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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Strangely Compelled

I have little to say.
Though I feel strangely compelled to say it.

There is something about having a blog and not writing regularly that plays at the conscience.

I guess I could say nothing about the fact that it is pouring down rain AGAIN...

Or, that my knee is rather sore, and making me nervous about my pending surgery and the New Years Day ride up Mt. Diablo in 4 days.

And so I'll also say nothing of the fact that my 13.1 mile (Half Marathon) run at 6:00 am this past Sunday morning went very well, and I'm excited about how great I felt on the home stretch. Of course I probably shouldn't leave that out, since that is about the only thing I have to say even distantly related to the primary content of this particular blog.
But I could leave it off and neglect to mention that I managed just over an 8.5 minute mile finishing in under 2 hours.

But since none of those are worth mention, a singular topic will suffice: The fact that I'm now sitting at home on a Tuesday evening with no compelling reason to do anything else. Not exactly astounding - but close. Having survived another festive barrage of holiday obligations, I am now pleasantly obliged to sit and do nothing. A dark, rainy, and cool winter evening is plenty of reason to sit listening to my daughter play belated Christmas carols on the piano with ice on my knee and no plans of moving any time soon. The bleak mid winter hasn't always been adequate to render me docile. But for tonight it has, and that is noteworthy.

I think I'll go brew some coffee and try not to look at my running shoes leering from beside the front door.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

12 Miles in the Rain

Turned off the alarm clock and listened to what sounded like marbles pummeling the kitchen skylight.
Rolled out of bed to pull on running shorts and long sleeve jersey. I turned on the coffee and peeked out the window hoping to see some break in the clouds. ...Remembered it was too dark to see anything through the deluge and wandered back toward the coffee.
Shoes on, Camelback filled. 1/2 banana, 4 Tums, 1 Ibuprofen, and 2 cups of coffee down the hatch.
Still pouring.
Consider my options:
1. Run in the rain and get wet.
2. Put on a rain jacket and proceed to accomplish #1 anyway.
3. Crawl back in bed with my wife.
Still listening to the rain.
5:40 - 5:45
Conversation with self about priorities, dedication, and sanity.
Kiss my wife good-by and plunge out the door.

I was hoping for a long run this morning and a 5:30am start time was optimal. With a marathon on my tentative schedule for next year, I've decided to begin training early so as to cut my losses when I'm on crutches for a few weeks following a scheduled knee surgery. (More on that another time.)

Busy as an adjective referring to our family would be a laughable understatement, so I make time for workouts wherever I can. With church at 10:00am, Sunday mornings become a block of "free" time to get in a run. A meeting this morning at 9:00 pushed everything back.

Today's route would take me down to the marina, through the Shell refinery, and then across the Benicia Bridge and back. My guess was that it would be a 12 mile run and it ended up being 12.3.

It was very dark, and my dying LED's on the front of my running cap added little to the street lights. I hopped and hurdled rivulets and puddles for the first few miles, but eventually left the fancy footwork for the largest ones. Jersey, shorts, backpack, and skin were all completely soaked long before I crossed the railroad tracks into the marina.

The sea has an alluring call to me, and a run to the marina seems pointless if I don't fill my lungs with the breeze fresh off the water and smell the seaweed and salt marshes. The rain came down straight as an arrow this morning. No breeze except that created by my plodding 7mph. The water, black as ink, gently nudged the piers beneath a smothering canopy - vapor and liquid tenuously coupled by a streaming torrent.
A foot path parallels the road out of the marina and I followed it under the outstretched fingers of trees lobbing dollops of water onto my shoulders and head. Preoccupied, I failed to notice a lake across the path and would love a video of my attempt to keep water from pouring over the gunnels of my Reeboks. I learned I cannot dance, and even so, it was a waste of energy and motion with my socks already soaked - it made no difference.

Half way between the marina and the bridge the road divides into single lanes of 2 way traffic through the refinery. Footwork was the key, as often I had to cross the divider to avoid large lakes, oncoming 18 wheelers, and streams from sources obscured by the darkness and driving rain. One exceptionally large puddle obstructed my progress, even over the curb, so I waited for a pair of oncoming headlights to pass. Only as the headlights illuminated the full extent of the puddle and began to create a moving wall of water did I realize my peril. I turned and fled - no doubt, to the driver's delight in the surfing sedan.

Benicia Bridge - as viewed from Martinez

The arc of lights representing the 2 mile span of the Benicia Bridge was soon visible just beneath a charcoal sky so low that patches of clouds hung illuminated by the refineries, loading docks, and the Benicia Marina on the far side of the drink.

The climb up the south side of the bridge was slow and even a little eerie. Alone, with the exception of a few dozen cars only 10 feet and a guard rail away, I felt rather exposed and vulnerable a mere 140' above the water. By mid span a marked change had occurred with the sky fading slowly into a deep midnight blue. On the far side, I stopped long enough to retrieve the Power Bar from my backpack and stretch my calves. 1 minute later I was jogging down the hill toward Benicia, attempting to chew, swallow, and breath in the right order, and contemplating why I hadn't turned back across the bridge yet. Unwilling to descend too far into town, I turned back when the Power Bar was reduced to foil, and recognized just how steep the hill was that I had just run down. Stink.

Back across the bridge. Climbing south bound, my calf muscles initiated collective bargaining with my brain, and my wet feet also decided to take part in the labor dispute. This did make me wonder just how resilient the skin between my toes might be when completely soaked for well over an hour. No matter, I was still 2 1/2 miles from home, and walk or run, I only had 2 feet and 2 legs to get there. Back to work boys.

The final miles are always difficult. I'm convinced that my brain sabotages my effort on the home stretch by cutting back on the adrenaline, and other "happy chemicals" as it sees the end on the horizon. 2 miles or 12 miles it doesn't matter, the final stretch always hurts worse than the sum of the balance of the effort.

Home in 1 hour 45 minutes.

There is somewhat less pleasure derived from a hot shower when you've already been soaked for an hour and forty five minutes.

The whole run averaged 7 mph which is approx. an 8.5 minute mile. A marathon is 26.2 Miles. That means many more long runs ahead; a good thing. I enjoyed today's run more than any other solo run I can remember. The rain added a romantic melodramatic touch that merely adds to the allurement of my endurance sports.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oh poor Christmas Tree

Tis' the season to be chopping.

And for what? For why?

Is it not lunacy to assault a healthy, young tree just reaching the glory of its youth, yank it from its moorings, and impel it to a service so ghastly unnatural?
See, here stands young fir - struggling to survive in a vast and brutal world of wind, ice, rain, and sun, remarkably resilient, handsome and proud.

See, here comes you - accelerated by stress, absent in mind and unwittingly conspiratorial in the pretense of holiday festivity.

An innocent falls to the ground.

With morbid ceremony it's strapped to the roof of your sedan, and what was once established and secure is now jostled and catapulted. No longer the wind gently caressing its boughs, or flexing its bark in a torrential storm. Rather now, a frightening gale assaults its skirts, or its crown, if by some merciful stroke it's strapped on head first.

The victim will now subsist on chlorinated tap water with a brew of chemicals designed to prolong the process of slow death. As if the Creator had not worked perfection, you will then bedeck it with bows or ribbons, and without exception, an array of gaudy lights - blinking in such random sequence that the subject appears always indecently clad.

Then Christmas being past, as if it had not served you well in your festive revelry, you reject it with disdain and abandon it to a troop of Boy Scouts - for what purpose only they know.

But don't be so self righteous and smug thinking of your plastic tree.

You are no better, yea, possibly worse. You give false hopes to the choppers who will insult, prod, and cajole our Creator's otherwise beautiful trees that may lack "perfect shape," or may be "too airy," or "too dense." Though insulted, these are the lucky ones. Though none is ever deemed perfect, the unlucky chosen are paraded before their 6', 7', and 8' "pre-lit" counterparts -- lopsided, flocked, and accoutered with a fishnet stocking without even the courtesy of a cardboard box to hide their shame, over the river and through the woods to a house of horrors inconceivable to so noble a creation.

You will call yourself festive for erecting such an atrocity. Yes, you'll likely even claim a moral high ground above those abstaining. But herein I admonish, and even boldly recommend a cessation of such unnatural acts. Is it not possible to spare such noble creations? I acknowledge it is not my place to change your mind or your customs, but at least for my part I choose to resist this annual slaughter.

I choose - to pout whenever my wife talks of "going to get the tree."
I choose - to lobby for the lesser of 2 evils - the 6' pre-lit version (That takes less than 2 minutes to set up and be done with my part of the activity).
I choose - when all else fails, to strap the tree on head first or lay it in the bed of my truck covered with a tarp.

With these thoughts in mind I've composed a eulogy in memory of the fallen.
Please pause for a moment of solemn silence before enjoying these verses.

T'was the Month Before Christmas

T'was the month before Christmas and all through the wood,
Wee creatures scurried madly, while timidly stood,

Stately stewards of the forest, gentle-hearted and grand,
Their progeny balanced in an urbanite's hand.

The time was upon them, they'd seen it before,
When tree choppers come in traditions of yore.

The finest among them would tremble and yaw
As the choppers assaulted with axe and with saw.

The wisest among them acknowledges its place,
A resource that benefits an inhuman race.

Begrudged though by some they know their station,
to warm and protect the rest of creation.

As timber or edifice great honor they'd know,
Or cabin or palace where children would grow.

The aged among them know the saw as a stage,
and the axe as finger on a life's next page.

The aged among them stand with no fear,
But remain yet perplexed when the youth disappear.

Chopper families will come with members aloof,
Then drive away arguing - young Fir on their roof.

The plight of the youngsters - now pondered anew,
Was assumed to be ill, but if only they knew:

If back in the forest the other Trees knew,
Of their young ones alight with red, green, and blue,

Of tinsel, candy canes, and more shamefully yet,
Smiling families in photos amongst branches set.

The same branches of those removed forcefully so,
From a family of Firs formed long ago.

What revolt would arise from so many Trees,
If such senseless traditions were revealed to these.

What fear might be levied upon humankind,
If the choppers would come again heeding no mind,

Entering the forest with axes and saws,
Unaware of an anger ragged and raw.

And into the Trees the choppers would go,
And never return - one way tracks in the snow.

Merry Christmas - To the little Trees.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Death Ride 2011 - Take 3

I'm officially signed up for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride 2011
The ride date 6 months away, has been on my calendar for over a month, as has 10:00 am December 9, 2010 - the opening registration for the same event.

Vince, Kevin, Milt, Dianne, and Steve, all got signed up this morning also. We had touched base via email throughout the day to make sure everyone got in.

As always this pumps a little motivation into my system. Training begins.

For now training is mostly running, and frankly its closer to maintenance than training. I've been running about 8 miles down to and around the Martinez Marina and back. Takes me about an hour and I manage about once a week on either Saturday or Sunday early morning. In between there are the family walks, and periodic commute rides across town - oh yeah, and those 10+ mile hikes in the mud every couple of weeks. I think I will be a little more motivated now to brave the cold mornings and start up the 20 mile commutes to work at least once per week. The trick is making my schedule work with those rides. To pull it off, I have to be at the office at day's end, and then be able to start the day at the office the next morning - a little later than normal. With work so scattered right now facilitating that sequence, even once per week, is dicey.

It basically comes down to priorities. Now that I've spent $125 on a 129 mile ride with 15,000' of elevation gain, my priorities may be coming around.