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February 27, 2007

Idiot Update

On the off-chance that you still have any shadow of a doubt regarding my idiot status, I have a brief update to report in regards to the previous post.

(Also, on a related note: I’ve examined that mistress analogy from about 100 different angles by now. This seems like a good time to finally put the thing to rest, doesn’t it? I’ll try to lay off it from now on, I promise.)

Anyway, no more than 48 hours after I described how – due to my presumed entry in the Big Sur Marathon - I was limiting myself to the Olympic distance triathlon the following weekend at Wildflower, a situation arose that a more sensible person would probably have avoided.

Here’s the short version: when some training partners backed out of their commitments to race at Wildflower, I had the opportunity to switch my entry from the Olympic distance to the long course. That would be almost double the distance, on one less rest day.

A smarter person would have politely declined. I, on the other hand, jumped at the chance. So now I'm on the hook for a hilly marathon and a killer half-Ironman within six days. And yes, I’m planning on racing both of them hard. It’s not exactly the intelligent decision, but it’s mine.

A short while ago, I left a comment for Stronger that said, “Wildflower doesn’t care if you’re sad.” It occurs to me now that Wildflower doesn’t care if I’m stupid, either. The course won’t have any mercy on me just because I’m fatigued from a recent marathon.

Yes, I made a scheduling decision that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone – but now there’s nothing to do but prepare for the tasks at hand. I will say this: it’s been a long time since I’ve taken on a challenge of this magnitude. While I’m not fearful, doubtful, or overly anxious about the situation, I will admit to being … I guess “concerned” is a good word. But “excited” is another. And all of a sudden, I’m very, very focused.

The morning after I switched races, I was on my bike at 5AM for a 40-mile ride when it was 34 degrees outside. It was - by far - the coldest weather I’ve ever ridden in (Colorado readers, feel free to laugh now), and there's no Earthly way I would have dragged myself out there if not for this predicament I've created. But suffering through the cold while climbing a 1400-ft hill in the dark just felt like the proper way to kick off the hardcore training period that lies ahead.

Afterwards, the ride certainly hadn’t made me any less stupid, but it did help me feel slightly more prepared. Between now and May, it’s a compromise I’ll gladly accept.


February 22, 2007

Big Sur Booty Call

"Well it winds up broken up, really such a shame -
But why not take a chance, everything's a game -
And it don't stop, hooking up, nothing's gonna change ...

Consequences are a lot but hey - That's the way things go ... "

- The Offspring, "Hit That"

Long term relationships can be complicated things. Especially if you’re trying to develop one while simultaneously extricating yourself from another.

For example, allow me to describe a situation that might sound familiar. Maybe it’s even happened to you, or to someone you know.

Let’s say you were in a long-term relationship – like, more than 10 years long. Then after a while the whole thing felt unsatisfying, the spark gradually faded, and you found yourself incredibly attracted to someone else. You finally decided to leave your first love and run away with your mistress. Ever since then, it has felt like the best decision you ever made.

But neither of you relocated, so you still cross paths from time to time, and you have a lot of mutual acquaintances. It’s awkward at first when you hear people talk about your first love, and realize that she’s not really part of your life anymore. Gradually, however, your feelings soften, and you don’t have any lingering resentment when her name comes up in conversation.

Sometimes you even see her in the company of others, or look at old pictures of the two of you together, but there aren't any hard feelings - and you can still appreciate her for the beautiful person she is. Plus, you’re still very happy with your new relationship, so you don’t really have any regrets about the way things turned out.

Then one spring afternoon, you see your first love in the grocery store, and she looks drop-dead gorgeous. You start chatting and laughing and catching up on things, and the banter reminds you of how much fun it was just to hang out together back in the day. You remember all the good memories you shared – and you realize that you’re still very much attracted to her.

You think about her for the rest of the day. Later that night, you send her a text message: Can I come over? And before you even get the reply, you’re packing a small bag to take with you, because you know what’s coming: OK.

So you go ahead and get your booty call – but afterwards, you’re not sure what to make of it. Does this mean you’re back together? Are you going to have more rendezvous like this in the future, or was it just a one-time shot for the sake of nostalgia?

The only thing you’re certain of is that it makes your current relationship – which, just to re-emphasize, you are extremely happy with – a lot more complicated. You’ve always understood that you can’t devote yourself to one love if you’re fooling around with another – but (since, by the way, you’re an idiot) that didn’t stop you from trying, and now you’ll probably have to learn it the hard way.

All of which serves as a very long buildup to a somewhat (by now) obvious announcement: I’m signed up for the Big Sur Marathon this April. I’m also the guy who is eternally torn between his mistress and his first love.

This is the analogy I’ve beaten to death, including at the end of last year when I walked away from my identity as a marathoner, and declared myself a dedicated triathlete. Ever since then, I’ve been incredibly satisfied with the decision.

The first public display of this new affection was when I signed up for the Wildflower triathlon in May. I’ve never raced at Wildflower before, because the race is always a mere one week (or less – six days for the long course race) after the Big Sur Marathon, which is the race that I’ve done more than any other - more than 10 times - and the one that has come to define my running career over the years.

This winter, my spark for running Big Sur faded somewhat, and for the first time in over a decade, I seriously considered sitting out the race. However, I signed up for the Olympic distance at Wildflower (instead of the long course) to leave myself the option of entering Big Sur if I warmed up to the idea later.

Because even though I’ve given up serious marathoning, I still live on the Monterey Peninsula. I still run with my local training group. I knew that as the winter months came and went, I’d hear an increasing amount of comments and conversations about Big Sur than I could count. And I knew I’d probably feel an occasional longing to return to my former love.

As Big Sur drew closer to selling out, I had a decision to make. I thought of all my great memories there, and realized I was still attracted to it. I knew that once I saw preparations being made during race week, the marathon would be too enticing for me to ignore. So I plunked down my money and signed up for the race.

(There are also a couple of other, more practical reasons for my entering Big Sur – which I’ll discuss in a separate post soon. They’re fairly significant, but don’t fit as well with this whole warped analogy thing I’ve got going here. Bear with me - I’m trying to steer this bus in just one direction today.)

However – just to re-emphasize – I consider myself a triathlete now. And I’m extremely happy in that role. My biggest priorities for the year are to have two strong triathlons (Wildflower and Vineman), and any other success would be gravy. I wouldn’t give up this mistress relationship I have now for anything in the world.

But on the last the Sunday in April, I plan on making a booty call at the Big Sur Marathon. And afterward, things are bound to get complicated.

I know this, because my training schedule has already become tricky, trying to manage all of the workouts I need in order to properly prepare for each race. Look at my race calendar on the right: I don’t do many races each year, so I take them all fairly seriously. The idea of training through a race doesn’t fly with me – for reasons I’ll talk about another day. (See - still keeping the bus straight!)

During nearly every workout for the past several weeks, my thoughts have dwelt on Wildflower, and how I can have the best possible race there. And I know that racing the Big Sur Marathon could wreck my chances of performing well at Wildflower. There’s simply no rational reason to think I can devote myself to both events as much as I’d like to.

But since - as you must certainly know by now - I’m an idiot, that’s not going to stop me from trying. Sometimes I just prefer learning things the hard way.


February 18, 2007

The Music Post

Administrative note: it’s very possible that I’ve gone completely out of control with this whole "long introduction" thing. This post started off as a precursor to a story about the Big Sur Marathon, then took on a life of its own. So the Big Sur post will wait yet another day.

Not only that, but I actually had a couple of other “intro” items that I never got around to mentioning. My thought process is like a balloon that has been inflated and then released before it is tied – flying all over the place, changing directions at random, and difficult to follow until it exhausts itself and spirals downward onto the floor. Sometimes I just marvel at my own lack of direction or focus.

Anyway, once I finally settled down, I decided to leave this as a stand-alone post, rather than subject anyone to 3000 words all in one sitting. You can thank me later.

And if you're checking here for my reaction to recent news about a certain former pop princess: I have officially lost all hope. After this news, I'm now designating February 17, 2007 as the day Britney's recovery efforts crossed the point of no return. I simply can't hold out hope anymore, so I'm done with her. She broke my heart - and she's dead to me now. She's my Fredo Corleone.

But enough wallowing - it's time for the "post that wasn't meant to be it's own post". Don't say I didn't warn you.


OK, I’m back in the saddle. More accurately, I’m back on the laptop, but that phrase doesn’t have quite the same swagger to it. Last week was a tough one, but I guess one sure sign that you’re still alive is when you get the feeling that life is passing you by – which is exactly what I’ve been feeling over the past few days. I need to catch up on a few pressing concerns before we get to the real post.

First, I’m somewhat dumbfounded by Sports Illustrated’s decision to put Beyonce on the cover of its swimsuit issue. Even if you can set aside the crazily contrived “music issue” theme that ostensibly justifies the decision, think for a minute of the other models. Can you imagine their response?

Before you answer, consider this: most of these girls are 20-something year-olds who have scraped and clawed their way for ten years or more through the world of professional modeling, habitually starving themselves and otherwise trashing their bodies with cigarettes or hardcore drugs to stay thin. Their sense of body image is permanently distorted, and they’ve undergone plastic surgery and/or developed eating disorders from their ongoing desperation to be sexy and glamorous. It’s not an understatement to say their ambition frequently causes them great physical and emotional suffering.

Finally they’ve had their big break in becoming an SI model - but they know that the majority of those girls are tossed to the curb in 2 or 3 years, with a new crop of hotties ready to take their place. They have a very limited time frame to gain enough name (and face/body) recognition to continue a lucrative career after the SI gig is up, otherwise they’ll have to fight their way out of the trenches all over again. The easiest way get that recognition is to be selected for the cover. Every single model knows this – so can you picture how contentious and catty the situation gets in the weeks leading up to publication?

Now imagine that after weeks and months of these girls climbing all over each other and nearly killing themselves to rise above the crowd, an editor sits them down and tells them that the cover model is … a pop music singer who is already rich and famous. Do you think there weren’t some tables knocked over or chairs thrown through windows after that announcement? (Granted, it might have taken three or four of them combined to knock over a table or throw a chair, but you get the idea.)

Think of it like a championship track meet: after making it through the preliminary rounds, quarterfinals and semifinals, the remaining 10 sprinters are preparing for the 100-meter final, when the meet director comes over and tells them they’ve decided to award the title to Donald Trump - because he’s very well known, and more people might tune in to watch if he’s involved. Would anyone be shocked if that director got an immediate beatdown from the runners? And would anyone think it wasn't justified?

There’s no question that Beyonce moves the needle when it comes to popular interest, and will certainly help SI sell a few extra issues. In fact, the trickle-down effect of her stardom is mind-boggling, as I found out first hand last week.

The day that Beyonce was announced as the cover model, I received almost three times as many hits to this blog than I usually do. Almost all of the extra hits were from Google searches with the word “Beyonce”. (Additionally, I realized just how many times I’ve written about Beyonce here. Um ... wow. Maybe my wife had a point when she brought this to my attention several months ago.) Many of the Google hits were image searches, which led me to conclude that the secret to gaining high Internet traffic may be much simpler than I realized.

I’ve always thought that readers are drawn to various blogs by thought-provoking content and high-quality writing; it turns out that all I really need to do is post a couple of Beyonce pictures. If doing so generates a lot of hits, and increases the number of people coming through my cyber door, I figure I'd be foolish not to take advantage and try snaring some new readers.

Anyway, it’s not like I’m completely going against form here. I mean … I write about musicians from time to time, right? If Sports Illustrated can have a music issue, I see no reason why Running and Rambling can’t have a music post.

So that’s the post you’re reading today. And Beyonce is my featured model. In the spirit of pandering to the masses, I’m giving the people what they want. If your sensibilities are offended, I suppose you can send me a nasty letter to the editor or cancel your subscription to my blog … or better yet, just check back here later this week, when I’ll have a more substantive post for you (that is, as substantive as they ever get around here).

Finally, to anyone who has stumbled across my blog while searching for Beyonce: welcome to Running and Rambling. Take a look around, and stay as long as you like. Enjoy the Beyonce pictures. Then feel free to return anytime, and read my writings about running or triathlon training, or whatever crazy notion crosses my mind. Who knows, some of them might actually be interesting.


February 13, 2007

Senseless Tragedy

I had a nice, lighthearted post in the works for today, where I planned on explaining my rationale for entering the Big Sur Marathon again this spring, and maybe even squeezing a little more mileage out of my whole triathlon/mistress analogy.

Then we had to write this Monterey Herald article, and all of a sudden I wasn’t in such a lighthearted mood anymore.

Somber writing isn’t really a strength of mine. This article took a long time to write and saw countless revisions, and I’m still not really satisfied with it. I could blame our deadline ... but even if we had all week to write this one, I still think it would feel inadequate.

Our words below don't nearly express the degree of shock and sadness that local people have, nor does it pay enough tribute to the individuals involved. I’ve come to decide that certain topics are just far too weighty for my writing skills to handle.

So we submitted this article for the newspaper, and I’m going to hold off on the trivial stuff for a few more days. And if you clicked on this blog looking for something uplifting today, I’m sorry to say that you’ve come to the wrong place.


Running Life 2/15/07: “Coping With Tragedy”

The running community on the Central Coast is like an extended family. We all share a common hobby and lifestyle, and spend a lot of time together. Many of us are close friends, and we all appreciate the different talents and personalities among our group.

Sadly, the last few weeks have been tough ones for this local family of runners, as two of our members were forever taken from us.

By now, nearly everyone around here has heard about the senseless murder of Mel and Elizabeth Grimes outside their Carmel Valley home, ostensibly over a boundary dispute and a large rock. The couple were prominent residents of our small town, with a very diverse circle of friends.

The running community took the news particularly hard, as Mel and Elizabeth were an integral part of the local running scene.

They were both members of the Big Sur Marathon Board for many years. Mel’s main job was to head the committee in charge of the starting area. But on race day, he loved to run the marathon as well – a remarkably difficult combination of tasks.

Mel would get no sleep before the race, as he would head down to Big Sur in the middle of the night to ensure that everything was set for the thousands of runners who would soon be arriving. He wore a race singlet and shorts under his clothes, and after overseeing a successful start of the race, he would tear off his blue sportcoat (worn by all Board members on race day), and chase the field towards the finish. He was the last to leave the start line each year, but usually passed most of the field on his way to one of his 15 Big Sur finishes.

His wife Elizabeth also dedicated many hours to the marathon. Even after leaving her board position, she volunteered every year in the office during the weeks leading up to race day. She could be counted on to do whatever was necessary to help race weekend go smoothly.

Elizabeth and Mel donated significantly to other local running causes. They were quick to offer their time and money, and gave generously to the Wednesday Night Laundry Runners High School Scholarship fund, The Big Sur Distance Project, and Big Sur Marathon charities.

Both of them were unpretentious, self-effacing, and a pure joy to be around – and our community will miss them terribly.

Mel and Elizabeth will have a memorial service this Saturday, February 17th that will honor their many outdoor activities. The memorial starts at the Carmel Mission at 10:00 AM. Afterward, their ashes will be carried by runners to Carmel Beach, and taken out to sea by the Outrigger Club. A Hawaiian surfing celebration will then take place as a way of paying last respects to the couple.

The Grimeses obviously had many other friends besides runners, and anyone who wishes to join their memorial service is invited to attend.

The deaths of Mel and Elizabeth illustrate a harsh reality for many runners. In most cases, endurance athletes believe that life is generally quite fair. When we train hard, we reap successful results. If we dedicate ourselves to a goal, we usually attain it. If we stick to our training regimens, we feel like we control our own destinies.

Because of our healthy lifestyles, many of us mistakenly feel immune to the slings and arrows of everyday life. It’s only when tragedy strikes that we realize that life can be very random and unfair after all - sometimes in ways that make absolutely no sense.

Mel’s participation in the Big Sur Marathon is an apt metaphor. He worked at the starting line for the benefit of others, then gave his best effort in running the race. Through the years, he ran many strong miles, but he could never have anticipated that his ultimate finish line would arrive nearly so soon, or so tragically.

As we mourn for Mel and Elizabeth, we’re more aware of just how arbitrary life can be, and reminded to make every mile of our own lives count.


February 8, 2007

Clear Eyes, Dead Legs

I’ve never been crazy about running 1-mile repeats. It’s too bad it’s such an ideal marathon workout.

If it weren’t, I wouldn’t hesitate to blow off the once-weekly session of mile repeats that our training group does during the months leading up to the Big Sur Marathon. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of this particular workout, and how well it simulates the stress your body experiences when racing 26.2 miles. It’s one of my least favorite workouts, but it’s absolutely necessary if I want to run a strong marathon in the spring.

So despite my relative ambivalence about marathon training this year (the subject of my next post, most likely), I’ve managed to make it to nearly every Thursday morning workout of 1-mile repeats.

Today’s workout called for 8 x 1-mile, a thought that filled me with dread for most of yesterday and last evening. I’ve felt kind of worn out lately, thanks to several difficult swim and running workouts (and I haven’t even started serious bike workouts yet – have I mentioned before that triathlon training can be exhausting?), and for the past few days I’ve started each run with that heavy-legged feeling telling me there isn’t a lot of fuel left in the tank. So I wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels at the thought of all those mile intervals.

Sure enough, as soon as we started, I knew it would be a difficult day. My first few intervals were all slower than the last time I did this workout. By the time the sixth mile was finished, the energy tank was officially on empty.

Then just as I considered packing it in and taking an easy jog back to the car, I had an unlikely source of inspiration from one of my running partners.

As I stood in place with my hands on my hips, gathering my breath, gazing blankly at the road ahead, and trying to figure out why I was doing this to myself, he walked in front of me and caught my gaze.

Then he tilted his head up slightly, and said: “Hey D - Clear eyes, full hearts.”

To which I smirked, and immediately replied: “Can’t lose!”

It was a random reference to the show Friday Night Lights, and the motto the team yells and chants to fire itself up before workouts or games. During one episode, they yelled it over and over while running wind sprints in the rain. The players typically start shouting it right around the time that the show cues up some overly-orchestrated music for complete effect – just like a predictable drama is supposed to do.

(And since I’m on the subject: FNL is an excellent TV show based on a very good movie, which is a film adaptation of an outstanding book. Has there been any other story told with such high quality across all three mediums? I honestly can’t think of any – unless there’s a Harry Potter TV series in Britain that I’m not aware of.)

The funny part was that neither of us had ever talked about the show before – this exchange was the first time either one had ever mentioned it. The gimmick was completely unexpected, totally corny … and exactly what I needed.

It’s not that the motto itself is particularly inspirational – for that matter, I’m not exactly sure that it even makes any sense. But hearing it spoken between two grown men during the middle of a killer workout, it took on a comedic element that effectively defused the anxiety of the situation. I still had the smile on my face as I took the first strides of my seventh interval.

Now, this isn’t a fairly tale story – because my last two intervals still felt terrible. They were still slower than usual. By the end of the workout, my legs were dead, and it was all I could do to shuffle out a single cool-down mile. (And I’m supposed to be in the pool in about four hours. On a related note, I’m praying for an electrical storm to blow through the area this morning.) But the important thing is that I got the workout finished, even after I felt like quitting.

And that goofy high-school football battle cry was just the nudge I needed to keep going. Sometimes, the things I grasp at for motivation are simply ridiculous.


Updated: a couple of people have asked, so here are details from the workouts:

8x 1-mile: 6:05, 6:00, 6:00, 5:59, 6:01, 6:00, 6:02, 6:00 with 2 minutes 30 sec rest in between.

And since my electrical storm never showed up: 2500m swim in 43:15, later the same day.


February 5, 2007

Hill Running 101

One sometimes-overlooked aspect of having a newspaper column is the amount of time required to respond to the hundreds of e-mails that pour into our inbox each month.

OK ... that's a bit of an exaggeration. But we do get a few e-mails every now and then, and at this time of year, the queries frequently have a common theme: how to prepare for the Big Sur Marathon.

The answer we give is remarkably simple: do tons of hill training. Of course, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that we often turn simple answers into 800-word essays. That's exactly what happened with our Monterey Herald article last week.


Running Life 2/1/07: "Head for the Hills!"

Every winter, we receive e-mails from people looking for tips on training for the Big Sur Marathon at the end of April.

Our typical response is something like this: Run on hills. Run every hill you can find. Big hills and small hills. Steep hills and gradual hills. Run up and down hundreds and hundreds of hills. And when your legs are exhausted and you’re completely sick of running on hills … go out and run even more hills, to prepare for the final miles of the race.

The Big Sur course is a unique challenge in marathoning because of its relentless undulation. If you are training for the race, you should be heading for the hills as much as possible. But it’s not only marathoners who benefit from this kind of training.

Anyone who wants to be a better runner should incorporate hill training to his or her routine. Novice runners are sometimes apprehensive about running on hills, but any veteran racer knows that hills are the runner’s best friend. So if you are a strictly flat-terrain runner, get off the straight and narrow, and spice up your running with some challenging hills.

The benefits of hill running are numerous. From a physiological standpoint, hill running burns more calories, makes your muscles stronger, and improves your body’s oxygen carrying capacity. These changes will make you faster once you return to flat terrain. Frank Shorter, gold medalist in the 1972 Olympic marathon, famously said that, “Hills are speed work in disguise”.

Psychologically, hill running forges great strength of character. There’s nothing like the feeling of conquering a hill that once seemed insurmountable, or of reaching the summit of a long, grueling climb. And the views from the top are incredible.

Experienced runners become emotionally attached to their favorite climbs, as these hills are often the sites of their most memorable runs. In fact, most of our major local climbs have been given distinguishing nicknames. Some are intimidating, such as Black Death, The Grind, or Hurricane Point. Others are more affectionate or descriptive, such as The Three Bears, Clara’s Summit, Skyclimb (in Toro Park), or Sky Trail (in Garland Ranch).

Marathon runners sometimes ask if they can simulate hills on the treadmill. Our answer is no – because proper hill training means going both up and down the hills. Downhill running is the primary cause of soreness (and in severe cases, injuries) as the quadriceps muscles absorb the impact of your body weight plus gravity with each step. The only way to properly prepare for this is to gradually adapt your legs to increasing amounts of downhill running.

Proper technique is important. Going uphill, run with an equal effort as you use on flat surfaces. This means you will naturally slow down and shorten your stride as the slope increases. Your tendency will be to lean into the hill – but be sure the lean is coming from your ankles, not from bending over at the waist.

Downhill technique is less natural. Your tendency will be to take longer strides, faster steps, and to lean backwards. But try to stay perpendicular to the downhill slope. Shorten your stride length, let your knees bend slightly on impact, and lean your body slightly forward. If you do these parts correctly, it’s OK to let your step rate become faster as you are running down the hill.

Good downhill running requires thinking and adapting. That’s why it takes a lot of practice.

If you are training for Big Sur, we recommend a workout of hill repeats once per week. These can be done on any hill that requires 1 to 3 minutes to climb from the bottom to the top. Start with a small number like 4 or 6, and increase the repetitions each week. Your effort up the hill should be hard, but not all out. Going down, keep an easy effort and concentrate on form. Run continuously for the entire workout.

During January and February, many local runners use the road up to Cypress Community Church off Hwy 68 for a weekly early morning hill workout. We call these Church Hill repeats, and by the end of each workout we are sometimes praying for mercy. It is almost a spiritual experience.

The church used to have a sign halfway up the hill that said, “Make A Difference!” It obviously wasn’t placed there for us runners, but the sentiments were very appropriate for the workout. Church hill repeats make a significant difference in our running performance, and in our preparation for the spring marathon season.

So take our advice and head for the hills. If the workouts initially seem painful, feel free to curse at us while you’re doing them. But then be sure to thank us when all that hill training helps you finish the Big Sur Marathon this April.

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