Thursday, November 16, 2006


We enter the winter again at this time of year. The autumn is now cold and grey. Today is sunny, but the wind carries a gnawing chill and heavier clothing is required to keep from shivering. It snowed while I was in Greece, but hasn't since. Leaves are in the midst of falling; the wind blows them in low cyclones across the park and around the main street. Everthing about the the parks at this time of year reminds me of Yuri and Lara walking in the center of Yuriatin in Doctor Zhivago. The city statues, architecture, fur clothing, hard faces, the color of leaves, varying strength of the wind, rosy cheeks and they way people walk all make me think of that movie and that scene. Although this climate is much more temperate, pieces of the Soviet-era style and culture remain alive and/or evident here in Bulgaria.

Though there were serious problems with government and society in the Soviet sphere at that time and though people living under the systems suffered in many ways, I respect some principles of that ideology: common effort, value of intellect, repect for courage, thrift, respect for culture and society. Living in the aftermath of that system of government, however, I see major pitfalls to the ideology, too: seeming efficiency at the expense of originality, quantity at the expense of quality, less attention paid to detail, poor vertical management, little attention given to individuality and resistance to change. Bulgaria seems to be pulling away from the stagnant influence of life under that system, but (as many Bulgarians tell me) Bulgaria needs time and more independant political development to realize its potential as a nation.

Most of the work I'm doing now concerns the development of local NGOs. In one project, I am helping establish a 24-hour hotline for troubled and at-risk youth. I'm cooperating with a youth psychologist who has established a volunteer committee of 4 certified psychologists to be on-call 24-hours a day. A central, toll-free number will dispatch to 4 available GSMs, each manned by the on-call psychologists. We will also create announcements and informational stickers about the hotline and post them throughout the city of Stara Zagora.
On the anneversary of my apartment troubles, I have new ones. I have to move suddenly - my landlord needed to sell the apartment and I have a few days to pack up and vacate. The only problem is cost of the new place and neighborhood. Fortunately, I have people helping me and leads on new places. I may not get what I want, but at least I have a support network to help me through the transition. We'll see what happens.

I'm settling down into small runs in the aftermath of the marathon. My big toe (which was literally capped and ringed by a huge blister) has healed nicely, though my second toe on the right foot has a very colorful nail. No more running-related aches and pains, and my shoes are also fine (they didn't fall apart as I thought they might). I want to keep running but the light has faded by the time I get home and my new digs might be in a bad part of town. I'll find a way to stay fit, regardless.

Well, off to look at the last few apartments before I have to make a final decision. Ciao i priaten den vsichki!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Athens Classic Marathon

The Marathon was a unique experience in my life. The unity of my passions in history, fitness, charity, literature, photography, travel and comeraderie (and laziness, too) have rarely if ever been matched by this event. My final, official time was 3 hours, 59 minutes and 45 seconds. Not bad for a first marathon; I beat 4 hours!

I thought about a lot along the course: the parched Mediterranean hills between Marathon and Athens, Phidippidus and why the heck didn't he just ride a horse, my friends running with me (for a few kilometers, literally; I ran with my pal Greg for 3 or 4 Km), the Bulgarian Scouts we were running for, my training, lines from the Iliad, Thucidites, Plutarch and others, about when to snap pictures and more. I brought a disposable camera along with me for the entire couse and have some serviceable snapshots. People around the finish line who cheered me through the marble Pan-Olympic Stadium laughed as I pulled up my camera for the finish-line photo.

I had a very good first half-marathon, finishing 21.1 Km in 1:48:12 or so, about a 3:35 marathon pace. At Km 27 or 28, my muscles uncontrollably cramped in dangerously painful and sudden ways. I promised that I wouldn't let myself push to injury, so I began a stretching-walking-running routine for the remainder of the race. The frustrating part was that from 30.5 K to the end of the race was fully downhill or flat. I wasn't very tired, but if I ran too hard or far, my legs would cramp so intensely that I could not bend them without stopping to walk. I did some unwise things during the race: I drank powerade and ate GU gel in addition to drinking water. All of my training was performed without either methods of electrolyte replacement, and I suspect that my body was simply unused to the extra nutrients. Well, that last 12 Km was just about the hardest running I've ever done.

When I crossed the finish line, all of the pain and effort, the training and anticipation, the days of emotion, the joy of completing such a trek hurt and broke through my chest. I saw my pal Thomas, who finished the race just ahead of me, and wanted to cry (but I was dehydrated and am a big man, hardy har). We walked a bit, then sat and drank water in near silence together. We soon found others in our group and cheered our remaining team-mates as they neared the finish line. I am still amazed at the sincere and universal support the greeks gave runners along the length of the course. People would stand cheering with their children, "Bravo, bravo! Gud Djob! Bravo!" old or young, sometimes in chairs at the side of the road. It gave me energy to see and hear them giving such sincere support.

What an experience.