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March 31, 2006

Final Four Flashback

In honor of UCLA’s appearance in the Final Four this weekend, I’d like to tell a story about the last time the Bruins made a run to the National Championship in 1995.

One of the stars on that ’95 team was a point guard named Tyus Edney, who single-handedly saved the season with a length-of-the-court drive to make the winning basket as time expired in a second-round game, giving UCLA a 1-point victory to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

I wasn’t friends with Tyus, but during the spring of 1993 he and I sat next to each other in an introductory speech class. We sat in the back of the room, and neither of us was exactly passionate about public speaking, or paying attention to others who were.

We killed time by reading books during class (I know, I know…it’s irresponsible and disrespectful, but believe me, this class was boooorrrrring.), and we noted with amusement one time that we were both reading the same book, Jurassic Park.

Seeing that I was further along than him, I broke the ice by asking if he had come to the part where the kids die yet (note: they never died, but he didn’t know that). That led to casual conversations before and after class each day.

Those led to another day when I leaned over and told him, “I find that whenever I have to make a game-winning shot, a running one-handed hook shot off the glass seems to work well for me.” Little did I know he would take my words to heart in the ’95 NCAA Tournament.

OK, I made up that last paragraph. But the rest of the story is true.

The funny thing is, I had forgotten all about Tyus Edney and most of the 1995 Bruins until just this month. Then UCLA makes the Final Four again and I remember all of these random, fleeting associations I had with the team, and it brings back fun memories of college in vivid detail - like it hasn't really been more than a decade since I was there.

It’s just one of the many things I love about sports. And it’s why I’ll be watching again this weekend. Go Bruins!

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March 30, 2006

Determination

Physical training only carries you so far in preparation for a race. Successful marathoning also requires the ability to overcome psychological obstacles at various stages of the race.

And while most of us have a pretty good idea of what our bodies are capable of, sometimes the psychological element looms like the great unknown. During the training process, it’s hard to be absolutely certain how you will respond to various types of adversity on race day.

This notion causes a great deal of anxiety among marathoners. From first-time marathoners just trying to finish the race, to runners looking to reach an ambitious goal time, we all have the same concerns about how we will react when the going gets tough.

That’s why workouts like this morning’s track session are so valuable.

I arrived at the track a few minutes early to start my warm up, and didn’t think anything of the fact that I was the only one there. Then the designated start time came and went, and I was still the only runner on the oval.

Finally I remembered that most of my training partners are racing a half-marathon this weekend, and realized they probably wouldn’t be coming out this morning.

My feelings about track workouts are best described as a love/hate relationship. I love the improvements they produce, and the satisfaction of finishing a tough session. But I hate – capital H, Hate – doing these workouts by myself.

And that was the very prospect I faced this morning. I had hoped to repeat the 8x1600m workout that I did last week, but that workout was greatly facilitated by my drafting off of others at times, and having the encouragement of the rest of the group working through the same challenge. That wouldn’t happen this morning.

At other times of the year, this is the point when I would modify the workout to do fewer repetitions, or shorter intervals, or a short tempo run. But this is the end of March, and the Big Sur Marathon is less than 5 weeks away.

So I put my game face on, took a deep breath, and ran the whole dang workout.

Needless to say, it seemed more difficult today than last week. My breathing was more labored, and I had to work much harder to stay on my target pace.

In the end, the intervals were all slower than last week – but not by a lot. They were only 5-10 seconds per mile off of last week's pace, and the times for all of them were within 4 seconds of each other.

It wasn’t the fastest workout I’ve done, but it may become one of the most important as race day approaches. Today’s session was more about the psychological challenge than the physical. It gave me a glimpse of what I’m capable of when I encounter unexpected difficulty.

The marathon is coming soon. And I know how I’ll respond.

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March 29, 2006

Rainbow Runners

A couple of administrative notes before today's post: First, thanks to everybody who commented on yesterday's post. There was some very funny stuff there that gave me a smile.

Second, please head over to Stronger's blog and drop her a note of encouragement or support. She is going through a horrible time right now, and perhaps some kind words might give her a bit of comfort.

On with today's post...



It’s been difficult for my son and me to consistently find time for his 5K training. We’ve had a Seattle-like string of consecutive rainy days – not continuous, but something every day, usually in the afternoons when we normally run after school.

As I said before, I had been reluctant to venture out in the rain with him for our running, because I didn’t want to risk having it become a negative experience for him. So last week we had two cancellations before finally getting in a workout, and we were rained out on Monday afternoon as well.

Knowing that the rest of my afternoons this week were booked, Tuesday was kind of a “now or never” day. And when I arrived home, it was raining again. We were both resigned to the sad plight of missing our workout for the week.

And then the sky cleared somewhat. I called to my son: “Get your shoes on – hurry up!”

We laced up our shoes, started out the front door…and the rain started falling again. My son became disappointed, and I grew more frustrated.

Finally, determination took over. I told my son to go and put on his baseball cap. When he asked me why, I told him it was to keep the rain off his face, because we were going running. With a look of surprise, he went into the house to retrieve it.

He climbed into the car wearing both his cap and his baseball glove. When I asked what was up with the glove, he replied, “It’s so I can catch the cats and dogs.”

I mean,...that’s funny, right? The kid’s seven years old, and he came up with that on his own. I couldn’t help but crack up.

So there we were, preparing to run, with my son making a cleverly sarcastic joke and complaining about the weather. And it occurred to me that maybe he does take after me in some ways after all.

We went running through the drizzly, fading sunlight, and saw about five different
rainbows as the clouds shifted and light danced off the hills of Carmel Valley. We talked about his school day, his after school chess club, and his “she’s-not-really-my-girlfriend” girlfriend with whom he has a play date on Wednesday.

It wasn’t a negative experience for him. As for me, it was easily the best half-hour of my day.


5K Kid workout: 3x800m jogging, with last 50m of each one fast. 200m walking after each interval. Total distance 3000m.

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March 28, 2006

Hypothetical Questions

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’ve been assigned to work in a new office, sharing your space with two other people you don’t know, separated only by 4’ cubicle dividers.

Let’s say that when you asked to borrow a Sharpie, you were told to put in a requisition request so that you don’t drain money from someone else’s budget. Again, hypothetically.

Let’s say that you got a raised-eyebrow look when you dropped your discarded banana peel in your office mate’s trash can, since you hadn’t been assigned your own receptacle yet.

Let’s also say, hypothetically, that you are a runner who likes to exercise at lunch time.

How long should you respectfully wait until you start bringing a gym bag stuffed with sweaty, possibly smelly workout clothes back into the new office?

And finally, how long would you wait before playing the Fall Out Boy and Green Day files on your computer to combat the sound of billing collections being conducted over the telephone in the adjacent cubicle?

I’ve been wondering these things today.

(You know, hypothetically...)

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March 27, 2006

Sons of Westwood

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my wife and I are both UCLA alumni. So you can imagine what a nice day it was for me on Saturday afternoon, watching them scrap and claw their way into the Final Four this weekend.

To say the least, it wasn’t what you would call a pretty game. There were tons of fouls and missed shots and missed free throws and turnovers and absolutely no rhythm to the game. Both teams scored fewer points than the UCLA football team put up in several games last fall.

Our local newspaper called it the most boring game of the tournament. My friend sent me an e-mail that said, “UGH. Horribly played game. Neither team deserved to win. Ugly ugly ugly.”

Despite all of that, I thought the game was beautiful.

Although it seems strange, I’ve had lifelong affection for UCLA, and I’m very grateful for the years I spent there. Last fall I wrote an article about how UCLA basketball set me on my life’s path when I was still a child. It’s not a running-related article, but it’s a nice circle of life-type story you can read here if you want.

UCLA was the location of a lot of beginnings for me. It was where I found the girl who would become wy wife, established a foundation for my career, and matured (somewhat) into an independent adult. It was also the place where I first became a marathon runner (a story I'll tell another time), training for countless hours on the beautiful campus with some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Needless to say, I have fond memories of my time there. Although I no longer live near Westwood, whenever the school sits in the national spotlight, I remember all of the good times I had and great things I learned. And when it comes to college basketball, seeing UCLA in the Final Four just feels natural, like it’s the way things should be.

So if you’re looking for somebody to cheer for this weekend…well, cheer for George Mason, because those guys are amazing. But if UCLA comes through and wins the whole deal, know that I’ll be watching at home with an enormous smile on my face, knowing that everything is right in the world. Go Bruins!

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March 24, 2006

The Grind

From time to time I get questions about workouts, and what kind of training I do during my marathon buildup.

I’m not usually one to post details of specific workouts, but I know there are some “numbers” guys out there (like Rob or Jeff) who would like to know what I’m up to – you know, besides watching American Idol and complaining about the weather.

So today I’m throwing them a bone. One of the staples of my marathon training is a workout of 1-mile (road) or 1600m (track) intervals. Yesterday I had one of my better sessions, doing 8x1600m with a very slow recovery lap between each.

This season I’ve slightly changed my approach to this workout. In years past I ran each interval at about 90-95% of my top effort, for as long as I could hold consistent splits. Typically this meant 5 or 6 intervals in the 5:45-5:55 range, with 6:00 or greater being my “cease and desist” line.

Lately I’m trying to complete more intervals by dialing down the intensity one notch. I’ve found that just a small decrease in effort makes a huge difference in how long I can continue the workout. As an added bonus, I don’t feel quite so beat up afterwards.

Yesterday I warmed up with 1.5 miles, then got down to business. Here’s how the 1600m intervals played out:

Mile 1: 6:07 (nice, smooth, easy – no worries)
Mile 2: 6:02 (more of an effort, but still cruising)
Mile 3: 6:03 (OK…now we’ve got ourselves a workout)
Mile 4: 5:55 (too fast, and too stupid - I got sucked into keeping up with some of the big dogs, which may have been a mistake)
Mile 5: 5:59 (that’s more like it…but suddenly I’m not so comfortable anymore)
Mile 6: 5:59 (working very hard now, but under control…and no longer trying to keep up)
Mile 7: 6:01 (thought I would slow down a lot more, but my leg turnover stayed right on pace)
Mile 8: 6:00 (close to race effort, legs very heavy, fuel tank nearly empty)

I finished very exhausted but happy, and cooled down with another 1.5 miles. During the cooldown, my running partner said, “God, that workout was a grind.” It’s a pretty accurate description. The workout required a lot of mental focus as well as physical stamina. It’s the kind of workout that feels great to finish.

Overall, these track sessions have been going pretty well. But like everything else I do nowadays, I’ll withhold judgment on their effectiveness until May 1st - the day after Big Sur.

***

5K Kid training update: Monday’s workout: rained out, rescheduled for Tuesday. Tuesday’s workout: rained out, rescheduled for Thursday. (Note: sure, we could have run in the rain anyway, but my son wasn’t crazy about getting wet, and my main concern at this point isn’t to instill toughness, but to help him enjoy running. Besides, he doesn’t have any coolmax gear.)

Thursday’s workout: 800m jog, 200m walk, 800m jog, 200m walk, 400m jog w/ fast 100m at the end, 200m walk, 500m jog w/ fast 100m at the end. Total distance 3100m. More than halfway there!

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March 22, 2006

Lessons From Spring Break

Today’s post is an easy one, so I thought I’d take a minute to ponder something with you…

While watching The Amazing Race this season, I’ve considered how many million other people are tuned in at the same time. Specifically, there have to be way more fans of this show than for some sporting events like the WNBA or professional soccer, or (sadly) even running.

Here’s my thought: in most casinos, you can gamble on the aforementioned sports leagues (in Vegas, you can even bet on the Las Vegas Marathon). Has anyone thought to take wagers on questions like “In what episode will Eric and Jeremy hook up with the Pink girls?”, “What city will they be in when they first make out?”, or “Which girl will go with Eric, and which with Jeremy?”

It seems if there were some sports bookie that opened these lines, he would see a lot of action. There’s definitely a lot of money that could trade hands. Why not open the reality TV floodgates, and start laying odds on which girl will end up with The Bachelor, whether Lenny from The Apprentice will ever reveal a previous affiliation with the KGB, or set an over/under on how many times we’ll see Cirie’s pixellated breasts falling out of her swimsuit on Survivor this season.

Then again, maybe that’s just my quirky mind at work.


Anyway, on to today’s post…it’s a link to our Monterey Herald article from last week, about lessons learned from the 2006 Napa Valley Marathon. Give it a look here, then feel free to let me know what you think.

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March 20, 2006

Hey-Ya

In today's edition you're getting two completely unrelated posts: Part I about running, Part II is kid stuff. Think of it as a buy one, get one free post - except, you know...they're both free.

Part I - Running

I went through last week telling myself that I would do a 20-miler over the weekend.

Then the weekend came, and all of a sudden I wasn’t so fired up.

For whatever reason, the opportunity to spend a couple more hours in bed each morning completely overpowered my inkling to wake up early and spend three hours on the road.

Truthfully, I’m not completely letting my training slide. It’s only been two weeks since Napa, and I’ve still got six weeks until Big Sur – plenty of time to squeeze a few more long runs in before it’s time to taper. I’ve managed about 50 miles each of the past two weeks, with a couple of faster efforts (a track workout and a tempo run) thrown in for good measure.

However, each of those faster workouts beat up my legs much more effort than usual, so I knew I hadn’t fully recovered yet. So the more I pondered doing a 20-miler this weekend, the idea seemed to get worse and worse.

So on Saturday I did an 8-mile trail run in Garland Ranch, and Sunday morning I did my usual 4-mile tempo run. Warming up beforehand, I was surprised to feel my legs turning over without much discomfort. Then I did the time trial, and ended up running my fastest time of the year on that course.

Best of all, I didn’t feel too wiped out on Sunday night, and didn't have any flare-ups of the injury issues I’ve been dealing with off and on for what seems like forever.

That’s not to say I’m in the clear, but I think the legs are coming back around. My endurance is right where it should be, and I’m planning to crank out some higher mileage in the next few weeks. And now my speed is gradually, finally coming back to my “race-ready” standards. In other words, I’m right where I want to be.

Big Sur is on the horizon. I plan on being ready.


Part II - Kid Stuff

Random exchange between me and my son at bedtime on Sunday:

Son: Hey Dad, take a guess - What’s cooler than being cool?

Me (smiling): Ice cold.

Son: How did you know that?

Me: I know that song, man. I’m the one who played it for you the first time, remember? I'm the one who taught [his 2-year-old sister] how to shake it like a Poloroid picture.

Son: But I don’t get it – does he mean “cool” like not warm, or “cool” like a rock star?

Me: Both things, sort of. They're even cooler than cool like a rock star, so you can say they are ice cold, which is cooler than "not warm".

Son: But that’s silly.

Me: Yeah – but it’s kinda cool, right?

Son: Oh, yeah. ..(smiling). It's ice cold. 'Night, Dad.

Me: Goodnight, rock star.

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March 17, 2006

Sounds of Spring

Thursday I was able to take a brief midday run on the track at our local community college. It’s the best all-weather track in town, and luckily it’s only five minutes from where I work. Occasionally I take advantage of its proximity to escape the workplace and spin a few quick miles.

In the midst of an otherwise typical workout, I became aware of a very recognizable, and very welcome sound: the metallic ping of a bat striking a baseball.

There’s a baseball field adjacent to the track, and the college team was conducting batting practice. It took me a couple of seconds to make the connection...it was spring training! Obviously that means springtime is close, right?

For the rest of the workout, I remained attuned to the melodic sound of bats striking baseballs, and it lifted my spirits immensely. (The only sound that could have been better is the more traditional sound of major-league wooden bats striking baseballs – but unfortunately, this was college ball in Salinas, not the Cactus League in Scottsdale.)

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I love what the sport represents: lazy summer afternoons, blowing off work to catch a day game, reestablishing the connection to my childhood pursuits. Spring training is the sporting world's message that those days are just around the corner.

I took my son to his first San Francisco Giants game last year, and it was one of the highlights of our summer. The stadium was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and we spent several hours connecting over the rules and nuances of the game.

Hearing the practice bats yesterday reminded me of that afternoon, and I made a mental reminder to check the Giants schedule when I came home, to set up another day like that this summer.

Circling the track, I paid closer attention to other sounds around me. Birds were chirping in the trees. Music was drifiting from a radio adjacent to the field. College students were socializing in the grass.

It was a nice sunny day, and I was outside running. And all of a sudden, it felt like spring.

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March 16, 2006

Coming Clean

Apparently the picture of naked men in my last post caused a bit of a stir, which really surprised me – I mean, it’s not like that’s the most shocking thing you’ve ever seen on the Internet, right?

Plus, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to find a naked picture of the Chili Peppers. They’ve been naked on their album covers and in concerts. Those guys must have spent half their lives naked. Let’s see you find a picture of Anthony Kiedis with his shirt on.

Anyway, when the comments started mentioning Vogue magazine, that’s when I felt the slope getting a lot more slippery. It seemed only a matter of time before I would be “outed” by suspicion and rumor.

So in the interest of full disclosure, I have something I’d like to get off my chest. This might be hard.

You see, ever since I was young, I’ve had this preference...

It made me a bit unusual, but it seemed natural to me...

Sometimes I’m reluctant to admit it, because I don’t know how people will react...

But...

Here goes...

I...

REALLY LIKE THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS!!!

And women. Maybe not in that order. But that’s it.

And I’m comfortable enough in my sexuality that I can even agree with my wife when she noted yesterday, “Those guys are all pretty ripped.” (Um, on second thought...forget that last sentence. Just remember the paragraph before it.)

So I hope that clears up the issue for anyone who was wondering. Thanks for understanding. I feel much better now.

(Gee, that was easier than I thought...)

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March 15, 2006

Random Bullets

Nothing really monumental is on my mind today, so I just thought I’d mention a few points regarding the past few days:

· Today was the first morning in almost a week that I didn’t get drenched with rain while running. I had almost forgotten what that was like.
· For some reason, there seems to be a huge difference between “raining and 39 degrees” (like yesterday morning) and “raining and 33 degrees” (like last week) as to whether I can drag myself out for a run. This must be a mental thing.
· Or maybe it’s merely “six degrees of separation”. Ba-dum-BUM. Thank you. Thank you very much.
· After playing in the snow on Sunday, my 4-year old daughter climbed into the van with a runny nose and said “Snow gives me lots of boogers!” That more or less sums up my feelings about snow: good for snot production, a hassle for most other things.
· My boy Chris Daughtry keeps sailing through American Idol. Last night he did a hard-rock version of “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder that just killed ‘em.
· Although it’s almost like he cheated, since that arrangement had already been done by the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in the day. The judges didn’t seem to notice or mind.
· Red Hot Chili Peppers…now THAT was a band. Before they went soft, anyway. There wasn't a day of college that went by without me listening to those guys. I miss college, sometimes.

That’s all for now. Hopefully something more coherent will spring to mind next time.

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March 14, 2006

Sunlight and Snowcaps

Blog note: Although we have no structured exercise plan, I thought it may be interesting to record the weekly training of my son as he prepares for his first 5K race next month. That information appears at the end of today’s post, and will be updated after workouts as necessary.

Now for our regularly scheduled post…



As I may have mentioned once or twice before in this space, I’m a native Californian.

But I have spent winters in cold-weather areas before – primarily in Colorado, where I attended high school. I’ve successfully blocked out most recollections of those long, cold winters – but occasionally something will trigger memories and I’ll remember exactly how it felt to wait out the seemingly endless days until spring.

Stronger hinted at this in a comment yesterday: in the mountains, there’s a whole separate distinction between wintertime snow and spring snow. And it seems like every time you think spring has finally arrived, another storm comes along to dump several inches of snow on your head. Then the next day will be sunny again and feel like spring, aside from all the snow on the ground.

When the storms finally subside for the year, the mountains keep their snowcaps for several more months, maintaining a wintry backdrop against the warmth and new growth of late spring and early summer.

I remembered all this on Saturday while running through the Salinas Valley. Yes, the Salinas Valley in California. Believe me, I was as surprised as anybody.

The agricultural valley is framed by two long mountain ranges: the Santa Lucias to the west, and the Gabilans to the east. In between lies 4000 square miles of rich farmland often referred to as the “salad bowl of the world.”

I work in Salinas, and occasionally run through the lettuce and strawberry fields during my lunch break. It’s a nice backup plan in case I’m too lazy to roll out of bed in the morning, as has been the case for the past few days.

Like I said, we’ve had crazy weather here lately, with snow falling in Carmel Valley and other areas of Monterey County. The result is that both mountain ranges were covered with a thick layer of snow that stayed in place during the day, thanks to the cool arctic air mass that settled in for the week.

To clarify one point: when I use the term “mountains”, it’s a very loose definition. The highest point in Monterey County is 5600’ above sea level. The highest points above the Salinas Valley - Fremont Peak in the Gabilan Range, and Mount Toro in the Santa Lucias – are approximately 3200’ high. Out here they enjoy “big fish in a small pond” status, but if you lived in a true mountainous area, you would call them mere foothills.

But here’s the thing: the Gabilans actually look like high mountains. They’re angular and
layered and stand prominently over the fertile valley below. Mt Toro (pictured) is barren of trees at the top, reminiscent of a mountain peak that juts above timberline. And when these hills are covered with snow, you would never guess they were located just 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

So yesterday I ran in the midday sunshine, breathing the frosty winter air, with majestic white mountain ranges on either side of me. It reminded me of the times I’ve gone running in Colorado, with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains dominating the landscape even on warm spring and summer days.

It sounds strange, but for the duration of my run, it felt like I was in Colorado again. (Well, except for the fact that I was in a giant lettuce field, and had about twice as much oxygen to breathe, but you get the idea.) If that doesn’t illustrate how discombobulated this cold spell has gotten me, well…I just don’t know what else to say.

Except that I’m looking more forward to springtime with each passing day.


5K Kid training update: Our first workout 2 weeks ago was 400 meters of jogging, 200m of walking, 600m jogging, 400m walking, and 200m jogging. Total mileage was 1800m, with 1000m jogging.

Last week was 700m jog, 200m walk, 400m jog. Total 1300m, with 1100 jogging.

Yesterday: 800m jog, 200m walk, 600m jog, 200m walk, 500m jog. Total mileage 2300m, with 1900m jogging.

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March 12, 2006

Carmel Valley Snow


Remember last month when my family had to cancel a ski trip because there was no snow in the mountains, and we were all getting over illnesses? We were all bummed out that we wouldn’t be going to the mountain this winter.

Then this weekend, the mountain came to us.

For more than a week, California has been in the grip of this arctic storm system that is straying far beyond its normal range, like an attack dog whose chain has broken from its post. The weather it brings has been just about as welcome. (Let’s just say there’s a reason that millions of us moved away from cold-weather climates to live in this state, and it wasn’t to be governed by the Terminator.)

So for the past three nights and early mornings, we’ve had heavy rainstorms and temperatures in the low 30s – which makes for truly miserable running conditions in my book.

I’m normally pretty resilient when it comes to running in our local climate. Cold weather by itself – fine. Typical rainy mornings in March – no problem. But for some reason the combination of the two has been too formidable an opponent for me to get out of bed and run in the morning. Or maybe I’m still shell-shocked from last week’s Napa Marathon.

The one upside of the storm system is that the precipitation falling at our house as freezing rain changes its complexion at slightly higher elevations. Each morning, we’ve awoken to the sight of snow covering the ridgelines on both sides of Carmel Valley.

While it’s not a complete aberration, it is pretty rare to see snow from our house. The last time it we had a measurable snowfall was three winters ago. Which, like I said, normally suits us just fine, thank you very much.

But this morning, we decided to make up for last month’s missed opportunity. We blew off church, loaded up the van and drove into the hills to play in the snow.

The snowfall wasn’t what you would call deep – in fact, it was probably laughable by any serious measure – but it was enough for us to have snowball fights, build small castles, and finally break in the winter clothes we bought this season. The kids came home and drank hot chocolate when it was all over, and it was a happy winter day.

But really…can we be done now? Can someone turn the weather machine off? I honestly can’t take many more of these cold, wet, dreary mornings. Give them back to Canada or Alaska or some other place where the people are more hardy and better equipped to deal with them. I don’t ask for much. Just give California back our usual early springtime and I’ll stop complaining, I promise.

Thankfully, I still managed to get a couple of mid-day runs in this weekend – one of which I’ll describe in more detail next time.

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March 10, 2006

Marathon Faces

Before we get to today’s post, my wife brought up a good point about my previous post that was somewhat echoed in the comments. She suspects I might be overly enthusiastic about Chris Daughtry because, 1) He’s male, and 2) His last 2 songs have been the type of alt-rock songs that are right up my alley.

You know what? She’s right. Point taken. Mandisa’s got a pretty good set of pipes on her, and maybe she’ll win. (For the record, I did say she would finish second, so I wasn’t too dismissive of her talent). And any contest where teeny-boppers and drunk college kids are prime movers in the outcome has to be regarded as somewhat of a crapshoot.

So bring on the final 12, and let’s see what transpires. May the best bald man or great big woman win.


Anyway, on to today’s post…I received my Marathon Foto e-mail yesterday with pictures from the Napa Marathon. Here are a few of them, with some accompanying thoughts:

Photo 1: Approximately mile 5. That’s me in the poncho I bought at the race expo, which will go down as two of the best-spent dollars I’ve ever parted with. I kept the hood up for almost 8 miles, trying to block out as much of the outside elements as possible. At one point I had the drawstrings pulled so tight that I almost needed a straw to drink Gatorade at the aid stations.


Photo 2: Mile 14. Having the hood of my poncho up gave me a bit more protection from the rain, but caused another problem: the blowing wind sounded like a hurricane through the plastic right next to my ears. It's funny, but once I pulled the hood down and realized how much quieter things had gotten, it settled me down a bit and helped me shift into “let’s get to work” mode. From the poncho outline you can tell we were still facing a pretty good headwind.


Photo 3: Mile 24. Is this the face of…exhaustion? Determination? Frustration? Anguish? Resilience? Strength? The answer to any of those would be yes. This was the stretch when I knew my fate but kept plugging away as if I still had something to race for.

I like seeing photos of myself in the final miles of a marathon. I’m always struck by how normal-looking I appear, given all of the physical and mental turmoil that I’m invariably feeling at that point. Even many years later, I can see a picture of myself in a race and remember exactly what I was thinking at that point of the race.

That last photo is the face of a guy giving his best effort on a miserable day, trying with all his ability to persevere in the face of adversity, even when the desired outcome was no longer possible.

In short, it’s the face of a marathon runner.

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March 9, 2006

Idol Runaway

After you watch enough professional track meets, you develop a casual familiarity with most of the runners in the field, and their relative chances of winning the race.

As runners are lining up or getting introduced on camera, you’ll find yourself thinking things like, “That guy’s pretty fast…that one ran a strong race a few weeks ago…there’s the guy who faded in the stretch last month…that guy is a bit over the hill…” and so on.

Then sometimes a name or face will stand out, and you’ll think, “Whoa - that’s the guy. He’s going to win.” Some racers are immediately recognizable for their enormous talent, and you know they are in a whole different category than the rest of the field.

For example, this response occurs whenever I see Alan Webb or Bernard Lagat in a field of U.S. milers, or Kenenisa Bekele in any 10K. (For you triathletes, think of seeing Peter Reid lined up against a bunch of unknowns at Ironman New Zealand – it’s more or less the same feeling.)

As the race unfolds, the other runners may hang close for a while, but there’s never a moment when the outcome is truly uncertain. Unless something completely unexpected happens, the race is really just an opportunity for the also-rans to see how they compare to the best in their business.

I mention all of this because I’ve been getting the same feeling while watching American Idol for the past few weeks. Is there any doubt that Chris Daughtry is going to win this thing by a mile?

I almost never get excited about these star-in-the-making type stories, but I’ve got to say, this guy is amazing. Every time he’s taken the microphone, he’s knocked the song right out of the park. I can’t recall one negative comment he’s received from any judge after any performance.

To be sure, there are other strong performers in the group who have earned our casual recognition. There’s the Aretha Franklin-looking girl who sang the Oprah theme song (not much of a stretch, really), the cute Southern pixie who can’t pronounce “calamari”, and the gray-haired dude who is a soulful cross between Joe Cocker and Ray Charles (I LOVE this guy, by the way. He’s just not going to win.).

But they’re all blown away whenever Daughtry sings. And as soon as he finishes, my wife and I say, “Whoa - that’s the guy.”

Some of the others will hang with him for a while, but I get the same sense when watching these AI episodes that I do when watching two or three Kenyans in a large lead pack at the Boston Marathon: the near-absolute certainty that it’s only a matter of time before they pull away and win decisively.

My money's on Mandisa to hang with Daughtry until the last mile, then watch in awe as he pulls away in the final lap. (I recognize the irony of using marathon and track analogies with a woman who looks like Mandisa does, but honestly, that's pretty much all I can relate to).

The outcome isn’t in doubt. The only real question is how close any of the other competitors will get. And whether you're talking about athletes or singers, that's the sign of true greatness.

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March 8, 2006

The 5K Kid

My first workout after Sunday’s marathon was a half-mile jog with my 7-year-old son on Monday afternoon. As luck would have it, we’re both training for a race on the same day.

The Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM) also hosts a 5K on race morning while the marathon runners make their way up Highway 1 toward the finish line in Carmel. The 5K runners cross the same finish line as the marathoners, and partake in all the post-race festivities.

The BSIM board has a strong commitment to youth fitness programs, and the 5K was created for local elementary and middle school students to participate with family members. To encourage increased involvement, the BSIM gives financial grants to all schools who participate, and additional monetary awards for schools with the largest percentage of students who enter.

This is the first year that my son has entered, and I couldn’t be more proud of him - but not for the reason you think. It’s not because he’s acting like me, but because of how unlike me he is.

In grade school, I was the kid on every team, who played sports all day long whenever possible. My son is about the most unathletic kid you’ll ever meet. He likes watching some games, but has absolutely no inkling to join a team or practice any particular skills. And believe me, it’s not for lack of trying.

Over the past few years we have introduced all manner of sports to him, all of which were met with a response that was lukewarm at best. We’ve kicked the soccer ball around in the park, played catch (OK, more like throw-and-chase) at the little league field, played kickball and four square at the playground, and shot baskets in the gym.

We have countless sporting goods collecting dust in various locations of the house and yard, each having failed to capture his interest for more than a few days.

(The only exceptions are that he enjoys swimming, and loves riding his bike. If only there was a sport that incorporated those things…Hmmm…let me think…)

The inevitable side effect is that he has terrible coordination and body awareness, and the rare occasions that he tries athletic activities are extremely awkward for him. The one time he went to a track meet with me, he couldn’t stay in his lane during the 60-meter dash because he was weaving so much from side to side.

So one of the last things I expected him to do was to sign up for a 5K race.

There are other aspects of my son I haven’t yet described. For a second-grader, he’s as compassionate and considerate as a kid can get. He believes that everyone should be regarded with love and acceptance, and he truly doesn’t understand why anyone would act differently.

One reason he dislikes sports is because he often sees other classmates breaking the rules during playground games, and he doesn’t like seeing any kid take advantage of another. He doesn’t have much competitive desire, and thinks that games should be played for everyone’s enjoyment, instead of keeping score or remembering who wins.

He helped organize a rummage sale at our church for tsunami victims last year, and after Hurricane Katrina he worked at another sale at his elementary school to raise money for refugees. In both cases, he lobbied my wife and I to give additional donations to relief efforts as well.

So when he learned that the 5K was a fundraiser for the school, he was in. Nevermind that he could barely run a lap without stopping or tripping over himself. He’s a humanitarian.

We’ve now scheduled one day each week to practice running together, to hopefully develop a little stamina and efficiency in his stride before taking to the start line of his race next month. And on the day after my marathon, he was running at just my speed.

But on race day, while I’m obsessed with maintaining a specific time, he probably won’t even look at his watch. While I’m utilizing all of the course support in my own self-interest, he’ll be thinking of how his efforts will help students in his school. When I’m done with the marathon and parsing every minor detail for ways to improve, he’ll forget all about the 5K and move on to some other interesting cause.

Sometimes as his father I’ve wondered why he isn’t more like me. But more often I’ve asked myself why I’m not more like him instead.

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March 5, 2006

The Napa Chronicles, Volume 4

First of all, about the NWS forecast in the previous post: it was exactly right. Which leads me to wonder why our local forecasters are grossly incorrect at least four days per week – don’t they have access to Google Weather like the rest of us? But that’s another post for another time…

Napa was rainy. Napa was windy. The prevailing consensus was that this year wasn’t quite as bad as the horrific 2001 race, but “generally awful” seems an appropriate description. The foul weather persisted from the start of the race, and was fairly consistent in its intensity throughout the morning.

As for running a sub-three-hour marathon – I had pretty much given up on that idea the night before the race, knowing about the projected headwinds and otherwise inclement conditions. I figured that a 3-hour marathon in the storm would require something in the neighborhood of a 2:50-2:55 effort, which I wasn’t nearly in shape to attempt.

My revised plan was to run the race at marathon effort, according to my heart rate monitor. I would let the split times fall where they may, while still trying to work as hard as during a typical marathon. I had no idea how much time I would lose, but I thought this was the best approach for me.

I started very conservatively, running the first mile in 7:35 (3-hour pace is 6:51), the second in 7:15, and the third in 7:00. Wearing my 2-dollar poncho from the expo – by far my best investment of the weekend - and checking my HRM constantly, I plodded through the next mile in just under seven minutes.

Gradually as the miles ticked by in 6:52, 6:48, 6:58, 6:45, an unlikely thought occurred to me…I wasn’t that far off of 3-hour pace. I was generally keeping my heart rate where I wanted to, and running only a handful of seconds per mile behind. It was still early in the race, though, so I stuck with the original plan and didn’t concern myself with the splits.

I passed the halfway point in 1:31, and knew I was keeping things close. I also knew the toughest parts of the course were still to come.

The rain was heavier and the headwind became stronger in miles 16-23, but my pace didn’t slow too significantly. I was working extremely hard - and while I wasn’t losing much time, I wasn’t gaining any, either. With 5K to go I finally confirmed the point I had assumed a few hours before: I wouldn’t be breaking 3-hours today.

I kept a steady pace through the final miles, slowing only by a few seconds to finish in 3:02:25 (official time 3:02:55 – no chips at Napa). I quickly became hypothermic and started shivering uncontrollably while hobbling around the finish area, looking for a dry place to change clothes. It would be several hours before I felt like my core temperature had bounced back to normal.

So I didn’t break my time goal – but I’m really happy with this race for several reasons. In fact, I’d place it in the top-5 (out of over 30) marathons that I’ve ever done, for the following reasons:

1) I had the discipline to stay with my plan despite constant temptation to abandon it and attempt to make up lost time. I’m convinced that if I had tried to run any faster in the first 20 miles, I certainly would have crashed and burned again in the last 5K.

2) Starting Saturday night, I had an enormous sense of reluctance about this race. I had flashbacks to the 2001 race, and was simply dreading facing those kind of elements again. Especially once I conceded that a sub-3 shot probably wouldn’t happen, there didn’t seem much point to running an extremely hard race. But somehow once the race got underway, I was fully committed to giving my best effort. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but one of those things that just comes upon you like providence. I can’t really explain it much better that that.

3) There were several points – after the first 3 miles, at the halfway point, during the windiest miles 21-23, or after I did the math with 5K to go – where I could have just shut the motor down and cruised in at a more comfortable pace. But I never gave in to that thought, and stayed mentally tough throughout the course. I frequently think that my Achilles’ heel as a marathoner is psychological fragility, but today I was able to keep that particular demon at bay.

4) I ran a remarkably consistent race. After mile 2, all of my splits were between 6:45 and 7:05, except for miles 24 and 25 in 7:15 each. My first half and second half splits were almost identical. It was confirmation that I did the right thing in pacing by my heart rate instead of other factors.

5) Starting at the halfway point, I wasn’t passed by any other runners for the rest of the race. Not one. Although I wasn’t really going any faster - merely slowing down less precipitously than the others - it’s hard to describe what a great feeling it is to reel in one runner after another in the late stages of a marathon. I live for stretches like that.

6) I ran a very smart and strategic race, drafting whenever possible, and selectively picking the spots to bridge the gaps from one runner to another. I was constantly assessing my heart rate, the relative wind speed, the distance between groups, and other factors in picking my best course of action. In most cases, I guessed right.

7) I also prepared smartly for this race, and tapered the way I needed to, which wasn’t the way I had originally intended. The injury I had worried about earlier in the week never became a major factor, but this could have easily gone the other way if I hadn’t been extra cautious this week.

The only real downside from today’s race: that sub-3 thing. Unfortunately, today just wasn’t the day for me to run that sort of time. That’s pretty much all there is to say about it. I don’t feel like I could have done anything differently (aside from arriving in better shape, of course) today that would have resulted in a faster time.

I think it speaks to the fickleness of the marathon event, and how unpredictable the results can be for any given runner on any day. For instance, Saturday was a beautiful day in Napa – if the race had been yesterday instead of today, perhaps I run 5 minutes faster. Or maybe I would have been too aggressive and ended up running slower.

This race also illustrates the fallibility of placing too much emphasis on finishing times instead of less obvious measures of performance. In several ways, I feel like I ran a very strong race today. But as the days and weeks go by and I start gnawing on that 3:02, I’ll inevitably feel a bit of remorse that I couldn’t have eked another 2 minutes out of today’s effort. I’ll have to remind myself to read this post again in 3 months.

As far as my quest for a sub-3 at Napa goes…I’m not really sure where that stands now. I still think that I have a race day like that in me, but I don’t feel doggedly compelled to chase it soon. For various reasons, it’s not nearly as important to me as it was a few years ago, although I would still consider it a great feather in my cap if it ever comes to pass.

If it works out for me to go back next year, I may try it again. But if something else captures attention in 2007, I’ll be OK putting this race on the back burner.

For now, my immediate concern will be recovery from this race, then turning my focus to my top priority for the year: the Big Sur Marathon, exactly 8 weeks from today.

Finally, thanks to everyone who sent well wishes before the race. I carried them with me, and I think it does give some intangible boost to know that the bloggers are pulling for you.

In this sport, every little bit helps.

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March 3, 2006

Here We Go Again

National Weather Service forecast for Napa, CA on Sunday, March 5:

"Windy. Rain likely. Highs in the 50s. Lows in the mid to upper 40s. Morning southeast winds 15 to 30 mph with gusts to around 45 mph...becoming south 5 to 15 mph in the afternoon."

In case you’re wondering, the Napa course runs from north to south. Southeast winds would be a headwind.

Remember the story I wrote about the perfect storm at the Napa Marathon in 2001? That sort of thing couldn’t really happen again, right?

Um...right?

I guess I’ll be packing some rain gear this weekend.

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March 2, 2006

Murderball

Occasionally when I become too obsessive about running, I like to remind myself of its relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

So this week was an appropriate time for me to watch the movie Murderball, the documentary of the United States “quad rugby” team.

Quad rugby is played in basketball gymnasiums by physically challenged athletes in gladiator-style wheelchairs. The athletes are as tough and competitive as any able-bodied Olympians, and the movie chronicles their team in its preparation for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.

It also provides a candid look into the day-to-day lives of these wheelchair-bound individuals. As a physical therapist, I was especially moved by watching these young men struggle through long rehabilitation sessions and make adaptations for returning to community life.

The athletes in the film have made successful transitions to post-injury life and have some peace about their condition. Unfortunately, they represent the minority in many general tendencies of this patient population.

Spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries occur disproportionately with young, active males. The sudden nature of occurrence, severity of disability, and finality of the injuries are often an overwhelming combination. Many patients struggle to find a sense of purpose, and suffer through severe depression or self-imposed isolation from friends and family.

That’s why it is so encouraging to watch stories like Murderball. Certainly, these athletes have countless difficulties and limitations the rest of us could never imagine, but they still manage to provide glimpses of hope and optimism.

In one scene, Bob Lujano, a Team USA member who lost both legs above the knees and both hands to a rare blood disease, is talking with a group of schoolchildren. One of them asks how he lost his arms and legs. He tells them that he got really sick when he was nine years old, and removing his limbs was the only way to save him.

Seeing the concerned looks of the kids, Lujano immediately smiles and says, “But it’s OK. I’m all right. I just do the best I can with what I have every day. That’s what we all should do, right?”

Yes, that’s what we all should do, and that’s what brings me back to running.

How do we know if we are doing the best we can in our lives? There are few objective measures in daily life. How do you know if you are doing your best work at the office, or as a parent, or as a friend? It’s difficult to find honest methods of assessment.

For runners, periodic races are opportunities to determine the extent of your ability. Race days are days when we ask the question, “What is the best I can do today?”

I don’t believe in entering races as extra-mileage days, or tempo runs, or for group interaction. While other people’s opinions may differ (and that’s OK), I feel that when you pay your money and pin on a race number, you are pledging to give your best effort that day – whether you are in prime condition or not.

As far as this weekend goes, I know that I’m not as prepared as I would like to be. I was late in starting my mileage buildup, I haven’t done as many high-mileage weeks as I planned, and I’ve been dancing around this minor injury that could potentially become a major limitation as the race unfolds.

But none of that will matter on Sunday. I’ll pin on my number and stand on the start line determined to give my best effort, and let my finishing time be a secondary concern. Even though I’m not 100%, I’ll just do the best I can with what I have.

That’s what we all should do, right?

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March 1, 2006

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

I’ve never been good at tapering.

More generally, I’m not very good at waiting for anything. And that’s one of the main elements of tapering: you’re waiting to learn if your training was good enough, waiting in hopes that your body will heal and gain strength, waiting to discover if your race strategy is the correct one.

I know it’s a necessary evil. As Dr Phil would say, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it!” He’s not really talking about tapering, but if the shoe fits, I’ll wear it.

(Just a random observation, but has anyone gone from “apex of their career” to “desperately trying to stay afloat by relying on gimmicky episodes and publicity stunts” faster than Dr Phil? I remember a time when I found him very credible. Then he started selling diet pills, making family Christmas specials, and acting like Chuck Woolery on the “Dr Phil Love Cruise,” and I can’t believe he’s jumped the shark so quickly. Sorry, back to the post…)

Speaking of shoes, I’ve been running for the past couple of days in these new racers, and they feel pretty comfortable. I know a lot of tri-bloggers like to post photos of their gear, so here’s my meager attempt to emulate them:


It’s, you know, a pair of shoes. Blue shoes. New Balance 901s for anyone who is interested.

I’ve never really been able to wear lightweight racers, because I’m so big that I feel like I need much more cushioning and stability than racing flats offer. So this shoe is a compromise – it’s lighter than my standard trainers, but sturdier than a racing shoe.

I typically don’t believe in relying on specialized gear to help me succeed on race day. I think 98% of race-day success is based on physical preparation beforehand, and psychological mindset during the event. But hey, if the right shoes will shave a couple of minutes off my time, I’m willing to give them a try.

So what do you think…do they look fast?

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