Sunday, October 30, 2005

Recovery from the marathon harder than the race itself!

Grrr. Dr. V is cranky. It's two weeks since the marathon and I'm still stiff, slow, and achy. It's an effort just to get under 9 mins/mile (my usual easy pace is 8:30).

I think I need another massage, but they cost $55. Still, it would probably help a lot. After the last one, I could touch my toes for the first time in months and now I'm back to being unable to reach them. (My left hamstring or sciatic nerve or something is really bothering me.) So, should I splurge again?

Oh, and speaking of marathons, my brother (let's call him Fast Fizzy, as that's a moniker he uses with me) is running the NY Marathon in a week. Fast Fizzy is so f'ing fast that he got automatic entry (no lottery) and gets to start ahead of the regular masses (but behind the Kenyans -- he's not *that* fast). His PR is just over 30 minutes faster than mine and the f'er is in his 50s! Damn him! (I kid, of course.) Anyway, run like the wind, Fast Fizzy. We'll be thinking of ya!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I dub me "Dr. Virago"

OK, Ancrene Wiseass has convinced me that I can change my blog identity to Dr. Virago and yet keep Quod She as the title and URL of the blog. If Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy and ProfGrrrl of Playing School can do it, so can I. (See sidebar for these blogs -- I'm too lazy to link.)

I'm also too lazy, er, busy to explain right now why I like the name Dr. Virago, why it's significant, and how it's medieval. I will do so in the near future, however. Really. I promise.

But from here on out I will be known to the blogosphere as Dr. Virago!

UPDATE: I've already been asked via e-mail why "Dr. Virago" and what virago means, so I might as well post that reply here:

A virago is *either* a strong and admirable woman *or* a shrill and demanding woman. It's the kind of ambiguous word that elegantly wraps up the history of western attitudes towards women in one deeply fraught nutshell; that is, how easily for some people the first, positive quality slides into the second, negative one. Oh, and even its etymology is a kind of double bind: it comes from Latin "vir" for man, and originally meant a warrior-woman or woman with admirable man-like qualities -- as if to be admirable was neccessarily to be man-like. And St. Jerome called each of the virgin-martyrs a virago for her admirable ability to stand up against prelates and other patriarchs, but, of course, also said that the martyrs were unusual that way and other women couldn't hope to emulate them. (And nevermind that these "man-like" martyrs were tortured in very gender-specific ways, having their breasts cut off, being threatened with gang rape, and so on.) Chaucer used the word on occasion, too (usually in the bad sense.) So I like its complicated history and I'm reclaiming it the way Bitch Ph.D. reclaims Bitch. Also, the gender-bending quality of it suits me -- the Boyfriend tells me I have the sense of humor of a boy, and a grad school friend used to say something similar, and I always was a tomboy and proud of it. And again, I like the punning resemblance to Dr. Zhivago, if only because of that damn music box I had (I've actually never seen the movie!).

So there you go, the story of Dr. Virago.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Boston, baby!

I did it! I ran the Columbus Marathon in a time that qualifies me for the Boston Marathon (good for both 2006 and 2007 races, though I may only do the latter)! Finishing time: 3:43:13.

And man, am I feeling it today! Joy, elation, and a sense of accomplishment, yes – but also sore thighs and some really gross injuries to my feet which I will detail in the “War Wounds” section below, so that the squeamish among you can carefully avoid reading about it!

The Stats
For those of you who like sports stats, here are some of the details. For those of you who don’t, you can skip this section and go to the interesting human interest stuff below. I tried to finish in 3:40:00, so I ran with the 3:40 pace group, and I did a pretty good job of keeping on that pace (8:24/mile) until mile 22. By then, though, I’d actually fallen behind the pace group (it started at hilly mile 18, where I fell to the back of our pack) – who were going a little faster than goal pace, it seems – but I could still see them about 100 yards or so ahead of me. I think I lost sight of them completely at mile 23. That’s when I really slowed down. The last four and 2/10th miles I ran 9:10, 9:13, 9:14, and 11:21 (that last bit was 1.2 miles at a 9:28/mile pace). But since I usually slow down to a 10:00+ pace in those last bits, even this was quite an accomplishment!

I have to admit part of the reason for my slow-down in the last four miles – aside from the lactic acid build-up in my quads – was that I realized I didn’t have to work quite so hard to get my qualifying time and damn, it hurt to work hard, so I dialed it back a notch or two. But I didn’t mean to slow down quite that much. That happened because I lost my pacing pack and often found myself behind people who were going much slower that I realized at first. It’s really damn hard to pace yourself without the heart monitors and long experience that the pace group leaders have. I’m terrible at it, especially when I’m tired and every pace feels like work. I should’ve known by my easy breathing, though, that I was going too slow. But hey, I still qualified for Boston! Click here to find out more about qualifying times, btw.

And here are some more of my numbers, for the stats geeks among you:
Split times:
Mile 10 – 1:23:17 (8:20 average pace)
Mile 13.1 – 1:49:35 (8:22 average pace)
Mile 20 – 2:47:46 (8:23 average pace)
Mile 22 – 3:04:14 (8:22 average pace)
Finish (26.2) – 3:43:13 (8:31 average pace)

A couple of highlights:

Mile 3 pace: 7:45
(Um, pacer guys, what the hell were you trying to do to us?! To be fair, though this was mostly down hill and it was the only time they were that far off. They claim the mile was marked short, but I have my doubts.)

Mile 22 pace: 8:09
(Wow – I was running all by myself and yet I still willed myself to run at that pace! Through the 22nd mile, no less! Of course, that may be why I got a little pooped right after that.)

The Interesting Stuff

Running in a Goofy Gaggle
I really enjoyed running with the pace group, despite the fact that we were packed in kind of tight – which meant knocking elbows and having to watch our footing so that we didn’t trip people – because the guys leading it were so entertaining that I almost didn’t even notice I was running until I fell behind them at mile 18. One guy, Dan, was especially high-spirited. In the Bexley neighborhood – a very posh, old area with gorgeous houses and tall, old shade trees – he taunted the rather silent crowds. While he wasn’t very cutting to their faces – he simply said things like “Surely you can do better than that!” – to us he said, “Perhaps they should’ve sent out the servants to cheer,” to which I added (because I was still talking and running right with the pacers at that point): “At least they could jingle their Mercedes keys.” But this was all set-up for later, when we ran through a hipper, younger, less waspy neighborhood – but probably still very expensive – where he ran over to the crowd and called out: “Bexley cheered louder than you guys!” That, of course, got an enormous round of cheering and clapping and general noise making. I guess even watching a marathon can be competitive in some towns! Anyway, the energy this guy had – I should mention that he was also carrying a stick with balloons attached through the whole race! – was unbelievable. Here I was struggling to set a PR (personal record) and for him this was an easy run. (I think he’s usually a 2:30:00 runner!) Because of these guys, I really didn’t even notice that I was working hard until I fell behind late in the race. So the whole effect was like an easy training run followed by a hard race.

Goofiness all My Own
At the very end of the race, as I crossed the finish line, I tried to give a nice action pose for the finish line photographers and also just express how damn elated I was at my finishing time. (Even my “gun” time was under 3:45 – it was around 3:44:18, I think.) So I threw my hands up in the air, shouted “Yes!” while I grinned triumphantly, and threw my head back a little. That last move was a mistake because the wind caught my hat and pulled it off my head. So in the actually picture I’ll probably be frantically grabbing for my hat with a look of surprise on my face. Add to that a detail I’m saving for the “War Wounds” section below and you’ve got one mess of a finisher’s photo. Oh well. I’ll cherish it forever.

Cowboys and Cheerleaders
OK, this isn’t about the marathon itself, but about the crowds in the downtown hotels and restaurants. Apparently there was a rodeo in town at the same time, and perhaps a cheerleading convention or competition, because I kept seeing hordes of people in cowboy hats and quite a few girls in cheerleading costumes, and I believe it’s still too early for Halloween costumes. It was kind of a weird sight, as if somebody was staging a satire of Americana or operating a weird niche dating service.

War Propaganda
As if the cowboys and cheerleaders weren’t enough, there was a very visible military contingent at the marathon itself – mostly Reserve forces, I think. I first saw them at the race registration booths at the “Health and Fitness Expo” (i.e., a running-related merchandise market which most races hold so that the corporate sponsors can sell their wares). My first thought was, “Um, don’t you guys have better things to do with your time? I thought our armed forces were stretched terribly thin.” My second thought was, “Man, how did you luck out?” And then, once inside the Expo itself, I saw, among the booths selling close-out shoes and gear, recruiting booths for each of the Reserve divisions of the armed forces. And each one had posters that featured their personnel doing something that required running. *Shudder.* I’ve done five marathons now and this is the first time I’ve seen the armed services recruiting at them. Sign o’ the times, I guess.

And they were all over the race. A military band serenaded us at the half-way point (which I liked, because I like brass bands in general) and more camouflage-appareled volunteers handed out water and Gatorade at the aid stations. And before the start of the race, we were saluted by a C-130 plane which flew over head parallel to the lined-up racers, and then back again across its first path in a “T” formation. It’s just a transport plane, so for the military tech geeks among you, it’s not all that sexy, but I liked its old-timey look with the propellers and big body. But aside from my initial, pleasurable reaction – I grew up in a plane-obsessed family and I like planes, especially old and cool-looking ones (Dad and I used to go to air shows when I was a kid) – I also thought, “Man, they’re really pushing the recruitment propaganda buttons, aren’t they?” And I think the Air Force Reserves were especially numerous at the event because, if I’m not mistaken, the USAF takes older recruits, and the vast majority of marathoners are 30 and up. Again: *Shudder*.

The plane salute also freaked me out because on the second run around – the one perpendicular to the street of our course – the perspective from our point of view made it seem like the plane was going to hit a tall building. I think the hotdog pilot was trying to show off what even a giant transport plane can do in terms of maneuverability, but that’s not a sight – even the illusion of such – that one really wants to see ever again. Creepy. Well, I guess it got that last bit of adrenaline going for the race. Sheesh.

War Wounds
Now, if you really want creepy and gross, read this section. If you’re squeamish, skip it. Really. It gets disgusting.

First of all, about that finisher’s photo. Chafing is every runner’s menace. Most men have to guard against nipple chafing – with various petroleum jelly products, band aids, and pasties – and women have to look out for their inner thighs. I also have problems with my bra band, even with sports bras that claim that they are chafe-free. For that area and for my thighs I use old fashioned and cheap Vaseline jelly, despite the fact that it stains my clothes. (I really couldn’t care less how I look when I’m running.) But for this race I decided early on to wear the tight-fitting shorts, the kind that look like bicycle shorts without the padding. I tested them in my 20-mile and 22-mile training runs and they did what I thought they’d do: they prevented chafing without the messiness of Vaseline or the need for reapplication. But some time during the race they must have ridden up above the danger zone, because I chafed. Oh boy did I chafe. I chafed like I’ve never chafed before, ripping off skin from each inner thigh in large patches. Only, the thing is, I didn’t even notice. I was so focused – or else so tripping on endorphins – that it wasn’t until I was done with the race and wandering around the post-race rest area, eating bananas and bagels and drinking Gatorade, that I happened to look down and realized that my thighs and the bottom of my shorts were a blood-stained messed. This means that in my finisher’s photo, not only will I probably be grabbing my windblown hat, but my thighs will be a visibly bloody mess. Lovely.

Anyway, a nice EMT patched me up so I could walk the 10 blocks back to my hotel without pain. Well, sort of….There was still the case of what happened to my right foot, in particular, my right little toe. Around Mile 15 or so, I felt some friction from that area, as if the toenail was rubbing against my shoe. Shit, I thought, another black toe on that foot. (I already have one.) Black toe occurs when a blood blister forms under a toenail bed. The toenail turns black and eventually falls off. In my case, a new one usually starts to grow in before the old one is gone. Anyway, it’s a common runner ailment and not a big deal, but it sure is ugly. Anyway, after awhile the annoyance abated and I forgot all about it. Again, I think the endorphins were doing their job because on the walk home from the race I was having a helluva time putting weight on that foot. When I got back and took my shoe off, I discovered why: my entire right little toe’s tip was one giant blood blister, top and bottom, under and around the nail. Ewwwwwww!

I had to drive home with it that way because I didn’t have the stuff I needed to take of it (remind me to bring a first aid kit next time I do an away race!). All I can say about that (and of behalf of my leg muscles as well) is thank god for cruise control.

Once home, I took care of lancing and draining it. Man, you should’ve seen the blood squirt! Ewwwwww! But now it’s fee of all swelling and I can put weight on it again. But it sure ain’t purty. The skin where it was blistered is, of course, all loose and baggy. And worse, the entire nail slides around all loose right with the skin it’s connected to. The Boyfriend said it looked like a rotten tomato. Yech! It’s like my little toe is its own circus freak: Behold the Rotten Tomato Toe! Lord only knows what it’ll look like once it’s all healed, or how well that nail will grow back. I may have to face the wrath of pedicurists for the rest of my life – you know, the “shame on you” look they give you when they think your toes have been abused or neglected.

On that note, I’m glad open-toe shoe season is over for a good long while in these parts! Running season, on the other hand, never ends, and tomorrow I’ll probably try to go out for an easy 3-mile jog.

Boston here I come!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Running around

Hey folks. I may be a little quiet between now and the start of next week. I'm getting psyched up for another marathon this weekend, this time in Columbus, OH, where their motto is "Our World is Flat." They also have a really high number of runners qualifying for Boston, and since that's my goal, too, I picked this race as my best possible chance. I've trained really hard for this one and I'm ready. I even got a massage on Tuesday to loosen me up and I'll be running with a pace group to keep me from taking off too fast. I need to run 3hrs. 45mins. or faster to qualify for Boston, so I'm runing with the 3:40 pace group (the next one is 3:50 -- too slow). Anyway, I'm starting to get too nervous and distracted now to write, and I'm leaving on Saturday and won't be back until Sunday night, at which point I'll post my results.

In the meantime, wish me luck and, if you know me in real life (that is, if you know my full first and last name), you can apparently follow my progress on race day on the marathon web site. (This is according to an email I got from the race people.) That link just sends you to the marathon home page, but I assume on race day there will be a link there to tell you where to look up runner progress and a place to enter my name. Or email me and I'll send you my bib number.

Here's hoping I don't bonk!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Two Tuesday Tidbits

  1. "Crazy Ham Radio Guy" lives three blocks south of me, a few doors down from my friend the Victorianist. He has a gi-normous antenna in his backyard and a smaller one on his van -- for mobile ham radio activity, I guess. Anyway, his radio communications regularly wreak havoc in the 'hood, blowing out speakers, rining doorbells, and so forth. Right this minute, in fact, his voice is coming through loud and clear from my computer's subwoofer! And for some reason, he keeps punctuating his statements with "Well, this is the [state nickname] state, after all." Over and over again. This neigbhorhood has a lot of crazy guys.
  2. For those of you who do not know this (my non-blogging friends and family) you *don't* have to login to Blogger to comment here. Choose the "Other" category on the comment pop-up and just fill in your name or initials or whatever you want (ignore the web page blank). You can also choose "anonymous," though I prefer to know who you are!
Ok, gotta run - literally! Read my Lost post below if you haven't had the chance!

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Lost Men

I like Lost. I like it a lot. The mystery of the island is intriguing and keeps my narrative desire piqued, but what I really like is the show’s exploration of the “self.” Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the show is particularly deep or groundbreaking in this exploration. However, the mere idea that a mainstream TV show is at least tossing around ideas about whether or not a person can fashion or reinvent him- or herself is still pretty cool. And the way the show structures that exploration – through the use of flashbacks, rather than through a linear narrative – is quite smart. I don’t know if the writers and directors regularly use (or have even heard of) the word palimpsest, but that’s what they’ve made of each character: a text whose previous forms are visible in bits and pieces that have been imperfectly rubbed out. And the interconnectedness of all the characters prior to the plane crash actually reminds me of my favorite modernist novels, particularly of the moment in Mrs. Dalloway when Clarissa imagines an invisible, unbreakable thread connecting her to all the people in her life, past and present, as she rides a London bus. (The potential of modern transportation to bring us together and also to break those connections is present in that moment, if I recall correctly, as well as very obviously in Lost.)

In short, everything about Lost is very clever and well-made. But what I really, really like about the show is its exploration of the masculine self, something that I think this season in particular is focusing on, at least for the time being. Again, I don’t think the show is being terribly groundbreaking – after all, television, for all its self-congratulatory whoop-de-do about breaking boundaries, is a relatively conservative medium (or at least it toes the line of the status quo) – but it’s simply kind of cool that a mainstream show, one my parents watch, is thinking about gender roles at all, especially about masculinity, which for even the cool kids is something taken for granted as supposedly “natural” even as they think about how femininity is culturally constructed. For the moment Lost seems to be giving short shrift to female gender roles and female characters, though last season did more of that and I’m sure they’ll get back to these stories this season as well. Kate is still a major player so far this season, for instance. (None of this particularly bothers me – I’m just noting it for the moment.) But as the Boyfriend rightly pointed out while we were watching the Season One clip show/recap that aired before the Season Two premiere, the choice of stories to recap gave a sense of what the creators thought were the most important narratives for people to know or remember as they started Season Two. So whose stories did they recap? Jack’s, John Locke’s (now that name can’t be an accident, can it?), Sawyer’s (and hello! speaking of names that resonate!), and Michael’s – all of them men with “daddy issues.” The first three have histories of abandonment by or conflict with their fathers or father-figures, while the last has a fraught history of trying not to be an absentee dad and then just trying to be dad. While you might say that Steven Speilberg has been there and done that, saturating late twentieth and early twenty-first century pop culture with the absentee-father theme ad nauseam – and you would be right – I think Lost is doing something a little different with it. Each of these male characters started off as or could have become stereotypes of masculinity – the outlaw (Sawyer), the type-A, control-freak surgeon (Jack…OK, he’s still a little bit that), the Iron-John-style seeker (Locke), the ne’er-do-well, black “baby-daddy” (Michael) – but each one’s narrative (as much as we’ve seen on and off the island) shows them struggling with and against those stereotypes. I think Michael’s and his son Walt’s story is particularly compelling, especially since it played with the audience’s presumed and very racially coded assumptions about why Walt didn’t have a relationship with his father, only to reveal later that Michael didn’t have much of a choice about being involved in his son’s life. (I am a little troubled that the narrative makes Walt’s mother into the career-woman-bad-guy too easily [softened a little bit by her genuine concern for Michael’s success as an artist and worry about his ability to take care of Walt, but still…], but that’s for another post on the Lost Women someday.) And the other men’s stories have had a similar back-and-forth pattern, making you think one thing only to turn your assumptions on their head and then back again.

In addition to all that, there’s room for more exploration, in these characters and the rest. The other male characters – Jin, Charlie, Hurly/Hugo, Said – have all sorts of possibilities left and already we’ve had hints that we shouldn’t assume anything. Their characters, too, started as stereotypes of masculinity – or at least types (the mobster, the rocker, the fat guy, the soldier) – with complexity slowly revealed. And like I said above, though the show seems to be concentrating on masculinity, it has looked at femininity and probably will turn back to it. The women, too, started as types (in this case, of femininity) – the capable tomboy-next-door (Kate), the submissive Asian wife (Sun), the gold digging manipulator (Shannon), and the knocked-up, bubble-headed blonde (Claire) – but turned out to be nothing or the sort or at least more complicated than that. Although I kind of saw it coming, I think the creators were trying to surprise you when Kate turned out to be the dangerous fugitive, for example. And Jin’s and Sun’s marriage has become one of my favorite conjoined storylines, constantly twisting and turning.

Finally, back on my main topic of masculinity, the sheer fact that we have so many different male characters expressing varieties of masculinity (though conspicuously absent is homosexuality – at least so far), some of them in direct conflict with each other, is a healthy thing for American television, imho. No, I don’t think it’ll change the world. And most people won’t even consciously think about it for a minute. But it sure as hell beats the televised masculine images my male peers grew up with: the Dukes of Hazzard, the Six-Million-Dollar Man (btw, how hilarious dated is that dollar amount?), the men of Dallas, the Love Boat crew…need I say more?

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

I heart Wallace and Gromit and A. O. Scott

I can't wait to see the new Wallace and Gromit film (their first feature), so I was especially delighted to read A. O. Scott's glowing review of it. You can read it here, but as you know, the NYT requires you to sign up for a (free) online subscription. (Oh go ahead -- will it kill you?) At least the movie reviews never go into the pay-to-read archives.

Anyway, even if you never see the movie, Scott's review is a whimsical delight in itself. (Warning: it will make you want to see the movie, even if Wallace and Gromit films do irrevocably remind you of a certain duplicitous, middle class, provincial, English brother-in-law of mine.* But that warning pretty much only applies to my family members reading this.) Scott is becoming more and more my favorite movie critic. Since coming out from beneath Elvis Mitchell's formidable shadow, Scott has developed a voice of his own, often successfully adapting his style and structure to the movie he's reviewing. And like Roger Ebert before he got all mushy and starting liking everything, Scott judges movies according to their genres and the built-in set of expectations that come with that. Given that film is so deeply genre-driven (in a way that other art forms have transcended, imho), I think that's a an important element in any fair critic's assessment. But mainly I like him for the writing and still-present sense of joy he clearly has in being paid to go to the movies.

*The characters Wallace and Gromit, of course, are not duplicitous, but Wallace *is* a middle class, provincial Englishman like my brother-in-law, which is perhaps why my brother-in-law identified with the character. And Scott mentions how the movie is, in part, about the virtues and foibles of middle class, provincial Englishmen. But my brother-in-law's duplicity is all his own.

Go see the movie! It's a wonder and a delight! And if you can, see an early showing so you can see it with an audience full of kids cracking up. One little guy in front of us was at that age where he couldn't just laugh, he had to *say* "This is really funny!" It sounds annoying, but it's not. What's so funny about the kids, too, is that they'll laugh at the very grown-up jokes they don't get, just because the grown-ups are laughing. That just makes it all the funnier.

Oh, and the short before (the Madagascar Penguins in "A Christmas Caper") amused me, too. NYers will especially appreciate little details of its references and the implicit culture clash/melting pot of Xmas in NY.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Linguists and condors and squirrels, oh my!

Well, I'm back from my conference extravaganza and I have to say it was one of the best conference experiences I've ever had on all fronts: professional, social, tourisitical, and athlethical. (Yeah, yeah, those last two aren't real words, but they sure are fun to say -- try it!) I'll leave the running blogging (the "athletical" part) for last, for those of you who are bored silly by such things (though it overlaps with the "touristical" part -- i.e., the travel blog).

Anywho, I was delivering a paper rather out of my usual field -- it was a historical linguistics paper on sound change instead of my usual literary/cultural studies topics -- so I was particularly nervous about this conference. Actually, I'm always nervous about every conference, and I'm starting to think that I work myself up into such a froth as a way of making the ultimately positive experience seem even more positive by contrast. I need to stop doing this for the sake of my stomach and its health. But for *this* conference, I think some nerves were justified. Linguists can be *mean.* I did get some hard questions and they were really weird for me because they were all about my methodology rather than about the findings or the possible ramifications of those findings. Boyfriend says it sounded like a political science conference that way. At any rate, one doesn't usually get such questions in a literary conference. There, if you get odd-ball questions, it's usually along the lines of "But why aren't you talking about what *I* find interesting." I swear, someday, after I have tenure, I'm going to answer those questions with "Because I wanted to leave something for *you* to work on, of course!"

But apparently I handled myself well in this strange environment, and was complimented throughout the rest of the conference on both the substance of the paper and my poise and coolness under fire (honestly, I don't know where I get that -- it just happens). And some of the other conferencees made references to my paper in *their* talks -- and these were VIP people and *real* linguists. Best of all, they're publishing a volume of papers (peer-reviewed) based on the conference, so I have some place to submit the longer version of my work where "fit" won't be an issue, just the substance.

And even though linguists can be mean in their questioning, they are the *nicest* bunch of academics socially. It was a small conference, so there really wasn't much opportunity to be cliquish, anyway, but still, I was struck by how unpretentious and genuinely friendly the senior people were, and how willing they were to socialize with the assistant profs and grad students. (I got mistaken for a grad student more than once at the conference -- I do look young for my age -- but here it didn't matter at all since everyone was mixing with everyone else.) I think a lot of that was reinforced by the copious social events mixed in with the panels and papers and talks. Since we were in the southwest, there was an opportunity to take a trip the day before the conference to the Grand Canyon, and about 20 or so conferencees went. (More on that trip in a minute -- that's where the condors and squirrels come in.) Long van trips and hikes down narrow trails tend to enforce ice-breaking and socializing. There have been a couple of other conferences I've gone to that have had similar "field trips" and I found they had the same social-leveling effect. Next time you go to a conference with an optional side-trip, take it. The destination is only half the benefit.

And speaking of destinations...what a great time I had at the Grand Canyon! We only got about 3 hours there, but it was enough to whet my appetite to go back and do a big hiking/camping trip all the way to the Colorado River and out the next day. As it was, the group of us who went down the Bright Angel trail (probably the most populated one, but once you get down a ways, the people thin out) only managed to get to the 1 1/2 mile resthouse before deciding we had to head back, but it was still pretty interesting. The view didn't change much, since we were in the same corner of the canyon the whole time, but it was cool to see the rock layers and vegetation change as we went down. (We got down about four layers, I think.) Here's the view from the top of the South Rim:
And here's a picture that shows the Bright Angel trail down the middle of the picture, seemingly disappearing over the edge of a cliff past the really green part:

We didn't get nearly as far down as those visible parts of Bright Angel trail (the greenest part of the trail, btw, is called the "Indian Garden") but we did get almost down to the cliffs above them. Here's a picture from our lowest point down (you can see the same rock formation much farther away and farther down in the previous picture on the left and in the first picture in the center -- just to give some idea of our progress down):

Along the way we got a real treat -- two of the park's re-introduced condors sailed over our heads. Unfortunately I was too busy first trying to identify them (I thought they might be eagles and then vultures and then finally, I figured out they were condors) and then just marveling at them (they seem gigantic even from a distance -- they have wingspans of up to 9 1/2 feet!) to take a picture of them. But you can read about them here.

We did, however, meet up close and personal with this little fellow:

Awwwww! The boyfriend saw this photo and said, "You must have been close because I know the zoom isn't that good." Oh yes, we were close indeed. In fact, the audacious little sucker was running in and out around our feet waiting for crumbs from our lunch to fall. In this picture, he's actually begging. And this was all before one of our senior colleagues decided to break the rules and throw the chubby little fellow some bread. I think it all started because one of us spoke cooing baby-talk to the critter (probably me!). Eventually he got so brave that he jumped up onto the ledge where we were sitting and started snatching food from our hands, jumping in one colleague's lap (!), investigating the contents of our backpacks and bags, and, eventually, running away with a whole bag of chips. That last act caused one esteemed linguist to chase after the critter so that the bag wouldn't end up befouling the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately the sneaky little sucker was too fast for me to catch him in those last brave moves, but I did catch these photos, which show how close he was to us:

And finally, here he is, triumphant, with his high-fat, fried booty:

So much for "let the wildlife be wild." Oh well. But really, how wild are any squirrels, anywhere, anyway?

And finally, while conferencing, I managed to get out for my last long runs of my marathon training (it's less than two weeks away now and I'm getting really nervous!). I skipped my track workout to run on all the amazing trails and bike paths around the campus and town, but I figure I got a serious workout all the same because I was at 7,000 feet above sea level and mostly running hills and bumpy trails. And with the beautiful scenery I saw all around me, who wants to run on a boring old track?! On my 2-hour run, I headed out east of campus and town, under the interstate, on an "urban trail" that hooked up with a long-distance hiking trail that runs through national forest to a stunningly beautiful mountain meadow surrounded by rocky outcroppings, hills of pine forest, and, at this time of year, the most amazing conjunction of colors, from pine and sage greens to reds, oranges, yellows, and golds, not to mention the cerulean blue sky. And all through my run, grasshoppers jumped left and right and tiny little lizards scurried away to avoid me. People rode by on horseback and it looked just like a postcard advertising the place. My shoes are a filthy mess, which I hope doesn't cause me any problems in the marathon, but it was worth it. Simply stunning.

On that note, I need to head over to the Rec Center to use their track before it gets crowded with students. (It's grossly hot and humid here today, so I didn't run outside. What's up with this weather?!)