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January 31, 2006

Basket Case

“Do you have the time- to listen to me whine- about nothing and everything all at once?” -
Green Day, ‘Basket Case’

Tuesdays are probably my most important workout of the week – our 13-mile loop at tempo pace is ideal marathon preparation, and the most accurate assessment of my fitness level from week to week.

This morning, I completely blew it off.

I thought I was coming around from the weekend’s illness, but yesterday I could barely drag myself through an easy 4-miler, and I felt completely drained for the rest of the day.

Up until this week, my training for Napa had been coming along pretty well: 2 weeks of 60 miles, 3 consecutive 70-mile weeks, with a long run of at least 18 each week. Although I started several weeks behind schedule in my mileage buildup, I was starting to think I could have a pretty good race at Napa.

But now I feel like I’ve veered off the road and into a ditch.

Even assuming that I bounce back to health soon, the rest of this week will be difficult from a training standpoint. We’re traveling up to the mountains for our annual “One weekend of fun in the snow and then come back home where it’s warm” vacation.

My wife’s grandmother lives in a town called Big Trees, which is on the same road that goes to the Bear Valley ski resort in the Sierra Nevadas. The house sits at about 5000’, and it’s only a 20-minute drive to get to the base of the resort at 7000’.

It’s the ideal setting for logging some quality mileage at elevation. Unfortunately, I’ve never really taken advantage of the setting. It’s sometimes a point of contention between my wife and I when I try to do too much running in the mountains – and she has some valid points.

It’s not really a vacation for her if she still has to get up early to get the kids fed, dressed and packed up for their day in the snow, while I’m outside running. And our kids seem to need more supervision than usual when we’re up there, because the setting is relatively unfamiliar to them, and not as “child-secure” as what we’re accustomed to at home.

So it’s very likely that out of 4 days, I’ll only run once or twice, for a short duration. Which would be OK if I were coming off a hard week of training. Instead, I’ll be coming off a week of doing almost nothing. By the time we’re home I’ll have spent almost two weeks off, with a marathon only 4 weeks away.

All of which makes me very nervous.

Logically, I know I’m probably overreacting. There’s a good chance that I can maintain my current fitness level for another week or so with minimal training. My self-confidence has taken a shot, but it will only take a couple of strong workouts in early February to get that back. Perhaps the days off will be a blessing in disguise, allowing my body to rest and repair before another strong training period next month.

Or maybe I will have spent too much time in the ditch to be able to fully recover in a short period of time.

Between now and then, I’ll have no way of knowing. And that kind of uncertainty just kills me.

For today, there's not much else to say. Thanks for indulging my whining. The next post will be more positive, I hope.


January 29, 2006

Life on the Farm

I’m still sick, although not with the stomach virus my kids caught. Somehow it mutated into a head congestion/sore throat/ear ache thing for me, which seems strange. I’m not sure if these germs all came in on the same vector, or if our house is like some Grand Central Station for all manner of infectious transportation.

At any rate, I haven’t run for two days out of the last three, which doesn’t leave you much to write about when you are supposed to be blogging about running. So I’m taking a page from the playbooks of Johnny Carson and Larry King, and turning the blog over to a guest host. (Don't worry - it isn't anyone nearly as annoying as Joan Rivers or Nancy Grace.)

My Aunt Joanie sent me this e-mail a while ago after reading one of my articles (and it’s been so long ago, I don’t remember which article it was). It was such a fantastic story that I saved it and asked her if I could post it sometime.

To set the stage a little: My aunt and uncle have lived in a town called Park Falls, in the Northwoods of Wisconsin nearly all their lives. They don’t make towns any smaller, or life any more rustic than what you find in Park Falls.

My aunt grew up working on her family’s farm, and that’s where this story starts…

Dear Donny (yes, I’m still allowed to use the –ny instead of the more mature –ald for your name),

Finally got to read your article. Very interesting. Funny. And closer to home than I'd thought possible. Allow me - a reformed runner - my fifteen minutes of rebuttal…

I learned to dislike running early on. Running was always very closely associated with disrupted sleep and disaster. I refer to the 3am jail-breaks of insomniac bovines.

How my father (God rest his soul) always knew when these bovine delinquents were executing their great escapes I'll never know...but he sure did. Nothing rousts you out of a deep sleep faster than the words, "Cows are out!" Even now, when I hear that phrase used in the slang for a zipper undone, I flinch.

Why they always waited until the wee hours of the morning - usually the morning of a big test - just proves their demonic nature. 'Dumb' animals? My great aunt Fanny! These creatures knew exactly what they were doing. And the most benevolent of them, the sweetest, gentlest, most liquid eyed, soft mooing pets by day quickly turned into cunning, calculating vixens by night. They were wily beyond belief, knowing just where the fence was the weakest.

The worst culprits were the best milk producers. They just knew that even the wrath of my mother (God rest her soul) would not be enough to reduce them to hamburger for churning up her garden.

Perhaps they were only bored. I'm sure that the sight of us, their 'masters' running around in mismatched boots, nightclothes (we had a vain hope of returning to bed and sleep) vocalizing in subdued screams (mustn't wake the neighbors three forties away!) brought some excitement to their mundane existence.

And run we did. A lot. It was track and field all through the night.

Sprints: racing to head off a 1500-lb moonlight crazed bovine is not for the faint of heart – assuming you can beat them to the fence, they can’t exactly stop on a dime.

Hurdles (high and low): inevitably their escape route would take them among common farm yard items...plows, tractors, wagons, rocks, other cows and cow pies. Knowing when to jump and when to bob & weave was an acquired art - and I had the bruises to prove it.

And, of course the marathon. Whoever said that cattle weren't distance runners either never saw a Western cattle drive movie or never chased a determined cow. The Energizer Bunny couldn’t keep up with them.

And just when you had all but one rounded up and headed in the right direction...BAM! Like a siren call, the lone straggler (or maybe ringleader) would let out a bellow & the whole herd would be off again. And let me tell you, “Stop!”, “Come back!”, “Here bossy, bossy, bossy”, and even “You stupid cow!” have absolutely no affect on a cow bent on escape.

IF you were lucky, they'd have pity on you and decide that cavorting in the rising sun just wasn't as much fun as it was in the moooonlight & it was time to go to the barn & rest.

The only saving grace was, no matter how bleary-eyed you were when you showed up in school, it was all explained by, 'Cows got out'.

Enjoy your run. I've had mine.

Be Well,
Aunt Joanie


January 27, 2006

Down with the Sickness

I didn’t run today, but at least I have a good story…

10:00 PM: Tuck myself into bed. Alarm set for 5:25. Plan to meet my friend at 5:45 for an easy 7-miler. Anticipating 7 hours of sleep – it’s the perfect plan.

10:15: 2-year-old baby starts crying and coughing. My wife’s maternal instincts kick in – she says, “That doesn’t sound right – it might be a long night.”

10:25: Eyelids getting very heavy, drifting off to sleep…

10:26: Loud cry from 2-year-old’s room. We go in just as she is vomiting in her crib. Wife changes the sheets and does laundry, I give 2-year-old a shower, brush her teeth, and warm her up in new pajamas under our bed covers.

10:30-11:00: 2-year-old vomits twice more while sitting on our bed, each time requiring change of clothes and tooth brushing

11:20: 4-year-old daughter starts crying in bed, begins vomiting just as I arrive in her bedroom.

11:22: Wife does laundry and prepares sofa bed in living room, I give 4-year-old shower, brush her teeth, and help put on warm pajamas.

11:40: 4-year-old and I stake out living room sofa, wife and daughter stay in our bedroom.

12:30 AM: 2-year-old settles down, wife puts her back in crib to sleep.

1:00, 1:45, 2:45: 4-year-old vomits, brushes teeth, uses mouthwash, returns to sofa each time.

3:25: 4-year-old is asleep. I actually look at my watch and think, Well, if I can get 2 hours of sleep, maybe I can still run… Daughter and I fall asleep.

5:25: Alarm goes off, 4-year-old is already awake and complaining of stomach ache.

5:45: Walk outside in pajamas to meet my friend and tell him I’m not running. Call work and tell them I’m not working. Lay back down with 4-year-old.

7:00: 4-year old wakes up, still feeling sick.

7:30: 2-year-old wakes up, feeling better.

7:30-12:00: Kids spend rest of morning on sofa watching cartoons. Mom and Dad try to rest in bedroom, to limited success. On the bright side, there’s been no vomiting for almost 9 hours.

Hopefully the rest day will do us all some good, and tomorrow will be better.


January 26, 2006

Rabbits and Hounds (and One Major Fox)

One major reason why speed work is much better when done with a group: the thrill of the chase.

Several of us assembled for a workout of 1-mile intervals this morning. Sometimes we do this workout at the track, other times on a measured road course. This morning was on the road, which is very slightly uphill in one direction. I had planned on doing 8 intervals.

All of us run at various speeds, so we typically start these intervals by giving the slower runners a head start – they are the rabbits. Gradually, the faster runners begin their intervals, with the fastest guys starting last and trying to chase down the group ahead. The fast runners are the hounds.

Whether predator or prey, the chase makes everybody faster. And it usually keeps all of us humble. I may be some people’s hound, but I’m also a rabbit for several others. And sometimes the rabbits surprise us and never get caught, so the hounds don’t feel so smug. Either way, the workout seems to go much better when we do these staggered starts.

At least, it went better until we finished the sixth interval, at which point I started hearing the following:

“That’s enough for me – I’m done”

“I think I’m finished, too”

“I’ve got to go easy on this injury – I should probably stop.”

And so on, until I was the only one still wanting to run. So I labored through two more intervals. I wasn’t a rabbit, and I wasn’t a hound. I was just a really tired dude trying to keep his legs spinning through two more dang miles. It was amazing how much more difficult the final two intervals (especially the last one uphill) were compared to the first six.

Maybe I would have locked up even if the group had stuck around, but I think I would have done better if I had just one rabbit to chase, or one hound to evade. At any rate, I was grateful to be done.

When I arrived at the employee gym to shower before work, a friend of mine was on the treadmill, and we tossed around our usual banter for several minutes

Then Beyonce’s “Check On It” video started playing…and we both fell silent. For about three and a half minutes. I think “mesmerized” would be a good word to describe us.

I have a Master’s degree, he’s an MD, and this is the enlightened exchange we had once we found our voices again after the video ended:

Him: Whoa.

Me: Oh my goodness.

Him: Amazing.

And that seemed like a good time for me to step into the shower, and get on with the rest of my day.


January 24, 2006


Well, it only took one comment to figure out the other story I had in mind when looking at Saturday’s picture. Good eye, Rob – yes, everybody is drafting me. And it’s nothing new.

As marathoners go, I’m a pretty large fellow. I’m a shade over 6’2”, and typically range between 185 and 195 pounds, although I’ve seen the far side of 200 more than a few times in recent years. When I’m really in fighting shape I’ll get down to 180, but I can rarely stay at that weight for more than a few days after the event.

Considering that world-class marathon runners average a full foot shorter and 75 pounds less than me, it’s safe to say I wasn’t genetically selected for this particular event.

Yet I’m relatively fast for my size, and that poses some unique problems for me in many races.

While there are certainly taller and heavier runners in any given marathon field, most of them are further back in the pack than I tend to lurk. The vast majority of runners who run at my speed are significantly shorter and smaller than me.

So it’s natural that I constantly find people maneuvering to ride in my slipstream during a long race. I can’t say that I blame them: after all, if there were a 6’6”, 250-lb guy running at my speed, I’d ride his slipstream as long as possible.

The photo from my previous post reminded me of one year at the Big Sur Marathon (BSIM) that was particularly windy.

I should stipulate that headwinds at Big Sur are to be expected every year. Prevailing winds along our coastline almost always blow from north to south, and the BSIM course runs directly north up Highway 1. Veteran runners accept that wind is a standard part of the BSIM course, just another obstacle to overcome along with all the hills.

(Let’s just say there’s a reason that the high mark of the course is called Hurricane Point, and that the local training clinic dubs itself the “Into the Wind” club. That should give you the idea.)

During one race in the late 1990s. the headwinds were especially fierce. Sustained breezes were in the 15-20 mph range, with gusts up to 30-40 mph.

The first four miles of the course are sheltered by redwood trees, and I drifted among the packs of runners while establishing my desired pace. By time we emerged from the trees in mile 5, the packs were smaller, but still interspersed across the road.

Gradually over the next few miles, I saw fewer and fewer people around me. It didn’t strike me as odd until about mile 8, when I realized that I hadn’t heard or seen anybody around me for what seemed like 10 minutes.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw the biggest phalanx of runners I’ve ever seen in one pack in a marathon, all triangulated behind me so that I was at the front point. I must have been pulling 20 runners in my slipstream.

I decided to play a bit. I swerved to one side of the road, and the entire pack swerved with me. I came back across, and they followed suit. I faked left for a few steps, then galloped to the right to see if I could throw anyone off.

I probably ran about 27 miles during that marathon, factoring in all of the lateral movement I did during those miles.

Eventually I decided the easiest solution was to just slow down, and let the more anxious runners move past me to take their turn at the front. That seemed to do the trick, and I was even able to tuck into the pack for about a mile or so before the climb up Hurricane Point blew us all apart.

For some reason, I remember that day a lot, and seeing the picture from Saturday reminded me that things haven’t changed much. Over the years I’ve made peace with the idea that people are going to draft me, and it’s not really an issue for me.

After all, it’s perfectly legal. I practice it as much as I’m able to with my training group or during races. I have enough marathon experience by now that I can just about break even with the pushing and pulling over the course of a race.

But I’m still hopeful for that 6’6” guy who can run a 3-hour marathon to come along. If you know of one, please encourage him to come run Big Sur one of these years, and I’ll be sure to look for him.


January 22, 2006

Dog Days recap

It was quite a busy weekend.

Our deck project officially started on Saturday, although the deck itself looks very similar today as it did three days ago. Most of the last two days were spent clearing out all of the crap around the house and yard so we can start the real demolition work soon.

The running-related highlight of my weekend was Saturday's Every Dog Has Its Day 10K, otherwise known as "Dog Days". As is our traditon, a few of us started early in the morning and ran 15 miles before the race, at an average pace of about 8:00-8:30/mile.

I ran the all-downhill 10K in 37:17 this year. My memory must be slipping, because in my previous post I reported that last year's time was in the low 37s, but it was actually 36:49. So I'm a little slower than one year ago, but not by much.

My time in 2003 was 37:13, and three months later I ran my best race ever at Big Sur, so I'm right in that same ballpark this year.

(Curious readers will wonder why my Dog Days time in 2005 was faster, but my Big Sur time slower. There's a story there, too. But that's for a later post...)

So I'm pretty much right where I want to be for my spring racing season. There's still a lot of work to go, of course, but the race was a good assessment.

Attached is a picture of Saturday's race. That's me in white. The guy on the far left in gray is Mike Dove, the co-author of my Monterey Herald column. It's worth mentioning that the guy is almost 59 years old, did the same pre-race mileage that I did, and I only beat him by about 5 seconds in the 10K.

He's really amazing. Every day I run with him I feel like Luke Skywalker training with Yoda - there's no end to the things he has to teach, and he continually impresses me with his abilities at an advanced age.

This picture tells another story, too - one that I'll elaborate on in my next post.


January 20, 2006

Dog Days 10K

Thanks to everybody who expressed concern about our deck situation. Special recognition goes to Stacey, who took a page from my wife’s playbook and volunteered her husband to help me work this weekend.

I also like Stronger's idea of placing a trampoline at the base of the hill, creating a sort of thrill ride, like a redneck Great America. Maybe we could charge admission from neighborhood kids to offset some construction costs.

As it is, we have a large piece of plywood clamped across the entryway to prevent the kids from exploring, so at least we have one major safety aspect covered.

Enough about the deck. Tomorrow is one of my favorite training runs – the Every Dog Has Its Day 10K here in Carmel Valley.

It’s basically an all-downhill 10K that started as a birthday present from one running club member to another, and evolved into one of our club’s favorite traditions. Mike and I wrote a Monterey Herald article about it last year that you can read here.

I’m hoping to do about 15 miles before the race, then test out my 10K wheels. Last year I did the same thing before racing the 10K in the low 37s. This will be my first real chance to compare my current fitness level to last year's.

After that, I’ll switch into work mode and start our remodeling project. It should be a fun weekend.


January 18, 2006

My New Job For This Weekend (And The Next Several Months)

When I pulled into my driveway after work yesterday, the sight that awaited me is pictured here:

Note the 8-foot section of railing that was formerly on the upper section of the deck, collapsed on the ground 15 feet below.

For another perspective, this (below) is what it looks like from the front door:

Our house is a "fixer-upper" in every sense of the word. It's more than 30 years old, and suffice to say it wasn't exactly built like Fort Knox.

Our family, under the direction and assistance of my father-in-law, has gradually been making improvements and repairs, but since we do all the work ourselves, projects tend to progress very slowly.

Particular jobs move up the priority ladder by triage. For example, on the day last summer when I fell through the second-to-top stair of our 10-step entry staircase, I commented to my wife, "I think it's time to fix the stairs now." Within a few days I finished the job.

We had planned on replacing our rotted, poorly secured, unstable deck during the summer, but it's amazing how an 8-foot section of falling guardrail can force your hand in some cases.

So now we have a deck to build. Actually, first we have an old deck to tear out, then a new one to build.

Major projects around here obviously require a significant time commitment. For at least the next few months, most of my days off from work, and many of my evenings after work, will be spent on one aspect or another of this new task.

At first glance, the timing doesn't appear ideal for somebody who is running two marathons in the next 15 weeks, one of which happens to be my biggest race of the year. Yet I'm not too troubled by this development, for a number of reasons.

I like to view these large-scale labor tasks like an accessory to my training: not exactly cross-training, but something that burns additional calories and keeps my tail off the couch for a couple extra hours each day.

They sometimes have a galvanizing effect on me, where I assume a mindset of continual activity. For some reason, if I know ahead of time that as soon as I get home I'll change right away into work clothes, stay outside until dinner, and go to sleep right after the kids are put to bed, it doesn't seem like such a burden. After a while it will become the routine and not seem so extraordinary. And for a short period of time, it's not too unbearable.

Our kids enjoy goofing around outside while we're working, so they'll be happy to spend a lot more time digging holes, cathcing snails, and making mud pies while Mom and Dad and Grandpa are climbing around the job site.

And finally...I've done big projects in the springtime before. Some years we've done major renovations that led right up to the Big Sur Marathon, and I still managed to have decent races. Of course, there's no way of knowing if I would have run better had I rested more and worked less leading up to the race, but that's not really the point.

Running has to find its place amidst all the other things happening in our family's life. It wouldn't be nearly as satisfying to run a marathon five minutes faster at the expense of delaying our deck project for another three months. So when important projects come up, they get priority over my ideal training scenarios.

The new project starts this weekend. Coincidentally, this Saturday morning is one of my favorite training runs of the winter - I'll describe it in a brief post on Friday.

I'll still do the run. I'll still train as much as I'm able to, and race the marathons this spring.

And hopefully by the summertime, we'll have a new deck on our house, a few months ahead of schedule.


January 17, 2006

Bump in the Road

Right off the bat, Sunday morning’s run felt terrible.

I don’t usually dread my long runs that much – the biggest obstacle is getting out of bed at 4:30 to get started. Normally once I’m headed down the road or onto the trails, the only limiting factor is how much time I have left before my kids start getting hungry for breakfast.

(I’m the weekend breakfast chef at home. It’s amazing how many points instant pancakes and scrambled eggs will score you with young kids.)

Anyway, on Sunday I was about 20 minutes into my planned 3-hour run, and felt miserable. Nothing specific was bothering me, but I just felt worn out, like there wasn’t any fuel in the tank. My body seemed out of sync, and I couldn't find a comfortable cruising pace.

In my head I contemplated cutting the run way short and just heading back home, but I knew I would probably beat myself up about it for the rest of the day. Plus, I wasn’t going to get those extra hours of sleep back anyway, so I continued on and hoped things would fall into place.

Sometimes my body finds a groove after about an hour of running, but on Sunday the mark came and went and I still felt awful. The Gatorade and GU I was taking in didn’t seem to help much either.

Approaching two hours, my legs started feeling like lead, and hills that I normally scale with ease became arduous climbs. My pace slowed precipitously on the uphills, and my leg muscles got pounded on the downhills.

At the bottom of one hill I could have headed for home, but the watch only said 2:20, and I thought, “Well, I’ve come this far...”. I turned in the opposite direction to add another 4-5 miles.

The minutes just crept along. I checked my watch countless times in that final hour, and each time I was disappointed to see that very little time had elapsed since the last time I looked.

Normally at the end of a long run I can crank my pace up to marathon speed for a few miles, but today I was just trying to keep placing one foot in front of the other. I finally reached the base of my driveway at the three-hour mark, and hobbled up the stairs into my house.

It doesn’t often happen that an entire run feels miserable, and I’m never sure what it tells me about my training.

Maybe I’m overtraining in my attempt to be in race shape for Napa in 7 weeks. Maybe I haven’t been as diligent as I need to be about eating well and sleeping enough (OK – this one isn’t exactly a news flash), and my body can’t perform at the level that I normally expect.

On the other hand, maybe my body just isn’t used running to a 20-miler at the end of a 70-mile week yet, and I just need another couple of times to find my comfort zone. This is a typical mileage pattern for me during marathon preparation, so I know I can handle it if I keep plugging away.

Or maybe Sunday’s run was just an aberration. Bad days do indeed happen, sometimes for no apparent reason. It’s usually best to just let them go. I’ve found that overanalyzing and overcompensating can often cause as many problems as they solve.

And the occasional bad days help me to appreciate the other days when I feel strong and run smoothly.

After a rest day yesterday, I ran 15 miles this morning and felt great, posting my fastest time on the loop this season.

So maybe there’s hope for a good race at Napa after all. (I mean, not that I was worried….)


January 13, 2006

O'Brien the Hunter

One of my 7-year-old son’s Christmas presents was a Star Theater home planetarium, and he anxiously awaited the first night we could set it up after his sisters went to sleep. He wanted to start learning about stars, planets, and constellations, and he studied the star chart while I set the machine up on his bedroom floor.

Unfortunately, the toy was a total lemon.

The lamp’s fuse kept shorting out on us, and the star images projected on the ceiling were grainy and generally indecipherable. We spent 45 frustrating minutes trying to reinforce the circuit, and attempting to discern particular stars from fuzzy images during the brief moments when the bulb was lit correctly.

Finally I said, “You know what? This thing stinks. We can do way better.”

And with that, we put on slippers, walked outside and sat down in our driveway.

We gazed at the winter night sky, and I pointed out the constellation Orion. My son knew about the celestial hunter, whom he kept calling “O’Brien” (I can’t criticize him too much there…his poor name recollection is an inherited trait from me). But he didn’t know the story of the hunter in the sky, and he listened intently while I told him various theories about how Orion came to be fixated in the heavens.

There are several stories about Orion and his downfall. He was a hunter of tremendous skill and strength. He is accompanied in the sky by his hunting dog, Sirius, and surrounded by such prey as Lepus (the hare) and Taurus (the bull).

Common legends have him killed by the sting of a scorpion sent by the gods, although Orion managed to kill the scorpion in battle before dying. The two adversaries are fixed for eternity on opposite sides of the night sky. One rises as the other sets, so they never have to face each other again.

Another tale tells of Orion’s love affair with Artemis, the moon goddess. Artemis was preoccupied with the hunter, and became forgetful in illuminating the night. Her brother Apollo tricked Artemis into killing Orion. Artemis was so anguished that she placed Orion in the sky, and even on nights when the moon shines most brilliantly, it never obscures the sight of the hunter she loved.

In addition to being the largest and most distinguishable constellation, Orion contains some of the most striking stars visible to the naked eye. At his right shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red giant so large that it could fully contain the orbit of Venus around our sun. The star Rigel, at Orion's left knee, is among the brightest in the sky on any given night.

The Orion Nebula, the nearest region of star formation to our Earth, makes the hunter’s sword. It’s gas and dust clouds are constantly examined for hints as to the origin of celestial bodies, and by extension, life on Earth.

Sitting in our driveway, I only mentioned these points in passing, not expecting my son to retain much of the information. My only goal was to give him a sense, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “that there are more things in heaven and earth than in all your dreams.”

I love running under the stars. I always feel humbled by my insignificance in the universe. Knowing the tales of the pictographs overhead, I feel myself in the presence of those characters, and sometimes I sense that they accompany me on my early morning adventures.

Orion would probably love to run with me through the forest on a moonlit early morning, keeping a watchful eye for whatever creatures happen to cross our path. He’d be especially glad to know there are no poisonous scorpions in this area, but an awful lot of rabbits.

As it is, he only watches my pursuits from afar, but he is a constant presence during the winter. Most of my training runs are solo, so in a way, Orion is my most frequent companion as I run mile after mile in the darkness of December through February.

Is it strange for me to feel a connection to a group of stars? It’s really a childlike notion – probably similar to what my son felt after sitting in the driveway with me.

When he went to bed that night, he had a favorite constellation. He'll remember how to say the name soon enough. And now he has a point of reference from which he can later learn about the all the other pictures and stories in the sky.

He’s starting to sense the magnitude of heaven and earth, and develop a sense of wonder about the beauty of creation.

When I woke the next morning, and went running under the stars, I couldn’t help but feel the exact same way.


January 12, 2006


I’m finally reading the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

I know I’m about a year behind the curve in discussing this title, but I’m somewhat stingy about spending money on books, and Carmel Valley is a very small town. It sometimes takes quite a while for our 1,000-square-foot library to have popular titles available.

I’m still 7th on the wait list for The World Is Flat, and it may be another year before I see 1776.

Anyway, I’m tearing through the book in hopes of validating one my most prevalent (and in my wife’s opinion, one of my most annoying) social behaviors: my tendency to make snap judgments about whether or not I like things, and my indifference to supporting such judgments with substantive information.

That’s the whole premise of Blink (subtitled The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) – that making quick, instinctive decisions is not only natural, but it usually proves even more effective than deliberate, contemplative decision-making.

I’ve been making blink decisions for years. In fact, it was a blink decision that got me into running. Sitting on the couch at my girlfriend’s apartment while watching the Los Angeles Marathon for the first time, I immediately thought to myself, “I’m going to do that.”

One year later, I was on the start line, and my marathon career was born.

The thing my wife hates the most is that I make blink decisions with people. I can typically decide within a few minutes whether or not a new person I’m talking to is someone I will grow to like, or someone I will avoid spending time with in the future.

For all these years, I thought I my blink decisions were a character flaw - like I was cursed with this oddball trait that enables me to pick out the psychopath chicks on The Bachelor just by the way they step out of the limo, by the way they introduce themselves, or they way they say “I’m in my reproductive phase – give me a damn rose!” (OK, that last one was easy – but you get the idea.)

So it’s comforting to learn that may not in fact be the case. And you can appreciate my haste to get my hands on this particular book.

Here’s how the premise is applicable to this space: I’m a blink-blogger, also. Have been ever since I started.

Whenever I come across a new blog, I typically decide whether or not I’ll enjoy it before I finish reading the current post. I’ll frequently put someone’s blog on my subscription service after just one reading, or I’ll purposely stay away based on that first impression formed within about 30 seconds.

So far, it’s been a reliable method. Most of my favorite blogs are those that I immediately connected with. Plus, given the enormous volume of blogs out there (Any estimates on this? Are there 100,000? A half-million? I’d be interested to find out), any process of elimination to separate the wheat from the chaff of cyberspace is certainly welcome.

Finally, here’s my outward seal of approval: if I’ve ever commented on your blog, you’ve passed the blink test. There are a handful of other blogs that have passed the blink test too, but I just haven’t gotten around to commenting yet.

A similar standard could be applied to my own blog as well. For those of you who make reasoned, contemplative decisions, just know that I’m really not that multi-dimensional. If you haven’t found what you’re looking for here by now, you’re most likely not going to.

On the other hand, if you are someone like me who makes blink decisions, you’ve probably decided by this point whether or not you like it, so I won’t try to convince you otherwise.


January 9, 2006

Napa Here I Come

I’ve neglected to mention yet that I signed up for this year’s Napa Valley Marathon, coming up in March. I have a somewhat star-crossed relationship with this race, which I will explain in more detail in later posts.

The race is eight weeks prior to the Big Sur Marathon, which is the main focus of my training this spring. The timing works out almost perfectly to do Napa as a 90-95% max effort race, to see how my race pace feels and to gauge my fitness leading up to the main event in April.

As recently as one month ago, I didn’t think I would be in shape to try a marathon prior to Big Sur. But I’ve done a handful of 20-milers between now and then, and my body hasn’t completely blown up from ramping up my weekly mileage, so those are good signs.

Plus, Napa’s a beautiful race. Most of the miles are on Silverado Trail, the road that cuts through the heart of some of the largest and most gorgeous vineyards in the world, just as the fields are coming into bloom.

I would highly recommend Napa to anyone looking for a “destination” marathon. Luckily, it’s only a few hours away from where I live, so I usually make a quick weekend trip to do the race.

One of these years I’ll take my wife up with me and stay for a few nights in a nice bed and breakfast, and give the area more of the attention it deserves. We considered it this year, but those types of plans just don’t materialize too easily yet, with three little ones to consider. Maybe next year. Or the year after. Or…well, you know how it goes.

For this year, I’ve got just over seven weeks to round into shape for my first major race of 2006. That might be cutting it a little close, but it certainly sharpens my focus. It’s time to get my groove on.


January 7, 2006

Don't Run

Know anyone who is taking up running as their New Year's resolution? My Monterey Herald article from last week serves as a bit of a disclaimer about some drawbacks of the running life. Read it here.


January 5, 2006

Jesus of Highway 68

("...and there's nothing wrong with me, this is how I'm supposed to be..." Green Day, "Jesus of Suburbia")

Highway 68 in Monterey County cuts through the "pastures of heaven" between Monterey and Salinas, and is the road I drive each morning to my job in Salinas.

Outside the city limits, a church sits on top of a hillside pasture. The approach road to the church is a long, straight road rising steadily up the hill for about a quarter mile.

It's the perfect place to run hill intervals in the early morning.

Our training group does this workout once a week during the first months of the year, to bolster our legs for all of the hill training we'll do in preparation for April's Big Sur Marathon.

This morning was our first session of hill intervals in 2006, and we did 12 repetitions. During the last few reps, when my legs start feeling like lead, I often glance at the top of the hill and fix my eyes on the church steeple silhouetted against the twilight sky. It gives me something to ponder besides the rising road.

After the workout, when I'm gasping for air at the top of the hill for the last time, I look at the church again, and for me it's a very spiritual moment. The church spire reassures me of a power and a presence in my life far greater than I'll ever grasp in this lifetime. It's a nice reminder before I set off on my cool-down jog.

Then after this morning's workout, I climbed into my car, and the first song that played from the radio was "Jesus of Suburbia" by Green Day.

Now, I happen to love Green Day. I've been listening to this song from the amazing "American Idiot" CD for over a year now. But I never thought I would hear it on the radio.

For one thing, it's over 9 minutes long. For another, there are several swear words. And it's just a very unorthodox punk rock song. Brilliant and intense, sure - but definitely not radio-friendly. Some station manager probably took a risk in playing it in its entirety this morning.

Yet there I was, driving toward Salinas on Highway 68, rocking out to "Jesus of Suburbia", still glowing from the hilltop awakening I had at the end of my just-finished workout.

It was as close to a spiritual moment as I suppose one can ever get while listening to Green Day. The day was starting out as well as I could hope for.

And sometimes when the beginning of your day is so satisfying, the rest of the day just falls into place. Things that normally bother you tend to roll off your back a little more easily.

When I drove past the church after work, still listening to Green Day (this time on my CD), my gaze fell on the steeple again. I gave thanks for the good day, and continued on home.


January 3, 2006

Pussycat Peak

Reading about Stronger's trainer workouts and Bolder's indoor triathlon reminded me yet again of how thankful I am to live in a warm climate, with the opportunity to train outdoors all year long.

California suits me very well, for a couple of reasons: 1) I'm a cold-weather wimp, and 2) I hate - I mean, HATE - working out indoors. I would rather run in the dark, in the rain, or even in sub-freezing temps than imitate a hamster in a stuffy, confined area. Treadmills are simply the antithesis of all the intangible things I enjoy about running.

Having said that, there have been a couple of training seasons when I spent quite a few hours on a treadmill, and it suited me very well. And surprisingly, it wasn't in the winter.

In the summer of 2003, and again in the summer of 2005, I was in training for the Pikes Peak Marathon, a brutal trail run up to the 14,110' summit of the mountain and back.

Unfortunately, well...have I mentioned that I live in California? There just aren't any high mountains in this coastal area, with the highest point in Monterey County just over 3,000'. You can appreciate my dilemma.

By my figuring, there was only one way to mimic a four-hour climb up a steady 12-15% grade. I begrudgingly started dragging myself to the gym on a weekly basis to take on my mechanical mountain.

Luckily, the gym has televisions, and my continuing refrain from those two summers was, thank God for VH1. Otherwise, I wouldn't have lasted 20 minutes before collapsing in some mind-numbing stupor and being flung off the back of the belt.

In fact, my most vivid memories of these workouts don't pertain to the runs themselves, but to the videos I saw. This past summer, "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls ran about twice per hour, and I also got to see Jessica Simpson wash the General Lee several times per day. I mean...have you seen these girls? Oh my goodness. The prospect of seeing those videos helped me get out of bed more than once in the dark, early mornings.

Other videos in heavy rotation were by Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, two breakout rock bands who never failed to put a bounce in my step and help me while away the hours.

Finally, 2005 was the year that Kelly Clarkson became hot. I remembered her as the good-natured, down-home-looking winner of American Idol, but during the summer she totally raised her game. I had to rub my eyes the first few times I saw "Behind These Hazel Eyes" to make sure I was reading the right name at the bottom. The makeover was a pleasant surprise and somewhat inspiring, in a weird way.

I never would have guessed that Kelly Clarkson or the Pussycat Dolls could help me in my preparations for Pikes Peak, but sometimes strange things happen on the way to getting in shape.

I worked my way up to running 3 hours at a 13% grade on the treadmill, and it provided some good carryover for the mountain race. I had successful races both years I ran Pikes Peak, in large part due to the preparation I had done indoors.

I guess what I'm saying is, I can understand how exercising indoors has a certain appeal. Under the right circumstances, the machines become more tolerable, and in some cases can offer benefits that are unattainable in the outside surroundings.

But if someone invents a way to watch Jessica Simpson while training outdoors, well...I think I could probably run forever.


January 2, 2006

Still Puzzling

Today was kind of a lazy day.

My first run of 2006 was an easy 7-miler through the neighborhood, checking out the rising Carmel River and all of the swollen tributaries from the nearby canyons.

It rained for my entire run. It's been raining and blowing for about three straight days here. I think I saw some of the neighborhood animals lining up in twos when I was out there.

Our family spent the rest of the day hunkered down at home. We spent a few more hours on Mona Lisa, watching the ebb and flow of the storm from our patio windows.

The kids played outside for a while in their raincoats and boots, and drank hot chocolate with marshmallows inside.

And you know what tastes great when relaxing indoors on on a rainy winter's day? A big batch of warm brownies. My wife and I (OK, mostly I) made quick work of them, and we're making good progress on the puzzle, too.

Tomorrow it's back to the normal grind: work for me, school for the kids, some alone time with Mommy for our frequently attention-starved third child. It's probably a good thing for me, in that I tend to be more disciplined with everything (especially eating) within the structure of the work day.

But sometimes there's a lot to be said for lazy, rainy days.

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