I did something this morning I'd promised myself I'd never do.

I left home without hugging my girls goodbye. 

I've done it before, sadly, but only because they were fast asleep at the time.  It didn't bother me on those occasions (maybe a little), but it sure has my heart aching today.

They probably didn't even notice, so busy were they watching holiday DVDs and, in Piper Bea's case, perfecting crawling skills.  Doesn't make me feel any better, however, about being more focused on running pre-work errands than on keeping promises.

Almost makes me hope for coal in my stocking, just to keep me honest.


the snowy day.

If I concentrate really hard I can remember a time (I think) when it snowed in the Susquehanna Valley. Even then though, a pre-winter snowfall of any significance was a rarity. Forecasts call for snow several times a year, but some slight shift in the weather pattern or uncooperative temperatures usually turn promises into wintery mixes, sleet or cold, cold rains.

Tired of the boy crying wolf, when the weathermen were projecting 8"-12" of the white stuff on December 19, I turned a deaf ear. But, sure enough, they got it right this time. Snow it was without a single drop of anything else.

My day began with a quick dash to work to pick up a pair of snowshoes before ducking into the grocery store for supplies other than milk and bread. Snow was already falling, but the roads were in decent condition. At least they were when I left the house. By the time I left Manheim behind me and started the drive "up" into Sporting Hill, conditions had changed dramatically.

Getting home via Mt. Joy Road was out of the question as a jack-knifed feed truck had gobbled up both lanes of traffic and cars were standing in line in both directions. I hung a quick-thinking left hand turn, dropped across the covered bridge on Sunhill Road, crossed over the railroad tracks and...failed to make the inclined turn onto Junction Road. After spinning wheels for a moment, I eased off the gas, put the car in reverse and backed up enough to hopefully get the momentum required to make it up the hill. It sounded great in my head but it didn't work. By my second attempt, other cars had caught onto my brilliant detour and were crowding me from the rear. I-own-an-SUV impatience convinced one driver to pull around me while I backed up and I inched over to the right to create a bit of space between our cars. The end result was the passenger’s side rear tire of my Ford Focus becoming pathetically ensnared between a railroad tie and the actual rail. There I sat directly on the railroad tracks going nowhere.

But I digress. My escape is a story unto itself, but is not the story of my snowy day. Suffice to say, friendly roving snow Samaritans and eventually AAA combined to deliver both me and the vehicle to the safety of my driveway and garage. And, believe it or not, I was grinning the entire time. Snow in December brings with it boundless hope.

Paragraph 2 of this post contains a lie. I tried to turn a deaf ear to the prognosticators but I didn't succeed entirely. On Friday night I found myself wandering into the local hardware store in search of a sled. I left with two. I was fully prepared to hang them in the garage for some later date, but I really, really hoped that they'd get some use the next day. And they did.

After being bundled up by her mother to the point that her arms were suspended straight out at her sides as though her coat was still on its hanger, Lily offered me her mittened hand and we headed for the backyard. Our deep is on a downhill slope that butts up against a decommissioned elementary school playground. The playground also slopes away before joining a farmer's field. Lil and I had a couple of acres all to ourselves though we needed little of that expanse.

Eight inches of powder was enough for the two of us to "wahoo!" and "yay!" maniacally. I'd daydreamed about this day long before actually becoming a father and it was as joyous and magical as I'd imagined. Sub-freezing temperatures, however, cut our festivities short as Lily's sensitive skin was beginning to light up like Rudolph's nose. Whether because she's a trooper or because she sensed Daddy's enthusiasm for sledding, Lil never said a word but there was no hiding the fact that she was frigid. I delivered her to the safety of the house, Lindsay's shared blanket and a steaming cup of cocoa.

Snowblowing blows, but having a long driveway and a short attention span for chores, I ignored the shovel and blew snow. My run was calling.

I own a pair of Crescent Moon Gold 12 running snowshoes, but they've been little more than decorations on my garage wall for the last couple of years. I blew the dust off of them (literally) and adjusted the bindings to accommodate my Mountain Masochists. I had a vague notion of covering the two miles of farmer's fields between my backyard and the nearby section of converted rails-to-trails but was happy enough just to be on snowshoes after a long hiatus.

Running snowshoes are much more compact than traditional snowshoes so that the wearer isn't tripping all over himself or herself. The tradeoff is that these "shoes" don't have the surface area needed to effectively keep wearers up on top of the snow in deep powder. In other words, I and my Gold 12s needed a packed trail or a compressed, icy snow pack of which we had neither. Three-quarters of a mile into my "run", I knew it was time to turn and make this a short "out-and-back".

Except for stopping to snap a quick photo, I ran the whole mile and a half, but I ended up feeling like I ran 10 miles. By the time I got back to the house, I realized that I was absolutely exhausted. I also realized that I still had the same ridiculous grin on my face that had been there since the first flakes began to fall that morning.

To be completely honest, I think that grin had made its way onto my face the very first time I heard mention that it might snow. Deaf ear? What can I say? Snow hope spring eternal.



yuengling lager.
similac soy formula.


balancing act.

Maintaining miles during winter months has always proven challenging.  Even though weather tends to become even less cooperative later in the season, December is often the toughest month of all with numerous family obligations and increased hours at work.

There's still time for running, but I have to be careful to seize any and all available opportunities.  I've set the goal of 20+ mile weeks in hopes of hitting April without feeling like I'm starting from scratch.  I don't do gyms, so that means getting outside.

Unless I want to sit out weekdays and log all my miles on longer weekend runs, I have to sneak in runs before and after work.  Our front door is exactly 3.1 miles from my place of work, so I've got a 5K at the ready if and when I don't need to have my car at the ready.  Two to three nights a week, I need to pick up Lily and Piper from the babysitter after work, so I need the car parked outside.

This balancing act has led to my having to plan my running week ahead of time.  I need to determine when and where I'll need the car and packing changes of clothes and shoes.

I'll use the past couple of days as an example.  On Saturday I hoped to run 7 or 8 miles.  I would have also liked to run on Sunday, but had signed on for an 8:30-3:30 weekend work shift.  Lindsay was slated to work on Monday and Tuesday, so it looked unlikely that I'd be able to tack a Monday run on the back end of the weekend.

Here's where brainstorming came into play and managed to secure me 4 separate chances to run.  Midday on Saturday, I pulled out one of my backpacks and filled it with a headlamp, a change of running clothes and two separate sets of pants, shirts, socks and underwear.  I slipped into shorts, sneakers, a long-sleeved shirt and a windshirt (my favorite running layer) before jumping in the car, driving to work and parking in the lot.  Unlocking the front door, I headed up the steps to drop the backpack by my desk before heading back out the door and leaving the car behind.  Nearly 8 miles later, I'd gotten in my Saturday run and was back at home with the family.

Early Sunday morning, I stepped out the front door and into the freezing rain.  I love running in ugly weather and 20 minutes later, I arrived outside my place of work feeling wide awake and ready to punch the clock. 

Eight hours later, having removed the clothes I'd changed into upon arriving at work and slipped into new, dry running wear, I headed back outside for my run home.  Grinning as I passed my still parked car, I noticed that the freezing rain that had turned to rain during the warmer midday hours was now converting back to ice.  Because visibility was limited by the cloud cover and falling sleet, I turned on my headlamp and adjusted the fit on a backpack that I'd decided to test for a possible backcountry hiking/running trip in January.  I'd loaded the pack with my wet clothes from that morning's run and the clothes that I'd worn during my work shift.  I'm sure I looked bizarre as I made my way through Manheim borough and out the other side of town towards home.  I couldn't have been happier.

This morning I tumbled back out my front door for another run to work.  With some careful planning, I'd managed to get in 22 miles for the week and start the next with a brisk 3.1 miles.  The car had patiently waited for my return and was well rested for the drive to pick up Lil and Pipe.

Tomorrow will come and go without any additional miles, but will give me a chance to examine the days ahead, do some laundry and pack appropriately for the rest of the week.


pacifier perch.

Though Lily is an unapologetic creator of messes, she has little patience for the clutter of others. While determining where to settle in for optimal Baby Einstein viewing, she was agitated by the stray nuk that had tumbled from Piper Bea's mouth earlier in the evening and now lay in the middle of the living room. Measuring 3" x 2" at most, it shouldn't have been much of a bother, but Lil was not going to accept it dwelling anywhere near her chosen resting place.  Of all the potential relocations sites, she quietly decided that Daddy's Pearl Izumi would make the perfect pacifier perch.  And for some reason I just can't bring myself to move it.

the bills were piling up.

I shut down my computer and tucked my chair under my desk. Despite another hard day’s work, I’d barely put a dent in all that I’d set out to do when I walked through the door in the morning. Christmas shopping weighed heavily on my mind and there seemed to be no end to the clamoring for the few remaining dollars in my wallet. A Lungfish lyric rattled around in my head: “The bills were piling up.

The temptation to just get home and retire to the couch was drowned out by my body’s want to shed the burdens of the day. Clothes and shoes were swapped for running attire. With the sun long since set and an ice storm looming, I pulled on gloves and donned a hat and headlamp.

Tumbling out into the dark, my first few strides were overshadowed by the mental replaying of the missteps of the last few days.

Monday had marked a hectic and short-handed start to a busy week of attending to disgruntled customers and scrambling to address inventory and shipping issues. The “joy” of the holiday season has apparently been lost on all shoppers amidst the preparations for the big day and they are in a combative state. Though I’ve been “blessed” with an ability to mitigate it doesn’t mean I actually enjoy putting that talent to the test over and over again. Christmas seemed a long way off and the need to devote more hours to the workplace between now and then made me feel the guilt of thieving that time from loved ones at home.

As my heart rate quickened and my lungs started to warm to the task, I continued to wrestle with the budget-balancing act of a newly increased mortgage payment, the rising cost of electric in my beloved Keystone State and the general strain of keeping up with what often feels like a never-ending parade of arriving invoices. The bills were piling up.

My legs fell into a steady rhythm that subtly encouraged my mind to let off the worrying and come along for the ride. A quick sidelong glance at a passing gas station revealed that fuel prices were on the way up, up, up and my thoughts momentarily tilted back towards more fretting.

The gas pumps faded into past tense and the tunnel of light thrown from my headlamp drew me fully into the run. A few sparse, swirling snowflakes reminded how much I enjoy being out in the elements freed from the confines of the four walls of buildings and vehicles. I couldn’t see through the dark windows of passing cars, but I knew that I wouldn’t trade places with those inside.

A grin grew as my legs involuntarily picked up the pace and propelled me along the otherwise deserted sidewalks. My heart beat happily in my chest and embraced the task at hand. Christmas lights cheered my efforts, blinking and twinkling in support.

I climbed a brief but steep section of hill that left town and its ambient light behind me. Traffic dwindled and the sound of brakes and motors was replaced by footfalls and steady breathing. With each progressive step, the stresses of the day seeped further and further away.

In the few moments that my mind wandered from my run it found its way only to the expectation of once again seeing the wonder of Christmas through Lily’s eyes and watching Piper Bea take in the spectacle for the very first time…and the grin grew.

Having rounded the final corner and reached the driveway, I stepped up onto our front porch and remembered a later line in that same Lungfish song: “The world vanished in a gentle breeze.


Bills? What bills?



The Free Dictionary offers three definitions for the word bib.  I find two of the definitions to be of particular interest.  The first reads as a piece of cloth or plastic secured under the chin and worn, especially by small children, to protect the clothing while eating and I'm certain this is the most common use of the word.

In the world of runners, however, the word brings to mind a slightly different image.  To return to the Free Dictionary for a moment, a runner's bib is a piece of cloth or plastic bearing a number, usually worn over the chest or back, identifying a competitor in a race. Most every bib I've ever worn at a running event is made of paper, but let's not split hairs.  The rest of the definition is apt.

I'm not much of a packrat and even if I were, changes in places of residence, failed relationships and the overall evolution of living situations has led to many misplaced, discarded or forgotten mementos.  Now and then I do lament not having a bib stashed away to confirm my having taken part in such-and-such a race.  I wouldn't mind being able to pull out the number from the wonderful 10-miler in Ocean City, Maryland or the one from the midnight 5K in Central Park at the stroke of a new year.  Might be nice to still have the bibs from the few (very few) races in which I placed in my age group or even the number from my very first Red Rose 5 Mile run in which my in-shape-but-not-in-running-shape body learned a lesson in humility and finished in a tortoise-like 44 minutes and 44 seconds, a time that even my poor memory can't seem to forget.

In the end, however, they're really all just little squares of paper with random numbers printed on them.  I've got the memories and that's certainly what's important.  I've held onto a few and will make a point to do so in the future when it really does seem important, but I expect the collection will never be very sprawling.

Our other bib collection, however, has grown to epic proportions. Between Lily and Piper Bea, we've amassed enough bibs to present a fresh one at every meal the girls partake in for the next 6 months.  Much like ironic t-shirts, there are bibs in every gift shop and clothing store emblazoned with clever graphics and text.  Some of them, I must admit, are absolute treasures.  Others are, well, simply pieces of cloth or plastic secured under the chin and worn to protect clothing while eating.  Still, I have some favorites.

Here, then, is a very condensed look at some of the standout Lutz family bibs:

a.  "If you think I'm cute you should see my Dad!" is one of the bibs we've had the longest and despite the fact that Lily and mealtimes have put a hurting on it, it remains in circulation for obvious reasons.

b.  The Wasatch Wobble is a Montrail sponsored race held in Red Butte Gardens above Salt Lake City each summer to coincide with the large Outdoor Retailer trade show.  The course changes each year and I'm not sure how precisely the distance is ever determined, but it works out roughly to a 5K and usually involves some quirky plot twists along the way.  Last year, to launch Montrail's Mountain Masochists (see my earlier posting), the twisted folks at Montrail basically ran us straight up a mountain for a mile-and-a-half before dumping us straight down the other side in a hamstring burning suffer fest.  Asking a flatlander to start at an altitude of 5,000+ feet and tackle 900+ feet of gain in just over a mile is indeed masochistic.

c.  Piper Bea's "Tuesday" bib is just one in a collection of 7, I suppose intended for a far more organized household than our own.  The idea of using the Monday bib, depositing it in the laundry basket at the end of the day and then laying out the Tuesday bib for tomorrow is an adorable and preposterous concept.

d.  I was handed number 79 before the start of this year's New York City Beard and Moustache Championships, never suspecting that it would lead to my crowning as the winner of the Sideburns Category and the runner-up for the overall winner.  AND, I certainly didn't suspect that it would lead to my face appearing in The New York TimesThe Onion, Time Out NY or prompt a visit to Live With Regis and Kelly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doJyLysW4_A).  Sometimes life just works out that way.

e.  The Amos K. Herr 5K Honey Run is a local favorite.  I've probably participated in this run more than any other organized event.  I believe I've run my fastest time at this event and, more memorably, this was the first race that I ran with Lily and then, just this past summer, it was the first event that Lindsay and I ran in together.  With any luck, August 2010 will find all four of us crossing the line as a family of four.

f.  This cute little bib was knitted for us by a friend as a maternity gift.  It's such a wonderful, thoughtful gift and we cherish it.  Because of the handful that Lily proved to be in the high chair, it unfortunately didn't provide the coverage necessary to be a functional day-to-day bib.  Somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that it would make a great, though airy, loin cloth.  If I'm not mistaken (and I might be), it deserves some of the credit for Lily having a big sister.

Having said too much, I believe it's time to put the bibs away.


alan and jack.

One of the things I love about reading and, unfortunately, often dislike about my own writing is that inevitably I stumble upon words of others that better "say" what I intended to express with my own mediocre scribbling.  I wonder if really talented writers are ever able to experience the joy that their words cause in those that read them.  Sadly, I'll never know, unless I'm so lucky as to cross paths with and receive an honest answer to the question from a qualifying talent.

Wishing I'd "said" it myself, I've decided to share a couple of my favorite "running" passages.

Over the first stile, without trying I was still nearly in the lead but one; and if any of you want tips about running, never be in a hurry, and never let any of the other runners know you are in a hurry even if you are.  You can always overtake on long-distance running without letting the others smell hurry in you; and when you've used your craft like this to reach the two or three up front then you can do a big dash later that puts everybody else's hurry in the shade because you've not had to make haste up till then.  I ran to a steady jog-trot rhythm, and soon it was so smooth that I forgot I was running, and I was hardly able to know that my legs were lifting and falling and my arms going in and out, and my lungs didn't seem to be working at all, an my heart stopped that wicked thumping I always get at the beginning of a run.  Because you see I never race at all; I just run, and somehow I know that if I forget I'm racing and only jog-trot along until I don't know I'm running I always win the race.  For when my eyes recognize that I'm getting near the end of the course--by seeing a stile or cottage corner--I put on a spurt, and such a fast big spurt it is because I feel that up till then I haven't been running and that I've used up no energy at all.  And I've been able to do this because I've been thinking; and I wonder if I'm the only one in the running business with this system of forgetting that I'm running because I'm too busy thinking; and I wonder if any of the other lads are on the same lark, though I know for a fact that they aren't.  Off like the wind along the cobbled footpath and rutted lane, smoother than the flat grass track on the field and better for thinking because it's not too smooth, and I was in my element that afternoon knowing that nobody could beat me at running but intending to beat myself before the day was over.
-Alan Sillitoe in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

This is just one of a number of lengthy monologues about running that can be found in Alan Sillitoe's short story. As I haven't taken part in competitive running (and by that I mean a race in which I stood some chance of winning the race) since I was in 5th grade, I can't actually put myself in the sneaks of Sillitoe's protagonist, but the words still strike a chord.  If I'm out for a run and spot someone off in the distance running in the same direction that I am, I find that I involuntarily quicken my pace and go after them.  Not possessing the skills that our hero above does, I've experienced some pretty ugly "bonks" because of this competitive streak. Maybe I need to make "never be in a hurry" my mantra.  I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of Tony Richardson's 1962 film adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and see if I can make the mantra stick.

Then suddenly everything was just like jazz; it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail don the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it's impossible to fall of mountains you fool and with a yodel of my own I suddenly got up and began running down the  mountain after him doing exactly the same huge leaps, the same fantastic runs and jumps, and in the space of about five minutes I'd guess Japhy Ryder and I (in my sneakers, driving the heels of my sneakers right into the sad, rock, boulders, I didn't care any more I was so anxious to get down out of there) came leaping and yelling like mountain goats or I'd say like Chinese lunatics of a thousand years ago, enough to raise the hair on the head of meditating Morley by the lake, who said he'd looked up and saw us flying down and couldn't believe it.  In fact with one of my greatest leaps and loudest screams of joy I cam flying right down to the edge of the lake and dug my sneakered heels into the mud and just fell sitting there, glad.
-Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums

I get the sense that I should've been "over" Kerouac a long time ago, that growing older was supposed to cast a more adult light on his work and resign my initial reaction to it as the idealism of youth.  Well, I recently reread The Dharma Bums and portions of it still resonate all these years later and I'm glad they do.  I love the images that are built in my head, based on my own experiences, while reading the paragraph above.  Old Jack was certainly not a runner, but I would bet that anyone who has run trails can read his words and immediately appreciate the joy of his not falling off the mountain.  Every time I hit a downhill stretch, I remember that scene from The Dharma Bums and let myself fly down the trail.