Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



Stairway to Almost Heaven

top of steps for web

I’ve been rehabbing my latest running setback (adductor tendonitis, a particularly uncomfortable malady) by biking.  But in search of something that will approximate running, I’ve discovered I can run steps without aggravating my injury.  The best steps in my neighborhood are at the cemetery.

The view from the bottom can be intimidating.

stairs for web

But once you get to the top and turn around, it’s worth the trip.

Almost Heaven, West Virginia.  Even more true in the cemetery.

Run slow to run fast.

Runner athlete running on forest trail.

If you’re a runner, and you want to shave a few minutes off your 5k time, slow down. I know this is counterintuitive, but if you want to run fast on race day, slow down on your training runs. Take it easy. And those long runs you’ve been putting in on Sunday mornings don’t do you any good either. Sleep in. Save your energy. Then on race day, you’ll be fresh and run faster than you ever have before.

Train smart, not hard.

No, not really. I’m lying.

If you want to run fast, you have to train fast. Not everyday, but you’re going to have to run fartleks or intervals or speedwork at the track. And yes, you still have to get up early on weekends and put in the extra miles. That’s the truth, kiddos. It’s hard work to run fast. It’s no walk in the park. More like torture in 90 degree heat, lungs about to burst. Or slogging through the rain or fighting the wind. Aching legs that keep you up at night. Is it worth it all just to run fast?  That’s for you decide.

But if you want to be good at something, you have to train hard. There ain’t no shortcuts. And you have to want it pretty bad.

Photo credit: iStock Photography

Writing Tip: Tinker

I’ve been writing stories and novels for many years and have used various techniques for moving through the process of cranking out 80,000 words. To do something like that, you can’t afford to get stuck very often.  Yet it happens, particularly when you’re in the beginnings of a new scene that hasn’t quite found its rhythm yet.

This morning I sat down to work on my story about Heather and did what I always do. I read a few paragraphs – maybe even a few pages – of what I wrote yesterday, just to get back into the flow of the scene. As I did, I started tinkering with word choices and the phrasing of sentences. Nothing really creative, just basic editing. Then I reached the end of what I had written previously.

I wish I could tell you that new sentences sprang forth and before I knew it, I had knocked out another 1,000 words.


So I went back and tinkered some more.

Here’s the thing. As you tinker, things are happening that you don’t realize. Your writing skills are improving, but more importantly, thoughts are forming in your subconscious. You’re working harder and more effectively than you realize. After two or three sessions of tinkering, the next new sentence will appear. Followed by another. Or a new twist to the story may present itself. And maybe an hour later, you’ve added 500 words.

Tinkering is better than staring at the screen, doing nothing, letting the hopelessness take over. It can be a very produtive exercise.

It works for writing. It works for painting. It works for running. It probably works for whatever you’re dong.

So tinker, my friends. Go forth and tinker.


First Place

Of the top five finishers in the 5K this morning, one had run 8 miles before the race. Another had run 13 miles.

I was doing well to get out of bed and drive to the race just a half mile from my house.

The winners’ times were fast, these young men in their man-buns and the sleek bodies of youth, who are not even bothering with water as they stroll easily along the sidewalk, not even out of breath, because they finished 6 minutes before I did and have already cooled down, as I labor to the finish line, feeling like a runner, but knowing that I’m just another old guy, old being anyone over 25, because anyone over 25 is just a pretender and not even an afterthought to those who run in the fast lane of youth.

So I won my age group.  First place, the little trophy cup says. So what. Who cares.

I care a little. Because I made myself get out of bed. I made myself run those 4 miles on Wednesday when I didn’t really feel like it.  And the speed work on Monday, which is ridiculous and serves no purpose other than to satisfy my ego. And the 7 1/2 miles last Sunday that I don’t have to do.  But there’s something gratifying about being out on the road in the early morning by yourself, and wanting to quit after a couple of miles while you still feel good, but enjoying the morning so much that you just keep pushing until your legs become weak and a little wobbly but you have to push on because you just can’t quit because you have to push on.  Because you have to push on.

And because of all of that, there’s a little cup that says First Place that means nothing to anybody but me.

More miles to go.

shoes 1 for web

Looks like my running days are over.

I first said that probably twenty-five years ago. I was struggling to finish the Charleston Distance Run, a grueling 15-miler. I had run the race several times before and done fairly well for an amateur runner. Not this time. At about the 12 mile mark I was so beat, I questioned why I was putting myself through it. Being as competitive (prideful?) as I am, I didn’t want to run if I couldn’t be constantly improving.

Looks like my running days are over.

I haven’t run the Distance Run since, but I shelved my pride and kept running.

Then about 15 years ago my orthopedist said I had a condition called spondylolisthesis. Bad back. He told me to quit running.

Looks like my running days are over, for real.

I started sleeping in on Saturdays, but I wanted to stay in shape.  I found an old video from the 80s and started doing step aerobics. Then Tae Bo with Billy Blanks.  I did this for maybe three years. But I missed running.

I started out slowly. Not even a mile on my first run. Kept adding a little bit each time. I was soon running about three miles every other day. I wasn’t running like I used to, but I was running. And no back pain.

So of course I kept adding miles. Then hills. Then speed work. I ran a few races and actually won my age division a couple of times, which, really, is nothing to brag about. At my age, just showing up for the race almost assures you of a trophy. And if I can manage to knock out the guy with the walker ahead of me, then I win.

So I kept running. Then came the knee pain. I tried running through it but it only got worse. I laid off for a couple of days. When I tried again, the pain was almost unbearable. I did what you’re supposed to do. Ice and pain relievers. Nothing helped.

Looks like my running days are over.

I went back to step aerobics. After a couple of weeks, I tried the treadmill. The pain was still there.

More aerobics.

After about four weeks, I tried the treadmill again.  No pain for a quarter mile.

More aerobics. Treadmill. Half mile.

Aerobics. Treadmill. One mile.

And then I was out on the road again.

That was a year ago. Yesterday I did about four miles of hills and speed work.

I’m sure some other ailments will pop up. I’ve had hamstring problems. Foot problems. But I take it easy for a few days and then I’m back at it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from running:

The body is very resilient.  Sure, there may be a time when my running days are really over. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

Be patient. Be positive. Be persistent.


Gliding over the miles.

Along the road, on the shoulder.
Her strides are even
Her pace is steady
She is young, in her prime,
and I envy her energy.

Along the road, on the shoulder.
Her hair bundled together
bounces from one side to the other.
Of course she catches my eye.
She’s a confident athlete.

Along the road, on the shoulder.
She dodges a pothole with a stutter step
and then she’s running again.
She’s so relaxed
And makes it all seem effortless.

Along the road, on the shoulder.
She’s a runner, not a jogger.
She’ll get taunts and catcalls
But she’ll keep running.
Because it’s all about the running.

My prime is a memory as I run
along the road, on the shoulder.
yet there are those days when my
strides are long
and my pace is quick
and time is a myth
and I run as she runs
gliding over the miles
as if
I could run

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

A young woman sits at a table.

A young woman
sits at a table.
She is not alone.

A young man
sits at a table.
He is not alone.

He glances her way.
Again and again.
She notices.

She smiles.
He smiles.
There it is.

Her friends don’t see.
His friends don’t see.
But they see.

Do I know you?
Have I seen you?
Maybe running?

She learns his name.
He learns hers.
And that is all.

A young woman runs
along the river.
She is alone.

A young man runs
along the river.
He is alone.

He sees her.
His pace is quicker.
His strides are longer.

He is almost beside her.
He’s not sure.
He glances her way.

She hears his steps.
She doesn’t see.
But somehow she knows.

She answers the question
which he never spoke.
Yes, it’s me.

A young man runs.
A young woman runs.
They are not alone.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird


Sunday Morning Run for web

I tried to run on my birthday last Thursday, but it just never felt right from the beginning. About halfway through my four-mile run, my legs pretty much quit working. Not a very good birthday present to myself. NBD. Live to run another day.

This morning, I’m up at 7:00. Outside, the air is crisp, quiet, and shrouded in fog. That’s why I love running on Sunday mornings. It’s so peaceful.

City Park is about a mile away but it’s all uphill. If I make it, I’m rewarded with a scene like  the one posted above, which I took last year. I haven’t made the run since then, but in the last few weeks, I’ve started to increase my mileage because, well, I just don’t know any better.

I grab my phone, my knife, put on my cap, do a few stretches and I’m out the door.  The knife?  Last year I heard that there were bobcats in City Park. Overgrown housecats, but with really big claws. Usually they’re afraid of humans, but if you do a quick internet search you’ll find videos of bobcats attacking people. And, the story goes, someone saw a bobcat kill a deer in City Park last year. Suburban legend, probabably, but I carry a fold-up knife with me when I run through City Park. Not that it would do much good if a bobcat jumped on my back. But still.

Usually my legs are really tired for the first hundred yards or so, but not this morning.  They felt good. I went up the hills like they were nothing.  At one point, a group of five deer stood and watched. Look at him go, one of them said. Pretty good for an old guy, another added.  That’s right, I answered. Not out loud, of course. That would be weird.

I got to the summit and felt great.  I took a photo.  Not the one above, but one just like it, only better. Why did I not post the photo I took today?  It needs a little Photoshop and I don’t really feel like it right now. You’ll understand why, later.

I start down through the park and pass a bicylclist struggling up the hill.  I say hello but he ignores me. Too much pain, I reckon, for pleasantries. For me, it’s a nice easy rhythm, cool shade in the forest, all downhill.  I love Sunday morning runs.

Once out of the hills, I try to find my pace for the flats. I push it, because, as I’ve already established, I don’t know any better.

I’m running along Kanawha Terrace now. Usually on Sunday morning, there’s little traffic and I run in the street.  Sometimes along the double yellow line, just because I can. But cars keep coming, which annoys me. I have to stay on the sidewalk.

Then I call my wife, who had texted me earlier, and I talk to her about our plans for the afternoon.  Again, NBD.  We do this all the time.  But there’s more traffic.  And then a train.  Now I’m really annoyed, because I can’t have a conversation and my rhythm is out of whack and I’m losing the joy of running.  I’ve passed Walnut Street and continue up the Terrace toward Spruce Street.  I’m in the section of highway where the road and sidewalk narrows.  I’ve got to go, I say.

Then my toe hits the rise in the concrete.  My arms go out in front of me and for a moment, I feel like Superman. I’m almost horizontal to the ground and I think NBD, because I’m an athlete and this has happened before and in another two steps my feet will be under me and everyone who is witnessing this display will marvel at my sense of balance and conclude that I really am an athlete.  So amazing!

Oh, no.

Here comes the sidewalk. I hit first with the heels of my hand, then dip to my right and hit the ground with my shoulder and roll.  Toward the highway. When I stop, my phone case is a couple feet from me, but my phone is skidding toward that double yellow line.

I waste no time getting to my feet. My hands are red, but not much road rash. My shoulder is stinging, but again, no blood.  Just a little trickle on the side of my knee.

I look up and see two cars coming toward me so I step back on the sidewalk and wait for them to run over my phone.  Somehow they miss and somehow, the screen is intact.

Are you ok? It was a guy who had seen my fall and pulled over to check on me.

I’m fine, I say, hoping that maybe he was attributing my quick recovery to my athletic prowess.  That’s probably not what he was thinking.

And then I keep going.  Like nothing happened. About a half mile later I realize I don’t have my knife, so I backtrack and find it where I fell. It was then I figured out that the real cause of my accident was the warp in the gravitational field which was brought about by the many previous alien encounters on Kanawha Terrace.  It certainly couldn’t have been my duck-footed running style. Aliens are the only logical explanation.

I ran five more miles after the fall. Yeah, that’s how tough I am. As I ran, I felt a tightening and a dull pain around my ribs.  Of course I kept running.  And now, as I sit here and type, I’m hoping the Ibuprofin kicks in. We went out to eat with my Dad this afternoon and he kept telling hurt rib stories that made me laugh.  You really don’t want to laugh when your ribs hurt.

So what lessons have I learned?

  1. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re running. (duh)
  2. Pick up your feet. (really?  that’s a lesson you have to learn?)
  3. Watch for tell-tale signs of warped gravitational fields.

All in all, NBD.

Tuesday: speed work at the track. Because I really don’t know any better.


oh, no

mountains for web

in all good stories, something goes wrong.

that’s not to say it doesn’t get fixed in the end.

but if you want to tell a good story, something has to go wrong.

so if I tell you how beautiful the morning was, and how good i felt when I left for my run at 7:45…

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