Tijuana to San Diego drug tunnel.  The endurance Macon will have to show to save his family's life far exceeds anything required by a footrace.

All of this makes my day today seem quite easy.

Coming Soon.
Guaranteed to tattoo the insides of your eyeball.
(Shoot me a message for Advance Copy Review Requests)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Faking My Way Through The Tournament

March Madness.

It's NCAA basketball tournament time, the most exciting and glorious time in all of sports, and I have a confession to make that may take away my man-card.  I don't enjoy the tournament nearly as much as I pretend to. In fake, most of my enthusiasm just may very well be faked. Fake, fake, fake, fake, to quote Elaine from Seinfeld.

I just don't fully appreciate basketball.  It seems like every game goes sort of the same way. One team gets a big lead, it builds to a crescendo, but later on, usually the second half, the momentum switches and the other team catches up. They maybe even tie it or take a small lead. At the end it's close, one team may need to purposely foul to control the clock (isn't that a huge bastardization of the game? by the way), and we all call it the greatest game ever.

Why not just watch the end?  I realize there's strategy involved the whole game such as if  one team's half court game and big bodies in the paint can control the pace against the run and gun play of the other team's guards (see, I sort of know what I'm talking about.) But, if not for the excitement of the announcers or seeing a 15 seed beating a 2, I might just yawn my way through.

Of course I will watch, but not like I would if it were Hockey, where, if it were a single elimination tournament with 10 games on I would have 8 TVs to watch and the DVR running. And  if someone were to say 'just watch the third period' same way I just said, 'why not just watch the end?' I would feel as if I'd been punched in the gut.  But basketball just doesn't do it for me. I can't follow 64 teams, most of who I couldn't name a single player. I will be watching 'my team', yes, the University of Michigan, but that makes me a fan of a team, not the sport.

Am I not man anymore? Am I? I watch the NFL draft, listen to sports radio, and I flatulate too much.  I like HDTV's and believe in bonding with my electronics.  I can quote Caddyshack, Stripes, or Fletch on command. Yes, I am a man. (or at least a real boy.)

Then again, I wrote a full novel under first person perspective of a woman, and I like Debra Winger, musicals, and award shows.  And some of my most exciting times of my life are while I am wearing tights.  (Running tights in the cold weather, of course.)

So, this morning is full of such glorious potential of youth, the way the tournament is life is like. All of us have a clean slate, some are facing more tremendous odds than the rest facing down Goliath, but theoretically all of us are equal with the same chance ito show the best in ourselves for glory. No matter how great others  have seeded you, if you blow your one shot at victory, you go home, game over and season over.

That does sound pretty cool.

The dude abides.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Run and the Graces of the Old Gods and the New

A great St. Patricks day run this morning.   My legs felt a bit lively after some rest, the sun was shining bright on some freshly fallen snow, and I ran by two Irish bars which hadn't yet overflowed onto the sidewalk as they certainly will later on today.

I especially love to run on days when years ago I used to be stupid and miserably drunk.  Makes me feel more alive by contrast. St. Patrick's Day is a great running and racing day, and many folks will enjoy plenty of post-running, well deserved beers. I would certainly love to be one of them, but I just can't do that. It's one of the many things I can't do and have had to learn to accept. Also on that list are: I can't train for 3 marathons in 15 months without suffering consequences (I'm just not one of those guys), I can't be as cool as Ironman, I can't fly like superman, and I can't use tools like most any man. And I can't stop drinking after one beer.

Fortunately, I've escaped a relapse for 20 years. But if the day ever comes, who knows what would happen. You will probably see a drunken Irishmen running naked through the streets, and then a dark black eruption of misery for many years to come, neither of which will be pleasant to witness. But by the graces of "the old Gods and the new," I"m able to run sober today.

Friday, March 15, 2013

STRAY'S New Look

Based on a recent review of my novel, STRAY, I'm giving it a new look with a cover blurb. Here it is:

STRAY,on Amazon

What makes the review fantastic?  Well, it was written by author and writer, Sacha Z. Scoblic, who has some fantastic credentials, and she has a unique take that a ton of self-publishing writers will relate to. 

"Stray is about addiction, yes. But mostly it is about relationships and the bonds that keep us all from going astray. Whether it's your wife or a hardscrabble mutt on the side of the highway, it's the connections to other creatures in the world that give us our forever homes. The writing here is clean, vivid, and wildly empathetic to all the beasties who take shelter in communal spaces. Stray sings.

A note about the form: Self-publishing and e-books have opened the floodgates for writers everywhere to express themselves to a wider audience and even to compete alongside traditional publishers and books made of trees. That's good news for undiscovered talent and hungry readers. The bad news is that far too few people will find Stray. In a world without gatekeepers, well, there are no gatekeepers. And sometimes those self-published e-books still deserve the imprimatur of a good house of letters, a good review, a good ad, a good shiny spot on the virtual shelf--that is, the imprimatur of a gatekeeper. Stray is an apt title for a book that once upon a time might have found a home in traditional publishing. Luckily, as so many of Stray's characters find out themselves, a home can come in many unexpected and nontraditional places."

Sacha Z. Scoblic is the author of "Unwasted: My Lush life of Sobriety," a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the articles editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Formerly a senior editor at Reader’s Digest, she has written about everything from space camp to pulp fiction, and she was a regular contributor to the New York Times blog “Proof: Alcohol and American Life.”

*I looked this word up, so you don't have to:
Definition of IMPRIMATUR
a : a license to print or publish especially by Roman Catholic episcopal authority
b : approval of a publication under circumstances of official censorship

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jack Kerouac, the Ultra Trail Runner

  “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

Jack Kerouac's birthday is today, and the quote above is perhaps his most famous and beloved. Who couldn't read 'On The Road' and not feel the flame of passion inside their hearts get doused with gasoline, and thus burn like a roman candle exploding like a spider across the sky.

On The Road was the bible that young folks put in their back pocket and carried with them. It was comforting just to have it near. I had my own tattered paperback version with the orange, glowing sun. Young people looking for adventure were inspired by Keroauc. Those who wanted to be unhindered by social convention understood his lifestyle. His work is a case where form equaled tone equaled content, because just the frenetic beat of the prose made you want to move.

He was also perhaps the voice for  naive, grossly idealistic youth who yearned for something and expected it to be fulfilled, even if it couldn't be named.  But oh, to be naive and grossly idealistic again and see such promise on the landscape. For many of us, 'On The Road,' by Kerouac turned into 'The Road,' by Cormac McCarthy.

As many artistic folks with these types of yearnings, Jack became a terrible alcoholic, and this is what killed him.  I have decided that if Jack had decided to be a ultra trail runner, he'd be alive today. 

The need to travel, always looking for adventure down the road, feeling connected with the universe under the vast American sky, cataloging each new stop, feeling his brain and spirit buzz with spiritual joo-joo juice along the way  - isn't that what a trail runner is? 

Show me an ultra trail runner, any one of them, and I will show you someone who is mad to live, desirous of everything at the same time, who rarely says a commonplace thing, but burns, burns, burns like a firework in the sky. Consider these Kerouac quotes, and decide if there wasn't a runner in Jack:

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll

My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”
Jack Kerouac

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road 

Jack had all the makings of a trail runner. 'On The Road' could have been by trail as much as by car, and if Jack felt the buzz of a long trail run, chasing after Dean Karnazes instead of Dean Moriarty, his lack of control in his passion for running would have had much less dire consequences, and left us with many more novels to ponder.

Friday, March 8, 2013

"This is it, boys, this means war - What are we waiting for?"

Sometimes the reason I run is just so that I can listen to music in an intoxicated state.  Gone are the days I devour some vodka or all sorts of other substances (getting higher than the Empire State) and listen to The Doors or watch Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' for the 800th time, thinking I'm actually expanding my mind instead of refrying my old crap.  These days, I wish I could go to a concert and run on a treadmill while I listen, since the music will sound extra sweet to my running-drunk ears.  (Full link to my Running and Music musings)

Musical tastes are as personal as religion or running gaits, but here is my music Du Jour...

I finally bought the album 'Some Nights' by Fun, and had to write about it.  I know it's certainly not a new album. I think it was last summer that my kids were singing their hit song "We Are Young". Perhaps it was because my kids liked it that I had dismissed the group, but with each new song I heard from the album, I liked it more and more, and it's now my running album and obsession of choice.

Sure, it's a bit more pop than I'm used to, but I love the concept and connection between the songs.  The whole range of emotions is perfect for a run. There is a kaleidoscope of subject matters from yearning for meaning, to dealing with despair and loss of faith, as well as finding hope and inspiration. And among the existential questioning there is a quirky sense of humor. From the opening intro, the presentation is almost theatrical.  The beats keep me running through the whole album, and are mixed with some triumphant falsetto howls that make me want to howl along.  In fact, if I ever got a running coach, I want it to be someone with the voice of Nate Ruess, the lead singer, who could scream his high pitches in my ear.

I can't get the song 'One Foot' out of my head and I just may put it on repeat when I run the Bayshore Marathon in 80 days or so. It offers the best bit of running advice ever, "I put one foot, in front of the other, I don't need a new life or a new love, just a better place to die." 

And there's inspiration to keep running when you're exhausted and a great song for the 22 mile mark:  "If you're lost and alone, Or you're sinking like a stone. Carry on. May your past be the sound, Of your feet upon the ground, Carry on"

And when I hear the lyrics;  "This is it boys, This means war! - What are we waiting for?"  My legs charge as if running up a hill for battle.  Grrrrrr... I am runner, hear me Roar!

I realize I'm getting all Emo about this, (can a 40-some year old be called 'Emo'?)  or as Fun would put it, "Have you listened to me lately? Lately, I’ve been f*cking crazy.”

The album reminds me of a mix between Queen and Bright Eyes and Arcade Fire, and I'll be scooping up their first album soon, since anything I enjoy I tend to wallow in like a pig in mud.

I've surely come to some weird place in my life where my music tastes match my kids. The whole family is going to see Fun in concert at Meadowbrook near Detroit in the summer. I promised the kids treats and glow sticks. Maybe they won't notice that I'll be listening while running on a treadmill.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Six Running Products I Would Pimp If Given The Chance

... and Three I would not.

Woe is me.

All around me I see bloggers getting rained on with products to review, yet I have a dark cloud over my head where no rain falls at all. Nothing.

Besides feeding my narcissism and being able to say "Hey, I have an Author Platform," I started this blog  for the sole purpose of procuring some running product freebies that would surely show up at my door, but so far there has not been a knock.

But here are the products, besides my ever-present promotion of my novels, that I would gladly pimp to my audience should they ever come knocking

1. Pro Compression Socks.
My little cankles (calf and ankles) are so tiny. Back when I was ten, my waist was too skinny to find any jeans. I couldn't wear Levis like the rest of the kids. It caused severe psychological trauma. The same has happened with compression socks. I usually have to wear a ladies small. But then I ordered a pair from Pro Compression, who had the best fitting socks, with high quality material, at a great price. I'm a believer.

2. Shoes - Nike Pegasus
There are a dozen of shoes I have fallen in love with over the years, and I've loved them all for different reasons. We parted ways with wonderful memories. The reason these Nike Pegasus are special is they are the only shoe ever where I liked the update more than the original pair I tried on. Usually when I love a shoe I try to buy a few pairs and then sing me some Billy Joel: "Don't go changing, to try and please me, You never let me down before."  Then they go ahead and do an update to sell more shoes and mess everything up and wreck the relationship.  But I love the new Nike Pegasus, we have grown together. So if Nike ever asked real nice, I would let them sponsor me.
My Nike Pegasus shoes, with me in them.

3. S-Caps.
I still remember the day someone told me about these electrolyte replacements. I had just finished a 23 mile training run, adding 3 miles to Running Fit's fall 20 miler, when a faster and wiser runner with tattoos all over his body started asking me all sorts of questions in the parking lot.  I  told him of my hopes for a BQ, and he subsequently condemned me for running 23 miles, but then noticed my face was streaked with white lines from salty sweat. "Try S-caps," he said, and explained about how Gatorade's electrolytes aren't soaked up by the stomach due to northern equator reverse osmosis, or some other science, and that I needed a different electrolyte replacement.  Before I left, he had given me 20 S-caps from his own supply, and I swear they make a difference.  Yes, I hit my BQ 3 weeks later, because of or despite the 23 miles in training, but certainly the S-caps will forever be the magic little pill.

4. Hammer Recoverite.
Good stuff. Made a difference, costs a lot. Please, Recoverite folks, send me a line, give me your product. I will sell it in baggies to neighborhood kids until all of them get hooked and come begging for more.

5. Kit-kats
I've already been pimping them in previous posts. (am I offending anybody by my use of the word pimp? if so, let me know, and I'll go back and edit this post). I first read about using Kit-kats to fuel up on long runs in an article about a bad-ass trail runner who said it was her favorite mid-run snack. Can't tell yet if it makes me a bad-ass, but it's great when you're tired of all the Gus and power bars in the world.  They are found in every gas station on every run, nice on the stomach, and tasty. Chocolate milk is sponsoring marathons, so maybe Kit-kats are next.
They even come with directions.

6. KT Tape (Kinesiology Tape)-
Does it work? Is there magic in that KT Tape? Who knows, but when you're injured and feeling powerless to do anything about it, nothing feels more empowering than taping, un-taping, and then taping your legs again and again, trying to find the elusive KT tape pattern that will magically heal your leg. Especially when you have hairy legs like mine. It's a free waxing.  I tried for days before the 2012 New York Marathon trying to find the right pattern. I do believe there's something to the power of KT tape, and I figure if they would let me peddle their product, they would also come straight to my door and have experts tape my leg.  Many expo's do have 'taping' experts who will tape your leg for you, and if you tweet them a picture they'll tell you how you did.  Get the pro version, by the way, it's much better.
I would also Pimp frozen peas as the perfect ice pack.
(For the record, I do have shorts on)

3 Things I wouldn't pimp:

1. Hammer Gels-
 I know some folks love them because they are natural, reduce your carbon footprint, and you get a tax credit if you use them rather than regular Gu's, but I tried them once and had a bad experience. I literally puked in my mouth when I tried them, the eventual result being I swallowed two mouthfuls of slimy gu for the price of one.

2. Water belts of any kind.
 Or fuel belts. Or hydration belts. I hate them. I hate looking at them. I feel uncomfortable in their presence. It makes me metaphorically throw up in my mouth to write about them. Not entirely sure why. Maybe they remind me of those days stuffing airplane bottles of vodka in my pants.  (Full disclosure: I have never even tried a hydration belt, so they may be my Green Eggs and Ham)

3. IngDirect. 
Why a bank? Well, Ing sponsor many races, including the Miami and New York City marathon and they have some cool "Ing Runner Nation" programs. For years they've given me great customer service with an independent cutting edge, and their mutual funds had done me well. So, what's the problem?

Well, IngDirect is gone. They have sold out to Capital One, and IngDirect is now Capital One 360.  Not sure what happens to all those marathons they sponsor, but I can't deal with that. Capital One reminds me of that first credit card I received with a 72% APR,  so I'm leaving IngDirect and transferring my 50 dollars to the cayman islands.

That's just a few, I could certainly add more to each list.

Now For My Giveaway!
Comment below for one entry.
Tweet this post for another entry.
Follow me on Twitter for an entry @matthews_mark
Like it on facebook for a bonus entry.
All for the chance to win absolutely nothing.
(Enter by Friday.)


Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror IS ALIVE!! $4.99 for Kindle $12.99 for paperback  (buy the paperback, and you can get t...