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November 30, 2006

The Final Rose

Before we get to today’s post, a couple of people have asked for my take on the whole Britney Spears-Paris Hilton pairing. You know, the two straight weeks of partying and club hopping and generally making fools of themselves - occasionally without pants.

I have to say I was a bit surprised. I guess I figured that after her divorce, Britney would follow the lead of Jessica Simpson by making herself super-hot, then dating an NFL quarterback or some other alpha male. But apparently she has a different strategy in mind.

Now I’m thinking of it this way: Have you ever trained really hard for several months in anticipation of a race? And when the race was over, did you have a period of a few weeks where you blew off training, stayed up late every night, and ate as many dessert items as you could find? It’s almost like you say to yourself, “Screw it - I know all of this is self destructive, but I don’t care right now. I just want to enjoy myself.”

So maybe that’s what Britney’s doing with Paris – enjoying a brief self-destructive phase just to blow off some steam and enjoy herself for a while. Then hopefully after a couple more weeks, she’ll decide to get her act together and shift into training mode again. Hopefully.

Of course, the other (more likely) explanation is that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about in that previous post. But I hope that’s not it.

OK, on with today’s post…

***

I’ve never really been one to believe in soulmates.

You know what I mean – the romantic notion that there is only one person in the great big world who is the ideal match to your personality. That your perfect companion is wandering somewhere around the great big world, and once you find that person, you’ll realize true happiness and enjoy a passionately rewarding relationship.

Honestly, I think that’s all a bunch of hooey.

When it comes to finding happiness, I tend to think in a more practical manner. It seems like successful relationships rely on fundamentals like maturity, humility, and a commitment to working through difficulties together. Yes, there are some personality types that naturally mesh well with others, but if the core values are too dissimilar, even those “ideal matches” will eventually become strained.

On the other hand, people with similar fundamentals can overcome a lot of obstacles. And if two such people dedicate themselves to each other, their relationship will most likely be a success.

This theory inherently contradicts the notion of soulmates, in that somebody could potentially create a happy, fulfilling relationship with any number of people (although not all at once. Unless you live in Utah.). For example, if I hadn’t happened to meet my future wife in college, there’s a pretty decent chance that I might have found somebody in grad school or later in my career who could have made me just as happy.

As you can imagine, this line of thinking could potentially get me into big trouble with my current wife. Except for one thing: she happens to agree with me.

Each of us often says that the other person would have no problem finding a new mate should something tragic ever happen. Then the other one of us denies that he/she could ever find a relationship as great as what we have now. We both know the response is basically a lie, but it’s always the right thing to say. (Aren’t we sweet that way?)

The reason I bring all this up is that this Saturday is the lottery drawing for the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. Yes, it makes sense. Just hear me out.

I’ve wanted to run Western States for several years now. It’s at the top of my list of races that I haven’t yet done but dearly want to. So to say I’ve been looking forward to this lottery day for the past few months would be putting things very mildly.

If I get in (about a 50/50 chance), that race will be the primary focus of next year’s race calendar, and of my immediate training plans. Between now and next June, I’ll run countless miles on the hilly trails of Monterey County. I’ll run in the dark. I’ll run at midnight. Heck, I’ll probably even run hilly trails in the dark at midnight.

In short, I’ll commit myself to doing all of the necessary training that will maximize my chances of finishing the race. And I’m very confident that I’ll succeed.

Considering all of that, I’ll be somewhat disappointed if I don’t get in. But I certainly won’t be crushed by the rejection. That’s because I don’t believe in soulmates - in relationships or with races.

As much as I’m dying to do it, Western States isn’t my soulmate race. If I’m left out of the lottery this time around, I have a backup plan in place (that many of you have already guessed by now) that I’m equally enthusiastic about. And I would be perfectly happy in that situation as well.

The training would be different. The race schedule would be different. But I’ll still dedicate myself to doing all of the necessary work, and I’m very confident that I can succeed at the other race also.

All I need now is to establish where my loyalties lie. In that regard, this week I’ve felt like The Bachelor before the final rose ceremony: there are two totally hot options in front of me, but I can only keep one of them. They’re each a little crazy in their own quirky ways, but I can truly envision myself being happy with either one. What’s most important is that, in my heart, I know that I’m ready to fall in love.

(Except that, thanks to the lottery system, I don’t actually get to offer the final rose myself – it will be given vicariously by some dude in the Placer High School cafeteria. So the analogy isn’t perfect. But you get the idea.)

Anyway, the drawing takes place on Saturday, and the results will be posted on the Western States website that afternoon. I’ll also place a short post here with the news.

You don’t have to wish me luck. Just wish me love.

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November 28, 2006

When I'm 59

Sometimes all it takes is a quick e-mail to remind me why I love running.

I’ve mentioned my friend Mike in this blog before. He’s the co-author of my Monterey Herald column, but that’s not his primary vocation. For as long as I’ve known him, his main preoccupation seems to be figuring out how to actively defy the aging process.

He’ll try any food, drink, or supplement that’s been found to prevent disease or slow the body’s natural rate of aging. But he doesn’t look for shortcuts. His knows his best weapon against growing old is his running, and he works harder at it than almost anyone I know.

He also happens to have a great genetic predisposition for running – which, when combined with his work ethic, makes him a very tough guy to beat. When we started running together, I was 26, and he was 50 – and it took me almost five years to finally beat him in a race.

We’re still competitive with each other, but it’s more of a friendly thing now. We don’t often enter the same races, and when we do, we each want the other person to have as strong a race as possible.

Which brings me back to the e-mail.

I decided to not run the Big Sur Half-Marathon last month, so in the course of a routine e-mail exchange before the race I asked him what time he was shooting for. I got the following response:

***

I'd like to run 1:18 in the half. HA HA. Not realistic.

Longer story: Two years ago I ran 1:26:55 which was the 55-59 course record and last year 1:26:50. Unfortunately [another runner] ran 1:26:40 last year which is now the course record for 55-59. I don't know if he is running this year or not. Or any other 55-59 years olds who might be faster.

So I would love to run 1:26:39 or faster. I'm going to try to run 6:30's for as long as I can. That gets me around 1:25 I think. But my recent 10K time of 39:15 indicates I would run about 1:28. So we'll see.

Another factor is that Bryan [Mike’s 31-year-old son] is probably ready to beat me. He hasn't beaten me in an official road race yet. I'll start faster than him so when he catches me at some point in the race it may spur me on to run faster for awhile. We'll see.

ABSOLUTELY PERFECT DAY would be sub 1:26:40 and finishing with Bryan.

***

It’s only a few short paragraphs, but they speak to a lot of things I admire about Mike.

Somehow, his times at this race have improved from one year to the next, which – last time I checked – isn’t supposed to happen at age 59. And while he may not be competitive with the best 30-year-olds, he remains one of the fastest guys in his age group. He usually looks to take down the course record at various races, and frequently succeeds.

He raises his game for big events, regardless of objective data that tells him he shouldn’t run so fast. He's extremely competitive, but uses it solely to optimize his own performance, rather than wishing poor results upon others. This guy won’t even let his own son beat him without putting up a strong fight, and using the occasion to make himself faster as well.

And when I read his response, my first thought was this: that’s EXACTLY how I want to be when I’m his age.

Fundamentally, running means much more than the races we’ve run or the PRs we’ve posted in our best years or the competitors we’ve defeated. At the core of the sport is the simple goal of continually making ourselves better – physically (staying healthy), physiologically (improving our performance), and emotionally.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re 20 or 60. And that’s what Mike’s e-mail reminded me of.

The half-marathon turned out mostly the way Mike predicted. He ran 1:26:28, or 12 seconds faster than the old course record. His son passed him in the later miles on his way to a 1:24 finish, defeating his father for the first time in an official race, but pulling several extra seconds of speed out of his old man in the process.

Unfortunately, the same guy who set last year’s age group mark ran 1:25:05 this year to set a new record. Mike won’t get another crack at the record, as he turns 60 in early 2007. But he’s already talking about rewriting the 60-year-old course record books, a goal which seems firmly within his grasp.

That’s the kind of fire I want to keep burning. I want to still be a racer when I’m 59. I want to continue challenging myself to be as fast as I can be. I want to race against my children and only relinquish a victory when they truly earn it.

And even if our head-to-head competitions will be done by then, I want to keep racing Mike.

Personally, I hope he puts up some numbers next year that last a long time. Like, maybe 25 years or so. I’d like to flip through a race program sometime in 2031 and see his name next to the course record. Then I’d work my tail off to take the record down.

It’s very unlikely that I’d succeed, but even if I did, I have a feeling Mike probably won’t even mind.

After all, he’ll be too busy trying to break records in the 85-to-89 age group to worry about some upstart 60-year-old.

**

(postscript: I e-mailed this article to Mike for approval before posting it, and he wrote back: “The only thing you left out is that I still plan on beating you.” So there you go.)

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November 22, 2006

Monument Tour

(Administrative note: I wrote the following article shortly after a business trip in October. I planned on using it for a Monterey Herald article, but Mike and I had a couple of other topics we wanted to cover first, so this one just sat idle on my laptop for several weeks.

As it happens, our next column runs on Thanksgiving Day. This article wasn’t meant to be a standard-issue “giving thanks” type of column, but after looking it over a couple of times, it sort of fits the mold. The original version is posted below, and a modified (i.e. more Thanksgiving-y) version will appear in Thursday’s Herald.

With that said … happy reading, and have a nice Thanksgiving.)

***

Thankfully, I haven’t been to a lot of memorial services.

Honoring the lives of those who have passed before us is generally somber business. Although we try to celebrate life, the overwhelming emotions are usually those of sadness and grief.

And to show our respect, we would never dream of showing up in sweat-soaked running clothes.

But with the passage of 100 years or so, the rules change a bit. Instead of memorial services, the lives of our predecessors are remembered in monuments, open for contemplation in whatever manner touches us the most profoundly.

I thought about this while running through Washington, D.C. last month.

My business day ended at 5:00 PM, leaving about 90 minutes of sunlight before night descended upon the city. I quickly changed clothes, laced up my shoes, and headed out the door of my Georgetown hotel.

I took pedestrian pathways towards downtown, and noticed that several tourist groups were still making their rounds in large buses which stopped at the major monuments. I decided to use my evening run for the same purpose.

My first stop was the Jefferson Memorial at the Tidal Basin. Approaching the 130’ structure, my first realization was how large these memorials really are. Everyone knows what D.C.’s landmarks look like from photographs, but until you’re standing at the base of one, it’s hard to fathom their imposing size.


I ran up the marble steps and into the portico, to gaze upon the 20’ statue of our third President. From such a vantage point, his inscribed words on the walls and in the dome overhead strike a profoundly noble chord.

I started this run seeking inspiration; less than 20 minutes in, I had found it.

My path led me around the Basin to the FDR Memorial. I slowed to walk through the waterfalls and reflecting pools. Contemplating scenes from the Great Depression alongside inscriptions such as Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, I felt grateful for the talents and comforts I’ve known for my whole life.


One reason for that prosperity was the next stop on my tour: the World War II Memorial. On the west side of the plaza I stood at the Freedom Wall, taking the measure of over 4000 gold stars – each one representing 100 American deaths. Nearly all of them died younger than I am now. My evening run had taken a somber turn.

I resumed jogging along the reflecting pool toward the Lincoln Memorial. Again I was impressed by the sheer size of the monument (and I could be wrong, but it sure seemed like the steps got steeper towards the top) and the stature of the man it honors.


I also found that despite the crowds at the base of Lincoln’s chair, it was unusually silent here in the inner chamber. I could hear my own breathing as we stood in reverence of one of our country’s greatest leaders.

I descended the steps and drifted over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The black granite wall is simultaneously stark and sacred, and its aesthetic power was enough to stop me in my tracks.

Architect Maya Lin intended this to be a place of reflection. The granite is polished and glossy, reflecting the grass and trees and visitors that surround it. Images of life are reflected in the names of those who died, eternally connecting scenes from the present to the heroes of our troubled past.


Above all, this was a place of great sorrow. It seemed fitting that darkness was falling. I slowly walked the length of the wall, then continued onward, with just one stop remaining on my tour.

I ran through Constitution Gardens toward the city’s most recognizable structure. Approaching it, I saw that the lights of the Washington Monument had already been turned on, giving the towering obelisk a dusky hue against the orange and purple autumn sunset.

I ran up the sloping grass to the tower, and stood right against the monument, so the lights from the ground projected my shadow upward against the white marble and sandstone.

Standing at the base, it’s impossible to see the top of the monument. Even my larger-than-life-shadow projected up only a fraction of the tower’s 555’ height. The inherent message was simple: standing here, I was in the presence of giants.

Returning along the Potomac through the darkness, I considered the time I had just spent at these memorials. In particular, I remembered some signs I had seen along the way.

Many of the monuments have standard-issue “Quiet please - No smoking - No pets - No skateboarding” signs posted in common areas. But I was surprised to see that several of these signs also say “No running.”

Was this a simple liability issue? Or had I been disrespectful by showing up at these memorials with shorts, muddy running shoes and a sweaty Big Sur Marathon shirt? If so, I couldn’t really make sense of it.

Because whether they commemorate triumphs or sadness, the monuments inspire and challenge us. They force us to consider our own lives, our purposes, and how we influence the world around us.

In that regard, I thought it quite appropriate that I visited them in the midst of a run.

When I’m out running, I’m filled with inspiration and encouragement. And I’m never more introspective, more humble, or more contemplative than when I’m wearing shorts and running shoes. That night I was especially appreciative for my ability to run, and for freedom to do the activities I enjoy.

Running in the footsteps of giants, I was grateful to all of those who made it possible: the founders who established our great nation, and the generations who continually defend her ideals. Sharing my run with thoughts of such patriots is the best way I can think of to pay my respects.

And if I’m a little bit stinky and sweaty while doing so – well, hopefully Abe, George, and the others will understand.

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November 17, 2006

Dennis and Britney and Dave

As promised, today’s post is centered around Britney Spears. But first, an update about our stolen Dennis the Menace statue.

The short version is, it’s still missing. The longer version is happier.

Apparently the sculptor who created the statue also made two replicas that were given as gifts. One sits in the labor and delivery unit of Monterey’s Community Hospital, and the other resides with the family of Dennis’s creator, the late cartoonist Hank Ketcham.

The family has offered their statue to re-create a cast, from which a new statue can be made for the park. It will take a few months and about $10,000, but the park will eventually have a new Dennis statue. There’s a great Monterey Herald story here with more details.

The Ketcham family’s statue will also be used at a celebration to commemorate the park’s 50th anniversary, which, coincidentally, happens to be today.

So that’s your feel-good story of the day. Now, on to the crazy stuff.

***

I don’t know if you’ve heard this … but Britney Spears is getting divorced.

To anyone who likes watching music videos (yes, that would be me), this comes as fantastic news. It has the potential to be a remarkable comeback story – and I’m a sucker for a great comeback story. I’ve been waiting on this particular occurrence for about 25 months now.

The headlines also made me think of another comeback I’ve been anticipating for quite a while. And this is where the Britney saga intertwines with a running story. It’s the story of my friend Dave.

(To protect his identity, I’m calling him Dave. There are about 10 guys named Dave in our running club. But this guy’s name isn’t really Dave. Or maybe it is. The point is, I’m not telling. And if anyone guesses, I’ll never confirm it. So there.)

Dave started running with our group about 5 years ago. He was somewhat raw, but possessed great talent. It didn’t take long for him to develop his potential.

When he first joined us for workouts, his PRs were significantly slower than ours. But he dedicated himself to working hard, and within a year he was routinely smoking all of us at local races.

During one particular 18-month stretch, his ceiling seemed limitless. He was the overall winner at several local 10Ks, and placed in the top 10 at the Big Sur Marathon, Pacific Grove Triathlon, and San Francisco Marathon. He quickly became an alpha dog in our training group.

Shortly thereafter, Dave’s training hit some bumps in the road, and his running career veered into a ditch. He suffered a succession of injuries, started showing up less frequently at workouts, and gradually disappeared. The last time I saw him running was when I passed him during a half-marathon last November that he eventually dropped out of. I’ve only laid eyes on him about three times since then.

But he was such a good runner, and left such an impact on our training group, that we still talk about him often. Someone will say they talked to him in the supermarket, or heard that he switched jobs, or saw him riding his bike one day.

What is usually unspoken, but universally understood, is this: we want the old Dave back.

We miss the guy who always pulled away from us in the final half-hour of a 22-mile Saturday run. The guy who made us shudder when he showed up at track workouts because we knew the hammer was going to come down from the very first interval. The guy who came up big at the most important races. The guy who made the rest of us better runners.

All of which brings me back to Britney Spears.

When I first heard that Britney had finally dumped K-Fed and was discussing plans to resume her recording career, the whole analogy fell into place. All of the parallels were immediately apparent: Dave is the Britney Spears of our running group.

Let’s quickly recap Britney’s career: an originally unpolished talent with seemingly limitless potential, who worked her body into amazing shape and experienced a meteoric rise to fame and success. At the top of her game, she produced a mind-boggling series of performances before unexpected interruptions led to a sudden derailment. The amount of time she spent in the limelight was entirely too brief.

(Note that I did that recap in about 60 words. I could have done it in 600. I thought I’d be considerate of your time, though. No need to thank me.)

Britney left such an enormous impression on pop culture that even when she didn’t make a record for three years, everyone still wanted to talk about her. We speculated about when she was pregnant, we saw pictures of her shopping barefoot at the local 7-Eleven, and we all talked about the driving lessons she gave to her one-year-old.

Granted, watching trailer park Britney was fascinating, but what went unspoken for many of us watching was this: we wanted the old Britney back.

I want to see the girl who had the best abs this side of Janet Jackson. The girl who wore nothing but a bikini and a python at the MTV Awards. The one who danced so suggestively in Pepsi commercials that I got a caffeine rush just watching them (at least, I think it was caffeine. It may have been something else.) The one who performed in lingerie and kissed Madonna onstage. I miss that Britney.

(As I’m typing this, I’m wondering if there’s a female-fan equivalent to this Britney analogy. Maybe Tom Cruise? I would think most ladies prefer the Maverick/Lieutenant Kaffee/Jerry Maguire Cruise to the Scientologist/couch-jumping/psychology-bashing lunatic we’ve got today. I’m just guessing here.)

Like many others, I’ve long been hoping that Britney would come to her senses. With the news of her divorce, it appears that she may finally be turning the corner towards getting her act together again.

She’s announced plans to release a new album in 2007. As any VH1 junkie knows, a new album means new videos. She’s even talking about touring for the first time in two years. And something tells me that Britney won’t put herself onscreen or onstage if she’s still carrying a lot of excess junk in the trunk. In other words, I sense a full-scale comeback brewing, and it could be one of the most exciting developments of next year.

So it certainly appears that better times are ahead for the girl. And I couldn’t be happier for me. I mean, for her. Happier for her. OK … happier for both of us.

Truthfully, I can think of only one way that this story could possibly get any better. I’d like to figure out some way of getting Britney to call my friend Dave and give him a pep talk. After all, if she can stage this kind of comeback after spending two years married to a complete loser, having two kids, and surviving a horrendous reality TV show, there’s got to be hope for him.

I waited more than two years for Britney to return. I hope I don’t have to wait that long for Dave.

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November 13, 2006

Finding Autumn

My original plan for this week was to have only one midweek post, and put the blog on cruise control for the remainder of the week. Then fate intervened – not in the form of Tuesday’s elections, or the end of the Rumsfeld Era on Wednesday, but something far more culturally seismic: Britney Spears’s divorce.

It can be said that I’ve had a passing fascination with Britney’s career trajectory in recent years. So I couldn’t let the news of her divorce simply go unmentioned – especially when one of the first things I thought after hearing the news was a running analogy. Yes, my mind is a twisted place. I don’t even bother questioning it anymore.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures – so I’m publishing this post a couple of days early, and planning another one about Britney later this week. (Have I mentioned how much I suffer for this blog sometimes?) As for now, let me just say this on that subject …

I’ve wondered in this space before why nobody in Las Vegas has thought to take wagers on reality TV programs, such as Survivor or The Bachelor (speaking of which … at the beginning of this season, what would have been the odds that a virgin would be the last girl standing? 1000 to 1? Ten thousand? I can’t even imagine.) Now I’m thinking that the same reasoning could apply to celebrity nuptials.

Thank about it: the news of Britney’s divorce surprised absolutely nobody. The only question anybody had was what took her so long. So how much money do you think would have passed hands two years ago if some casino had placed an over/under line on the length of the marriage? Everybody would have wanted a piece of that action. If the line was 24 months, how much money would the house have made from people betting the “under” and losing after the 25-month marriage? Sometimes I think I should offer my services to the gaming industry.

But let’s stop there for today, and get on with the regularly scheduled post. It’s a snapshot of a day early last week, a couple of days before my wife’s surgery.


***


One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Carmel Valley’s landscape is the preponderance of oak trees.

Various species of oak populate nearly every square acre of our terrain: from enormous white oaks on the valley floor, to densely packed live oaks on the flanks of canyons, and sprawling black oaks sprinkled on the ridgelines atop the valley.


In fact, the oaks are so pervasive that other species have a difficult time establishing themselves. Small groves of redwood, cottonwood, pine and sycamore trees have developed in places, but for most of the year, their beauty is lost amidst the flourishing older natives.

It’s only during the autumn months that these secondary trees are finally able to distinguish themselves. And none do it better than the maples.

There aren’t many prettier sights in nature than seeing hundreds of leaves on a mature maple tree display various hues of red, brown, and yellow before making their descent to the earth below. Likewise, there aren’t many prettier places to run than on a trail that lies barely visible beneath several inches of fallen leaves.

During October and November, I try to run as often as possible in Garland Ranch, the 4500-acre regional park located just minutes from my front door. Its steep fire roads and challenging switchbacks are ideal terrain for trail runners in any season, but at this time of year it’s also the best place to see pockets of brilliant colors within the verdant oak forests (our oaks typically don’t shed their leaves until much later in the season).

The maple trees here are clearly in the minority; looking at the hillside from across the valley, they appear like small drops of red and yellow paint randomly splashed against a green canvas. From ground level they can be completely obscured by the dominant foliage. In other words, if you want to experience the beauty of autumn in Carmel Valley, you have to know where to look for it.

I was reminded of this while my 8-year-old son grew frustrated with a school project last week. His assignment was to collect and press fallen leaves for a craft that his class was doing, and he was dissatisfied with the samples he gathered from our yard.

We have three large oak trees on our property. For aesthetic appeal, they are fantastic. For gathering autumn leaves … not so much.

He collected a handful of small, sort-of brown oak leaves from our driveway before announcing that things weren’t going very well, and he didn’t think the project would be any good. That’s when the idea came to me.

Luckily, I had been running on the trails that very morning, and knew exactly where to go. I said, “Come with me - I know where to find some great ones,” and five minutes later he and his sister (who never passes up a good art project) were in the car, and we drove straight to the nearest trailhead.

We walked the trail to the base of a large maple tree where the leaves piled up around our ankles. And my son no longer had any worries about filling his basket.

The two of them waded ahead to gather some leaves. At first, I tried to guide their decision making – this one has nicely blended colors, that one has perfect symmetry - but quickly decided that they were certainly qualified to make such choices on their own. Picking up one leaf after another, they kept some and discarded others by some internal subjective rationale that I felt no need to influence. The collection we returned home with was as impressive as anyone could ask for.

I have no idea how the school project turned out. I’ll probably see it when it comes home in a backpack with a stack of other papers. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me that much.

What’s more important is that two of my kids and I spent an early fall evening walking among the fallen leaves. They experienced the simple joy of the season and came home with a little more appreciation of the natural beauty of their hometown.

It somehow seemed fitting that the day should end on the same trail where it started for me 12 hours earlier. Because if I hadn’t run there in the morning, I might not have remembered that spot of autumn leaves in the oak forest. But since I did, the run had an unexpected ripple effect through the end of the day.

Best of all, thanks to a simple trail run, my kids learned where they can find a terrific maple tree.


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November 10, 2006

The Perfect Day

Surgery update: We're home from the hospital today, and everything went as well as we could have hoped for. My wife had some postoperative complications due to anesthesia, but otherwise she is coming along pretty well. Her pain control is good and she got a good night's sleep. Her activity will be limited for at least two weeks before she sees the doctor for a follow-up visit.

Thanks again to everyone who inquired and sent good wishes - hopefully the worst part is behind us now.


As for today's post, I'm taking the easy way out and reprinting the Monterey Herald article Mike and I wrote for yesterday's paper. It's about trying to have the perfect day.

***

The Running Life 11/09/06 “The Perfect Day”

Runners hear a lot of advice. Sometimes, too much advice.

Don’t get us wrong – we’re all for healthy living and eating. But you can drive yourself crazy trying to do everything that experts recommend.

We’ve gathered a large sampling of advice and put together a blueprint for a Perfectly Healthy Day. How many of these things can you claim in your daily routine?

If your answer is a low number, don’t worry – so is ours. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

1. Wake up early, at the same time every day – even on weekends.
2. Enjoy a few minutes of conversation with your loving spouse.
3. Get out of bed and drink your first of 8 glasses of water for the day.
4. Brush and floss your teeth – the first of three times today.
5. Eat a pre-exercise snack of a half bagel or an energy bar.
6. Do warm-up exercises while watching the news to stay intellectually current.
7. Meet the running group before dawn for your daily run of 30 to 60 minutes - longer on weekends.
8. Stay socially connected with the runners by discussing family, politics, philosophy, and sharing some laughs during the run.
9. Afterwards, do your post-run stretching and yoga. Drink more water.
10. Eat a healthy breakfast together with the family. Be sure to include whole grains, antioxidants, flaxseed oil, and lots of fiber.
11. Vitamin time: toss down a multi-vitamin plus vitamins C and E, with a selenium or coenzyme Q10 chaser. Are you female? Don’t forget the iron, calcium and Vitamin D. Male? Take lycopene for prostate health. Over 40? Glucosomine chondroitin, ginkgo biloba, and 2 baby aspirin. Under 10? Flintstones.
12. Drink a cup of black coffee or green tea for extra antioxidants.
13. Off to work for a day of rewarding, meaningful employment that you love. Carpool to work, ride your bike, or drive in your hybrid car.
14. Listen to National Public Radio in the car – but occasionally scroll across the rap or rock stations to stay aware of what your kids are listening to.
15. Park far away from your office so you can burn extra calories walking to the door. If it’s a multi-story office building, never use the elevator.
16. Do some early-morning meditation at your desk, and visualize a successful day.
17. Maintain healthy relationships with all your co-workers to decrease stress. Treat every problem as a new opportunity.
18. Have a mid-morning snack of nonfat yogurt and a few walnuts or almonds.
19. Drink another helping of water, black coffee or green tea. Then stop drinking caffeine after noon.
20. Call or e-mail your spouse (but not on company time – be sure to clock-out first) and family during the day to see how they are doing. While you’re at it, call your parents and touch base with your siblings. Always tell people how much you love them.
21. Lunch time! Enjoy your fruit cup or garden salad. Drink water instead of soda. Go for a short walk outside after eating.
22. Take a 20-minute power nap in the early afternoon, then get back to work! Your co-workers are looking for you.
23. Get up from your desk and do some stretches every hour.
24. Afternoon snack: two pieces of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocao content), along with an apple or banana.
25. Leave 10 minutes before the end of the work day to straighten your desk and compile a “to do” list for the next day. This assures that tomorrow will be low-stress and productive.
26. Take your hybrid car, bicycle, or carpool home.
27. At least once per week, get a massage after work to release muscle tension.
28. After work, have a nice conversation with your spouse, spend some quality time with each of your kids, or do some volunteer work at your church or synagogue.
29. Before dinner, have one glass of red wine with high resveritrol content. (You’ll find the highest content in Dr. Constantine Franks Pinot Noir from New York State – that’s our vinicultural tip of the week).
30. Eat dinner together as a family every night, no later than 6:30 PM.
31. For dinner, have a main course of salmon (wild, not farmed) at least twice per week to get your Omega 3’s and 6’s. Have bright, colorful vegetables along with it. On the other nights have small portions of pasta with very light sauce, plus lean meat or chicken.
32. Try to skip dessert. But if you can’t resist, then have some lowfat pudding or try a dessert recipe from Cooking Light magazine.
33. Once you get up from the table – that’s it. No more eating for the night.
34. Spend individual time with each of your children separately before bedtime. Participate in their bedtime routines.
35. Time to catch up on TV – good thing you have TiVo. Watch a one-hour show in 44 minutes. Do some sit ups or stretching while you watch. Remember to limit your TV to one hour a night, then go read a self-help or motivational book. Or work on a Sudoku or crossword puzzle to stay mentally sharp.
36. Talk to your spouse for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
37. Go to bed early so you can get at least 7 hours of sleep. End the day with some hugs, cuddling, and maybe (if you’re lucky) some intimacy with your spouse.
38. Fall asleep easily and make all of your dreams pleasant ones.

So how did you do? Clearly, it’s pretty tough to have a perfect day.

However, the nice thing about a healthy lifestyle is that you don’t have to be perfect every day. Just do the things you can, and periodically try to add some things you haven’t done before.

And if for some reason you manage screw everything up - don’t lose sleep over it. You can always try again tomorrow.

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November 6, 2006

Plan A

Administrative note: This week's posts will be pretty quick ones, as I won't be spending a lot of time in front of the computer. My wife had a pre-operative visit and lab tests today (Monday), with surgery scheduled for Wednesday. Thanks again to everyone who has sent well-wishes our way. Now on to today's post...

***

"Let me know what's on your mind, let me know what I'm gonna find...
Lord give me a sign-

Show me what I've got to do, to bring me closer to you.
'Cuz I'm gonna go through whatever you want me to,
Just let me know what to do ... Lord give me a sign."

- DMX, "Lord Give Me a Sign"

Shortly after my triathlon in September, I hinted that I wasn't quite sure what my race schedule would look like in 2007, but that I had two pretty cool options.

Last week, I received a letter in the mail regarding Plan A:

*
Dear Donald:

Your 2007 Western States Endurance Run entry form has been received and you have been entered in the lottery. Lottery date is December 2nd, with results posted to the WS website by 2 PM Pacific time. Thank you and good luck in the lottery.

*
This race has been on my radar for several years, but for one reason or another I've never had enough gumption to actually throw my name in the hat. I might still have a long time to wait, though. The odds of getting picked for the 2007 race are roughly 50/50, so I'm not exactly making travel plans yet. But even if I don't get in this year, I'll just keep entering future races until I'm accepted (the race has a two-time loser policy for automatic entry on your 3rd attempt).

I'm not terribly anxious about this year's lottery result, though - because my backup plan is pretty awesome as well. However, Plan B is significantly different than a 100-mile ultra, and would completely alter my training and race schedule. For now, the most frustrating thing about waiting until December 2nd is just the uncertainty of not knowing what kind of mindset to have as I go about my workout routines.

Typically, once I commit to doing a race, I start visualizing myself doing that event nearly every day, with every training session. For the past several weeks this vision has been quite opaque - and perhaps as a direct consequence, my training has seemed unusually listless and uninspired. I'm not working out nearly as often as I'd like to be, and I don't have any big events on the horizon to help motivate me through difficult workouts (which I've essentially avoided for six weeks).

But in less than one month, that will all change. I'll know for sure which goal I'll be working towards, and my focus will become clear. Then all that's left to do will be some serious training.

The funny thing is, that's the part I'm looking forward to the most.

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November 2, 2006

New Ground Rules

“Let’s take it back to the start…”
Coldplay, “The Scientist”

As I mentioned before, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the direction I want to take with my blog. This is the post where I’ll try to spell everything out.

In the interest of fair warning, this would be a good jumping off point if you’re looking for something related to training or racing, because you won’t find it here today. On the other hand, if you’re into long-winded dime store philosophy and agonizingly insignificant wrangling, feel free to plunge forward. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

By all measures, things have been fairly crazy for me and my family lately. I won’t rehash the details, but you can scroll back a few posts if you haven’t been following along. I came to the conclusion that blogging is one of the lowest priorities I have going on right now.

But I enjoy it. So I want to make it work somehow.

The reason I started a blog was very simple: I enjoy writing. It is a hobby that I practiced before this medium existed, and that I would probably continue even if the blogosphere hadn’t been invented.

Like most writers, I want people to read my material. I want to continually get better at the craft of writing. And I hold a tiny notion that one day somebody influential might read something I write and think it worthy of being published for a wider audience.

I still want all of those things. And having a blog suits those needs perfectly. However, there were other aspects of blogging that I hadn’t anticipated, which seem to perpetually distract me from the basic goals and clear boundaries I set for myself when I started (as I’ll explain in a minute). I basically underestimated the grip this whole “blog community” thing would have on me.

Unfortunately, those are the parts I’m going to back away from right now. I need to simplify things closer to my initial interests when I started this blog last year.

That’s why I’m going to try some adjustments here, and see how things work for a while. Here are some changes you may notice, beginning with:

1) Frequency of posts

Um … on second thought, this is a bad one to start with. I’ll come back to it.

2) Content: mainstream vs insider

There’s a theory of communication that describes how messengers instinctively change their style of presentation based on the format they use to deliver that message. (There are some great academic books about this theory – but since almost nobody reads academia anymore, the theory itself is greatly underappreciated. Kind of ironic, huh?)

Here’s how the theory applies to me: I noticed that the more frequently I wrote blog posts, the more my content became minutial and rooted in previous information. Consciously or not, my style of writing changed to reflect the wide-open, anything goes frontier of the blogosphere - which is fun in many ways, but can also reach a point of overindulgence.

My feeling is that if you want more people to read your work, it shouldn’t be too narrowly focused or too predicated on information that a newcomer can’t easily gather. A balance should be struck between personal expression and general appeal, and I bounce back and forth between these two directions a lot.

Ideally, I’d like to write more posts that can stand alone; articles that anybody could stumble across and appreciate because they are well-written and enjoyable to read. It shouldn’t be necessary to know that I’m really an idiot who is addicted to VH1 and preoccupied with a certain aspect of female anatomy in order to make sense of a post I’ve written. So I’m hoping to drift back in a more mainstream direction.

But you know what? I have no idea if I’ll make it back to mainstream. Or if I’ll even like it once I get there. I swear, I drive myself crazy with this stuff sometimes. And I’m just getting started....

3) Comments

Here is the change that everyone noticed right away: I turned my comments off. Believe me, it was (and still is) hard to do. It feels like I’m trying to kick a nicotine habit or something. But here’s my rationale.

Fellow bloggers may have noticed that I’ve pretty much disappeared from your comment windows. It’s one of the compromises I’ve made to budget my time a little bit better.

I calculated that I spent about half of my blogging hours composing my own posts, and the other half reading everybody else’s posts and dropping comments here and there. See all of those blogs listed to the right? I really try to keep up with all of them. And then I wonder where all the time goes.

Since I’ve already established that I can’t give up the writing, I’m going to give up the commenting instead. I’ll still visit your websites, but it’s going to be in a more cursory manner. If something really moves me, I’ll leave a comment to say “great job” or to give some encouragement, but the whole strategy of planting multiple comments all over the place to get noticed by other bloggers just seems like a game at times. One that I don’t have time to play right now.

I know this is a selfish move, so that’s why I’m taking the comments off of my own posts. I shouldn’t expect everybody to do something for me that I’m unwilling to reciprocate, right?

Besides, it’s not like I’m completely unreachable. If you’re itching to tell me something, just click on my profile and send me an e-mail. Several of you have done just that, and I’m very appreciative. I’d love to hear from anybody, and I’ll always get around to replying eventually.

Having said that … I really miss having comments activated. I keep finding myself wondering how my recent posts have been received. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed seeing other bloggers give feedback in response to my posts. Or how much I would miss the instant-validation mechanism of collecting comments after each post. Or how much I relied on the volume of comments to tell me whether a post was a good one. Or … um … actually, I shouldn’t discuss this anymore, or else I’ll start twitching again.

On a related note, my wife thinks I should keep the comments open. And I’ve told you how she’s wicked smart, right? She also has much better foresight and common sense than I do. So go ahead and place your bets on how long I’m willing to hold out with comments deactivated, because it’s probably only a matter of time before I fall completely off the wagon on this one.

4) Links

If comments are the sustenance that gets us through our day-to-day blogging lives, then links are the currency that we use to buy those comments. The more sites you are linked to, more people will click to your blog, and more people will leave comments. At least, that’s what I learned from the Blogger FAQ/Help page last year.

The problem is, everybody’s criteria for adding links to their blog is subjective. Some people don’t link to anyone. Some link only to their favorite blogs, or those of people they know, or those who leave a lot of comments. Some are offended if a link isn’t reciprocated. There’s a whole code of etiquette associated with these things.

Except here. I’ll make this extremely simple. Do you want me to link to you? Just send me an e-mail and ask. That’s it. Unless you’re a racist or smut peddler or something similar, I’ll link to you. (I’ve never set exceedingly high standards for this page). Isn’t that easy?

All right, it’s time to go back to this one …

1) Frequency of posts

Honestly? I have no clue.

I’m going to aim for once a week, or maybe a handful of posts per month, but this will vary depending on how much time I have available, or many ideas are bouncing around my head waiting to get put on the computer screen. If work is slow and training is heavy, two or three posts per week might be a possibility again.

However, you should recall that I’ve made predictions before about how often I would or wouldn’t post here, which turned out to be wildly inaccurate. So your take home message on this point should be that I’m clearly incapable of establishing a predictable routine.

How about this? I’ll post when I can. Let’s leave it at that.

And in return, you should only visit when you want to. We’ll keep things nice and platonic for a while, and neither one of us will get our feelings hurt.

OK, that’s enough for now. There are a few other issues on my mind, but nothing that's worth wasting any more of your time. If you made it this far, thanks for hearing me out.

I’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming next week.

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