Short News, Literary Agency Edition

War of the Pamphlets. To promote the publication of a new, two-volume reprint collection of Revolutionary era pamphlets, the Library of America has posted an interview with editor Gordon S. Wood. Self-published luminaries Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and John Dickinson make appearances, as does Thomas Paine:

He was our first public intellectual, and unlike the other pamphleteers, he lived solely by his pen. As such, he aimed at a much broader audience than did the others, one encompassing the middling class of artisans, tradesmen, and tavern-goers. Unlike the elite writers who bolstered their arguments with legal citations and references to the whole of Western culture going back to the ancients, Paine did not expect his readers to know more than the Bible and the English Book of Common Prayer.

Run Your Own Race. I love running as a metaphor for writing. There are sprints and long slogs, uphills that burn your quads and downhills that kill your knees, and most of all, the work that no one sees, the runs you put in just to show up. Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the same analogy, arguing that every writer runs at his or her own pace:

I mentioned New York, which had 50,564 finishers in 2014, which made it the biggest marathon ever. Average “important” marathons usually have 35-40,000 finishers.

That’s a lot of runners, most of whom have no hope of crossing the finish line first.

Note I didn’t mention “winning,” because runners are very clear about the varied definitions of winning. Winning for a non-elite athlete might be a personal best.

Affordable Smith. Remember back in 2010 when I complained that inexpensive editions of Clark Ashton Smith’s work were largely unavailable to casual readers interested in learning more about him? Well, after years of financial troubles and improprieties — which finally ended with the company being bought by another publisher — Night Shade Books has begun releasing its five-volume collection of Smith’s work in paperback and for Kindle. Volume One is already out, with the next to appear in January.

You Got Me Running Going Out of My Mind

I finished Sunday’s Fairfield Half Marathon in under two hours, shaving more than four minutes off my previous time in 2011 when I ran the morning after Mrs. Kuhl’s big birthday party with a case of the Irish flu.

Never say never but I think that will be the last time I run the course. This year I made sure to train for the hills but I realize now it’s not the elevation (pdf) — it’s the heat. There’s just no way you’re going to run a half in late June and not become dehydrated. I GUed every two miles and gulped water at almost every station but I was a wreck in the last 5K (one old lady hosing the runners by the curb told her friends, “This guy looks like he needs some water,” before blasting me). If you ran the same course in October it would be a completely different race. Although some people can clearly handle it: a friend of mine finished in 1:37, an inconceivable time for me. Then again I have another friend who didn’t finish at all. People were dropping left and right; I saw EMTs assisting a girl flat on her back before mile 4 and I heard that at the end the medical tent was so full, organizers were discouraging people from seeking treatment unless they were in serious distress. I implemented my usual recovery, which is to grab as much water as I can carry and go soak in the ice-bath of Long Island Sound. I swear that sensation makes the entire race worth it.

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to cheer, clap, hose, wave signs (“Worst Parade Ever!”), hand out water, and sweep up our garbage. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We could not run without the volunteers.

Of my four half-marathons, this was my second-best time — and only two minutes longer than my PR. I’m already looking forward to shifting into 5K mode and my first zombie race is next month.

All I need is a week off and a bottle of Advil.


Paul Revere commemoration, North End, Boston.

Mrs. Kuhl’s attendance was required at a conference in Boston, so the boys and I tagged along to experience Patriots’ Day, enjoy the museums, and give what support we could to the marathoners.

We arrived Sunday afternoon and parked in the Copley Square area. The boys like visiting the original Newbury Comics, and afterwards we walked over to the New Balance store on Boylston where I bought a pair of 990s. There’s a special kind of voltaic excitement generated by a big race and though neither of us was registered, it was energizing to be around the runners in their blue-and-yellow windbreakers, collecting their bibs and convention swag in their yellow Adidas bags. We walked past the finishing gate packed with people taking their pictures underneath, past the empty stands, to the store directly across from Copley Square. Runners were buying last-minute necessities — gloves were in hot demand. We wished anyone and everyone good luck. Afterwards we walked through the square, past the white tents and office trailers to the car.

All the boys wanted from the trip was to parkour Boston — which, it must be admitted, is a very parkourable city. So Monday morning the boys and I parkoured or walked, as the case may be, over to the Old North Church to see the reenactment of Paul Revere’s ride to Concord.

Paul Revere reenactment, Old North Church, Boston.

After lunch at Quincy Market, we parkoured down the Greenway to the Children’s Museum.

Hardcore parkour, Greenway, Boston.

It was right after we had gone back to the hotel for a swim when the Twitters alerted me to the bombings. I left the traceurs with Mrs. Kuhl, strapped on my serious sneakers, and black-smoked over to photograph what I could.

I love Boston; it’s so much more navigable and compact than, say, New York. I can blink my eyes and go from the Aquarium to the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth, almost two miles away. Runners in their foil wraps streamed down Marlborough, away from the square. None looked especially hurt or traumatized.

Commonwealth and Dartmouth was cordoned off but I backtracked to Clarendon and then through judicious use of the Public Alley, which parallels Newbury, and a private alley, which goes perpendicular, arrived at Newbury and Dartmouth, deserted except for police, a Fox 25 van, and just a few passersby. I spoke to a man coming out of his girlfriend’s apartment building on the corner. He said they had heard an explosion which shook the walls. They were running to the window when the second occurred, within seconds of the first. They stood and watched as people shuttled survivors, some with their limbs gone, along Boylston in the wheelchairs intended for exhausted runners. He said there was a lot of blood. He was clearly very shaken by what he had seen.

The cops manning the barricades had no information, so again I backtracked to Berkeley, where I merged with the general marathon bustle. The runners’ bags were laid out, ready to be retrieved.

Berkeley Street between Boylston and St. James, Boston.

From there I made my way south, west, and north to arrive in Copley Square itself, behind the barricades and next to Trinity Church. It was empty except for a few police and EMTs. I toyed with the idea of continuing to Boylston to photograph the damage. But I reasoned there wasn’t much to see beyond carnage and gore, and it would be distracting to investigators if they had to chase after some jackass who had, somewhat unintentionally, penetrated a hole in their perimeter. I never know if I’m taking too many pictures or not enough. So I walked south on Dartmouth, slipping outside the barricade, to Stuart.

Copley Square, Boston.

I hung around the area, asking questions, but nobody knew anything. At one point my phone service died; people said police had turned off cell service to prevent remote detonations, but as we later found out, it was because the systems crashed from overuse. I went to a hotel and charged my phone while riding their wifi. I returned to Dartmouth and Stuart. Emergency vehicles continued to zoom around. State police arrived. Police in camouflage and tactical gear jogged along the street. A finisher, silver cape clutched at her throat, discussed her experience.

I don’t wear headphones when I run, she was saying. I like to be alone and just listen to my body.

Runners. We are all prophets in the desert of the mile.

Eventually I headed back to my hotel, through the banana peels and foil tumbleweeds and garbage of a marathon’s end zone, past cops armed with rifles on street corners, past at least a dozen Mass State Police assembled in front of the State House.

Massachusetts State House, Boston.

So what does this mean for road racing? For big races like marathons? Bystanders segregated from the course? Security in and out of start/finishing areas, photo IDs, no more garbage cans? Do you know how much trash runners create?

Three dead, over a hundred injured, at least one double amputee — I don’t want to diminish the pain and sacrifices endured by the survivors. But at the same time, I don’t want to give the attackers too much credit. Without listing the reasons why and thereby granting column inches to the latest issue of Inspire, this could have been much worse. The culprits clearly know nothing about road races, and that same ignorance will probably hoist them on their own petard (the FBI has already received thousands of photos from the most photographed fifty yards of the entire course). The explosives appear to be fairly primitive — IEDs, or as a maritime historian might call them, deck sweepers — made with easily procurable components. I suspect that when they catch them, the bad guys will turn out to be one or two men, Faisal Shahzad types: that is, low-level jokers (Shahzad himself, who badly wanted to join jihad, was rebuffed by al-Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan because they thought he was an American spy; they finally gave him basic bomb-making training just to get rid of him). I mean, who thinks they’re going to provoke mass casualties by attacking marathoners? They already have the constitutional fortitude to run over 26 miles. Can you imagine? Half-crazed with euphoria and agony, heads full of endorphins and testosterone, if the police hadn’t ended the race, the wounded would have dragged themselves across the finish; meanwhile the runners halted at Kenmore, even after being told there was a chance of more bombs, still would have proceeded straight into the maelstrom. Look at the video. The explosion occurs and the runners don’t stop.

Because they’re tougher than you.

Put another way: this is no conspiracy orchestrated by some Saudi Fu Manchu in a Pakistani compound. Foreign or domestic, Islamist or lone wolf, the person or people who did this believed it would be bigger than it was. It was an unsophisticated plan using simple methods by outliers looking for attention, for whatever reason. The devil’s best friend, someone who offended all — this was done by losers. Losers hate winners. And anyone who crosses a marathon finish, regardless of their time, is sure as hell tolerant of pain and surprises.

Which is why the 2013 Boston Marathon shouldn’t affect road races. There is no insulator conceived that can dampen the electricity coursing through runners’ veins. Don’t fret about the garbage cans, throw away your bag checks. We’ll show up anyway, bibs safety-pinned to our shirts and singlets, ready to bend and flow over the landscape. Keep your hassles. Mrs. Kuhl is already planning to run Boston for charity in 2014. I’m registered for a few races this year; after Monday, I intend to add more. A bunch more.

Good luck, Boston. Love you. Stay safe. Blue and yellow.

London: kick ass this weekend.

Altered State

For a mile or so they would be aware of their running. Then, in time, they would become lost in the monotonous stride of their pace, running, but each somewhere else in his mind, seeing cool mountain pastures or palm trees or thinking of nothing at all, running and hearing themselves sucking the heated air in and letting it out, but not feeling the agony of running. They had learned to do this in the past months, to detach themselves and be inside or outside the running man but not part of him for long minutes at a time.

— Elmore Leonard, Forty Lashes Less One.

Running Up That Hill

“One Running Shoe in the Grave” screams a Wall Street Journal headline:

In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

I won’t be throwing my New Balances on the bonfire anytime soon. “8 miles per hour” is an awkward phrase — runners gauge their pace in minutes per mile — concocted to mask how few people this second study applies to.

Eight miles an hour is a 7:30 pace, which is a good clip for most. To give you an idea of how few runners that is: In this year’s New Haven 20K (12.4 miles), only 379 of 2,373 finishers ran a 7:30 or faster. That’s 16 percent. In the 5K (3.1 miles), 410 of 3,548 finishers ran 7:30 or faster. That’s 12 percent. The remaining 84-88 percent of those racers, meanwhile, can expect to reap “significant mortality benefits.”

There’s not even an impairment here — the study simply showed no benefit for anyone running at sustained high speeds.

From this rather dull news peg the story then slides into the horrors of extreme sports like Ironman racing, which should shock the same folks who don’t realize pro boxers and NFL players sometimes experience brain trauma. Yes, elite (generally regarded as the top 10 percent of the field) and/or professional runners and triathletes often sustain injuries like “cardiac abnormalities,” increased risk of stroke, and a host of orthopedic ailments. That’s why it’s no country for old men. But the hebephrenic headline and tone of the article are misplaced, as are the “See? I told you so!” opinions of many of the commenters extolling the virtues of an inactive lifestyle while they rub the pizza grease on their bellies.

I’ll keep running up that hill, and if you run, so should you.

Fly Swatting

For reasons near and dear, I enjoyed this narrative of a dad entering a standup-paddling race with his six-year-old:

As the starting horn blasts, we hang near the back of the pack to stay clear of the really gung-ho racers. But soon I realize most of these folks are pretty new to SUP. Like a cheetah in a herd of wildebeest, I’m off. My inner competitor is awakened.

I start stroking. And we start passing. I decide then and there I’m not going to let anyone pass us. Nobody.

“Shit. The guy with the kid just passed us,” I hear a pair of twenty-something guys laughing. “That’s not good.”

Others weren’t as chill about it. In particular, a fit brunette in her early 40s on a tricked-out SUP whines as we pass.

“That’s not fair. His kid is paddling too.”

She’s serious.

Oh really? I think to myself. Wanna borrow my 45 pounds of extra baggage?

I haven’t done any SUP racing (yet) but I can totally imagine this same scenario playing out in my life. The woman is healthy and wealthy and yet somehow believes she’s being disadvantaged.

Over the last few years I’ve been enrolling in fewer road races even though I’ve been running just as much or — especially in 2009, when I was training for the NYC Marathon — more so than ever. I think that as my running has become more internalized, more ingrained and inscribed — it’s not something I do, it’s something I can’t not do, if that makes any sense — I’ve begun to prize the solitude of it above all else. Just experiencing the mile I’m in is what I want. A few months back I blocked an account on Twitter — the feed of some big racing group — because its manic aphorisms were being retweeted into my timeline, stuff like, “If you didn’t come to win, go home,” and I was like, Oh fuck you. Block. I’ve encountered similar stuff in real life too, from people like the woman above to race officials — most often from race officials, in fact, who are usually school coaches too small-minded to divorce the act of running from competition. The only people who need to worry about winning are elites, and just because the majority of runners aren’t elites doesn’t mean we should cower at home in shame. You compete against yourself. That’s the beauty of running.

Last night Mrs. Kuhl and I watched Fight Club, which I hadn’t seen since its 1999 theatrical release. And just as before, I was enthralled by a film so existentialist it might as well beat you into the basement concrete with a copy of Existentialism and Human Emotions. Yet if you click over to Wikipedia and read the various critical interpretations of the movie, you’ll find nary a word about Sartre or Camus or inauthentic living. The closest you’ll find is a reference to Tyler Durden being a “Nietzschean Ubermensch” — which he is, although it’s clear the writer means it only in the physical sense of Brad Pitt’s six-pack.

Is there any of Nietzsche’s concepts so misunderstood as the Ubermensch? Maybe will-to-power. The Ubermensch has been distorted into a villain, into a Greek god, genetically sculpted yet callous to anything but his own wants. Whereas what Nietzsche intended was neither somatic nor carnal; rather the Ubermensch is that person who transcends the pettiness of others, who rises above social conformity to embrace his passions ideals, whether they’re running or paddling or veterinarian medicine or whatever. To exist and enjoy existence, like a father and son on a paddleboard, free of the moral judgments of those who desire to reduce you. “I see you wearied by poisonous flies,” spoke Zarathustra, “Before you they feel petty, and their baseness glows and smolders against you in invisible revenge… Flee, my friend, into your solitude and to where raw and bracing air flows. It is not your lot to be a swatter of flies.”