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Friday, August 19, 2011

2 Weeks Before a Spring Marathon

The rain has been softly falling for 2 hours following a long night of steady showers. I'm soaked. The earth is saturated. The roads are matte black and the world a collage of muted grays, pinks, and greens. I dodge puddles, but I'm really not sure why. My feet are snug and secure, but through two pair of socks are long soaked. I wonder how long I can run with wet feet before blisters form in the pink softened skin around my toes and heels. I wonder if my Reeboks will ever be the same.

The wind tugs at my cap and I duck to keep it affixed. No headlamp this morning - I left a little later than usual. The cap for today is bright orange and white and lightweight, and if I keep my head down just a little lower than is advisable for good running posture, it keeps the rain out of my eyes. Carelessly I gape at the ever changing colors of dawn. A gust forces me to expend precious energy in raising an arm to reset my lid.

When I finally get home I will have run 23 miles. I've never run that far before. How many calories is that? More than I brought with me. 18 miles is my record. Only 3 weeks ago my leg was immobile while the swelling on my knee abated. My legs feel great. A marathon is 26.2 miles. Why the .2? It doesn't matter if I don't finish this 23.

My hat was the first to get soaked. But oddly, I find that if I can keep the pelting rain off my head and out of my face, the rain fades into the scenery. I guess my tights and the back of my jersey were next. How is it that I can throw water up the back of my jersey? It must be leaving the back of my shoes as my legs reverse and head for the pavement again. I wonder if I'm trailing a rooster tail like on my mountain bike through the creeks? I'm not going that fast.

Inside, my toes were warm and dry for nearly a mile. The force of my sole smashing into the asphalt and concrete displaces enough water, that before it can regroup and rush to find its level around the vents of my shoe, there is nothing left but a void. But water is coming out of the sky. The falling rain does its work, and all now hangs limp and heavy.

15 miles and I haven't stopped running since those first determined strides 2 hours ago. The rain abates, but the wind intensifies as I turn away from the river and start the only notable climb of the day. This hill is long. One mile? Two? I usually ride my bike down this hill, and it's a great one to go down. Why am I going up? The only way out is up - unless I go back along the river. No going back. Finish what you started.

I'm trudging as the wind is swirling now from the right, and now again from the front, oscillating just enough to keep me off balance. I carry my hat for a few minutes. The storm has abated, but the wind still blows. I can see the bottom of the fog just a few feet above. I will be running in the fog soon, but I don't care because I'm getting hot.

As I ascend the sun makes a feeble attempt to pierce a bleary morning sky but is summarily shunned and never returns. The river drops back further and further below. I can't stop or turn - this hill is steep - but if I could I would see the skeletal arches of 2 bridges, ghostly in the mist, slowly rising above the trees. I crest onto a ridge with views of San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, and the lush green hills of western Contra Costa County. The waters of the river bend into the bays just below the hills to the west. Today I see only the suffocating hovering fog and the dank hillsides downy with a new blanket of emerald shoots. I'm cold.

I eat a Power Bar. Chew. Breathe. Chew. Breathe. Drink. Take another bite. Chew. Breathe. It couldn't take longer if it was a whole meal.

Cars breeze past and I suppose I can read the expressions of each face. Amused Elitist. Concerned Mother. Annoyed Sloth. Disdainful Pragmatist. Encouraging Athlete. I suppose I don't care. I'm well over half way done.

I drink water from small fluorescent yellow bottles strapped to a 2" wide padded belt around my waist. Yet, I believe osmosis may actually be providing most of my hydration today.

The last long stretch back into town is narrow and winding and the world is coming awake. Traffic seems heavy - especially with no shoulder. I ponder the distance between the asphalt and the swollen creek at my elbow and then wonder if I could launch a kayak in there. Downed trees swirl the water and I envision myself thrashed by the branches as my kayak is pummeled into submission. Too risky. If one of these trucks has its way I might have to swim it though. I leap into the weeds as 2 large trucks converge directly beside me. I must not exist, I postulate.

But I'm certain I do exist, for no phantom can feel this much fatigue and pain. Only 5 more miles. Still soaked.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Court House Run

I have a favorite route that I run about once a week. It takes me downtown Martinez where I loop once around the county courthouse and then retrace my route on the opposite side of the road. In all it is about 4.75 miles. I don't often record my times or mileage being a very practical optimist. If I don't know - I can't be disappointed.

Last week I recorded my route on a new Android GPS tracking app - Endomondo. (Seems to refer to "endorphins") I ran what I thought was a fast pace but looked at the statistics and was chagrined to see an 8+ min / mile average speed. I lived with that assumption for a week.

Motivated, I tracked my route and time on the same path a week later. This time I allowed the "virtual coach" to shout over the music and give me my split times through my ear buds. I ran fast and cleared the first mile in 7 minutes 2 seconds. I lost 20 seconds on the second mile, but it finished my first climb, so a small drop was to be expected.

The wheels started to come off the wagon in mile 3. 7 minutes 53 seconds, and then mile 4 was 7 minutes 59 seconds. Run... Faster... Run... Faster

I lengthened my stride for the home stretch, fighting a stitch and a sour stomach. I crossed the road at rush hour - sans crosswalk - timing it well enough to not be flattened or scorned. Right turn into my neighborhood and a left down my street. Stop. 36 minutes 21 Seconds.

Average speed 7:36 per mile. Smile.

Then I reviewed the history to make the comparison. Last week 36 minutes 7 seconds. Wait a minute. I had a better time last week? Evidently.

I'm not sure what state of mind I was in at the finish a week ago, but I obviously misread the data.

I had been motivated by a mistake. Frown.

So, I actually did worse? Stink.

Next week...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Backpacking in Yosemite 2011

Yosemite as seen from behind the lens of my HTC Inspire, Android, GPS enabled, handheld computer camera - which even has an operational phone feature which works well enough - when I can get my daughter to stop playing Angry Birds long enough for me to answer the calls. Having not replaced the latest of a long line of camera casualties, I chose to record this backpacking trip with my cell phone.

This year's trip through Yosemite followed a loop from Wawona, up to the top of Chilnualna Falls, north east to Buena Vista Peak, and then back around to the west exiting the wilderness where we had entered.

Group 1 (Brent, Tim, Zach, Matt, and Jeremy) entered the wilderness on Tuesday late morning. Dave and I followed them 24 hours later.

The view from the bridge crossing Chilnualna Creek - Wawona Campround - Yosemite

Dave and I hit the trail to catch up to our friends. We arrived 1 day later than them and had a 15 mile, 3,500' climb in which to catch up to them for their second night's campsite. It was surprisingly warm. I had lost the shirt before we even left the parking lot. I had packed for cold weather and with the temps in the 70's at 10:00 am and 5,000' I was concerned that the extra weight was a waste.

I was not to be disappointed though. By 8,000' we were traversing patches of snow, and before the week was out, the nighttime lows would be in the high 20's.

Tim proved to be a great asset to the team, and at 16 years old, is more familiar with navigating Yosemite than many of the locals. He also makes great August snowmen.

We were legitimately concerned that we would be navigating by "blaze", map, and compass if the snows were covering too much of the trail. Though many sections of trail were obscured, none initiated more than a few moments of indecision.

One of the many views we would have of Chilnualna Creek and Falls.

Strangely this was among the wildest of the wildlife we encountered over the 4 days. There was a marmot sighting, a few deer sightings, and the ubiquitous black squirrels, lizards and birds, but the presence of a species presenting real physical danger was limited to the ones wearing backpacks.

"Hey guys, look over here!"
Royal Arches Lake - camped on exposed granite attempting to escape the starving mosquitoes.
They found us anyway. Night 1 for Dave and I.

The view from the top of Buena Vista Peak, looking down on Buena Vista Lake with our second campsite near the middle of the far side of the lake.

The technical and most enjoyable part of the ascent of Buena Vista Peak. This climb had no marked trail, though we were certainly not the first to ascend this peak. The boulders were strewn clear to the top as if a herculean dump truck had backed up beside the lake and left its load to be spread.

Our campsite was so close to the base of the peak, that we had a hard time representing the mountain in any one picture.

I was dubbed Obi Wan Kenobi for my blanket / coat / sleeping bag liner. This was the result of much contemplation and a few nights sleep lost last year in a 40 degree sleeping bag on consecutive 30 degree nights. Obsessed with minimalism, weight reduction, and multi purposes, I brought a sleeping bag liner and coat together into a medieval style micro-fleece robe. Don't knock it - it worked. It served all purposes in splendid fashion - did I say fashion? Yes, I will be taking orders as soon as the shipment of micro-fleece arrives. Best of all, thanks to the research and generosity of our family friend, Shiree, and a handful of clasps, snaps and thread that Bec had lying around - it was completely free. The design is absolutely original. Bec strategically intervened behind the sewing machine, but generally let me stumble through the stitches myself. One person actually thought I had bought it, though in their defense, they didn't get a very close look.

One of the many drops of Chilnualna Falls.

Just above our last night's campsite along Chilnualna Creek.

I left the wilderness with about 1/8 of my battery remaining in my phone. I took 185 pictures and about 10 minutes of video. But I took no calls.

Another successful wander away from the daily grind, and an opportunity to regain my focus on the Creator of it all.

Photo Credit - Matt
Who stumbled upon this little piece of paradise with Dave.

Check out Kelsey's blog, linked to the right, for some truly spectacular photos. Seems she was out there somewhere...