Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ethical Challenge

Question: What would you do in the following situation?

You have purchased some various sundries at a local hardware store using your credit card. A couple of days later you get an email from the manager of the store stating that you were significantly under-charged, offering to email you the requisite documents, and requesting permission to charge the difference to your card. You check your credit card statement and see that you have been under-charged. You call the store requesting to speak to "the manager" as a way of verifying the legitimacy of the email. It is legitimate. 

At this point do you:
  1. accede to the request, 
  2. simply ignore it,
  3. contact this person directly and say it is their "tough luck", or
  4. pursue some other course of action

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Team Cheetah!

UPDATE! They did it!


Go Team Cheetah Go!

2008 Transrockies Stage Results:

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Liz's Shoes

We often see makeshift memorials along-side the road as we whiz by and, perhaps, after a momentary pang of sadness for the lives lost we continue on. There are so many such sites of loss, replete with wilted flowers, faded cards, and teddy bears rapidly breaking down in the harshness of the roadside. 

I went for a ride this afternoon after spending the bulk of the morning reading Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. It was one of those interesting days that mark the transition between summer here in the Pac-NW and fall. Though windy, the air still had that softness that is summer, the clouds side slipped through the sky like seagulls, and the sun caressed my cheeks. The city in was in its full-Tuesday cry but there was also a sense of breathlessness or waiting that always attends around approaching holidays. Labor Day is coming up and the school season begins after the holiday with the optimistic smells of freshly cleaned classrooms, paste, and new school supplies. 

I decided that I would head North and East over the top of Lake Washington towards the Redhook Brewery. GVB is running the Super Jock 'N Jill Half Marathon this Sunday and I was thinking of meeting him after the race for a brew and lunch. I ran this a few years ago, had a blast, and set a PR (just under 2 hours). Had a nice sunny tail wind up until I reached Juanita Drive when the wind started shifting around (or was it me) into an on-coming quartering head wind. 

Bothell is a strange place. I've run, ridden, and driven through it, around it, and even flown over it (but didn't really notice as it slid under the wings) and I still cannot figure it out. How does one describe a place that combines a cute little old-town with urban sprawl and cookie-cutter homes lining up along a river right along-side trailer parks. Then there are the brightly colored chickens that live around the Sammamish Trail. The first time I saw them, the first time I rode through here, I thought I was seeing things. 

I was in a noticing mood today—noticing how the air felt, the leaves on the ground, and the looks on people's faces (bike riders seem to have a rather unique squint) for example—and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. A pair of bronze colored shoes sitting on a park bench. I had to stop. 

They are Liz's Shoes. 

Elizabeth Duncan, a runner, was killed by a 16 year old driver who, while apparently trying to beat a red light, lost control of her car and knocked down a light pole.  

I didn't know Ms. Duncan (and why would I) but I certainly shared the anger at her senseless death. Every runner, and most bikers too, has a story or two of almost being hit by a motor vehicle. It is like playing the lottery and yet we still take the risk. Her credo, "Life's Short, Run Long", becomes all the more poignant in this light. 

And on my way back I noticed yet another memorial along the bike trail just west of the Wayne Golf Course, two narrow strips of what looked like concrete nailed together in a cross with blue lettering on them. I didn't stop, couldn't stop, not for this one.

I had to press on. To finish. All around me were reminders of endings, mistakes (like this architectural misjudgment), and transitions. This ride became more than simply a ride. 

Liz is right, "Life IS short, Run Long!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Being A Two-Wheeled Tourist

Here are the stats and here is the narrative . . .

Seattle is very pretty during August and September, sunshine filled months and balmy weather. A great time to be a tourist and today that is exactly what I did. 

Got on my bike to go for a short run and decided as soon as I clipped in that I wanted to avoid the Burke Gilman Trail as much as possible. What better thing to do than to cross the I-90 Bridge over to Mercer Island and then come back?

It was such a pretty morning, the sun was out with a light breeze pushing high clouds out of the SSE (or was it SSW?) and I headed down the hill towards Husky Stadium and the Montlake Bridge. Just as I got to the bridge the warning horn went off and so I had to stop and wait while a sailboat went through. A crow alighted on the walkway to the left of the photo and stayed there even as the bridge deck went almost vertical. It finally took off as it could no longer stand or keep its balance despite its best (and noisy) efforts. And here is something I've never noticed before. See those wires hanging down? They power Seattle Metro's Electric Buses. Seriously de-tensioned. 

Once the bridge went up I squiggled through the Montlake Neighborhood (a mixture of really interesting show places and not-to-grand (or is it grandiose) houses) towards Madison Valley and Lake Washington Boulevard (noticed that the Bush School seems to have a newish building now). The area near Lake View Park is one of my favorite places to ride because of all the trees and the twisting and turning of the road. I took it easy on the curves and was passed by a roadie who said "Hi" as he went by. 

Lake Washington Blvd down through Madrona is a fast and fun downhill (I am usually huffing it UP these hills on foot) but soon I was climbing a big, steep, hill to get to the I-90 Bike Trail. Riding this section reminded me so much of Santa Barbara's Riviera, not as sun-drenched or crowded but the divided roads and spectacular views are shared (please ignore the finger). 

The drop down to the bridge trail is very steep and my brakes squealed as I descended towards the bridge deck—it got the attention of everyone there actually. :-P

Boy was it windy on that deck and a little narrower than I remembered—I can just hear AW saying "Narrow?" Yeah, Narrow! Narrow because there were people walking across the bridge, running two-or-three abreast, and other bikers coming from behind me and from ahead. So what do you do when faced with two people walking and fast riders coming towards you AND a peloton of sorts (well, they were all wearing the same clothes) approaching from behind. Kind of fun actually. But OH were the views of The Mountain amazing. 

Once off the bridge I noodled around along the trail on Mercer Island, poking my nose into the various parks and generally enjoying all the tennis games, children playing (in the distance), and birds chirping, etc.. One thing I don't get, though, who, in their right mind would take a smoke break in the middle of a tennis game? Something is not right . . . 

Returning across the bridge felt a little strange although it went faster with a tail wind. All that separated me from the water was a railing, the bars of which could easily catch my bar extensions. Up the west end and through the tunnel down towards the Coleman Park area and Rainier Valley. Lots of tennis courts here too but none were being used. Then I ran out of trail. Hmm. 

Ended up riding on the sidewalk along Rainier Avenue until I could turn onto a side-street for safer riding. Dearborn Street was also similarly dicey but traffic was not too bad for a Sunday morning. Lots of people out, walking to have Dim Sum. Lots of homeless people too, one of whom had a very nasty looking suppricating wound on his arm. 

So, here is a tourist moment. I've been to the ID (International District) a bunch of times BUT I have never noticed some of the sculptures out there. Look up, up on the light poles. Here there be Dragons . . .

(this is my favorite picture from the day)

Managed to work my way down to Alaskan Way and the bike path that runs along the trolley tracks and spent the next few minutes actually dodging real tourists who were wandering around a bit lost but certainly having a good time. It was nice to see actually. Well, most of it. There was this one guy in a grey mini-van who thought it would be a good thing to stop in the middle of the bike path and then pull forward as I made to go around his front end. 

Normally Alaskan Way is a really busy street, especially during the summer, and today was was no exception. But traffic patterns were quite different I think because one of the big cruise ships was either embarking or disembarking passengers. Traffic control was out in abundance and I was able to make easy progress to the sculpture park and the bike path that goes through Myrtle Edwards Park. It didn't hurt that an AMTRAK train was coming through at the same time and the road was blocked off. That did not stop a woman from running in front of the oncoming train while dragging her child along. They made it but only just and with much squealing of brakes. Yikes! Another almost for the Darwin Awards?

Lots of ships in Elliot Bay, lots of ships waiting for grain to be loaded, and boy were they loading grain from the elevators along the track. You cannot see much but you can certainly hear the stuff going into the ships. The ship being loaded was flagged in Singapore. 

Took a bit of a break for some food and drink (aren't Sports Beans wonderful? So juicy.) 

Not so wonderful is the fact that West Nile virus has put in an appearance in Western WA or, at least the warning signs have.  (but now you know what to do . . .)

Now, how to get home? Is there a non-hilly way? Not really. Went through the Interbay Train Yards with a rather impatient roadie behind me. I was moving, not fast, but moving and he was on my tail and could not pass because of the tightness of the track. Ah well. He passed when the track opened up and gave me a look that could kill I suppose before he sped off. Meh! Get over it Dude. 

And then the climbing began. There is no flat way that I can see and so I headed up towards Magnolia and all the great views there. This time I was climbing instead of descending as I normally do and it was hard. I had a rabbit though and managed to hang with a skinny-tyred rider who went past me on a downhill (lots of drag and friction on this MTB). 

The rest of this ride was a pretty uneventful jaunt through Fisherman's Terminal and then to Fremont where I joined the BG Trail to home. With 30-something miles under my belt I began to get very hungry. The low fuel warnings were going off in my head, I began to slow down and had to gut out the last climb to home. But it felt good.

I got home at about 12:15. At 12:30 it started pouring in my neck of the woods here in Bryant. 

Once home I began the process of replacing the 4000-odd calories that I expended on this ride, stretched, and then fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV while sort of watching the Men's Water Polo Final. How did it come out?

What a lovely adventure for the day. So glad that I was able to get out there and enjoy . . . 

Seattle in August is (mostly) wonderful.

And here is the elevation profile:

On the Sidelines

This morning I awoke from a horrid dream—I dreamt that I had a stress fracture in my pelvis or something structurally wrong with the femur head. This is what comes from ending one's evening reading Noakes and Granger's Running Injuries, something I do not recommend.

The reality is that I am sidelined for the foreseeable future while my left hip gets sorted out. Is it Piriformis Syndrome, a problem with an SI Joint, some combination of the two, or something else? I've not really run since 8/9/08, since the Cougar 13.1 which beat me up quite a bit, and spent the bulk of last week and this past one recovering from a nasty cold (word to the wise: never give blood a couple of days after a major event). Tried running this past Thursday, 3 easy miles with Sj that were easy-ish but I could not walk about 10-minutes after stretching. Riding a bike is fine and I've gone for two over this weekend: a 19-miler and a 33-miler, both on my mountain bike. 

In updating my coach I noted that I wasn't feeling too badly about this (probably should add "yet" though) because I had a wonderful summer of running. Here are some stats (I am geeking out with Excel data sorts at this point while sort of paying attention to the Closing Ceremonies in Beijing):
  • 441.83 Total Miles of Running in 16 cities
  • 26 Trail Running Events
  • 37 Road or Mixed Road and Trail Running Events
  • Six Races: SRC Cougar Series, SeaFair Half Marathon, and the 2008 Ragnar Relay
  • Nine runs around Green Lake (much more fun places to be running)
  • Three attempts at running up and past Talapus Lake (attempts 2 and 3 were just fine)
  • Mountains run up and over: Camelback, Tiger, Squak, Cougar
  • Number of runs I partnered  with Sj as she trained for the Transrockies Run: difficult to say but they were all really fun and I learned quite a bit
Quite an accomplishment for me actually. 

So I am on the sidelines for the time being and, for the first time, it is OK. I'll focus on PT and keep myself as sharp as I can with cross-training. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to run on the beach in Tofino next week. :-)

I'll be back, and stronger than ever. 

IronMan Canada

Big day for two denizens of Ragnar Van 1. LM and RF are swimming/riding/running IronMan Canada!

You can track them (I know I will):
Meanwhile, the weather seems nice out there, mostly cloudy and 57 degrees F with a 30% chance of rain. A little cold for swimming and maybe a bit wet for riding but perfect for running. 

Good Luck!

Me? I think I'll go for a bike ride. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Boy Toys? Aisle 8.


Aw nuts! All I found was a baseball . . . 

Monday, August 18, 2008


The other day my wife and I went to see Iron Man and the cheeseburger scene during Stark's return to the United States struck us as rather funny. She commented, "Americans always want a cheeseburger when they come back home." 

It is true. The New York Times reports that Michael Phelps is craving "a big, juicy cheeseburger" now that his Olympics have finished.  

I'll admit it, I too wanted a cheeseburger upon my return from Argentina last year, a place where the meat is, well, amazing. MSNBC's Brian Williams has apparently done some research and found that the cheeseburgers in Beijing are better than those in the US. 

So, what is it about cheeseburgers? Specifically, what is it about "made in America" cheeseburgers?

Saturday, August 16, 2008


What a race!


Is Yoga Evil?

Apparently so. At least according to Fr Jeremy Davies, chief exorcist of the Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster, quoted in The Times. It provides “.. The thin end of the wedge (soft drugs, yoga for relaxation, horoscopes just for fun and so on) is more dangerous than the thick end, because more deceptive – an evil spirit tries to make his entry as unobtrusively as possible.” [Is Yoga evil?]

Ya, right!

I'll be sure to remember this during my next stretchy-bendy class in which my mind clears of tension, my body is relieved of pain, and my awareness opens and calms. Wait, that sounds similar to meditation and prayer. Could it be that what is really objectionable is the competition? :-P

Catfish Noodling?

And you thought running marathons was odd?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008


Guess what I can do?

Live Olympics on my laptop (but MS Silverlight is a processor hog and sucks your battery dry). 

We Are Everywhere!

Talk about a small world. I am here at The Greatful Bread for a bit of
reading, relaxing in the sun, and some hot chocolate. Waiting in line
behind me is a woman who looked really familiar. Took me a bit to
place her, she ran the Cougar 13 on Saturday as well (2:30-ish), her
first trail race I guess and longest to date. She had a blast and has
to run more trails.

Turns out she also ran Ragnar, like me, her relay of this duration and

Seattle is such a small place sometimes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


"But we reach the steep sides of Robinson soon enough, and, from there on, it's every man at his own pace. Quite what this pace should be is hard to judge. Gut feeling suggest that one should plough most of one's resources into doing this one big ascent as quickly as possible, since the rest of the course is effectively just an undulating ridge. Experience suggests that undulating ridges can be deceptively demanding."

Richard Askwith, Feet in the Clouds


Me (thinking): Hunh, what are all those people running out towards the start, we have 45 minutes to go.
Me (speaking): F*&%@! (this is a family blog)
Me (thinking): Wait!, the race starts at 0830 instead of 0900!
Me (scrambling): Hoo Ha! Hoo Ha!
SM: . . . those are the changes we have made to the course this year, any questions?
Me (thinking): Doh!

That is how I began my race. Well, actually not, but close . . .

The bottom Line:

Official Time: 2:49:40
Unofficial Time: 2:48:03
Official Place: 137
Gender Place: 101/115
GPS Tracks:
Number of Gels Consumed: 2 (at 5 and 10 miles)
Race Firsts: Ran over eight miles without tripping over anything (this was a 13 mile race, use your imagination)
Fun Factor (scale from 1-10): 6

The Blow-By-Blow:

Weren't the opening ceremonies for the Olympics spectacular?

Yep! I know this because I was up until past 2300 watching them and even found the Parade of Nations fascinating (haven't watched an opening ceremony since the 1976 Montreal Games actually). All I could do was say "Wow!", think about the symbolism, try to ignore the vapid commentary by Lauer and Costas, and wonder how corporations like ExonMobil manage to think of themselves as good citizens.

Was this the smartest thing to be doing the night before a race? Probably not, but then I am not always known to do the smartest things before races. :-)

I awoke at 0530 and started getting ready to leave by 0700. Why so early? Well, let's just say that getting up so early helps to get lots of things moving. Ate a boiled egg, some toast, a banana and drank some juice (something a little more balance, I think). The forecast was for rain and cool temperatures and, for once, they were right. It was cool and really raining. Actually, it was pouring like a day in early spring or late fall.

Got to the trail head and was not able to park in my customary area because all the spots were taken (hmm, strange). Went out to the start to see what was happening and struck up a conversation with the Timing Guy (TG) who was setting up. He said that he wished he was running as it was going to be fairly cold just sitting there and then added that this was the first time it had ever rained on one of these races. As I thought there was 1.5 hours before the start I went back to the car to listen to the radio, read, and have something more to eat and drink. The rain became more intense.

At about 0815 I noticed more and more people coming in and moving rather hurriedly towards the start and realized that the race actually started at 0830 and so jumped out of the car and ran up to the start just in time to hear the end of the pre-race brief. There were a surprising number of new faces and black numbers (people running the series have red numbers) and a few people I did recognize but have not really met (RB the Dentist, TallGreenLakeRedHairedRunningGuy, and one person who PT works with along with Trek Pole Guy (who had both of his knees well-taped)).

I had two goals in this race. First, and most importantly, was to survive the course and finish the whole series, my first such experience, and second, to finish in somewhere around 2 hours and 40 minutes based upon my performance on the 10 mile race. No problem about the first but the second, well, that was the wild card. You see, I am still not quite recovered from the Ragnar and my runs since then have all been real struggles.

The Start

We started, as ever, in a rather low-key fashion and a little-bit late with a light mood. It was still drizzling as we went along towards Clay Pit Road on some old, old concrete. Some wag commented that he "thought this was supposed to be a trail run and what were we doing running on pavement" to the general merriment.

Given how much I have been through over the past few weeks (Ragnar, hamstrings, and general beaten-upedness)I had decided on a rather conservative strategy and just went along in a kind of ground covering shuffle. It was going to be a long race and there was no need to go all out. Besides, running a few seconds faster at the start makes for a much slower finish.

Not Standing In Line

The turn onto the trail went much faster than in the past as I was well in the back and the pack was overall faster. We went along and then went up Anti-Aircraft Trail out to Tibbetts Marsh Trail. It was a bit odd to be running these different trails in the reverse and somehow easier too. Frankly it was nice to not run on Lost Beagle. :-P Passed some people at this point and was passed but mostly was running my myself. It was pretty hot and steamy, too hot for my jacket and hat and I had to take them off while running uphill and trying unsuccessfully to stow them in my pack. My glasses were fogging despite cleaning them with anti-fog stuff (a bad sign actually).

The first water station was at about 2.4 miles. I dropped my jacket and hat off and drank some water with a few other runners, one of whom expressed dismay at the fact that we had only gone 2.4 miles thus far. That is the interesting thing about trail running, it takes a long time to go a short distance and you cannot measure either in the way that you would on the road.

Things went on pretty normally and we hit the first major climb up to Wilderness Peak. This climb went well, better than it has in the past, and after about an hour of running I started the descent down Wilderness Cliff Trail which I tore up during the 10-mile race. Things were not so easy this time . . .

Running Blind

It was pretty hot and steamy on the cliff trail and my glasses really fogged with the consequence that I had to slow down and stop periodically to wipe them. Lots of people passed me and I must admit this became a bit dispiriting and as my spirits fell my fatigue increased. The trail was pretty technical and running without my glasses was really not an option. No floating like a butterfly for me, going slowly and carefully only increases the beating . . . 

Running Happy

The climb up out off Wilderness Cliff out onto Longview Peak and Deceiver went pretty well and I passed people walking on occasion. Mostly I was alone going over ground that has become very familiar over the past four months. It rained on off-and-on and then beautiful shafts of sunlight began coming down through the trees and I started thinking how beautiful it was, so green and pleasant. It made the work easier even though I had still have more than half the course yet to complete and I concentrated on running as much as I could. The miles ticked off.

About 8.5 miles in I started climbing Far Country Trail, the trail that would lead me down to the dreaded DeLeo Wall and as I popped over a rise who do I see? Trek Pole Guy! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! How the Hell did he get in front of me? Just as I was about to pass him another runner out for a jaunt came up from the other direction and said we were near the crest and then had a 1.5 mile downhill to "enjoy". Trek Pole Guy didn't look like he was doing well and seemed to be barely making headway. I said "Good on ya" as I passed and went on down the hill.


Usually by this time in a race I have smacked into something or tripped over something else at least a few times. I had missed my opportunity to hit the trees on Lost Beagle and had yet to trip over, smack into, or otherwise crash against anything thus far but my luck (or agility) gave out around 9 miles or so when my left foot just stopped after as it caught a rock or a root (not sure which). My toes rammed to the front of my boot and I just stopped and said "Ouch!" and then thought, "I am going to loose some toenails." My whole leg felt as if it was on fire and I hobbled on down the trail knowing that if I stopped I might not start up again. After a few minutes of running the fire stopped and things returned to "normal".

DeLeo Wall

As predicted, this exceptionally pretty part of the trail kicked my butt. DeLeo Wall starts off deceptively easily, a gradual rise on a contour line moving to the South West and then it just heads straight up 100 feet in about 1/10th of a mile. I tried power walking but probably just walked. I could hear people coming up behind me but it seemed that they were having just as much trouble. At this point the sun was coming out and it was burning the mist away revealing the valley to the south. I also noticed just how much I was sweating, my shorts were sopping wet and gave no indication that they were going to dry.  At least this trail becomes a really pleasant (and soft) jaunt through the woods after you have finished the climbs. 

At 10 miles I stopped at the water stop and drank a cup of something, got a "Good Job" from the volunteers, and realized how tired and beaten up I was. After two hours and thirteen minutes of running there were 3.1 miles to go and I knew I was going to make it but there was no way I was going to make my goal time because I barely felt I could trot along. I was still running alone but did get passed by a couple of people at this point (one of whom I passed again as he stopped to shake stones out of his shoes). The Marshall Hill Trail out to Wildside Trail is mostly rolling downhill and the running was pretty easy even though I was feeling banged up. This part of the course put me in mind of the quote by Richard Askwith on racing up Fells (see above) that PT had reminded me of earlier in the week and which I was taking a bit to heart. I also realized that I had been listening to the same song in my head the whole time, "I'll Tell Me Ma!" sung by Ronnie Drew on the Chieftains album, "Live from Dublin: A Tribute to Derek Bell"—such a spritely and playful song but deeply disturbing an annoying by this time in the race. Earworms are funny things. 

Catching Cheetahs

Cheetahs are fast. Really fast. But 13.1 miles on trails really is not like 13.1 miles on the road and I don't care how hilly the latter is. I had this epiphany when I started catching Cheetahs, people who had zoomed off at the start or who had passed. They were mud covered and walking, two of them within the next mile. Walking very slowly, exhausted looking. I asked the first if he was OK and he just grunted. I went on.

That does not mean I was going well. Between 11 and 12 miles I could feel my own legs shutting down and it was taking more and more mental will to go forward to the final climb of the day, Cave Hole Trail.

Cave Hole

I've run this trail, actually a rather wide road, dozens of time, up and down. It is about .7 miles long and climbs something like 383 feet overall and today I could not do it. I tried to run, looked up ahead and saw one of the people who had passed me walking, saw the steepness of the road, and I just couldn't. I trudged up the trail and felt depressed every time I turned a corner and saw even more climbing but finally I could feel that the trail was leveling out and I started running again. Soon I saw a big sign with an arrow and a figure standing next to it. She was directing runners onto Nike Horse Trail and shouted some encouragement to me and went "WooHoo" or some such thing as I went past.

The Finish

Nike Horse Trail is aptly named, horses are much in evidence (use your imagination) but it has the great advantage of being basically downhill and soft. Heavily Muscled Guy was waiting by the fence for another runner and said "Good Job" as I went by and I said "Thank You" and then the ribbons of the finish area were in view, I did the best I could to kick in some speed and put a smile on my face (or was it a grimace), and crossed the line running an 8:10 pace. People stopped what they were doing and clapped me in and I heard something like 2:48:xx as I came in at 11:24:41 AM.

I think I had my picture taken but am not sure. I think I was smiling as I had my picture taken but I am not sure. Made a bee line for the watermelon and ate the most delicious piece I have ever had.

The first person I noticed was Trek Pole Guy! 

The Aftermath

I went into the field near the finish area and stretch, stopping every once in a while to clap another runner in and then went to claim my jacket and hat. With a smile on my face I told the RD that I thought Cave Hole was sadistic. He laughed and said that last years course was harder. Pretty soon he was handing out prizes for the series winners and the event winners, interrupted every few minutes by another runner coming in (there seemed to be so many yet to come in but I have no idea how many). The winner of this race ran something like a 1:35:00 for the 13.1 miles, a 7:15 pace. Me? I ran an overall 12:38 pace according to my Garmin.

I did it! I finished the series and did so with a smile on my face and in my heart. I am so happy.

I am also deeply exhausted and very sore and could barely walk by the end of the day. But I also managed to go to the opera in the evening and to generally enjoy it AND to remain in a relatively good mood.

I wonder what is next for me?

Oh yes, I am not going to loose any toenails! :-)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Almost There!

I am very excited to be less than 24 hours away from achieving my major goal for the summer, finishing out the Cougar Mountain Series in which I am currently 32nd in terms of series points, 91 but who is counting (not too shabby for someone new to trail racing methinks). 

Tomorrow is the hardest race of the series, 13.1 miles over the same trails as the 5, 7, and 10-mile races with the addition of the De Leo Wall, Marshall Hill Trail, Wildside, with the finish coming after climbing Cave Hole [map]. I've run this area twice and it kicked my butt both times. Of course, we are running it so that it is mostly climbing, steep climbing at that. That Race Director is a sadist. 

"Are you going to race it?" my friends ask. "No", but how do you not race something like this?  I'll be pushing, probably pretty hard too, hoping for somewhere around 2 hours and 40 minutes and will be thrilled if it is much lower and not disappointed if I don't make it. We will see, perhaps I'll be "chasing Uli" again. My hamstring is much improved too but still irritated which may be a limiting factor. 

I am not nervous for a change, only excited and filled with anticipation. It should be wonderful running weather too—temps in the upper-50's (14) and lower 60's (17) with a 30% chance of rain. This certainly beats the steam bath out there this past week and the air has been cleared of smog too. 

How do I feel having come this far towards achieving this goal? Pretty good actually. My sense of fun has returned.  I've spent the last few years running trails and am no stranger to them but racing on them is a new thing as is actually running a series. I feel as if I have taken another step. Towards what I am unsure but it is a definitely a welcome step . . .

In the meantime, I have been laughing at this creative comparison between the Average Athlete vs Olympic Athlete that PT clued me into, doing my night-before race prep, and trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. 

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olympics Tracker (NYT)

New tool from the New York Times. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008


August 1, 2008, 9:08 PM

Last week at this time I was grabbing a few moments of quiet time at the La Conner Country Inn. The lights were off, a soft breeze was coming through the window, and the sun had just set leaving that peculiar Pac NW taillight that makes summers up here so very, very special. On the queen bed next to the twin I occupied lay PT with a pillow over her head and SJ wrapped up in her blanket. In a few short minutes it would be time to load back into the van and head out to the night exchange and commence running. Even so, as PT has observed elsewhere, time had lost all meaning and we were in an alternative reality—Ragnar Relay Reality.

My new race technical shirt says "Run.Drive.Sleep?Repeat." and that slogan pretty much says it all.

What was this all about?

Twelve runner distributed in two vans running the 187 miles from Blaine, WA to Langley, WA in as close to under 24 hours as possible.

This sounds so very simple. It wasn't.

I am still thinking about what happened trying to derive lessons.

The bottom Line: Ragnar Relay 2008: Northwest Passage (June 25-26, 2008)

What: The Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay on 7/25-7/26/08
Team: Always Running Mixed Sub-Masters Team
Distance: 187 miles from Blaine to Langley Washington
Results: 12th overall (and FIRST IN OUR DIVISION in 23:45:56 or a 7:32 Overall Pace
Number of showers: 3
Number of hours sleep: maybe 2-3
Feeling: Fantastic (even two days afterwards) and tired

The Long Story:

I was runner number three which meant that I was running a total of 14.6 miles (a very hard and hilly 8.3, a fast and flat 3.5, and a 2.8 mile mostly downhill leg). Our team was a "Mixed Sub-Masters" which, as far as I can tell has people in their thirties and forties (mostly in their forties actually). In terms of speed we ranged from very fast (sub-6:00/mile runners) to not-so-fast. Me? I am no Greyhound or Cheetah but can move fairly fast when I have to (7:30-8:30/mile pace depending on the course profile). This was all intended to be fun but I was getting so nervous the week leading up to the race. It did not help that it was also the end of the UW's summer A-Term and I was struggling to grade finals, calculate grades, and get my head switched from Intro International Relations to my B-Term class, Technology, Politics, and the State. Even more worrisome was the fact that our runner list was actually in flux due to injuries and Coach T was scrambling to find able bodies to run and to ride bike escort. To top it all off, my right hamstring was acting up and I wasn't too sure of its effect upon my ability to run. So much pressure, a reminder of why I generally prefer to do things on my own rather than as part of the team. What would happen if I let the team down? To top it all off, Sj, CP, MR, and I went to see The Mikado the night before the race (it was fun but I think I like "The Pirates of Penzance" better—too much singing and not enough patter as it were).

Taking a page from one of the ultrarunners doing the Marathon des Sables (his ice-bath video is pretty amusing) I decided to chronicle my experiences in this race using Twitter.

We loaded up the van at 10 AM and headed north towards Blaine, a nice drive in the sunshine up I-5. After snarfing half a Subway sandwich in Bellingham we continued up to Blaine to pick up our race packets, etc. and to see our first runner off at the 2:00 PM start time—we were one of the last teams to start based upon our projected finish time and speed. That is, we were rated as a "fast" team. Slower teams had been starting since 9:00 AM.

I had never been to Blaine before. I HAVE driven up through the border crossing but have never been in the downtown area or the waterfront before. It is pretty nice but I'll admit to being very focused on my own nervousness. That, and taking pictures of the long line of port-a-potties, our team, and all the vans that were decorated with props and various slogans. Wait, decorated!? We were supposed to decorate the vans? Umm. Pulled out the old iPhone to find the nearest crafts store (found a Dollar Store but the phone had me crossing the border and coming back to get to it) and off we went on a little tour of Blaine's main street and shopping district. Not being in the mood to shop I stayed with the van while LM, PT, RF, MB, and Sj went off in search of marking pens and other things we could use for decoration. They came back with White Board Pens, mylar balloons, obnoxious plastic "clappers" that lit up, a tiara and scepter, and faux-feather boas. Pretty paltry compared to some of the other vans but what we didn't have in decoration we sure made up for in cheerfulness (yours truly, he who feels self-conscious clapping at the opera, eventually got into the swing of things).

Back to the start where MB, our first runner, got ready and at 2:06 PM or so they were off. MB used to run CC at Gonzaga and is a very fast fellow indeed. His first leg was 6.2 miles. Flat along roads but also in direct sun. Let's just say that he was quite challenged but actually managed to get us ahead of a high school team that had started with us (their runner went all out too early and blew up). As the third runner I was "on deck" which meant that it was my responsibility to collect him after the exchange and direct him back into the van (I lost him after giving him some water as he was off in the shade talking with another runner and trying to cool down). Sj was next up and off she went along the hot road. We stopped and gave her some water (and took the obligatory pictures, clapped the clappers and cheered everyone, and otherwise had a blast).

Then it was my turn.

Leg #3: 8.3 Very Hard


Sj came flying into the exchange along Birch Bay and off I went. Waiting for her had been pretty fun. I chatted with some runners from the Seattle Frontrunners Club (their #3 runner was A LOT faster than me) and also some women from Michigan on an Ultra team (6 instead of 12 with each runner running double legs). It was beautiful out there. Lots of campers wandering around too looking a bit bemused (perhaps the first indication that we were in an alternative reality). Anyway . . .

I made a bit of a mistake within the first quarter mile. The route turned inland through a state park. I saw the sign, turned left, only to see the van go right past the turn. WEELL, who is right? Me, the sign, the van? I wasn't sure and, nervously, doubled back to make sure, saw the sign, saw the van come back, and went back the right way, up the first of many hills on this leg. My legs, lungs, and head were feeling pretty good (I was in the zone) but it was pretty hot and, once I turned onto Hwy 548 it was just a long and straight run through fields and a BP Plant (I think). My hamstring was becoming sore but not intolerably so. I just felt beaten by the heat and even though I was pushing I felt like I was slowing down (I was in fact doing just that). My goal pace for this leg was 8:15 and it became clear that I was not going to make that given the heat and the hills and the wind but I tried very hard.

It was actually pretty lonely out there. My van stopped and gave me water as were other vans for their runners and I knew that there was someone behind me but I wasn't even going to look around to see. Instead I focused on going forward and catching the runner in blue and white that I saw several miles distant. Runner-in-Blue (RiB) looked a bit like a mirage. RiB's body was was shimmering in the heat coming off the road. This coupled with the rush of hot wind coming from big trucks and cars made the whole experience kind of surreal. Starting around 2 miles the climbing began—a steady climb with some short dips all the way to about the 6.5. I was feeling pretty crappy actually until I realized that RiB was getting closer and closer as the miles went by and that gave me an added boost. I am not sure when I caught up to her and I am not sure how well she was doing at this point. We both said "Good Job!" to each other as I went past and then she was gone and I was totally focused on pushing for the top of the hill that I could see coming (later on my team mates said that RiB might have been walking and gotten sick at the side of the road but she was moving fairly strongly when I passed her). To use the vernacular of relay teams, I had my first "road kill".

Just before the 6.5 I passed some other runner's support van that had been leapfrogging me since the start and they told me that I was almost at the top and that it was 1.5 downhill miles after that. I grinned, waved (I actually did this OK), and said "I'll believe that when I am done!"

They were right. It was 1.5 miles downhill and I tried to pour it on managing a 7:58 pace as I crossed into the exchange and handed the wrist band off to RF who took off like she was being chased by bats out of Hell. There was no time to stretch or cool down as RF was going only 3.9 miles on a slight downhill so we piled back into the van to get to the next exchange. Gatorade goes down so very easily when you are parched now doesn't it? I did a cool down run by trotting in from a half-mile out from the next exchange. Everything hurt and it seemed as if I could not get anything going but along I went and then stretched as I could. That and played with a farm cat that came out to investigate us.

RF came flying in, handed off the wrist band to PT, then did a cartwheel in the exchange area, and we piled into the van to get to the next exchange stopping along the way to give water to PT. Then it was LM's turn as our van's anchor runner doing a 7.3 fairly hill course down into Bellingham to Boulevard Park where we passed our wrist band off to the runners in Van 2 and they began the process of running their six legs through the early evening and into the night. 7:20 PM and we are driving down to La Conner for some food, a shower, and rest until the next time.

Earworms on my first leg? "Having a Heat Wave" (Err!) "White Christmas" (Doh!) "Kajra Re" (Okaaayy?!)

Leg #15: 3.5 Miles Easy

It was really dark at the main exchange for the vans at Bay View State Park. We all had to wear lights and reflective vests (as per the rules) and it was difficult to see. There were so many teams and runners at this exchange and it was clear that we were catching teams that had started before us by this point. Still it was very dark. There was a park ranger out on the road with us directing traffic and he yelled at us for making too much noise (mustn't wake the campers now should we (but how many were running generators)). CM from Van 2 came in and passed off to MB and we went off for the next exchange. Then Sj.

My next leg was 3.5 flat and easy through the town of Burlington. Waiting for Sj to come in was a bit nerve wracking actually as I was trying to warm up, it was fairly cool, and the mosquitoes were out (and feasting). I wanted to be going mostly because I was nervous about whether or not my body was going to work. Soon Sj came in, running strongly, passed the wrist band, and off I went in what turned out to be my best run of the relay

Running in the dark through an unfamiliar town is an interesting experience. Except for the lone police officer directing traffic for the runners, the occasional person walking out of a bar or the random car, and my own bike escort everything was very quiet. After the hill-fest of the afternoon running on flat pavement felt like a piece of cake and I was just flying. Later on my escort, EM, told me that she could tell when I was speeding up. I kept mostly to the street so that there wouldn't be any surprise curbs and drop-offs. The road got rougher as I went out of town and ran near Gages Slough and, despite the lights that were there, my world narrowed significantly. Where during the afternoon I was focused on the horizon, this evening my focus was simply on my immediate surroundings until about 2.5 miles in when I noticed a very bright light. I thought it was moving at first but it seemed stationary and it turned out to be lighting the exchange.

By mile three I was tired and just wanting to be done and pressed forward faster (I think), shouted out my team number to the spotter sitting a quarter mile (or so) out of the exchange (they would radio the number in for people to get ready), and the next thing I knew I was in the gate slapping the wrist band on RF's arm.

Tried to do some stretching but only managed to flop into the van to sit under the air conditioning vent as we had to get to the next exchange 4.1 miles away. RF was running very fast, 7:30's, and had already had a successful leg under her belt as it were, so off we went and in a few minutes I was standing under lights and stars waiting for RF while PT warmed up. The clock was ticking and after 30 minutes we expected to see her. 40 minutes went by and no RF. That is when we started getting worried. Lots of turns in this leg with plenty of opportunity to get lost (miss a marker, have a marker tampered with (yes it happens) and off you go). Fortunately, MB knew this area very well and had some sense of where she and her bike escort might have gone off the beam. He roared off in the van while the rest of us stayed at the exchange on the chance that she would come in on her own. Turns out that there were actually quite a few runners who got lost and one runner's team wasn't looking for him/her (one, we heard, managed to end up in Mount Vernon). Eventually MB found RF after she had added some 3 miles to her run and she exchanged with PT. I've never seen someone so upset by this and it took her some time to calm down. She was concerned with the impact that it had on the team and also on another runner who had followed her. PT? She made up some serious time on her leg and came flying into her exchange to pass off to LM. One more leg and we would pass off to Van 2 and we could go back to the hotel for food, a shower, change of clothes, and sleep. At this point I realized that it is going to be a very long time before I can stare another Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich in the face. Eating was a real struggle actually. Sleep came quite rapidly but was of the shallow variety.

Just before 5:00 AM we got a call that said that Van 2 was going to be finishing in an hour and we had to hustle to make the next exchange. Damn! They must have been running very fast. So off we went, crossing Deception Pass Bridge in the soft light of the dawn, all of us wishing we had run that leg (maybe this is overstating the case). This was a big van exchange and they were just beginning to cook breakfast. Coffee was on and there was some fruit, bagels, etc.. I had some banana and coffee mixed with hot chocolate (yum, sugar and caffeine) and then went out to the exchange to wait for CM.

CM came in looking tired but really happy after running 7:44's. SHE was the one who got to run across the bridge at sunrise and said that it was something to see. MB took off on the third of the "Very Difficult" rated legs (lots of turns and uphill most of the way) and we went to meet him for water and food half way through. I got preoccupied with my right hamstring which was really tight and sore. It was going to be trouble during my next run.

Leg 27: 2.8 Easy


Ouch! All I can say is "Ouch!"

This did not go well!

I was tired, under fueled, and really sore. I rolled on a foam roller while waiting for Sj to come in (a pretty hilly leg for her) and warmed up. My leg began with a downhill and then had a sharp uphill towards and along a residential area of Whidbey Island NAS. I took the band from Sj and headed downhill and could not make my right leg work right. The hamstring was so tight that I could not straighten my leg and this was affecting how my foot was coming down and putting pressure on my left knee. And so it went. Struggling downhill and then uphill trying to go as fast as I could feeling absolutely crappy.

Then, somewhere on the climb things loosened up and I was able to push a bit. Turning on Regatta Drive I saw three other runners in the distance. Rabbits! I pushed and started closing the gap. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a very large Husky come running towards me. It "woofed" but broke off about 20 feet away from me. In retrospect this encounter could have been bad but at the time I just wanted to catch my rabbits. The downhill on East Whidbey Ave provided the best opportunity and I caught and passed all three. Into the exchange and finished my relay at 7:40:44 AM!

It just hurt and I was really frustrated by my pace and the fact that it was so hard to move forward. This leg was all will.


Then it was just time to wait. Took a shower at a high school and then ended up at the finish in Langley where we waited for CM to come in. Napped a bit on a sleeping pad in a field and otherwise just hung out. Lunch at the Country Deli in Coupeville tasted so good and I got to talk with a guy from DC who had run the Cherry Blossom Run (something I would love to do). Everything else in the day was an exhausted blur and I struggled to stay awake until my normal bed time.

What did I learn? (8/4/08)

In no particular order:

  • Team relays are actually quite fun. I've never been very good at team sports (always the last kid picked, gym class refugee, and all that) with the consequence that I have avoided such activities. I have run the Mt. Si Relay twice and had fun. This was even more so because I was actually spending more time with people I like and getting to know new people. The pressure not to let the team down is a bit tough to take sometimes and makes coming into an event like this "for fun" a little more difficult to sustain (I cannot "not" race even though I probably "should not" race). 
  • I have got to figure out the eating situation. What works for normal long runs or even running back-to-back runs does not really work so well in a relay where there are closely spaced all-out or as close to all-out efforts. I felt full for the most part but turned out to be under fueled.
  • Recovery from this sort of thing is taking much longer than I had anticipated. My hamstring problem has complicated things to be sure but I would say that coming back from this has been harder than any other event I have done, even the marathon. Again, none of the normal recovery techniques—ice baths, self-massage, Advil, Real Massage—  seem to have had an appreciable effect on the fatigue I have been feeling (although I must say that I seem to have turned a corner a week out). I ran today and was feeling a little more like my old self but still not quite there. 
  • I have body image issues that become especially acute when I am at events like this one or even the longer Cougar Mountain races where the more "elite" runners are not diluted by every-day runners. I am a hulking presence compared to the greyhounds and cheetahs (a new category in my lexicon of runner descriptors). This gets better when I am among the general running population (around GL). What can I do about this? Get over it, really. 
  • I can focus very hard when I need to, to the exclusion of most external stimuli, and can do this with a quiet mind. This is something new for me. 
  • I may not be the fastest runner out there but I can certainly solidly and stoically contribute.
  • Winning is FUN! OK, OK, we took 12th over-all but we also took FIRST IN OUR DIVISION. This is pretty cool and, to be honest, the giddiness has not quite dissipated, even a week out. Not quite up to listing road kills on the side of the van though. 

Would I do this again?

You bet, in a heart beat.  Maybe even as an ultra! (My DW thinks I am nuts.)