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November 29, 2005

Candy Land for Marathoners

The board game Candy Land was recently inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, taking its place alongside such distinguished members as Mr Potato Head, Silly Putty, and the Etch-A-Sketch.

The game also has a prominent place in our family, especially for our 4-year-old daughter, who will solicit a game with anyone who happens to be around. On my days off from work, it has become a morning ritual: wake up early to run, come home and have breakfast, then play Candy Land with her before I have the luxury of showering.

So after playing what must have been my 100th game of Candy Land with her this week, I decided to investigate further to find out just what the game was instilling in us.

Candy Land was the creation of Eleanor Abbott, a polio victim who devised the game in the 1940s for children who were recuperating from the disease to entertain themselves while passing long hours in bed. The Milton Bradley Company first marketed her idea in 1949, and the game has been in continuous production ever since.

Modern versions of the game contain a back-story inside the game box which explains the players’ task. King Kandy and his castle have mysteriously disappeared, hidden away in the sky by the evil Lord Licorice.

Optimistic Gramma Nutt believes that only a special boy or girl can find the castle, and Princess Lolly describes the potential heroes as “courageous, clever, and ever so determined."

Sounds simple enough. So...what lessons can this game teach a marathon runner and his young princess?

Lesson 1: Despite the perceived element of competition, the journey to Candy Castle is an individual one. Only the color-coded cards determine how far players move on each turn, and one player’s movements can never affect another player’s.

In other words, run your own race. It’s the oldest advice a marathoner can hear.

A player who draws a character cards is automatically sent to that character’s square on the board. Early in the game, any character is a boon, but as you get further along the trail, the character cards can also pull you backwards.

So if you draw Queen Frostine early, your chances of winning are pretty good – unless you also draw Plumpy on one of your next turns. (It’s interesting that the rotund character closest to the start is called Plumpy, while those nearest the finish - Princess Lolly and Queen Frostine - definitely have a runner’s build. In a marathon field, they would probably be similarly positioned.)

This second lesson for marathoners is similar to the first. Don’t try to hang with runners who go off the front. Chances are, they’ll come back to you in the later miles if you keep a steady pace.

Lessons 3-5 involve three spots on the board where a player loses a turn. The first one, at about the halfway point, is “Stuck on a Gooey Gumdrop” – not unlike getting a stomach cramp after drinking too much at an aid station. It’s a minor annoyance, but early enough that you can regroup and hit your pace again soon.

The next pitfall, “Lost in Lollipop Woods,” comes about two-thirds of the way into the course. It’s like developing blisters before the 20-mile point, and is frequently problematic. You’re forced to slow down as your competitors catch up or pull away from you. It’s emotionally damaging, but not debilitating enough to prevent you from continuing along the path to the finish.

The final setback, “Stuck in Molasses Swamp,” is like getting muscle spasms in the final 5K. At this point, you are so close to the finish, you’re almost certain to make it there, but at least a few minutes slower than your expected time.

Eventually somebody will reach the Candy Castle and be declared the game’s winner. But for preschoolers, winning isn’t the real goal of the game.

Since the game is entirely dependent on the draw of the cards, kids learn that they have the same odds as grownups to win the game. The ability to compete on equal footing gives my daughter a sense of importance that she doesn’t demonstrate when playing other games (like checkers, for instance) where she recognizes she is overmatched.

Candy Land is one of the few games that kids can play by themselves, without needing assistance to count numbers on dice, and without developing a strategy. They learn lessons like taking turns, identifying colors, and following rules.

All these factors lead to Lesson 6: For marathon runners, winning is secondary. We participate in the sport for what it teaches us about ourselves.

Princess Lolly's descriptions of the ideal children - courageous and determined - are also required of marathoners in order to succeed. Many novice runners don’t know their own capacity for these two elements until they pin on a bib number and embark on the 26.2-mile test.

Finally, Lesson 7: Just like in running, there’s no certainty about the Candy Land game. I don’t rig our contests so that my daughter wins, because I want her to learn how to handle disappointment graciously in addition to winning joyfully.

In a marathon, you never know what the miles will bring. Some days will be great. Others will be tremendously disappointing. Either way, you have to process it and move on to the next game, the next race, the next stage of life.

So, it turns out there are some things to be learned by this game after all.

Very soon my daughter will grow out of playing Candy Land, and she’ll move on to other challenges. She’ll navigate other Peppermint Stick Forests, and scale other Gumdrop Mountains as she journeys towards her castles in the sky.

When she does, perhaps she’ll retain some memory of the mornings spent on our living room floor, and carry some of the lessons of Candy Land along with her. And hopefully they’ll serve her well at some point along the way.

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November 25, 2005

Sanctuary

Thursday morning found me lacing up my shoes in the morning darkness, then heading out the door for a long trail run.

What better day than Thanksgiving to ponder the place I run most frequently: Garland Ranch Regional Park, a 4500-acre open space of oak forests, maple and redwood canyons, with rugged trails stretching up and down the ridge lines of Carmel Valley, and access points less than two miles from my house.

I've spent more hours and run more miles than I can count on these trails over the past ten years, yet instead of growing complacent, I seem to appreciate it more and more each year.
Thursday morning stared cool (low 40s) for our standards, with wisps of fog drifting down the valley and dancing around the trees and hilltops throughout the park. I set out at a cautious pace to prevent aggravating some nagging injuries, but once I tiptoed my way across the rocks to ford the Carmel River, my body settled into a comfortable rhythm - a little slower on the hills, a little faster on the level portions - like the forest was coaxing me to leave my concerns behind and just run.

Before long, I didn't give my soreness a second thought, and was able to take in the surroundings. Climbing up and down single track switchbacks, I spotted animals through the tree cover, and heard birds calling and taking flight overhead. The soft crunch of pine nedles and fallen leaves was the perfect accompaniment to the rustling of smaller critters in the brush, or swaying of branches high above.

Two hours into the run, I still hadn't seen another soul. It was like this 4500 acres were my own sanctuary, available for me anytime I choose. Finally, reluctantly, it was time to head for home, but I reassured myself that it wouldn't be long before I returned.

I'm thankful for crisp autumn mornings, and for long rugged trail runs that leave me physically drained but emotionally content. I'm thankful that a place where I can escape from the complexities around me to find peace of body and mind lies within running distance of my front door.

But most of all, I'm thankful for the ability and the opportunity to experience mornings such as these.

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November 24, 2005

Giving Thanks

Mike and I have a new Monterey Herald article today called "Giving Thanks," which recognizes some of the countless people who assist runners at races. The link is here. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

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November 22, 2005

Pilgrim Cookies

I planned on running about 10 miles this morning, but it seemed awfully dark when the alarm went off, so my 10-miler became an easy 6-miler instead. On the plus side, I think I ran far enough to eat a couple of these pilgrim cookies that my wife made to take to our daughter's pre-school class. Cute, huh?

I'm sorry this blog is starting to sound frighteningly like Chocolate Runner - I'll try to trend away from that in the future, I promise.

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November 21, 2005

Help a City, Be Like Bono

Last night's 60 Minutes featured two stories that grabbed my attention: one on the current condition of New Orleans, another on the incomparable rock band U2.

The segment on New Orleans painted a grim portrait of destruction and decay, eventually questioning the logic of rebuilding the city on its current site, or commencing a gradual relocation.

12 weeks after Hurricane Katrina, almost 3/4 of the residences are either completely destroyed or uninhabitable. Such a tiny percentage of the population has returned that businesses are not sustainable. And according to one expert, the Gulf of Mexico could potentially turn the city into an island - a concavity supported only by artificial levees - within the next 80 years.

The other story about Bono and U2 didn't actually reveal anything I didn't already know. For the record, I've been crazy about this band since I was in grade school - I even wrote an article comparing them to my running career once.

What always strikes me is the passion and conviction that Bono displays in taking on causes that others say are impossible. One of his major goals is to end world hunger, a task of such monumental difficulty that Bono himself has called it "this generation's moon shot."

Honestly, I don't think that's accurate - the moon shot was probably easier. After all, it didn't rely on widespread geopolitical cooperation. But Bono believes that such lofty ambitions are firmly within our reach, once enough people care enough to be called to action and contribute in some manner.

So where am I going with this? Curiously, not too long ago I received an e-mail announcement for the 2006 Mardi Gras Marathon, reporting that the event would carry on as scheduled in February 2006.

To say the least, I was shocked. I can't fathom how they could stage an event in the city, not to mention finding 26 miles of roads that aren't damaged or contaminated. Assuming people travel from out of town, where will they stay? The complications seem overwhelming.

Yet at this point, they plan to carry on. It would be the first major athletic event held in the city since Katrina.

No, I'm not planning to run it. But the marathon web site describes a way that anyone can contribute: by making a donation to the race, with all proceeds going to the rehabilitation of New Orleans.

With a donation of $50 or more, you'll receive a race t-shirt with the slogan "Come Back to the Big Easy."

Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Should they be attempting to stage a major race in the wake of such tragedy? These aren't questions I'm qualified to answer.

But I like it when a running event has a positive fiscal impact on a community, and I like it when this normally self-centered activity we do embraces an outreach cause.

Even if the race is terrible, putting on the event can send a symbolic message - that people of the area are soldiering on, persevering despite enormous hardships ahead of them. Who better to represent this sentiment than marathon runners?

Not all of us can travel to the Gulf Coast to participate in the race or assist the rebuilding effort. But if enough people feel called to action, their contributions can collectively sustain the relief effort for a short period of time, and have a lasting influence on a community in need.

So check out the race website, and consider supporting their efforts. And spread the word.

I know one thing: if Bono were a runner, he would definitely do it. And he wouldn't think it's impossible to rebuild the Big Easy.

After all, restoring a historic city shouldn't be as tough as a moon shot.

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Charity Runners

Over the weekend I've done more posting on Anne's site than on my own. We've been knocking around the issue of charity runners at marathons, in particular the group that got busted for cheating at this year's Marine Corps Marathon. Check out the story here, and Anne's post on it here.

More from me later.

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November 18, 2005

Hunny Pot Cake

I've never really been much of a cake eater. When it comes to baked goodies, I've always been more partial to cookies and brownies.

Which makes it ironic that I would marry one of the best cake-bakers in Monterey County.

Unbeknownst to me when I married her, my wife harbored a latent talent for making adorable birthday cakes, that only came to light after the birth of our children. Over the past seven years she has made cakes shaped like ladybugs, trains, Oski the Bear (a long story I don't want to tell right now), dump trucks, dogs, and gumball machines.

The cakes taste fantastic, also. So whenever one of our kids' birthdays draws near, the whole family looks forward to what kind of cake Mommy is creating.

We all check to verify that there will be enough cake for all of us to have leftovers the next day. It's one of our family's traditions: when someone has a birthday, we all get leftover cake for breakfast the morning after the party. This is a tradition we don't mess around with.

So although I'm not a big cake-eater, I never pass up a chance to have a piece of my kid's birthday cake.

Which brings me to this morning. Sitting on our kitchen counter right now is a birthday cake, shaped like a hunny pot for a Winnie the Pooh themed party tonight.

Today is my baby daughter's second birthday, so I had to make sure I dragged my butt out the door to go running this morning. Like most runners, I feel much better about indulging myself if I've already put in some mileage earlier in the day.

So I did six fairly easy miles on the road, and thought a little bit about my daughter, how special (and crazy and sleepless and frustrating) the past two years have been with her around, and about what a blessing she's been to our family.

But mostly, I was thinking about having some of that cake. And hoping there would be enough leftovers for tomorrow.

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November 17, 2005

Strikeout

I meant to run today. Really, I did. But it seemed like the fates conspired against me.

Strike 1: I just couldn't get myself out of bed this morning. I can usually string several days of getting up early in a row, but occasionally I simply need the extra hour of sleep more than I need a short run. Besides, I can always run at luchtime, right?...

Strike 2: "Code Triage" was called at about 11:00AM at the hospital where I work. It's essentially a disaster-preparedness drill, with all involved parties required to attend a debriefing, which of course extended into the lunch hour. Thankfully, it ended early enough that I still had time to squeeze in a short run...

Strike 3: the 64-oz water bottle that I left in my exercise bag wasn't properly sealed, and had been leaking into my running clothes for the past 4 hours. Everything I intended to wear was drenched, and I had no spare clothes.

Deciding against putting on soaking wet clothes to run in the breezy autumn afternoon, I called myself out for the day. Which means that since my promising run on Tuesday, I've run a grand total of 4 miles.

But tomorrow is another opportunity to do better. As long as I don't do anything stupid.

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November 16, 2005

Iron Envy

Yesterday's small dose of mojo came at a price - today one of my hamstrings was so sore that I could barely hobble through 4 flat miles.

So I might as well talk about the Ironman.

I watched the Ironman Triathlon World Championships over the weekend, and as always, came away with mixed emotions.

First, let me say for the record that I LOVE the Ironman. Just adore it. It's probably the most demanding athletic event in the world. It's been on my athletic "wish list" for several years now, the same way the Boston Marathon used to be before I finally qualified and ran it.

But NBC's coverage of the event drives me bonkers. Here are my main gripes:

1. Al Trautwig's completely over the top dramatization of every aspect of the event. Sure, his delivery is great for the stories of athletes who have overcome hardship to compete, but seeing athletes moving through the transition area doesn't always have to be presented like Greek theater.

Thankfully, for portions of the telecast NBC utilized the services of Phil Liggett, otherwise known as the voice of the Tour De France. They don't make commentators any better than Liggett. He's knowedgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic about the events he covers. He could be working the National Barbecue Cookoff and make you excited about it. His style is dramatically different than Trautwig's, and very refreshing, so - nice move, NBC.

2. Last year NBC made a big deal about saying all the competitors were just a number (like a bib number) until they crossed the finish line in Kona, at which point they became Ironmen. The point was that no matter who you are, you have to deal with the same circumstances as all the others to get to the starting line and compete at Kona.

Which would be a nice thought...if only it were true. However, if you happen to be a former professional football player, television reporter or Baywatch star, there's a slot with your name on it at the starting line, just for the asking.

I understand that this helped increase exposure for the sport in the early days. But I don't get why they still use this gimmick. Is there anyone out there that really doesn't know what the Ironman is, or not respect how demanding it is to finish? It seems like they have an established audience now, and aren't reliant on celebrities to increase their viewership.

3. The overriding sentiment throughout the broadcast is usually something along the lines of, "These are everyday people who had the ambition and drive to take on the Ironman." In other words, if you had the same talent and drive, you could be there with them.

And yet, triathlon's crown jewel excludes vast numbers of people. To start with, it's extremely cost-prohiitive, when you consider the expenses of equipment and race entries beforehand, and travel to Hawaii (usually with family) for the event. It's even expensive to particpate in the lottery proces each year, which is the primary means of entry for many of the athletes.

Qualifying slots for the race are brutally difficult to obtain, and only the top fraction of athletes gain entry this way. I know that the event can't beome much larger than its current size, but wouldn't a qualifying system based on age-graded times, like the Boston Marathon uses, make much more sense? It seems that too many gifted competitors are being left at home, especially in light of the whole celebrity-entry issue I mentioned above.

So in addition to being courageous and determined, you also have to be rich and/or very lucky to get into the Ironman Hawaii. Somehow that doesn't get mentioned too often.

Yet despite all these things, I watch that darn show year after year. And I always go through a similar progression, from cynicism, to envy, then admiration, then inspiration, and finally come away marveling at what a fantastic event it is.

There's just no way to see those athletes taking on an ultimate challenge, struggling to continue as the day stretches into night, and not feel completely inspired to challenge yourself in a similar manner.

Watching the Ironman always reaffirms my appreciation for the ability of the human body to persevere and overcome tremendous hardships - a lesson many endurance runners eventually discover and cherish.

So congratulations to everyone who participated. I was thankful for the opportunity to watch you on TV last weekend. And hopefully someday many years from now, I'll be there competing alongside you.

That way, I won't have to watch it on NBC.

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November 15, 2005

The View From the Front

This morning our training group did our regular Tuesday run, a hilly 13-mile loop through two adjacent valleys in Steinbeck Country, an area the late author famously named "The Pastures of Heaven" (pictured).

Our two fastest runners were absent, and the rest are in tapering mode in preparation for the California International Marathon in 2 weeks. They would be taking it much easier than usual today.

Which meant I could probably keep up with them.

Normally I can hang with this group, but lately my speed has been lacking, as I've explained before. I was happy to be able to stay in the pack as we strung out across the major climb from miles 4.5 to 6.

Down the backside of the hill, I let my legs turn over more quickly, and slowly pulled ahead of the others. I figured it would only be a few seconds before they caught up to my pace once we were on level ground again.

Then the weirdness started. One mile later, I was still running by myself. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw everyone in the distance, but not gaining any ground. Knowing they were sure to catch me soon, I kept my stride comfortable and didn't overexert myself trying to hold them off.

Another mile went by, and another, and I realized that I was going off the front. The group had strung out now, and only one other runner was in sight behind me.

Just to clarify: any one of those guys could have reeled me in. They just decided not to.

So I assumed the mentality of a frontrunner.

I've pulled away from this group at other times, usually when I'm in much better shape or when the others are plodding through very high mileage weeks. But it hasn't happened since last spring, and the feeling was unusual at first.

Running off the front changes your perspective, and instills a sense of confidence, regardless of what speed you are running. If you pull away from a pack of 10-minute milers by running 9:30s, the feeling is probably the same as I felt stringing together 6:30s this morning to lead the pack home.

Although the pace started hurting with about 5K to go, my determination to hold off the pack propelled me through the final miles. When I inevitably began to tighten up in the last mile, I was far enough ahead that I could cruise to the finish and still feel great about my overall effort.

When I clicked the stopwatch, I found that I had run about 4 minutes faster than last time. And at that moment, I felt a trace of my long-lost mojo coming back.

Sure, everyone else was taking it easy this morning. At this point, I'm taking every moment of encouragement I can find to eventually regain my groove, and today's run was just what I needed.

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November 11, 2005

Bad Juju

Karen’s post about race shirt rules reminded me of an article I wrote for our running club about how marathon runners should avoid bad juju on race day.

Juju is a term that is adopted from African culture and has various meanings.

It is not exactly superstition. It can be a charm or object with magical powers, or any ritual act that influences the forces of nature for better or worse.

As it relates to running, juju is a specific behavior that really shouldn’t have any affect on race performance, but inevitably does.

Acts that directly affect physical performance, such as inadequate training, improper race preparation or foolish strategy, do not count. For example, wearing a new pair of shoes on race day or eating something unfamiliar before the race isn’t bad juju, it’s just stupidity.

Experienced marathon runners are careful to avoid bad juju before and during their event. The following are the most common examples:

Rule #1: predicting your own race time is bad juju. This is the “pride goeth before the fall” postulate of juju. On race day, there are too many variables that can conspire against you, to assume that they will all come down in your favor.

Nevertheless, runners of all speeds frequently break this rule. As soon as you state “I will run in x amount of time”, you are almost guaranteeing yourself a finish time that is much slower.

Try this experiment: ask a veteran marathoner how fast they are going to run an upcoming race. If they know anything about juju, they will hem and haw and be more evasive than Mark McGwire in giving you a specific answer.

To avoid bad juju, never forecast a specific time. It’s much safer to say, “I’m hoping to run x time,” or “My goal is to run it in x time”; statements that don’t tempt fate nearly as much.

Rule #2: wearing the shirt of the exact race you are running is bad juju. This falls under the “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” category of juju. It’s never acceptable to wear the t-shirt for the race until after you have actually completed it.

Just because you show up at the marathon expo and pick up your packet doesn’t guarantee that you’ll finish the race the next morning. Unforeseen injuries, stomach cramps, blisters, or a myriad of other problems can quickly lead to a DNF, and there you’ll be at the side of the road, advertising the event that just kicked your butt.

It would be like the losing team deciding to go ahead and wear those “Super Bowl Champs” hats that are printed in advance for each team, but only given to the winners. How ridiculous would that look? That’s the risk you run by wearing the race shirt during the actual event.

(By the way, what happens to all of those unusable hats and t-shirts? Hopefully they are sent to impoverished villages that don’t have TV or Internet access. There must be a whole society somewhere in a remote corner of the world that thinks the Buffalo Bills won four Super Bowls).

Rule #3: wearing the shirt from one race while racing in another is bad juju. The worst mistake a runner can make is underestimating or disrespecting any given course.

In order to race well, you have to focus all of your energy on the challenge at hand, and not look ahead to the next race, or dwell excessively on a past event.

Wearing the shirt from another marathon demonstrates conflicting interests and loyalties.

It’s the equivalent of going out to a special dinner with your girlfriend, while wearing a sweater that was an anniversary gift from a previous lover, and having your current girlfriend recognize it. This is the “how can you be committed to me when you’re thinking of another girl?” tenet of juju.

The only exception to this rule that may be considered is if the race distance of the shirt you are wearing is longer than the distance you are currently racing. Some people do this to psych themselves up during rough stretches, saying, “If I finished that race, I can finish this one.”

However, this is a pretty unreliable argument, as I have passed many people wearing Ironman singlets or Western States 100-mile race shirts who looked desperately exhausted while racing at the Big Sur Marathon.

Rule #4: Telling your finish line posse that you’ll be done at a certain time is bad juju. This is a more severe variant of Rule #1. It could be called contagious juju because it affects not just you, but everyone who is awaiting your arrival at the finish line as well.

Imagine the worry and embarrassment inflicted on your spouse and friends when they are looking for you, but you are nowhere to be found. Progressively bad thoughts cross their minds for every minute you are over your predicted arrival time.

When you finally arrive, instead of finding people who are sympathetic to your bad day, you’ll be facing an angry or stressed-out mob. Instead of being a hero, you are merely late, and a bearer of bad juju.

To avoid this plight, give your loved ones an “approximate window” of arrival times.

These are the most obvious cases of bad juju in action, but I’m really just scratching the surface with these examples. While there is no rational explanation for these phenomena, I have had enough experiences and observations to believe in the power of juju.

As race day approaches, don’t ruin all of your hard training with foolhardy behaviors that can tip the scales of karma against you. After all, running a marathon is hard enough on its own.

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November 10, 2005

The Voice of Reason

Knowing that it will be a long process to develop my "speed legs" again, I figured I might as well get started at the track today to see how I felt, and establish a point of comparison for the future.

I decided on my marathon-training staple, 1600m repeats.

When I'm in fighting shape, I can click off six or seven of these in the 5:50s or better. For today's workout, I gave myself a guideline that whenever I topped 6 minutes for a repeat, that would be the end of the workout.

1st 1600m: 5:56, at approximately 85% of max effort. So far, so good, although I have a feeling the other shoe is about to drop, so to speak.

2nd 1600M: 5:58, at 90-95% effort. A very quick transition from "comfortable fast pace" to "My gosh, this is harder than I remember" by the final lap.

3rd 1600m: 5:59, but only after an all-out race effort during the last lap to make up for drifting gradually off the pace during the first three laps.

A very old woman is bundled up in a jacket and hood, walking laps very slowly in the outside lane. Our paths merge as I'm walking to recover from my 3rd repeat. I'm panting, moaning, gasping for breath, and weaving across the lanes. Which leads to the following exchange:

Old lady: "It looks like you've done enough already."

Me: "Um...yeah, probably."

But as I slowly jog into the recovery lap, I think maybe I have a bit left in me. So I try another 1600, which becomes...

800m: 3:05. There was no way I was going to break 6 minutes, and I was completely out of gas. Workout over.

2 very humble cool down laps later, I give a wave of acknowledgement to the old woman, and head for my car.

She was right. I should have stopped sooner.

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November 9, 2005

November Rain

I woke this morning to the sound of rain on my roof, which was good news for two reasons:

First, I love running in the rain. It rains so infrequently around here that the occasional showers don't become depressing. And in the character-building sense, I feel like mileage run in the rain deserves extra credit in some regard.

The main reason I got excited is that this weekend several of my running partners are joining me on a 2-hr trail run here in Carmel Valley. It's an annual event to celebrate the autumn season.

Towards the end of the run, the trail leads down to the Carmel River, and the runners have to cross without benefit of a bridge. The river is about 40' wide at this time of year, and when the water level is low in the summer, its fairly easy to hop from stone to stone and stay dry all the way across.

During the winter, the rocks will be completely submerged, and the river becomes impassable unless you wade in up to waist or chest level.

I like the crossing best during the transitional period of autumn, when the tops of the rocks peek out over the current, and you're never sure if the next crossing will be your last for the season.

That's when I invite my friends to run the trails with me. Occasionally some of them topple into the water, but the river is still shallow and the failed attempts are received with more applause then laughter.

The run instantly becomes more memorable when several people get their feet wet. But this year, the water level seems lower than usual, so I've been hoping for some rain to make the crossing more of a challenge.

And this morning it happened. So I went outside and did my 5 miles, and looked forward to celebrating the season again this weekend at the Carmel River crossing.

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November 8, 2005

Not quite ready

Despite significant soreness in my legs, I was planning on getting out of bed this morning to run. But a couple things happened along the way...

Last night, I sat down with The Rule of Four, a novel I had been pecking at for the last couple of weeks. Before long, I was two-thirds of the way into the book, and found myself sucked into the vortex of the story, unwilling to set the book down again as the hours grew late.

The problem is, it's not a real fast read. The plot is convoluted and complicated, drawing heavily from obscure 15th century literature, intertwined with modern-day academia. Cross The DaVinci Code with Ivy League esoteria, and you get the idea.

And yet, it's a great book. And I'm a sucker for great books. So I didn't get to sleep until the book was finished, a few hours past my usual drop-dead bedtime.

So when the alarm went off this morning, and I was sleep deprived, and it was dark outside, and I could still feel the pain in my legs from Sunday's race just by stretching my legs...well, I didn't have a chance, really.

I actually don't feel too bad about it. Unfortunately, it's a pretty rare book that hooks me and carries me along into the night at the expense of sleep and running. When those moments occur, they are definitely worth missing a morning's run to savor them.

But tomorrow, I'll be back on the road.

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November 6, 2005

Lessons Learned

Today was the Big Sur Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay. I certainly wasn't expecting greatness after a summer of ultramarathon training. A few of the lessons I learned...

Training for several months on steep trails averaging 12-15 minutes per mile apparently doesn't prepare you well for running sub-7 minute miles on the road.

Running for several hours below 75% max HR has no residual benefit when your heart rate hits 90% max during mile 2 of a road race.

When you're accustomed to taking walking breaks every 15-20 minutes, an hour and a half seems like an awfully long time to run without stopping.

Just because you used to be fast doesn't mean you're always fast.

Road racing hurts a lot more than long distance trail running. Or, maybe it's the same total amount of pain, just intensified to compress into a smaller time frame.

It's frustrating running a race several minutes slower than in previous years, but sometimes your finishing time isn't the most important thing about a race.

And finally...

I really enjoy long distance road racing. Today's race reminded me of what great rewards can be achieved at these events, and inspired me to train hard this winter to make my body more accustomed to the demands of racing.

So for now, it's back to a gradual mileage buildup over the next 3 months, and then hit the marathon circuit with a vengeance in the spring.

I can run fast again. I just have to earn it.

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November 3, 2005

Central California Seasons

I've mentioned earlier that the Monterey Peninsula has a microclimate unlike most of the rest of the country. It's generally mild all year long, with moderate temperature fluctuations, and without the dramatic weather events that characterize other areas.

We're also a bit out of rotation. During what everyone else calls summertime, we experience foggy mornings, overcast skies, and high temperatures in the 60s. This is the season when tourists who come to Carmel thinking they will soak up the rays realize they should have brought jeans and a sweatshirt with them instead.

September and October are our summer months, when coastal fog recedes early in the morning, and the sun has all day to bring our temperatures into the 80s. This is also when everyone returns to school and the tourist season ends, leaving the most beautiful days for those of us lucky enough to live here.

By November, a chill gradually fills the air as the days grow shorter. Carmel Valley vineyards take on red and yellow hues, while leaves slowly turn colors and break from the trees through December. It's not uncommon for fall colors to still be visible at Christmas.

January and February are the coldest months, with morning temps in the 20s. It's also our only rainy season of the year, with slow, steady downpours sometimes lasting several days at a time. Fortunately, it's a short-lived winter (if it can truly be called a winter by Midwest or East Coast standards), as March usually brings signs of warmth and renewal.

By March, blossoms are seen on trees and flowers, wildflowers bloom, and mornings are warm again. It's an unpredictable time, though, as cold mornings and rainy days still assert themselves from time to time.

Usually by May, the rains have stopped and we we have a few nice weeks of typical springtime before the grey fog of summer rolls in.

All things considered, it's an ideal running climate almost all year long.

I'm explaining all this as a preface to the manner in which I gauge the seasons: by the clothes I need to wear when heading out the door for a run. In our unorthodox climate, it's a much simpler way to mark the passage of time than looking at the calendar.

I'll detail this further in another post. But for now, just consider it the beginning of pants season.

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November 2, 2005

Back in the Saddle (Sort Of)

Against my better judgment, last week I decided to sign up for this weekend’s Big Sur Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay. Normally, this is right up my alley – a long distance road race through spectacular scenery, testing the limits of my fitness.

This year, however, will be different. I’m not nearly in good enough shape to attempt this race.

My two primary races of the year were August’s Pikes Peak Marathon, which took me 6 hours to complete, and October’s Firetrails 50, my first 50-miler, which took almost 9 hours. Training for these races entailed a lot of long, steady distance running, but almost no speed work.

As a result, my body is very accustomed to a slow pace, multiple walking breaks, and negotiating steep hills over treacherous terrain. On the other hand, my fast twitch muscle fibers have long since gone into hibernation.

So last week, I tried to wake them up.

On Thursday I showed up for my first track workout in months, and ran 5x1000m. On Saturday, I did a 4-mile tempo run as close to my lactate threshold as I could tolerate.

Both workouts felt miserable. But as I was laboring through them, I had a similar thought each day: I missed this.

There’s an entirely different dynamic to running when you are pushing the limits of your engine, struggling to keep pace with fellow runners when your natural inclination is to slow down. Compared to training for ultras, it’s really a whole different sport.

Although I love the ultras, I’m not quite ready to give up the road racing yet.

Sunday’s race will definitely be difficult and painful – both in a physical sense (dealing with the shortness of breath in my chest and lactic acid in my legs) and an emotional one (watching countless runners that I beat last year pass me by).

But despite the difficulty, I already know what my overriding sentiment for the day will be: I missed this.

Then I’ll spend the winter on the roads, building up to the high mileage weeks, and come back ready to roar in the springtime.

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