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April 30, 2007

Scenes From a Marathon: 2007

"Pain - I can't get enough -
Pain - I like it rough - 'cause I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all ... "
- Three Days Grace, "Pain"

And so begins post-race day 1.

I can barely walk right now. To answer your question, Mike - No, the race didn't hurt a little bit ... it hurt a LOT.

But the pain is all muscle soreness - no blisters or injuries or weird joint things going on, so that's good. And I've always found post-race pain to be reassuring, in a strange way - it's like confirmation that I really gave a maximal effort and pushed my body to the limit. I'd honestly be bummed out if I didn't have pain today.

So I'll walk around a bit this morning and start working the soreness out. I might also spend about 20 minutes sitting in our 55-degree ocean for another effective cold-water bath.

And then I'll sit down and type a race report, hopefully for posting here on Tuesday (but maybe Wednesday). In the meantime, here's the post-race report my friend Mike and I wrote for today's Monterey Herald. A couple of the items reference a column we wrote on Saturday which I didn't post here, about how to be a good marathon spectator. I'll post that one sometime as well.


*******

Running Life 4/30/07 “Scenes From a Marathon”

The 22nd running of the Big Sur Marathon is history, and it was a fantastic morning for everyone involved. We’re leaving it to the legitimate reporters to tell you about the winners, while we’re reporting some “inside stories” from the middle of the pack that otherwise might have fallen through the cracks.

Here are some scenes from the 2007 Big Sur Marathon:

Test that toothpaste: About 15 minutes before the race start, one of the female elite runners was spotted vigorously brushing her teeth in the bushes on the side of the road – for about 10 minutes. If she had won the race, we would have been suspicious of something besides fluoride on that brush. We’d also be trying the same thing ourselves next year.

We’re all doves: Big Sur has the classiest opening ceremony of any marathon we’ve seen. Between the Marine Corps color guard, the bagpipe player, the benediction, and the National Anthem, it’s a guaranteed goosebump situation.

They also release 26 doves, who take off and circle the canyons of Pfeiffer State Park. When they leave the box, the birds almost seem disoriented, which makes us wonder about what kind of morning they’ve had. Sure, everyone worries about the runners, but those doves also had to get up pretty early, and they too are facing a long journey to get back to their homes.

These are the kind of thoughts runners distract themselves with at the start line, instead of thinking about the 26 miles of road ahead. That is … until the gun goes off.

It’s nice to have big, fast friends: Our friend Andrew is over 6’ tall, and blazing fast. He decided to take it easy during the first miles of the race, so Donald tucked right behind him and drafted his way to the smoothest, easiest 6-minute miles he’s ever run. Andrew was also wearing an orange shirt – more on this later.

Obvious advice: During mile 5, Donald was in a pack with two other runners – one from Chicago, one from Maine. Neither one had run Big Sur before, which led to this conversation …

Chicago runner: Do either of you guys know about the course?

Maine runner: I think there are some hills. (To Donald) What do you think?

Donald: Um … yeah. It gets harder from here.

Put bib numbers on them!: Near the Point Sur lighthouse, the cattle were restless. More than 100 cattle were running north and south in the large roadside pasture. When Donald came by, the cattle were headed north – at a faster pace than he was. It’s not exactly encouraging to get outrun by a 700-lb heifer.

The new black?: We couldn’t help but notice the large amount of orange clothing this year. The mens’ race shirts are rust orange; the new race uniforms of Monterey’s running club are orange; and we counted a ton of orange jerseys by Asics or Nike. In fact, this was a topic of conversation between us while waiting for the morning bus – Donald hates the new shirts, while Mike likes them. Does the Herald have a fashion columnist? We need a tiebreaking opinion on this one.

Editors are pretty smart: Herald sports editor Dave Kellogg ran last year’s marathon, and did the 10-mile walk this year. When Mike passed him this year, Dave shouted, “The 10-mile is easier!” Observant guy, that Dave.

Convincing evidence that not very many people read our column: On Saturday, we pleaded with spectators to not yell “Almost there!” when runners went by. Sadly, we heard a ton of “Almost there!” cheers throughout the course – even as far south as Point Sur.

On the other hand … : We also suggested that “Nice buns!” would be a great cheer, and each of us heard this several times from race walkers along the course. We may have created a monster with this one.

Take nothing for granted: At about mile 17, Donald ran alongside a friend of his who was working as a bicycle medic. They had the following conversation:

Medic: Are you doing the whole marathon?

Donald: Well … so far I am.

Our favorite signs: At the finish line, Mike’s 3-year-old grandson Jeremy held a sign that said GO on one side, and STOP on the other. He turned it from Go to Stop when Mike crossed the line.

Donald’s father-in-law is a contractor. So when he saw his three kids standing on the Carmel River Bridge holding GO DADDY signs made of reinforced poster board fastened with galvanized nuts, washers, and bolts to a broomstick, with handles made of pipe insulation wrapped in electrical tape, he knew right away who helped the kids make them.

Where’d all these sharks come from?: Last year, Donald ran 3:01 and won an age group award. This year, he ran 2 minutes faster, and finished 7th in the same age group. On Sunday, Mike broke the course record for 60-year-olds, but came in second to another 60-year-old who ran six minutes faster.

The Big Sur Marathon used to be a nice small-pond event for local runners to collect some awards and feel like big fish for a day. Now it’s like there’s a new inlet to our little pond, and a lot of big, fast fish are swimming here from out of town and eating up our shrimp flakes.

Actually, we don’t have any hard feelings about getting beaten at our favorite race – because it doesn’t detract at all from the enjoyment and satisfaction we find on race day.

Congratulations to everybody who completed the marathon on Sunday. You all have reason to be very proud. Let’s do it again next year!

Read more...

April 29, 2007

2:59:50

"Done, done, on to the next one -
Done, I'm done, and I'm on to the next one ... "
- Foo Fighters, "All My Life"

Here's the executive summary: Sub-three. Just barely. But it counts - I got it done. Pack your massage table, Carrie.

I'll post more later, but first I've got to hammer out a Monterey Herald article for Monday's paper. I'll post that one here as well, hopefully sometime tomorrow.

Honestly, if you're really dying to know how the race went, just scroll back a couple of posts to my "Anatomy of an Upset." My race played out in exactly the same manner I described - so accurately that I could probably just re-publish it under the title "Big Sur Race Report" and it would be 100% accurate.

I had no idea I would be so clairvoyant with that post. Maybe I should start my own cable access show or something.

At any rate, I'll get a couple of post-race reports up here soon. But right now I've got an appointment with an ice bath.

Read more...

April 26, 2007

Crazy in Love

(Admin note: I sat down to organize some final thoughts before Sunday’s race, and before I knew it, out came this post that was way more philosophical and sentimental than I anticipated. I swear, I turn into a lunatic when I’m tapering.

Anyway, this is my last post before Big Sur. See you on the other side.)

***

This may sound strange, but I’m starting to remember why I love the marathon. Then again, maybe it’s not so strange - considering that I pretty much predicted (in this post) that this would happen.

At the beginning of the week I wrote about how Big Sur kind of snuck up on me, and it was the truth. I was so focused on Wildflower and tri-training that I hadn’t really considered what I’d do to prepare for this weekend’s marathon. I maintained a high volume of training until just the past several days, when I started tapering as a token acknowledgement of the task at hand on Sunday.

Of course, my mind became excessively idle once I started tapering (as evidenced by back-to-back 1200-word posts), and I spent more time thinking about Big Sur. I looked at the race website for the first time in almost two months. I re-read old newspaper articles I have written about the race. I scanned blog posts from others who were preparing for this year’s race. And as I did, I sensed all of my burning ambitions and stubborn insecurities and fond memories bubbling to the surface again, and they felt just as strong as ever.

Gradually, it hit me: Big Sur is my race. It’s shaped and defined me more than any other event over the past decade. It’s become a part of me.

Year after year, this race presents me with a challenge (sub-three hours) that is perfectly situated between unattainable and commonplace, in an event (the marathon) that is - for too many reasons to list here - singularly dear to my heart, in a location (the Big Sur coastline) that is equal parts inspirational and humbling. And it all takes place within 20 minutes of my house.

Every time I think about it, it seems like it’s simply part of the grand design for me to have settled down on the Monterey Peninsula, and to have participated in this race year after year. In which case, it’s almost disrespectful to turn my back on it, or give it anything less than my best effort.

It’s a gift for me to be a runner, and a gift to live where I do, and a gift to have such a fantastic race right outside my door. Under those circumstances - as Steve Prefontaine famously said - to give anything less than my best is to sacrifice the gift.

So I want to run well at Big Sur. Whether that means going under three hours, or having a strong run that comes up a bit short, or facing difficult conditions and coming in much slower, doesn’t really matter. I want to give an effort I can be proud of - without making excuses afterward about how I didn’t want to push very hard, or how I was saving myself for another event on another day.

In other words, I’m not going to worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.

When it comes to my preparation for Wildflower, going for broke at Big Sur is a pretty crazy strategy. But I guess love makes you do crazy things.

Read more...

April 25, 2007

Anatomy of an Upset

Have you ever watched a major upset in some sporting event? You know - the type of game where one team is generally considered to have absolutely no chance against a bigger, stronger, more talented team – but somehow they scrape and claw their way to an improbable victory? It happens a lot in college football (like when my UCLA Bruins beat USC last fall – I’m still not sure how that happened), or in the NCAA hoops tournament when a small conference team goes up against a traditional powerhouse.

If you watch a lot of sports – like me - you’ll see it happen quite often. If you’re also someone who has run a lot of races – like me – you begin to identify with the underdog story when facing a difficult challenge. And that’s the context that I’m using to discuss my strategy for this weekend’s Big Sur Marathon. But before I talk about the race, first consider the anatomy of an upset, when you’re cheering for the underdog …

Before the game, you’re just hoping it won’t be a ridiculous blowout, and that your team will make a respectable showing. The other team looks completely intimidating, and you wonder if your guys even deserve to be on the same field (or court).

Then the game starts, and you score a few quick points that briefly stun the other team, but you can tell that they’re not too concerned about it. Through the first half, your team plays out of its mind, and keeps the game much closer than anyone imagined. They might even have a small lead at halftime, but you know there’s almost no chance that they’ll be able to duplicate that effort in the second half.

Towards the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, the sleeping giant finally awakens, starts pushing your guys around and scoring with ease, and it looks like your team has finally run out of gas. But the underdog continues to fight, and the contest stays tight. Midway through the 4th quarter, you look at the scoreboard, and for the first time, an unlikely thought crosses your mind: your team actually has a chance to win this thing.

During the final minutes, as they’re clinging to a slim lead, you see something in the eyes of your players. They’ve come too far and fought too hard to come away empty-handed. They pick each other off the ground, slap each other on the back between plays, and even though they’re running on fumes, they somehow crank up the intensity one more notch. It’s like they’ve collectively decided, no effing way do we lose this game now.

The seconds tick away and the pressure mounts, until the contest is finally over – and to everyone’s disbelief (including your own), your guys found a way to hang on. Probably 9 other times out of ten they wouldn’t be able to, but on this day, they did. And as you watch the celebration, you can’t help thinking to yourself – is this really happening? Did we really just win?

Whether you’re a player or a fan, it’s one of the greatest feelings in sports. It’s the same feeling I’m hoping to capture at this weekend’s race.

I honestly don’t expect to run under three hours, for reasons I discussed last time. But that doesn’t mean there’s no chance of it happening. In fact, it could play out just like an upset on the football field. Here’s how I see it going down …

The first 4 miles of the Big Sur Marathon are mostly downhill. I’m smart enough to not go crazy here, but I will definitely put a little bit of time in the bank early on – kind of like returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. It’s not enough to determine the outcome, but it provides a little spark of hope.

Miles 5-8 are gradually uphill, but it’s still early enough in the race that I’ll have a lot of energy, and I’ll be able to find packs of runners I can draft. This is where I start working harder, but I shouldn’t lose too much time here. Miles 9 and 10 are sharply up and down: one slow mile and one fast one that pretty much cancel each other out from a pace standpoint. Which brings me to the base of Hurricane Point.

Climbing Hurricane Point during miles 11-12, I mentally shift into race mode, and let myself work at a high effort level. I’ll lose a couple of minutes over the two-mile climb, but I’ll gain some of it back on the 1-mile downhill. By the halfway point at Bixby Bridge, I’ll be clinging to a slight time advantage – but very uncertain as to whether I can sustain it for the entire race (that whole "bridge to the unknown" idea).

I’ll keep a strong pace for the next few miles, before the key stretch of road during miles 16-23. The relentless hills simply wear a runner down, like when the favored team storms back and starts beating down the upstart team. If I fall off of sub-three pace, this is undoubtedly where it will happen.

But I’ll continue fighting, and trying to keep the margin tight. And if I somehow survive those miles with a slim time advantage … that’s when things will get interesting.

There will come a point in the final 3 or 4 miles when I’ll look at my watch and think – hey – I’m still pretty close. I’ve still got a chance. And if you happen to be near enough to me in that last 5K to look into my eyes, you’ll see a noticeable change. When I’m that close to the finish after that kind of effort, my resolve stiffens, and I tell myself, no effing way am I screwing up this race now.

The minutes and seconds will tick away, but I’ll continue to scrape and claw my way toward the finish, utilizing every ounce of energy I have at my disposal. (In this scenario, Wildflower won’t be a factor in my exertion. Not one bit.) Somehow, I’ll find a way to hang on to the pace. I’ll cross the line in under three hours, then marvel at how I was able to manage it, as a volunteer keeps my legs from collapsing in the finishing chute.

At least … that’s one way it could happen. Probably nine times out of ten, the race doesn’t play out that way. It’s more likely that I’ll fall so far behind by the time I hit the last 10K that there’s no hope of making up enough time to break three-hours – and at that point, I’ll just cruise to the finish with a solid effort level, and be satisfied with whatever time I get.

But occasionally, and sometimes when you least expect it, everything works out just the way you hope. You have to be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity if it arises – really, that’s what marathon training is all about.

Because you never know when upsets are going to happen. The only thing you know for certain is that inevitably, every now and then, they will.

Hopefully Sunday will be one of those days.

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April 23, 2007

The Experiment

"One night, and one more time -
Thanks for the memories, thanks for the memories ... "
- Fall Out Boy, "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"

One year ago, I used a lot of this space to ponder the notion of a sub-three hour marathon, and the likelihood that I would ever be able to do it again. Then after a rain-soaked 3:03 at Napa, and a near-miss 3:01 at Big Sur (see reports at right), I probably spent even more blog space lamenting the missed opportunities.

If you weren’t reading my blog back then – trust me, it’s not worth going back through the archives to get up to speed. Just understand that it involved a lot of hand-wringing and insignificant rambling (long-time readers are nodding their heads right now), and that I eventually came to terms with the outcomes – at least, that’s what I tell my therapist.

But now the Big Sur Marathon approaches again, and the question looms: how fast am I going to run it? Will I come close to 3-hours? And - most importantly, from your standpoint - if I don’t, am I going to subject you to another series of melancholy posts about what might have been?

The short answers are: I have no idea; I sure hope so; and (thankfully) not a chance. For the longer versions, keep reading.

In more than 10 years of marathoning, I’ve never gone into a race with a poorer sense of my capability than the race I’m running this weekend. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just unfamiliar. And yes, the responsibility for this lies squarely on my triathlon training.

Typically when I’m preparing for a marathon, I have a consistent buildup of mileage, with benchmark workouts to give me a sense of how fast I am in comparison to previous seasons (I don’t keep track of every workout, but one or two primary ones on a weekly basis). The race outcome is usually predicted in the numbers - for example, if I run 80 miles a week, and my 13-mile marathon-pace runs are under 90 minutes, and if I’ve done several workouts of mile repeats at 6-minute pace, I know that I’ll probably be close to three hours in the marathon.

This year, all of those calculations may as well be tossed out the window. I haven’t run nearly as much mileage as in previous years, on account of all the time I’ve spent on the bike and in the pool. And I don’t have any experience preparing for a marathon-Half IM double to compare with my current level of fitness.

Essentially, this weekend’s marathon is a grand experiment, revolving around a crucial question: For marathon success, is it better to be a dedicated high-mileage runner, or a moderate-mileage runner with good all-around conditioning? I don’t know the answer – and that’s why I have no idea how fast I’ll run.

I have some reason to be optimistic. I’ve managed to do long runs on a fairly consistent basis, topping out at 23 miles 2 weeks ago. The workouts I keep track of (marathon-pace runs and track intervals) are all faster than I did last year. My body weight is looking at the underside of 180lbs for the first time in a couple of years. I don’t have any nagging injuries threatening to derail me.

However, my skeptical side instills reason for concern. My highest running week was 65 miles – and that was back in February. Since then, weekly mileage has alternated between low 50s and mid-30s, depending on whether I did a long run or bike ride on Saturday. Yes, 20-mile runs are good, but I don’t think a 20-mile run at the end of a 50-mile week taxes your legs nearly as much as a 20-miler at the end of an 80-mile week.

I used to be a 40 mile per week runner; not coincidentally, those were the same years that I was a 3:20-3:30 marathoner. It wasn’t until I bumped my mileage up to the 70s and 80s that my marathon times dropped significantly and I started running sub-three hours – so that’s the training model I’ve come to rely upon. The idea that I might still run a fast marathon on 40 miles per week just seems counterintuitive. Although stranger things have happened, I guess.

(I actually have a strategy of how this might happen – which will be the topic of my next post.)

As far as what my reaction will be after the race – well, on that topic I’m fairly certain. It’s not going to bother me at all. The nice thing about having no expectations is that there’s no reason to be disappointed.

If the race plays out well and I end up breaking three hours, obviously I’ll be ecstatic. But if I give the race an honest effort and end up running 3:15 or 3:20, I think I’ll be OK with that. And if I come breathtakingly close and finish in 3:01 … well, I’ve been there before, too.

Remember, this race is a booty call: something to keep me occupied for a while, before I return my energy and attention to my primary interest (Wildflower) the following weekend. Booty calls always feel good at the time; it’s only when you start analyzing them afterwards that you become dissatisfied with your actions.

So I pledge that that won’t happen here. Not this year. I’ll take whatever Big Sur has to offer, then say “Thank you, Ma’am,” before slipping out the back door and taking my bike for a spin the next day.

But if you're a big fan of the anguish that comes from this blog sometimes ... don't worry, I'm sure it will be back before you know it.

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April 21, 2007

Bixby Bridge

Holy cow – it’s only one week until Big Sur!!!

Somehow, in the midst of all my triathlon training, tri-gear shopping, tri-inspired blogging, and Googling the race splits of reality TV stars, the Big Sur Marathon kind of snuck up on me. Talk about things I never thought would happen. I swear, this tri stuff is making me crazy.

Given the situation, I’m going to shift gears this week, and focus on marathon-related posts until the race on April 29th. It seems only fair; after all, using my relationship metaphor, Big Sur has given me 11 good years; the least I can do is give it a week in return.

Having said that, this first Big Sur post is kind of a cop-out, in that I’m recycling a very old essay I wrote for my previous website about the Bixby Bridge, which sits at the 13.1 mile mark of the marathon. On that site, the home page features two pictures of the bridge, and the essay gives my rationale for using them.

I'm justifying my use of the essay on this blog because, 1) Hardly anyone ever read my old website, 2) One of the photos from the old site is the one that’s currently on my masthead for this blog, and 3) After I posted it, a few people asked what bridge it is. [Oh, wait - and 4) I’m too lazy to type a whole new post. But mostly reasons 1 through 3.]

So the original essay is below. Keep in mind that I was a little younger and a lot stupider back then. When I read it now, it seems a bit contrived and overly philosophical. I copied and pasted it into this post, then sat down intending to make major revisions before I republished it.

Then something funny happened: as I went about the process of editing, I found that it’s still a pretty accurate reflection of how I feel about running, and some of the reasons (and reservations) I have about putting my ideas on display with this blog. So I pretty much left it alone, for better or worse.

Anyway – it’s a snapshot of where I was at one time, and it’s here for you to read today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out a one-week taper for this year's marathon.

****

When considering various photographs to use for the home page of this website, there was no doubt in my mind that the final selection would include the Bixby Creek Bridge. It not only has great personal significance in my running career, but also represents many things I want this site to convey.

Whether or not you live on the Monterey Peninsula, you've probably seen the Bixby Bridge in photographs, or as the scenic backdrop of countless television commercials (especially for sports car companies). The stone arch traverses Bixby Creek, 13 miles south of Carmel, connecting the communities of Big Sur and Monterey on California's Highway 1.

Construction of the span across the deep, rugged, unstable canyon was lengthy and arduous, and was the primary obstacle in overall completion of the ambitious Coastal Highway project in the 1930s. Its minimalist design perfectly complements the natural beauty of the surroundings, yet the concrete arch is durable enough to withstand the harsh winds, tides, and land movements that define the area.

Bixby Bridge stands as a testament to how vision, dedication, and perseverance will eventually overcome any difficulty – and how the results often have lasting ramifications. Which makes it a very appropriate halfway point of the Big Sur International Marathon, one of the finest races in the world.

As beautiful and familiar as the bridge is, it is ordinarily very difficult to visit in person, as the narrow Highway 1 is quite dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians. The road is only closed to traffic on one day per year - the day of the BSIM. Therefore, race day is usually the only opportunity I ever have to set foot on the bridge.

Whenever I find myself striding across it, I'm always immersed in that elaborate blending of confidence, foreboding, passion, anxiety, discomfort and strength that one encounters at the halfway point of the marathon. Many years ago, Joe Henderson wrote a column in Runners' World about the Bixby Bridge during the BSIM, calling it a "bridge to the unknown" – in that we never truly know what awaits us in the last half of the race. Those words echo in my head every year as I’m striding across the bridge.

Since the days of ancient Rome, bridges have symbolized noble concepts: expanding your horizons, overcoming obstacles, bringing opposing sides together, providing safe passage, and so on. Their appearance and style also make statements about the people who build and utilize them; for example, compare the Brooklyn Bridge with the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite their dramatic visual differences, they are equally strong and functional, and they each perfectly complement their surroundings.

Remember when Bill Clinton spoke incessantly about building a bridge to the 21st century? I don't ever remember actually crossing it, but somehow we got here. Sometimes bridges are like that, too – and you don't realize how useful they were until you look back at where you came from.

I'm certainly not the first person to use a bridge metaphor to describe running. There are countless ways that this activity brings us to places we've never been before. There are all of the external examples, such as traveling to faraway cities for races, meeting new people in training groups, or heading down an unexplored trail on any particular morning. But to me, these are secondary in importance to the inward exploration that running offers.

Eternally behind us is the runner that we were, and off in the distance is the person we wish to become. Running is the bridge that carries us toward that different person - one who is happier, less stressed, more satisfied and self-confident, healthier, and probably thinner than before he or she started.

Running also leads us to untapped areas of our psyches that we wouldn't otherwise discover. Whether it's finding a creative or contemplative zone during a leisurely jog, or searching the depths for some psychological foothold to prevent complete system collapse during mile 23 of a marathon, it's only when we are running that we encounter those remote recesses of our minds.

So OK, you get the idea- running is a bridge. In the same manner, this website is a type of bridge, in that it is a point of crossing over from the reclusive, introspective person that I've been for more than 30 years now, to an extrovert who freely puts his thoughts and opinions out there for anybody to see.

It's a bridge from me to you, and no offense, but it honestly scares me a bit. As the site was being created, I felt that same mix of uncertain emotions that I feel when running across the Bixby Bridge at the halfway point of the marathon. Yet somehow I finally arrived at this point of crossing over, and I'm excited for what the rest of the road ahead may hold.

Another nice thing about bridges is that they can be traveled in either direction. That's where you come in. If you have something interesting to share, I'll always look forward to hearing from you. I hope this site will be a point of connection for those of us in the community of runners, or for anybody else who wanders across it. Whichever group you are in, here's hoping you enjoy the journey.

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April 18, 2007

Vroomin'

Well, it took a while, but I’ve finally got my act together, and I’m ready to tell you all about my new bike. So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare (this weighs in with 15 pictures and over 2600 words), pull up a chair and allow me to introduce you to my Cervelo P2 SL.

However, I’m going to start in a somewhat unorthodox manner, and tell you that the bike doesn’t have a name, and possibly never will. Furthermore, I don’t really think of it as a “she”, and I’m intentionally avoiding the words “bike porn” to describe these pictures - because honestly, I’ve never understood the rationale behind that phrase.

Here’s what I don’t get: when most guys get a bike, they do the following: 1) assign it a gender (usually female), 2) give it a name, and then 3) put pictures of it on the Internet and call it bike porn. But using that logic, wouldn’t this be the equivalent of some photographer posting pictures of his girlfriend or daughter on a sleazy adult website? As far as analogies go, this one has always seemed pretty messed up to me.

That’s why I’m calling these pictures a photo essay - because I respect this bike. I want a relationship with this bike. And if I ever decide to do bike porn, I’ll just go find some abandoned bike on the street, spend a little money to clean it up and make it more attractive, then produce videos of different guys riding it each month, and charge you $12.95 to watch. So there.

*************

I should start by saying that I did a LOT of comparison shopping on several tri-bikes, and I’m extremely satisfied that I made the right choice for me. The P2 SL has won a lot of “best value” and “best in category” designations, and the more I learned, the more convinced I was that this was the bike I wanted. The only question was whether it would be a good fit to my body type, which turned out to be a fairly easy (but time consuming) process at the bike shop. I briefly deliberated about investing an additional $1000 for the carbon frame version, but elected to stick with the aluminum frame model, for reasons I’ll touch on later.

Of all the reviews I read, it was this line from Bikesport about the Cervelo Dual (a precursor of the P2) that stood out the most, and echoed in my mind throughout the process: “This is not a compromise bike you buy to get started; it is the bike you buy once and for all to be in the sport.” Well … Amen, brother. I certainly hope so.

With that in mind, here are some photos and observations about the bike that has landed me, once and for all, in the sport of triathlon:



So here you have it: the Cervelo P2 SL. Isn’t it a great looking bike? Sleek, powerful, and aggressive. What’s more, I really dig the color - it’s called “gun metal black”, which sounds totally badass. It’s a completely superficial thing to admit, but color played a more significant role than it should have when I decided what bikes to consider. I’d like to think I might have bought this bike even if it were bright green or yellow, but in all likelihood, I probably wouldn’t have.

If you’ve seen pictures of me in race gear (like in my profile pic), you know this: I love racing in black. Wearing black on race day is my version of Tiger Woods wearing red on tournament Sundays – a symbolic statement that for the next few hours, I’m officially in warrior mode. And now, my bike is an outward expression of my internal mindset. Whatever the bike version of “game face” is, the P2 has it. Permanently. And I think I’m in love.

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When I first looked at pictures of the frame, I was struck by the lack of the company brand across the downtube like on almost every other bike I saw. Even on other Cervelos (like this one), the name across the downtube is usually so large that it’s almost overbearing.

So when I initially saw the P2, with a simple logo on the downtube, and the Cervelo name in smaller letters on the seat tube, I was pretty impressed. I thought, wow – here’s a bike that’s branded in a very understated, classy manner. They have such confidence in their product that they’re not compelled to put the name right up in your grill.

And as you’ll soon see … I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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One major selling point of the P2 is that it offers a truly aerodynamic frame, which is a rarity in its price category ($2000 or less). The wind-slicing design is even incorporated into the seat post, which is pictured here, along with the small Cervelo lettering.

Yes, even the seatpost is aerodynamic. But here’s my question: considering that it’s surrounded on three sides by my butt and thighs, how much of an aerodynamic advantage am I really gaining here? But, you know, I appreciate the thought.

Also visible in this picture are my bottle cages, one of the two components carried over from my old bike. Except now they are mounted behind my seat, instead of within the frame. It’s taken some practice in reaching behind me to get the bottles, and - even more difficult – putting them back in the cages just by feel (since I can’t really turn around to look). I think I’ll get the hang of it eventually – but I’ve already dropped a couple of bottles onto the road this way. Good thing there’s no drafting in triathlon.

Furthermore, when the bottles were within the frame, I would usually drain one bottle completely before starting the next one. This way, in a race, I would always have an empty bottle to toss out and replace with a full one at aid stations. But what happens if the bottles are behind me, and one is completely full while the other is empty? Will that throw off my balance or weight distribution on the seat? Do I have to alternate taking drinks from each bottle now? What happens at an aid station when I don’t have an empty bottle to toss?

These might be important considerations. On the other hand - as many people have pointed out to me in the past – I tend to overanalyzing things. This could just be another example.

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This is an amazingly comfortable setup, especially when compared to the worn-out cushions and bar padding on my old bike. Is there any better feeling than resting your forearms on a soft, perfectly supportive pair of aero pads? OK … I can think of a few feelings that are probably better - but this is a pretty good one, too.

Note the odometer, set at zero. Remember how I said a new bike is an opportunity for new beginnings? The odometer on zero is a beautiful representation, and calls out like an invitation: where are we going today? How far do you want to ride? And how high will these numbers eventually reach? Maybe that’s overly sentimental, but you get the point. The whole world lies before us.

Finally, it’s hard to tell from this photo, but the bar tape is imprinted with “Cervelo” and “CSC” over and over again, and has the Cervelo logo at the bases. It brings up a larger point that I noticed while taking these pictures, which is that the Cervelo name is all over this bike.

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For example, this is what I see from the aero position, whenever I drop my head down to stretch out my neck muscles for a few seconds at a time. You know … just in case I forget what kind of bike I’m riding.

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Front view of the bike. By my count, there are four separate Cervelo markings from this angle. Since they’re not obvious from the viewpoint of other cyclists or observers on the curb, I’m not sure who these markings are intended for – except maybe for an old lady in a crosswalk who I’m trying to avoid while slamming on the brakes some day. At least in her moment of sheer horror, she’ll know what kind of bike is bearing down on her.

Just for the heck of it, I crawled under the bike to see if there were any Cervelo markings underneath the downtube –where it could be seen by rabbits or squirrels or other small critters who dash onto the road from time to time. But no luck. I guess they thought that would be too much.

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To the untrained eye, there’s nothing remarkable to see here - except the Cervelo sticker on the top tube. What’s not obvious is that the stem is deliberately turned upside down.

One of the things I feared about buying a bike with true triathlon geometry was losing my climbing ability. Basically, the more aggressive your aerodynamic position (forward and downward), the more difficulty you have finding a strong climbing position on hills.

Thankfully, the P2 SL has a lot of adjustability that allows a compromise between aerodynamics and climbing ability. This handlebar stem is a great example: in the standard position, I felt like I was falling off a cliff. But when turned upside down, it was much more comfortable, and it provides a more efficient upper body position for climbing.

In fact, adjustability was the major factor in my decision to stay with the aluminum-framed P2 SL instead of upgrading to the carbon-framed (but less adjustable) P2C. I live in a place called Carmel Valley – which, as the name implies, happens to be surrounded by hills. I can’t avoid major climbs when I’m riding, so I need a bike that’s up to the task.

Yes, the P2C is somewhat lighter and slightly more aerodynamic, so I’m sacrificing a bit of speed in staying with the aluminum frame. But for $1000 less, I’m getting a bike that’s more suited to hilly terrain, and is still pretty darn fast. In my book, that's an acceptable middle ground.

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This part of the bike reminds me a bit of a NASCAR vehicle, with the blatant branding. (I mean … hey, Profile Design – why didn’t you put the BIG logos on the seat cover?) In their defense, I suppose that branding on the seat has to grab your attention when the bike is parked, because once the rider actually gets on the bike, the window of opportunity literally disappears. I just hope all that embroidery doesn’t cause chafing after I sit on it for 100 miles.

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Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes about this bike: one of the designers and co-founders of Cervelo bikes is named Gerard Vroomen (White is the other guy’s name). Isn’t that perfect? Some people seem destined to certain careers based solely on their names – like a butcher named Mr. Carver, or a teacher named Mrs. Bright. It just seems fitting that if your name is Vroomen, you should be designing fighter planes or bullet trains or, in this case, bicycles.

Plus, I just love the way "Vroomen" sounds. So much that I’ve started incorporating it into my everyday speech. One day last month when I was watching a cycling time trial on TV, Bob Roll used the word “mach” (like air speed – Mach 1, etc.) as a verb, as in, “Dave Zabriskie is maching down this road right now.” Well, if Bob Roll can invent the word maching, there’s no reason why I can’t turn Vroomen into a verb. So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I love vroomin around on my new bike. See? Easy. And I can’t wait until I’m vroomin by people at Wildflower in a few weeks. If you’re watching the race, be sure to wave to me when I vroom past.

(Go ahead, try using the word yourself. You have my permission. I think you’ll like it.)

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This is the other holdover from my old bike: a pair of 20-year old Look pedals, manufactured in France. I was expecting to upgrade them, but the bike shop guy hooked them on the trainer, spun them around a few times, and said they were still perfectly usable.

Which led to this exchange:

Bike guy: These are in great shape. The French make good pedals.

Me: Really? What else do they make like that?

Bike guy: (long pause) … They make really good pedals.

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Honestly, I don’t know much about different types of brakes, but these are supposedly pretty good. My only surprise is that Cervelo only put their short logo here, when there’s clearly enough space to write the whole word. Kind of disappointing.

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Shimano Dura-Ace 10-speed cassette – pretty much top of the line goods on an entry-level bike. The 20 available gears represent eight more than I had previously. My old bike had a 6-speed cassette, and didn’t have a “granny gear,” so I pretty much had to stand on the pedals with any significant incline.

Remember my initial concerns about climbing? Well, during my first ride on the P2, I rode up a series of three major hills where I usually have to stand on the pedals the whole way. On the new bike, I rode up the base of the hill in the aero position, then sat up and downshifted into easier gears, and remained seated for the entire climb. When I got to the top of the hill, I looked down at the cassette, and realized I still had two “emergency” gears available if I had needed them.

All of which is a long way of saying this: I don’t think climbing will be a problem.

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Look down below the Cervelo marking on the seat tube. This was a revolutionary concept introduced several years ago: the way the seat tube has a slight cutout to allow close placement of the rear tire, which provides killer aerodynamics. Until recently, it was only possible to do this with carbon frames, but now it can be done with aluminum frames as well. Just another feature to help me vroom around more quickly.

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I don’t really know much about this tire and wheel set, but I do know this: on my old bike, I NEVER had a flat tire while riding. I know I’m tempting fate even saying that, but it’s true. In this regard, new tires can’t surpass my expectations - they can only match them.

So when I asked the bike shop guy, “Are these good at avoiding flats?”, and he nodded his head, that was good enough for me. Time will tell, I guess.

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If it weren’t for the seat and bottle cages, could you even tell there’s a bike in this picture? The overall profile is incredibly narrow. This is the view I hope most people see: me from the back, as I’m vroomin past them on my way to a fast bike split.

That’s what Cervelo’s all about, really; making fast bikes for athletes of all levels who want to push themselves to better performances. While the brand is becoming a favorite of elite-level riders, it’s the amateur athletes who really benefit from their innovative bike technology.

The P2 SL is actually near the bottom of the Cervelo hierarchy, but as recently as a few years ago, this exact frame was winning long course triathlons and cycling time trials all over the world. As the top of the model line gets more advanced, there’s a trickle-down effect in the technology and components that become standard at the lower end. The result is a bike like the P2 SL - a world-class caliber bike that is relatively affordable to regular schmoes like me.

When I’m riding it, I’ll have the same goal that Tour de France riders, Ironman triathletes, and everyday age groupers have: to show my competition the rear view of my bike on race day. In light of that, I can’t fathom why they didn’t figure out a way to slap another Cervelo logo back here somewhere.

You know – just so everybody knows what kind of bike it is.

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April 15, 2007

Racing the Bachelor

I’ve been promising a bike photo essay for a few days now, but I’m still a couple of days away from posting it. I took more pictures and had more anecdotes than I anticipated, so I need a bit more time to put finishing touches on it. (I know, I know … another post of mine that turns out longer than expected. Try to contain your shock.)

In the meantime, I have a few random observations from the past few days to keep you occupied:

* First, I loved the response to my previous post about temperature extremes. I heard from people in the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest, former Alaskans and current desert-dwellers, and even someone in the Southern Hemisphere. Really, now – where else but the Internet is that kind of survey possible? And although nobody disputed the notion that I’m really a wimp at heart, the answers were very enlightening – aside from the junk marketing ad that somebody tagged on at the end. So to everybody – except that last guy – who responded, thanks a lot.

* Imagine my surprise as I was catching up on TV shows last week, and discovered that I’m going to be racing against The Bachelor next month. When he was chatting up one of the girls (Tessa) last week, she tried to impress him by saying she was training for the Wildflower triathlon – she didn’t specify which race - to which Andy replied that he would be racing the long course there. As you might have guessed, I have a couple of thoughts on this one …

1) After hearing such news, a competitive person would have gone straight to the computer to Google Andy’s race results, check The Bachelor’s split times against his own, then calculate how far behind Andy he could be after the swim and bike segments to still have a chance of reeling him in during the half-marathon. I’m not saying I did that – it just occurred to me that that’s what a competitive person would do. And you can’t prove otherwise.

2) I rather liked Tessa’s response to Andy: “Well, if it doesn’t work out here (on the show), I’ll see you down there (at the triathlon).” But it’s unclear whether she understands that upwards of 10,000 people will be at Wildflower – so the chances of her just bumping into him down there are about as remote as finding true love on a reality TV show.

But think about this for a second: what if it DID happen? What if she was somehow able to corner Andy while he's standing in line for a porta-potty or waiting to get his body marked, and starts tearing into him about how he never really got to know her, how he had the perfect girl right in front of him and never knew it, or how he was too immature to truly commit himself to a relationship? I mean … wouldn’t you just LOVE to be waiting in that same line?

In fact, it’s not too late for ABC to make this happen, is it? They can take their camera crews down to Lake San Antonio, alert Tessa as to Andy’s whereabouts, then sit back and let the sparks fly. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to show Andy in his Speedo, and to record a situation - bumping into the Bachelor in real life, after the show has taped - that none of the rejected gals have ever been afforded. As Chris Harrison would say, it would be the most dramatic body-marking line ever.

* And finally, one more story about Wildflower, to illustrate how much the race has been on my brain lately ...

Last week we took a family trip to the Bay Area, and one of our stops was at a place called Mrs Grossman’s sticker factory. It’s apparently one of the largest sticker manufacturers and/or distributors in the world, or something like that – I’m not really sure, since I fell asleep during the introductory 20-minute video.

But after the tour, everyone sits down at craft tables, and they pass out bags of stickers to create your own sticker art. And these are the stickers that were in my bag: swimmers and wildflowers. Um … are you kidding? I quickly rifled through my daughters’ stacks on either side of me looking for cyclists and runners, but I couldn’t find any. It almost felt like Mrs Grossman was deliberately teasing me.

But I'm not easily deterred. With those limited resources, here is the front of the postcard I made:


And here’s the back:


I know, it’s still almost three weeks until Wildflower – but to say I’ve been thinking about this race a lot would be a huge understatement.

It’s almost time to put all the training of the past several months to the test. Time to dive in the warm water, break in my new bike, and run wild at one of the most difficult triathlons in America. And - as if I needed any extra pressure - it's time to see if I can keep up with The Bachelor.

In other words, it’s almost go time. I can hardly wait.

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April 11, 2007

Non Starters

I know I promised a photo essay about my new bike, and that post is coming … just not today.

For now, the unseasonably cold weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast, combined with a gloriously sunny week here in California, remind me of an observation I meant to post from a recent business trip.

One of the featured speakers was from Wisconsin, and is a classic type-A overachiever. His intense demeanor was apparent right from his opening remarks, but during the course of the presentation, he also came across as a very friendly guy.

He mentioned a couple of times that he was an avid cyclist, and his final slide was a picture of him and two friends on their bikes at the top of Alpe d’Huez. They were with a group that rode a handful of Tour de France stages on the same days as the professional event - early in the mornings, before the real Tour got underway.

When he was finished, a coworker (also a triathlete) and I chatted him up about his Alpe picture, and told him that we enjoyed cycling also. He asked where we lived, and after hearing our response, said “That would be awesome … you guys have it so easy.”

Now, I make no bones about my cold-weather intolerance on the bike (or anywhere else, for that matter). So I mentioned that I’ve only recently started getting in some decent bike mileage, because our morning temperatures have been below my “non starter” point – the point where the training and/or psychological benefit I would get from the ride is outweighed by the discomfort and difficulty of actually doing the workout. All the while, my co-worker was nodding his head in agreement.

Which led to the following exchange …

Wisconsin guy: What’s your non-starter point?

Me: 40 degrees, or any precipitation.

Wisconsin guy: (wild laughter)

Me: So, um … what’s yours?

Wisconsin guy: It’s 10. And that’s only if it’s dark out. If it’s 10 and sunny, I’m out there. Even in the snow.

Me: Oh … OK then.

It wasn’t exactly a revelation that I’m quite soft in this regard. I mean, that’s the whole reason I live in California in the first place. But now I’m kind of curious as to the non-starter points of other people in various areas of the country.

(Feel free to weigh in with your respective end points. I’m interested to know if I’m at the very bottom of the toughness scale, or just in the lowest quartile.)

The concept isn’t merely limited to cyclists, either – because I know that many runners have a similar temperature threshold during the cold winter months, or during the heat of the summer. For example, this year we had a cold spell when temperatures dropped to the mid-teens, and I blew off nearly all of my morning running that week. However, I don’t have any qualms about running in the rain, or venturing out into scorching heat.

In general, I think I’m a tougher runner than cyclist. But I’m still pretty much a lightweight on both counts.

And now, in the comment section below, is your opportunity to confirm it.

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April 9, 2007

Begin Again

"Let's begin again -
Begin the begin ... "

- R.E.M., "Begin the Begin"


When our first child was born eight years ago, I immediately felt my life take on a new sense of purpose. I had a responsibility to this boy – to raise him properly, to teach him the important things in life, and to equip him for venturing into the world on his own some day.

But first, I had to get him home in one piece.

I still remember strapping him into his car seat as we left the hospital, and the careful manner that I drove our car on the way home. I came to a complete stop at every stop sign, and looked twice in all directions before crossing any intersection. I drove below the posted speed limits (believe me - I can't overemphasize how extremely out of character this point is), and conceded the right of way to every other driver on the road.

Every 10 seconds or so, my wife or I looked over our shoulders into the back seat to make sure he was doing OK. Sometimes one of us would reach back to place our fingers in his grasp - just to feel his touch, and to reassure him that we were still there with him.

(Somewhat surprisingly, this cautious awareness didn’t carry over to our later children, as the trip home with our second child was fairly routine. And when we drove home with our third child, my wife and I stopped at a grocery store for something to eat, and walked halfway across the parking lot before realizing that we had left our daughter in the back of the van. And yes, I’m going to come back and delete this paragraph before she’s old enough to read it.)

We finally made it home, and for the next few days, my wife and I didn’t do much more than hold our baby and look at him. He slept in a basinette next to our bed, and we took a lot of pictures of his first few days, to remember how it all started. Above all, we were filled with contentment, and the notion that no matter what awaited us on the road ahead, we were looking forward to the journey.

All these memories came back to me last week, when I walked into a bicycle shop in Santa Cruz to pick up my new triathlon bike.

Sure, in some ways, the circumstances were slightly different; for example, I didn't attend the delivery of this one, because I was working. But when I saw the bike set up on the fit machine through the window at the back of the store, and heard the shop owner tell me I could go in and see it now, I felt the same rush of excitement and possibility as I did in that labor and delivery room eight years ago. I half expected the bike shop guy to say, "Congratulations ... it's a Cervelo."

(I know, you think I’m exaggerating with this stuff. But really - do you think I could just make an analogy like this up?)

I spent the next hour getting properly fitted, and then it was time to load the bike into the car. I gently loaded it across the back seats - of the same car we drove my son home in, by the way - and double checked to make sure it was secured in place before starting up the engine.

On my way home, I drove as cautiously as possible. The last thing I wanted was to get broadsided by some truck while carrying my new bike in the back seat. So I let everyone merge in front of me, waited an extra second after stoplights turned green, and kept to the right hand lane on the freeway.

Every so often, I looked back over my shoulder into the backseat, and even reached back to gently squeeze the wheel with my thumb and forefinger, just to feel the tire pressure against my skin.

I made it home safely, then brought the bike inside the house and placed it against the wall beside our bedroom. For the next couple of days, I wasn’t able to ride it, so I spent a lot of time just gazing at it and imagining us on the open road together.

(Another big difference this time around: for some reason, my wife isn’t quite as excited about this bike as she was about our kids. It’s inexplicable to me, honestly.)

I also took a lot of pictures, which I’ll display in a photo essay for my next post. But I’m going to drag the process out for a few days - because I want to savor this period of new beginnings and unlimited potential for just a little while longer, before we head into the big, wide world together.

I don’t know exactly what lies ahead for this bike and me (well, except for four weeks from now. I’m pretty certain exactly where I'll be then.), but I’m positive of this: no matter where these wheels and pedals lead me, I’m definitely going to enjoy the journey.

So here's to another new beginning.

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April 5, 2007

National Pastimes

OK - I’m back in California, and I’ve got a couple of bike rides under my belt this week, so I’m in much better spirits today than I was with my previous post.

Since returning home, it’s occurred to me that given my grumpy mood at the time, perhaps I judged Phoenix a little harshly. Maybe if I had stayed in a different part of town, or if it had been my first trip of the month instead of the third, or if I had just hung out with Momo for a while, I’d have a different impression of the city.

Maybe there are a lot nice things about the city, and I somehow managed to miss all but one of them. If someone were to tell me that Phoenix is really a great place to live, I guess I’d have to take his or her word for it – because I don’t have any plans to return there anytime soon.

As for today’s post – it’s an introduction to our Monterey Herald column from last week, comparing the sports of baseball and running.

My friend Mike is very involved in youth running programs, and has visited almost every elementary school in Monterey County to promote healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. Our local program (website mentioned below) has won several statewide awards for its positive impact on children’s lives.

On a related note, Mike also hates seeing children play baseball. He feels that it is a nearly sedentary sport, and that most kids would be better served by running. He wrote a rough draft of an article that essentially bashed the kids and parents who participate in baseball as a primary means of exercise. You know – it’s a waste of time, it’s not really exercise - that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, we had a difference of opinion – because I absolutely loved baseball when I was a kid. I still have memories of friendships and good times on various teams from my youth. I remember listening to night games on my transistor radio after my parents tucked me into bed. And I’m ashamed to admit how much money I probably spent on baseball cards.

(Unrelated side note: this is yet another reason why my heart breaks every time a new drug story involving a professional athlete comes to light – especially those regarding a certain Bay Area home run hitter. Being a Giants fan has been like watching a morality play over the past several years. I’m not supposed to hate the best player on my favorite team, but there’s simply no rational alternative. What a mess.)

Even though it’s not the most physically demanding game in town, I think there’s a lot to be said for kids playing around and having fun while participating in a sport that is part of the very fabric of America. So I reworked the article as much as I could, to promote the childrens’ running programs while also balancing Mike’s disdain for baseball with my own experience.

This is the compromise we came up with.

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The Running Life 3/29/07 “National Pastimes”

Springtime is finally upon us. For many sports fans, that brings thoughts of our national pastime: The crack of the bat (or the ping of aluminum), the “thunk” of a pitch into the catcher’s glove, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while root, root, rooting for the home team.

Like clockwork, Little League practices have sprung up all over the place lately. Given the huge number of kids who play baseball, we often wonder about the relative fitness value for the children involved, especially when compared to our favorite “pastime” of running.

Baseball’s a great sport - but it’s definitely not the most active game in town. It’s a game of tradition, and of handing down lessons and memories from one generation to the next. We’ve both participated in this tradition, but we feel that running offers many of the same benefits that draw people to baseball.

In some ways, we think the sport of running is preferable to baseball, especially when we compare our races to typical Little League games.

Everyone has seen Little League games where kids in the field wander aimlessly, pull daisies in the outfield, scuff their shoes through the infield dirt, or yell out repeated choruses of “Hey batter batter!” while chewing on their mitts. Those are the kids who are IN the game.

The kids in the dugout have lots of time to eat snacks or create clever contests like seeing who can blow the biggest bubble, or who can take off and put on their jacket the fastest. Clearly, it’s not wall-to-wall action after the umpire shouts “Play Ball!”

Luckily, many of the kids who play baseball are generally athletic types who also enjoy playing catch in the backyard, or chasing after balls in the outfield during batting practice. Baseball players typically spend many practice hours honing their skills and coordination to help them succeed on the field.

But what about kids who aren’t especially coordinated, don’t enjoy chattering in the infield, and dislike the taste of synthetic leather? There’s no reason for kids to be inactive this spring simply because they don’t like baseball.

That’s where running (or any aerobic activity) comes in. As a matter of fact, you are probably better served by taking your kid on a 30 or 45-minute jog or bike ride a few times per week, than shuttling them to three pee-wee practices and games. Your exercise time can double as family bonding time, and you can do it in any of the wooded trails or city parks or school playgrounds that our area offers.

Springtime is a great season to introduce children to running and racing. At school, they can get involved with Just Run, the award winning youth activity program that the Big Sur Marathon provides free to schools and other youth organizations. (If your child’s school doesn’t already have the program, the website www.justrun.org has all the information you need to start this great program.) For more information you can call the marathon office at 831-625-6226.

On weekends, there are several fun races for kids in the weeks ahead. They are family activities where every child feels like a winner afterwards. They’re also great opportunities to create traditions and memories with your kids that are just as strong as flipping through a game program in a crowded baseball stadium.

Over the next four months, you have four opportunities to start just such a tradition:

The Big Sur Marathon 5K on April 29th is the biggest children’s race of the year. The course is the most beautiful around, starting in Carmel and traversing trails and beach roads before finishing across the same line the marathon runners cross. Get more information at www.bsim.org.

On May 19th, the Heart and Sole Races sponsored by Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital have the best set of races for the littlest runners. The children’s races include a one-mile run for kids 9-12, a ½ mile run for kids 5-8, and even Toddler Trots for those under 5. Call the SVMH Health Promotion Office at 757-4333 for more information.

On June 9th, the city of Marina is sponsoring a series of children’s races at Freeman Field (at CSUMB) called JUST RUN Marina. There will be age appropriate races for boys and girls on the track for children from 1 to 12.

During the summer, the annual Spreckels 4th of July festivities include a one-mile race for children. After the race, be sure to stay for the barbecue and parade afterwards. It’s a wonderful family holiday with “good old days” attitude.

The catchphrase from Field of Dreams was, “Build it and they will come”. It’s a great line from a great baseball movie – and we’re going to steal it. After all, these spring and summertime children’s races have already been built by people who care about kids and have a passion for running. All that’s left is for you to come and enjoy them.

We hope to see you and your children out there!

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April 2, 2007

Road Weary

I’m typing this post in a hotel room, while spending yet another night away from home on yet another business trip, which is my third trip out of town in the last four weeks. You could say I’m a bit cranky.

Sure, I could just tell you where I am, but that would be too easy. And it would make this post extremely short. So I’ll give you some clues, and we’ll play a little game – let’s call it “Where in the World is Donald?” (This will be easy for a couple of you.) Ready? Here we go …

I’ve never been here before. So two nights ago, I went running to explore this city on foot. I figured it would be easy to find my way around, as the streets are a grid of perpendicular lines traveling for miles in each direction, with north-south streets numbered upwards from Central Avenue. Plus, the city is perfectly flat, without a hill to be found for miles. No rolling hills, no bridges or overpasses – just flat, flat, flat. I mean, if you were sitting down to design the most boring urban layout imaginable, you couldn’t do much better than this town did.

The downtown hotel I’m staying in is fairly plush, but the surroundings are overwhelmingly dreary. During the course of my 10-mile run, here is a partial list of what I encountered: heavily congested streets, construction projects, strip malls, abandoned buildings, trailer parks, liquor stores, pawn shops, vacant lots covered with piles of trash and broken glass, scores of homeless people, and one (suspected – I’m pretty certain) prostitute sighting.

In other words, it was very depressing. It’s not often that I finish a run in a worse mood than when I started, but that’s exactly what happened. The prospect of two more days here was appearing rather bleak.

So I did what any desperate runner (whoops – I mean triathlete. I still do that sometimes) would do: I sat down at the computer and Googled “trail running in (name of city)”. Most of the links directed me here:


It’s pretty much the only hill within the city limits, and the description of the trail sounded enticing. There was only one problem: the trailhead was almost eleven miles from my hotel.

I thought of getting transportation there, but decided against it for two reasons: 1) Riding a cab or bus somewhere in order to go running just seemed antithetical, and, more importantly, 2) I’m very cheap. There wasn’t any question in my mind that if I traveled to the hill, it should be on foot.

As much as I hate business travel, its sole redeeming trait is that it provides me several commitment-free hours per night to slog through long, crazy workouts. I figured that running to the hill would take me at least 80 minutes, and the trip back (slightly longer, from the trailhead on the opposite side of the peak) would be something like 12 miles, mostly in the dark. That would be more than 21 miles of running on pavement, in addition to the time and mileage I spent on the trail.

On the other hand, I’m here in a city where I don’t know anyone, where I’ve got nothing but time to kill. I mean … what else was I going to do? There’s only so many hours a guy can spend working on his blog template.

The next day, I blew off the “networking cocktail reception” after the conference, headed straight to my hotel, and laced up my shoes. With a Gu in my pocket and a Gatorade bottle from the lobby shop, I headed out into the desert evening. (Yes, I’m in the desert. You’ve guessed the city by now, right?).

The first 10 miles to the hill weren’t much better than the previous night’s run. But once I was in the shadow of the “mountain” (that’s what it’s named, although it only stands 2700 feet above sea level. Even Californians laugh at that kind of mountain.) and my feet transitioned to red dirt instead of pavement, a familiar peace came upon me. I was about to go exploring an unknown trail – and at that moment, there wasn’t anything else I would have rather been doing.


The run soon turned into little more than a power hike, as the trail is precipitously steep and rocky, so much that handrails are installed in several places, and forward motion became little more than climbing up rock faces in a crabwalk posture on my hands and feet. The 30-minute climb was worth it, though, as this was the sight that awaited me:


The Valley of the Sun lay before me like a city in miniature, with the downtown high rises reaching up to the setting sun in the distance. It was the first idyllic moment I had found since touching down in the city two days earlier.

I soaked in the scene for several minutes before heading down the back side of Camelback Mountain toward civilization. I’d like to say that while running back to the hotel, I had a new appreciation for the city around me. I’d like to … but I can’t.

The 12-mile return through the darkness - dodging traffic on the flat, colorless streets, breathing exhaust fumes for 30 seconds at every major intersection, with my energy slowly wilting in the desert heat - pretty much sucked. When I finally returned to the hotel, I had been running for more than three hours, but the satisfactory afterglow I usually feel after such an effort was noticeably lacking.

So the run wasn’t exactly one for the ages. But the mountain hike was rewarding. And I guess when I look at the Camelback from my airplane widow tomorrow, that’s probably how I’ll remember it: as a brief respite from an otherwise unremarkable sojourn; the one memorable moment from a pair of workouts I’d rather forget. And if it weren’t for running, I wouldn’t have thought to look for a place like that.

I guess the trip isn’t a total loss. But it’s time for this California boy to get back home.

*
(Admin note: the last two photos above were taken from this guy's website.)

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